“Love, Sweet Love…”
It was a hit song on the pop charts in the late 1960s but it was far from typical. It was a waltz! It was also a protest song against the Viet Nam conflict. The irony was thick as the Hal David lyric bounced along to the Burt Bacharach tune offering their solution to world need–“love, sweet love. That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of”—yeah, right. Over the years, “love, sweet love” has proved to be an elusive and ineffective cure-all for a still troubled and dangerous world.
What does this world really need? The list of things the world has too much of is troubling and too depressing to enumerate here. Finding what the world needs now is a more challenging task. The song sought a higher truth, a triggering factor that could reverse the downward spiral of life. The counter-cultural answer in the 1960s has proved most inadequate. Today the fashions are different, and the music has changed.
- Language has degenerated further into profanity and obscenity.
- Post-modern communications have connected strangers together in a false, techno-communion that is really just an illusion.
- “Love, sweet love” has rotted on its dubious vine into a bitter wine of debauchery consumed in secret in the vapid hope of some healing intoxication.
So, in the face of these failures, is there an answer?
What the World Needs Now
The surprising truth is this: What the world needs now is a praying church. Daily prayer has been discounted by the world and neglected by the church. Our focus has been on public worship not private prayer. We invested our resources in technology and talent and revolutionized public worship according to the tastes of the people we wanted to “reach.” When popular trends are in a place of authority the result is a constantly changing, horizontal worship culture that sets people groups against each other. When personal tastes are in control there can be no other result. The harvest of this planting is a tragic fragmentation of the Body of Christ when the need of the hour is unity.
In our annual retelling of the Jesus story, we tend to jump from the comfort of Jesus’ opening words at the Last Supper (“Let not your hearts be troubled…”) to His prayer of submission in the Garden of Gethsemane. This acrobatic theological leap propels us over some of the most important things Jesus said. Before we remember His prayer in the Garden, we need to cling to His last prayer at the Table: “that they may be one.” (John 17:21) The church must hear again the call of Jesus to prayer. The secret of unity in the church is found, not on the platform, in the pulpit, in the pews (if we still had them) and certainly not in the board rooms and in the committees of power. The secret is in the Secret Place of private prayer. In the Lord’s other great discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, also a treatise on prayer, Jesus makes an astounding promise.
Matthew 6:6-7 NKJV
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
The secret of success in public ministry is private prayer. Great leaders have known this and taught this, but it seems our attention is drawn to public results. Our pragmatism has pushed the quiet call to pray into the background as if it were an option. It isn’t an option. The deeper we plunge into public ministry without a private power base, the greater our public failure will be. The last thing this world needs is an empty show, a feeble presentation of form with no spiritual power in it. We must not be the fulfillment of Paul’s warning to Timothy. (2 Tim 3:1-5)
Answering the Call to Pray
Every believer hears this call; answering the call proves a difficult task. It isn’t so much a lack of understanding or methodology as it is a spiritual battle. When we decide to pray, hell opposes us. It seems creation and the devices of men hear a bell and go to work to distract us. Our flesh resists the desires of our spirit. Consider this revealing verse:
Galatians 5:16-17 NKJV
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Make no mistake, prayer is a battle in which we must fight the flesh and the invisible powers of the air to be consistent in private prayer. The important thing about prayer is simply to pray. We must, as King David said to Solomon, “do the work.”(1 Ch 28:20)
My purpose in this essay is not to teach on prayer. You will find abundant resources on prayer on the Worship Renewal Center website, www.StevePhifer.com. My purpose is to outline the incredible power of the prayers we must pray. This is work that only the church can do. I see three pressing needs we must counter with prayer.
Need Number One: Personal Holiness and Corporate Witness
Pray for Light
With a vivid image of personal light and corporate witness, Jesus connected the private lives of God’s People to the public impact of the church.
Matthew 5:14-16; NKJV
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men,that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
We each have a light to shine into the darkness of this world. Our lampstand is our home, our family, our workplace, and the other venues of daily life. Isaiah predicted this moment 3000 years ago.
Isaiah 60:1-3 NKJV
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
When the church functions as a holy counter-culture in this fallen, dark world, those who follow Jesus shine like stars in the dark skies. (Phil 2:14-16) The people who are trying to find their way in this darkness are drawn to us. How? Our life-choices are different, as is our language, our morality, and our values. We are sentinels of a higher Kingdom.
If each of us is a light, together we shine as a City on a Hill. Our individual lights combine to make the church a powerful influence for good in our community. Our private relationship with the Father in the Secret Place empowers us to live victorious lives, bringing the Light of the World to those who walk in darkness along our daily pathways. When all of our lights combine in public worship, we become a shining witness that cannot be ignored. Today, the darkness is great and so must our light be.
Need Number Two: The Conviction of the Holy Spirit
The Three-fold Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Jesus made it clear that it is not our job to convict sinners of their need for God; this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is good news for He does it much better than we ever could.
John 16:7-11 NKJV
“It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Our job is to preach Jesus, by our lives and in our churches, to a world with no other hope. When hurting people come face to face with Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit ignites a fire of conviction in their hearts, something we could never do. This conviction has three important dimensions:
- Conviction of their sin,
- Conviction of the righteousness of Jesus, and
- Conviction of the judgement to come for all people.
These convictions are not the product of our words; they are the work of the Holy Spirit. God does the convicting, not us.
- Conviction of Sin When an unbeliever sees Jesus in the life of a believer, his/her personal responsibility for sins committed springs to mind. This can happen anywhere but in public worship it is the most obvious for there is an opportunity for repentance in the service itself. This relieves us from the desire to condemn sinful people; our job is to get them to Jesus!
- Conviction of the Righteousness of Jesus The answers to the philosophical questions about life are many and valid and it is proper for us to reason with seekers. The world needs to hear the Jesus Story and our chapter in it! But the answers to life’s deepest questions truly come in the presence of Jesus. When the Spirit reveals to the seeker who Jesus is right now, arguments are not necessary. This happens when Jesus walks in us personally and when He walks among us in public worship. His nearness is proof that He is really “God with us!” The Holy Spirit makes it clear that God is love and that He is willing and able to do all He has promised to do. When the Holy Spirit presents the reality of Jesus, this is better than any argument we could ever present.
- Judgement to Come In this post-modern world many, even some who claim to be Christian, have convinced themselves that there is no judgement after this life. This is delusion of the most tragic order. Each of us will stand before the Lord and give an account of what we have done in this life. For the believer, our works done in Jesus’ name will be tried by fire. (1 Cor 3:13-15) For the unbeliever, the Book of Life will be scoured in search of his/her name. With no registry of the name in the Book of Grace, that soul will be lost forever. (Rev 20:12-15) These are facts that no one wants to face but denying them does nothing to eliminate their impending reality. Because of the Love of God, the Holy Spirit wants to impress this truth on those who are lost. We cannot break through their post-modern, futile deception but the Holy Spirit can. Jesus promised that He would.
The world needs worship services that vibrate with the conviction of the Holy Ghost. In the Secret Place we can seek the anointing of the Holy Spirit on our lives every day and our church services every week to do this work that only He can do. Who else but the church is going to pray for the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit?
As the Lord’s church, we must pray! The Holy Spirit has the power to help you find your Secret Place. If there is a breakdown in your home, pray! If your loved ones are lost, seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit in their lives. He is the only one who can change hearts. You have most likely exhausted everything you can say to them. Let the Spirit take a turn! He can do more in a moment than we can do in a lifetime. Pray for your local church. Beseech the Holy Spirit to anoint your leaders as never before.
Need Number Three: Signs and Wonders to Prove the Gospel Witness
Power in the Praying
Is this all wishful thinking? Is there really power in the prayers of the church to change the world? Hear the Holy Scriptures. Jesus and his half-brother, James, pastor of the Jerusalem church, provide a vision for the supernatural results of the prayers of the church. James sums it up nicely with the assurance that our prayers make a difference in this world; they “avail much.” Jesus promised powerful results when we believe and obey.
James 5:16-17 NKJV
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Mark 16:15-18 NKJV
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
In other words, our Spirit-empowered prayers broadcast like a powerful sending station from the Secret Place and the public sanctuary into the real world to make a real difference. The old-timers used to say, “Prayer Changes Things.” While this was and is true, it would be more precise to say that when the church prays, God changes things. It is amazing to think that Almighty God has partnered with the church to change the world, but this is the case. Church history is the story of effectual, fervent prayers that availed much in every nation where the church and the Gospel has gone.
Jesus said it would be so and it has been. The world, donning a mask of dubious protection, is waiting to see if it will be so for us, today. Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit to those who would believe and then preach the Gospel. The results of the prayers and witness of the church will be nothing less than signs and wonders.
- “Cast out demons” Demons will be dislodged and de-fanged fleeing in terror from the name of Jesus on our lips.
- “Speak with New Tongues” Language barriers will be spanned in private prayer and public worship bringing heaven and earth together with tongues of men and of angels so all will hear and understand.
- “Take up serpents” The natural world will bend to the will of the Spirit with divine protection from beasts, deadly concoctions, and even swarming pestilence.
- “Lay hands on the sick” And best of all, the River of Life will flow through the church as a healing stream and, in Ezekiel’s words, “everything will live wherever the River goes.” (Ez 47:11)
Signs and wonders, visible to the world and real in the lives of people, will be the outward signs of inward transformations as people find their Savior. Such is the universal potential of the church at prayer.
So, what does this hurting world need now?
A praying church! Who else will do this? Who else has been called to the Secret Place and given such promises? Pastors, it is time to lead private worship. Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to pray. For what must we pray?
Pray for Personal Holiness and Corporate Witness
Pray for the Three-Fold Conviction of the Holy Spirit
Pray for Signs and Wonders to Prove the Gospel Witness
The world needs more than a lilting waltz promoting “love, sweet love.” The world needs prayer, powerful prayer.
And so do we. Why can’t we see the signs and wonders promised by the Lord in our generation? We have the promise of Jesus: the Father will reward openly what He sees in secret. The invitation from heaven remains: “If my people will pray…”
There is a prophecy in the Psalms that I believe is for us today.
Psalm 102:18-22 NIV
“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord.
When the church begins to pray in the Secret Place, our worship will reach heaven and God will hear our prayers. The prisoners are groaning in their painful captivity but is the church praying? People sentenced to death by the values of this fallen world are in cruel bondage. Can the prayers of the church be heard? Who will declare the Name of the Lord except His church? The world needs the relentless prayers of the church. Our prayers are what the world needs now.
See the follow-up essay to What the World Needs Now is What America Needs Now.
© 2020 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved