George Lucas need not feel threatened. The grandiose special effects that stir the viewer in his Star Wars movies are in no danger of being overshadowed. What you see is little more than a talking head, not dissimilar to a hatless Elmer Fudd. His torso is shown but it’s difficult to discern wearing a red sport coat against a red background. But the result leaves the viewer breathless, stunned beyond the capacity of any special effects.
That was my reaction upon first seeing the video by Dr. J. Edwin Orr on “The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening.” For a bit over 25 minutes Dr. Orr regales the audience with stories of revival. But what is so compelling is his highlighting prayer as their impetus. We might say that when God intends to bring revival, He sets His people to pray. Revival is God’s response to God-initiated prayer.
So remarkable is not the manifestations of a mighty movement of God’s Spirit, although Orr cites example after example of personal and societal change. What is so striking is that God waits on our prayers. God stirs our prayer for His actions. Not that God is constrained to act by our asking, but it is in our asking that He acts.
Orr’s observations are not without biblical precedent. Prayer is depicted in Scripture as a God-ordained means for God-ordained ends. James tells us: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (James 5:17–18 ESV) James spotlights the agency of prayer, and that through someone just like us.
Paul understood God’s design in prayer in regularly requesting prayer for his ministry. He acknowledged that He had accomplished what he had because others had prayed. God had acted in response to the prayers of His people.
If God uses our prayer as means to His ends, and if God stirs His people to pray for things like spiritual awakening as J. Edwin Orr proposes, that suggests a few ramifications for us.
First, it does not mean that we pray only when we feel like it. Or, as even secular expression has it, we do not pray only when the spirit moves us. We pray because the Spirit enables us in prayer and directs us to pray in His Word. Prayer is an act of obedience, born out of profound privilege and humility. We pray that we would pray.
Second, noting how God uses our prayer should fill us with the expectation of faith. My response to Dr. Orr’s video was to get down to the business of prayer, on my own and gathering with others. Prayer took on new meaning for me. I would say that watching that video was a watershed moment for my grasp of prayer. It set me on a course that revolutionized my prayer life and ministry.
Third, God’s intention for prayer leads us to regard prayer much more soberly. For that reason when we say we will pray if someone asks us to pray, we must follow through. We can be cavalier, nonchalant about our prayer lives. We might pray if we remember. But if God has stationed us in the breech by our agreement to pray, then pray we must.
In like fashion when we ask others to pray for us, we are justified in holding them to it. One of the things I do, believing that God uses prayer, is I pray that those who have said they would pray for me would do so. I pray that they would in fact pray. I ask God that He would prompt them, and so hear and act.
One might come away from a George Lucas movie bedazzled with the onslaught of special effects, especially if the movie was seen on the big screen. The “wow” factor is high. But anything Hollywood can produce pales in respect to the power God has infused in our prayer to the actual accomplishment of things beyond what we ask or could even think.