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Billy Graham Center Roundtable

Response To A Paper By Dr. Bill Bright


It is an honor to respond to Dr. Bright¹s paper.  No one is more qualified to speak to the Church on the themes of prayer, evangelization and human methodology.  Both Dr. Bright¹s life and ministry have demonstrated a commitment and a creativity in each arena.

After a life-long ministry devoted to evangelism, Dr. Bright, as quoted by Eddie Smith of the US Prayer Center, said, “I am waiting for the day when I can retire from Campus Crusade and be promoted to intercessor.”  Is it possible that his life, not merely his paper, has much to teach us about the relationship between prayer, evangelism, and human methods?  Is it possible the Lord has given us an in-our-lifetime illustration of how talking with God about people and talking with people about God are meant to relate to one another?

According to Dr. Bright, ³Successful evangelism depends on prayer.²  It is instructive that he does not credit human methods, resources or training as the source of success in witnessing to others.  Referring to the worldwide ministry of his Campus Crusade, a strong source of methods, resources and training for the Church, Dr. Bright states it ³was born in prayer, its growth has been through prayer, and its future depends on prayer.²  We all concur, but, we must understand this indicates something beyond merely adding more prayer to our personal lives and ministry meetings.  The challenge is to discover the biblical relationship between prayer and human methods as we seek to obey the Great Commission to make disciples of all peoples by communicating and sharing the good news of God in Christ.

Though I had flown in jet airplanes many times, it wasn¹t until I surveyed the six seater that   was about to take me deep into the bush villages of Zambia that I made an obvious and elementary observation.  Suddenly and surprisingly for the first time, I thought about the need for an airplane to have two wings.  Had the pilot pondered our journey with only one of the wings, I would not have needed any counsel to wait for the next plane! A silly notion to make a serious point.

It seems to me, prayer and human methods are the two wings required for the airplane of evangelism to successfully get off the ground, fly safely at the appropriate altitude, and to arrive at it¹s intended destination.  Prayer without evangelistic objectives, goals, and plans produces personal piety but little witnessing activity.  Human methodology that fails to precede in and proceed from prayer, is merely human effort and hence, ineffective.  As Dr. Bright states, ³¹What is the greatest thing you could do to help somebody else?¹  The answer...is obvious: To introduce them to Jesus Christ.²  The answer is obvious. It is the method of introduction that is not.

It is my contention we operate evangelistically with an over-rated reliance on human methods  and an under-valued  partnership with prayer.  For some, progress has been to add a prayer support team to an already planned activity.  Serious training in intercession or spiritual warfare has become a newfound goal in many circles.  Our leaders are beginning to see the need to spend more quality time in prayer, hence, the rise of Prayer Summits and Pastors¹ Prayer Groups.  All good; each indicating a growing awareness of the greater role we must afford to prayer.  But we must go further.

The first recorded prayer in the Bible is closely linked to human methodology.  In Genesis 1:27-30 we are told the Lord created man in His own image (presumably so that relational communication could take place).  After blessing them both (or, possibly as a sign of blessing them), God spoke to the man and the woman, assigning them the role of stewarding their environment.  By speaking, God initiated a conversation between the Creator and the created, which we define as prayer. By assigning, God issued the authority and responsibility to decide how to creatively apply themselves to the accomplishment of His command.

In other words, prayer, the conversation between God and man, was the means by which God revealed His will.  How could it be any other way, not only at that time when the written Word of God did not yet exist, but even now, when that written Word of God is intended to authoritatively guide and guard this holy conversation? (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  As we approach God¹s Word (the text), prayer must be both pretext and context. Prayer must precede human plans and strategies and must also be the environment in which they are sought, adapted, and implemented. Prayer that leads to successful evangelism, both one-to-one and on a large group scale, must  become more than the opening and closing ritual of our strategy meetings. As many have said, prayer is the strategy!

Moses in Numbers 20:2-12, is both a good example and a warning to us. He brings the expressed need of the people to the Lord in prayer (6: Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them.), receives specific instruction on how the Lord will solve the problem and even bless those who were in opposition to His appointed leaders (1)  (8: ³Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.  You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.²).  Moses, even after having inquired of the Lord and receiving specific instruction, proceeds to, shall we say, improvise.  He strikes rather than speaks (11), but more importantly, he takes credit for the result and makes no mention of God (10).  What was found in prayer was not followed-through in prayer, a sign, God said, of Moses¹ lack of trust and regard for the Lord¹s honor (12).  Starting in prayer does not give the evangelist permission to act in accordance with his or her own ideas for implementation.

Joshua encounters the Lord Himself (Joshua 6:2) as he scopes out Jericho for the ensuing battle (5:13).  Is this, as some suggest, the first prayerwalk?  Does the Lord appear as a response to Joshua¹s inquiring prayer as he walks onsite to gain insight into the stronghold of the city (6:1)?  We do know the Lord reveals a strategy (6:2-5) that proves to be very effective (6:20).  We also know Joshua then gave precise instructions to the people regarding their silent marching, the number of times around the city each day, the blowing of the trumpets, rescuing Rahab the prostitute, and devoting the city to God (6:6-19).

Our real lesson, however, is when we see the victorious leader take a short-cut in the very next conflict by accepting a strategy that he did not receive directly from the Lord while in prayer (7:2).  The report of the men who spied out the next city, Ai, was probably accurate and their strategy sounds reasonable but it was completely based upon what they could see and hear with their natural eyes and ears.  God did not empower His people, they were routed by the enemy (4) and ³the hearts of the people melted and became like water² (5).  As Dr. Bright has said, ³We cannot depend on any human methodology.  If ideas are not born in God and energized by His Spirit, we are wasting our time.² How, then, must we wed prayer and methods?

It has been said, if we want to see a book-of-Acts revival, we must reinstitute the book-of-Acts prayer meeting.  The Lord¹s command for the early Church to wait in the Upper Room (Acts 1) was, of course, a way of preparing them for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all believers.  But was it also meant to be a First Command for all congregations who follow in their steps? Should not we also gather in unity, in expectancy, and in faith that the Holy Spirit not only can, but will make God¹s will known and direct our steps?  In Ephesians 5:18 Paul¹s command to be filled with the Spirit is plural; an imperative for the congregation, not merely the individual.  Pentecost, while being a unique event, is meant to be perpetually remembered when the Body of Christ, individually and corporately, bears witness out of prayer-birthed opportunities, prayer-based ministries, and prayer-bathed activities.  Then, the Lord will add to the Church those who are being saved (Acts 2:47).

Remember Paul, when his first step in planting a new church in Philippi was to look for the place of prayer (Act 16:13, 16).  May I suggest he did so, at least partly, so that he could partner with those who were already faithfully inquiring of the Lord?

Don¹t forget the Council in Acts 15 declaring their decision by saying ³It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us... (28) or the church at Antioch in Acts 13. They set apart Barnabas and Saul because they heard the Holy Spirit speak while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, a description of prayer all too unfamiliar to our planning meetings and boards and committees.  The Jerusalem Council and the church in Antioch are examples of both the balance and the sequence of prayer and human response.

And several times Paul exhorts the church in the city to pray towards evangelism.  The church in Colosse is challenged to be devoted to prayer that opens a door for the gospel to be shared personally with those who do not yet know Christ (4:2-6).  The Ephesus Christians are told to pray that the evangelist will have the proper words to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (6:19).  Believers in Philippi are told to do everything by prayer (4:6). That must include receiving and casting vision, assessing needs and resources, planning a strategy, choosing tactics, and evaluating success and next steps.

When Jesus turned the tables in the Temple, it was not, primarily, because they were selling t-shirts and books in the lobby. He was angry because they had blocked the path and drowned out the sounds of worship that would draw unbelievers to investigate the one true God just a few feet away. The religious establishment had taken their focus off their responsibility of connecting people and God (evangelism) because they had thought they could trust their traditions and methods without constant conversation (prayer) and modification (Holy Spirit inspired methods and ideas).

Sadly, even the commitment to prayer is not a guarantee of balance. The church in Jerusalem, ³earnestly praying to God for² Peter, who had been thrown into prison (Acts 12:5), was incredulous with Roda who said he was standing at the door. They responded to a problem with prayer but when God responded to their problem with power, they were unprepared. The church was praying strenuously but not strategically. Strategic prayer expects God to work and asks to be prepared for His, often surprising, answers. Strategic prayer decries the problem and expresses the need but also seeks the solution; a God-ordained strategy and methodology.

Now what?

Would it surprise you for me to suggest the answer of how to balance prayer and human methods in evangelism is to be found in, what else, prayer?  The asking-waiting-listening-obeying type of prayer experienced when one inquires of the Lord.  A depth and patience in prayer many of us may know as individuals but few of us know as congregations, ministry teams, or 501C-3 organizations.  Not mysterious nor complicated prayer.  A simple, be still and listen to your God kind of dependence; one that refuses to press on until, and unless, we hear from our Good Shepherd. A wonderfully dangerous way of prayer the Holy Spirit is eager to teach us, so that, we are empowered and enlightened on how to fulfill the Great Commission of Christ.Fulfilled, not by human might or methods, nor by the power of our plans and programs, but by His Spirit.  

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This article will continue to be posted and distributed throughout the NPPN - with the ongoing addition of comments and questions from NPPN respondents.  The NPPN produces and provides these articles to initiate a national conversation among pastors’ prayer leaders. Opinions reflect the views of each author or respondent, not the NPPN or any other person or organization You are encouraged to contact the author or subsequent respondents directly.  These ongoing discussions are intended to inspire, instruct, and inform those who lead pastors’ prayer groups and facilitate pastors’ prayer networks. The NPPN reserves the right to edit articles and responses for purposes of length or tone. Our call to humility and our commitment to biblical unity will serve as our guide and our guard.

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