Jack Miller on Prayer

Jack Miller

At Solas, we often say that while proclaiming and defending the gospel is our method; everything we do depends on prayer for its power and fruitfulness. As we start into this New Year, we want to focus our minds on prayer, that this coming year will not just be busy, but productive!

The first person I ever saw doing evangelism in a restaurant/cafe type setting was C. John “Jack” Miller. He was visiting a church in Danbury in Essex, with a team from New Life Church, Glenside. They booked an Indian restaurant for the afternoon, and we invited people from the town in for food, and Jack spoke. It was an amazing thing to watch, as was the way in which he responded to people’s questions at the end. Those were great times. Jack Miller’s very fruitful ministry was undergirded by a remarkable commitment to prayer. What follows is an extract from one of his books, which we have been given permission to publish here. It describes the way in which the prayer life of his church was transformed. It’s a longer read than most of our articles, but is well worth the investment, Pour yourself a coffee, find a comfortable chair and  learn from Jack Miller.
(-ed)


THE PRAYING LOCAL CHURCH

As I drove up to the church building in our California city that Wednesday evening, I wasn’t sur­prised to see the parking lot empty. I was usually the first person to arrive for prayer meeting. A few moments later I was arranging chairs and reviewing my thoughts for the evening’s Bible study.

But after waiting about ten minutes, I became puzzled. Usually Maria was here by this time, and Tom and Mary, and Brian. Our midweek prayer meeting was never large, but we always had at least a small group turn out. I glanced again at my watch. It was ten to eight! Twenty minutes had gone by and I was still alone. At eight o’clock I went to look at the parking lot. There was not a single car to be seen.

With a sinking feeling, I made my way back to the prayer room. Obviously no one was coming. What had happened? Who killed the prayer meeting?

Several people over the previous year had not exactly helped build it. One brother sometimes argued with me over details of the Bible study. Another probably prayed too long during the prayer time. But as I struggled with questions, I sensed a disturbing answer pushing forward into the light. It was: “You killed the prayer meeting!”

I had killed the prayer meeting? That was an alarming thought. The pastor had done the prayer meeting to death? But if I as pastor had killed the prayer meeting, I did not have a clue as to how and why it had happened.

Turning from this dismal picture, I will share a second scene that has never left me. Ten years later I drove again into a church parking lot, this one belonging to a small country church in Pennsylvania that I was serving as pastor. It was in July 1971, and the lot was filled with cars. So many people were packed into the church basement that you could hardly enter the door or find a place to sit. We had to adjourn to the sanctuary to provide space for all the people.

On that night, four people made professions of faith, lives of believers were changed, and a carload of passing teenagers stopped to see what all the excitement was about at this once sleepy church.

“What’s happening, what’s going on?” their leader asked. “I’ve driven by here many times, but I’ve never seen this kind of action. What’s up?”

This teenager was the president of the student council at a local high school, a fine student, and an outstanding athlete-and secretly addicted to drugs. A few weeks later someone sent him some evangelistic literature through the mail, and he surrendered his life to Christ and became active in our prayer meeting.

WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE?

What made the difference between the prayer meeting that failed and the one that came alive? The earlier gathering lacked the touch of the power of God. In the second one the King was present, moving, working, and leading. It was His meeting. He had graciously chosen to be present and to glorify Himself by changing us and answering our prayers.

Seen from the human side, people came to the prayer meeting because they expected God to work in their lives. They expected to know God better for having come, and they were convinced that He was ready to answer their prayers. I cannot remember their being disappointed. Each week we heard reports of prayers being answered and lives changed. One thing really brightened up the meetings: it was not unusual for the unconverted people we had prayed for a few weeks before to become Christians and begin to attend the prayer meetings. Sometimes people were converted during the Wednesday meeting itself.

Much of the change, thought was in me and in my view of the Holy Spirit. My understanding of God and His commit­ment to supply the Holy Spirit was shallow and intellectualis­tic. I was especially afraid of anything in worship or prayer that might be emotional or what I saw as “spooky.” At bottom, it was a matter of trust. I relied heavily-sometimes almost entirely-on my mind as a Christian thinker and on my hard work as a pastor. Prayer and what the apostle Paul calls “the fellowship of the Spirit” were “dispensable supplements” for me as a pastor. What really mattered for me was frequent and regular visiting of people, studying the Bible carefully, preach­ing biblical truths with contemporary relevance, and often using the media to publicize the programs of our local church. In all this I had a naïve confidence that biblical truths clearly expressed would almost automatically change lives.

Fortunately a second failure eventually did a great deal more to clear the cobwebs from my busy pastoral brain. Elsewhere in this book I have told about it-my humbling struggle with an overwhelming sense of defeat in the spring of 1970, and my subsequent intense study of the promises of God. I still valued clearheaded thinking about the Bible and intense pastoral labour. But I began, haltingly but really, to give up my confidence in any human adequacy and my own abilities. I tried to rely more exclusively on “prayers and the supply of the Spirit” (Phil. 1:18 MILLER) for the power to serve Christ effectively.

Increasingly I saw myself as a desperately needy person, like the man who goes to his friend at midnight and says, “I have nothing” (Luke 11:6). Before this, my problem in praying was that I had something-namely, reliance on myself, my training, my study, and my work. But the man at midnight has no bread for himself or for others. In his total need he forgets all sense of dignity. The standard translations of verse 8 speak of the man’s “persistence,” but that is hardly what the original language indicates. A better translation would be “shamelessly persistent” or even “shamelessly pushy.” Once I began to pray boldly like this man in my hunger for God and His help, He began to impart to me in a new way the presence of the Holy Spirit.

And that is the whole point of this passage that compares bread and food to the Holy Spirit. God promises in Luke 11 :13: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” What came home to me with power is the centrality of the Spirit’s working for all of the Christian life and service. In my need I came to appreciate what Herman Bavinck stresses in his excellent essay “The Gift of the Spirit. ” 1 He says that all the promises of Scripture-for protection, health, daily physical bread, etc.­ find their root in the one supreme promise: the commitment of the risen Christ to impart the Holy Spirit as the power source for the church in answer to prayer.

In practice this meant for me that I began to pray for the Spirit’s presence to be with almost everything I did. I especially began to pray with “shameless boldness” for His working in our prayer meeting. I also prayed for each person who was likely to come, for anyone who had a part in leading the prayer meeting, and for my own leadership during the prayer time. I asked God to give us His Spirit that we would know how to pray, that our hearts would be surrendered to His missionary will, and that we would leave the prayer meeting freed of guilt and fear and ready to witness fearlessly for Christ. In brief, my plea, based on the promise of the Spirit given in Luke 11: 13, was for Him to meet with us and change us into a community of faith working through love. Frequently I asked the Father to visit us with His Spirit to equip us with three things:

  1. His self-forgetting love for others
  2. His wisdom for praying specifically and intelligently
  3. his boldness for prayer and risk-taking witness
TWO KINDS OF PRAYER MEETINGS: MAINTENANCE OR FRONTLINE?

This prayer meeting in Pennsylvania was intended to function as a frontline battle station. the earlier meeting in California was largely designed to maintain the existing life and ministry of our congregation. Believers came to the earlier meeting to be edified by a Bible study that took up most of the hour and to pray for the internal needs of the church. Expectancy seemed to be at a low ebb among the attenders, evidenced by the fact that none of us bothered to keep a record of prayers offered and answered. I also do not think that Christians came to this prayer meeting expecting to meet God in a life-changing encounter.

By contrast, people came to the frontline prayer meeting to be changed. They discovered what Augustine has empha­sized, that man’s chief need is to fellowship with God, to find fulfilment in Him, and to experience the abiding presence of Jesus (Pss. 27:4; 36:7-9; John 14:18–23; 15:1-10). So they came to be changed, and they were changed because Jesus kept His promise to be wherever two or three gather in His name (Matt. 18:19-20}. From Him they received grace to confess and forsake their sins, to be touched with His compassion for the lost, and to go forth to “put feet on their prayers” through witnessing by words and deeds of love.

Speaking of maintenance-style prayer meetings, Steve Harper says bluntly that “they are not really prayer meetings.” In his useful little book Prayer Ministry in the Local Church, he concludes, “They are usually Bible studies with five minutes of prayer tacked on at the end. ” 2 Ours in California actually was given to prayer, but its conception and format were designed more to preserve the status quo of the inward-­looking church than to break down its rigidities. By contrast, the frontline prayer assembly has a revolutionary purpose. The prayer of those who attend it is summarized in the words “Thy kingdom come.” Their Spirit-imparted desire is to see the power of God’s kingdom revealed and to see the social segregation of the turned-in church replaced by a welcoming community of faith and love. Such a frontline prayer meeting becomes itself an expression of kingdom power when the following conditions are met:

  1. Faith/expectancy: A minimum of two or three believers gathered together to devote themselves to prayer and confidently claim Jesus’ promise to be present with them (Matt. 18:20; Acts 1:13-14; 2:42).
  2. Oneness of purpose: A seeking of “agreement” {Matt. 18:19) or “one-mindedness” (Acts 1 :14; 2:1; 4:24; Rom. 15:5-6) on key subjects for prayer.
  3. Authority: A humble but bold claiming of the authority of Jesus’ name in making requests of the Father (Matt. 18:20; John 15:16; 16:24).
  4. Commitment: A surrender to the will of Christ as revealed in the Great Commission, and a willingness to take “risks” in obeying that will (Acts 1-4).

You can see more clearly what this kind of prayer involves in practice when you consider the content and format of a typical frontline prayer meeting. For example, in 1971 one of our prayer meetings might have had the following order and elements in it:

  • Opening-reading a promise concerning the Holy Spirit from John 7:37-39, singing several “singable” songs exalting Christ, praying for the Spirit’s presence;
  • Testimonies of answers to prayer and thanksgiving, and opportunities to confess sins and claim the Father’s forgiveness;
  • Reading and brief exposition of Matthew 18:19-20 on the nature of corporate prayer;
  • Agreement and prayer for key subjects-overseas mis­sionaries, preaching of the Word on Sunday, unsaved friends and neighbours, seriously ill people, youth work and Sunday school;
  • Songs of praise for the answers anticipated;
  • Dividing up into small groups to pray for felt needs-fears and anxieties, family problems, employment, finances.

This prayer time would usually last almost an hour and a half, but the elders of the Chapel and I would stay around for at least another hour to help people “put feet on their prayers.” One purpose of this follow-up time was to guide believers into avenues of service for Christ in the church and community. Later. when New Life Church was born in 1973, this after-­period became a “commitment time” for mobilizing deacons for outreach to nursing homes and the poor and for stimulating sluggish Christians to reach out more boldly in witness. With our heads cleared by the evening of prayer, we often came to see much more clearly the needs of the community around us and to seek out spiritual gifts for ministering to these needs.

To build this kind of action-oriented prayer meeting, I personally invited all kinds of people to attend, something that I had not done with the earlier prayer meeting. I told them, “It’s the best meeting in the church. Come and expect great things to happen.” Those who responded were usually people who felt a need to know God better and were becoming teachable.

In the beginning I was most successful in persuading businessmen to come to pray, since they were often willing to be discipled by me. Eventually I sent almost all my counselling cases to this meeting. Next I zeroed in on the teenagers of the church, made friends with them, and shared with them my excitement over what God was doing Wednesday nights. Soon a dozen teenagers were attending. This was not cheap sales­manship, but persuasion issuing from the Spirit’s building in me a biblical vision of the meaning and power of corporate prayer.

By the summer of 1971 I was absolutely convinced of the supreme importance of corporate prayer if the ingrown fellow­ship is to recover New Testament normalcy.3

I was equally convinced that a normal Christian life requires participation in corporate prayer. My earnestness and sincerity in these matters were certainly a gift of God and not arising from myself, but God graciously used His working in me to persuade others that group prayer activates revival in the church and missionary outreach; without it all Christian work limps and falters. 4 A major influence on my thinking in this regard has been Jonathan Edwards’s essay “An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People, in Extraordinary Prayer, forthe Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth,” Works (Worcester: Isaiah Thomas Jr., 1808), 3:355-494 5

STEPS FOR BUILDING FRONTLINE PRAYER MEETINGS

What steps does the local church leader take to implement this kind of New Testament praying in the congregation? I wish to stress the importance of humility and patience with others when we are captivated by a new vision of what a frontline prayer meeting can do for the body. The leader can easily embrace a new conception of prayer and then outpace the congregation so that he has no one following when changes are introduced. So the first step in teaching about prayer is to become a better model yourself, in both private and corporate praying. For instance, have you faced up to the degree your own life and ministry drag because of prayerlessness? If you are the pastor of the church, do you pray for the congregation before you preach-and do you pray afterward for the effects of the Word to continue? Do you pray regularly through the church directory for every member of the church? Do you constantly give thanks before the church for the love of God revealed in the Cross?

To improve your practice of prayer, I can recommend no better helps than Charles H. Spurgeon’s “Effective Prayer” and the account of J. 0. Fraser’s praying in the well-known chapter 11 of Mrs. Howard Taylor’s Behind the Ranges. Set a simple goal for yourself: not to give yourself and God any rest until you have taken into your own life the lessons on effective praying proposed by Spurgeon and Fraser.

The second step should be to deepen your knowledge of corporate prayer by the close study of prayer in Luke and Acts.

For rich insights into the subject, examine Harvie M. Conn’s article “Luke’s Theology of Prayer” in Christianity Today (December 22, 1972) and David Bryant’s excellent book Concerts of Prayer. To appreciate the historical impact of corporate prayer, immerse yourself in J. Edwin Orr’s book The Fervent Prayer, a survey of the effect on the churches of North America and the United Kingdom of prayer for revival by small groups.

The third step is to seize every opportunity to talk with others informally about frontline praying. Introduce them to great passages on prayer like Luke 11: 1-13 (the friend at midnight) and the pattern of group prayer followed by outreach action found in Acts 1-4. Then when you are with two or three Christians discussing these teachings, suggest that you pray right then and there along the lines indicated in Luke-Acts and in this chapter. Whenever you meet anyone with a need, encourage that person to pray with you for the felt need and then to reach beyond to pray for God to send revival to the church and to bring in a missionary harvest.

In his seminars on prayer, David Bryant stresses that every human need ought to be related to the missionary vision of the Scriptures. For example, he says that a Christian may have a felt need to lose weight, but the prayer for strength to diet is not answered because the motivation is self-centered; the person wants to look better for his or her own sake. But let the person change the motivation and ask God for grace to lose weight so as to glorify Him by becoming a more attractive and wholesome witness to Christ; then, Bryant believes, such God­ centred praying will prove to be more effective.

The fourth step is, if you are a pastor, to become more public in your teaching about prayer and in implementing changes in the programs of the church to give prayer its premier role. Preach a series of sermons on prayer, its nature and role in the normal church. Plan your pastoral prayers more carefully, and pray ahead of time that God will give you grace to speak for the congregation to Him, but doing so deeply aware of His presence rather than the presence of human beings. Arrange for more time to be devoted to prayer at the board meetings of the church.

Do not begin by making radical changes in the format of the traditional prayer meeting. Start by improving its quality. Reduce your Bible study to twenty minutes, but plan it so that it relates to prayer and the promises of God. In effect you are setting forth the principles of effective praying and have opened up at least fifteen additional minutes for the actual task of praying. Carefully plan beforehand how this time will be used by you and the people gathered for prayer.

Gradually make the changes in the format of the prayer meeting more thoroughgoing. Continually struggle in prayer yourself for wisdom to make the prayer meeting more God­-centred and less problem-centred. You are in the toughest battle facing the Christian church. Prayer meetings constantly tend downward, to become either intellectualistic Bible stud­ies or anxiety-sharing sessions where religious arguments break out. Christian people and their leaders are ready to do almost anything except get down to praying with power and authority in the name of Christ.

A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT: THE SPY IN THE HEART

By now you may feel overwhelmed by your own inade­quacy in prayer. You may also conclude that your congrega­tion does not have any frontline praying at all. But on this point you could make a grave mistake by overlooking the spy who lives in the heart of every believer. I am thinking of the Holy Spirit, who constantly labours in us to open us up to God’s Word and will. We may be completely closed off to a line of biblical teaching and not know it, but then in our presumption we end up in situations in the church that threaten to swallow us up. At that time the Spirit begins to force questions upon us, probings from heaven that surface irresistibly in our minds. We may press these down, but the questions persist.

What we are experiencing is the Holy Spirit doing an “inside job” on us, opening doors and letting in truth that seems quite alien to us naturally. And this is always true of prayer. Prayer is always mysterious, partly alien, and to pray effectively is to break through what Richard Lovelace has called “invisible barriers.” But released by the Spirit, we do learn to pray as individuals and as congregations. The Spirit is sovereign. Prayer is His gift, and He will succeed in teaching His church to pray.

You may not be the pastor in the local church. But all pacesetters can depend on the spy’s living in their fellow Christians to open them up to the approach to prayer set forth in this chapter. You can begin by sharing literature on prayer with your pastor and other officers in the church. As you do, pray for the Spirit to be opening their minds to biblical teaching about corporate prayer and prayer based on the promises of Scripture. You can converse with them as to the meaning and application of the various passages on prayer that are found in Scripture. A leader of the Sunday school can stimulate interest in praying together at leadership meetings and foster the organization of an adult Sunday school class on prayer. You can either lead such a class yourself or select a carefully chosen leader who knows both how to teach on prayer and how to pray.

PRAYING FOR THE PASTOR

Most of all, you can make the pastor sense how much you are behind him by your prayers. I have found nothing more stimulating to my own prayers than knowing that members of the church are earnestly interceding with a heart of love for me and my work in the church and community. One woman in particular at the Chapel in the late sixties was a bridge leading me into the world of prayer. At first I was resistant when she prayed fervently for me and my ministry every Wednesday evening. Gradually this praying began to stimulate my faith, and I began to pray more for my own ministry.

Then, as my heart softened, this dear lady began to ask me questions. She queried me with a smile and without guile, “Since we call it a prayer meeting, wouldn’t it be better to have a shorter Bible study on Wednesday evening and give more time to prayer?”

My response was somewhat confused. I asked, “Don’t you like the Bible study?”

Her reply won my heart. “I love it. and I really am eager to see more people come to it. But maybe it could be on another night, so that on Wednesdays we could pray more.” Gradually I began to devote more time on Wednesday evenings to prayer, and I focused the Wednesday Bible study itself on the promises as a basis for effective corporate prayer. Eventu­ally I began a Bible study on Monday evenings, and as its attendance grew, many of the people who came to Christ because of it began coming to the prayer meeting on Wednes­day evening.

I thank God for this faithful Christian woman who was a real pacesetter from God for me and our church. What she did 1 think most people can do. She prayed for me and the work with power and love. She did it in private, and she did it in my hearing on Wednesday evenings. She also gently entreated me to put the focus in the prayer meeting on praying and then exercised patience with me as I slowly responded.

FULL OF FAITH

Now accept a word of encouragement from the pastor who killed the prayer meeting. At the beginning we do not have to be full of faith. I certainly was not. Nonetheless, as we as leaders travel this path of corporate prayer, we will arrive at a place where we never expected to be, people full of faith, seeing God do mighty things through our prayers and labours. What we have always wanted will come to us as a gift of the King as we pray and as we lead others to pray with us.

It was about 1962 when the prayer meeting died under my inept leadership. More than a decade later when we were considering the beginning of New Life Church, we initiated a small prayer meeting in our home. As we claimed the promise of the Spirit’s presence, we found ourselves gripped by the assurance that God was going to work. He did. Two of the people attending the prayer meeting came under conviction and gave their lives to the Lord. From that impetus we decided that it was clear the Holy Spirit was moving and that the King was beginning a harvest in our community.

It’s enough to stir your faith to action!

ACTION STEPS
  1. List the key elements that lead to the decline or death of a prayer meeting.
  2. List the key elements that lead to a prayer meeting’s becoming a power source for renewal and missions.
  3. Which elements listed under the first two questions are to be found in your local church prayer meeting or meetings?
  4. Meet with two other people who attend this prayer meeting, and discuss with them weaknesses and strengths of the prayer time. Share with them several key ideas from this chapter and brain­storm on ways to make the prayer meeting more biblical.
  5. Meet again with the two people mentioned above lo pray together for your church’s regular prayer meeting.
  6. Develop a simple plan for improving the prayer meeting. Include the following: Inviting new people to come; focusing a shortened Bible study on the promises; appointing a secretary to keep a record of requests and to report on them weekly; praying ahead of time for each person who is likely to attend; choosing hymns and songs that focus on the resurrection power of Christ.
READING SHELF

BRUCE, A. B. “Lessons in Prayer,” The Training of the Twelve. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 4th ed., n.d.
BRYANT, DAVID. Concerts of Prayer. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVar­sity, 1984.
HALLESBY, 0. A. Prayer. Trans. by Clarence J. Carlsen. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1937.
ORR, J. EDWIN. The Fervent Prayer: The Worldwide Impact of the Great Awakening of 1858. Chicago: Moody, 1974.
SPURGEON, CHARLES HADDON. Effective Prayer. Grand Rapids: Evangelical Press, n,d.


Taken from Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller. Copyright © 1986 Zondervan
[Copyright Holder]. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com, and available here:

References

  1. Herman Bavinck, “The Gift of the Spirit”, Our Reasonable Faith, (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1956) pp386-403.
  2. Prayer Ministry in the Local Church” (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976) p.45.
  3.   By this time I saw that the premier means by which we claim the power of the Spirit for witness is through the corporate prayer of the church. Striking evidence supporting this conclusion is seen in Pater’s transformation after Jesus’ resurrection. Before the resurrection he was the man who slept while Jesus prayed. But afterward he is “devoted to prayer” with the other disciples (Acts 1:13-14), and he is filled with extraordinary boldness in his preaching as a consequence of this commitment to corporate prayer (Acts 2:16–41).