Thought for the Week - 25th February

Pastor Gareth Watkins

Acts 20

When I read this chapter, I am amazed at what Paul gets up to.  This is just one passage detailing this one man’s activities and life.  We see Paul with the believers, taking communion and preaching until midnight!  One of the men falls asleep, falls out of a window to his death.  Paul, through God’s power, performs a miracle and brings him back to life.  Paul then continues to preach until dawn.

He knows what is ahead of him.  In verses 22 and 23 he says:

“I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit
tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead.

Similarly, in verse 25 he says:

And now I know that none of you to whom I have
preached the Kingdom will ever see me again

Paul said that after he was gone, vicious wolves would come amongst the church to distort the truth he’d been teaching them (Acts 20:25).  A sadness came upon them and they prayed.  He then went to his ship ready for his next journey.  Paul did more in this one chapter than many of us do in our lives.

How old was he?  Paul was around 62 when he died, so he would have been in his mid to late 50’s.  How could he pack so much in?  How could he keep going through the sufferings, jailings, riots etc.?  And not only that, but he comes through the building up of the church, through constant travel, through the emotions.  He goes through all that on his pathway to heaven.  There’s no suggestion of taking things easy, retiring etc.  How does he keep going and how does he keep his mind right?

In James 5:16 we read:

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

This effective, fervent prayer must have been in Paul’s life.  He knew how to pray.  He knew how to hear God, he knew how to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  He knew how to keep going and how to keep going.  It was seamless.  There was no praying for a special anointing got raise the man from the dead, speak through the night, to be kept awake etc.  It’s a seamless action of God, where this man knows how to pray and he’s fervent in his prayers.

Part of the answer to Paul’s ability to achieve so much comes down to this business of being an effective prayer warrior.  He knew how to pray and how to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Do you think he kept an exhausting schedule?  I couldn’t keep up with him!  Imagine going through little ports on numerous ships back in those days.  The transport alone would have been exhausting – walking, horses, tatty old ships etc.  It would have been an endurance test.  In the middle of it all, he’s got this ability to have a fervent prayer life.  The question is does feel hectic to you?  Do you seem to be in troubles, with burdens etc?  Paul had all those things going on at the same time, yet the fervent and effective prayer seems to be part of his ability to overcome.

The scriptures also say “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8: 37).  We are more than conquerors!  Effective prayer accomplishes much.

Paul knew to take the problems he encountered, moment by moment, to God.  He knew that he was meant to be an overcomer.  He knew that he was not meant to be a failure, to be shipwrecked and never see again, or beaten to death by others.  He had to continue down this path regardless.  He was going to carry on through the trials and difficulties, and turn out a conqueror in Christ Jesus who loved him.  God gave him the ability to do it.

With us, then problems and difficulties come, the first thing that seems to go is our prayer life.  Coincidental?  Paul must have had difficulties in his prayer life.  He must have got tired, been bruised and battered, in pains at points, physically and mentally exhausted, and fed up at times.  Through it all, Paul knew how to pray to God.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much!

In the midst of our troubles, the first thing that disappears is our desire to pray to God.  We’re too tired, too emotional etc.  It’s the very first thing we should be fighting to hold on to.  We know what’s going to come with what we’re going to have to carry, so why do we allow our prayer life to suffer at that moment when we need to be praying more effectively and fervently?  Paul found a way through that, was able to anticipate it and deal with it.  The dealing with it meant that God worked through it.

I’m currently reading a book by Charles Finney, who has lots to say on this subject.  On fervent prayer he says:

  1. You must pray for a definite object. Finney says you “cannot pray effectually for a variety of objects at once. The mind of man is so constituted that it cannot fasten its desires intensely upon many things at the same time.”
  1. Prayer, to be effectual, must be in accordance with the revealed will of God. We can hear some strange things in the Christian world, for example that divorce your wife to marry another woman is acceptable.  That’s not in the will of God.  What is the will of God in what you’re praying?
  1. To pray effectually, you must pray with submission to the will of God. If we’re going to pray for something, are we prepared to be submissive to that which we pray for?  If God gives you something to pray for, are you then prepared to yield to God’s will within that prayer?  Paul must have been able to yield to the will of God in his circumstances.  Paul, in yielding to God, went to places that were dangerous, fearful and overwhelmingly evil.
  1. Must have the right motives. Paul starts to say he’s worked, looked after himself and others.  The motives of the man are written in the words of Acts 20.  We can see the heart of the man after the will of God.  His motives are for the words and will of God, and for the salvation of all.  He wasn’t just for out himself.
  1. Must be influenced by the Holy Spirit.
  1. It must be persevering prayer. These days we give up easily.  Persevering is ongoing.  We must learn to persevere.  Paul was going to persevere, no matter what.  He must have learned to persevere in his prayer life.  He was shipwrecked, abandoned by his friend, stuck in jail etc.  He was in very lonely places.  Yet in the middle of it, he perseveres.  In the middle of it, he’s there with God.

Finney says we must have “acquiescence in the revealed will of God”.  It means we have to give in to the revealed will of God.  That’s something not all of us like.  Because doing that means it interferes with our private time, our personal plans, our personal goals, what we want to do in terms of our mind set and family.  But Finney is right.  To have an effective, fervent prayer life, we have to have acquiescence in the revealed will of God.

Paul knew it.  Paul knew that fervent, God centred, Holy Spirit filled prayer life.  Otherwise he’d have gone down the wrong road.  If he had, what would have happened?  He would’ve been killed, met the wrong people, been in the wrong places.  Paul had to take the right word to the right people for it to be accepted.

If God is in charge of everything, why is this so important to God?  Why does he demand such a prayer life?  God wants this agony of prayer because it brings a strong bond between Christ and His church.  If we can’t get into the real feelings of the Holy Spirit, if we can’t become part of an effective fervent prayer life, are we really bonded with Christ?  Or are we happy to stay like the spare part in a mechanic shop?  If we want to be part of everything that God has, then we have to become part of an effective and fervent prayer life.  In order to know the heart of God.  In order to know the will of God.  In order that the bond between Christ and His church can exist.

Why is it important to keep looking for this prayer life that avails much, and produces much?  Why is it down to us to pray prayers that avail much?  Because without God and the effective prayer life we have, such things like idolatry and sins can sweep through our lives, through the lives of our families, through the church and through the nation.

Part of having an effective, fervent prayer life that avails much is to prevent all manner of different idolatry, sin and mess entering our lives, families, towns etc.  Our family is kept strong.  The anointing of God is kept in the church and towns.  We need more of that.

In this chaotic world, would you go God’s way through this sin driven world?  Would you overcome through Christ who loves you?  Would you pray effective, fervent prayers as Paul had to do in just one chapter?  Effective prayers produced much in Paul’s life.  It produces as much in our lives today.  The journey is going onwards, and effective prayer gets us to where God wants us to go.


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