Excerpt from "The Passion for Souls", Oswald J. Smith
WE READ in Isaiah 56:8, that "as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children"; and this is the most fundamental element in the work of God. Can children be born without pain? Can there be birth without travail? Yet howmany expect in the spiritualrealm that whichis not possible in the natural! Oh, my brethren, nothing, absolutely nothing short of soul-travail will bring forth spiritual children! Finney tells us that he had no words to utter, he could only groanand weep whenpleading withGod for a lost soul. That was true travail.
Can we travail for a drowning child; but not for a perishing soul? It is not hard to weep whenwe realise that our little one is sinking below the surface for the last time. Anguish is spontaneous then. Not hard to agonise when we see the casket containing all that we love on earthborne out of the home. Ah, no; tears are naturalat sucha time! But oh, to realise and know that souls, precious, never dying souls are perishing all around us, going out into the blackness of darkness and despair, eternally lost, and yet to feelno anguish, shed no tears, knowno travail! How cold our hearts are! How little we knowof the compassionof Jesus! And yet God can give us this, and the fault is ours if we do not have it.
Jacob, you remember, travailed until he prevailed. But oh, who is doing it to-day? Who is really travailing in prayer? How many, even of our most spiritual Christian leaders are content to spend a few minutes a day on their knees, and then pride themselves on the time they have given to God! We expect extraordinary results, and extraordinary results are quite possible; signs and wonders will follow, but only through extraordinaryefforts in the spiritual realm. Hence, nothing short of continuous, agonising pleading for souls, hours upon hours, days and nights of prayer, will ever avail. Therefore, "gird yourselves, and lament ye priests; howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God. Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land unto the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord." (Joel 1:13-14.) Ah, yes, Joel knew the secret. Let us then lay aside everything else, and "cry unto the Lord."
"We read in the biographies of our forefathers, who were most successful in winning souls, that they prayed for hours in private. The question therefore arises, can we get the same results without following their example? If we can, then let us prove to the world that we have found a better way; but if not, then in God's name let us begin to follow those who through faith and patience obtained the promise. Our forefathers wept and prayed and agonised before the Lord for sinners to be saved, and would not rest until theywere slain by the Sword of the Word ofGod. That was the secret of their mightysuccess; whenthings were slack and would not move they wrestled in prayer till God poured out His Spirit uponthe people and sinners were converted. " — Samuel Stevenson.
All men of God have become menmightyin prayer. The sun never rose on China, we are told, without findingHudsonTaylor on his knees. No wonder the China Inland Missionhas been so wonderfully owned of God!
Conversion is the operation of the Holy Spirit, and prayer is the power that secures that operation. Souls are not saved by man but by God, and since He works in answer to prayer we have no choice but to follow the Divine plan. Prayer moves the Ann that moves the world. Prevailing prayer is not easy. Only those who have wrestled with the powers of darkness know how hard it is. Paul says that "we wrestle not against fleshand blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the dark ness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."(Eph. 6:12.) And when the Holy Spirit prays it is "with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Rom. 8:26.) Oh, howfew find time for prayer! There is time for everything else, time to sleep and time to eat, time to read the newspaper and the novel, time to visit friends, time for everything else under the sun, but, no time for prayer, the most important of all things, the one great essential.
Think of Susannah Wesley who, in spite of the fact that she had nineteen children, found time to shut herself in her room for a full hour each day, alone with God.Myfriends, it is not so mucha case of finding time as it is of making time. And we can make time if we will. So important did the Apostles consider it that they would not even wait on tables, but said: "We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." (Acts 6:4.) Yet how many ministers are burdened withthe financialside of the work, and howmany officials expect themto bear it!No wonder their spiritual work is of such little account! "And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God." (Luke 6:12.) Such is the record concerning the Son of God; and if it was necessary for Him how much more so for us! Oh, think of it! — "all night in prayer." How many times could that be written of us? Hence, His strength! Hence, our weakness I Howfervently do the prophets of old urge a life of prayer! Hear Isaiah as he exclaims: "Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth." (Isa. 62:6-7.) "Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, spare Thy people,O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathenshould rule over them; wherefore should they say among the people, 'Where is their God?"' (Joel 2:15 .)
And not only did they urge prayer, but they themselves prayed. Daniel says, "I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes; and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession." (Dan. 9:3-4.) And Ezra also wielded the same mighty weaponin everytime of difficulty. "I fell upon my knees,"he says, "and spread out myhands unto the Lord my God." (Ezra 9:5.) Then follows his most remarkable prayer. The same method was followed by Nehemiah. "And it came to pass when I heard their words," he relates, "that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days and fasted, and prayed before the God of Heaven." (Neh. 1: 4.) Such was also the practice of the Early Church. WhenPeter was in prison it is stated that "prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him," and "many were gathered together praying." And now, in closing, maywe turnto the record of God's dealings withHis honoured servants, and hear what they have to say about the secret of results. And oh, may He put upon us the burden of prayer and supplication that rested upon these mighty spiritual giants and filled them with such travail! "John Livingstone spent the whole night prior to June 21, 1630, in prayer and conference, being designated to preach next day. After he had been speaking for an hour and a half a few drops of rain disconcerted the people, but Livingstone, asking themiftheyhadanyshelterfromthe stormof God's wrath, went on another hour. There were about 500 converted on the spot. " — Livingstone of Shotts.
"I once knew a minister who had a Revival fourteen winters in succession. I did not know how to account for it, till I saw one of his members get up in a prayer meeting and make a confession. 'Brethren,' said he, 'I have been long in the habit of praying every Saturday night till after midnight, for the descent of the Holy Ghost upon us. And now, brethren,' and he beganto weep, 'I confess that I have neglected it for two or three weeks.' The secret was out. That minister had a praying church." — Chas. G. Finney. "Prevailing, or effectual prayer is that prayer which attains the blessing that it seeks. It is that prayer which effectually moves God. The very idea of effectual prayer is that it effects its objects. " — Chas. G. Finney.
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