Summary: God shakes the world through our prayers.
A man asked his friend, “What color are your pastor’s eyes?” He answered: “I don’t know. When he prays he closes his eyes, and when he preaches, I close mine.” That has little or nothing to do with today’s sermon; I simply liked it.
Dr. D. A. Carson, professor at Trinity Evangelical School, opened his book on Paul’s prayers by asking, “What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today?” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 11). He then noted a few of the answers being suggested.
Some say the pressing need is for sexual purity. One poll of single church members between the ages of 20 and 35 found the majority involved in illicit affairs, even though they are not married. Another study of teenagers from evangelical churches claimed that 40% engaged in premarital sex. Many pastors have ruined their ministry through moral failures. And added to these very physical examples is what Carson calls, the “Technicolor celebration of lust and violence” (12) which invades many Christian homes through various forms of media.
Others have suggested that integrity and generosity in financial matters is our pressing need. Individuals cheat on their taxes while scandals in major corporations are almost daily news. These are simply symptoms of the greed which too often governs our thoughts and grips our hearts. Both political parties pander to citizens convinced of their right to wealth, comfort, and ease. Of course, the church is not free from the love of money, which is a root of all kinds of evil. But is that our greatest need?
Maybe it is evangelism and missions. While the world comes to our door, we must admit that we have not cultivated a cross-cultural witness that brings the gospel to non-Anglo peoples. And neither are we particularly effective in evangelizing our nearer neighbors.
And even when we try, we must be concerned that the fruit of our efforts seems bitter. Less than 5% of people making a profession of faith persevere. And those who do remain committed to the church are more and more likely to think of Christianity as “something to add to their already busy lives, not something that controls, constrains, and shapes their vision and all of their goals” (Carson, 14). So maybe the problem is discipleship.
The list could continue; we have ample failures and weaknesses, each significant in its own place. But consider how Carson summarizes his review of the needs of the Western church: “But there is a sense in which these important needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better. When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted…. In the Biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of the Scriptures, improved private and corporate worship, and much more.”