Summary: Pray should be the first impulse rather than the last resort of Christ’s people.
First of All—Pray: Part 1
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
C. H. Spurgeon was one of the most popular and successful preachers of Victorian England. His Metropolitan Tabernacle drew thousands each Sunday. Often hundreds would stand outside in the street hoping to catch a bit of the Baptist preacher’s message. One day a group of young seminary students came to visit the church they had heard so much about. When they entered the huge building, they were met by a gray bearded gentleman they took to be the janitor. He offered to lead them on a tour through the facilities and answer any questions they had.
They walked through the sanctuary, stood in the pulpit, and looked down from the balcony. When they had seen just about everything and asked every conceivable question they could come up with, the old gentleman asked a strange question, “Would you like to see what heats this church?” They weren’t really that interested in touring the coal cellar and furnace room. But just to humor their host, they followed. They went down a narrow stairway to an area beneath the pulpit. As the gentleman opened the door, he said, “Behind this door is the secret of this great church. Everything that happens upstairs starts down here. This is where the fire in the pulpit begins.”
The old man, actually Spurgeon himself, opened the door to reveal several dozen people on their knees in fervent prayer. The great preacher would always insist that the secret of any church, big or small, was the prayers of the people. It was Spurgeon who said, “I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.”
Along that same line, someone else has said that you can tell a lot about a church by the attendance at its various meetings. The Sunday morning service, for example, reveals the popularity of the church. The Sunday evening service indicates the popularity of the preacher. But the size of the prayer meeting shows the popularity of Jesus. An interesting concept!
My goal in our Sunday Night School of Prayer is to lay the foundation for prayer becoming the unquestioned heart and center of our church. I know that we pray, but I believe we could prayer more. I know most of you pray, but I believe most of you could witness more answers to prayer. I want prayer to become so much a natural part of our life as a church that it is our first response to anything, not our last resort once we have tried everything else.
We have begun these studies by listening to the Scriptures’ call to pray: We looked at Robinson Crusoe’s text: (Psa 50:15) and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." Last week we examined a classic Old Testament promise: (Jer 33:3) ’Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ Tonight we turn to the New Testament for another call to pray. We will begin our study of this passage tonight and continue it next week.
A bit of background sheds some light on the passage. 1 Timothy is one of a series of three books written by the Apostle Paul to two of his young protégées. We call them the pastoral letters. Someone has said that 1 and 2 Timothy are like bookends or two sides of the same coin. 1 Timothy describes the church that every preacher would like to pastor. 2 Timothy describes the pastor that every church would like to have. Set against the background of dangerous false teaching that threatened this church at Ephesus, Paul calls for a devotion to Scripture, to the message of the Gospel, to quality leaders, to the courage of convictions, and to right priorities about money and possessions. It is important to note how chapter 2 fits into this. In chapter 1, he offers a bit of his own testimony and outlines the seriousness of the doctrinal challenges facing the church. Chapter 2 begins his instructions for how to handle the situation. “I urge, then, first of all, “ he begins. What follows is the top priority.
In this text, we will examine 1) what we are to put first—the place of prayer. Next week, we will look at , 2) why it belongs there—the purpose for prayer, and 3) who should keep it there—the people of prayer. What was at the top of his priority list for the church—prayer! That is what we need to see first, before we look at anything else the text says. “First of all!” For the church of Jesus Christ prayer is not a luxury, an option if we are not too busy, or what we do after we have tried everything else. First of all!