Speaker: The Revd Tom Stuckey, Past President of the Methodist Conference (2005)
Theme: The Power of the Cross
Dates: Friday 3 to Sunday 5 November,
Where are the Intercessors?
Not, of course, that I need to know, but I ask the question in the light of the 24/7 decision at the last Methodist Conference. Where are the intercessors? The decision was a brave one and profoundly challenging to all of us. I am bound to say that it is the most encouraging statement that I can recall. Our father in God, John Wesley, commented that, 'God does nothing but in answer to prayer'. Or as Samuel Chadwick put it, 'Things will never be better until prayer is restored to its true place in the organization of the church and the habits of individual believers. There is no substitute for prayer, but with prayer all things are possible'. Lastly, Stephen Olford in his book concerning revival said, 'Indeed the reason for an unrevived church in the last analysis is the sin of prayerlessness'. So, yes, I rejoice in the call to prayer; but do we really grasp the fact that this will require a discipline and commitment the like of which many of us may never have known? We shall need each other to encourage, prompt, goad and generally keep going - stickability!
But where are the intercessors? I raise the query in the light of many experiences over the years, in many places and various groupings. It seems difficult to find those who will give themselves to 'costly, concentrated, believing' prayer. We all fail here! But we really have to face this issue of our own poverty of communion with the Lord and the godlessness that pervades the country. P.T.Forsyth put it in this trenchant fashion: 'Ours is Christianity without force, passion or effect. It is a suburban piety, domestic and kindly but unfit to deal with the deep damnation of the human race'.
Some years ago I heard of a Day of Prayer and gladly found out details so that I could join in. It was on a day on which I was already committed to a large extent, but as it started at 10.00am I could attend up to midday. Prayer commenced at 11.45am! All that went before was very interesting, but I had imagined that our prime purpose was to pray. I had a similar experience a year or two later when so much took precedence over the main reason for gathering. All have doubtless known the prayer gathering where this happens and unless firm discipline is exercised, prayer takes a back seat.
Or take the Prayer Breakfast from 8.00-10.00am and advertised to include networking, local information, breakfast (not a snack!), of course, and prayer. I am afraid that I just wonder how long will be the time given to prayer.
Some time ago I joined a lunchtime group (with a charismatic background) mainly because I wanted to learn and experience more of prayer in that context. It lasted for two hours, and guess what? It was mostly networking, information and then some prayer. What is it about prayer that, despite all that is said and written, it is the Cinderella of the church and of many of our evangelical meetings. I cannot but notice that meetings that are concerned for teaching on revival and prayer often go the same way. Why can we not get on with it? 'Go for it, Dad' my children would say. Why do I struggle to do so? Why do I fail to obtain real positive responses to pleas for prayer - and from those from whom I would have hoped for help and support? And yes, I do readily accept that there are some prayer gatherings that recognise and accept the responsibility for intercession. They are difficult to find but wherever they are do keep on and beware by-pass alley. The devil is adept at producing inviting alternatives! Yes, I am only too well aware that my prime responsibility is 'in the closet' and in writing this, once again the preacher is preaching to himself. But the question still remains: where are the intercessors?
There is much said and written about revival and prayer by means of sermons, conferences, pamphlets, books and articles like this one, but where are the intercessors? Over forty years ago my father wrote an article with the same title as this one and commented 'We do not appear to have the humble, obscure intercessors on their knees continually pleading and giving [God] no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jesus a praise in the earth'. Has anything changed? I have read that my father 'used to insist that what was needed in Methodism was less organising and more agonising'. So where are the intercessors?
'Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even the infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, 'Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, "Where is their God?"' (Joel 2:15-18).
Why indeed? Where are the intercessors?