The most important thing on earth

by John Arnold
Pastor, Library Baptist Church, Finleyville, PA

Charles Spurgeon said, “I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.” Why do we see so many more quotes on the subject of prayer from earlier generations than we do from our current church leaders? I think it is because men of earlier generations had to depend more on the power of God than we are in the habit of doing today.

We seem to be able to produce a facsimile of spirituality, enough to satisfy us, with the latest marketing campaign rather than turning back to those things which propelled the early church forward in their quest for spiritual power and effectiveness in ministry. We are more into doing or getting a result than praying. It just takes too much of our time. If we are not in motion, we feel we are not making progress. We don’t realize that prayer is motion, and without it we are not getting ahead.

Another voice from the past is a name you may have heard quoted before. E. M. Bounds was born in Missouri in 1835. He went to a one-room school, and then went into the study of law. He practiced law from age 19 to 24 years, and then was called to preach. He was charged with being a Confederate sympathizer and spent a year and a half in a federal prison in St. Louis.

Bounds was a pray-er, writer, and revivalist. His typical morning consisted of rising at four o’clock to be alone with God in prayer until seven o’clock. In 1913 he died, but his writings live on. At the time of his death, only two of his books had been published. Homer W. Hodge and Claude Chilton took up the task of bringing nine more books from E. M. Bounds’s writings to fruition. Chilton said of these books:

“These books are unfailing wells for a
Life time of spiritual water-drawing.
They are hidden treasures,
Wrought in the darkness of dawn
And the heat of the noon,
On the anvil of experience,
And beaten into wondrous form
By the mighty stroke of the Divine.
They are living voices
Whereby he being dead,
Yet speaketh!

In commenting on 1 Timothy 2:1-6, 8 Bounds says that Paul is claiming

… prayer is the most important of all things on earth. All else must be restrained, retired, to give it primacy. The conflict is about the primacy of prayer. Defeat and victory lie in this one thing. To make prayer secondary is to discrown it. It is to fetter and destroy prayer. If prayer is put first, then God is put first, and victory is insured. Prayer must either reign in the life or must abdicate. Which shall it be?

Bounds expounds on the apostle Paul’s praying when he said, “Pauline praying costs much, is death to self, the flesh, and the world. Pauline praying is worth all it costs. Prayer which costs nothing gets nothing.”

I see a great hunger for prayer in our generation right now. We know well that the imitations of spirituality are so empty and unrewarding. They always seem to leave us with the feeling, “That sure didn’t live up to the advertisement.”

I just returned from the BBFI Mexico Pastors’ Family Spiritual Retreat outside Mexico City. Edwin and Annita Hoagland were my hosts on this trip. It was thrilling to see how eager the families were to hear more about prayer. We had six sessions on prayer, and after the sessions the people broke up into groups to pray. I was impressed at how long their prayer times were.

On our last Sunday evening there in Mexico City, Edwin and Annita and their ministry team travelled to one of their mission churches. The pastor and his wife greeted me with their study notebooks that they had received at the retreat, and they showed me the progress they were making by writing down the things for which they were praying. The pastor said that the first time he began to pray in this fashion he prayed for an hour and a half, and now he was praying an hour each day.

At the retreat in Mexico the pastors were praying for a revival in Mexico. Around our country people are praying for the same thing. Revival starts with our prayer life and spreads out to others’ prayer lives and then the times of refreshing come.