By Joseph Ametepe
When a person really understands the importance of what he is to do, that is when he exerts all his energy and passion in accomplishing it. So it is with prayer. When we are enabled to grasp its importance, our hearts will be set on fire to devote ourselves to its duty, discipline and delight. A failure to understand the importance of prayer in both our personal lives and in the corporate body of Christ has not only robbed believers of enjoying abundant life in Christ, but also has resulted in lives that are lacking vibrant testimonies. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit Himself would deeply impress on our hearts the importance of prayer, reviving us to pray with increasing effectiveness.
We will not be convinced of the importance of prayer until we discover afresh our desperate need of God. Prayer seems trivial and unnecessary in our lives, because we do not see how desperately needy we are before God. We are created to be totally dependent on Him. Prayer in its simplest form is an expression of our dependence on the true and living God revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in an independent age and culture. We are encouraged to handle our problems ourselves. This spirit of independence has permeated every fiber of our thinking so much so that we really do not know how much we need God. We see ourselves as successful. We are doing well in life, making progress in our work and ministries. Never in the history of the church have we seen such an explosion of mega churches and ministries as we see today. Are we not living in the age of great technological and scientific advances, which make life easier to live than ever before? Do we not have many churches and mission organizations that can boast of multi-million dollar budgets? Yes! Many churches in the West are very prosperous financially. While we have not denied God in the midst of our financial prosperity and technological advances, if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to confess that we are self-satisfied and self-sufficient people. We are not living as people who desperately need God.
King David, Israel's second king, though wealthy and famous, constantly saw himself as needy before God. Pouring out his heart before God on one occasion in his life, he earnestly confessed his deep need of God in prayer. "Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy" (Psalm 86:1). King David had everything. He had power, respect, beautiful homes, a large family, wise counselors, servants, workers, wealth, and of course the throne. Yet, David passionately cried out to God, expressing his desperate need of Him and Him alone. He refused to deceive himself into thinking that all was well with him because he had riches and power over the kingdom of God's people. He sincerely told God, "I am devoted to You" (Psalm 86:2a). David was devoted to God, not to his riches, wealth and achievements in life as a military leader and as a great king. Furthermore, he honestly told God: "You are my God; save Your servant who trusts in You" (Psalm 86:2b). David truly believed that he was deeply in need of God, earnestly and regularly expressing that need in his prayers. Prayer was therefore a vital part of David's walk with God. Until we also see our desperate need for God, prayer will never become a passion in our lives. We will only continue to pay lip service to prayer, perhaps even feeling smug because we pray faithfully.
During those difficult and distressful days in which David was constantly fleeing from King Saul, who was seeking to kill David, because he saw him as a threat to his position, he expressed his passionate yearning for God Himself. In the desert of Judah where he took refuge, he cried out, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1). The background of this Psalm is 1 Samuel 22-23. Those who come to grips with how fully dependent they are on God long for greater closeness to Him in their lives. They hunger for God with a hunger that can only be satisfied by God Himself. They thirst for the living God with a thirst that can only be quenched by God Himself. If we do not see our need of God, we will not earnestly seek Him. Our soul will not thirst after He Himself. Our whole being will not yearn for Him. Indeed, ours is a generation in which our longings are directed toward achieving financial prosperity, popularity, personal prominence, positions of power and successful ministry programs and projects.
Successful and creative ministry programs do not annul our deep need of God. Having positions of power and authority do not decrease our need of God. Popularity among people doesn't diminish our desperate need of God. Financial prosperity doesn't either. In fact, no matter how successful our programs are, no matter how popular, powerful and prosperous we are, this truth remains: we are desperately in need of God.
Just before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan, God solemnly spoke to them through His servant Moses, warning them of their self-satisfied attitudes "When the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you - a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant - then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, fear the LORD your God, serve Him only..." (Deuteronomy 6:10-13).
This was so important to God that He repeated it two chapters later. "For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land - a land with streams and pools of water... a land with wheat and barley... olive oil and honey, a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing... When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery"(Deuteronomy 8:7-14; cf. 31:20; 32:15).
Have we not also built fine houses and settled in them? Has not our wealth increased? Have we not also eaten and become satisfied? Have we not seen growth in our business ventures? Yes indeed! Yet instead of honoring, revering, and praising God, our hearts have become proud, like Israel's. Pride led the children of Israel not only to forget God, but also to foolishly boast about their own strength and power in obtaining their wealth. So God warned them through Moses: "You may say to yourself, My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth..." (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). Although, we may not admit it, the truth is that we are also not only forgetting God in this age of affluence, but we are foolishly boasting about our own ability to produce wealth.
A wealthy man at a banquet overheard a discussion on prayer. He declared, "Prayer may be all right for you, but I don't need it. I worked hard for everything I have. I didn't ask God for anything."Most of us need to confess this attitude of self-sufficiency. Let us not be deceived. God sees hearts that are full of pride.
A Canadian Christian woman, observing how the believers from my country prayed, asked a friend of mine, a Ghanaian believer attending her church in Vancouver, B.C., "Why do you people from Africa pray so fervently? " She didn't wait for an answer, but continued, "It is because you don't have things. We have things, so we don't need to pray as you do." In one way her statement is true. The church in the West is rich. And, where Christians do not feel that they are dependent on God for every aspect of their lives, prayer will not be a vital part of the life of the church. How sad! How tragic! How deceptive it is to think that possession of material wealth frees us from desperately needing God! Financial prosperity does not decrease our desperate need for God. We are dependent on Him for every breath, whether we are prosperous or poor. And we cannot hope to accomplish anything that God will approve of apart from Him. Truly, the Church of today is in need of a rebuke from her Lord, her one foundation, Jesus Christ, because of her self-sufficient spirit.
Even the first century church in Laodicea was self-satisfied until they were rebuked by the Lord and called to repentance. They felt they had everything and thought they needed nothing. With powerful, penetrating words our Lord warned this church: "You say, I am rich; and have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent" (Revelation 3:17-19).
The church of Laodicea appeared to be active and successful. It was the church to attend. This impressive church was making a difference in their generation. It had the ability to pay a large staff and support mega ministry projects. Pastors and preachers dreamed of ministering there. That was from the human viewpoint. But from God's perspective, which is the only perspective that ultimately counts, the church was poor, pitiable, wretched and needy. Why? Because they no longer saw their need of God.
Indeed, we too, like the church of Laodicea, must be zealous to repent of our self-sufficient spirit or else we will continue to live like people "having a form of godliness, but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:5a).
Every believer, whether young or old, rich or poor, small or great, desperately needs more of God in his life. Believers are to be totally dependent on God. God alone can give meaning and significance to our lives. Even spiritual maturity does not decrease our need for God. In the context of teaching His disciples about their total dependence on Him for a fruitful life which receives answers to prayer, the Lord Jesus told His disciples, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Prayer in its simplest form is discovering our deep need for God, who created us, and expressing our dependence on Him.
If we do not see our deep need of God on a daily basis, prayer will never be a passion in our lives, let alone become a vital part of our lives. Do you see your need for more of God in your life? A Christian life that has a vibrant testimony and effective witness is one that recognizes its desperate need for more and more of God. Is that the case in your life? If not, why not? This should be the norm for the believer. We were created to need one person, and that person is God revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan's strategy with God's people has always been to whisper into the believer's ears, "Did God really say you have to depend totally on Him? Ah, you can accomplish more on your own. You're able. You can do it. Just look at how successful others have been without depending on God. You can't expect God to do everything for you. Look at how those people who think they have to wait for God all the time are wasting their lives. You don't have time to wait." Unfortunately, many have bought into this lie. Many have believed the whisper of the deceiver and have therefore robbed themselves of the joy of living vibrant and victorious lives in Jesus Christ. If you are one of those people, I urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to humbly turn to Him today. Confess that you have gone on a wrong path. Tell Him you need Him. Indeed, you are fully dependent on Him. This sincere confession will open the door for you not only to discover your desperate need of God but also lead you to a fresh encounter with God. If you continue on this path, prayer will become a vital part of your life.
Perhaps you do not feel successful and self-satisfied. You may be distressed and discouraged, feeling your life is a failure. Does that in anyway diminish your need of God? Quite the opposite! Yet Satan may be whispering that God won't help you or that He doesn't really care about you. You are urged to give up in despair or turn your back on God or even to blame Him for your problems. However, God's purpose in allowing your difficulties is to show you how much you need Him and to encourage you to seek Him with all your heart.
Are you discovering your need of God? If so, prayer will no longer be trivial in your life. It cannot be. You will be driven more and more to express your dependence on God in believing, fervent prayer. You will hunger and thirst for God as never before in your life. You will yearn and long for communion with your God and Lord. You will join believers who have gone before, pouring out your heart before God, "Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water"(Psalm 86:1; 63:1).
The hymn writers Annie Hawks and Robert Lowly summarize our desperate need for God in the hymn "I Need Thee Every Hour." Make the words of this song your own prayer.
"I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord; no tender voice like Thine can peace afford.
I need Thee every hour, stay Thou near by; temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.
I need Thee every hour in joy or in pain; come quickly and abide or life is vain.
I need Thee every hour, Most Holy One; O make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son!"
The chorus of this hymn reads, "I need Thee, O I need Thee, every hour I need Thee! O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee!"
We need God. Without Him life is not only vain but also there is no true victory in Jesus Christ. May the Lord search our hearts and enable us to see how desperately we need Him so that prayer will become a vital and vibrant part of our daily living.