Prayer and God's Workby Watchman Nee on June 6, 2017
Prayer and God’s Work
by Watchman Nee
"With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication." (Eph. 6.18)
"Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: For this, moreover, will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them: I will increase them with men like a flock."(Ezek. 36.37)
When God works, He does so with specific law and definite principle. Even though He could do whatever pleases Him, yet he never acts carelessly. He always performs according to His determinate law and principle. Unquestionably He can transcend all these laws and principles, for He is God and is quite capable of acting according to His own pleasure. Nonetheless, we discover a most marvelous fact in the Bible; which is, that in spite of His exceeding greatness and His ability to operate according to His will, God ever acts along the line of the law or principle which He has laid down. It seems as though He deliberately puts himself under the law to be controlled by His own law.
Now then, what is the principle of God’s working? God’s working has a primal principle behind it, which is, that He wants man to pray, that He desires man to cooperate with Him through prayer.
There was once a Christian who well knew how to pray. He declared this, that all spiritual works include four steps:
The first step is that God conceives a thought, which is His will: The second step is that God reveals this will to His children through the Holy Spirit, causing them to know that He has a will, a plan, a demand and expectation: The third step is that God’s children return His will by praying to Him, for prayer is responding to God’s will—if our heart is wholly one with His heart, we will naturally voice in our prayer what He intends to do: And the fourth step is that God will accomplish this very thing.
Here we are concerned not with the first step nor with the second, but with the third step—how we are to return God’s will by praying to Him. Please notice the word “return”. All prayers with worth possess this element of return in them. If our prayer is only for the purpose of accomplishing our plan and expectations it does not have much value in the spiritual realm. Prayer must originate from God and be responded to by us. Such alone is meaningful prayer, since God’s work is controlled by such prayer. How many things the Lord indeed desires to do, yet He does not perform them because His people do not pray. He will wait until men agree with Him, and then He will work. This is a great principle in God’s working, and it constitutes one of the most important principles to be found in the Bible.
The word in Ezekiel 36.37 is quite surprising. The Lord says He has a purpose, which is, that He will increase the house of Israel with men like a flock. This is the determinate will of God. What He ordains He will perform. Nevertheless, He will not accomplish it instantly but will wait awhile. What is the reason for the waiting? The Lord says, “For this, moreover, will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” He has decided to increase the house of Israel with men, but He must wait till the children of Israel inquire of Him about the matter. Let us see that even if He himself has resolved to perform certain things He will not do so immediately. He will wait until men show their agreement before He proceeds. Each time He works He never goes ahead immediately simply because He has His will; no, He will wait, if necessary, for His people to express their agreement in prayer before He does act. This assuredly is a most amazing phenomenon.
Let us always be mindful of this truth, that all spiritual works are decided by God and desired by His children—all are initiated by God and approved by His children. This is a great principle in spiritual work. “For this, moreover, will I be inquired of by the house of Israel,” says the Lord. His work awaits the inquiring of the children of Israel. And one day the Israelites really inquired, and without delay He performed it for them.
Do we see this principle of God’s work? After He has initiated something, He pauses in its execution until we pray. Since the time of the founding of the church, there is nothing God does on earth without the prayer of His children. From the moment He has His children, He does everything according to the prayer of His own. He puts everything in their prayer. We do not know why He acts in such a way; but we do know that this is a fact. God is willing to condescend himself to such a position of taking delight in fulfilling His will through His children.
There is another illustration of this in Isaiah 62: “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night: ye that are Jehovah’s remembrancers, take ye no rest, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (v.6,7). God intends to make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. How does He realize it? He sets watchmen upon its walls that they may cry to Him. How should they cry? “Take ye no rest, and give him no rest”—we are to cry to Him unceasingly and give Him no rest. We keep on praying until He accomplishes His work. Although the Lord has already willed to make Jerusalem a
praise in the earth, He nonetheless sets watchmen on its walls. By their prayer will He perform. He urges them not to pray just once, but to pray without ceasing. Keep on praying till His will is done. In other words, the will of God is governed by the prayers of man. The Lord waits for us to pray. Let us understand clearly that as regards the content of God’s will it is entirely decided by God himself; we do not make, nor even participate in, the decision. Yet concerning the doing of His will it is governed by our prayer.
A brother once observed that God’s will is like a train whereas our prayer is like the rails of a train. A train may travel to any place, except that it must run on rails. It has tremendous power to go east, west, south and north, but it can only run to places where rails have been laid. So that it is not because God has no power (He, like a train, has power, great power); but because He chooses to be governed by man’s prayer, therefore all valuable prayers (like a train’s rails) pave the way for God. Consequently, if we do not take up the responsibility of prayer, we will hinder the fulfillment of God’s will.
When God created man He gave him a free will. There thus exist in the universe three different wills; namely, the will of God, the will of Satan the enemy, and the will of man. People may wonder why the Lord does not destroy Satan in a moment’s time. The Lord could, but He has not done so. And why? Because He wants man to cooperate with Him in dealing with Satan. Now God has His will, Satan has his, and man has his too. God seeks to have man’s will joined with His. He will not destroy Satan all by himself. We do not know entirely why God has chosen this way, but we do know He delights in doing it this way—namely, that He will not act independently; He looks for the cooperation of man. And this is the responsibility of the church on earth.
When the Lord wishes to do a thing He first puts His own thought in us through the Holy Spirit. Only after we have turned this thought into prayer will He perform it. Such is the procedure of divine working; God will not work out anything in any other way. He needs the cooperation of us men. He needs a will that is one with His will and is sympathetic to Him. If God does everything without involving us men, then there is absolutely no need for us to be here on earth, nor do we need to know what His will is. Yet every will of God must be done by us, since He calls for our will to be one with His own.
Thus the first step in our doing God’s will is for us to utter His will in prayer. God’s will is uttered through our prayer. Here may we see that prayer is indeed a work. There is no work more important than prayer because the latter accomplishes as well as expresses the will of God. Hence all prayer which comes out of self-will is useless. Prayers which are in accordance with God’s will originate from God, are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and return to God through prayers. Whatever prayer is in accordance with God’s will must begin with God’s will; men merely respond to, and transmit, this will. All which commence with us are prayers of no spiritual worth.
As we read through church history, we may notice that every great revival has always come from prayer. This shows us how prayer enables the Lord to do what He desires to do. We cannot ask Him to do what He does not want to do, though we may certainly delay what He wishes to do. God is absolute; therefore, we cannot change Him, neither can we force Him to do what He does not want to do, nor can we persuade Him not to do what He wants to do. Even so, when we are called to be the channel of His will we may doubtless block God’s work if we do not cooperate with Him.
For this reason, our prayer should never be asking the Lord to do what He has no desire to do or trying to change His will. It is simply a praying out of His will, thus enabling Him to do what He desires to do. In case we beg strongly with the expectation of forcing Him to do that which He has no intention of doing, we are wasting our effort, for our prayer is of no avail. If God is not willing to act, who can make Him act? One thing only can we do, and that is, we can pray out what God has desired. Then will He accomplish His work because we are one with Him.
Take, as an example, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Hundreds of years before the day of Pentecost, even at the time of Joel, God had already mentioned this coming. But the Holy Spirit came down only after many disciples had gathered and prayed. Although the advent of the Spirit had long before been determined by God, it did not come to pass until people had prayed. The Lord is capable of doing many things; yet He likes to do them after men have prayed. He is waiting for our consent. He himself is already willing, but He wants us to be willing too. How many are the things He has decided to do, and yet He waits, because we have not expressed to Him our agreement. May we see that although we cannot force God to do what He does not want to do, we nevertheless can certainly ask Him to do what He undoubtedly wants to do. Frequently we miss spiritual blessing because we fail to express God’s will in prayer.
If anyone will rise up and devote himself to the work of prayer exclusively, how excellent that will be. God is waiting for such ones to work together with Him so as to enable Him to finish His work. Some Christians may ask why the Lord does not save more sinners, why He does not cause every believer to overcome. I sincerely believe that He would undoubtedly do such works if people would only pray. He is not unwilling to work, He simply wants first to obtain a people who will work together with Him. Whenever people begin working with Him, He performs immediately. In all spiritual works, the Lord is always waiting for an expression of desire from His children. Whether or not a matter is done is dependent upon how His children pray. We therefore ought to declare our cooperation with Him. God is waiting to bless us. The question now is: Will we pray?
Those who do not know God may retort on this wise: If God wants to do something, why does He not just do it, why should He desire men to pray? Is He not all knowing? Will God not be annoyed by much prayer? Let us keep in mind, however, that we humans are free-will beings. As the Lord cannot deny His own will, so He will not coerce ours. He will wait for us if His will is not prayed forth by us. Yet does He not want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Why then does He not go ahead and perform it? Why does the Lord ask His disciples to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven,. . . thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth”? If He wants His kingdom to come, why does it not come automatically? Why must the disciples pray, “Thy kingdom come”? Why, if God doubtless desires His name to be hallowed by all men, does He not make it so by himself instead of His requiring the disciples to pray: “Hallowed be thy name”? All this is for no other reason than the fact that God himself does not wish to do anything independently, because He chooses to have men cooperate with Him. He has the power, but He needs our prayers to lay the tracks down for the train of His will to run on. The more tracks we lay, the more abundant will be the works of God. Our prayers should therefore serve the purpose of laying down a huge spiritual network of railroad tracks. And the more the better.
How should we lay tracks for the will of God? The answer: “With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit” (Eph. 6.18). Our prayer should touch in many directions. We should pray constantly. Pray specific prayers as well as general ones. Many of our prayers are too thinly spread; there are too many holes by which Satan is given plenty of opportunities to slip in. Were our prayers well-rounded and tightly guarded, he would have no chance to do havoc.
When, for example, a brother goes out to preach you should lay rails for him so that God’s will might be fulfilled in him. If you pray only a few words of general prayer, asking the Lord to bless him, protect him, and supply his needs, such a prayer net is too thinly spread. If you want to pray for a particular person you should spread for him a very tight net so that Satan can find no hole through which to creep in. How, then, ought you to pray? As the brother in question is preparing to leave, you should pray for his health, his luggage, the train he will ride, even the time of the train, his rest and food on the train, and people he will meet on the train. You should also pray for everything he will be involved in after he disembarks: pray for the place where he will stay, pray for the neighbors, even pray for the things he will read, also pray for his work—the time involved in it as well as all other things connected with the work. If you pray for him as extensively as this, it will be most difficult for Satan to find a loophole through which to attack him. The work of prayer is therefore a real work. All who are lazy, foolish, and careless cannot do such work. Yet how often, when there are those who earnestly and extensively pray for a certain thing, the thing is found to be done.
There is another lesson we should learn here. Satan is so full of wiles that it is really hard for us to outguess him. We are unable to pray over every last detail, and hence we can only pray in this manner: “O Lord, may Your precious blood answer whatever comes from Satan.” Let us realize that the precious blood of Christ is the answer to all the works of the enemy. Such prayer is the best one that can be offered against him, so that he can never get through this net to assault God’s people.
Each time we pray, we need to see three aspects: first, we must see to whom we are praying; second, we must know for whom we pray; and third, we ought to realize against whom we are praying. Frequently we only remember two aspects of prayer—those concerning God (to whom we pray) and men (for whom we pray). And thus we have overlooked the enemy aspect. In this matter of prayer we should know not only to whom we pray but also against whom we pray. We should know for whom we pray but we should also know that there is an enemy who lurks around to hurt us. Our prayer is directed towards God, for men, and against Satan. If we take care of these three aspects, God will surely work for us.
Everyone who truly works for the Lord must spread the net of prayer so that He may work through that person. God is not at all unwilling to work: He is simply waiting for people to pray. How He waits expectantly for men to have a prayer life, how His will awaits the prayers of men. Oftentimes, without your setting a time for prayer beforehand, you sense a burden to pray. This indicates that there is one item in God’s will which requires your prayer. Pray when you feel the burden of prayer—this is praying according to God’s will. It is the Holy Spirit who constrains you to pray out the prayer which is in accordance with the will of God. When the Holy Spirit is urging you to pray, you should do so. If you do not pray, you will feel suffocated within as if there is something left undone. In the event you still do not pray, you will feel even more weighed down. Finally, if you do not pray at all, the spirit of prayer as well as the burden of prayer will be so dulled that it will be difficult for you to regain such feeling and to pray the prayer according to God’s will afterwards.
Each time God puts a prayer thought into us His Holy Spirit first moves us into having a burden to pray for that particular matter. As soon as we receive such feeling we should immediately give ourselves to prayer. We should pay the cost of praying well for this matter. For when we are moved by the Holy Spirit our own spirit instantly senses a burden as though something were being laid upon our heart. After we pray it out we feel relieved as though having a heavy stone removed from off us. But in case we do not pour it out in prayer, we will get the feeling of something not yet done. If we do not pray it out we are not in harmony with God’s heart. Were we to be faithful in prayer, that is to say, were we to pray as soon as the burden comes upon us, prayer would not become a weight, it would instead be light and pleasant.
What a pity that so many people quench the Holy Spirit here. They quench the sensation which the Holy Spirit gives to move them to pray. Hereafter, few of such sensations will ever come upon them. Thus they are no longer useful vessels before the Lord. The Lord can achieve nothing through them since they are no longer able to breathe out in prayer the will of God. Oh, if ever we fall to such an extent of having no prayer burden, we will have sunk indeed into a most perilous situation, for we have already lost communion with God and He is no more able to use us in His work. For this reason, we must be extra careful in dealing with the feeling which the Holy Spirit gives to us. Whenever there is a prayer burden we should immediately inquire of the Lord, saying, “O God, what do you want me to pray for? What is it which you wish to accomplish that needs me to pray?” And were we to pray it out, we would be entrusted by God with the next prayer. If our first burden is not yet discharged, we are unable to take up the second load.
Let us ask the Lord to make us faithful prayer partners. As soon as the burden comes, we have it discharged by praying it out. If the burden grows too heavy and it cannot be discharged by prayer, then we should fast. When prayer cannot discharge a burden, fasting must follow. Through fasting, the burden of prayer may quickly be discharged, since fasting is able to help us discharge the heaviest of burdens.
If anyone should continue on in performing the work of prayer, he will become a channel for the will of God. Whenever the Lord has anything to do, He will seek that person out. Let me say this, that the will of God is always in search of a way out. The Lord is always apprehending someone or some people to be the expression of His will. If many will rise up to do this work, He will do many things because of their prayers.
(From the book Let us Pray by Watchman Nee)