I recently received a copy of In Light of Eternity, Mack Tomlinson’s new biography of Leonard Ravenhill. My interest in Ravenhill was directed primarily toward two areas of his life and ministry: preaching and prayer. And of these two, prayer was the one I wanted to learn about most. What little I did know of Ravenhill told me that he was a great man of prayer, not only in what he taught about prayer, but in what he modeled. I was not at all disappointed.
The book contains an entire chapter on prayer, showing Ravenhill’s dedication to private and corporate prayer. Tomlinson sets the context: “He especially deplored the weakness of the praying of most local churches. He felt the strongest meeting of the church should be the church prayer meeting, but said that it was generally the weakest, if it even existed at all.” In his lifetime Ravenhill saw the daily or weekly prayer meeting disappearing from most local churches. This grieved him because he “directly connected the effectiveness of true ministry with the prayer life of the church.”
He often exhorted pastors to commit to prayer.
Oh, my ministering brethren! Much of our praying is but giving God advice. Our praying is discolored with ambition, either for ourselves or for our denomination. Perish the thought! Our goal must be God alone. It is His honor that is defiled, His blessed Son who is ignored, His laws broken, His name profaned, His book forgotten, His house made a circus of social efforts.
He went on to challenge the church in the way it trained pastors and in the way it would lead prayer:
Does God ever need more patience with His people than when they are “praying”? We tell Him what to do and then how to do it. We pass judgments and make appreciations in our prayers. In short, we do everything except pray! No Bible school can teach us this art. What Bible school has “prayer” on its curriculum? The most important thing a man can study is the prayer part of the book. But where is this taught? Let us strip off the last bandage and declare that many of our presidents and teachers do not pray, shed no tears, know no travail. Can they teach what they do not know?
He was fond of quoting his mentor Saumel Chadwick who had once written
The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray. No man is greater than his prayer life.
He went on:
The praying of a Christian can become a ritual. The place of prayer is more than a dumping ground for all our anxieties, threats and fears. The place of prayer is not a place to drop the shopping list before the throne of God with endless supplies and limitless power.
I believe the place of prayer is not only a place where I lose my burdens, but also a place where I get a burden. He shares my burden and I share his burden.
Have you come before the Lord and gained his burden as you’ve prayed? To feel the Lord’s burden in prayer, you need to make a true commitment to prayer, to make it part of your life and ministry.
I found a strange kind of comfort in his explanation of why prayer is to difficult. It is a denial of self, it requires endurance, it is a daily kind of dying.
Prayer is taxing and exacting. Prayer means enduring and denying self, a daily dying by choice. It is wrong when, instead of praying, we do things just to please others.
The preacher must pray. It is not that he can pray or that he could pray, but that he must pray if he intends to have a spiritual church. There is no other way to power except to pray. Hidden prayer is like heat smoldering in the bowels of the earth, far beneath the steel cone of a volcano. Though to be either may be years of inactivity, sooner or later there will be an explosion. So it is with prayer in the Spirit–it never dies.
For all I learned about Ravenhill, a man who loved the Lord and who loved to share the gospel with unbelievers, and a man who loved to preach, I found the greatest challenge and rebuke in his love of prayer and his utter dedication to it. And for that reason alone I believe this book is worth a read.
Here are the lessons I took from this book:
- No pastor is greater than his prayer life. If a man wants his ministry to be blessed by God, he must dedicate himself to prayer. This is obvious, perhaps, but that one little sentence says it so wonderfully; these are words to hold on to: No man is greater than his prayer life.
- Prayer is sacrifice. Prayer always comes at the expense of something else and it requires great faith to believe that prayer is more important than productivity. The benefit of prayer is not easily measured which means we are prone to replace it with anything or everything else.
- Private prayer is crucial, but so too is corporate prayer. It is through corporate prayer that the Lord binds his people together in common cause. But what is true of private prayer–that it is difficult, that it comes at the expense of something else–is equally true of corporate prayer.
- Prayer is a place to take a burden before the Lord, but it is also the place where the Lord burdens us with his cares.