Prevailing Prayer: The Lessons of Charles Finney
Published: September 4th, 2009
On September 4, 1859, Charles Grandison Finney delivered a sermon called “The Prevailing Prayer-Meeting” to a Glasgow congregation. His words may have been antiquated, but his insight on the equal attention we must give to prayer and action is timeless. He stressed that if we want to see revival something is required of us, and much of that ‘something’ is strategic prayer.
Described as an American revivalist Finney became a Christian in his 20’s through a remarkable conversion experience. He was not only known as a great evangelist, but was an outspoken abolitionist. He let women pray aloud in his prayer meetings and was president of Oberlin College, one of the first American colleges to allow women and people of color to be co-educated with white men. Even 134 years after his death, this justice-oriented evangelist continues to inspire us with his words.
From the start Finney pointed out that Jesus gave the apostles instructions that led them to wait on the Holy Spirit’s arrival. This was the divine “cause and effect” we see come to fruition in Acts 2. The move of God (His salvation, community transformation, etc…) is not a miracle... that is to say, it's not something God likes to do alone and without human intervention. God designed His kingdom so that we could take part in His intervention and redemption.
Charles Finney speculated about what would’ve happened if the apostles decided to do nothing for fear of taking things out of God’s sovereign hands... What if they had not gathered in the upper room to pray together and wait on the Lord? Would the church remember a different story on the day of Pentecost? I can't help but wonder whether there have been invitations God has extended today's church to wait on Him... invitations that maybe we've turned down, or only given a short time to...
“…if Christians would plant themselves upon that promise [“I am with you always”], and seek to carry out their Lord's command in its true spirit, using the appropriate means for the accomplishment of the object, it would not be long before a different state of things existed in the world. One of these [appropriate means] is special prayer for the object…the prayer of faith, which has been one of the universal antecedents of a revival of religion since God owned the world. [In] the whole history of the Church, when the Spirit has been poured out upon the Church, special prayer has been made for that object.”
As Finney talked about the model of prayer we see in Acts 2 he gave valuable insights into how to maintain strategic, united, corporate prayer for revival. As I read through each of His keys I was struck by how timeless and relevant they are to us today.
“[The apostles] hearts were set on a definite object - Jesus’ command to stay until the Holy Spirit came. They held on from day to day, held on, and carried out the condition that they were to hold fast, and give God no rest till he accomplished what they had assembled to ask him for. Here was special prayer for a definite object- the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.”
“Have we any such ground for expectation [for the Holy Spirit to be poured out]? They…had the Saviour's express promise…that they should receive the Spirit not many days hence, [and God] said also 'Go and disciple all nations,' and 'Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.' The meaning of this promise was--everywhere you go, remember that I am with you; there lay hold on my strength, there believe on me, and I will manifest my presence.”
Be united in love and believe in each other:
“When a person gets up to pray, some one says 'I don't like to hear him pray.' Oh, it is death to a prayer meeting, when there is want of confidence! At the disciples' meeting…one prayed and another prayed. Their state of mind was one of great simplicity, and strong love and confidence in each other.”
Don’t neglect prayer for work or work for prayer:
“Waiting in a state of inactivity is a mistake, and so also…is attempting to go forth without the Holy Spirit. Christ said to his disciples 'Go forth;' but he told them to wait in Jerusalem till they would be 'endowed with power from on high.' They did not wait on the sovereignty of God without doing anything, but they waited in the agonizings of prayer with perpetual supplications.”
150 years ago, as the Reverend Finney came to the end of the sermon he delivered in Glasgow, Scotland, he concluded his message with this prayer...
“I expect to see it [the great move of God] go over Scotland, break upon the continent, and shake it. Pray for it; let the waters of eternal life roll; and let Christians all, loving and confiding in one another, give their hearts unitedly to the work. Do not, my brethren, grieve and quench the Holy Spirit by setting at naught your brethren…Be tolerant, be loving, united, faithful, active, prayerful, and persevering, and a wave of salvation will cover the land.”
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