Praying All Wrong

Tonight, a realization threw me out of the bed and drove me to my note pad. I was lying there in the post-midnight hour doing what we preachers do, going over my sermon for later this morning.

The sermon is a beginning message for a four-day revival meeting I’ll be preaching for the First Baptist Church of Crowville, Louisiana. This congregation runs 80 to 100 in attendance and is made up largely of farmers and their families. The pastor, Dr. Keith Dowden, and I had dinner tonight and prayed for the Lord to give me the messages and do something special in the hearts and lives of his people.

My text is the parable of the mustard seed, Matthew 13:31-32. It’s a strong insight that a lot of the people in our pews need to hear, that God loves to use small, ordinary things and churches and people and acts and offerings. The mustard seed is a reminder that what God begins to do may be unimpressive on the outside, ordinary to the human eye, and not big by any means. However, being God, He can do amazing things with small beginnings.

I love to encourage small congregations with the assurance Jonathan gave his armorbearer just before the two of them took on a nest of Philistine warriors. “It matters little to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many.” (I Samuel 14:6)

I like the question the prophet Zechariah raised as he spoke of the rebuilding of an economical version of the Temple and the coming of a Messiah who would ride in on a colt and be pierced for our transgressions: “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10)

The answer to that is: “We do.” We like big things, dramatic results, impressive crowds, celebrity guests.

However, that happens not to be God’s way. He loves to use the small and the ordinary.

That’s when it hit me that I’m praying all wrong about this revival.

I need to be praying for God to do a small thing.

For the past few years–well, ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated my part of the world–I’ve been praying for God to do big things. In fact, after that hurricane, we printed up cards the size of standard business cards urging people to pray big. On one side, it carried the line from John Newton that goes:

Thou art coming to a King.

Large petitions with thee bring.

For His grace and power are such

None can ever ask too much.

On the other, I had written something to the effect that: “Now, we will take a small ‘God bless New Orleans’ prayer. But we would rather you would pray big. Ask God to do something new, something big, something ‘God.’

And I still believe that.

But tonight, God dropped the other shoe.

Sometimes, all we need is a small thing from God and it will be enough.

A revival in which one child came to Christ but who grew up to make a lasting difference for God in this world would be the very definition of success.

A meeting where large numbers respond and are baptized but who cannot be found a month later would be a success only on paper.

I know, I know. It’s not “either/or.” At Pentecost, God saved 3,000 souls. And with so many millions in this country and billions on this planet still outside the fold of His saving grace, there is a huge job to do.

But that’s why we need to drop back and ask Him to do it His way.

I had an email this week that troubles me.

A man I do not know but who had found an article on my blog telling “why we don’t want revival” contacted me to see if he could use the piece in his ministry. He went on to explain something he would be doing to reach people for the Lord. After all, he explained, all those Billy Graham crusades over the decades did not make a difference. They were ineffective, he said. So, God was raising up him to get it right, I suppose.

I replied that he is surely welcome to use anything of mine he can in his ministry. But that I suggest he not be so quick to rush to judgment on Billy Graham’s ministry. There is no way to measure what this country or this world would look like had he not done his worldwide work of evangelistic crusades. I personally know of many who came to Christ through his writings and preaching, and I myself have benefited greatly from his work.

So much of what God is doing at a given moment is not visible. And even what we can see is not all that impressive, if I may say so. A hymn, a sermon, an invitation. A testimony. A prayer. An offering. And yet, God is at work there. We must be careful not to despise small things.

Clearly, that brother longed to see large evidence of God at work.

Don’t we all.

But when it comes, more than likely it will be a small thing here, an ordinary person there, an event that hardly makes the newspapers, a sermon that impresses no one but God.

I keep thinking of a meeting a group of deacons had with the pastor following a revival. One man complained. “Preacher, how many people were saved in the meeting last week?”

The pastor said, “We had one child who said he was saved.”

“One kid,” the man said. “And what did that revival cost us?”

The pastor said, “The honorarium, the travel, motel and meals, plus the publicity, it all came to over $2,000.”

“And all for one child!” he said. “Hardly worth the investment.”

With that, one of the men got up and walked to the front of the room. Pulling out his checkbook, he began to write. “Gentlemen,” he said, “that was my boy. And he was worth every penny of it.”

A small child with a small lunch. Jesus used it to feed the thousands.

A small baby in a stable in a little town. God used Him to redeem a lost world.

A small sermon today in a small church. God can do anything He pleases.

“Father, forgive me for wanting the big and the dramatic. Forgive me for doubting Your power to use the infinitesimal to do the infinite. Today, please do a little thing in our midst today. Remind us again and again that a little thing done by an Almighty God is more than enough for all our needs forever. Through Jesus our Lord. Amen.”

10 thoughts on “Praying All Wrong

  1. Thanks, Dr. Joe. You awaken us out of our lethargy.

    Thanks for being here for our banquet, too.

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


  2. Good word, Joe!

    Dr. Reggie R. Ogea

    Associate Dean, Professional Doctoral Programs

    Co-Director, Doctor of Ministry Program

    Professor of Leadership and Pastoral Ministry

    Occupying the Perry Sanders Chair of Pastoral Leadership

    New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

    3939 Gentilly Boulevard

    New Orleans, LA 70126

    (800) 662-8701, extension 3728

  3. Bro. Joe, what a timely reminder. I’ve taught many prayer classes at different churches and missions over the years. Occasionally, pastors have later shared with me some of the “seen” results of what the Holy Spirit did in those small churches and groups. Thank you for being such a blessing to so many!

  4. Very good writing. I am reminded over and over that it is not the size of what is accomplished that matters. It is, “are people really serving the Lord or themselves”.

    We attended a large production in a mega church a few years ago. They had all the animals, Roman soldiers riding through the sanctuary and more. It would be very competetive with any Hollywood production. We enjoyed the meeting and were blessed. The following week we attended a production of the same theme. It was in a much smaller church. Smaller in physical size and the number of people involved in the program. It too was a blessing. One had over 3,000 in the cast. The other had a cast of 15-20. The group that had been with us in both programs were blessed as much by the small production as the large one.

    Both programs were done with a lot of hard work and dedication by the personnel. Large or small we should be pleased with nothing less than our best.

  5. Uncle Joe, I would most likely never meet you, but your writings seems to meet with my thoughts.

    The Lord placed this troublesome thought about small things in my mind last week and in my prayer this morning prior to reading this, I once again asked Him and thanked Him for allowing us to do the “big” things, as we have had a bumper past 2 months.

    But you are so right. A Hobo saved here, or a little kindness to a prospective student with no money, has shown us how the Lord can turn lives around. Ler us then continue to pray for the small things. Love, Stephen

  6. Joe, it amazes me how God annoits your words. Thanks for a drink of water in a dry, thirsty land.

  7. Dearest Dr. Joe, My friend, Pastor David Marvin and his wife Sharon began their “Brand New” Judeo-Christian Ministry here in the mountains of Western Maryland, nearly two years ago. Pst.Dave built the prettiest little 16’x20′ chapel you,ve ever seen! Pst. Dave calls his Ministry, Gloryhouse Chapel and Ministries. As time wore on, he and our very small congregation prayed for a “Larger Church House”. Jesus blessed us with a beautiful Church House and the only cost to us were some transfer taxes of $200.00 and change. WoooHooo! What a blessing! Dr. Joe, there seems to be a problem. We got the church, painted it and updated it but, our congregation who is largely comprised of the “Least of These” have dwindled down to very few in number: 10 or 12 souls on a “Good Sunday.” Sir, I’m asking that you and your congregation pray with us that our “Mustard Seed” ministry may grow and flourish to the glory of Jesus’ precious name. It’s disheartening, in a way, to sing and dance Davidic songs, blow the shofar and participate in the Lord’s Supper week after week and no one shows up for the worship services. And those that have come to our church leaves because the “Messages” are too hard for them. A church that has the capacity to hold 100 souls seems quite hollow with only 6 or 8 people in attendance. Thank you for allowing me to vent. We will remain steadfast in our pursuit to serve God and His Christ in the power of the Holy Ghost until Jesus returns to claim His own. Dr. Joe, please join with us in our attempt to “Not To Despise Small Beginnings.” Amen. Bro. Paul Crass, Gloryhouse Ministries, Cumberland, Maryland

  8. Dear Dr. Joe, As a post-script, please feel free to visit me on Facebook. I posted an extensive bio. It should provide you with an in-depth understanding of Paul Crass and and what he believes. Blessings and Peace, Bro. Paul Crass, Cumberland, Maryland.

  9. Dr Joe, My sedaments exactly. We are not to dispise small beginnings. For we don’t realize where God will take them. I know personaly.

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