As a pastor you think many times about your own prayer life, and how it compares to your work life. If you are like me, you will find that your centre of gravity in these two matters is way off centre. Some words of Eric Alexander often come to me from a sermon he preached when I was a student in Glasgow in the 1980s, where he said, “Prayer is the work of the gospel.” Like many such snippets, I can’t remember the sermon out of which it came, but I remember the statement. So, many years later I was delighted find that he had put that statement into writing and expanded on it in his book, Prayer: A Biblical Perspective, which I heartily recommend. Here is the relevant passage, where he is referencing the ministry of the apostles in Acts 6:3,4:
… prayer is the basic form of Christian service. Of course we are not saying prayer is the only form of Christian service, but that it is the basic one. Look at the language they [the apostles] use: ‘We will reserve our best energies—our very bodily resources—for prayer’ [Acts 6:4]. It was not that they were avoiding the hardest work in the church. They were actually choosing it, because it is a consistent theme in Scripture that prayer is work. Paul cries out in Romans 15:30: ‘Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me’, and he uses the word which really means ‘to agonise’.
In the Christian church over the years, we have turned the truth upside down, and commonly speak of ‘praying for the work’ – the implication being that prayer is an additional ingredient to our Christian service. The truth is that prayer is the real work, and apart from it all other work is in vain. The reason for that is quite simple. It is that essentially this work in which we are engaged is God’s work, not man’s. There are endless lists of things that men and women can do: we can intellectually convince people, we can emotionally move them and we can materially improve them. But only God can spiritually resurrect them out of death into life in Christ; only God can convict their conscience and convince them of their need of a Saviour; only God can open the eyes of the spiritually blind and give them sight; and only God can transform their character and recreate them into the image of Christ. And, my dear friends who read this book, that is the essence of the work in which we are engaged. So Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:6, ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.’ Now if the conversion of sinners is God’s work, the simple question we must ask and answer is, ‘To whom do we apply to have this work done?’ The only answer logically as well as theologically is ‘to God’. That is why prayer is fundamental rather than supplemental in all our service. That is why the primary evangelistic method is prayer.Eric J. Alexander, Prayer (Banner of Truth, 2012), pp.39,40. (Emphasis his.)
There is much to do, but prayer is the real work. Let’s get the centre of gravity in the right place.