Finney, Piper and Prayer?

You are probably wondering, “What do Charles Finney and John Piper have in common?” I think more than you might realize.

In Finney’s 4th lecture on revival, he takes up the subject of prevailing prayer. John Piper has an excellent chapter on prayer in his monumental work on missions, “Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions.” Find it on Amazon here.

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First, I do not want to underestimate Piper’s contribution to our understanding of prayer in light of a war-time mentality. The sense of urgency that you get from his work is fundamental to our growth in the discipline of prayer in relation to missions. Other than that, though, you probably wouldn’t think they would have similar things to say about prayer given the perception of their theological positions, but…

1. Prayer and God’s Glory

Finney:

Prayer, to be effectual, must be offered from right motives. Prayer should not be selfish, but dictated by a supreme regard for the glory of God.

Piper:

Prayer gives us the significance of front-line forces, and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory.

2. Prayer and Mission

Finney:

Missionary agents and others, are dwelling almost exclusively upon the…millions of heathens going to hell, while little is said of their dishonoring God. This is a great evil; and until the church have higher motives for prayer and missionary effort than sympathy for the heathen, their prayers and efforts will never amount to much.

Piper: (Note: Piper has a lot more to say on prayer and missions that is invaluable, if you have not read it, buy the book and read).

Compassion for the lost is a high and beautiful motive for missionary labor. Without it we lost the sweet humility of sharing a treasure we have freely received. But we have seen that compassion for people must not be detached from passion for the glory of God…

Prayer is the walkie-talkie of the church on the battlefield of the world in the service of the word. It is not a domestic intercom to increase the temporal comforts of the saints. It malfunctions in the hands of soldiers who have gone AWOL. It is for those on active duty. And in their hands it proves the supremacy of God in the pursuit of the nations. When missions moves forward by prayer it magnifies the power of God. When it moves by human management it magnifies man.

3. Prevailing Prayer

Finney:

Prayer is not effectual unless it is offered up with an agony of desire…These strong feelings strongly illustrate the strength of God’s feelings…What must be the strength of the desire which God feels, when his Spirit produces in Christians such amazing agony, such throes of soul, such travails–God has choses the best word to express it–it is travail–travail of the soul…Doubtless on great reason why God requires the exercise of this agonizing prayer is, that it forms such a bond of union between Christ and the Church…They feel just as Christ feels–so full of compassion for sinners that they cannot contain themselves.

Piper:

The call of Jesus is for prevailing prayer: “Always pray and do not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). By this his Father will be glorified (John 14:13). The supremacy of God in the mission of the church is proved and prized in prevailing prayer. I believe Christ’s word to his church…is a question:

Will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. (Luke 18:7-8)

Do you every cry out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord, How long till you vindicate your cause in the earth? How long till you rend the heavens and come down with power on  your church? How long till you bring forth victory among all the peoples of the world?”

Is not his answer plain: “When my people cry to me day and night, I will vindicate them, and my cause will prosper among the nations.” The war will be won by God. He will win it through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel will run and triumph through prevailing prayer–so that in everything God might be glorified through Jesus Christ.

4. Prayer and the Gospel

Finney:

Sometimes it happens that those who are the most engaged in employing truth, are not the most engaged in prayer…

Others err on the other side. Not that they lay too much stress on prayer. But they overlook the fact that prayer might be offered for ever, by itself, and nothing would be done. Because sinners are not converted by direct contact of the Holy Ghost, but by the truth, employed as a means. To expect the conversion of sinners by prayer alone, without the employment of truth, is to tempt God [meaning to put God to the test].

Piper:

Prayer is the power that wields the weapon of the word, and the Word is the weapon by which the nations will be brought to faith and obedience. 

The front-line work of missions is the preaching of the word of God, the gospel. If this public act is displaced by prayer, the supremacy of Christ in the mission of the church will be compromised…

But even the power that comes from the Holy Spirit through prayer is in some sense the unique power of the word of God itself: “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Perhaps we should speak of prayer as God’s instrument to release the power of the gospel.

Summary

I am not trying to argue that Finney and Piper are making the same argument about prayer. I do think, however, that their views are compatible. Either way, we can learn something valuable from both of them in regards to prayer.

What are some things you learned through this?

How is your prayer life? Are you concerned more with your comforts or the glory of God? How can you improve?

 

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3 Comments

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  1. Missionary Weapons (1)

    This isn’t in response to this post, but regards missions and is a challenge to me beyond our previous discussions.

  2. Sorry I’m 5 years late to this, but I’m with you on the correlation between P & F. Finney is not (at least IMHO) a great theologian; yet, I would accept his errors if it meant I were a man of prayer and power among people for the building of God’s Kingdom!

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