R.A. Torrey: Prevailing Prayer

R.A. Torrey: Prevailing Prayer

In the 12th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we have a prayer that prevailed with God and brought to pass great results. In Acts 12:5, the manner and method of this prayer is described: “Prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”

The first thing to notice here is the brief expression “unto God.” The prayer that has power is the prayer offered unto God. 

But some will say, “Is not all prayer unto God?”

No. Very much of so-called prayer is not unto God. In order that a prayer should be really unto God, there must be a definite, conscious approach to God. 

In much of our prayer there is really little thought of God. Oftentimes we are occupied neither with the need nor with the One to whom we are praying, but our mind is wandering here and there throughout the world. There is no power in that sort of prayer. But when we really come into God’s presence, really meet Him face-to-face in the place of prayer, really seek the things that we desire from Him, then there is power. So we should look to the Holy Spirit to really lead us into the presence of God.

The second secret of effective praying is found in the words without ceasing.

In the Revised Version of the Bible, without ceasing is rendered earnestly. Neither rendering gives the full force of the Greek. The word means literally “stretched-outed-ly.” It represents the soul on a stretch of earnest, intense desire. Intensely would perhaps come as near translating it as any English word. It is the word used of our Lord in Luke 22:44 where it is said, “He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” 

We read in Hebrews 5:7 that “in the days of His flesh” Christ “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears.” In Romans 15:30, Paul urges the saints in Rome to strive together with him in their prayers. 

In other words, prayer that prevails with God is that into which we put our whole soul, stretching out toward God in intense and agonizing desire. Much of modern prayer has no power in it because there is no heart in it. We rush into God’s presence, run through a string of petitions, jump up and go out. If someone should ask us an hour afterward for what we prayed, oftentimes we could not tell.

We hear much in our day of the “rest” of faith, but there is such a thing as the “fight” of faith in prayer as well as in effort. Those who would have us think that they have attained to some sublime height of faith and trust because they never know any agony of conflict or of prayer have surely gotten beyond their Lord, and beyond the mightiest victors for God, both in effort and prayer, that the ages of Christian history have known. Here again, if we would pray aright, we must look to the Spirit of God to teach us to pray. 

It is in this connection that fasting comes. In Daniel 9:3 we read: Daniel set his face “unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.” Some think that fasting belongs to the old dispensation; but when we look at Acts 14:23, and Acts 13:2-3, we find that it was practiced by the earnest men of the apostolic day. 

If, then, we would pray with power, we should pray with fasting. This of course does not mean that we should fast every time we pray. But there are times of special emergency or crisis when men of downright earnestness withdraw themselves even from the gratification of natural appetites that would be perfectly proper under other circumstances, that they may give themselves up wholly to prayer. There is a peculiar power in such prayer. Every great crisis in life and work should be met in that way. 

There is nothing pleasing to God in our giving up in a purely pharisaic and legalistic way things that are pleasant, but there is power in that downright earnestness and determination that leads us to put away everything—even things in themselves most right and necessary—that we may set our faces to find God and obtain blessings from Him. 

A third secret of right praying is also found in this same verse, Acts 12:5. It appears in three words: of the church

There is power in united prayer. Of course there is power in the prayer of an individual, but there is vastly increased power in united prayer. God delights in the unity of His people and seeks to emphasize it in every way. We read in Matthew 18:19, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” 

However, the passage just quoted does not say that if two shall agree in asking, but if two shall agree as touching anything they shall ask. Where there is real agreement, where the Spirit of God brings two believers into perfect harmony as concerning that which they may ask of God, where the Spirit lays the same burden on two hearts—in all such prayer there is absolutely irresistible power.   

This article is adapted from the book How to Pray by R.A. Torrey, first published in 1900 and in the public domain. Torrey (1856-1928) was an American pastor, prolific author and the second president of Moody Bible Institute. A Yale graduate, he later became dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University) and founded Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles. 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.

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