“The Priority of Prayer”, by Thomas Tarrants III, President Emeritus, C.S. Lewis Institute (God’s Spirit, Joined Together in Prayer)


The Priority of Prayer

by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D.Min.
President Emeritus, C.S. Lewis Institute

  number of years ago, a well-known hamburger chain aired a TV commercial that ‌focused on a simple question to favorably distinguish its product from all others on the market. The question was “Where’s the beef?” It was an extremely successful commercial, still remembered by many people.

Those of us in the church need to ask a similar question today: Where’s the power? Where is the power we read about in the book of Acts and the early church? Where is the power that has propelled the church forward through the centuries against overwhelming resistance and opposition? Where is the power that distinguishes the followers of Jesus from those of Buddha, Muhammad, or Marx?

If you were to answer, “in the Holy Spirit,” you would of course be right. He is the source of power for all Christian life, witness, and mission. But that doesn’t exhaust the answer. There is more. And that “more” lies in the area of prayer. For as surely as the Spirit lies behind the moving of God’s power, prayer lies behind the moving of the Spirit.

Throughout the Bible, the powerful working of the Holy Spirit is closely related to prayer. When God’s people earnestly pray, the Spirit works with power and God’s kingdom advances. When they don’t, things seem to grind to a halt. Whether it be our personal lives or the ministry and mission of the church, earnest prayer is essential to the Spirit’s working in power.
  Jesus teaches this very clearly in the Gospels. He tells us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 KJV), and He bids us to “ask the Lord of the harvest … to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:38).1 By this He means for us to understand and take seriously the fact that our prayer is a major factor in advancing God’s kingdom in this world. Jesus elsewhere encourages prayer in the strongest terms imaginable by saying, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). “Have faith in God … whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22, 24). “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22). The clear implication of these and similar passages is that God commands us to pray and promises to answer in power when we do so.

Jesus demonstrated this in His own life and ministry. We are all familiar with how Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel, fed the hungry, comforted the brokenhearted, healed the sick, cast out demons, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. But we sometimes overlook that these powerful deeds were the overflow of a life of prayer, lived in daily communion with God. The Gospels tell us that early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus would rise and spend time alone with God in prayer (Mark 1:35). And often, even in busy periods of ministry, He would withdraw to solitary places and pray (Luke 5:16). At times He even spent whole nights in prayer (Luke 6:12). By making prayer such a high priority, Jesus was able to maintain constant communion with His Father and draw upon God’s wisdom, guidance, and power to fulfill His mission (John 5:19–20).

The apostles demonstrate this same reliance on prayer. They were able to lead the church because they let nothing distract them from prayer. They understood what Jesus taught—and we seem to have forgotten—that God’s kingdom is advanced chiefly by prayer. And that leaders must first and foremost take counsel of God in prayer and draw upon His power. Therefore the apostles devoted themselves first to prayer and then to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4), knowing that truth without power is as dead as faith without works.

We see the outworking of this in the life of the early church. When Jesus ascended to heaven and left them on the Mount of Olives, the apostles returned to Jerusalem and with the other believers “joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14) to prepare for a mighty visitation of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit came at Pentecost, three thousand were converted through a single sermon (Acts 2:41). Under their leadership, the new converts “devoted themselves to … prayer” (Acts 2:42), and the church grew rapidly. When persecution threatened to overwhelm them, they led the church to cry out to God in prayer, and they “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). Later, when Peter was arrested by Herod and held for execution, the whole church united in prayer, and God sent an angel to break him out of jail (Acts 12:5–11).

Through prayer God also guided the church in important decisions, such as opening her doors to the Gentiles (Acts 10) and sending out Barnabas and Paul to expand the church throughout the Roman world (Acts 13:1–3). At every significant juncture, it was by means of prayer that the apostles and the church drew upon God’s almighty power. This was a vital key to their survival and success.

What was true of the original apostles and the Jerusalem church was also true of Paul and his churches. Paul, preeminently a man of prayer, interceded constantly for his churches and converts (Rom. 1:10; Eph. 1:16–17; Phil. 1:4; Col. 1:9; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:3) and urged them to devote themselves to prayer (Col. 4:2), to pray about everything (Phil. 4:6), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17 KJV). Often he sought their prayers for open doors and effective preaching in his ministry (Eph. 6:18–20; Col. 4:3–4; 2 Thess. 3:1–2). As a result, he was able to spread the church all over the Roman world.

And as one looks down the corridors of church history since the days of the apostles, the story is the same. The kingdom of God moves forward through prayer. Those who have been most used of God in every generation have been men and women of prayer. And the movements that have had the greatest impact for Christ have been those based in prayer. The consistent pattern is that those who have honored the Lord by earnest, believing prayer have been honored by Him with ministry that advances the kingdom of the One they love and serve.

Today we need to rediscover the power of prayer—earnest, prevailing prayer. In our educated, technological society, we find it natural to depend on our reason, education, abilities, training, and technology to do the work of God. As a result, we venture only as far as our rational headlights will shine and attempt only what our unaided strength can accomplish. It often seems that if we pray at all, it is to ask God to bless plans we have already made. Consequently we have little vision or power, and our efforts bear the mark of the human rather than the divine. Only a rediscovery of the power of prayer and the ministry of the Spirit can restore the fire of God to our lives and congregations and enable us once again to advance the kingdom of God.

For those who would recover this power, the path is clear and the way sure. We enter it by consecrating our lives afresh to the living God and to the glory of His Son, Jesus Christ. And then, with the apostles, we earnestly ask, “Lord, teach us to pray,” then devote ourselves to praying (Acts 2:42; Col. 4:2). To those who walk this path, the possibilities are limited only by the limitations of God. And nothing is impossible with Him (Luke 1:37). 

It may be a mystery why (God) should allow us to cause any real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.

C.S. Lewis

1 Quotes from NIV 1984

Tom Tarrants has lived in the Washington, DC area since 1978 and served as President of the C.S. Lewis Institute from 1998 to April 2010. He is currently Vice President for Ministry & Director, Washington Area Fellows Program. Prior to coming to the Institute, he served as co-pastor of Christ Our Shepherd Church and Director of The School for Urban Mission, both based in Washington, DC. Tom holds a Master of Divinity Degree, as well as a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Christian Spirituality. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Church Alliance.

for more information see The C.S. Lewis Institute, “The Full Power of Prayer” and other links for resources-

Recommended Reading:
JJ.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer (Banner of Truth, 2005)

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) was well known for his warm, plain-spoken candor, the kind which appeals to all souls regardless of rank or title, and this booklet is no different. Bold, encouraging, and affectionate, A Call to Prayer is just as the title says—an earnest invitation for all children of God to come before Him in prayer. Read it, be edified, and have hope: you have access to the Maker of heaven and earth who can do all things.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

Photo: oil on canvas “Grace”



“The Table with a Story of Love”, from L.Willows (our story, His Story, the Lord’s Table, Lost and Found)

For years I have had “tables” on my mind. They are part of my story. I have only recently realized it. Many decades ago after my mother passed away I was able to purchase a dream table that lived in our family home. It was very long and sturdy with beautiful wooden planks and had a strong base that connected on the floor. I loved that it could seat many. I even had a large picture window installed next to it so that we could enjoy looking out to the garden when seated all around.

The story of that table is that the family that gathered around it became fractured; its heart was wounded. The table moved around, lost the sweet voices that once laughed and told their own stories around it. Eventually, the table was lost. I mourned the outcome (of everything, of everyone) and then told myself that it was a thing, I must not be attached to “things”.

My mother also purchased a special table. She took exceptional care of it. I remember polishing the wood for her every Saturday. It was an octagon. In those days that was very rare. The seats were low and comfortable. She enjoyed having discussions and guests for dinner. It was a center of study, information; a place where questing happened. I thought that she, and the table had all the answers until I was 15 or so and rebelled. Then I pushed away from the table and “sat” on my own for many years before returning. When I “came back”, there was a place for me. Everything seemed more proportional. Soon after I was on my own again, set to travel for many years on journeys that placed no value on physical tables.

Later in life when I desired to share the heart luxury of sitting around a table with friends and enjoying their company, I found that I longed for that large luxurious table that I once had in my former home. The lost one. Somehow, perhaps because I moved from place to place and kept my possessions ‘light’, or because of one circumstance or another- there was no table now to share with friends.

I really enjoy home. I love making it a peaceful and welcoming place. It delights me to fill it with what feels joyful. I like to experience God in my home. I pray there. I sense the His Pew vividly. There is a special place near a large eastern window where I sit, kneel and wonder. I gaze outward and inward there. We can all have that wherever we live.

When I have invited friends to my home I have no table. There is just a sweet little round serving table that seats two. You know that we have an enjoyable time! My story today is filled with joy and a pew near the window that sheds love into my home. There is an altar filled with thousands of prayers and the aroma of God everywhere.

However, in the imaginings of a self that still contains some deficiency (we all still only see ‘in part’…we are sojourners), that sees “this world” – I have purchased a long wooden table similar to the one that was lost and placed it in front of the long bright window. I see myself sitting there in the morning light reading, praying. In the afternoon and evening, I imagine that I am able to invite many friends over. They can sprawl around the long table and talk, dine and linger. That is the story in my dream.

Here, I smile. I invite you to enjoy the best part of the Story of the Table.

With the eyes of my soul and the longing of my heart, I am invited to God’s Table at every moment.  Each time that I approach His Altar in prayer, with my heart when I am prompted with the words that say, “Father, I am reaching to you with praise and thanksgiving…”

But wonderously, once a month at church we gather longingly at the Table of The Beloved for Communion. I only made this “table” connection this Sunday after my Pastor said, “Would someone please write about The Table?”, meaning of course, other writers writing far more profoundly than what I am attempting here.

The Lord’s Supper which is also called “The Lord’s table” (1 Corinthians 10:21), “communion,” “cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16), and “breaking of bread” ( Acts 2:42 ). The purpose of taking part in it is to remember the person and work of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). The Greek noun for the word remembrance is anamnesis [ajnavmnhsi”] which means to recollect. Many believe that this means that we are to bring the one being recalled into the here and now- into the present. From the viewpoint of Communion, we bring, before the Father of the one, the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ so that His power will be known and operative in us.

The remembrance uses the tangible elements of bread and wine. It is a personal experience that involves confession. In accepting communion, one proclaims belief and hope in Jesus Christ celebrating His Worth above all else. The experience is joyful because our hearts unite with The Lord.

The table that holds the bread and the wine is actually an altar. It is called the Table of the Showbread (Hebrew: לחם הפנים lechem haPānīm, literally: “Bread of the Presence”), in the King James Version: shewbread, in a biblical or Jewish context, refers to the cakes or loaves of bread which were always present on a specially dedicated table, in the Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to God.

Since it is used to hold the offering, it becomes an altar. The altar is often on a higher elevation than the rest of the church. In Reformed and Anabaptist churches, a table often called a “Communion table”, serves an analogous function.

This is The Table that matters in my life. It is the one that I go to for Hope and affirmation. When I listen to the words that introduce Communion all of my heart says “YES”. I anticipate the bread and the wine. Part of me leaps towards Christ Jesus. I feel His Presence. I Remember. Remembering means I am overwhelmed with gratitude for His sacrifice for us. My heart turns into a melting bowl that receives more love than I or words can express. I am not alone in this.

I can feel a family that is vast and uncountable both here and beyond in His Kingdom. The division opens and all seems to be One. For those moments God the Father, Christ, and The Holy Spirit seem to open a Door to all hearts that enables us to be flooded by Love. We do Commune with His Kingdom and all that is contained in it. Such a brief Holy Glimpse. It is like seconds, and then as if with a breath, and a sigh- we are returned to mortal life. But Believing and by Faith, we are encouraged, strengthened and emboldened.

We have taken part in the offering at The Table.

I don’t need any other table in my life. And oh, what a glorious family to gather with! I feel so fortunate.

I never imagined that I would gain such a precious story. I think that I have found the only Table that will ever matter.

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. –1 Corinthians 11:24-26

© 2019 Linda Willows