Sometimes we need a sledgehammer to break up our hard or fallow ground. Throughout my life, since I first picked up the small book Knowledge of the Holy when I was a high school student, a virtually unknown Chicago pastor named A.W. Tozer has been that for me. Tozer did not travel far from his church that he pastored for over forty years. But since his death his sermons in book form have been read all over the world.
I have been drawn back to Tozer recently, reading through several of his books again or for the first time. In one of them, Of God and Men, he has a chapter titled ‘Prayer No Substitute for Obedience’. The title alone caught me, and as I read it saw the truth of what he was writing. Tozer starts off asking the question I have also asked, ‘Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late-and how little revival has resulted?’
Though the US has many problems, it also has millions of people that consistently pray for the blessing of revival. When I first started with YWAM in 1979, I was part of a group earnestly praying for revival in the Pacific NW and the US in general. There have been global movements of prayer like never before, and an emphasis on revival in many of them. But where is the revival? The earth shaking, social structure changing kind of revival that we have seen at times in history around the world?
For Tozer, it is simple. As he writes, ‘I believe our problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying; and it simply will not work.’
We pray and pray, and yet we do not live lives of obedience. We do not love the poor around us, we do not humble ourselves and seek justice and peace. We do not love the stranger and obey the Biblical commands to welcome them. We pray and pray, and yet hold in our hearts hatred for those around us, or for other nations.
When true revival breaks out, there are lasting and powerful changes even to society. Not just to a single church or denomination. Revival happens in a unity of the faith as the foundation, and often from city wide prayer meetings that have cultivated that deep heart unity.
As Tozer reminds us of the Biblical words ‘To obey is better than sacrifice.’And as he writes, ‘To pray for revival while ignoring or actually flouting the plain precepts laid down in scriptures is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble.’ What are the simple places of obedience that we are called to? Perhaps things that we are reminded of often when we pray?
Prayer is no substitute for obedience.