I just finished watching a lesson on the work of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan.
He said something that got me thinking. Here’s an imperfect quote:
“When you surf, you don’t make a wave. You don’t know when the wave’s coming – it just happens, it moves, and once you’re on it, it’s got a power of its own. You don’t manipulate it – you just get on it and go along for the ride. That’s what you see in the book of Acts multiplied 1000 times.”
He said this in an attempt to illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit, specifically in the context of the unity of the early believers. In other words, “You can’t create waves of the Spirit just like you can’t create waves in the ocean – you simply ride them.”
I first ran across this idea years ago in Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church. Rick writes near the beginning of that book, “If you want your church to make an impact, find out where God is already moving in your community and join in. Ride the wave, because you can’t create waves of divine activity just like you can’t create waves in the ocean.”
I respectfully disagree with that belief.
Here’s why: a great truth revealed through scripture is that things happen when God’s people pray.
PRAYER MOVES GOD IN THE BIBLE
When the Holy Spirit first appeared in Acts 2, what were the believers gathered together doing? Leading up to that time, Acts 1:14 says the believers “joined together constantly in prayer” – prayer was their main activity.
The story continues, and after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2-3) and the baptism of thousands (Acts 2:38-41), prayer was one of several things the people “devoted” themselves to every day (Acts 2:42).
In Acts 4, after Peter and John were threatened with imprisonment for preaching Jesus, what was the first thing they did? They gathered with believers, and prayed for God to give them power to “speak the word with great boldness,” and He did. In fact, the whole room shook as if God were saying, “You got it!”
In Acts 6, the apostles delegated the work of caring for Grecian widows to others so they could “give their attention to prayer”, in Acts 10 the first Gentile convert was made so because God heard his prayer, and Acts keeps going like that – there are many other examples that can be cited from the book of Acts alone.
And what about the rest of scripture? Were you aware that the apostle Paul’s number one request to churches he corresponded with was that they pray for his evangelistic work to be effective (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:2-6; 2 Thessalonians 3:1)? Why? Because Paul understood prayer moves the Spirit to touch the hearts of men and women – to prepare them to decide to enter into new life with Christ.
And what about the prayer life of Jesus and the things He associated with it? What about the enormous number of Old Testament stories involving massive moves of God specifically due to prayer – sometimes a single person’s prayer at that?
I could keep going, but I think you get the point.
Were massive waves of Holy Spirit activity present in the life of the early church? You bet there were.
But what were these waves of the Spirit in Acts always accompanied by?
Prayer. Heartfelt, genuine, God-moving prayer.
PRAYER MOVES GOD TODAY
I can tell you many stories about people my friends and I have prayed for who later became connected to Jesus, I believe, specifically because we prayed earnestly and consistently for them – that the Spirit of God would move and touch their hearts. God answered those prayers, and I’ve seen this has been repeated over and over in my lifetime.
Those that know my story (Wes) are aware I was a pretty rough character when I was younger. I struggled with drug addiction and self-destructive behavior to the point that it was life threatening to me.
Want to know when my heart began to change? When my parents requested a group of disciples get together and spend time praying specifically for me – and I don’t praying mean passively. I mean praying earnestly and at length like my life depended on it.
Things began happening in my life almost to the day that led to my life eventually turning around, and I didn’t even know anyone had been praying like that for me until later.
That being said, when a person says something like, “We don’t make waves of the Spirit, we just ride them,” they’re putting on display, for the world to see, a shallow theology of prayer.
PRAYER’S POWER IS AVAILABLE TO ME NOW
Prayer is not just something Christians practice because it’s what Christians practice – prayer is a weapon against the dark spiritual forces that surround us.
And the Holy Spirit doesn’t just guide our path, He is also a weapon who revels in bringing light to dark places – He loves it! That’s why He’s here – to assist us in this ongoing war against the darkness!
Speaking of that, there’s a battle scene in one of the Lord of the Rings movies (I forget which) in which the wizard Gandalf appears with a group of mounted soldiers riding down a hill, weapons raised, toward the goblin army. His staff, held high above his head, suddenly begins to emit a great light that not only illuminates the battlefield, but is also used as a weapon against the enemy.
That’s what the Holy Spirit is like. He illuminates, nudges, leads, guides, but not just that. He’s also a warrior adept at destroying the strongholds of Satan. He moves before us, shining brilliantly, but not just to illuminate. He moves before us through prayer, I believe primarily, to fight.
While it’s true that in some respects we’re just along for the ride on this journey, make no mistake: we are allowed to give input as to the direction and focus of divine activity along the way.
And that’s why prayer is so powerful, because prayer is our way of having a say.
Prayer moves the Spirit, therefore, prayer is dangerous.
Prayer makes waves.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”