What Does Prayer
Have to Do with It?

Part 1 in a series on Prayer by Tim Bias

Matthew Henry once said, “When God extends great mercy for his people, the best thing God does is set them a-praying.”

Prayer is the most powerful force in the universe. As United Methodists, our faith was born in the Wesleyan Revival with John and Charles Wesley on their knees in prayer. Consider the following:

A few years ago, a unique series of columns appeared in various journals around the impact of the Wesleyan movement in and through The United Methodist Church.

The Public Interest

The first of these was in a journal called The Public Interest. The article was written by Roger Starr, who wrote on urban issues of housing for the New York Times. He was associated with the New School for Social Research and taught at City College of the City University of New York.

It is important to know that Roger Starr is a liberal, Jewish Democrat. Starr concluded that there was only one other period in world history that matched the day in which we live. It was 18th century England. There was the problem of addiction. They had just discovered gin. Families were decomposing. There were problems of pollution, crime, violence, and rioting. Problems very much like our own.

When he discovered this, Starr felt he had to study what saved England, or what brought them out of this mess. He discovered that the only thing that saved England was someone by the name of John Wesley, who started a movement called Methodism. Starr wrote, “Now, I don’t even know any Methodists. I don’t know anything about them. But this Wesley started a movement that literally saved England. It was a movement that had profound social, economic, and political consequences and transformed England. He concluded that maybe what we needed to do was to study those Methodists to find out how they did it, and to duplicate what they did back in the 18th century.”

The Washington Post

About a month later, George Will wrote an editorial for The Washington Post. George Will is a conservative, Roman Catholic Republican. After studying the suggestions from Starr and others, Will wrote a syndicated column agreeing with the thesis of the importance of this social movement known as “The Wesleyan Awakening.” He confessed that it was hard to agree with such liberal types as Starr, but admitted that not everything liberals say is wrong.

In his own research, Will discovered that the England of Wesley’s day, then the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, suffered many problems similar to those which plagued the United States. Drug addiction, gin-makers, crack-houses, along with youth gangs terrorized the cities. Much of the population worked in dehumanizing factories. The church and its clergy and forgotten the poor and the working classes, and had opted for an establishment respectability.

He went on to say that Wesley helped change all of this. His societies became distribution centers for food, clothing, money, and medicine for the poor. They also become lending banks, housing finders, job training centers and legal aid and advice drop-ins. Wesley started history’s first people’s medical clinic, and he led the social struggles of his day for prison reform and the abolition of slavery. Wesley put it like this, “The Gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness…This commandment have we from Christ, that he who loves God loves his brother also.”

Will ended the first paragraph of his column with these words, “New York, like many other cities, needs a man on horseback…It needs John Wesley.” “The only thing that will save our cities”, Will writes, is a “cohort of contemporary Wesleys.” And he ends his article with, “Does anyone have a better idea?”

The New Republic

About one month later, Fred Barnes, editor of The New Republic and an evangelical Episcopalian moderate, wrote, “Can you believe this? We have George Will and Roger Starr agreeing on something.” He registered both agreement and disagreement with his colleagues. He agreed that the world today needs another Wesley, but he found Will’s and Starr’s analysis short of what was needed.

He said they forget one thing.

What they forgot was that basically the Methodist Movement was at heart, a spiritual awakening. It had tremendous economic, social, and political consequences, but it began as a spiritual revival.

The source of Wesley’s power was religious faith, and religion of a peculiarly social kind. Wesley’s evangelism was inseparable from his social activism. People today are not just hungry for the things of the world, but for the things of the spirit. Unless we get in this nation a spiritual awakening and a spiritual revival that will create these kinds of economic and political implications in our day, it won’t work. It has to begin as a movement of the Spirit or else it doesn’t go anywhere. But we have to begin. We have to have a new generation of Methodists who will do for this day what they did in the 18th century.”

The Power of Prayer

So, what does prayer have to do with it? Prayer is the most powerful force in the universe. Over the next several weeks, I am offering a study on prayer with the desire to raise up a new generation of Methodists who will do for our day what they did in 18th century England.

We must start with prayer, immerse all we do in prayer, and live the prayer, if we are to become who God created us to be for this day and for the days to come. So, let’s pray!

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