09 Aug Reformation through Prayer
“Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” James 5:16 Amplified
*Excerpted: Obtaining Answers to Prayers, E. M. Bounds
Before the Civil War, there were many signs of a new interest in prayer and new hope from its exercise. These signs have multiplied. The war has already done for us this one thing, at least, that is good. Let us not miss our opportunity. Prayer is not an easy exercise. It requires encouragement, exposition, and training. There was never a time when men and women were more sincerely anxious to be told how to pray. Prayer is our mightiest weapon if we use it as God has encouraged us. We must do everything in our power to bring it into exercise. –James Hastings
Ezra, a priest and one of God’s great reformers, was an Old Testament praying man who knew that God’s answer to prayer would overcome difficulties and bring good things to pass. He returned from Babylon under the patronage of the king of Babylon, who was strangely moved toward Ezra and who favored him in many ways.
Ezra had been in Jerusalem only a few days when the princes came to him with the distressing information that Israel had not separated themselves from the people of Babylon and were practicing the abominations of the heathen nations surrounding them. What was worse was that the princes and rulers in Israel had been leaders in the trespass.
It was a sad state of affairs facing Ezra when he found Israel hopelessly involved with the world. God demands that His people, in all ages, keep themselves separated from the world—a separation so sharp that it can inspire antagonism. To this end, He put Israel in the Promised Land and cut them off from other nations by mountains, deserts, and seas. He immediately commanded them not to form any alliance with foreign nations, whether marital, social, or business.
Ezra found Israel, as he returned from Babylon, paralyzed and thoroughly prostrated by the violation of this principle, they had intermarried, forming the closest and most sacred ties in family, social, and business life. Everyone was involved—priests, Levites, princes, and the populace. The families, businesses, and religious lives of God’s people were in violation of His law. What was to be done? What could be done? These were the important questions facing this leader of Israel, this man of God.
Everything appeared to be against Israel’s recovery. Ezra could not preach to them, because the whole city would be inflamed, and the people would chase him out. What force was there that could recover them to God so that they would dissolve business partnerships, divorce wives and husbands, cut acquaintances, and dissolve friendships?
The first thing about Ezra that is worthy of remark was that he saw the situation and realized how serious it was. He was not a blind-eyed optimist who never saw anything wrong in Israel. By the mouth of Isaiah God had proposed the very pertinent question, “Who is blind, but my servant?” (Isa. 42:19). But it could not possibly have applied to Ezra.
Nor did he minimize the condition of things or seek to excuse the sins of the people or to minimize the enormity of their crimes. Their offense appeared in his eyes to be extremely serious. The leaders in Zion needed eyes to see the sins of Israel as well as the evils of the times. One great need of the modern church is for leaders like Ezra who are not blind and who are willing to see the real state of the church.
Naturally, seeing these dreadful evils in Israel and Jerusalem, he was distressed. The sad condition of things grieved him so much that he tore his garments, plucked his hair, and sat down in utter astonishment. All these things are evidences of his great distress at the terrible state of affairs. It was then, in that frame of mind, concerned, solicitous, and troubled in soul, that he gave himself to prayer, confessing the sins of the people and pleading for God’s pardoning mercy. To whom should he go in a time like this but the God who hears prayer, who is ready to pardon, and who can bring the unexpected thing to pass?
Ezra was amazed beyond expression at the wicked conduct of the people. He was so deeply moved that he began to fast and pray. Prayer and fasting obtains results. He prayed with a broken heart, for there was nothing else he could do. He prayed to God, deeply burdened, prostrate on the ground and weeping, and the city turned to unite with him in prayer.
Prayer was only the way to appease God. Ezra became a great mover through prayer in a great work for God, with marvelous results. The whole work, its principles and its results, are summarized in Ezra 10:1:
Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.
That was simple, mighty, and persevering prayer. Intense and prevailing prayer had accomplished its end. Ezra’s praying obtained results and brought a great work for God into being. It was mighty praying because it brought Almighty God to do His own work. Nothing but God and prayer could have changed this absolutely hopeless situation. But nothing is hopeless to prayer because nothing is hopeless to God.
Again we must say that prayer has only to do with God and only brings results if it has to do with God. Whatever influence the praying of Ezra had upon himself, prayer’s chief result, if not its only result, followed because it affected God and moved Him to do the work.
A great and general repentance followed Ezra’s praying, and a wonderful reformation occurred in Israel. Ezra’s mourning and praying were the great factors that brought these great things to pass.
So thorough was the revival that Scripture notes that Israel’s leaders came to Ezra with these words:
We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise, for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee; be a good courage, and do it. (Ezra 10:2-4)