Everyone who studies the life of Jesus Christ is struck by the intensity and the intimacy of his relationship with his Father. Regularly in quiet places, often early in the morning, often in the middle of a conversation with his earthly disciples, he looked up and spoke with his Father. His ministry began in prayer; it was bathed in prayer; and he ended his ministry praying on the cross.
Jesus prayed all night before choosing his disciples (Luke 6:12ff). In Luke 11:1, the disciples came to Him: “Lord teach us to pray.” Isn’t it instructive that they did not ask him to teach them to preach?
He carefully instructed his followers, especially Peter, to “watch and pray” lest they fall into temptation. The last night of Christ’s life, the three leaders of the eleven slept—after specifically being instructed by the Lord to watch and pray with him in his greatest hour of need.
Three times the Lord came and rebuked them. Peter failed by denying our Lord Jesus Christ three times. Our Lord, with his exceptional grace, came to Peter, and, as recorded in John 21, he restored this disgraceful failure, asking Peter three times: “Do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Merely seven weeks after his disgraceful failure, Peter was anointed to preach the first sermon of the church age at Pentecost!
Peter, James, and John finally got it. Acts 2:42 records that the whole church continued steadfastly, faithfully, continually in prayer. After persecution in Acts 4, they immediately gathered for prayer, and the Holy Spirit shook the place. In Acts 6, the Apostles focused on “prayer and the ministry of the Word” rather than other good things, which could be cared for by other fine leaders in the church.
In chapter 12, when Peter was arrested and then released by that angel, he knew he would go to that house and find them praying. He knocked on the door and they did not believe he could be there. Rhoda finally convinced them, and they listened to his report and then left.
The early church demonstrated a commitment to prayer, derived from the practice and the instruction of our Lord. Prayer was practiced and taught by Christ, practiced and taught by the early church in Jerusalem, practiced and taught by the Apostle Paul and his ministry teams. Prayer was absolutely essential – crucial – to the ministry of the church. God said through Paul: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). “Be fervent in prayer” (Col. 4:2).
James Gribble was born in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He died at age 40 in 1923, having been used by God to start a ministry in the Central African Republic (then called Oubangui-Chari and later, French Equatorial Africa).
Gribble was a man of prayer. After serving a year with the Africa Inland Mission (AIM), he decided to celebrate his one-year anniversary in Africa, November 29, 1909, with a night of prayer. His wife, Dr. Florence Newberry Gribble, wrote that this very night should be considered the birth-night of the Mission Oubangui-Chari. God assured him that night that there would be an evangelistic ministry in the area of Oubangi-Chari, though Gribble was uncertain if he would have a part.
Gribble’s mother had taught him to pray. He regularly spent hours in prayer.
“He was known to rise every morning at two o’clock to pray for members of his own family, many of whom were as yet unconverted. He was up again at 4:30 a.m. for his regular devotions, which included all parts of the world.”1
He would spend at least an hour praying in the morning. When he was sick and prevented from doing his other labors, “he simply added to his hours of daily intercession.”2
Prior to departure for Oubangui-Chari, James Gribble was busy. [His wife] records: “He was traveling, preaching, giving illustrated lectures, or writing letters and articles for publication, but never was he too busy to pray. ‘Prayer is the greatest thing I have done today,’ he often said in his daily letters to his wife.”3 It is said of him that out of desperation for the Gospel “he had prayed literally night and day for the opening up of this particular portion of Central Africa to the Gospel!”4
They sailed in 1918 and arrived at the entrance to the Central African Republic in 1919, but they were denied immediate entry. It is well known that this little party of James and Florence Gribble, their daughter, Marguerite, and two single missionaries waited on permission to enter Oubangui-Chari (French Equatorial Africa). They spent two full years waiting, but they did not just twiddle their thumbs and grumble. Gribble was not passive – he prayed – at what came to be called “Camp Wait-Some-More,” in order to get into the country.
Could it be that the miracles that God has worked in that Central African country are traceable to the two years of prayer foundation laid before they entered?
While in ministry in Africa he wrote: “These are busy days here, but we do not allow ourselves to be too busy to pray. Intercession, in spite of the pressure of other duties, is the greatest work that any missionary can do.”5
I’d like to change that sentence.
Intercession, in spite of all of the other duties that a housewife could do, is the greatest ministry that a housewife can do. Intercession, in spite of all the other duties, is the greatest ministry any pastor can do. The same goes for truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, farmers. It is the only thing that has and leads to eternal benefit.
Sometimes Gribble would stop all his activities and devote a whole day to prayer. He writes in one of his letters: “Yesterday, I did nothing but pray. I literally spent the day in prayer, as I felt that we are facing a crisis in the work.”6
During their last year with AIM, it is recorded that “There were whole days which Mr. Gribble and his wife spent in no other service than prayer.”7
After graduation from Grace College, I began a ministry internship at the Elkhart, Ind., Grace Brethren Church while I studied at Grace Seminary. My mentor, Pastor Gordon Bracker, was a man of prayer. If it moved, he’d pray with it! He prayed all the time. He always said: “Let’s pray about it right now.” And we prayed anywhere.
He instructed me that after shaking the hands of countless people after church, I should wash my hands before leaving to rid them of the germs! Often he and I would meet in the men’s room by the washbasin. We’d share about people we had met during the morning services. He’d say: “Let’s pray about it right now,” so we prayed in the men’s room. We prayed in the parking lot, on the lawn, in the car, we prayed everywhere.
“Let’s pray about it right now” is a sentence I pass on to others. By the middle of the semester, the students in my prayer class report that they are using this sentence and praying with people on the spot. I respond that they are grandsons and granddaughters of Gordon Bracker.
Within the first months of ministry there, I was scheduled to meet Pastor Bracker on a Saturday afternoon at the church building. He arrived late, completely undone physically and emotionally. A man had taken a pistol and gone across the fields with the intention of taking his own life. Pastor Bracker had searched for him for many hours, carrying this man’s small child on his shoulders.
As the pastor came into the church auditorium, he took only several moments to briefly explain what had taken place and then said: “Let’s pray right now!”
We fell to our knees at the front bench of the church, and he began sobbing as he prayed. I was 22 years old and estimated once that by that time I had attended at least 1,000 prayer meetings–at the Harrah (Wash.) Brethren Church, Youth for Christ, Grace College missions prayer groups–but never one like this one. And kneeling beside him as he sobbed and cried out to God, I asked the Lord to teach me to pray like that.
(To finish the story, Pastor Bracker did not find the man that day, but he was found and lived many more years.)
I spent three years at Gordon Bracker’s side. This man of God impressed a deep mark on my life. He mentored me to pray.
Some of the prayer principles I have touched on:
- Christ prayed, and instructed his followers to pray.
- The disciples began leading the early church to continue steadfastly in prayer.
- Paul prayed and urged all Christians to pray continually.
- The mother of James Gribble taught him to pray; parents mentor their children to pray.
- James Gribble was never too busy to pray. Prayer is a choice to express our utter dependence on Christ!
- James Gribble prayed full days and full nights – after the model of Christ!
- In 1921, there was not one single African believer in French Equatorial Africa. Today there are 4.4. million living in the C.A.R., with more than 2,000 Grace Brethren Churches and more than 200,000 believers in those churches, not to count the many Christian denominations which also have wonderful Christian churches there. The Joshua Project web site reports that 74 percent of the population in C.A.R. is “Christian” and 32.3 percent evangelical Christian. God has worked in answer to the prayers of many and a whole nation has been touched with the living gospel of Christ. God hears and answers prayer.
- Gordon Bracker mentored me in prayer: the best teaching of prayer is doing it with somebody. Whom are you mentoring in prayer? It is the responsibility of parents and Christian leaders of every generation to mentor the next generation to be praying men and women of God.
In my youth, I heard that Billy Graham was supposed to have said: “Take the Holy Spirit out of the church and 90 percent of the activities would go on uninterrupted.” We could re-formulate that sentence for today and say: “Take prayer out of most churches and 90 percent of the activities of that church would continue on without interruption.”
Activities at most churches now are done without much more than token prayer–a prayer at the outset asking God to bless the meeting and our plans. There’s little sense of desperation.
The reality is that we live in perhaps the most crucial age of human history since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Worldwide moral breakdown has never reached this level. Our job is enormous, and this is not the time to twiddle our thumbs. This is a time for us to pray. Whom are we teaching to pray? About what are we praying all night?
The church will have no meaningful effect against the erosion of society simply by holding more programs and polishing better sermons. Someone said: “The devil does not fear our preaching, but he is terrified when dedicated Christians pray.” — by Roger D. Peugh
Editor’s Note: Dr. Roger Peugh is campus prayer coordinator and part-time instructor at Grace College and Theological Seminary, where he regularly teaches a class on prayer. He is the author, with Dr. Tammy Schultz, of Transformed in His Presence: The Need for Prayer in Counseling (BMH Books, 2005). This article is based on his challenge at the Fifth Brethren World Assembly held in Brookville, Ohio, in 2013. The complete talk is part of the book, Brethren Spirituality: How Brethren Conceive of and Practice the Spiritual Life, which contain the proceedings of the conference, published in 2015 by the Brethren Encyclopedia Board. It is available online at Amazon.com.
1 Gribble, Stranger than Fiction, 1949, p. 85-86).
2 Gribble, Undaunted Hope: Life of James Gribble (Ashland, Ohio: The Brethren Publishing Company, 1934; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), 42.
3 Gribble, Undaunted, 171.
4 Gribble, Undaunted, 47.
5 Gribble, Undaunted, 318.
6 Gribble, Undaunted, 300.
7 Gribble, Undaunted, 102.