The Prayer for Power
In his day, probably no one was more well known for exhorting professing Christians to pray for power than the late Jack Hyles, the long time pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana and father-in-law of the present pastor there, Jack Schaap. He influenced thousands of men toward this practice. He wrote this in his book, The Fulness of the Spirit:
We prayed from 1:00 until 2:00; from 2:00 until 3:00; from 3:00 until 4:00; from 4:00 until 5:00 and sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning the sweet power of God settled upon us, and I knew that God had given me some fresh power, some fresh oil, as spoken of by the Psalmist in Psalm 92:10, “But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.”
Hyles said that prayer was the means of getting this power. He explained:
The question immediately comes: How may this power be obtained? Of course, there are obvious steps such as separation from the world, faithfulness to the cause of Christ, hours of studying the Word, obedience to the commands of God and to the will God, etc., but the main thing is for a Christian to be so sincere that he pays the price in agonizing and pleading and tarrying, begging God for His power. Notice Luke 11:5-13, “And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, saying unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” The word “importunity” in verse 8 means “much begging.”
Because prayer was the means Hyles believed was how to get the power that was a necessity for success, he reported:
On my desk I see the words, “Pray for power.” Behind my desk I see the words, “Pray for power.” In the Bible that is in my lap I see the words, “Pray for power.” On the mirror where I shave I see the words, “Pray for power.” On the door leading from my office into the hallway I see the words, “Pray for power.” Hundreds of times a day I plead with God for His power. Then, of course, there are seasons of prayer when I go alone with God to plead for the power of God.
What else is Hyles’ basis for this? He didn’t invent the subject, even as he argued:
I read about John Wesley, who at three o’clock in the morning on October 3, 1738, after having prayed with a number of preachers for most of the night was filled with the Holy Spirit. His ministry was never the same. I read about George Fox, who went alone for two weeks begging for the power of God, and how his life was transformed. I read about Peter Cartwright, who had been filled with the Holy Spirit and mighty power came upon him. I read of George Whitefield, who on June 20, 1736, was ordained to preach. As he knelt at the altar, Bishop Benson laid his hands on the young preacher and George Whitefield knew then and there that he was filled with the Holy Spirit! I read about George Muller, who was filled with the Holy Spirit the first time he ever saw Christians on their knees in prayer. I read how Billy Sunday used to preach every sermon with his Bible open to Isaac 61:1 and how the Spirit of God came on him. My heart began to burn from within! “Was this for me as well as for them? Was that power that Moody had and Wesley had and Whitefield had and Billy Sunday had available for little Jack Hyles, a poor country preacher in east Texas?”
Hyles sought the same experience for himself. According to him, he got it.
I began to walk in the woods at night. Night after night I would walk and cry and pray an beg for power. My heart was hungry. I got a Cruden’s Concordance and looked up the terms, “Holy Ghost,” “Spirit of the Lord,” “Spirit of God,” etc. I looked up every Scripture in the Bible that had to do with the Holy Spirit. I read in Judges 6:34 that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and in Judges 14;6 how the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson and in 1 Samuel 11:6 how the Spirit of God came upon Saul. I read in 1 Samuel 16:13 how the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. I read in Acts 9:17 where Paul was filled with the Holy Ghost and in Luke 4:1 where Jesus was full of the Holy Ghost. My heart burned! I needed something. I needed the blessed power of God. I needed the fulness of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t understand all the Scriptures. I read in Luke 3:16 the words, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” I read in Acts 1:4 the mention of the “promise of the Father.” In Luke 24:49 I found the words, “be endued with power from on high.” In Acts 1:8, I found the words, “after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” In Acts 2:17, I learned of the “pouring out of the Spirit” and in Ephesians 5:18, I found the term, “filled with the Spirit.”
I was not seeking sinless perfection nor was I trying to name what I wanted God to give me. I had no desire to speak in tongues nor did I even desire to have some kind of an experience. I just wanted God to work in the hearts of the people while I preached and witnessed. Could it be for me? Yes, it was for Samson, for Gideon, for Torrey, for Moody, for Billy Sunday, for Jonathan Edwards, for Muller, for Whitefield, for George Fox, for Christmas Evans, for Savonarola, for Peter Cartwright, for John Rice, for Bob Jones, for Lee Roberson, but was it for me? I was just a country preacher. I can recall how my eyes fastened on Isaiah 40:31 and Acts 2:4 and Acts 4:31. I was hungry!
“I must have results. I must have power.” I can recall saying to God, “I’m not going to be a normal preacher. I’m not going to be a powerless preacher.”
Night after night I would walk through the pine thickets of east Texas, up and down the sand hills, begging God for His power. If you had driven down Highway 43 outside Marshall, Texas, on the way to Henderson, Texas, in the wee hours of the morning, you could have heard me praying, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” and begging God to give me power.
I was losing weight. I couldn’t eat. What I did eat came back up! My family was worried about me. My deacons got together and said to me, “Pastor, you’ve got to take care of yourself. You are going to get bad sick.”
Then came May 12, 1950. All night I prayed! Just about sunrise I fell to my face in some pine needles and told God I would pay the price, whatever it was, for the power of God! I did not know what I was saying. I did not know what that meant.
In less than four hours, my phone rang in our little country parsonage. The operator said that it was a long distance call for Reverend Jack Hyles. She put the call through and a voice said, “This is Mr. Smith. I work with your dad. Reverend Hyles, your dad just dropped dead with a heart attack.” I put the phone down. I could not believe what I had heard. . . . On May 13, 1950, Mother’s Day afternoon, we had a little service in the chapel. We then followed the hearse about 50 miles south to a little cemetery on the northeast corner of Italy, Texas, where two of my little sisters were buried. Down near the creek was a hole in the ground. They lowered my daddy’s body in the grave. Not long after, I returned to that grave and fell on my face and told God I was not going to be a powerless preacher any more and that I was not going to leave that grave until something happened to me. I don’t know how long I stayed. It may have been hours; it may have been days. I lost all consciousness and awareness of time. I did not become sinlessly perfect nor did I talk in another language nor was I completely sanctified, but my ministry was transformed!
Hyles regularly told the story of begging on his father’s grave. What I noticed was that the details of the story often changed, especially how long he stayed at the grave. I would have a couple of questions about the power that Jack Hyles claimed to have received from God.
- Why didn’t the power work toward the raising of his son, Dave Hyles? How did it selectively affect one area, how big his church got, but it circumvented where the power should have been having the greatest impact, on his son? When Jack Hyles was disqualified from the office of the pastor, why didn’t the power take him the direction that the Bible takes disqualified pastors?
- If someone has that kind of power, why do they also need gimmicks in order to get people to church? Wouldn’t the power be a greater force for persuasion than a small toy or candy? And then in the end, God would be glorified, because it was His power and not a gimmick, wouldn’t He?
Those are just two sets of questions that commonly come to my mind when I think about the power of Jack Hyles. The Bible reveals the real manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life. We can be satisfied with those. The late John R. Rice, who had a lot of impact on Jack Hyles, in We Can Have Revival Now! talked of the same experience:
Charles G. Finney would frequently feel some lack of power and blessing and would set apart a day of fasting and prayer “for a new baptism of the Holy Ghost,” as he was wont to say. Moody sought God unceasingly for two years, until he was mightily endued with power. Dr. R.A. Torrey started the prayer meeting in Moody Church in Chicago and there prayed for two years that God would send a great revival. Then suddenly a committee from Australia came and sought out Torrey, the Bible teacher who had never been much thought of as an evangelist, and Torrey began the mighty campaigns in Australia that led him finally around the world, with hundreds of thousands of souls saved under his great ministry. Torrey learned to pray, so he learned to have revivals.
Hyles and Rice and that branch of fundamentalism are not alone in talking about this practice. In his article, “Philosophy of Evangelism,” the more recent Mark Herbster writes:
[The evangelist] must pray for power and liberty in his preaching. The evangelist must have this grace from God alone. He cannot and will not be able to carry on within his own strength and power. He must be filled with Holy Spirit fire.
You will find some of these same thoughts in some unlikely sources. The late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:
The prayer for power is always in evidence in the history of the Church prior to revival.
Robert L. Thomas comments:
[Paul] climaxes his own prayer in [Ephesians] 1:15-23 by pleading God’s power for believers. In 3:14-21, he commences his intercession with prayer for power. He seeks power from God, for “power belongs to God” (Ps. 62:11). . . . Such power from the God of power comes to prayer to Him.
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH CHRISTIANS TO PRAY FOR GOD’S POWER?
No. Scripture doesn’t teach us anywhere to pray for God’s power. I can understand people wanting a kind of power that can do the things that these men covet. I believe it is akin to a generation of people that seeks after signs. Of course, we know what Jesus said about that generation. This teaching, which isn’t in the Bible, comes from three sources: poor exegesis of the Scripture, personal experiences, and historical anecdotes. Certain scriptural truths clear this up.
We Already Have All of God’s Power the Moment We Are Justified
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Ephesians 1:3
God’s divine power has given us believers “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” Do you think that we need anything else to live the Christian life? The Greek begins the sentence with “all things.” That’s even the emphasis. We’ve got everything we need for our entire life in the way of any and every resource we need right when we’re justified. “Hath given” is a perfect passive participle in the Greek. The perfect tense expresses that all those things that we’ve been given can’t be taken away. They are ongoing for the believer.
God has also given us every spiritual blessing that there is. Do we need more spiritual blessing than every spiritual blessing? What are we saying to God when He says we have every spiritual blessing, but we come to Him in prayer as if we haven’t been given that. One of the passages quoted in support for praying for power was Ephesians 1:15-23. The pertinent section (vv. 17-19) reads:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.
This was used by Robert Thomas from Master’s Seminary to back up a point to pray for power. The prayer is for a spirit of wisdom and knowledge, so that your understanding is enlightened so that you will “know” what is the exceeding greatness of his power. The prayer is not for power. It prays for a kind of knowledge that would know the power that a Christian already possesses. “Know” there is experiential knowledge. Paul prays that the Ephesians believers will experience the power that they already have. Our problem is not that we lack in power. We have that. Our problem is that we forget that we already have it so that we don’t use it.
The Holy Spirit is God, so He possesses all the power of the universe. The Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the waters in Genesis 1:2 and created energy—gravitational force, electromagnetic force, and nuclear force. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers.
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Romans 8:9-11
We don’t need to pray for power because we already have the power. The prayer for power is actually a lack of faith. We need to access the power we already possess. We experience the power by yielding to the Holy Spirit. We don’t need power. We need yieldedness. I feel sorry for people who are praying for power. They feel like spiritual have-nots and they don’t have to.
Let me illustrate. Fred gives you all his money, a million dollars. You need ten dollars. You don’t use the million that you already have. Instead, you ask Fred, who has given you all of his dollars, to give you the ten. It is absurd. It questions the sufficiency of God’s provision at your justification. It is not a prayer in God’s will.
Some may ask and rightly so, “Well, if these famous men prayed for power and they didn’t actually get anything out of that prayer, then why is it that they saw so many great things happen?” This is where biblical discernment comes in. I’m not responsible to explain everything that happens. I’ve got to judge based on what God’s Word says. Lots of false beliefs look like they’re working. One amazing blessing about this particular branch of false doctrine is that now we have some history to see where a lot of these results ended. We get the gift of hindsight to see that the extra-scriptural and unscriptural behavior didn’t have long-lasting results in many cases. It even often hatched monstrosities.
Yes, many times the consequences do last and good things turn out. God is a good God. He will bless despite us. That doesn’t justify unbiblical beliefs and activity.
The Holy Spirit Was Poured Out in the Book of Acts and Will Be Again Just Once in the Future
We don’t pray for the Holy Spirit because He’s already here. We don’t pray for the Holy Spirit’s power because the Holy Spirit is God. He already has unlimited power. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which was prophesied by John the Baptist, was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. For the next outpouring of the Holy Spirit to occur, He will have to leave, which He will (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The Holy Spirit will be outpoured one more time, when He comes to indwell Jews saved in the tribulation period (Joel 2:28-29).
The reason the apostles were praying for the Holy Spirit in Luke 24:49 and taught to pray for Him in Luke 11:13 was because He hadn’t come yet. Something similar is Jesus’ teaching that we should pray for His kingdom to come. When we get into the kingdom, we won’t be praying to get into it anymore. Even so, since we already received the Holy Spirit, we don’t need another outpouring of Him. Saved Jews in God’s tribulation will get the second outpouring. That is not for believers today who have already received the Holy Spirit the first time.
When you read Hyles’ teaching above from his book on the fulness of the Spirit, you see that he strung together a whole lot of verses from all over without context or explanation to come to the conclusion that he wanted people to make. Usually he proceeded to stories from there and that was where Hyles real authority came from. People were knocked over by his personal examples. If you heard him enough times, you started to discern that parts to the stories would change and contradict.
If you pay attention to the verses and even look up their contexts, you would see that Hyles isn’t careful to differentiate between “filling” and “baptism.” This is a common error for the revivalist. The two do not mean the same thing. Jesus had the disciples praying for the baptism of the Spirit. In Luke 24:49 He instructed them to do so, that is, stay in Jerusalem and pray for that particular event or experience. However, once the Holy Spirit had come, they were to be filled with the Spirit. The baptism was an event. The filling is ongoing.
I hear people pray for Holy Spirit filling. I believe that many of them do so because they are mixing those two words around. We don’t pray for baptism of the Spirit because that’s already over. They prayed for that and then it was answered. Filling isn’t something we pray for. We are filled with the Spirit by yielding ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s control. Then we are filled. When I hear someone praying for Holy Spirit filling, I believe he is confused about his responsibility. God commands us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so it isn’t something we pray for. We just yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and He will fill us. He wants to do that.