FirstLife Blog

Day 30: Three Fingers

Posted by Brent McDougal on

(6 minute read)

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10, NIV).” 

In 2010, I traveled with a group of pastors to South Korea to learn from other pastors. South Korea is home to some of the largest churches in the world. We wanted to know: how do these large churches multiply disciples? How do they launch groups that will eventually launch groups?

A ten thousand or fifteen thousand member church is extremely large in America. Amazingly, South Korean churches may sometimes have fifty thousand, one hundred thousand, or even five hundred thousand members.

The Yoido Full Gospel Church, founded by David Yonggi Cho, had over eight hundred thousand members when I worshipped there in 2010.

Pastor Cho was constantly asked about his secret for church growth. On such occasions, he often gave a surprising answer.

He would lift three fingers. Counting one finger down at a time, he would say, “First, prayer. Second, prayer. Third, prayer. That’s it!”

One might think that Pastor Cho had little time to pray each day, but it was widely known that he prayed two to three hours a day. “Given all that the Lord has placed in my hands,” he reflected, “how can I not pray for wisdom and help for extended time every day?” 

Prayer is never a vehicle for church growth. It’s not a tool in the toolbox. Rather, it is part of the DNA of any healthy, thriving church. It must be the heartbeat of every true believer.

Whether God has placed little or much in your hands to manage, all followers of Jesus need to spend time every day in stillness, remember that God is God, and seek wisdom and help. 

One paradox of faith is that one’s busyness for the Lord can actually take one away from the Lord.

Early in ministry in Bristol, England, George Müller identified this tendency in his own life. He journaled on April 21, 1832, “Often the work of the Lord itself may be a temptation to keep us from that communion with him which is so essential to the benefit of our own souls. On the 19th I had left Dartmouth, conversed a good deal that day, preached in the evening, walked afterwards eight miles, had only about five hours sleep, travel again the next day twenty-five miles, preached twice, and conversed very much besides, went to bed at eleven, and arose before five. All the shows that my body and spirit required rest, and, therefore, however careless about the Lord’s work I might have appeared to my brethren, I ought to have had a great deal of quiet time for prayer and reading the Word, especially as I had a long journey before me that day.”

“Instead of this, I hurried to the prayer meeting, after a few minutes’ private prayer. But never think the public prayer will make up for closet communion. Then again, afterward, when I ought to have withdrawn myself, as it were, by force, from the company of beloved brethren and sisters, and given my testimony for the Lord, by telling them that I needed secret communion with the Lord, I did not do so, but spent the time, till the coach came, in conversation with them…”

Müller was pouring out his life to the Lord. Like any other activity, however, his religious activity squeezed out essential time in the private presence of Jesus.

This has happened to me more than I want to admit. After twenty-five years of ministry, busyness still tempts me. The danger is that I develop a pretense of devotion and serving, but my heart can be far from the Lord. In those moments, I have discovered that sometimes I can actually inadvertently lead people away from Jesus rather than toward Jesus. I demonstrate in those moments that busyness matters more than the heart. 

That’s also what Müller felt after he left the assembly of brothers and sisters. “I was lean, and felt the effects of it the whole day; and hence I believe it came that I was dumb on the coach, and did not speak a word for Christ, nor give away a single tract, though I had my pockets full on purpose,” Müller lamented.

Spending too much time on good things can cause you to miss the best things. 

How much has God placed in your hands?

In the first devotion, I told the story of a captain of a ship, a prayer from the chartroom, and a fog that was miraculously lifted. 

Each of us is a kind of captain. We all have God-given responsibilities. There are relationships, tasks, and opportunities that God places in your hands and mine.

Apart from a deep, abiding relationship in the Lord and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we won’t manage those things very well. We’ll miss the chance to share our faith or to give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. 

Most of all, we will miss the gift of secret communion with our Heavenly Father. 

God says, “I will be exalted among the nations…I will be exalted in the earth.” In other words, that will happen apart from your most frantic efforts. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18, NIV).”

Jesus never said to me, “Brent, you’re responsible to build my church. I’m counting on your strength, your brains, and your sacrificial efforts.” 

So what is our role? Yes, we are called to serve with diligence and hard work. I agree with John Wesley, who said, “Do all that you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” 

But we also must recognize: we can’t change people’s hearts. We can’t make any impact apart from God’s help. We may do our part, but God does the heavy lifting. 

What we must do is stay close to the heart of our Heavenly Father. We must be shaped in prayer. We must be conformed to the image of Christ. If ever we neglect this sacred work, then we surely will be pursuing our own kingdom rather than the kingdom of Jesus Christ. We’ll soon reap the results of worrisome days, frenetic busyness, and undirected action. 

The more God has given you to manage, the more time you need in prayer.

How does this truth intersect your life? What do you need to do in response?

Ask God to help you spend the time you need in prayer and communion. 

Seek God’s help in reordering your days to put God first. 

Be still. Know that God is God.

Prayer Principle #30: The more God gives you to manage, the more time you need in prayer.

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