Everything by Prayer. Armin Gesswein's Keys to Spirit-Filled Living

By Fred A. Hartley III
Camp Hill, PA : Christian Publications (2003). x + 165 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
14.2 (Fall 2003) : 337-338

One of the twentieth century’s famous national and international prayer leaders, Gesswein (1907—2000) was a key figure behind the scenes in Billy Graham’s crucial 1949 Los Angeles evangelistic campaign. Tributes from men like Bill Bright and A. W. Tozer to Gesswein’s strategic modeling of prayer appear (2-5, 8).

Ten chapters review topics such as prayer’s strategic role in the upper room (Acts 1), Gesswein’s leadership in prayer, Jesus’ teaching and example, prayer in evangelism, pleading God’s promises, prayer in sync with the Holy Spirit, prayer’s vital place for the church, prayer and sovereignty, and prayer permeating the inner life. All of this is in Hartley’s engaging style. He is Senior Pastor of the Lilburn Alliance Church, Lilburn, Georgia. The book’s many truths can ignite momentum in prayer whether read alone or in a study group. Each chapter closes with study guide questions for meditation and interaction.

This reviewer led seminars at a youth retreat in which Gesswein gave the keynote messages in the 1960s. For this reviewer, Hartley’s book brought fresh motivation as did the memory of that occasion. Gesswein’s messages were provocative. It was clear as the older Gesswein challenged the group that he exemplified the way prayer can permeate everything (cf. Phil 4:6). One phrase that he often pressed home was “plead the promises of God,” i.e., let Scripture on God’s will shape all of prayer and life. Those who realize Gesswein’s example as a humble, focused prayer warrior will treasure even the 6 pp. of pictures on him (between 85-87).

Further sayings that can grip the heart appear. Gesswein said, “I was born for thanksgiving” (33), “Prayer is so major we dare not minor on it . . .” (52), and “True prayer doesn’t start with us; it starts with God. The only prayer that reaches the throne, started there” [actually, even selfish prayers “reach” Him] (55). One is touched by the tribute to Pearl Goode, intercessor to whom Billy Graham’s wife Ruth attributed much of the human secret behind her husband’s ministry (85).

This book offers further sayings of this stalwart believer. “Prayer must be frontal, not peripheral” (3). “We will one day be surprised to learn the invisible interplay between the private little prayer meetings and the great big public results” (3). “If the Holy Spirit doesn’t do it, there is nothing to it” (9). Some sayings mislead. “When Christ ascended into heaven all he left behind was a prayer meeting. The early church didn’t have a prayer meeting; the early church was the prayer meeting” (12). Though allowing prayer its great role, those fair to God’s Word should recognize many other things that Christ left on earth—such as His work of redemption, His resurrection, His teaching true to but building on the OT, all His miracles as evidence of who He is and how He cares, His followers to pray and spread His Word, the expectation of His future coming to consummate His program. And the early church, while often in prayer, was many more things than just prayer. Christians ought not to push some rating system that their own man-made opinion arbitrarily exalts.

Still, the often refreshing book rightly claims that the book of Acts “shows the intimate and unfailing connection between prayer and every work of God” in ministry now (25). Gesswein wrote several books, but said he did not write one on prayer because God already had given this. In one place he speaks of “the Bible, my real Prayer Book” (33); on another page he inconsistently says it is the book of Acts (88). Gesswein did write a book on prayer: With One Accord in One Place (Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, 1978]. One Gesswein book, How Can I Be Filled with the Holy Spirit? (100), has much that is in Hartley’s book, Chapter 7. Even when citing some opinions with which many will differ, the book is a valuable stimulus for pastors, students, and lay people. It has a good focus on Bible promises that tell Christians what to expect, shape motivation, sharpen direction, and spark more and better prayer (cf. examples in Chap. 6, especially 89, 92).