The Lost Practice of Praying Through to Salvation

And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40 ESV).

If modern preachers would get rid of self, in other words, hide themselves in the blood of Christ, and come before the world, and preach nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified to save men from all sin, there would be less church-joining and card-signing and many would doubtless see their sinful state, count the cost and pray through to salvation and finally reach heaven as a result. But so long as modern revival methods are carried on, Satan need have no fear of losing many of the souls that are traveling the broad road to destruction. “He that winneth souls is wise.” (Duke Davis, Flashlights From Mountain and Plain, THE PENTECOSTAL UNION, 1911, P.129)

Reading this quote from over 100 years ago stirs in my heart a burning desire to see people once again respond to the Gospel, pray through, and honestly get right with God. What is the use of counting how many people attend a church if the majority of them are unsaved? In 1911, it was fairly common for churches to post statistics in the newspaper to boast about the results of their ministry. However, the wording used was entirely different than in modern times. When someone made a response to the Gospel, they referred to the person as “hopefully converted.” Over the years that phrase fell on hard times and was finally replaced with the phrase “got saved.”

Historical Smoky Mountain Baptist Church. Interior of the historical Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As late as the 1970s and 1980s there were still preachers who called people to an old fashioned altar to “pray through to salvation.” Since this practice has been largely abandoned, it’s necessary for me to explain what “praying through to Salvation” means. Understand that preachers who believed in “praying through” generally followed their evangelistic messages with a call to come forward and pray at an altar bench. The expectation was that the person renounces their sinful life, ask Christ to forgive them of their sins, place their faith and trust in His shed blood, and submit utterly to God’s authority. There would often be a person praying with them and counseling with them along these lines.

In the 1800s and 1900s, the American Tract Society published manuals to train altar workers. One such book was entitled, “Solemn Inquiries: And Counsel to Careless Sinners.” These books are too strong for modern Christian sensibilities. If they were published today, they would be ignored or condemned. Nevertheless, there was a sense that people needed to get right with God — for real. None of this fake stuff. They would scoff at the modern-day “sinners’ prayer, start to church, and do your best” approach. They believed that people needed to seek the Lord until they touched God and were changed by the power of His Spirit.

In 2012 I wrote a book entitled Televangelicalism: “How We Lost the Gospel and How to Get it Back.” The audio version is free on Youtube. It explains how we arrived at a generation who don’t believe in praying through or honestly getting right with God. When people don’t pray through or do something similar they typically won’t follow the Lord in water baptism or seek the Lord to receive the Holy Spirit. They usually end up praying a prayer that gives them a sense of completion. “I did it”… “I prayed the prayer and I’m saved.” Praying the prayer is not necessarily the same thing as praying through to salvation.

When I came to Christ, I came via an old fashioned altar. The sinners’ prayer had not yet taken hold and was generally reserved for people on their death bed. For that, I am eternally grateful. In fact, until I was 30 years old, I regarded the prayer as a “death bed prayer and confession.” I used it with people who were dying. Everyone else, I understood, was expected to pray through to salvation. To be completely forthright, I came to the altar many times until I realized that the Holy Spirit was dealing with me to agree with God’s word and completely surrender my life to Christ. The old timers used to speak of “selling out to God.”

Leonard Ravenhill once lamented that he has seen altar calls started and completed in less time than it took to drive his car through an automatic car wash. There is something seriously wrong with that. I submit that if we would stop being lazy and in such a hurry about getting an altar call over with, pray individually with people responding to the Gospel, and give God the necessary time to do the work in the hearts of anxious sinners, we would see a dramatic change in the spirituality of our churches.

How can a person change who does not pray through to salvation? They don’t have to be at a church; they could do it almost anywhere. Sinners need to pray until they touch God and know inwardly that God has forgiven their sin. Would to God that He would give us preachers who aren’t in a hurry to run people through the ropes so that He has time to change the person into a new creature. Meditate on this passage regarding Peter’s approach to seeing folks saved; And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40 ESV).

5 thoughts on “The Lost Practice of Praying Through to Salvation

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  1. I have been praying for such a touch of the Holy Spirit for at least 15 years. So far, it would seem it has not happened. It is exactly this harsh sort of teaching that leaves me with no assurance, doubting that I am a Christian, despite praying and repenting many, many times

    1. Hi Mark, from time to time I get responses similar to yours when I preach or teach being born again or receiving the Holy Spirit. Sometimes people are very bold and will say, “Are you saying I have not repented enough?” Once I was told of a lady who fasted for months and repented of everything she could think of and still she did not receive the Holy Spirit.

      There are a number of passages in scripture that help us ascertain whether or not we have passed from death unto life. One of them, according to John, is that “we love the brethren.” He or she that does not love their brother abides in death.

      Generally speaking, the first step to salvation is that we must agree with God. That sounds simple, but it is not. For the Rich Young Ruler, he believed he was in step with God’s word and that he had done everything God wanted Him to do have eternal life. Yet Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give to the poor, and he refused. He went away sorrowful because he had many possessions. What was the problem? God had a controversy with him and he would not repent. Repentance for him meant repenting of his greed and serving the god of money and possessions. He could not go forward with God until that controversy was dealt with. Praying and fasting were meaningless because he knew what he needed to do and yet he refused.

      For many years I believed I had done everything God wanted me to do and yet I never received the Holy Spirit. I thought I was serious with God, but deep down inside I was not. It wasn’t until God got my undivided attention and I made a study of God’s word. From time to time I felt God dealing with me about certain sins as I read. I refused to obey God in certain areas of my life and making excuses as if it didn’t matter to God. It did matter.

      God was interested in changing my ways. Not just the sins I committed, but my ways. I often did things that displeased the Lord. When I considered my ways and turned from the evil things I did, things started to change for me. I found myself obeying Christ in EVERY area I knew possible. No more excuses. And THEN I went to a meeting and a minister laid hands on me and I received the Holy Spirit. Consider this verse:

      “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32 NKJV)

      Notice who God gives His Spirit to? This agrees with John 14 when Jesus said that if we will obey His words He and His Father would manifest themselves to the person and later He said they will make their ABODE with the person. Our obedience is an invitation to God’s Spirit to come and dwell in us. Disobedience is the same as resisting the Holy Spirit. If God deals with us about our sins and we refuse to repent or change our ways, we are resisting Him. Moreover, if we don’t agree with God about what He calls sin, we wont receive His Spirit.

      Remember the person I said fasted and prayed for months and could not receive the Spirit? Come to find out the woman did not believe homosexuality was sin nor perhaps drunkeness. She had friends who had this lifestyle and she defended their lifestyle. I knew then why she never received the Spirit. She refused to agree with God. If we dont agree with God, we make Him a liar and the truth is not in us. However, if we do agree with God and we have truly turned from all sin and known controversies we may have. If we have allowed God to show us our ways that do not please Him and we have turned from them… receiving the Holy Spirit, by faith, should not be a fuss. God want’s to give the Spirit more than we want to give a starving person food. But we cannot receive and resist at the same time. Usually we think we are waiting on God, when in reality, He is waiting on us.

  2. Dear Robert

    First of all, thanks for replying and replying substantially. I didn’t know if you would.
    A few things:
    – I am not aware of any deliberate sin that I am refusing the let go of (or command that I am refusing to obey)
    – This does not mean that I don’t struggle with sin – far from it – but I sometimes feel I lack the power and joy in the Christian life. Romans 8:13 says that we put to death the works of the flesh by the Spirit. How can I do that if I don’t have the Spirit?
    – I have been through the process of analysing myself many times and it often ends in despondency. One on one hand, as I said, I can’t think of a particular sin or way that I am stubbornly holding on onto. On the other hand, I see a whole set of sinful attitudes within me (such as selfishness) that I don’t know how to overcome.
    – When it comes to the question of being filled by the Spirit (in a definite, tangible way that you are talking about) it can often seem that, with me, it is like having faulty computer or car. You might find advice saying “have you tried this or that?” but still the computer or car won’t start. Similarly, I still have not had such an experience of Spirit, despite trying all sorts of things. Would God really leave me in the dark?
    – Despite this, I can say that I have grown somewhat in my faith. There are some sinful habits and attitudes that are behind me, and I have some more love for others (but have MUCH room for improvement).
    – Prayer and scripture reading have ebbed and flowed over the years. At the moment, though, I set aside time each day. I am currently going through Matthew’s gospel. I am trying to pause and prayerfully reflect on anything that I need to change or do as result of reading (especially the chapters of Jesus teachings and commands)
    – John 6:37 is a scripture I keep going back to and clinging to with bare faith.. Are you saying that Jesus IS casting me out, even though I go to him in prayer every day?
    – As I said, this struggle has gone on for many years. Because of this, I have trouble believing God is really good and wants to save me/ give me the Holy Spirit. This is especially exacerbated by reading about the preparationist theology that you promote. It can make it seem like Christ is a reluctant savior.
    – I really hope I’m not coming across as angry or snarky. I am genuinely sincere about all this. I have struggled with it for so long and worry about the future (I am not long off hitting middle age). I am determined not to give up and walk away (John 6:68), but I really long for more joy and peace in my faith, to love and know Christ and to carry out his will in joyful obedience.

    1. Hi Mark, You mentioned, John 6:37 is a scripture I keep going back to and clinging to with bare faith.. Are you saying that Jesus IS casting me out, even though I go to him in prayer every day?

      My answer is, NO! My approach to salvation and receiving the Holy Spirit is such that I believe that as we diligently seek the Lord, He rewards us (Hebrews 11:6).

      Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)

      Our obedience is an invitation to the presence of God in our lives. Jesus said plainly, “We will make our abode with him.”

      Regarding coming across angry or snarky I didn’t get that impression. I trust that people who write me or pull me aside genuinely are looking for the solution. The challenge is that I don’t know anyones heart unless God shows me something so I can only speak in generalities. The challenge there is that I end up sounding like one of Job’s counselors who frequently said true statements, but they didn’t apply to Job.

      When Jesus spoke to the Disciples He said that the Holy Spirit was with them, but that He would be IN them. If you have time and are interested. I preached a message called, “Making God Welcome IN You/” Maybe it would shed some needed light. Click the link below. God bless, Robert

      1. Thanks Robert for you interaction here and offering me some encouragement. I will check out the message you linked.

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