Are our Prayers the "Greater Works"?

In John 14:12 Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. Oswald Chambers wrote that he believes those "greater works" to be our prayers.

While it is true that prayer is perhaps our greatest source of power, it is also the most neglected and misconstrued of the spiritual gifts. How much of our prayer life is devoted to the salvation of lost men and women or those devoted to the task of missions and evangelism?

Interestingly, there are many admonishments to pray for fellow believers, especially those who are engaged in preaching and teaching ministries. But you can search long and hard in the New Testament for a prayer that is uttered for a lost person's salvation. The Holy Spirit works conviction of sin, but only when the person hears the gospel. I can only find prayers for the saints in the New Testament. Jesus and the apostles commended believers to pray for one another. In Luke 32:31-32, the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. That is about as close as one gets to a prayer for the lost, but Jesus prays that Peter's faith would not fail. Luke 10:2 commands us, Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. We are not told to pray for the lost, but for laborers. The Lord prayed to his Father in John 17:9, I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. Later, in verse 19, Jesus prays, not for these [his disciples] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. If I read this correctly, Jesus is praying for future believers, not for the unsaved.

I could only find one place where a believer was asked to pray for the salvation of a lost soul. You can read about that in Acts 8:18-24 And when Simon [the sorcerer] saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. Peter advises the sorcerer to pray for forgiveness and the unsaved sorcerer asked Peter to pray for him. The sorcerer's request was only that he would not have to pay the consequences of his sin and not for salvation. There is no indication that Peter obliged!

I do not contend that it is wrong to pray for the salvation of the lost, but scriptures make it clear that the lost need to hear the gospel! Romans 10:14 says, How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

Below is an excerpt of what I wrote on this matter in "Images of the Creator Should be Creative" (Readers may download a free copy of the entire book  from this website).

Many have debated what Jesus meant with “greater works,” but few take the time to carefully examine Christ’s statement. An English professor was explaining to his students about using double negatives. Then he added, “I don’t know of any double positives.” A boy in the back of the classroom spoke up, “Yeah, sure”.

Jesus begins his statement with a double positive, “Verily, verily.” This tells us that he wishes to relate truth of special significance. We should never gloss over a statement that Jesus begins in this manner, but pay close attention to what he says. The following two verses are equally astounding. Jesus says, And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. Here are two more repeated positives! Jesus knowingly places his entire credibility on the line. These are bold, prophetic statements!

The context of these verses is significant. Jesus had spent three intensive years training his disciples. There was a special bond of friendship between them and these were his final hours with the disciples. It is difficult to imagine how Jesus felt when he said, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15). Chapters 13 and 14 of John describe the Last Supper, which Leonardo de Vinci so famously depicted for posterity. The disciples are gathered around the table with their Master and we could call this Christ’s last will and testament. In John 13:4-17 Jesus washes their feet, setting an example of humility and servitude. In verses 18-22 Jesus drops a bombshell into this intensive scene. He says that one of the disciples would betray him. All ask who that person could possibly be. Peter motioned to John, who was sitting next to Jesus, to ask who it was.” Jesus told John, but apparently neither he nor Peter understood. In verses 13:26-30, Jesus "dipped the sop" with Judas and told him to go do what he had to do. Judas immediately got up and left, yet none of the disciples understood what Jesus said or suspected Judas of committing a traitorous act. They assumed that he was going shopping (v. 29). In John 13:33, Jesus tells the disciples that he is going away and that they will not be able to follow him. The last twelve words of verse 33 are, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. Anyone who has passed grammar school English can tell you that this is not a complete sentence. Why the translators inserted a period here and began a new verse puzzles me. Apparently they didn’t understand any more than the disciples! We could safely paraphrase the Lord’s statement in verses 34-35 to say, “Because you cannot go with me when I leave you, I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus’ final item of business in the upper room should have worked like a volcanic eruption or earthquake and caused them all to fear and tremble. When God gave the ten commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai, it was one of the most significant events in the history of the Jewish nation. Hebrews 12:18-29 gives us a graphic description of that scene.

For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.

And now, Jesus, the Messiah, the holy Son of God, announced to his disciples that he was giving them a NEW commandment!

The disciples seemed not to have heard him at all! In the next verse, verse 36, Peter asked a question related to the Lord’s previous statement about going away; “Where are you going?” It was as if Jesus had never mentioned a new commandment (I will say more about “the new commandment” in Chapter 11).

Judas is not present in John, chapter 14. Jesus pours out his love, concern and heart’s desires for his faithful followers. These 31 verses say so much, yet like the disciples, few of us fully comprehend what Jesus is saying. In the last verse, Jesus says, Arise, let us go hence. He then headed for Gethsemane where three of his disciples kept falling asleep while he prayed, sweating great drops of blood. This was the first blood that the Lord shed for them and us, and Christ's last drop of blood would be shed in fewer than 24 hours.

Christ’s “Works”
Most people think immediately of Christ’s miracles when they hear of his "works." The Greek word used here is ergon, an all-encompassing word, often used in the singular. We use the English word in a similar fashion. We may talk about the things (plural) that we do, or we just speak of our “work,” “job,” or “occupation.” The Greek ergon appears about 180 times in the New Testament and approximately half the time it is rendered in the singular, but even where it is translated in the plural, it could often have been translated in the singular. Numerous times, Jesus contended that he was doing the works (ergon - translated in the plural) of his Father. In John 17:4, Jesus speaks of his “finished work” (ergon - same word translated in the singular). When theologians refer to the “finished work of Christ,” they are generally talking about his death on the cross. They say that the crucifixion was the supreme work of Christ, but what work did he do? Men built the cross, carried the cross, dug a hole for the cross, nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross. Men pierced his side with a spear and they nailed a sign to the cross which stated, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

In the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he says to his Father, I have finished the work (ergon singular) which thou gavest me to do. He had not yet been crucified. The crucifixion was not his work but the work of evil men. Jesus did not take his own life, but He gave it willingly for the sins of the world! He concluded his prayer in Gethsemane with three simple words, Thy will be done. He cried out from the cross, It is finished, but he did not say that he was finished. Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father praying for us. And God answers the prayers of his Son!

In John 6:28, the people sought out Jesus and asked him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? They were probably thinking of his miracles, but Jesus replied in verse 29, This is the work (ergon) of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. Both words, the plural and the singular form, are the same Greek word, ergon. The word must have given translators headaches, because they never seemed to know which form to use. The Greek ergon is found 27 times alone in the Gospel of John. The translators rendered the word in the plural form 22 times but in all but two or three cases, the context would have permitted the singular translation, “work”.

Greater Work
Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (John 14:12). Because ergon is rendered in the plural, readers are almost forced to think of the miracles of Jesus. This is what the translators obviously understood the text to say. There is a problem with this translation, however. We must ask what kind of miracles could possibly be greater than those of Jesus? Even charismatic preachers who claim the power to heal are reluctant to state that their miracles are greater than those which Jesus performed.

When the new Testament refers to Christ’s or the Apostles’ miracles, the terminology is usually “mighty works” or “signs and wonders.” Jesus also said that many false prophets would come and amaze the people with “signs and wonders” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). Most of the “miracles” we hear about today are performed on stage and widely publicized, but Jesus generally told those whom he healed not to tell anyone.

In John 14:12, “works” is in italics the second time it appears, meaning it does not exist in the original Greek text. In my opinion, it should read, "He that believes on me, the work [singular form] that I do shall he likewise do and do more of it because I go unto my Father."

Some Christians dream of performing signs and wonders, but if we desire to do the miracles, we must be willing to pray, “Thy will be done!” the Apostles who did, suffered much, and most of them died at the hands of wicked men. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (II Timothy 3:12).

Jesus did not come down to earth to heal the sick, the lame and the blind. He didn’t come to cast out evil spirits, to aid the poor or to feed the hungry. He came to redeem sinners. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Signs, wonders and miracles are no big deal for God, who spoke all creation into existence. He delights in doing the impossible. Nothing, however, gives God more joy and pleasure than the conversion of a sinner. There is nothing greater in all the universe! There is great rejoicing in heaven when just one soul is converted to Christ and enters God’s kingdom (Luke 15:7-10). Jesus took upon himself the most heinous suffering imaginable (Hebrews 12:2) in order to rescue people from the power of Satan and place them in his eternal kingdom. This always was and still is the Lord’s work here on earth. Ant the salvation of sinners is the primary task of the church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). If he was speaking of what he wanted to accomplish during his earthly existence, how successful was he? The gospels mention first twelve and later seventy disciples whom Jesus sent out to preach the gospel. When Jesus compared himself to manna from heaven in John 6, many disciples deserted him (John 6:66). Luke speaks of 120 disciples praying in an upper room on the Day of Pentecost, which was about ten days after the ascension of Christ into heaven. The largest number of Christ's followers before Pentecost is found in I Corinthians 15:6, where the Lord appeared to 500 at once. Great multitudes went out to hear him speak and see miracles performed, but we don’t read of many true conversions. A multitude also showed up at his trial before Pilate, shouting “Crucify him!”

The gospels mention first twelve and later seventy disciples whom Jesus sent out to preach the gospel. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, there were 120 believers praying in an upper room. But on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 were saved, baptized and added to the church! The following day there were 5,000 and after that, Luke just says that believers were multiplying (Acts 2:41+47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1+7 and 9:31). Three centuries after the birth of the Christian Church, much of the then-known world had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was opposition and bitter persecution, but many vibrant, growing churches had been established on several continents! Enemies of the gospel claimed that the disciples had "turned the world upside down!" (Acts 17:6).

When Jesus spoke of his work (or works) in John 14, I am convinced that he is speaking of missions and evangelism. Jesus spent much of his time training the disciples to preach and teach. Although the Apostles were given special powers and performed miracles, the Holy Spirit was not given for that purpose. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me... Jesus could have stayed here on earth to fulfill the “great commission” himself, but he bestowed that honor on his followers. Jesus said, Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter [the Holy Spirit]will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you (John 16:7). We have the privilege of preaching the gospel and making disciples. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32). Jesus promised to accompany us and empower us until the end of the world – both geographically speaking and time-wise. We are privileged to do “the greater work.” There is not a single miracle recorded in the pages of scripture that can even come close to the miracle of the new birth!

Jesus said in Acts 1:8, Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, in Judea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Involvement in the greater work is our golden opportunity to reap unspeakable joy now and enjoy innumerable blessings in eternity! And how do we react to this? Do we yawn and groan and ask, "Who me?" There are so many other matters that interest us more and grab our attention, energy and time. Life is so short and there is never enough time or money to get what we want and experience everything that this world offers. We don’t want to miss out on anything so we snub our noses at the "greater works." In effect, we are telling God that the temporal things of this world are more important to us than the salvation of souls on their way to hell. And it shows what a horribly distorted view we have of heaven!

A church may have annual evangelistic meetings and mission conferences. And it may support and pray for missionaries. This is wonderful, but members should all be dedicated to fulfilling the “great” commission. The "greater works" are our golden opportunity to reap great joy now and enjoy innumerable blessings in eternity!

Jesus said in Acts 1:8, Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, in Judea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

One thing I don’t like about most modern English translations is that translators did away with the word "shall." People don’t like that word today and claim that it is old fashioned and too dogmatic. They prefer the word "will" because it reflects what we like and want. That is a big problem in the church today. People want what they want and don’t like anyone to tell them what to do, not even God! They don’t like missions because sinners don’t like it. Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Romans 1:16). That great power is available to every one of us. It is the opportunity of a lifetime –, rather for eternity!

Many Christians don’t like evangelism because sinners don’t like it. Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Romans 1:16). That statement came from a man who had once hated the gospel and attempted to silence anyone who propagated it. God’s Word is powerful and when we share it, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the hearers. It is not our job to save or convert people to Christ. We are only to be witnesses. The Holy Spirit and God’s Word do the rest.

Some use the excuse that they don’t have the experience or know-how. Is that an excuse? Don’t go near the water if you can’t swim! A newborn baby has no experience, but it lets everyone around know that he or she is alive! It is no secret that newborn babes in Christ lead more people to Christ than older Christians. We don’t have to be great theologians. Our own conversion story can suffice as a starter!

The “Greater Work”—The Salvation of Lost Sinners!
Jesus said, Without me ye can do nothing!
Jesus said, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Jesus said, With God all things are possible!
No Excuses!
We have the Word of God; share it!
We have the Holy Spirit which enables us and convicts the sinner; give him a chance!
We have the experience of salvation. Tell it like it is!
We have the authority – the great commission; “Ye SHALL be witnesses!”
We have the promise—“Ye SHALL do greater works!" [the greater work]!
And there are plenty of lost souls around us which give us the opportunity to do the greatest work of all!

Jesus worked miracles to underscore his messianic claims, but not many were saved because of the miracles. He healed ten lepers, but only one returned to give thanks. Miracles were often the reward of faith, not its cause. In Matthew 13:58 we read, And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. Unbelieving Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, and he told them that they already had a sign, the sign of the prophet Jonah. That was a slap in the face, because the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t think very highly of Jonah.

I feel certain that God has good reason for not doing many signs and wonders through Christians today. Even in the New Testament there are situations in which the unsaved began to worship people (Acts 3:12; Acts 8:18-19; Acts 10:25; Acts 14:11-15; Acts 28:6). Jesus pronounced woes on the Pharisees who loved to be honored by men.

The Great Commission is Ours! (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; Luke 24:47; John 20:21 and Acts 1:8) There are many races, nationalities and languages, but there is only one God and one plan for the salvation of man. We are entrusted with spreading the good news – the message of salvation – all over the world. Let us do the greatest work!

(Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; Luke 24:47; John 20:21 and Acts 1:8). There are many races, nationalities and languages, but there is only one God and one plan for the salvation of man. We are entrusted with spreading the good news – the message of salvation – all over the world.

That may seem to be an impossible task! When one considers all the obstacles we have to deal with (see list in previous chapter), we might be tempted to ask if it was fair of Jesus to give us the job! Satan's feverish attempts to keep us from obeying the Great Commission only serve to make the works of God greater!

Ralph V Harvey