Vol. 10 July-August, 1948 No. 4
The Objective Value of Prayer
Every age presents its own puzzling phenomena, not only in economic affairs, but also in spiritual matters. One of the most puzzling has been the recent drift away from the doctrine and the reality of prevailing prayer, especially amongst those who believe Col. 1:20. Happily, this blight has not smitten the Pentecostal-Reconciliation bodies.

Perhaps to some extent this drift is in line with the spirit of the age, with its restlessness, its multiplicity of sects, its lack of serious meditation, its numerous counter attractions.

Other vital and important doctrines taught by the Apostle Paul have been strenuously maintained, and Paul's special teachings have, for fifty years, received some of the recognition which they are due.

Within the past generation, however, some of Paul's powerful declarations regarding prayer have been robbed of their power, and one of the mighty weapons with which the saints ought all to be equipped has been surreptitiously filched from them.

The case is so serious we feel like crying O foolish Reconciliationists, who bewitches YOU? The marvel is, that what our loveable Paul has stated so clearly has been rendered well nigh ineffective. And not only so, but those who still believe in effective prayer are looked down upon by their more "advanced" brethren, as deluded. Can it be denied that in the Concordant camp, it is only with difficulty that we can find any who have had the glorious experience of having prevailed upon God?

We are confidently informed that the "Ask, Seek and Knock" is out of date for us. Yet those who so tell us are plainly bewildered by the appearance, in Paul's writings, of the term "persevere." For Paul says, in a different form, exactly what the Lord taught on the same subject. We are told that we should leave our petitions with God, and He will see to it that all works out for the best. But, as all things work together for good unto them who are loving God, in any case, such prayers seem quite superfluous. There is something far wrong with this man-made philosophy. Not only so, but no one could have put forward this theory who had, but once in his life, had the extraordinary and glorious experience of having been heard and thrilled in spirit (and perhaps in body too) by that "touch" that the Living God gives when prayer is answered during supplication. And have there not been, throughout the centuries of the present dispensation, choice saints of God who have had this wonderful experience? How then can it be "out of date" for us?

In John's first epistle there must be very little that it not applicable to the saints today. If, however, it be that Paul takes us closer to God, and lifts us higher, are we to be denied that holy "boldness" whereof John writes, in ch. 5:14? Would one not expect, seeing that the saints are "members of God's family" (Eph. 2:19) that that holy boldness or freedom of speech would be ours? Or, seeing that Paul does enjoin upon us to pray, are we to do so timidly, and with no freedom of speech and approach?

How can any teaching, which sets Scripture against Scripture, be of God? Invariably, the over-accentuation of one doctrinal feature leads to a lack of balance and neglect of other doctrines.

Is it not all too true that in Concordant circles prayer has become, in meetings, a mere formality, while in the homes it is but a pious exercise? Yet even with possession of what has come to be known as "concordant truth," whatever that may be, how many are there who in fact attain to the level of Abraham, of whom it was said, "and friend of God he was called" (James 2:23)?

This wonderful designation brings us to the very heart of the subject of true prayer. Abraham, in pleading for the wicked cities, was evidently aware of the intention of Jehovah. If Abraham was to become into a nation great and substantial, and if all the nations of the earth were in him to get blessing, how then could Jehovah conceal from him what He was about to do to the cities? The reason has been beautifully expressed thus: "The man of God has, somehow, a power with God, and without his assent God will not arise to judgment. We may say what we will of the record as it has come down to us, and we may explain away the character and history of Abraham, but this ethical fact remains, that it has never been the wisdom of God to outrage the moral sense of those who were close and special in their fellowship with Him. We can see that to shock, to do violence and wrong to such moral perceptions as have been matured in any mind through communion with Himself, would be for God to defeat His own purposes. Abraham must be carried with Him, or the judgment cannot go forth. More precious than judgment upon many sinners is the confidence and faith of one man who has talked with God face to face."

It may be that Abraham overheard Jehovah discussing him with the two messengers. Jehovah was aware that Abraham would instruct his children and his house to keep the way of Jehovah, and to do right and justice. Yet immediately the messengers proceed upon their way Sodomwards, Abraham seizes his opportunity. With the holy boldness of intimacy and friendship, he draws near, and in effect argues with Jehovah. "If I, a mere worm, nothing but dust and ashes, can teach my offspring to do right and justice, can it be possible for the great Jehovah to consume righteous along with wicked?" "Desecration (would it be) for Thee to act after this manner, to put to death righteous with wicked."

What we learn from this moving account is that even Jehovah is amenable to argument put forward by His friends. Everyone of Abraham's requests was allowed, and it was only when he saw that in Sodom there was not even one righteous household, say ten souls, that he ceased, and recognized that the Judge of all the earth would be doing justice to destroy the cities.

Are there any further facts which will help us to discover more regarding the rationale of prayer?

When God brought the creation into being, it is evident that not only did He enlarge Himself, but He limited Himself. For He granted to other agents than Himself life and power and a measure of freedom. The intelligences He created cannot be driven or compelled, or no longer can they be reckoned as intelligences. To a certain extent there must be cooperation of a kind. It pleases the Most High God to lift up others with Him on to His throne, and with them to share dominion. No autocratic dictator is our God. When He teemed forth mankind, made in His own image, surely something went out of God that must tarry for man. If, at the glorious crowning point of all history, even the Son Himself hands over his sovereignty and takes the place of a subject, so that God may be Everything in everyone, why should it not be now, that those who find their everything in God, in some small measure share in the counsels of God and cooperate with Him in the ordering of events? The greatest need of the believer now is to know God. But if you love God, your knowledge of Him will tend to develop into intimacy. And if you become intimate with the alone Good One, will you not be like Moses, with whom Jehovah spoke face to face, as a man unto his friend? (Exodus 33:11). In real human love, everything is shared, the present and the future, all secrets, all assets, joys and sorrows. And in the divine love for us,—how shall He not, together with Him also, everything to us be graciously granting? (Rom. 8:32).

Just as in I Cor. 12, the parts of the body cannot do with out the other parts, so in the Body of the Christ all the members are necessary, and each one needs the others. Not only so, but even the Head is not unattached. He needs us all, and cannot operate without us.

These are some of the strong reasons why we are instructed to struggle together in the prayers (Rom. 15:30 very literally "agonize together"); why we should be vigilant in all perseverance and petition concerning all the saints (Eph. 6:18-19); and why we are powerfully incited and invited to get outside of ourselves in approaching One who is able to do excessively above all we of ourselves are requesting or apprehending (Eph. 3:20).

As Chadwick well puts it, "Petition asks, supplication entreats, pleading argues." But again he writes, "The modern mind resents prayer that is an agony and entreaty, a pleading and striving, a wrestling and persistence."

What we have been contending for is well brought out in the Greek word rendered by "petition," for deEsis is literally a binding, a process of obligating one to accomplish something. The verb, indeed (deomai) is, in the C. V. Concordance, defined as, in the Middle Voice, "beseech for one's self," and in the Passive Voice "beseech." But if the standard is BIND, how does it enter into the meaning of the word? It must be evident that in this kind of petition there is the element of beseeching that includes an obligation laid upon God by the suppliant, an appeal to something in God's nature or standards, a reverent reminder of a trait in God's character, which may not be overlooked. Did not Martin Luther once argue with God that for a certain event to happen would be ridiculous? And could not we, if we learned that an honoured brother had slipped into some horrible vice, or had drifted away from God, or had become loveless and lifted up, gently set our God under an obligation to accomplish what He alone could do, what He must do, if He wishes the Body of Christ to walk worthy? If it is He who has laid the heavy and sore burden upon us, would not that be a guarantee that it is for Him to lift it? If, without faith, we are unable to please Him, with faith surely we shall please Him.

One Saturday afternoon I took a little nephew aged seven, into town to do some shopping. Passing down a long broad street, we looked into a bookshop. Here his little soul lusted after a new picture book. I thought the price just rather much for the contents, so did not buy. We continued our journey, in silence. Then he began to reason, humbly and lugubriously, showing that he was very sore at not getting the book. I replied, Does your dad die not buy books for you? He ought to get them, instead of me. To this he replied, "He won't buy me any books. But you, Uncle, you like to buy me books. You've always liked to get them for me." Then I asked, "Is the book really worth two shillings?" For the true Scotsman wants his two shillings to reach the length of twenty-four pennies. He was quite sure, so up the street again we wended our way, hand in hand, and got the book, his face shyly, proudly beaming.

What has gone wrong with God's saints that they cannot approach Him with the same childlike, artless simplicity and trust? God is burning with desire for such trust. Can it be that something labelled "Truth" has moved us away from reality, and made God's own people too sophisticated?

There are two ways of looking upon the effectiveness of prayer. According to one theory, prayer only changes the suppliant, and is only answered as it were by recoil. According to the other view, it is affirmed boldly that the prayer changes God, and yields Him such delight that He cannot refuse the favour. To us is given the opportunity and the right to touch a Father's heart, so that the element is produced in which He can achieve.

Some have reasoned that the real value of prayer is the thanksgiving therein which we should render to God. But this does not bring satisfaction. Strictly, in the N. T. there is no Greek word meaning thanks or thanksgiving. Let us be concordant, to the limit. The kernel of the Greek term charis spells agreeableness, or goodwill. Anything very agreeable to look upon or think about has grace. God's grace to us is something extraordinarily agreeable. Every gift that comes from God is an undeserved favour, but such an idea is not inherent in the Greek word charis. When Paul wrote (II Cor. 2:14; 8:16; 9:1) "Thanks be to God," he could not be meaning "Undeserved favour be to God." When we say thanks or grace at meals, it ought to be something far better than mere thanks-giving. It ought to express our agreeableness to God, and not merely for the gift of food, but also for the fact of God, and all that He means to us. This is further borne out by Luke 6:32-34. It would not be idiomatic to say, "And if you are loving those loving you, what particular (poia) grace (charis) is there to you?"

Even worse would it be if we rendered "what particular undeserved favour is there to you?" The plain sense is, if you love those who love you, what particular agreeableness is shown to you? Matthew (5:46) explains by saying, "what reward have you?"

So that, then, in your approach to God, express your goodwill and agreeableness, and in that way you will find that God draws nigh to you. There can be nothing artificial or formal in such an approach. Genuine thankfulness is a mellow-sweet quality, which transcends any words used to express it. And if it reaches up to a high note, it will become joy, which is another kind of agreeableness (chara).

"Be having God's faith," said the Lord (Mark 11:22) and then the mountains will be shifted. That is, have the same faith that God has in His words. This should be the natural result of getting to know God in Christ, of dwelling in unity with Him.

The writer spent, a few years ago, some days walking in the wilds of Northern England. After toiling up a long and lonely roadway which attained a height of two thousand feet, there was a rough and lonely and unknown moor to be crossed, before a valley was reached. But suddenly a road was spied, not shown on the map, a new and fine road, which provided a very useful short cut, and over which rapid progress could be made. How delightful it is to discover such a short cut suddenly, when it is safe.

But in the Scriptures, there are also short cuts. There are clear directions telling us what to do. It is not for us to argue about these, but to obey, and obey implicitly, whether we understand everything or not. One of these is found in Col. 4:2, and it is a short cut to a great amount of blessing, to yourself and to others, and to the whole Body of Christ:


Alexander Thomson,
63, Traquair Park West,
Edinburgh 12, Scotland.
Last updated 4.10.2008