Is it not the truth, that when we cry in distress, thinking that God is far away, our very cry is evidence that He is really present in our hearts? Was it not He who made us yearn for His presence, who taught us to pray to Him? He educated us so that we should seek after Him. Holy spirit which He has granted to us, and is within us, longs to link up with The Holy Spirit.
In genuine prayer, there is a mutual embrace or a mutual encounter. We act upon God, and He acts upon us. God wishes us to affect Him, and we wish to affect us. Suppose two friends having a kindly and tender argument. Would they not each affect the other somehow? If it is true that God has all along been existing not far from each one among mankind (for in Him we are living and moving and are existing, Acts 17:27-28), surely even closer must He be to those who love Him!
Much is availing an energized petition of a righteous person, says James (5:16). Note the very emphatic word, much. Elijah knew this, and was a very bold man to ask that rain might be stopped for three and a half years. Yet his boldness and intimacy with God fitted in exactly with God's intentions. Let us not forget that those who come to be intimate with God, and study His Word deeply and learn His thoughts, are bound to ask for things which turn out to be in line with His wishes.
Sometimes after our impassioned prayer God may kindly yield to us just because He likes to give good gifts to His children, just as a kind father or mother would naturally do. But at other times, our urgent and vehement petition in an extremity might be the natural result of God's gift of a certain freedom to human beings. It becomes a liability of God to honour the result of that freedom. If God invites us to supplicate Him, and tells us to persevere in our prayers; if He declares that He is able to do excessively beyond anything we may ask or even imagine, surely He must stand ready and prepared for the consequences. P. T. Forsyth in "The Soul of Prayer" puts it thus beautifully, "In our prayer God returns from His projection in Nature to speak with Himself. When we speak to God it is really the God who lives in us speaking through us -to Himself. His Spirit returns to Him who gave it; and returns not void, but bearing our souls with Him."
Long ago, Tertullian said that "Prayer is alone that which vanquishes God." Others have described this as meaning that God becomes "overborne" by the petitions of human beings. He becomes obliged to keep His word, as though it were a case of noblesse oblige (Nobility obliges those who possess it to act accordingly), performed by the Supreme One Himself.
No wonder then, that we ought to have boldness (Gk. parrEsia), a holy boldness or intimacy, toward God. Says John, "This is the boldness which we have toward Him, that if we should request for ourselves (or, of ourselves; Middle Voice) anything according to His will, He is hearkening to us. And if we are aware that He is hearkening to us, whatever we may be requesting of ourselves, we are aware that we have the requests which we have requested from Him (1. John. 5:14-15). Here the Middle Voice forms express the freedom permitted to us, just as the word for boldness expresses the same. ParrEsia means literally, pan, all, or entire, and rEsia, an express statement, "the whole transaction" (Webster), a clear declaration. It is like saying that we can "express anything, everything" to God, without hesitation. Cremer gives some beautiful synonyms of the Greek word: Freedom or frankness in speaking; a frankness amounting to boldness or intrepidity; positive outspokenness; fearless candour; candid confident boldness of a joyous heart; undauntedness, a confident spirit in all circumstances and relations; the unwavering fearless and unhesitating confidence of faith; undoubting confidence in prayer.
Bible study is largely useless if God's people do not attain a certain level of boldness and intimacy with Him. Why, is not the Bible intended to make us more intimate with Him, through Christ? I have marvelled at the number of religious publications and magazines which seldom or never deal with the important matter of prayer to God. It has become all too easy for God's saints to slip out of the habit of supplication altogether. Over a dozen years ago a gathering of young believers in England studied the subject of prayer in general, and came to the conclusion that prayer was only a "pious exercise," which did not lead to anything wonderful, or to a definite change in circumstances. This affected me painfully for many a long day, and still affects me. But it was one of the fruits of the dangerous teaching that "All is of God," all without exception. What these misguided people saw not was that God is depending to some extent upon what His own people ask. He is aware that the thoughts and aspirations which His own Holy Spirit has inspired us with are from Himself, His own achievement. And thus God condescends to utilize the prayers of His own people to further His own plans.
Is not this just like the God who has granted us such a. glorious position in His future purposes? To some extent He permits us to co-operate with Him, through our prayers.
Running a small publication does not consist of treating its readers as a number of mere cyphers, some of whom pay and some do not. It consists of taking a persona.l and vital interest in every reader, if that is possible; interceding for them before God where necessary. Is it not enough that Paul instructed the saints to pray for one another? Did he not mean that we could help each other enormously by so doing?
If we are inspired or encouraged to persevere, our petitions will be accepted, and henceforth they become, so far as we are concerned, God's will and wish. Paul says in Rom. 12:2 that we should be "testing what is the will of God, (namely) what is good and well-able-to please (euareston) Him and mature." Surely, if we put forward what is well able to please Him, what is acceptable to Him, we shall discover that this has become His good will. Not everything that happens is His will. Let us bear in mind that God is not fettered by the future, apart from what He has promised. That He has less liberty in the matter of choice than human beings have is altogether unthinkable.
Some have been mystified by the parable in Luke 18:1-5 concerning the Importunate Widow. It has been stated that here we have a prayer for vengeance. This is not quite true; it is a prayer for vindication. The Widow claimed to have been wronged. The Lord had been telling His disciples this parable so that they must ever be praying and not be despondent. Probably all who at times can supplicate God successfully have their times of despondency and dryness.
Rotherham reads, "because, at least, of this widow's causing me annoyance, I will vindicate her; lest, persistently coming, she be pestering me." Literally, the final words mean "squeezing me," or "pressing me hard" (Gk. hupopiezE in place of hupOpiazE; small 0 for large 0). The same change should perhaps be made at 1. Cor. 9:27.
The lesson here is that God loves to be importuned, that is, pressed in prayer. He waits for us to approach Him. He is eager to bless us. He desires the company of those who are His own kin (Acts 17:29), just as we are closer to our relatives than to outsiders.
King Hezekiah was told plainly that God's will for him was that he was to die. Isaiah told him to set his house in order, as he would die and not recover from his illness. But the good King was no fatalist. He declined to accept this as from Jehovah, and turned to the wall and besought Jehovah with tears. Jehovah softened and relented, and added fifteen years to his life (Isa. 38:1-5).
Here we have a man of determination and strong character, who was able to persevere and use holy boldness in talking to. God. When a man or woman puts forth more and more the highest will forces in his or her personality while petitioning God, this does not mean an attempt to alter God's will. But the urgent, vehement petition brings out what is in the heart of the petitioner, so that God waits on and desires to yield to the urgent pressure of His saint's love. God wishes His saints to wrestle in prayer with Him, so that the very blessings He is most eager to grant may be obtained. In His thus yielding, God conquers, in that the saint is driven to do exactly that which greatly pleases God.
Were God merely Fate, to petition for those things which are in line with His will would mean only to ask what He already intends to do. God,however, is not just Fate. Nor is His will the same as Destiny. As J. McLeod Campbell so well puts it in his famous work, "The Nature of the Atonement" (1856), "His will is the desire and choice of a living heart, which presents to us, not the image or picture of a predetermined course of events, to the predestined flow of which our prayer is to be an Amen, but a moral and spiritual choice in relation to us His offspring, to which our prayer is to respond in what will be in us the cry of a moral and spiritual choice."
The will of God and the will of the saint depend on one another for the full and free utterance of both. To commit our all to God without reserve renders possible His bestowal of great things upon us. He influences us and we influence Him. Within God is the divine purpose. Within us is the supplication. When these two meet in earnest persevering prayer, there comes to be fulfillment; God becomes a Rewarder of him who seeks Him out.
Things can never remain the same after such a fusing in prayer of the divine and human wills. God's will for us includes importunity in prayer, without which we cannot obtain the highest blessings. Earnest prayer is "the necessary link between His will for us and its fulfillment in us."
Perhaps this is why the Greek word for prayer (pros, euchE) means literally toward-wish, or toward-vow. The word euchE is directly cognate with the old English wyscan, to wish. Our prayers ought to possess the solemnity and determination of strong vows. Unfortunately, too many of God's people possess little determination, or they have become hopelessly muddled by fatalistic opinions, which deprive them altogether of the desire to take hold upon God. This tends to make them think that God is displeased with them and has left them, which, of course is ridiculous.
God's living works in all the universe must be filled with His thoughts and His concern. All along historically God has not been far from the special Race which He created in His own Image. The Duke of Argyll in "The Philosophy of Belief" (1896) writes of the relationship in which man stands to God as being even nearer and closer than that of sonship, "some relation of absolute derivation and dependence for which we have no name." All along have theologians sought to wipe -out this connection between God and Mankind. Paul was not telling the wise men of Athens of the blessings of the Body of Christ. He was telling them about the Race of Mankind, and its relationship to God.
If God is somehow present in the flower, or the tree, or any other of His creations, He must be aware of these creations; He must be thinking of them. God can never be absent from His own creation. It is only in union with Him that we go on living and moving and existing. When His spirit is withdrawn, we are no more, for the meantime. Thus we ourselves are proofs that God is an immanent reality within us somehow.
If we possess faith to accept this, it will not be difficult to believe that God is present with us when we seek His face. The glorious expectation which believers hold of knowing God " even as we are known" by Him, does it not imply a degree of nearness on the part of God such as does not exist in ordinary human parentage? Even the most degraded of men and women are still, according to Paul's doctrine, the offspring or kin of God. Even they, if they draw near to God in spirit, will find that He will draw near to them. And there is no limit to the degree of intimacy any human being may attain with God-in-Christ. May many of the readers of The Differentiator strive to attain this.
Now the Scriptures place no limit whatever on the range of matters for which we may pray, provided, of course, that we act as Christians, and are not selfish in our requests. In fact, one of the great laws of nature consists of the universal instinct or impulse among men and women everywhere and at all times to supplicate the God of heaven, or a deity of their own making or imagination. God has implanted this desire in the human heart, and it is a natural desire. Sometimes it is found in the fact of offering a sacrifice. Sacrifices to Jehovah involved the unspoken requests of the offerers. The prayers of the saints are associated with incenses and the altar in Rev. 5:8 and 8:3, 4. Any sacrifice which we may make to the Lord, either by way of service or by way of money, implies a wish or prayer on our part.
The Hebrews of old were well aware of the fact that they. possessed a certain amount of freewill, and that they had this power because they were made in the image and likeness of God; Himself, who has His own freewill. They viewed all facts and actions as being somehow related ultimately to their God, even when God operated through the ordinary Laws of Nature and not directly. The existence of moral responsibility depends on freewill, whether it be in God or in mankind.
It is perfectly true that in a certain way God was, and is immutable. So are we. During our course through life, we do not become some other person. Yet otherwise we change very much, in appearance, in habits. in size, in health, in our wishes, and in our spiritual opinions. Malachi 3:6 has been utilized to prove that Jehovah does not change, "Because I, Jehovah, do not change, therefore, ye, the sons of Jacob are not consumed." God's faithfulness cannot alter. Yet His very Name, Jehovah, implies all sorts of changes in His operations. The Name signifies that He will become all that He will ever require to become, to attain His goal."
The Hebrews regarded as immutable the character of God not His acts. Had His actions always been changeless, never would they have got to know Him. Peter mentions "stewards of God's manifold grace" (1. Peter 4:10), while Paul mentions God's "manifold (or multifarious) wisdom," (Eph. 3:10). We can understand that God's wisdom must of necessity, be very multifarious and varied, but have we, considered that His Grace will prove in the future to be very varied or manifold in its forms? No more can God's varied Grace or kindly-goodwill come to an end than His multifarious wisdom can dry up.
It is necessary that an immutable character must be capable of changing his attitude and conduct, in regard to evil and good. God must have a free access to all knowledge concerning His creatures, and a free will in assessing the value, of the conduct of voluntary and responsible agents. God must make a distinction between love and hatred; obedience and 'rebellion;' worship and contempt; repentance and hardheartedness; doing right and doing wrong. These features imply changes in God's attitude, so that He must be specially accessible to supplication. There must be, the possibility of unyielding people at last yielding to God's grace, and seeking Him in prayer, or confession, or repentance.
The object of the beholding is God Himself, with His wonderful plans for the future. At present we only observe, as it were in an enigma, just like the prophets of old, to whom God made Himself known in a vision or in a dream (Num. 12:6-8). Moses, however was different; "mouth to mouth shall I speak with, him, and plainly, and not in riddles." What We now must get to know, through effort and study and progress, we shall then fully know, through intuition, when we see the Lord. We shall then fully know for ourselves, for, the word is in the Middle Voice, and we shall know individually, as Paul uses the word "I" here; even as God now fully knows us.
As the Duke of Argyll put it in "The Philosophy of Belief,"
"The boundless' Christian hope of knowing 'even as we are known,' implies a nearness on the part of the Divine Being, such as does not exist in earthly parentage." This is true; it implies a knowledge and an interest far more intimate than that of parents. We are carried back to the 139th Psalm, "knowledge too wonderful for me; inaccessible, I am not able for it " (v. 6).
The Duke goes on to say that the expression "the Fatherhood of God" falls short of the truth, as bearing on the
philosophy of prayer:
"If the relationship in which man stands to God must be even nearer and closer than that of sonship—some relation of absolute derivation and dependence for which we have no name—it affords a rational explanation of one of the most universal phenomena of human life. It becomes intelligible why it is in the nature of man to pray, and why it is in the nature of God to hear. There is a remarkable passage in one of the writings of St. John which seems to cover at once all the human perplexities, and all the Divine hopes, connected with the relationship of man to God. On the one hand the Apostle feels all the wonder that is natural in thinking of a creature such as man now is, being spoken of as the Offspring of God: 'Behold what manner of love the father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God' (1. John 3:1). On the other hand, he feels and recognizes a still higher aspiration of which even this near relationship is but an imperfect image: 'and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.' Then follows the conclusion reached by that triumphant faith, which is founded on the natural law of assimilation effected through the agency of a closer spiritual communion, and, of a more perfect vision: 'But we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him,' with the reason given, 'for we shall see Him as He is.'"
This very close relationship of mankind to God is confirmed by Paul's speech in Athens to the philosophers (Acts 17). He told them they could find God, existing all along not far from each one of them, "for in Him we are living and moving and are" (v. 27-28). Then he even goes farther, by making the extraordinary statement, "For of Him even Kin are we" (Tou gar kai genos esmen). We are God's own Race or Kin, His breed, something which is never as much as predicated of any other creation of God, probably not even the Cherubim. God inhabits the Cherubim, or indwells them, but He is now building His human saints into a glorious Temple wherein He will dwell.
Often have I made it my plea, before God, that we are His Kin, His Race, His special Family, and thus we have some small right or grounds for making an approach to Him in prayer. I think we honour God by recognizing the dignity and position which God has given us. There is such a thing as being "closer than a brother," I knew a brother and sister who were said to be "closer than sweethearts." In fact, our relationship to God could not be closer than He says it is.
Thus it ought to be very easy for us to draw near to God in prayer. If the Kingdom of Heaven is within or among us, then there is an inseparable connection between that Kingdom and every individual soul, and our whole affections and intellect ought to be bound up with that Kingdom. The mind of mankind in its original and natural state must have been adapted for the Kingdom of God. The laws of that Kingdom must therefore be such as have the closest relations with the structure of man's moral and intellectual faculties. Thus it should be easy for man to become familiar with God in prayer, and thus create for his fellow men great benefits and blessings. So far as the impulses and instincts of our human minds are uncorrupted, they are quite in harmony with the natural laws of God's Kingdom.
The Lord did not hesitate to appeal to human feelings and experience even when the analogies are approximate or partial. The success sometimes achieved by sheer importunity is used as a lesson on the duty of perseverance, to encourage confidence in the response.
The relation in which Christian prayer stands to the idea of a universal reign of Law, is therefore one not only of perfect harmony, but of an inseparable unity. It assumes that God is not the servant of what we know as natural laws,. but their Author and Master. It assumes not only that He exists, but that His existence is not like that of a physical force, but means the ubiquitous presence and power of a Spirit with a character and qualities related to our own. It assumes that one of these qualities is that He becomes a 'rewarder of those who go on seeking Him out' (Hebrews 11:6). It assumes that the universal practice of prayer and of sacrifice among men is but the natural expression of an instinct which in itself is true and good, even though somewhat perverted through ignorance and corruption. It treats the unchangeableness of the Divine character, not as a discouragement, but as an encouragement to supplication. It takes confidence from the fact that with the Father of the Lights there exists no alternation or shadow of change. God's, unchanging character must change its attitude and conduct when men change, as happened at the time of the Flood, where God did "repent." The freedom of God's Will is asserted absolutely.
James even says (ch. 1:5-7) that if anyone lacks wisdom, he is free to ask it of God, Him giving it to all generously and not reproaching them, and it shall be given him. Yet he must request in faith, nothing doubting. This shews the contingent character of all voluntary action as an essential characteristic of the Divine, as of the human Will.
Why then should we not use this glorious freedom which God has given us, and set apart a period every day for intense supplication to God, making good use of all the promises He has given us, taking Him exactly at His own word, and thus giving Him great delight.
Forty or fifty years ago there was a fine publication issued in London, called "The Christian's Armoury," dedicated to the overthrow of atheists and such like. But today most Christians hardly enter their armoury, and utilize their weapons. Ephesians 6:18-19 tells us what to do: "By means of every prayer and petition praying in every season (or occasion) in spirit, and being vigilant for it in all perseverance and petition concerning all the saints, and for me. . . ." How many of us are conscientiously obeying this request of Paul? And do we make petitions, prayers, pleadings, even thanksgivings for all mankind, for kings and higher authorities, that we may be leading a mild and quiet life in all devoutness and gravity? (1. Tim. 2:1-2). Paul puts this "first of all." Where do we put it? "This is ideal and welcome before our Saviour God, who is wishing all mankind to be saved and to be coming into a realization of Truth." Note, it is as the Saviour God that He wishes these things.
Does this not signify that God can influence Kings and Rulers for the benefit of humanity? Is God able to accomplish something in Russia? Would He bring about a truly human government in Russia if we supplicated Him? Russia has become the terror of the earth. This is probably due to the fact that God's own people have not been interceding sufficiently with Him. In former generations men would gather for a prayer meeting and fling off their jackets so that they might Wrestle with God in earnest prayer. Is this out of fashion now? Are we so much taken up with our blessings, whether these are to be enjoyed in heaven or in the "superheavenlies," or merely on earth, that we forget the daily lives of our fellow-members in the Body of Christ?
I firmly believe that if fifty children of God united in supplicating God to remove the present government in Russia, and replace it by a human government, God would answer our petition. Nay, even a dozen men and women could accomplish this.
There are some people who think it is wrong to argue or reason with God. Yet Abraham argued humbly and with great faith, in Genesis 18, and because of his faith" he was called Friend of God" (James 2:23). Is it not very much more easy to reason with those who are friendly than with those who are inimical? Does not God permit us to reason with Him because He is always our Friend? Will He not encourage us when we set humbly before Him His own words and promises? Here in 1. Tim. 2 He encourages us to pray for all human beings, firstly, because God is able to bring about a peaceful period on earth, and secondly, because some day all who are now unbelievers will be brought into a realization of Truth. All humanity is one large tree, and none of us possesses the right to lop off any of the branches.
James tells us something more, which we dare not ignore: "To one, therefore, who knows how to be doing a noble thing and is not doing it, a sin to him it is!" (Rotherham, ch.4:17).
Let every believer, then, everyone who yearns for peace on earth, earnestly supplicate God, as a Being who can be moved, and deeply moved, by His own children, even as a human parent may be deeply moved by his or her child. God's own words, His own promises, cannot be returned to Him, by His own people, and remain void.
Samuel Chadwick wrote that "The modern mind resents prayer that is an agony and entreaty, a pleading and striving, a wrestling and persistence." Yet it is not only the modern mind which resents perseverance. He who inhabits futurity also inhabits or indwells him or her who is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15), and one needs to be crushed and broken in spirit in order to delight in the intimacy of the Divine Immanence, here revealed so clearly and tenderly. Only such individuals can find perseverance in prayer to be a delight, and they are very few in number.
Round about one hundred years ago, the town of Bolton in Lancashire was completely given up to vices of every sort, and life was becoming most disagreeable and difficult for the few godly people who lived there. Charles G. Finney, of Warren, Connecticut, then visited England, and conducted a revival at Bolton, making special appeal to the heart and conscience, supported nobly by the perseverance of the united prayers and intercessions of the Christians in the city. The results were staggering. The entire town was brought under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit, and almost in every home some one was brought into the light of the Gospel.
A. T. Schofield, M.D., in "Christian Sanity" tells a few stories of similar happenings. "In 1630 at the Kirk 0' Scotts in Lanarkshire, Scotland, a carriage containing some ladies broke down. The minister kept them at the manse during the repair of the carriage. They were so pleased with his care that they built him a new manse, much superior to the old one, and invited some ministers they knew to the first Communion, which was celebrated on June 21st, after the house was completed; and one of the ministers they had, John Livingston, preached on the Monday, after a prayer meeting held all through the preceding Sunday night, and 500 were converted on the spot."
Dr. Schofield also tells of a school in the County of Yorkshire in 1861, where there had been a small prayer-meeting held by a few boys who were believers. Suddenly one night while they were at prayer there came upon them, with the suddenness of a thunder-shower, a spirit of intense earnest seeking after God for the forgiveness of sins and for consecration. The head master was informed, and stopped all the preparation classes that night so that the boys could attend. There was no singing, only the Bible was read, and there were brief exhortations, confessions of sins, and requests for prayer. The result was that forty out of fifty boys found God's salvation.
But alas, Christians today seem to have lost that grand spirit of determination and perseverance. We do not care so much for the lost, as for our own blessings. As the self-appointed "leader" of one sect said not long ago, we do not need to "bother" about the lost, as "God will save them all anyway." Did Paul look at matters in that light? It was noted over a long period of years that the selfsame "leader" never laid much emphasis on Prayer, and never emphasized perseverance, thus setting a very bad example for his followers, most of whom were sheep. It was always reported by his chief friends that he was very wealthy, although he made every show of poverty, but it must be well-nigh impossible for a wealthy person to become humble and contrite, and thus come to know God intimately.
One would think that those who are leaders of religious bodies or sects would stress the vast importance of regular prayer and the urgent need for intimacy with God in Christ. How otherwise can we become Christocentric? If we do not set apart time for definite prayer, how can we get to know Him and His wishes? How can He be the centre of our lives if we do not know Him? Is it really difficult to get to know one who is so full of grace and love and humility? Is it so difficult to lay your whole life before Him? Have you no heart which you can pour out before Him?
But perhaps you feel so satisfied with your many blessings in Christ Jesus that you have become indifferent or insensible as to the other members of the Body of Christ, to whom you are spiritually related. Have you forgotten your obligations to them? Members of one sect may be interested in their fellow-members, and pray for them, but how often do they pray for members of other sects, whom they reckon to be outsiders? Must we for ever ignore Paul's beautiful parable in 1. Cor. 12:20-26? Should not the members of the Body have the same concern for other members as they have for themselves, and pray for them? Or must we learn before the Judgment Seat that we failed to do our bounden duty?
If any reader has thoughts or suggestions along these lines, I shall be delighted to hear from him or her.
One of the reasons given for prayer was that a Christian prays "partly because he feels compelled to, and partly because that is one of God's ways of causing him to grow in grace." But where are we told that much in Scripture? Another reason given was that prayer's purpose is to change ourselves. Mention was also made of "days when we start the day with sincere prayer, and those when we 'let it slide.'" To this I replied that surely the relationship betwixt us and God is much closer than to permit of a difference in our feelings for the worse should we omit to seek His face on occasion. His mercy is fresh for us each morning, whether we go through the formality of a prayer or no. God wishes us to glory in the fact that His kindly goodwill (or Grace) is ever disposed towards us, whatever we do or whatever we feel. If there are mornings when prayer is allowed to "slide," it would seem that the "compulsion" is absent, or that the experience of growing in grace through the morning prayer was not attractive enough for one to keep it up regularly.
The passage of Scripture chosen by the house meeting was Ezekiel 36:16-38, which struck me as being singularly inept and inapposite. It does not even deal with prayer. Special emphasis was given to verse 37—God being enquired of by the House of Israel, so that their men might multiply like a flock. The next passage stated to have been examined was The Lord's Prayer, so-called. It was called a "typical example of prayer," but I had to point out that it is far from typical for us today. It was claimed for this Prayer that it "covered the already settled details of the purposes of God," but I pointed out that there was no logical reason for anyone to pray "deliver us from the evil (one)" if such deliverance is "already settled."
It was also claimed that "prayer cannot alter external things." In this connection Romans 8:26-27 was quoted, but actually it is not relevant. Commonly, the meaning is assumed to be that we know not what to pray for, therefore God's spirit comes to our aid and supplies the deficiency. Yet if we examine Wigram's Greek Concordance under the verb pray (proseuchomai) we shall find that praying for something
takes the Greek preposition peri or huper meaning concerning and over. (See Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:28; Acts 8:15; Co1. 1:3; 1:9; 4:3; 1. Thess. 5:25; 2. Thess. 1:11; 3:1; Heb. 13:18). The sole case in which the word for is wrongly injected is Romans 8:26. Cunnington reads here:
"for we know not what we are to pray as we ought." Goodspeed reads "for we do not know how to pray as we should." This is the proper sense. We do not know what or how to pray; we lack the words, owing to that infirmity which Paul has just mentioned, which God's spirit assists.
What we must learn is how to approach God in prayer; how to move Him; how to draw nigh to Him, so that He may draw nigh to us; how to become quite intimate with Him.
In the discussion at the house meeting, though the Lord's Prayer in Luke 11:1-13 was considered, the integral part, verse 5 to verse 13, was ignored. It is this part which supplies: the answer to the question, "Why Pray?" When the disciples asked the Lord, Teach us to pray, He replied that they must be persistent to the extent of importunity. God wishes to be importuned, persistently. My own idea has always been, that we ought to become more and more persistent every time we pray for something, adding each time a stronger argument. Was not that Abraham's method when supplicating for Sodom?
I replied that I thought the issue was being prejudiced by using the terms "universe," "whim," and "scientific." I asked, Why not just accept in simple faith-obedience the historical account of Joshua's long day, concerning which we are told, "There was no day like that before it or after it, that Jehovah hearkened unto the voice of a man" (Joshua 10:14). The obvious meaning, apparent to any unsophisticated reader, is that Almighty God paid heed to a human being's impassioned appeal to lengthen the daylight, so that the enemy might be totally discomfited. Undoubtedly the Israelites accepted the miracle as being due to Joshua's supplication to Jehovah, whereby Joshua was enabled to issue a command to the Sun and the Moon to be silent. We are not even told that the spirit of Jehovah came upon Joshua. Apparently Joshua was well aware that Jehovah was able to do excessively beyond all that human beings can ask or imagine. With us as Christians, this is God's "Law" meantime. When a child petitions its Father for any thing, does not the universal Law of Fatherhood teach us that the Father will accede if the granting of the request will do no harm, if it is likely to be beneficial, if it will bring the child, and the Father, pleasure?
The house meeting seemed to be quite ignorant of this great Law, in spite of Luke 11:13, which tells us that one of the great Laws of Fatherhood is the giving of good gifts to the children. To argue that a human request to God is virtually nothing more than God asking something of Himself, through an impassive and controlled human agent, who is denied even the credit of feeling that the urgent petition is his very own, is very different from the giving of gifts by a Father in a natural and un artificial manner, purely in answer to a child's simple, artless request.
During the latter half of the 17th century, when the Covenanters, dour, tough, and stern men who took up arms for their religion in the South of Scotland, were being chased by the red-coats over the Pentland Hills, they were impelled to supplicate their God for deliverance. Then suddenly there came down a dense mist and blotted them out, so that their cruel persecutors were foiled and baffled. Must we believe that one of God's Laws was broken here? Was the course of the Universe altered?
If a good human Father can make the wish of his child his own wish, assuredly God can make our wish His wish, if it is agreeable. God must have the same freedom in this respect as a good human Father has. There are some fine saints in the Church of God, who present good petitions to God. Why then should God be debarred from accepting them, and constituting them His own wish? Is it not to the Father that Paul bows his knees (Eph. 3:14-15), from whom, or after whom, every fatherhood (relationship) in heavens and on earth is being named?
The writer of the Hebrews Epistle knew no cut and dried fixidity in the will of God, when he declared that God "is becoming a rewarder of those seeking Him out." He wishes to be sought out, but alas, so few really find Him. Those who do approach Him cannot possibly be well pleasing apart from faith (loyal trust; loyal adherence; faith plus faithfulness). But what kind of Faith is there in those whose philosophy teaches us to pray for all sorts of things in the vague chance of somehow occasionally reaching God's will, as some moderns understand passages such as Phil. 4:6-7?
Numbers 23:19 was handed to me, but it failed to change my mind or my argument. Says Balaam, "God is not man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should be changeful of mind." He is not man (Hebrew aish) in respect of telling a lie; nor the son of man (Hebrew Adam), in respect of changing His mind.
God may change His mind, or alter His methods, but not in the shifty ways that man does. God is no politician. If we have the freedom to change our minds, why should we seek to limit God's freedom?
It was quite evident that my friends in London had altogether neglected James 5:16-18, which Rotherham's first edition thus renders: "Much avails a righteous man's supplication, working inwardly. Elijah was a man, affected like us; and with prayer prayed he that there might not be moisture and there was not moisture on the land for three years and six months; and again prayed he, and the heaven gave rain, and the land shot up her fruit." Note the emphasis. It was with prayer that he prayed, real prayer. He meant what he was asking for, and knew that God could answer him. He was a man, a human being, just like ourselves. If he could thus prevail upon God, so can we. Note too, that his prayer had been working inwardly, probably for some time, until he could hold it in no longer. Then out it came with tremendous force, and it did avail much. Elijah was not bothered by the Laws of Nature, or the problems of "Science." Science will never be complete Science until we human beings get to know God in Christ. Till then, it must remain defective and incomplete.
I was deeply distressed by the attitude of these young men and young women. They had been influenced by a system of teaching which gave very little space to the subject of prayer. Their teacher did not believe in persevering prayer. My impression was that most likely they would drift back into the world and forget God.
At the present time there are far too many Christian publications which do not emphasize the great importance of real prayer. Some of them prefer to produce novel teachings, and thus ignore the old Truths.
This has led to a great neglect of the heralding of the glorious Gospel, and the eonian salvation of sinners. May God pour out His spirit upon us all in vast power, and bring about a great quickening of His people.
Is God, then, an individual? No; but we might say He is a Person. But an individual He is not. Human beings are individuals. Professor Alfred S. Geden, to whom we are very grateful for his magnificent Greek Concordance, gives the distinction as follows: "Individuality is the quality or qualities that separate, each from each, and one from another; personality unites, is the common share and heritage of every member of the human race. God is not an individual, cut off and separated from other individuals by a dense cloud or gulf of ignorance and misapprehension, as men are. If that were so, He would not be all-comprehending and unique; there might be other gods, as there are other men." Nothing is beyond His awareness or outside the range of His thought. But men are distinct from one another, each with some quality or characteristic his neighbour has not, or without some vice or virtue his neighbour has. Man shares personality with the human race; but as an individual he is distinct from all and unlike all.
But the human mind is unable fully to apprehend or define God. We may know that we have some kinship with Him, but we long to know much more. But He would not be God were He completely accessible to a human reason or mind. At present we are beset with human limitations.
Yet as there is "one God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in (union with) all" (Eph. 4:6), we are greatly encouraged to approach Him in prayer. He is open to the petitions of all the individuals on earth who care to approach Him. As He must needs know every member of His own Race, He is ready to hearken to each and all, and at any time.
But you might say, "I have been supplicating Him for days and weeks and the very heavens seem to be made of brass." That is just how I myself felt before the Miracle of Dunkirk in 1940. But it became obvious that only a Divine Miracle would save the 330,000 British soldiers involved, so a Divine Miracle it must be. If we could but take hold resolutely upon God The Living One, He would not fail us.
What mattered was not so much the time we might pray, but the tremendous earnestness of the prayers. We had to move closer and closer to God every time we approached Him. There is a way by which we can move closer and closer. Draw nigh to Him, and He will respond by drawing nigh to you. This will encourage you to persevere, and it will cause you to draw nearer and nearer. This will create confidence and that holy boldness toward God which He greatly delights to find. Finally one feels, both spiritually and physically, that wonderful" touch" in the heart, which betokens the very presence of God the Living One, and shews that the petition has been granted. This is perhaps the only way in which we can feel God physically. In my own experience it seemed as if for almost a whole day my body was walking on air. The circulation of the blood was much more lively than usual. The whole experience was really an ecstasy. After all, it had been very much worth while to wait upon God, in patience, and He loves to be waited for.
A young lady who was unusually honest and very straightforward, but not a believer, was greatly troubled with a peculiar kind of depression, which produced sleeplessness, and she had to spend months in a hospital, which merely drugged her so that she might get sleep. But the doctors could not find a cure. On the few occasions when I had spoken about God to her, she had always been silent. Then came the sixth of October last, and a brief letter from her, part of which I shall quote:
We ought to be bold in our prayers, especially when we consider that it is in union with Him that we go on living and moving and existing. Do we not in the four Gospels encounter certain very bold characters, who turned out to have an unshakable faith in the Lord? So why not imitate them? Use an argument which will bring delight to God, such as we find in Matt. 8:5-10; 9:2-7; and 15:22-28, in which cases the Lord was made to marvel at their faith.
I therefore told God the Living One that He was well able to rouse up my friend and send her home right away, and that I was expecting this, He being well able to do excessively beyond all we ask or imagine.
During the next five days I was very expectant, and my wife telephoned to the young lady's mother, who replied that her daughter had been home for some days. Surely this must mean that something very unusual had happened. Then after another week the young lady paid us a visit, and told us. that on the morning after I had prayed specially for her she had suddenly got up out of bed feeling very different and quite well and bright. The doctors told her she ought to stay on a bit so that they could be sure she was all right again. But she told them she was going home. And home she quickly went.
From all this I infer that God will bring this fine character into His salvation.
Now politicians are vitally in need of the prayers of Christians, but we certainly do not often hear of believers who ask God to direct and guide politicians, or to bring them into the light of salvation. It is essential that those who are in authority should have a good character, if we are to be leading a quiet life in peace. But in truth, many politicians are inclined to be selfish and greedy, and even dishonest.
A fine story was told by S. D. Gordon in one of his books. A New England lawyer who lectured all over the United States advocating skeptical views, one day as he sat as Congressman in Washington, had a strange feeling that God was near him. He got up and said to himself, " I have been working too hard. I'll go out and get some fresh air." This conviction deepened, and he went home on business and to secure nomination for the Governorship of his State. But when he got home he found that his wife and two others had entered into a holy compact to pray for his salvation. Inquiring when this intercession first took place, he found that it was at the very hour when he first had the feeling that God was near. He was quite startled, and the experience led to his conversion.
There are few members in the British Parliament who are 'Christians, and it is not likely they will care to shew their colours to the others.
What we Christians should do is to pray specially for these members and for the Government. This is something which is greatly needed, and well worth doing. The same is true in every country. If the democracy votes the members into their seats, Christian voters should pray for them.
R. H. Coats, in his fine book "The Realm of Prayer," (1920) says" The New Testament sanctions prayer for material blessings (Luke 11:3), for recovery from sickness (James 5:14), for political tranquility (1. Tim. 2:1-2), and the avoidance of hardships (Mark 13:18), as well as for spiritual gifts and graces (John 17:15; Col. 1:9; Hebrews 13:21), and indeed bids us in everything, by prayer and supplication, to make our requests known unto God (Phil. 4:6)."
But he also asks, "Is it right to ask God for what we can quite well procure for ourselves by our own effort?" If we can help anyone in any way, surely we should do so, and as soon as possible. This is what 2. Cor. 9:8 tells us: "But God has power to cause every kind of favour to superabound unto you, in order that—in every thing, at every time, having every sort of sufficiency of your own—ye may be superabounding unto every good work" (Rotherham).
"He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?" (Psalm 94:9). Here the word for plant is nata, which is used mostly of gardens, trees, vineyards, and people being planted. It refers to something being made deliberately for a certain good purpose. Thus God "planted" the ear so that we might hear Him, in His Word of Truth.
The apostles too, when performing remarkable acts of healing or administering baptism, used the words "in the name of Jesus," and the cure of the paralytic at the gate of the Temple called Beautiful is thus explained: "And, on the faith of his name,—this one, whom ye are looking upon and know,—his name made strong; even the faith which (is) through him gave him this entire—soundness over against all of you." This is Rotherham's rendering.
But generally speaking, in the New Testament, praying in the name of Jesus implies a recognition of the fact that only through the historical revelation mediated to us by Christ can we truly know and hold communion with the Father. As Acts 4:12 says, "There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
That man saved his life through a prayer. He realised that the only defence he had from the brutalising influence of his occupation was the regular habit of prayer to God Almighty.
This is something that any real believer can do, if he has it within him or her to become red-hot, especially if the believer is old and has come through much trial in life. Then can he make great use of Ephesians 3:20, which Rotherham renders thus: "to Him who has power above all things to do, exceeding abundantly above what things we are asking or conceiving, according to the power that is inwardly working itself in us—to Him (be) the glory. . . . ."
At first it was reckoned to be something very wonderful, but now that it is so universal it is taken for granted.
But very long ago the People of God had something very much better, and since then all God's People have been able to communicate with Him in prayer, while He communicates with them in spirit. But God never rings up the wrong number, as some people do. People in my own village quite frequently ring up my number, 3961, thinking that I am the coal merchant, whereas my number is not his number, which is 3960.
If you believe in wireless telegraphy and telephone, surely you can also believe that the Heavenly Father must hear your prayers. And He hears you at any time, in any place, on any subject.
THE WORTH OF PRAYER This is the title of a fine book by Edward Grubb. On page 30 he says "The relation God can take towards us depends on the relation which we choose to take towards Him. Dr. Wendland says in his Miracles and Christianity (page 190): "God takes a different attitude to men, according as they do or do not open their inner life to Him. . . .. If a man opens his heart to God in prayer, quite different Divine influences make their appearance both in his inward and outward life. Prayer clears away obstacles which impede the working of God in our life; it is indeed an essential condition on which God does much that otherwise He would not (in fact, could not) have done."
Mr. Grubb then continues: "It comes to this: that it is our self-will that hinders the Divine activity; and Prayer is the principal means we have of laying self-will aside. There may be a good deal of self-will in refusing to try to pray, on the ground that we cannot see beforehand what good prayer is likely to do. Our object is not to change God's will, but to get our own wills brought into line with His, so that we no longer hinder Him."
Another suggestion by Mr. Grubb is that "Prayer, which is at once the condition and the expression of religious experience, is essentially a personal relation 'to God; but to many serious minds in the present day the word 'God' does not connote a Being with whom we can enter into personal relations at all. Such relations must be of persons to a Person; but the 'personality' of God is precisely the idea that the mind refuses to accept. The reason is that the thought of God has broadened till it has altogether outgrown the concept of Personality."
But surely every Christian person must be aware that he can approach God in and through Christ. And what about Acts 17:23-28? Paul, standing on Mars' Hill, thus addresses the Athenians: "For, passing through and looking up at your objects of veneration, I found an erection also in which had been inscribed, 'To an unknowable God.' The Being, then, whom you, without knowing Him, revere, this one am I announcing to you. The God who makes the world and all therein, HE, existing-all-along Lord of heaven and earth, not in hand-made temples is dwelling, neither by human hands is waited upon, as though in want of anything; Himself giving to all life and breath and all things. Besides, He makes out of one every nation of mankind to be dwelling on all the earth's surface; marking out pre-arranged seasons, and the boundaries of their residence; to be seeking God, if consequently, indeed, they might grope after Him and find Him; though to be sure, not far from each one of us existing. For in (union with) Him we are living and moving and are, as even some of your own poets have said: 'For of Him even Kin are we.' Kin then existing-all-along of God, we ought not to be inferring that which is divine to be like unto gold or silver or stone,—an engraving of human art and device."
If, then, we are God's Kin and Race, why should it be difficult to talk to Him and to supplicate Him, just as we might talk to our human Kin? In fact, often it is far more easy to talk to God than to talk to our own relatives, because we know that God is always ready to hear us and help us, especially when no other can help us.
A.T. Last updated 23.10.2005