by E.M. Bounds
The preceding chapter closed with the statement that prayer can do anything that God can do. It is a tremendous statement to make, but it is a statement borne out by history and experience. If we are abiding in Christ—and if we abide in him we are living in obedience to his holy will—and approach God in his name, then there lie open before us the infinite resources of the divine treasure house.
The man who truly prays gets from God many things denied to the prayerless man. The aim of all real praying is to get the thing prayed for, as the child’s cry for bread has for its end the getting of bread. This view removes prayer clean out of the sphere of religious performances. Prayer is not acting a part or going through religious motions. Prayer is neither official nor formal nor ceremonial, but direct, hearty, intense. Prayer is not religious work which must be gone through, and avails because well done. Prayer is the helpless and needy child crying to the compassion of the father’s heart and the bounty and power of a father’s hand. The answer is as sure to come as the father’s heart can be touched and the father’s hand moved.
The object of asking is to receive. The aim of seeking is to find. The purpose of knocking is to arouse attention and get in, and this is Christ’s repeated assertion that the prayer without doubt will be answered, its end without doubt secured. Not by some roundabout way, but by getting the very thing asked for.
The value of prayer does not lie in the number of prayers, or the length of prayers, but its value is found in the great truth that we are privileged by our relations to God to unburden our desires and make our requests known to God, and he will relieve by granting our petitions. The child asks because the parent is in the habit of granting the child’s requests. As the children of God we need something and we need it badly, and we go to God for it. Neither the Bible nor the child of God knows anything of that half-infidel declaration that we are to answer our own prayers. God answers prayer. The true Christian does not pray to stir himself up, but his prayer is the stirring up of himself to take hold of God. The heart of faith knows nothing of that specious skepticism which stays the steps of prayer and chills its ardor by whispering that prayer does not affect God.
D.L. Moody used to tell a story of a little child whose father and mother had died, and who was taken into another family. The first night she asked whether she could pray as she used to do. They said: “Oh, yes!” So she knelt down and prayed as her mother had taught her; and when that was ended, she added a little prayer of her own: “O God, make these people as kind to me as father and mother were.” The she paused and looked up, as if expecting the answer, and then added: “Of course you will.” How sweetly simple was that little one’s faith! She expected God to answer and “do,” and “of course” she got her request, and that is the spirit in which God invites us to approach him.
In contrast to that incident is the story told of the quaint Yorkshire class leader, Daniel Quorm, who was visiting a friend. One forenoon he came to the friend and said, “I am sorry you have met with such a great disappointment.”
“Why, no,” said the man, “I have not met with any disappointment.” “Yes,” said Daniel, “you were expecting something remarkable today.” “What do you mean?” said the friend.
“Why you prayed that you might be kept sweet and gentle all day long. And, by the way things have been going, I see you have been greatly disappointed.”
“Oh,” said the man, “I thought you meant something particular.”
Prayer is mighty in its operations, and God never disappoints those who put their trust and confidence in him. They may have to wait long for the answer, and they may not live to see it, but the prayer of faith never misses its object.
“A friend of mine in Cincinnati had preached his sermon and sank back in his chair, when he felt impelled to make another appeal,” says Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman.
A boy at the back of the church lifted his hand. My friend left the pulpit and went down to him, and said, “Tell me about yourself.” The boy said, “I live in New York. I am a prodigal. I have disgraced my father’s name and broken my mother’s heart. I ran away and told them I would never come back until I became a Christian or they brought me home dead.” That night there went from Cincinnati a letter telling his father and mother that their boy had turned to God.
Seven days later, in a black-bordered envelope, a reply came which read: “My dear boy, when I got the news that you had received Jesus Christ the sky was overcast; your father was dead.” Then the letter went on to tell how the father had prayed for his prodigal boy with his last breath, and concluded, “You are a Christian tonight because your old father would not let you go.”
A fourteen-year-old boy was given a task by his father. It so happened that a group of boys came along just then and wiled the boy away with them, and so the work went undone. But the father came home that evening and said, “Frank, did you do the work that I gave you?” “Yes, sir,” said Frank. He told an untruth, and his father knew it, but said nothing. It troubled the boy, but he went to bed as usual. Next morning his mother said to him, “Your father did not sleep all last night.”
“Why didn’t he sleep?” asked Frank.
His mother said, “He spent the whole night praying for you.”
This sent the arrow into his heart. He was deeply convicted of his sin, and knew no rest until he had got right with God. Long afterward, when the boy became Bishop Warne, he said that his decision for Christ came from his father’s prayer that night. He saw his father keeping his lonely and sorrowful vigil praying for his boy, and it broke his heart. Said he, “I can never be sufficiently grateful to him for that prayer.”
An evangelist, much used of God, has put on record that he commenced a series of meetings in a little church of about twenty members who were very cold and dead, and much divided. A little prayer-meeting was kept up by two or three women. “I preached, and closed at eight o’clock,” he says. “There was no one to speak or pray. The next evening one man spoke.”
“‘The next morning I rode six miles to a minister’s study, and kneeled in prayer. I went back, and said to the little church, `If you can make out enough to board me, I will stay until God opens the windows of heaven. God has promised to bless these means, and I believe he will.’”
“Within ten days there were so many anxious souls that I met one hundred and fifty of them at a time in an inquiry meeting, while Christians were praying in another house of worship. Several hundred, I think, were converted. It is safe to believe God.”
A mother asked the late John B. Gough to visit her son to win him to Christ. Gough found the young man’s mind full of skeptical notions, and impervious to argument. Finally, the young man was asked to pray, just once, for light. He replied: “I do not know anything perfect to whom or to which I could pray.” “How about your mother’s love?” said the orator. “Isn’t that perfect? Hasn’t she always stood by you, and been ready to take you in, and care for you, when even your father had really kicked you out?” The young man choked with emotion, and said, “Y-e-s, sir; that is so.” “Then pray to Love—it will help you. Will you promise?” He promised. That night the young man prayed in the privacy of his room. He kneeled down, closed his eyes, and struggling a moment uttered the words: “O Love.” Instantly as by a flash of lightning, the old Bible text came to him: “God is love,” and he said, brokenly, “O God!” Then another flash of divine truth, and a voice said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,”—and there, instantly, he exclaimed, “O Christ, Thou incarnation of divinest love, show me light and truth.” It was all over. He was in the light of the most perfect peace. He ran downstairs, adds the narrator of this incident, and told his mother that he was saved. That young man is today an eloquent minister of Jesus Christ.
A water famine was threatened in Hakodate, Japan. Miss Dickerson, of the Methodist Episcopal Girls’ School, saw the water supply growing less daily, and in one of the fall months appealed to the Board in New York for help. There was no money on hand, and nothing was done. Miss Dickerson inquired the cost of putting down an artesian well, but found the expense too great to be undertaken. On the evening of December 31st, when the water was almost exhausted, the teachers and the older pupils met to pray for water, though they had no idea how their prayer was to be answered. A couple of days later a letter was received in the New York office which ran something like this: “Philadelphia, January 1st. It is six o’clock in the morning of New Year’s Day. All the other members of the family are asleep, but I was awakened with a strange impression that someone, somewhere, is in need of money which the Lord wants me to supply” Enclosed was a check for an amount which just covered the cost of the artesian well and the piping of the water into the school buildings.
“I have seen God’s hand stretched out to heal among the heathen in as mighty wonder-working power as in apostolic times,” once said a well-known minister to the writer.
I was preaching to two thousand famine orphan girls, at Kedgaum, India, at Ramabai’s Mukti (salvation) Mission. A swarm of serpents as venomous and deadly as the reptile that smote Paul, suddenly raided the walled grounds, `sent of Satan,’ Ramabai said, and several of her most beautiful and faithful Christian girls were smitten by them, two of them bitten twice. I saw four of the very flower of her flock in convulsions at once, unconscious and apparently in the agonies of death.
Ramabai believes the Bible with an implicit and obedient faith. There were three of us missionaries there. She said: “We will do just what the Bible says. I want you to minister for their healing according to James 5:14-18.” She led the way into the dormitory where her girls were lying in spasms, and we laid our hands upon their heads and prayed, and anointed them with oil in the name of the Lord. Each of them was healed as soon as anointed and sat up and sang with faces shining. That miracle and marvel among the heathen mightily confirmed the word of the Lord, and was a profound and overpowering proclamation of God.
Some years ago, the record of a wonderful work of grace in connection with one of the stations of the China Inland Mission attracted a good deal of attention. Both the number and spiritual character of the converts had been far greater than at other stations where the consecration of the missionaries had been just as great as at the more fruitful place.
This rich harvest of souls remained a mystery until Hudson Taylor on a visit to England discovered the secret. At the close of one of his addresses a gentleman came forward to make his acquaintance. In the conversation which followed, Mr. Taylor was surprised at the accurate knowledge the man possessed concerning this inland China station. “But how is it,” Mr. Taylor asked, “that you are so conversant with the conditions of that work?” “Oh!” he replied, “the missionary there and I are old college mates; for years we have regularly corresponded; he has sent me names of inquirers and converts, and these I have daily taken to God in prayer.”
At last the secret was found! A praying man at home, praying definitely, praying daily, for specific cases among the heathen. That is the real intercessory missionary.
Hudson Taylor himself, as all the world knows, was a man who knew how to pray and whose praying was blessed with fruitful answers. In the story of his life, told by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, we find page after page aglow with answered prayer. On his way out to China for the first time, in 1853, when he was only twenty-one years of age, he had a definite answer to prayer that was a great encouragement to his faith.
They had just come through the Dampier Strait, but were not yet out of sight of the islands. Usually a breeze would spring up after sunset and last until about dawn. The utmost use was made of it, but during the day they lay still with flapping sails, often drifting back and losing a good deal of the advantage gained at night.
This happened notably on one occasion when we were in dangerous proximity to the north of New Guinea. Saturday night had brought us to a point some thirty miles off the land, and during the Sunday morning service, which was held on deck, I could not fail to see that the Captain looked troubled and frequently went over to the side of the ship. When the service was ended I learnt from him the cause. A four-knot current was carrying us toward some sunken reefs, and we were already so near that it seemed improbable that we should go through the afternoon in safety. After dinner, the long boat was put out and all hands endeavored, without success, to turn the ship’s head from the shore.
After standing together on the deck for some time in silence, the Captain said to me:
“Well, we have done everything that can be done. We can only await the result.”
A thought occurred to me, and I replied: “No, there is one thing we have not done yet.”
“What is that?” he queried.
“Four of us on board are Christians. Let us each retire to his own cabin, and in agreed prayer ask the Lord to give us immediately a breeze. He can as easily send it now as at sunset.”
The Captain complied with this proposal. I went and spoke to the other two men, and after prayer with the carpenter, we all four retired to wait upon God. I had a good but very brief season in prayer, and then felt so satisfied that our request was granted that I could not continue asking, and very soon went up again on deck. The first officer, a godless man, was in charge. I went over and asked him to let down the clews or corners of the mainsail, which had been drawn up in order to lessen the useless flapping of the sail against the rigging.
“What would be the good of that?” he answered roughly.
I told him we had been asking a wind from God; that it was coming immediately; and we were so near the reef by this time that there was not a minute to lose. With an oath and a look of contempt, he said he would rather see a wind than hear of it.
But while he was speaking I watched his eye, following it up to the royal, and there, sure enough, the corner of the topmost sail was beginning to tremble in the breeze.
“Don’t you see the wind coming? Look at the royal!” I exclaimed. “No, it is only a cat’s paw,” he rejoined (a mere puff of wind).
“Cat’s paw or not,” I cried, “pray let down the mainsail and give us the benefit.”
This he was not slow to do. In another minute the heavy tread of the men on deck brought up the Captain from his cabin to see what was the matter. The breeze had indeed come! In a few minutes we were plowing our way at six or seven knots an hour through the water…and though the wind was sometimes unsteady, we did not altogether lose it until after passing the Pelew Islands.
Thus God encouraged me ere landing on China’s shores to bring every variety of need to him in prayer, and to expect that he would honor the name of the Lord Jesus and give the help each emergency required.
In an address at Cambridge some time ago (reported in “The Life of Faith,” April 3rd, 1912), Mr. S. D. Gordon told in his own inimitable way the story of a man in his own country, to illustrate from real life the fact of the reality of prayer, and that it is not mere talking.
“This man,” said Mr. Gordon, “came of an old New England family, a bit farther back an English family. He was a giant in size, and a keen man mentally, and a university-trained man. He had gone out west to live, and represented a prominent district in our House of Congress, answering to your House of Commons. He was a prominent leader there. He was reared in a Christian family, but he was a skeptic, and used to lecture against Christianity.” He told me he was fond, in his lectures, of proving, as he thought, conclusively, that there was no God. That was the type of his infidelity.
One day he told me he was sitting in the Lower House of Congress. It was at the time of a presidential election, and when party feeling ran high. One would have thought that was the last place where a man would be likely to think about spiritual things. He said: “I was sitting in my seat in that crowded House and that heated atmosphere, when a feeling came to me that the God, whose existence I thought I could successfully disprove, was just there above me, looking down on me, and that he was displeased with me, and with the way I was doing. I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous, I guess I’ve been working too hard. I’ll go and get a good meal and take a long walk and shake myself, and see if that will take this feeling away.’” He got his extra meal, took a walk, and came back to his seat, but the impression would not be shaken off that God was there and was displeased with him. He went for a walk, day after day, but could never shake the feeling off. Then he went back to his constituency in his state, he said, to arrange matters there. He had the ambition to be the governor of his state, and his party was the dominant party in the state, and, as far as such things could be judged, he was in the line to become Governor there, in one of the most dominant States of our central west. He said: “I went home to fix that thing up as far as I could, and to get ready for it. But I had hardly reached home and exchanged greetings, when my wife, who was an earnest Christian woman, said to me that a few of them had made a little covenant of prayer that I might become a Christian.” He did not want her to know the experience that he had just been going through, and so he said as carelessly as he could, “When did this thing begin, this praying of yours?” She named the date. Then he did some very quick thinking, and he knew, as he thought back, that it was the day on the calendar when that strange impression came to him for the first time.
He said to me: “I was tremendously shaken. I wanted to be honest. I was perfectly honest in not believing in God, and I thought I was right. But if what she said was true, then merely as a lawyer sifting his evidence in a case, it would be good evidence that there was really something in their prayer. I was terrifically shaken, and wanted to be honest, and did not know what to do. That same night I went to a little Methodist chapel, and if somebody had known how to talk with me, I think I should have accepted Christ that night.” Then he said that the next night he went back again to that chapel, where meetings were being held each night, and there he kneeled at the altar, and yielded his great strong will to the will of God. Then he said, “I knew I was to preach,” and he is preaching still in a western state. That is half of the story. I also talked with his wife—I wanted to put the two halves together, so as to get the bit of teaching in it all—and she told me this. She had been a Christian—what you call a nominal Christian—a strange confusion of terms. Then there came a time when she was led into a full surrender of her life to the Lord Jesus Christ; Then she said, “At once there came a great intensifying of desire that my husband might be a Christian, and we made that little compact to pray for him each day until he became a Christian. That night I was kneeling at my bedside before going to rest, praying for my husband, praying very earnestly and then a voice said to me, “Are you willing for the results that will come if your husband is converted?” The little message was so very distinct that she said she was frightened; she had never had such an experience. But she went on praying still more earnestly, and again there came the quiet voice, “Are you willing for the consequences?” And again there was a sense of being startled, frightened. But she still went on praying, and wondering what this meant, and a third time the quiet voice came more quietly than ever as she described it, “Are you willing for the consequences?”
Then she told me she said with great earnestness, “O God, I am willing for anything thou dost think good, if only my husband may know thee, and become a true Christian man.” She said that instantly, when that prayer came from her lips, there came into her heart a wonderful sense of peace, a great peace that she could not explain, a `peace that passeth understanding,’ and from that moment—it was the very night of the covenant, the night when her husband had that first strange experience—the assurance never left her that he would accept Christ. But all those weeks she prayed with the firm assurance that the result was coming. What were the consequences? They were of a kind that I think no one would think small. She was the wife of a man in a very prominent political position; she was the wife of a man who was in the line of becoming the first official of his state, and she officially the first lady socially of that state, with all the honor that that social standing would imply. Now she is the wife of a Methodist preacher, with her home changed every two or three years, she going from this place to that, a very different social position, and having a very different income than she would otherwise have had. Yet I never met a woman who had more of the wonderful peace of God in her heart, and of the light of God in her face, than that woman.
And Mr. Gordon’s comment on that incident is this: “Now, you can see at once that there was no change in the purpose of God through that prayer. The prayer worked out his purpose; it did not change it. But the woman’s surrender gave the opportunity of working out the will that God wanted to work out. If we might give ourselves to him and learn his will, and use all our strength in learning his will and bending to his will, then we would begin to pray, and there is simply nothing that could resist the tremendous power of the prayer. Oh, for more men who will be simple enough to get in touch with God, and give him the mastery of the whole life, and learn his will, and then give themselves, as Jesus gave himself, to the sacred service of intercession!”
To the man or woman who is acquainted with God and who knows how to pray, there is nothing remarkable in the answers that come. They are sure of being heard, since they ask in accordance with what they know to be the mind and the will of God. Dr. William Burt, Bishop of Europe in the Methodist Episcopal church, tells that a few years ago, when he visited their Boys’ School in Vienna, he found that although the year was not up, all avail-able funds had been spent. He hesitated to make a special appeal to his friends in America. He counseled with the teachers. They took the matter to God in earnest and continued prayer, believing that he would grant their request. Ten days later Bishop Burt was in Rome, and there came to him a letter from a friend in New York, which read substantially thus: “As I went to my office on Broadway one morning (and the date was the very one on which the teachers were praying), a voice seemed to tell me that you were in need of funds for the Boys’ School in Vienna. I very gladly enclose a check for the work.” The check was for the amount needed. There had been no human communication between Vienna and New York. But while they were yet speaking God answered them.
Some time ago there appeared in an English religious weekly the report of an incident narrated by a well-known preacher in the course of an address to children. For the truth of the story he was able to vouch. A child lay sick in a country cottage, and her younger sister heard the doctor say, as he left the house, “Nothing but a miracle can save her.” The little girl went to her money box, took out the few coins it contained, and in perfect simplicity of heart went to shop after shop in the village street, asking, “Please, I want to buy a miracle.” From each she came away disappointed. Even the local chemist had to say, “My dear, we don’t sell miracles here.” But outside his door two men were talking, and had overheard the child’s request. One was a great doctor from a London hospital, and he asked her to explain what she wanted. When he understood the need, he hurried with her to the cottage, examined the sick girl, and said to the mother: “It is true—only a miracle can save her, and it must be performed at once.” He got his instruments, per-formed the operation, and the patient’s life was saved.
D.L. Moody gives this illustration of the power of prayer:
While in Edinburgh, a man was pointed out to me by a friend, who said: “That man is chairman of the Edinburgh Infidel Club.”
I went and sat beside him and said, “My friend, I am glad to see you in our meeting. Are you concerned about your welfare?”
“I do not believe in any hereafter.”
“Well, just get down on your knees and let me pray for you.”
“No, I do not believe in prayer.”
I knelt beside him as he sat, and prayed. He made a great deal of sport of it. A year after I met him again. I took him by the hand and said: “Hasn’t God answered my prayer yet?”
“There is no God. If you believe in one who answers prayer, try your hand on me.”
“Well, a great many are now praying for you, and God’s time will come, and I believe you will be saved yet.”
Sometime afterward I got a letter from a leading barrister in Edinburgh telling me that my infidel friend had come to Christ, and that seventeen of his club men had followed his example.
I did not know how God would answer prayer, but I knew he would answer. Let us come boldly to God.
Robert Louis Stevenson tells a vivid story of a storm at sea. The passengers below were greatly alarmed, as the waves dashed over the vessel. At last one of them, against orders, crept to the deck, and came to the pilot, who was lashed to the wheel which he was turning without flinching. The pilot caught sight of the terror-stricken man, and gave him a reassuring smile. Below went the passenger, and comforted the others by saying, “I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled. All is well.”
That is how we feel when through the gateway of prayer we find our way into the father’s presence. We see his face, and we know that all is well, since his hand is on the helm of events, and “even the winds and the waves obey him.” When we live in fellowship with him, we come with confidence into his presence, asking in the full confidence of receiving and meeting with the justification of our faith.
by E.M. Bounds