1. Praise and Prayer

Praise and Prayer

PRAY your prayers! Don'’t say them! Indeed, it may be that, apart from divine inspiration, the most potent and eloquent pleadings are those inarticulate groanings which are wrung from our hearts in our infirmity and ignorance. We are not aware what we should be praying for, because we do not know the details of God's operations. Yet He Who is searching the hearts is aware of the disposition of the spirit He has given us, which pleads for us in accord with God. And we are aware that our underlying wish for welfare will be gloriously fulfilled, no matter what may be our lot, for God is causing all to cooperate to that end. Long before we were aware of anything, the minutest details, as well as the great outlines of our career, were determined, and our most fervent wishes were granted, in the love of God (Rom.8:26-39).

In the language of inspiration, the idea of prayer is essentially concerned with HAVING. To this is added the thought of good, WELL-HAVE, that is, a wish. If this is directed toward anyone, especially the Deity, then it is TOWARD-WELL-HAVING, prayer.

According to the Authorized Version, we ought to know what to pray for. The word ought stands for the word dei it-IS-BINDING, hence cannot be rendered we ought, but it. It does not refer to us, but what. We are not aware what must be, so that we can pray accordingly. If it referred to us, then the word hemas US would have to follow, as in Acts 27:26 it-IS-BINDING US to fall on a certain island. This passage also shows that the word means must not “ought.” Ought belongs to the word OWE, as in John 13:14, “you also ought to be washing one another'’s feet.”

The Revised Version changed to “we know not how to pray as we ought” (American Revision). Very few will dispute this assertion, but it is not a correct rendering of this passage. This word is WHAT, not HOW. They correctly render HOW in the thirty-second verse: “how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” But here it is not the manner or the mode of doing a thing, but the identity of the thing itself. Notwithstanding their scholarship, the Revisers made the matter worse, not better. In both cases, they distorted the words to mean what they thought they ought to mean in this context. But they lacked a spiritual conception of God's place in prayer. They saw only the human side of what man wants, rather than the divine, of what God, the Disposer, plans.

The difference between the A. V. as we ought and the C.V. to accord with what must be [WHICH is-BINDING] is almost infinite. One confines us to ourselves and our soulish and selfish interests. The other occupies our spirits with God and His great plan and purpose. Our prayer should always be in tune with His universal symphony. It is impossible for us to know the infinite details of His grand designs. These are as fixed and immutable as His holy Word. Not a “jot or tittle,” not one iota or serif, not the smallest letter or even a part of a letter of His revelation can be changed by our prayers, neither can the minutest part of His plan for us be altered by our petitions. In one case, we look within at our failing selves, in the other we look above, at the infinite perfection of God. Our attitude and outlook are revolutionized.

Let us beware, in our prayer, that we do not set ourselves above the Supreme. Let us not inform Him Who knows all, or reform Him Who has made all. He is not an idol of putty, so that we may remould Him to conform to ourselves. Those who know Him do not wish to change Him. They are satisfied and delighted to have Him as He is. Neither do they wish to change His purpose or His plan. His will, to them, is the only good. They wish to change themselves, not Him. They would have Him inform them, through His Word. They want Him to conform them to His will.

In these days, in which there is much public prayer, there is a grave temptation to pray to please the public. Indeed, some prayers can hardly be distinguished from preaching, and their fervor is largely for human appreciation. A calm, quiet petition may bring a rebuke from those who are accustomed to the gushing of human emotions, and may seem insufficient to reach the heavens. No doubt such a prayer can be just as genuine as any other, but fervid, forceful, eloquent prayers should have a peroration, petitioning for grace that it may not redound to the fame of the petitioner. It is like the man who was charged with inordinate pride. He prayed all night to be rid of it with such success that he told the first man he encountered that he had engaged all night in prayer, hence was now assured that he was the humblest man on earth. Such proud humility is the most dangerous.

So long as we are in the flesh we may never know just what we should ask for, in prayer, but it is our privilege to know what God has revealed as to the place of prayer in our fellowship with Him, especially in this secret administration, which differs so radically from all that have gone before it. The saints are confused on this theme, as on most others, because they do not discriminate intelligently between God's various operations, not realizing that our intercourse with Him today is on a vastly bigger plane than it could have been under the law, or when connected with the heralding of the kingdom. Human contact with God at that time was based largely on the flesh, and on physical nearness through the chosen nation, while ours is sourced in spirit, which gives us a tremendous advantage in dealing with the Deity, but operates in a different sphere.

Some of the saints have an inkling of God's great plans and do not pray that everyone must be saved immediately, although that desire may be in the heart of us all. Others have gone further and do not insist on great blessing for the world until the return of Christ. A few do not seek to do away with all evil, for they see its place in God's plans. They do not plead with God to remove all trials and sources of temptation from the earth, for they know that today is not the time for Him to do this. They do not embitter their lives by futile supplications contrary to His revealed will.

But even the most enlightened of those who have the gift of teaching are forced to face multitudes of minor details which must be referred to God because of their own ignorance of the infinite intricacies of their daily lives. Israel had a complete code of laws and wise elders to conduct the affairs of the kingdom. Nevertheless, God arranged for the chief priest to settle matters by “urim and thummim,” or lights and perfections. Two stones were put in a pouch, as when the land was allotted. A leading question was formulated, to be answered by yes or no. Jehovah gave His answer by the stone which was unwittingly withdrawn. This enabled Israel to do according to His will. We need only to place our petitions and problems before Him. In His care, we are free from care.

In order to be most helpful, we will seek to cover this subject in all its phases, not only as it applies to us today, but show how and why it differs in the past and in the future. Only so can we clarify the cloud which has concealed our own position, and establish the saints as to the place of prayer in the present. This will also clear up problems and questions in the minds of many as to how to pray, and what to pray for, and to whom, and what answer to expect, and so avoid discouraging disappointments. Because many have been sadly deceived by “claiming the promises” (which were never made to them), false notions as to the efficacy of prayer have led many into doubt and unbelief. Even when their faith has not been shipwrecked by seeming failures to receive the expected answers to their petitions, it has been weakened by the apparent indifference of God in redeeming his presumed promises.

For some time I worked, as a printer, on a small paper called “Prayer,” and was much interested in its contents. So far as I can remember, the main message was expressed in the phrase “Prayer changes things,” or words to that effect. Great emphasis was laid on the idea that prayer was the greatest force in the world, so that nothing could withstand it, if we only “believed.” I liked the stress put upon “faith,” but was led to question its quality, when things were made the subject of insistent prayer concerning which God had not spoken. Indeed, it was claimed that everything could be accomplished by prayer, even if it was contrary to what God had said. This, it seemed to me, was faith in ourselves, not faith in God. He certainly could not change His purpose and alter His plans in order to “answer” thousands of conflicting demands from His saints, who did not believe His Word in regard to His great and glorious goal.

I have been told of one person who made prayer the great business of life, and went about Europe giving addresses on the subject. It was not long after the first world war, and, so great was the speaker's confidence in the power of prayer, that the audience was assured that this war would never have occurred had the saints used this marvelous force, which God had put into their hands. All that they needed to do was to stamp their feet and defy the devil to do his worst. Thus they could crush the powers of evil. Needless to say, the lecturer did not succeed in stopping the second world war by this method. Such extreme, unscriptural ideas do great harm in that they put God in a false light, as though He did not do as He had promised. On the other hand, if the Scriptures distinctly stated that there would be no third world war, I would believe it, and pray accordingly —and there would'n’t be any! That would be faith. The other course was credulity. We may be confident that what we wish will come to pass, but let us not have too much “faith” in ourselves if we do not desire to be badly disappointed.

Why is it that so many prayers do not seem to be “answered?” Let us forestall a more thorough treatment of this question, and answer it briefly ahead of time. The reason is that no prayer or petition of man can alter or nullify the will or intention of the Deity. This holds good at all times. In no eon or administration is the creature able to go counter to His Creator. God is not feeling His way, or waiting for advice from mortal men. He is operating all in accord with the counsel of His own will (Eph.1:11). How unwise it would be for Him to follow the prayers of his saints, very few of whom have any idea of His purpose, His plan, or its consummation! The blind should not even attempt to guide Him who made the organs of sight.

Even the most enlightened saint is not intelligent enough to insist on the fulfillment of his own wishes, as expressed in prayer. He should always subordinate his petitions to the divine will. Our Lord Himself is the most illustrious example of this spirit. He knew, as no one else, what God's will was in regard to His sacrifice. Nevertheless, when He is about to enter into the depths of distance from His God, He cannot help praying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass by from Me.” Surely, no one ever had more reason to pray to be spared than He, especially from such a bitter and bloody experience. But even in the most crucial moment, when, for once, His will did not coincide with His Father's, He immediately adds, “However, not as I will, but as Thou” (Matt.26:39). Then, once more, He makes it plain that, notwithstanding the bitter draught that He was called upon to drain, He was determined to bow to God'’s will. In this lay the vast value of His sacrifice. Sacrifices and offerings brought God no delight. That was the very motive for His coming, to offer a Sacrifice according to God's will (Heb.10:5-7).

Was there ever anyone more worthy to have His prayers answered? Was there ever anyone more versed in God's will? Yet even He came to a crisis when His will was not in line with God's. If we go through a similar experience today, we would say that our prayer had not been answered, meaning by that that our will had not been carried out. What if God had yielded to His will? Then there would have been no Sacrifice, no Saviour, no salvation. God's whole purpose would have failed. Should we not be thankful that His prayer was not heeded? And should we not be grateful for every prayer of ours that is not “answered?” We may be assured that all that we ask according to His will will meet a response. And we should be most obliged to Him for every petition which is not fulfilled. We may be sure that it would not have been for our welfare.

It is evident from this that we should always modify our petitions by an expression of submission to God's will and good pleasure. But we should also seek to conform our prayers to His intention. When His disciples asked our Lord if they should call down fire from heaven as Elijah had done, to consume those who did not receive them, He rebuked them (Luke 9:53-55; 2 Kings 1:10). The times had changed, and God's method of dealing had altered correspondingly. That is why we can pray in accord with men of God in the past in some respects, but not in others. The grace which accompanied our Lord's earthly ministry would not allow His disciples to ask for destruction as Elijah did. How much less will the transcendent grace of today agree with such a procedure!

Each eon, every administration, puts mankind into a different relationship with God. It follows that He must be approached in a special way, and our prayers should be colored to accord with His operations at the time. The more we are in tune with His present work, the more our prayers will conform to His will, and we will be “answered” according to our wishes. This is because His spirit, through His Word, has awakened these desires within us, and they must be in line with His will. In this way, God is operating in us to will, as well as to work, for the sake of His delight (Phil.2:13).

Instead of prayer being discarded altogether in this administration of God's grace, emphasis is laid upon persevering in it (Rom.12:12; Col.4:2), praying on every occasion (Eph.6:18), and, indeed, praying without intermission (1 Thess.5:17). Where else, in the Scriptures, is such stress laid upon the continual exercise of communion with God? At other times men had a special hour of prayer (Acts 3:1). The early disciples persevered in prayer on certain occasions (Acts 1:14), but it was never made a vital part of the believer's experience as it is today. Indeed, the immature may well question the possibility of praying unintermittingly. How could we give all our time to that alone? Would not other important matters be neglected? In practice, such difficulties do not arise. It is quite possible to be always in the attitude of prayer in the subconscious mind, so that all our other work is done in an atmosphere of dependence on God.

To be continually putting our petitions into words is quite the opposite of the unremittent prayer of the apostle. The scribes of old were prolix in prayer (Mark 12:40), but it only drew down judgment upon them. Rather it is the inarticulate pleadings of the spirit, of which we are not always aware, but which immediately makes its presence known, when occasion demands it. I have often awakened from sleep with a word of prayer or praise in my mind, which sometimes forces itself to my lips. Is not this what is meant by God being “All” in us? If our subconscious mind is habitually in tune with Him, so that we only need to touch a key to make it audible, there is a constant connection or communion which is very close to that for which God is preparing the whole universe. And the present administration brings us nearer to that blessed ultimate than any other. May our prayers conform to His grace!

Many a saint has led a life of disappointment and sorrow because he did not know that God will answer all his prayers. How sad seems the lot of the poor and patient widow with a single wayward son, who persists in darkening her days with secret sin or open offenses! How, patiently she prays that God will turn him from his wicked ways, and save his “soul”! Then she dies before her time and even this does not turn him to God and he, he dies and is buried in a pauper's grave. It certainly seems that her heartfelt supplications were in vain. Not so! If she had only known God better and had been taught His Word, she would not have agonized and insisted on his salvation before God's good time. And she would have thanked Him in advance and rejoiced in the prospect of his ultimate reconciliation at the consummation, if not before.

We wish to point particularly to Philippians as the place to learn the practice of prayer for the present. Paul opens it with thanksgiving to God for them (Phil.1:3-11). As we have already expounded the epistle at length elsewhere, we will stop only to call attention to a passage in it which is in line with our present theme. Paul is confident, not that the Philippians will produce good works of themselves, but that GOD undertakes a good work in them, and that HE will be performing it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil.1:6). Does not this give us the key to correct conduct for today? We should have our eyes open to His deity, and realize that He is the real motive power in our lives, and rely on Him, not ourselves, in deportment as well as in doctrine.

In the divine revelations previous to Paul the veil before reality is lifted only occasionally, and we see glimpses of God's operations in exceptional cases. But they saw “through a glass darkly,” or by means of a mirror, in an enigma (1 Cor.3:12), and got only vague impressions of His ways. And, in fact, this is still so today in many quarters, Even in the highest theological schools they teach that this is the norm for us today. But in Paul's epistles, especially in his latest letters, the enigma is solved, the light is bright, the concealing curtain is gone. What we saw to be the case occasionally in Israel's history, that all is of God, even their prayers, is at last seen to be the constant and continuous mode of God's operations. God is not merely directing all in great crises, but works His will in the meanest of the saints. And this is not confined to his works, but his will. Not only the fruit but even the root is of Him. And all is not only for Him, but out of and through Him.

Let us never base our ideas of the ultimate cause upon our own conscious experience, but upon God's revelation. A beautiful illustration of this comes to my mind. In my early manhood, we spent a vacation in a lovely valley high up in the San Jacinto mountains. Back of our cabin was a little canyon down which a tiny stream made its appearance at intervals only to lose itself in the sand again. We were curious to know whence it came, so traced it up its bed. We opened seven springs from which it emerged. But now, as I look back, I realize that these were not its source. The water came down from heaven when I was not there, and sank out of sight where I could not see it, and came forth only when I dug for it. I forgot that it had fallen from above and had found its way in the heart of the earth to the points where it welled up to slake my thirst and cool my palate with its refreshing fluid.

So it is with the prayer of God. It falls like gentle rain from above upon the human heart and sinks into its deep dark recesses all unknown to us, and emerges only when we consciously disturb its surface. When the stress and strain of circumstance break open the crust of our subconscious mind it comes forth a delicious drink, first of all for His delectation and then for us. Let us never forget to offer Him the first draught in the form of praise before we spread our petitions before Him.

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All is out of God, and prayer is no exception. Apart from His revelation in the Scriptures, it would be practically impossible to trace a petition from its beginning out of Him, through His creatures, and back to God, for we do not consciously realize the promptings of His spirit even in our own experience. So it will be best to trace the course of some important prayers as recorded in holy Writ.

God operated in the saints of old to pray for the things He promised. Did they ask Him to alter His plans? It may be that Jewish saints have petitioned Him to do this in their day. Did he fulfill this part of their request? I know that some tried to bring about Israel's restoration when I lived in the promised land. The owner of the house in which I lived in Tiberias put in a garden, with great labor, and made other improvements with the hope of helping to bring about these things now. But this was not in faith and apart from the presence of their Messiah, so it will not succeed. If every Jew on earth, and every Gentile, as well, should join in petition, praying without ceasing that Jehovah establish and bless Israel in the land now, before the coming of Christ (as many are doing), I doubt if a single iota of His prediction would be changed.

We know that God will eventually save all, but this only encourages us to pray that He will save someone now. We should never appeal to Him to call all now, for we know that it is contrary to His Word. But He has not told us who are the elect, so we confidently give out the evangel to all, for God's side is true of everyone. We are confident that it will work His will and gain glory for Him, whether received or rejected. Yet who can quell the overflowing of his own heart, which prompts him to pray for those whom he loves? Even though we may know that the prayer will be fulfilled at the consummation, our hearts surge in supplication that it may be true now.

Many other aspects of this theme will engage our hearts in future installments. In our next chapter, we will consider, more fully, The Time for Prayer.

A. E. Knoch

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