Praise and Prayer
GODS GRAND GOAL is to be Everything in every one of His creatures (1 Cor.15:28). In order to accomplish this there must be intercommunication between them. God speaks to men in His Word. Men speak to Him in praise and prayer. Very few listen attentively to what He has to say, but He hears every syllable that they utter. Yes, He listens even to the inarticulate groanings of their hearts. This is even the case when they address themselves to Him, although they do not know Him and do it only as a form, and speak of, and to, themselves. How, then, should He not hear our petitions, who are acquainted with Him and His Anointed? To be sure, in a figure, He may not hear, that is, even if He does perceive what is said, yet He does not hearken to that which is contrary to His ways and His will.
In Hebrew the word prayer is based on the idea of MEDIATION. In the A.V. Samuel says to his wicked sons, If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him... Rather, he said, the judge shall mediate. This form of the word phll is seldom used. But, by prefixing eth, it becomes self-MEDIATION, or prayer. Usually a priest mediated between a man in Israel and Jehovah. Prayer takes the place of the priest. It is the medium of communication between God and His creatures.
The word hear, in Hebrew and Greek, is also used figuratively, to denote hearken, or obey. God does not hearken to all He hears, that is, do as each one wishes Him to do, but he hears and answers, that is, responds, to every word or thought which is directed to Him. Why, then, does it seem as if He pays no attention to our prayers at times? Again, if He only answers prayer which accords with His intention, why pray at all if our petitions do not alter His plans? Some tell us that in prayer moves the hand that moves the world. But if a million saints in one part of the world pray for one thing and a million of His people in a different region pray for the opposite, how can He obey them both? Instead of compliance there would be collision. How much less can He submit to each whim of every petitioner? Is it not wrong for men to look at prayer from the human viewpoint instead of from the divine?
But, we may ask, It only prayer in accord with Gods will is fulfilled, why pray at all, why persevere if it will not change anything? To the mind trained in human dialectics this seems a mere form and futile, without any reasonable basis. But to the man of God it appears otherwise. Realizing the vanity of reasoning about things divine, he falls back on faith, and believes what God says, rather than any inference which would be logical only if a man had spoken. The prophet Ezekiel, after giving the outlines of the restoration of the holy land in the day of Jehovah, includes this notable detail: For this I shall be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them (Ezek.36:37). Does not this show clearly that, not only is the answer to the prayer already determined by God, but the prayer itself is a part of His planning. How can we know now that the sons of Israel will pray if God does not put it into their hearts to do so?
THE DIVINE SIDE
Why should prayer have any place in the universe during the eons, when their course has been planned beforehand to the last detail, so that they are sure to end in a glorious consummation? If prayer cannot change this plan, why indulge in futile performances, when they produce no tangible results? That is the human side, which surely should be sufficient evidence to show how utterly ignorant man is of Gods great purpose. The answer is simple: Prayer is an essential part of Gods program. Gods heart hungers for the fellowship of His handiwork. If He wants to be All in all in the future, He must commence to be Something in some at the present. He reveals Himself to us through prayer in an intimate and personal manner which would be impossible if He alone stood back and allowed no one to speak but Himself.
THE OBJECT OF PRAYER
God is engaged in drawing His creatures to Himself by various means. One of the most effective of these is prayer. It is especially needed in the training of the saints in their special function of revealing Him to the rest of creation. Text books are good, but they must be supplemented by practical experience. God could not leave minute directions in His Word for every step in the lives of billions of His saints. Besides, that is not His goal. We need His Word now, in our ignorance. But there is no written revelation for the time after the consummation, because each one will be so attuned to God Himself, Who will be Everything to them, so that no written record will be needed, and no prayer will be contrary to His will. That will be ideal then, but now the experience of ignorance and evil is needed to bring it about.
Let us be clear on this point. The object of prayer is not to dictate to God what He shall do, or to get Him to alter some detail of His plan to conform with our wishes. Sober reflection would soon convince us that this would lead to confusion unutterably worse than we already have in the world. One saint wants this, another that, and if both pray for their own way, one, at least, must be refused, or, more likely, both. But if both close their prayers with not my will, but Thine be done, they will be heard, they will be blessed, God will be glorified, and they will gain in the realization of His will by their fellowship with Him. This will usually humble them or confirm them in His ways, in view of their future work in making God known to the rest of His creatures. But the main gain will be Gods, Who will be more to them through this experience than before. His great purpose to draw all to Himself is greatly advanced through such fellowship with the saints. The prayer itself, whether in accord with His will or His intention, is a vital part of His plan, rather than a means to amend it through the ignorance of conceited mortals.
THE LONELY SAINTS PRAYER
In my early ignorance of Gods great goal, I was much exercised about His apparent failure to answer the prayer of some of His saints who seemed most pathetically deserving. Take the case of a widow, left alone with many children, for each of which she agonizes in prayer, that they should accept the Saviour, yet not a single one responds to her entreaties. Some of them die before she is put to repose, and those who survive are not reached by the gospel. There, you say, is a clear case of earnest petitions and many prayers which were not answered! I do not blame you. I thought so myself once. But now that I have believed that God is the Saviour of all mankind (1 Tim.4:10), and look ahead to the consummation, I have changed my mind. The poor widow knew nothing of the future beyond the grave, so she should have stopped praying, if she had been logical. But she kept on because she could not stop. I am inclined to think that each of her prayers for her children was a prayer of God (Luke 6:12), in a very special way inspired by His spirit in her heart.
Can you imagine what joy will be hers when she is reunited with all those for whom she prayed, at the consummation? Will it not be magnified by the tears and prayers which she thought so weak and futile before she died? And who will insist that these had no part in preparing for the eventual reconciliation of her offspring? And who will assert that the apparent delay was not better, from Gods standpoint, than if they had responded to her supplications? It is evident that Gods plan calls for an experience of distance from Him on the part of all. Hardly any are called from their birth, or before, like John the Baptist. All of us are estranged from God in our youthful years. Those who are not reconciled in this life have only an extension of this experience. All must be consciously lost before they are saved, in order to realize the direness of being at a distance from Him.
A serious stumbling stone, in the eyes of the world, is the opposing prayers of Christians in time of war. Both appeal to God to give them the victory, when, superficially, at least, only one side can have it. In practice it seems to be answered, as a rule, but on different planes. On the physical, the power of one side may prevail, and history records a victory, but the spiritual results are often worse than a defeat. Success in battle may breed self-righteousness and pride and domination. But this is quite contrary to Gods ultimate, which does away with the righteousness of man, and leads to humiliation and submission. So it is usually a Pyrrhic victory, far higher in price than in profit. On the other side, defeat has its spiritual advantages. It may produce self-searching and humility and submission, just the effects which God is seeking, in view of His ultimate goal. So, in a way, the believers on both sides of a battle are answered. Yet the one who thinks it was answered does not receive nearly the benefit as the one who thinks it wasnt!
The logical deduction from these apparent premises would lead us to cease from praying altogether. If everything is cooperating for our welfare anyway, why even try to spoil it by our ignorant and selfish petitions? Alas, how illogical is human logic! It usually leaves God out, or reduces Him to human proportions even though He is the Major Premise in all things. God is using all our experiences in order to fit us for fellowship with Him, so to become Everything in us, and through us to become All in all His creatures. This calls for the exercise of faith in Him, and doubt and distrust in all that is of man. We must learn by experience how futile are all our wishes unless inspired by Gods spirit. As sin in humanity is a background for Gods grace, so are seemingly unanswered prayers a necessary test to expose us to ourselves and lead us to rely only on Him and His love.
PRAYER OUT OF GOD
All is out of God. Strange as it may seem at first thought, prayer does not originate with us, but with Him. Before we explain the why and the wherefore of this, let us confirm it by actual examples, of which there is no lack in the predictive prophets. Jehovah has not only promised to restore Israel to their land, but has foretold that they would pray for it. He even puts the actual words into their mouths. Does not this show that the prayer as well as its fulfillment is due to the operation of His spirit? It may, of course, be partly through His Word, in which the blessings are promised. But even that is not enough, for many of His ancient people do not believe them. A special work of His spirit is needed to stir their hearts to ask for the gifts He will bestow (Jer.31:19). It was after Daniel learned from the prophecy of Jeremiah that Jerusalem would be restored after seventy years, that he made his confession and petition (Dan.9:2,3).
Perhaps every reader of these lines is convinced of the blessing of Israel, as a nation, in the day of Jehovah. Reason would say, then there is no need to pray for it. But prayer is hyper-rational, or super-rational, if we may be allowed to use a rare but much needed expression. Perhaps it were better to expose reasoning, as hypo-rational, because it bases its syllogisms on inadequate premises. A sounder syllogism would be this: Since God seeks the fellowship of His creatures in view of their future, He not only reveals His plans to their minds, but engages their hearts in His proposals by means of praise and prayer. Already much praise has ascended to Him in view of the glories He has promised His ancient people. And much prayer will go up to Him, especially in the dire days preceding the fulfillment of His predictions. Even a cursory reading of Ezek.36:37, will show that the prayers of that day will be inspired by Him, for they were predicted thousands of years ago.
Gods dealings with Israel in the past were based on law, therefore there was such fearful failure. His dealings with them in the future will be founded on favor, hence there will be such a fine fulfillment. In older to guide them in their prayers He begins His predictions with an emphatic negative: Not on your account am I doing it, avers the Lord Jehovah. Their prayers will not be based on ignorance in this particular. What a contradiction! When they sought to earn their blessings, they failed to get them, yet when they do enjoy them it will not be because they keep the law! Though we enjoy the acme of transcendent grace, to which they cannot attain, nevertheless they also are dependent on Gods favor for the fulfillment of their prayers. Rather, they are blessed in spite of their wayward ways, and cleansed notwithstanding their depravities. This knowledge enables them to pray the prayer of God.
When Israel has learned the futility of their own failures, the spirit of Jehovah leads them to praise Him and to pray for salvation at His hands. Their deliverance seems long delayed to those who do not apprehend Gods purpose in the prolonged period of preparation. The lesson taught to Israel through their wilderness journey was of the utmost importance to prepare them for the land. In the desert they experienced their vital dependence on Jehovah for their very existence. Neither food nor water nor shelter could be had except it come directly from His hand. And the same lesson is being taught to Israel today, for the trials of the wilderness were but a type of their present plight. When they no longer have hope in themselves then they are turned to Jehovah to praise Him and pray for His promised salvation.
The evils in the wilderness were planned by God. He would not allow them to go by the travelled highway to the promised land, so that they must find their all in Him. So with Israel now. Most of them would much prefer to take the travelled road, by automobile, or by airplane, figuratively speaking, in order to enjoy the promised paradise. But, for their own sakes, and for the sake of the other nations, as well as for the benefit of Gods creatures everywhere, they must perform their part of the play, which portrays the path of independence from the Deity until the moral is plain and patent to all creation: The creature is accursed when estranged from the Creator!
It is popularly supposed that prayer is essentially begging for something that is outside of Gods will or intention. It is argued, What is the use of praying for a thing when God has already promised it? How far this is from Gods thoughts may be shown by one example. Jehovah has assured Israel that He will restore them to their land and that it shall become as the garden of Eden, so why pray for it? But Jehovah has also revealed the fact that they will. His heart yearns for the fellowship of His people. That is more important to Him than their blessing. If His kindness to them will not bring Him praise, of what use is it in His purpose? And this is greatly intensified by previous fellowship in His plans.
Not only will the land that was deserted and desolate be filled with cities and luxuriant gardens, but the nations round about will be impressed by the fact that they did not do it, but Jehovah, their God. Hitherto, under the law, self-righteous Israel was wont to war with their neighbors. Now that they are really right, they illuminate them, and reveal the true God to them. Perhaps no passage of Scripture uses the emphatic I so excessively as Ezekiel 36:37. Even the Authorized Version has three capital Is. The Concordant makes a special effort to carry over the emphasis of the Original. And here this cannot be adequately accomplished without using five, and two of these emphatic. Israel, in that day, will no longer be egocentric, engrossed with their own blessing, but world-centric, the center from which blessing will radiate to all the other nations of the earth.
But all this will not be forced on an unwilling and antagonistic nation, out of harmony with Gods plans, and opposed to His purpose. Before He blesses them in fact He engages their faith. He not only foretold their fate, but predicted their petitions. For thousands of years before the millennium, the wandering Jew has inquired concerning their coming bliss in the day of Jehovah. The believing remnant emptied out the longing of their hearts before Him, and prayed, How long, O Lord! In fact the years of prayer have been much longer than the era of blessing. It may be that this prolonged preparation may do more for Israel to prepare them for their final function in Gods universal purpose than the much desired millennium itself. Prediction does not dispense with prayer, it draws it out. Moreover, it helps to mould it to conform with Gods heart.
God does not need to wait until we pray before He replies. This is shown clearly in another passage concerning Israels future. This accords fully with the fact that we already know many details of that glorious day. Prayer can neither hinder nor help the fulfillment of the most minute item of these numerous predictions. Neither can it change a single one in the least particular. This is farther elucidated for us by the fact that, ere they are calling, while they are still speaking, Jehovah is answering and hearkening (Isa.65:24). The days of Jehovahs people will be as the days of the tree of life, and the work of their hands will not wear out. Their efforts will not be futile, as they seemed to be in the past. Then there will be peacereal peacenot only among men, but even among the wild beasts. The lioness and the wolf will live with the animals upon which they had preyed in the past. Evil and ruin will no longer have the place it now has in the human race.
I once had a startling experience as a very young believer which impressed me powerfully, and opened my heart to the truth we are considering. I was much burdened about my relatives, most of whom were unsaved. Some were skeptical and a few were downright derisive. In fact, one of them spread the idea that I was congenitally deranged, although none of our family suffered so, and they certainly did not consider themselves affected! My parents plea was that, if I was bound to be religious, why didnt I join a respectable church? They did not consider the Plymouth Brethren in this class.
We were at relatives, eating a meal. I was praying for an opening to speak to them about Christ. But before I could finish framing the sentence in my mind, the most contemptuous of my opponents asked the very question which I most desired to answer. I was quite taken aback for an instant, but, full of thankfulness, did my best. I suppose I should add, as a sequel, that he, or someone else, believed, but that was not the fact, and it caused me much questioning. Now I know that all will be saved, and I have no doubt that my words will be used by God to that end eventually.
THE SPIRIT OF REVELATION
Perhaps the most important example of prayer for us in this administration is the petition for a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Paul prayed that we should have it, and God puts this desire into the hearts of those of His saints to whom He wishes to reveal Himself through a knowledge of the secrets which underlie the present administration (Eph.1:17). These are all clearly set forth in Pauls epistles, yet have been so smothered by tradition that very few of the saints have more than an inkling that there are some inexplicable mysteries which may be revealed to us in heaven. And this is quite right, if we are not graciously given the spirit of revelation in order to apprehend them beforehand.
First God, awakens in us a wish to know what these mysteries conceal. When this wish is directed to Him it becomes a prayer, even though it be too vague for utterance. The spirit of revelation is the spirit of God which reveals Him and which inspired Paul to record the revelation of the various secrets of which the truth for the present is largely composed, for these unfold the fullest and highest revelation of the Deity. The spirit that is imparted to us, in order that we should understand it, is that same spirit that wrote the record. It is a special installment of that life-giving spirit which all the saints possess in limited measure as an earnest. It will reveal these things to all when they are vivified. Now it is the portion of those who are led to ask for it, in order to know God fully.
This prayer it was, more than any other, that led to the study of The Divine Mysteries which afterward appeared in pamphlet and book form. Along with the light came a deep conviction that all was of God, not of us. So that we look upon the revelation of the spirit to us as a manifestation of Gods grace, just as the written revelation is an unfolding of the exceeding riches of His favor to those of the nations who believe. They deserve the opposite, yet this makes them the best means for displaying the overwhelming wealth of His grace and love.
GOD WILLS AND WORKS AND PRAYS IN US
The prayer of God carries His will into effect. Not only has Jehovah foretold His will for the future, and predicted the prayers which precede its execution, but, in this administration especially, God is carrying out what delights Him through His saints, and is preparing for it by putting His prayers into their hearts. He not only operates in them to work according to His pleasure, but prepares for this day by implanting in them the will to do it, and the prayer which precedes its accomplishment. In the course of our meditations we will consider many different patterns for prayer, yet all will agree in this, that they have their origin in God and are the operation of His spirit in humanity (Phil.2:13-18).
The works of God, when performed by His creatures, are always due to the energy provided by His will, and preceded by the prayer of God. Usually this is so obscure, so hidden in the subconscious mind, that it does not reach the realm of consciousness, so cannot be known or understood. But, in the saint of the present era this should be clear to all, for it is the privilege of maturity to be consciously controlled by His spirit, and cooperate intelligently in His affairs. May it be the precious portion of all who read these lines to realize in their experience the high honor and happiness of praying the prayer of God!
A. E. Knoch
This publication may be reproduced for personal use
(all other rights reserved by copyright holder).