Date: November 27, 1938
Supplication for the Power of True Prayer
Our God, Thou who hearest prayer:
Hear us now as we beseech Thee for a living faith in the eternal mercies of Thy Son, for whose advent into the flesh our hearts now sing their songs of praise to Thee. Teach us all the blessed, Spirit-granted lesson that, with our sins removed through the cross of Christ, our consciences purified by the cleansing blood, our lives blessed by His death, we can come to Thee in prayer and find all that we need for earth and heaven in Thine assured answer. Show us why prayer is not to be reserved only for emergencies, but is to be our continual communion with Thee, in which we learn to thank Thy bounty for our manifold blessings. Guide us to the understanding that our petitions are not to be restricted to ourselves and our personal problems but that our entreaties are to wing their way heavenward in behalf of others, particularly for the spreading of Thy kingdom and the glorious conquests of Christian missions. Above all, help us to pray always in Jesus’ name, in full reliance upon His blood-sealed promises, so that we may never question His pledges nor minimize His power. Since we are often blind and stubborn, give us at all times that humility to direct our petitions to Thee in accordance with Thy good and alldiscerning will. Then—and this is our promise, heavenly Father—shall we glorify Thee with the thank-offering of our lips through Jesus Christ, our ever-blessed Savior! Amen.
What profit should we have if we pray unto Him? – Job 21:15
If ye abide in Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. – John 15:7
FEW young people have ever seen their hopes of happiness crash as suddenly as did Joseph Scriven. A graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, he came to Canada at the age of twenty-five to seek his fortune in the New World. Before long he met a splendid Christian young woman whom he learned to love deeply. When he asked her hand in marriage, his joy at being accepted was exceeded only by the happy determination to make the new home a Christ-blessed dwelling. Repeatedly did they both kneel before their heavenly Father to entrust their future to His loving-kindness in Christ. As they built their dream home, step by step with God, they resolved that prayer should prevail in every family crisis and that in any misunderstanding or difficulty each would individually take the issue to God and await His answer.
The happy months sped on, and the day before the wedding finds Joseph Scriven in his room, preparing for the joyful tomorrow, thanking God and beseeching His blessings upon the home to be established within a few hours. A sharp knock at the door interrupts his meditation; a foreboding envelope is thrust into his hand; he tears it open and learns—his bewildered mind cannot believe the message that his tear-filled eyes reread a dozen times—that his best-beloved has been drowned! In the shock and conflict that followed, when doubt, tearing at his heart, demanded: “Of what good were your prayers when God permitted this cruelest of all blows to strike you?” Scriven, recalling the resolution to lay all sorrows at the throne of God, poured out his heart to the allknowing Father. He prayed as few men have ever pleaded. For three hours he begged for light, guidance, strength; and the Christ who answered fortified him with such courage that later Scriven, blessed with the deeper wisdom and the greater grace of Christ, wrote these words that have since sung their Spirit-winged way into sorely tried hearts:
What a Friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
As I seek to offer a modem answer to Job’s ancient question (chapter 21, verse 15): “What profit should we have if we pray unto Him?” I point once more to that grief-stricken bridegroom, whose faith, triumphing over anguish, sings:
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
May God give you all the same heroic faith by which you, too, can find that
PROFIT IN PRAYER
which our Lord Himself offers His trusting children in the promise of Saint John, chapter 15, verse 7: “If ye abide in Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
PROFIT ONLY IN TRUE PRAYER
At the outset we must be agreed on one vital truth: profit and blessing are found only in true supplication. When Jesus declares: “If ye abide in Me and My words abide in you,” He clearly outlines the first requirement of prayer with promise: it must be based on abiding faith in Him.
The Christian’s petition to his God is not an address to the woods and the waters, a eulogy of the birds and the bees, a plaintive cry to an unknown and unknowable Deity; it is rather prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus, with abiding trust in His grace. There are not a dozen gods to whom we can address our pleading, nor a dozen saviors who can redeem us, but in all earth and heaven, for all ages, one God and one Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Since that royal Redeemer of a race self-estranged from God brought us back to our heavenly Father, as children and therefore heirs of all that God possesses, it is our privilege, blood-bought, cross-gained, grace-bestowed, to approach the Almighty with all our needs. If you are praying in any other way; if you try to come before God without trust in the atoning love of Christ; if you seek to stand at the throne of eternity in your own name or some one else’s name, stop! Save yourself the lost energy and the shock of disappointment!
Learn to pray in Jesus’ name! Not the oratory and the choice of words in your petition; not the geometry of your supplication and the measure of its imposing length; not the arithmetic and the startling number of your pleas; not the logic and the keen-minded argument of your entreaties, count before God; it is rather the repenting, trusting, childlike faith in our blessed Savior by which we can boldly beseech Heaven’s grace. In a current issue of a popular magazine two travelers who penetrated deep into Africa’s Cameroons report that all who approached Rei-Bouba, the Bantu monarch of that territory, had to prostrate themselves on the ground, cry piteously in a hideous falsetto scream, and remain stretched on the hard-packed earth until the tyrant was pleased to indicate whether he would hear the suppliant. But—praise to the eternal mercy of Christ!—when we draw near to God in His name, we have full access to all of Heaven’s blessings.
As our Lord here stresses abiding faith, we must remember that, if our requests are marked by insincerity, so that we insult God by making our lips move in address to Him while permitting our thoughts to stray irreverently, we have absolutely no hope of divine response. If we spoke a thousand Lord’s Prayers every day; if we read through a large devotional book every twenty-four hours, unless each petition were distilled, drop by drop, from humble faith in Christ, these multiplied intercessions would be so many words wasted, so many motions lost.
Abiding faith, as the requisite for soul profit, cannot countenance the weak-kneed, indifferent, colorless praying which secretly distrusts God’s ability to hear His children. “According to your faith be it unto you!” is the rule of eternal Truth. “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,” is the Savior’s own standard; and while many pleas are profitless because they doubt or even deny the possibility of answer, the victorious communion with the Father is the confident cry of the soul which knows that God could not be God if He did not answer every true prayer spoken by every trusting heart.
Nor should we arrogantly try to secure divine favors while our hands are stained with sin and our lips are marked with iniquity. In Isaiah’s days God warned Israel that, though they made many prayers, He would not hear them because, He said, “your hands are full of blood”; and today, too, we cannot hope that God will grant our appeal “Forgive us” unless we add “as we forgive.” We shall not receive mercy unless we are ready to grant mercy. If any of you are engaged in an enterprise that causes injury or loss to your fellow-man; if any of you husbands and wives are secretly disloyal or openly unfaithful; if some of you are nourishing hatred in your hearts, your petitions are profitless before they start. Your loudest and longest pleading will only echo its empty defeat. What a startling warning to many in this audience who are keeping God out of their shriveled souls because they have exiled love and enthroned hatred!
If, as our text reminds us, Christ’s Word abides in us, our prayers—and this is one of the hardest lessons—will be submissive to His will. “This is the confidence that we have in Him,” Saint John writes, “that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.” God alone knows how many pleas are unanswered because they are contrary to His divine will, and that means out of harmony with our own best interests! Examine any instance in which your requests were not answered, and if you are Christ’s, you will discover that God’s mercy prevented you from nullifying His higher plan for you. If only we could speak the Third Petition, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” with a heroic faith that fully believes in God! Through that higher trust we can have the undaunted conviction that, if we pray for money and it is not granted us, this is for our best. If we have asked for health and still linger on sickbeds, God has a higher purpose in view for us. If some of you Christian wives have begged that God would bless you with children and you are still empty-armed, remember, though you cannot understand it, that God is dealing with you according to His mercy, that His will must always be the best. If you fathers have repeatedly besought God to keep you working, only now to receive the dreaded notice of discharge, do not accuse the Almighty of injustice; but behold the cross and realize that, if He loved you so much that He sent His only Son to sacrifice Himself for you, our Father certainly will direct your life along the best paths. In His allknowing power He may have permitted you to lose your work only eventually to give you a better position. Under His guidance you may find employment tomorrow; and if not, be sure that God has some deeper design to weave into the pattern of your life. Some write me in bewilderment that for twenty years, day after day, they have pleaded persistently asking God to release their husbands from the clutches of drunkenness, only to find their entreaties unanswered. They should realize that God can still free their loved ones from this disgrace and that during these twenty years He has been trying to teach them the higher lessons of faith in the school of suffering. Later surveying their hardships, they will discover one constructive purpose running through them all—their spiritual growth, their walking more closely with Christ. Even when your anguish-laden “Why?” resounds through homes visited by death and you demand to know the reason for God’s calling a beloved one home, remember that, while we cannot now see far enough to discern the hidden purposes of God, in the fuller light and more glorious revelation of heaven we shall be able even to thank God for taking to Himself the one whose death now seems so cruel.
As you ask for the faith to bow before the will of God, pray ceaselessly, since it is God’s rule that men ought “always to pray and not to faint.” If America’s most publicized prisoner has devoted his many years behind the bars to repeated pleas for freedom, should we not, “praying always,” seek our freedom from sin and fear and worry in Jesus’ name? Let us not make the mistake of telling God how and when He must answer our supplication. Sometimes He hears us before we call; sometimes He delays, but His time of answer is always the right hour. If Sir Isaac Newton waited sixteen years after he saw the apple fall before he proved and published his discoveries in the law of gravity, can we blame God if, instead of giving instantaneous answer, He sometimes lets us wait to test our faith and strengthen our reliance on Him?
PROFIT ALWAYS IN TRUE PRAYER
When you beseech God through abiding trust in Christ, according to His Word and will, the unshaken conviction is yours that He will hear you. For here is the promise of our text: “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
Ask the skeptical scientist Job’s question: “What profit . . . if we pray unto Him?” and he will shrug his shoulders, suggest some laboratory test. Ask many of our psychologists, and they will frown on the idea of bended knees and folded hands. Particularly do they denounce the thought of teaching our children to pray, because, they say, this robs them of their self-reliance and makes them dependent upon God,—as if childlike trust in God were an unforgivable sin! Ask the Communist this ancient question: “What profit . . . if we pray unto Him?” and his lips will move in filthy blasphemies. Ask the man who is through with religion, to whom the Christian creed is a crass superstition, a drag on progress, and in his smug pride he will hurl back the snarling reply: “There is no profit in prayer, no profit whatever!” Now ask the Christian, who abides in his Christ, and deep in his Spiritcleansed heart the personal pledge of answered prayer and the guarantee of granted grace will enrich him with a living trust in God’s power to respond to his pleading. We know through Christ that our God, far from being an indefinite, distant being, is rather the personal, almighty, all-knowing, ever present Creator, Redeemer, Light-giver. As the exploring eyes of our Christian faith penetrate high over our heads to the mysteries of the universe about us and find in the vastness of the planets, the billions of the stars, the overpowering dimensions of those heavenly reaches, the work of God’s fingers, requiring less exertion on the part of the Almighty than the molding of a small clay figure by the hands of a potter; as the reverent minds of God’s children survey the world of wonders beneath their feet, the mysterious, innumerable miracles that crowd every square inch of land and sea, their faith tells them that, if the mighty God could do the greater thing in producing these myriads of awe-inspiring wonders, His love can do the lesser thing and solve the smaller problems of our circumscribed lives. The child of God hears the angel tell Mary: “With God nothing shall be impossible,” he remembers that Jesus Himself in His infallible truth asserted: “With God all things are possible,” he listens as the host of the eternally redeemed sing: “Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth,” and the adoration that leaps from his lips is the confidence: “I know that Thou canst do everything.” “Nothing is ‘too hard for the Lord.’”
Yet the believer does not stop at God’s omnipotence. His heavenly Father, he knows, is not only able to hear prayer; in His limitless love for us He wants to heed our pleading. Few pledges are more constantly repeated throughout the Scriptures, by the prophets and the apostles, in the psalms and in the epistles, in the Old Testament and in the New, than this assurance from the lips of Jesus: “Ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Remember that, if every statement of Christ is the truth of God, errorless, changeless, then this promise of answered prayer in every word and syllable of its meaning must be the intensified truth, since Jesus (perhaps because He knew how much these precious promises had to be strengthened for a contradicting world of suspicious men) frequently repeated the same assurance. If our blessed Savior had told us in only one isolated passage that He would fulfil the desires of those who abide in Him, that single golden guarantee should suffice to destroy all uncertainty. But hear Him, in His Sermon on the Mount, as He crowds these six assurances into two short verses: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Turn to the last days of the Savior’s life, with the agonies of Calvary looming close; listen as He comforts His disciples with a double oath and a double promise: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. . . . Ask, and ye shall receive”; and between that earlier public assurance of answered prayer and this later private promise find heaped passages of the same glowing confidence, multiplied for our assurance.
Decisive evidence that God, who can hear us and who wants to hear us, in blessed reality will hear us is offered by the unquestionable fact that millions of prayer requests have been granted by our heavenly Father. If every radio station in this country were to feature the details of each answered prayer in broadcasts that would last twenty-four hours a day, there would not be time enough, even if this sin-encrusted world of ours were to stand long centuries more than it will, to enumerate the miracles of requests fulfilled in the lives of Christ’s redeemed.
At a time when the hue and cry of unbelief demands: “Prove the power of prayer, and we will believe it,” we ought to think of the remarkable demonstrations, even outside our Bible. A hundred years ago, for example, a young minister, George Muller, crossed the British Channel to begin work in England. He found many of the Christians in his charge weak of faith, often unwilling to take God at His word. With an intense desire he longed to remove this lack of trust, to set before the world a convincing demonstration that God is faithful and still hears prayers. After much deliberation he decided that he would build an orphanage by prayer; and in the first volume of his writings he declares: “If I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained, without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an orphans’ home, there would be something which, with the Lord’s blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God. . . . The first and primary object . . . was that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all that they need without any one being asked by me or my fellow-workers.” Today in the high-powered, high-pressure business methods often employed by the churches, this plan of George Muller might be greeted with headshaking and shoulder-shrugging. But what happened? Convinced that God wanted him to establish the orphanage, he began to pray that God would send him the means, and money began to pour in from various sources. He could write: “Without any one having been personally applied to for anything by me, the sum of £84,411, six shillings” (about $400,000), “had been given to me for the orphans as a result of prayer to God.” The work increased until in 1875 “two thousand children were lodged, fed, and educated without a shilling of endowment, without a committee, without organization.”
Can any normal man or woman doubt the power of prayer after an overwhelming answer like this? If you, the self-styled superior mentalities in this audience, object: “Well, after all, George Muller belongs to the days of Queen Victoria,” then let me, in reply, state not only that every year many in this radio assembly write us personally to testify to the fact of answered prayer in their own lives, but also that clear-cut instances proclaiming the effectiveness of true entreaty are enacted before our eyes. Let me cite an outstanding example from the range of my own experience. Eight years ago, in the city of Saint Louis, a handful of Christians, eager to strengthen the kingdom of God in an overcrowded but underchurched district, took their problem to God. The building most appropriate for their purposes was for sale at $65,000; but they had no available funds. Besides, predictions were freely made that no Christian church could ever flourish in the community selected. Yet through prevailing prayer all obstacles vanished. Without public or private solicitation, thousands of dollars were contributed for the purchase of the church; the price was cut in half; more than $20,000, again unsolicited, was joyfully given for repair and equipment; and the church, which in the opinion of many could never be established, after eight years has a baptized membership of eight hundred souls; it has purchased two additional pieces of property, one for expansion, the other for a Christian day-school, and it faces an encouraging future,—because the founders took God at His word and were not disappointed in their trustful reliance on His power to answer prayer.
You, too, can enjoy the divine profit from your own petition. Communion with God through Christ will tap the reservoirs of Heaven’s blessing and send streams of strength into any weak and barren life. Prayer will open the treasury of God to enrich the poor in spirit, the destitute of hope. It will lead you into the armory of superhuman weapons by which you can repulse sin and reject temptation. It offers you the key to the storehouse of your heavenly Father with its inexhaustible supply of everything essential for your soul and body. When you bow your head before the Almighty and like the publican, not daring to lift your eyes toward your Father, penitently pray: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”; when in your frailty you flee to God’s omnipotence as the dying thief appealed to Christ, then, as truly as God lives and rules the world, you, too, will experience a heart-lifting response—full and free forgiveness, the promise of Paradise itself. True prayer will strengthen you to overcome evil habits and conquer destructive sins. It will transform your sickbed into a haven of peace. It will fortify you as you cling to the Rock of Ages, while the tempests of adversity sweep over your defenseless head; it will help you check selfishness, forget your trampled feelings, return good for evil. For as you reach out your hand to God in faith, He, the Giver of “every good and . . . perfect gift,” will grant that blessing which makes your heart lighter, your soul happier, your afflictions less painful, your joys more hallowed.
Congregations on their knees in petition can accomplish vastly more than church groups with social and political programs. Many of the tragedies of failure, retrenchment, and deficits in modern Christianity are to be traced directly to anemic prayer-life. May God give us—not larger, costlier, wealthier churches, but—prayer-loving, prayerexalting churches!
Equally blessed is the profit for the home. Descendants of John Scudder, a promising young physician in New York City and later a missionary to India, have given a total of almost six hundred years of missionary service to that benighted country. When Dr. Scudder was asked to account for this outstanding missionary zeal, he replied: “The only explanation I can give is that the children were literally prayed into the Kingdom by their mother. She was accustomed to spend the birthday of each child in allday prayer for him. And God answered her prayer.” Fathers and mothers of America, are you pleading for your children? Sons and daughters of this land, are you interceding for your parents? If you husbands and wives want to make your marriage happier; if you desire peace; if you need special strength for particular sorrows in your family life, pray to God! Trust Him! Try to attain the full measure of faith, making your home a house of prayer!
Must I remind you of the glorious advantages prayer offers our nation? If in great crises of American history imploring hands were raised to God, if Washington knelt at Valley Forge and Lincoln prayerfully paced the White House study, should the nation not have the same support of supplication at this time when we are bidding farewell to much of the old order and are still groping in the bewilderment of the new? If penitent pleas saved proud Nineveh from immediate destruction, how much more can millions of Christian hearts, united in intercession for our country’s welfare, avert national defeat and decay! If prayer helped destroy the army of Sennacherib, as 185,000 Assyrians were killed within twelve hours, what power of national defense the true petitions of America’s millions would erect! Give us the benefits of diplomacy, the astuteness of statesmanship, equitable legislation, judicial reform, all the Congressional action necessary in days like these; but let us give God the honor of our prayers and the thanksgiving of our hearts! Erect all the national defenses this uncertain hour demands,—but may the prayers of America’s Christians build a wall around us that can protect us more securely than all the latest defense devices.
My friends and fellow-redeemed, have faith in Christ! As many Christian churches throughout the land begin a new church-year, commemorating our Savior’s advent into this world of sin, I ask you: Abide in Him, humbly yet courageously; and as His Word abides in you and you, too, learn to know: “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!” there will come to you from heaven, over all affliction, question, contradiction, bereavement, and death, the glorious power of faith, by which you will see that even in this cold and sinful world God gloriously answers all true prayer in His own time and manner according to His Word and promise. May He grant you all this blessed assurance, this living faith, His highest gift, through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.