If God knows all my needs, and has promised to supply them according to His riches in glory through Christ, why do I not accept that as the permanent fact of my life with God and omit prayer?
If God gives according to His unchanging purpose, what part can prayer have in the matter? Do I change God's purposes and plans by prayer? Does prayer really change things? Do I have to persuade God to bless me? Or is prayer just a sort of spiritual exercise for my own good?
Granted that prayer is necessary, why do I have to keep it up, and pray again and again? Why can't I pray God to recognize my faith and bless me accordingly, without my having to ask again and again?
Doubtless these questions have passed through the minds of us all at one time or another. Why should I pray at all? Then, if I should pray at all, why should I keep it up day after day, year after year, until I die?
God asks us to do it. Then there must be some good reason for it.
For whose benefit is prayer? Mine, others', or God's? The answer lies in every detail of the program of Jesus in this world. In a sentence, it is this: PRAYER IS GOD'S ARRANGEMENT TO KEEP ME CONSCIOUS OF THE FACT THAT HE IS ALIVE IN ME. That is its first purpose. The other is: PRAYER IS GOD'S ARRANGEMENT TO PROVE TO OTHERS, THROUGH ME, THAT HE IS ALIVE.
Fellowship is the basis of all effective work. But fellowship is based on communication. If every one in this world today should refuse to have any communication whatsoever with anyone else, we would all die in a short time. If natural life is dependent on communication, so is spiritual life. God created man as the answer to the longing for communication, for expression, for response. So we, who are made in His image, share this characteristic.
To work with God without such communication that tells us He is alive would soon drive us to doubt, and at last to death. Of course, He is, and will be alive, whether we know it or not, but it will mean nothing to us unless we know it.
In John 14:12-15, Jesus sets up an arrangement of supernatural work to be performed in the bodies of men, His disciples, after He has gone away. "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to my Father."
This is more than just a humanized religion; it is God setting up the work of miracles in men. It is not to be just a program, based on ethical values of social good. It is to be a manifestation of God's regenerating and revolutionizing power in these human disciples, who would, after Penecost, be indwelt by God's Spirit. They were being tied up in a union with the Father and Son, and were to become the embodiment of God on earth.
Now, the world around them was going to say that they had put Jesus to death, and by worldly wisdom and argument, that world would "explain away" the facts on which the resurrection was to be based. Skepticism would hold sway, and the anti-christs would laugh at the claims made that Jesus had arisen and was alive forevermore. Jesus foresaw the predicament these disciples would be in without some communication which would tell them He was alive.
So He set up the prayer arrangement. He would not provide for their needs just as nature provides sunshine and showers. He could have done it that way. But there would have been no consciousness of personality in such an arrangement. So He said: "Now, that you may be ever conscious that I am alive and working with you, I will first let you ask for what you need. The Spirit whom I shall send will direct you in discerning your needs. You will be directly in touch with my plans through the Spirit, and can ask for the right things. I will not send until you ask, so that you will know, when I do answer you, that I am alive and constantly ready with all you need. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it."
To receive God's blessings without asking is a blessed thing, and inspires gratitude, but to ask and then receive thrills the heart by making it know that it is in direct union with God of Heaven. The answer to prayer brings this assurance. Thus, prayer, must be kept up in order that communication be kept up. FOR IN THIS LIVING ASSURANCE THAT GOD IS ALIVE AND CONCERNED ABOUT US LIES THE SOURCE OF OUR COURAGE TO GO ON, THE BASIS OF OUR FAITH.
The other reason for prayer and its answer is to convince the world about us that Jesus is alive. Jesus performed miracles in His life on earth. For what reason? Did He heal the sick just to make men well? Then why didn't He heal everyone in the world? NO, HE PERFORMED MIRACLES TO CONVINCE THE WORLD THAT HE WAS GOD, THAT THEY MIGHT BELIEVE ON HIM AND BE SAVED.
Take a look at Elijah and the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18). After the failure of the prophets of Baal to arouse their god, Elijah placed his offering upon the altar. Why did Elijah ask God to consume the offering? To make Elijah a hero? Listen to him and see: "Hear me, O Lord, hear me, THAT THIS PEOPLE MAY KNOW THAT THOU ART THE LORD GOD, and that thou hast turned their heart again."
THAT MIRACLE WAS SOUGHT IN ORDER TO CONVINCE THE WORLD LOOKING ON THAT GOD WAS THE TRUE GOD, AND THAT THE HEARTS OF MEN MIGHT BE TURNED TO HIM.
Now, here we stand in the face of the worshippers of Baal in this day. A world of pleasure-mad, self-worshippers, denying God's power, saying Christianity has failed, that the church is doomed, that Christians have no power. No power for what? To call down the miracle of God. Here before us is the altar of PRAYER. God is waiting for us to put our offerings (prayers) upon it. Then He wants us to say, as did Elijah, "Hear me, O Lord, THAT THIS PEOPLE MAY KNOW THAT THOU ART GOD, and that thou hast turned their heart again."
That is the purpose of the answer to prayer. That is why God wants me to pray, so that He can show this doubting world around me that He condescends to put His power in men; that He has committed Himself to respond to our plea when we cry unto Him. Thus He will convince the world about us that He lives, because before their eyes, in response to our cry, He comes down and consumes the offering of our prayers with a holy, firey zeal that turns the hearts of men to Him.
Yes, God has laws respecting nature, laws which He has created and fixed to govern the universe of things He has made. But He also has other laws respecting His family, and those disciples which He has placed in the world to show forth His glory in men, - laws which by the power of the supernatural can split the very tissue of this physical world and perform in the hearts of depraved and lost men the work of redeeming grace, a miracle which all natural laws fail to perform or prohibit.
This is the matter we are to pray about and this is the work we are to be engaged in. When we get into this work we will need to show this world a miracle-working God, one who consumes our prayers because we humble ourselves to His will, to His task, to His purposes; one who will answer when we call, - answer with the miracle of spiritual life wrought in men. Then they will believe and turn their hearts unto Him, but not until then.
[From the Western Recorder, July 13, 1939, p. 6. The Western Recorder is the Kentucky Baptist State paper. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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