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not exhaust the possibilities. There is another answer which God continually gives us-"Wait." For nearly two thousand years the church has been praying "that they may all be one." God never has said "No" to that, nor yet has he said "Yes." He has said "Wait." Since Jesus taught them first to pray, "Thy kingdom come," his disciples have lifted that supplication century after century; and "Lo! Thy church is praying yet, a thousand years the same." Great prayers such as these are not affairs of "Yes" or "No"; they reach over ages and bind together the aspirations of God's noblest sons; they are an eager, patient, persistent search after good.
Now compare with such undiscourageable prayers our individual spasms of petition. Our requests spurt up like intermittent geysers; we cry out and fall back again. We are not in earnest. "Easiness of desire," said Jeremy Taylor, "is a great enemy to the success of a good man's prayer. It must be an intent, zealous, busy, operative prayer. For consider what a huge indecency it is that a man should speak to God for a thing that he value not. Our prayers upbraid our spirits when we beg tamely for those things for which we ought to die." This, then, is the rationale of importunity in prayer, not that it is needed to coax God, but that it is needed alike to express and by expressing to deepen our eager readiness for the good we seek. Some things God cannot give to a man until the man has prepared and proved his spirit by persistent prayer. Such praying cleans the house, cleanses the windows, hangs the curtains, sets the table, opens the door, until God says, "Lo! The house is ready. Now may the guest come in."
As we step, then, from the wider domain of prayer into the special province of petition, we can see three comprehensive reasons for denied request: the ignorance of our asking, our use of prayer in fields where it does not belong, and the unreadiness of our own lives to receive the good we seek. There are many people who have a thoughtless and unauthorized belief in the power of prayer to get things for themselves. They forget the searching condition put on all petition, that it must be in Christ's name (John 14:13; 16:23, 24, 26). No hurried addition of "For Jesus' sake"
appended to a prayer can satisfy this deep and spiritual demand. Petition must be in accordance with the divine will and in harmony with Christ's spirit; it must be wise in itself and must come from a life persistent in its desires and unselfish in its purposes, before that law of prayer can be satisfied. To pray in Christ's name is nothing less than the acceptance of St. Augustine's attitude when he cried: “O Lord, grant that I may do thy will as if it were my will; so that thou mayest do my will as if it were thy will." Prayer is not magic, and it is a fortunate thing for us that Trumbull's word is true, alike to Scripture and experience, that so far as petition is concerned "Prayer is not to be depended on, but God is!"
There is one sense, however, in which answer to prayer can always be depended on, if a man has kept his life at all in harmony with God. Even when God cannot answer affirmatively the man's petition he can answer the man. Paul's petition for relief from his physical distress was not affirmatively answered, but Paul was answered. He went out from that denied request, thrice repeated, with a reply from God that put fortitude and courage into him: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9). God always answers true prayer in one of two ways— "No good prayer ever comes weeping home." For either he changes the circumstances or he supplies sufficient power to overcome them; he answers either the petition or the man. As Luther put it, “A Christian knows that he is not refused what he has prayed for, and finds, in fact, that he is helped in all troubles. and that God gives him power to bear his troubles and to overcome them: which is just the same thing as taking his trouble away from him, and making it no longer misfortune or distress, seeing it has been overcome."
This truth explains such amazing statements as Adoniram Judson, for example, made at the close of his life: "I never prayed sincerely and earnestly for anything, but it came; at some time-no matter at how distant a day-somehow, in some shape-probably the last I should have devised-it came." But Judson had prayed for entrance into India and had been compelled to go to Burmah; he had prayed for his wife's life, and had buried both her and his two children; he had prayed for release from the King of Ava's prison and had lain there months, chained and miserable. Scores of Judson's petitions
had gone without an affirmative answer. But Judson always had been answered. He had been upheld, guided, reinforced; unforeseen doors had opened through the very trials he sought to avoid; and the deep desires of his life were being accomplished not in his way but beyond his way. He meant by his assertion of the unfailing power of prayer what Paul meant when he cried, "My God shall supply every need" (Phil. 4:19). Yes, even the Master faced denied petition. "Let the cup pass," was a cry that could not be granted. But Jesus himself was greatly answered in the Garden. The request was denied, but as our Lord goes out to face Pilate and the cross, with a loyalty to his Cause that no temptation can relax, a steadiness that no suffering can shake, a magnanimity that neither nails nor spear nor gibe can embitter, who can measure what in prayer had been done for the Man?
SUGGESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
Why are prayers unanswered?
What would happen if all petitions were granted?
If the course of events were decided alone in accordance with the petitions to God by men, what kind of a world would it be?
To what extent would any individual be willing to have his prayers answered?
What is the effect upon personal character of a religion that substitutes begging for honest work?
Under what circumstances do you think God would grant a petition for definite help in securing something which a man might get by his own intellect and work?
To what extent is it possible for a man's "petition" to be denied and his "prayer" still to be answered?
If we ask God for something in how far is it an answer to this petition to be given the opportunity and direction to answer the petition for ourselves?
In response to his petition to be relieved from "the thorn in the flesh," which do you think presented the greater value to Paul-the granting of his actual petition or the answer which he received?
If all petitions were unanswered, would it still be worth while to pray?
Why are answers to prayer deferred?
What prerequisites does a wise father require of his sons before granting them their share of the inheritance? What light does this throw upon the answer to a petition being deferred by God?
Why did Jesus suggest the necessity of importunity in prayer?
What does the New Testament mean when it speaks of praying "in Christ's name"?
What is the difference between "answering a petition" and “answering a man"? Have any of my prayers really been unanswered?
Prayer as Dominant Desire
First Day, Eighth Week
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But desire earnestly the greater gifts. And moreover a most excellent way show I unto you. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. -I Cor. 12:28-13: 1.
Note the unfortunate break in this great passage made by a new chapter's beginning. The thirteenth chapter on love should always be read as an explanation of the verse in the twelfth chapter, "Desire earnestly the greater gifts."
Many reasons for unreality in prayer we have noted, such as perversity of mood, or failure to grasp the individual love of God, or wilful alienation of the life in sin. With one of the deepest troubles in our praying, however, we have not dealt. Our prayers are often unreal because they do not represent what in our inward hearts we sincerely crave. We ask God for the “greater gifts" which we do not "desire earnestly." For example we pray against some evil habit in our lives, while at the same time we refuse to give up the practices that make the habit easy, or the companionships in which the habit thrives. We go through the form of entreating God to save us from the sin, but we do not