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When men go up to such a God in vicarious prayer, their intercession must mean casting themselves in with the eternal purpose of the Father for his children, "laying hold on God,” not to call him to ministry, as though he needed that, but to be carried along with him in his desire for all men's good. Nothing is more wanted in the world than such intercession. The title of Dr. Mott's address "Intercessors—the Primary Need,” is clearly the statement of a fact. God wants men to lay hold on him in inward prayer, aligning their dominant desires with his, until their intercession becomes the effective ally of his will. As in an irrigation system, with its many reticulated channels, the sluice-gate would not plead with the reservoir to remember its forgotten power of doing good, but rather, feeling the urge of the ready water, would desire to be opened, that through it the waiting stream might find an entrance into all the fields and the will of the reservoir be done—so men should pray to God.
As to the second truth which underlies the reasonableness of intercession-persons are not separate individuals merely, like grains of sand in a bag, but, as Paul says, are “members one of another.” The ganglia of a nervous system are hardly more intimately related and more interdependent than are people in this closely reticulated system of personal life. As Professor Everett once put it: "We ask the leaf, are you complete in yourself? and the leaf answers, No, my life is in the branches. We ask the branch, and the branch answers, No, my life is in the trunk. We ask the trunk, and it answers, No, my life is in the root. We ask the root, and it answers, No, my life is in the trunk and the branches and the leaves. Keep the branches stripped of leaves and I shall die. So it is with the great tree of being. Nothing is completely and merely individual.”
The more we know about personality, the less possible it is to draw clear circles about each of us, partitioning us off from one another. We all run into each other, like interflowing rivulets, with open channels, above ground and subterranean, connecting all of us. Even telepathy may prove to be true. So that if a man believes in God, in whom all live and move and have their being, there is no basis for denying the possibility that prayer may open ways of personal influence even at a distance. Personality, at its best, in its thinking and
working is creative, and when in this love-system of persons, a soul throws in its dominant desire alongside God's, no one easily can set boundaries to that prayer's influence.
Indeed, there are certain aspects of intercessory praying where the consequences are plain. It is not a theory but a fact empirically demonstrable, that if in any community a large number of earnest Christians unite in unselfish praying for a revival of religious interest, that revival is sure to come. This can be tested anywhere at any time, if earnest men and women are there to do the praying. To say that this effect is simply psychological, is only another way of saying that God has so ordained psychological laws that vicarious praying by a group of earnest people does bring results. So far from depreciating the value of intercession, this fact gives to it the stability of a universal law. It names the conditions under which God does his most effective work through men. “For many years," says Dr. Mott, “it has been my practice in traveling among the nations to make a study of the sources of the spiritual movements which are doing most to vitalize and transform individuals and communities.' At times it has been difficult to discover the hidden spring, but invariably where I have had the time and patience to do so, I have found it in an intercessory prayerlife of great reality.”
While our minds are insufficient for the task of seeing to its end the explanation of intercession's power, our perience is clear that something creative is being done when in this unitary system of personal life human souls take on themselves God's burden for men, and in vicarious prayer throw themselves in with his sacrificial purpose. “Surely the man who joins himself with God," writes Professor Coe, "does not leave the universe just where it was before. All things are bound together into unity. I drop a pebble from my hand; it falls to earth, but the great earth rises to meet it. They seek a common center of gravity, determined by the mass of one as truly as by that of the other. You cannot change any one thing without changing something else also. The man who prays changes the center of gravity of the world of persons. Other persons will be different as well as himself, and he could not have produced this difference by any other means than this union of himself with God.”
But no explanation, however reasonable, can do justice to the experience of vicarious praying. To feel that, we must turn to life. When a mother prays for her wayward son, no words can make clear the vivid reality of her supplications. Her love pours itself out in insistent demand that her boy must not be lost. She is sure of his value, with which no outward thing is worthy to be compared, and of his possibilities which no sin of his can ever make her doubt. She will not give him up. She follows him through his abandonment down to the gates of death; and if she loses him through death into the mystery beyond, she still prays on in secret, with intercessions which she may not dare to utter, that wherever in the moral universe he may be, God will reclaim him. As one considers such an experience of vicarious praying, he sees that it is not merely resignation to the will of God; it is urgent assertion of a great desire. She does not really think that she is persuading God to be good to her son, for the courage in her prayer is due to her certain faith that God also must wish that boy to be recovered from his sin. She rather is taking on her heart the same burden that God has on his; is joining her demand with the divine desire. In this system of personal life which makes up the moral universe, she is taking her place alongside God in an urgent, creative outpouring of sacrificial love.
Now, this mother does not know and cannot know just what she is accomplishing by her prayers. But we know that such mothers save their sons when all others fail. The mystery of prayer's projectile force is great, but the certainty of such prayer's influence, one way or another, in working redemption needy lives, is greater still. It may be, as we have said, that God has so ordained the laws of human interrelationship that we can help one another not alone by our deeds but also directly by our thoughts, and that earnest prayer may be the exercise of this power in its highest terms. But whether that mother has ever argued out the theory or not, she still prays on. Her intercession is the utterance of her life; it is love on its knees.
Let any man of prayerless life, or of a life in which prayer, an untrained tendency, is nothing more than an occasional
cry of selfish need, consider himself in the light of this ideal of unselfish praying. To pray for himself for the sake of others, and to pray in vicarious entreaty for his friends, his enemies, and all mankind—this ministry he has denied. Let him not hide his real and inward lack of the intercessory spirit behind any confusion of mind about the theory. man honestly seeks the reason why a prayer like that of Moses is not easily conceivable upon his own lips, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin. ... Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Ex. 32:31, 32), he sees that the difference between Moses and himself is mainly one of moral passion. We have no such high and commanding desires as Moses had; our wishes are lame and weak and petty compared with his; if every mental perplexity were overcome, we still should lack the spirit out of which such prayers spontaneously pour. Supposing that we knew exactly and held completely the Master's theory of prayer; is there any man for whom we care enough to pray as Jesus did for Peter? Is there any cause that could call from us his cry: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem !"
The chief obstacles to intercession are moral. We live for what we can get; our dominant desires are selfish. The main current of us runs in the channel of our mean ambitions, and our thoughts of other people and of great causes are but occasional eddies on the surface of the stream. Even when we do succeed in praying for our friends, our country, or the Kingdom, we are often giving lip-service to conventionality; we are not expressing our urgent and continual demand on life. Our prayers are hypocrites. If the cause we pray for should suddenly take form and ask of us our share in the achievement of our own entreaty, we would dodge and run. All such intercession is clanging brass. "Our prayers must mean something to us,” said Maltbie Babcock, “if they are to mean anything to God.”
Before a man therefore blames his lack of intercession on intellectual perplexities, he well may ask whether, if all his questions were fully answered, he has the spirit that would pour itself out in vicarious praying. Is his heart really surcharged with pent devotion waiting to find vent in prayer as soon as the logic of intercession is made evide ? Rather, it is highly probable that if his last interrogation point were
laid low by a strong answer, he would intercede' not one whit more than he does now. Intercession is the result of generous devotion, not of logical analysis. When such devotion comes into the life of any man who vitally believes in God, like a rising stream in a dry river bed it lifts the obstacles at whose removal he had tugged in vain, and floats them off. The unselfish prayer of dominant desire clears its own channel. We put our lives into other people and into great causes; and our prayers follow after, voicing our love, with theory or without it. We lay hold on God's alliance for the sake of the folk we care for and the aims
We do it because love makes us, and we continue it because the validity of our praying is proved in our experience. St. Anthony spoke to the point, “We pray as much as we desire, and we desire as much as we love."
Of such intercession it is true,
"More things are wrought by prayer
SUGGESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
How far can a man say: "It is nobody else's concern, what
Is there a person so far away that no act of mine can touch him?
Is there anything which a person can ask for in prayer which concerns nobody but himself?
When can a person really pray the Lord's Prayer ? When is a prayer for personal needs an unselfish prayer? What are the results of unselfish prayer? Wliat does prayer accomplish for the man who prays ?