Brother A. E. Horton is a missionary in Angola. His many years of diligent and productive service add weight to his view of the matter of prayer. His article merits deep consideration.
Prayer is, to many, something of a mystery. Just what is its real place and value? We know that it is not necessary to inform or to remind God of any needs of ours or of others, for our Lord Jesus has told us that our Father knows what things we have need of before we ask Him (Matt. 6:8). Such being the case, why are we told to ask? For that we are so told, all who know the Scriptures will recognize. Not only so, but prayer is not for the purpose of changing God’s mind about anything, or altering His purposes. For we are also told that we will receive that for which we ask, provided that our petitions are made in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14-15). That is equivalent to saying that we are to ask only for things which the Father has already determined to give to us. Again, since it is true that He would have all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), why are we to pray for their salvation, as is implied in this and the preceding verses?
In considering this mystery, some have said that the only value of prayer would seem to be that of its reflex effect upon the spirit of him who prays; that it has no value as to obtaining things in answer to our requests. That position is quite evidently not in accord with Scripture, for James tells us that we may not have what we need simply because we do not ask for it (4:2). Our Lord’s Word in Matthew 6 was not intended to discourage believers from making their requests, but simply from multiplying words in prayer, as if that would more surely move God to answer. He Himself told His disciples that every one who would ask would receive (Matt. 7:7). And it is evident that blessing, whether for ourselves or for others, has been made to be, to a great extent, dependent on or seeking it in prayer. Thus Paul, writing from his Roman prison, expressed his desire that, whether he live or die, Christ might be exalted in his body (Phil. 1:20). For the realization of that desire, he confesses his need of two things: of the grace which the Spirit of Christ would supply to him, and of the prayers of his fellow-believers in Philippi (v. 19). It should be noted that the prayers of his fellow-saints are indicated first, thus implying that the supply of the Spirit would come as a result of their praying.
The problem regarding the place of prayer is thus not whether it has any actual effect as regards the needs of the people of God, for this it very definitely has. The problem is why, in view of the foreknowledge and sovereignty of God, prayer should have been ordained by Him as indispensable to that blessing. For it has been so, and we should remember that, whether we understand it or not, prayer is not a mere adjunct, but an indispensable part of the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our first reaction when faced with the problem, might well be that of one honored servant of the Lord, who said at one time in the writer’s hearing, “I do not understand prayer. But my Father has told me to pray, and therefore I am going to pray.” For faith does not need to know the “Why” of God’s commands in order to obey them. He understands the “Why,” whether we do or not, and our place is to keep His Word, leaving the reasons to Him when we cannot perceive them.
On the other hand, it seems clear that there are some very definite reasons why God has given to prayer the place it evidently occupies in His Word.
First, let us note that God has called us into fellowship with Himself. This is the substance of eternal life as it concerns our experience. We may gather from the general theme of First John, that the author, when he says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him” (1:6), is really saying in effect, “If we say that we have eternal life.” For eternal life is simply the divine life, imparted to the believer by the indwelling Spirit of God, whose effect is to introduce the believer into a state wherein it can be said that he knows God (John 17:3). The normal experience for every believer in the purpose of God, is that of a constant communion with the One who has saved him. And it should be noted that this communion is one for which God Himself longs. It is not we who first desired and sought this communion, nor is it we who even now desire and seek it as does He. And He has ordained the ministry of prayer as a means whereby He and we may enter more intimately into this intercommunion of spirits which is His end in view in saving us. Is it not because of the joy of such experience that we so often sing, “Sweet Hour of Prayer”? For there He meets with us, draws near and communicates to us as we open our hearts to Him, of His will and of His own loveliness. So He draws us closer to Himself and more truly wins our hearts’ affections. Prayer is thus an exercise designed not only for our satisfaction, but for His who so greatly loves us and desires our fellowship.
In this exercise we are also permitted to have fellowship with Him in the working out of His purposes in the earth. We are made to be “workers together with Him” in that which He desires to do, and which He does do in answer to our petitions, petitions which He Himself moves us to make. We are brought into harmony with Him as regards the outworking of His purposes, and in His desire that the Name of the Lord Jesus should be exalted. We are thus associated by Him with Himself in His working.
Then, too, having brought us into fellowship with Himself, He has brought us into fellowship with all who name His Name, who have part with us in this fellowship. Our prayers are not for ourselves alone, but for “all saints” (Eph. 6:18). We take upon ourselves the burden of their needs and of their griefs, and we give thanks to Him for the joys and blessings we see them experiencing. In this we rejoice with those who rejoice, and we sorrow with those who sorrow (Rom. 12-15), and our fellowship one with another is made more real. Divisions can hardly exist when the saints pray earnestly and lovingly for one another, nor can the harsh, critical, and unsympathetic spirit which tends to produce such divisions. Then, too, as we pray for those in the thick of the fight, we become in a very real sense “fellow-combatants with them” (Rom. 15:30).
Again, prayer is an expression of our deep dependence upon God in all which concerns ourselves or others. It is thus the confession that all is of Him, and that nothing is of ourselves. It is the exercise of, and a means of strengthening our faith in Him. This is the lesson which, as we know, He so earnestly desires to teach us: that without Him we can do nothing whatsoever. And along with that, He desires to teach us that there is nothing too hard for Him; that everything which is beyond our own abilities lies within the realm of His sovereign power. Prayer is thus a means by which He endeavours to teach us that which we so much need to learn: that we are not to trust in ourselves, but simply, wholly, and always in Him. And when we pray for others, it should remind us that, be they ever so talented in themselves, their blessing, and the blessing of any work into which He may have called them, is in no sense to be credited to them, but wholly to Him from whom it must moment by moment proceed if it is to be seen at all. The more we realize this fact, the more we will pray for our brethren; and the more we pray for them, the more will we realize this fact.
Finally, we may note that prayer is a means whereby we may more definitely discern the Lord’s working, and so give Him praise for what He does. Paul, in asking the Corinthian believers to pray for him in his sufferings for the Name of Christ, gives as his reason for such a request that, when they saw the answers to their petitions in Paul’s preservation, the many persons who had prayed might give thanks to Him who had so heard and answered their prayers (2 Cor. 1:11). So then, by this ministry, we are enabled to perceive God’s working, and to give to Him praise which we might not otherwise be moved to give. Prayer thus has as its ultimate aim, as do all phases of God’s ordering, the ascription to Him of the glory which is His due.
Thus, when considered in the light of Scripture, prayer can be seen to be not so entirely mysterious as it might at first appear. Well may we give God thanks for this great privilege which He has accorded to us.