What’s the Good of Prayer? Oswald Chambers
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Because We Need To (Luke 11:1)
For Human Wits Have an End (Psalm 108:13, 19, 28)
For Human Wills Have an End (Romans 8:26)
For Human Wisdom Has an End (James 1:5)
Prayer alters ME
Because We Must Do (James 5:16)
If We Would Know God (Matthew 6:8)
If We Would Help Men (John 14:12-13)
If We Would Do God’s Will (1 John 5:14-16)
Prayer alters OTHERS
Because We Can Do (Luke 18:1)
By Seeking (Luke 11:9-13; John 15:7)
Prayer alters CIRCUMSTANCES through me
It is only when a man flounders beyond any grip of himself and cannot understand things that he really prays. It is not part of the natural life of a man to pray. By “natural” I mean the ordinary, sensible, healthy, worldly-minded life. We hear it said that a man will suffer in his life if he does not pray; I question it. Prayer is an interruption to personal ambition, and no man who is busy has time to pray. What will suffer is the life of God in him, which is nourished not by food but by prayer. If we look on prayer as a means of developing ourselves, there is nothing in it at all, nor do we find that idea of prayer in the Bible. Prayer is other than meditation; it is that which develops the life of God in us. When a man is born from above (rv mg), the life of the Son of God begins in him, and he can either starve that life or nourish it. Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished. Our Lord nourished the life of God in Him by prayer; He was continually in contact with His Father. We generally look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves, whereas the Bible idea of prayer is that God’s holiness and God’s purpose and God’s wise order may be brought about, irrespective of who comes or who goes. Our ordinary views of prayer are not found in the New Testament.
When a man is in real distress he prays without reasoning; he does not think things out, he simply spurts it out—”Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses.” When we get into a tight place our logic goes to the winds, and we work from the implicit part of ourselves.
”Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.” Then why ask? Very evidently our ideas about prayer and Jesus Christ’s are not the same. Prayer to Him is not a means of getting things from God, but in order that we may get to know God. Prayer, that is, is not to be used as the petted privilege of a spoiled child seeking for ideal conditions in which to indulge his spiritual propensities ad lib.; the purpose of prayer is to reveal the Presence of God, equally present at all times and in every condition.
A man may say, “Well, if the Almighty has decreed things, why need I pray? If He has made up His mind, what is the use of me thinking I can alter His mind by prayer?” We must remember that there is a difference between God’s order and God’s permissive will. God’s order reveals His character; His permissive will applies to what He permits. For instance, it is God’s order that there should be no sin, no suffering, no sickness, no limitation and no death; His permissive will is all these things. God has so arranged matters that we are born into His permissive will, and we have to get at His order by an effort of our own, viz., by prayer. To be children of God, according to the New Testament, does not mean that we are creatures of God only, but that we grow into a likeness to God by our own moral character.
I question whether the people who continually ask for prayer meetings know the first element of prayer. It is often an abortion of religious hysterics, a disease of the nerves taking a spiritual twist. Jesus says we are to pray in His name, i.e., in His nature, and His nature is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost when we are born from above (rv mg; see Luke 11:13; Romans 5:5). Again, Jesus did not promise to be at every prayer meeting, but only at those “where two or three are gathered together in My name,” i.e., in His nature (Matthew 18:20). Jesus Christ does not pay any attention to the gift of “religious gab,” and His words—”But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking,” refer not to the mere repetition and form of words, but to the fact that it is never our earnestness that brings us into touch with God, but our Lord Jesus Christ’s vitalising death. (See Hebrews 10:19)
Our Lord in His teaching regarding prayer never once referred to unanswered prayer; He said God always answers prayer. If our prayers are in the name of Jesus, i.e., in accordance with His nature, the answers will not be in accordance with our nature, but with His. We are apt to forget this, and to say without thinking that God does not always answer prayer. He does every time, and when we are in close communion with Him, we realise that we have not been misled.
”Ask, and it shall be given you.” We grouse before God, and are apologetic or apathetic, but we ask very few things; yet what a splendid audacity a child-like child has! and our Lord says, ”Except ye . . . become as little children. . . .” Jesus says, “Ask, and God will do.” Give Jesus Christ a chance, give Him elbow-room, and no man ever does it until he is at his wits’ end. During the war many a man prayed for the first time in his life. When a man is at his wits’ end, it is not a cowardly thing to pray, it is the only way to get in touch with Reality. As long as we are self-sufficient and complacent, we don’t need to ask God for anything, we don’t want Him; it is only when we know we are powerless that we are prepared to listen to Jesus Christ and to do what He says.
Then again our Lord says, ”If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will,” i.e., what your will is in. There is very little our wills are in, consequently it is easy to work up false emotions. We intercede in a mechanical way, our minds are not in it. When we see a man going wrong, it is a false way to “buttonhole” him and tell him about it; Jesus Christ says, Come and tell Me, and I will give you life for him that sins not “unto death” (see 1 John 5:16).
Be yourself exactly before God, and present your problems, the things you know you have come to your wits’ end about. Ask what you will, and Jesus Christ says your prayers will be answered. We can always tell whether our will is in what we ask by the way we live when we are not praying.
The New Testament view of a Christian is that he is one in whom the Son of God has been revealed, and prayer deals with the nourishment of that life. One way it is nourished is by refusing to worry over anything, for worry means there is something over which we cannot have our own way, and is in reality personal irritation with God. Jesus Christ says, ”Don’t worry about your life, don’t fear them which kill the body; be afraid only of not doing what the Spirit of God indicates to you.”
”In every thing give thanks.” Never let anything push you to your wits’ end, because you will get worried, and worry makes you self-interested and disturbs the nourishment of the life of God. Give thanks to God that He is there, no matter what is happening. Many a man has found God in the belly of hell in the trenches during the days of war, i.e., they came to their wits’ end and discovered God. The secret of Christian quietness is not indifference, but the knowledge that God is my Father, He loves me, I shall never think of anything He will forget, and worry becomes an impossibility.
It is not so true that “Prayer changes things” as that prayer changes me, and then I change things; consequently we must not ask God to do what He has created us to do. For instance, Jesus Christ is not a social reformer; He came to alter us first, and if there is any social reform to be done on earth, we must do it. God has so constituted things that prayer on the basis of Redemption alters the way a man looks at things. Prayer is not a question of altering things externally, but of working wonders in a man’s disposition. When you pray, things remain the same, but you begin to be different. The same thing when a man falls in love, his circumstances and conditions are the same, but he has a sovereign preference in his heart for another person which transfigures everything. If we have been born from above (rv mg) and Christ is formed in us, instantly we begin to see things differently—”If any man is in Christ, there is a new creation” (rv mg).
Heaven above is brighter blue,
The good of praying is that it gets us to know God and enables God to perform His order through us, no matter what His permissive will may be. A man is never what he is in spite of his circumstances, but because of them. Circumstances, as Reader Harris once said, are like feather beds—very comfortable to he on top of, but immensely smothering if they get on top of you. Jesus Christ, by the Spirit of God, always keeps us on top of our circumstances.
How beautiful this undisturbed morning hour is with God!
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O Lord, this day my soul would stay upon Thee as Creator of the world, and upon our Lord Jesus Christ as Creator of His life in me. Oh for the power of Thy Spirit to adore Thee in fuller measure!
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“What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation. . . .” Can I think of anything so gracious and complete in surrender and devotion and gratitude as to take from Thee? O Lord, I would that I had a livelier sense of Thee and of Thy bounties continually with me.
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O Lord, this day may Thy beauty and grace and soothing peace be in and upon me, and may no wind or weather or anxiety ever touch Thy beauty and Thy peace in my life or in this place.
Lecture: Bible Training College, April 6, 1915