Table of Contents
Part VII: One Man's Answers
Whose Prayers are Answered?
WE HAVE IN the
New Testament only one recorded request by the disciples that
the Lord teach them to do something, and that was how to pray.
This is surprising in a way, because prayer seems such a natural
thing to people who are neither proud nor irreligious, and the
disciples seem to have been humble men in their way; and they
were almost certainly members of some local synagogue where prayer
was regularly made both in public and in private. Some of them
at least had praying parents. Yet they seemed to have realized,
being daily in the Lord's company, that their own prayers were
somehow powerless, ill-conceived, misdirected (Luke 9:54!), and
probably peculiarly impersonal in tone. One day, after watching
Jesus at prayer, they seemed to have caught a glimpse of an entirely
new kind of communion with God and they asked Him to teach them
how to pray (Luke 11:1).
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Prayer is the child of God's privilege
and I believe it gives great pleasure to our Father in heaven.
pray is to defraud ourselves and to surrender in time the ability
to wield one of the mightiest weapons in the Christian's armory.
Some people argue that we don't need to pray, since God
knows our situation perfectly and, being what He is, will supply
all our needs (Philippians. 4:19). Indeed, if He has promised
to answer before we call (Isaiah 65:24), why do we need to call
at all? Why indeed?
And yet, the worst of all diseases
of the soul is detachment from God, whether by ignorance or by
neglect. If all our wants were to be supplied while we had no
thought of God, this could only confirm us in our detachment;
so what might otherwise be supposedly a state of blessed assurance
drifts easily into a condition of total indifference and becomes
occasion for spiritual decline.
contrast, one might then suppose that God would always encourage
our prayers by answering us at once. But we know He does not.
And we learn by experience that while some fall by the way in
discouragement, scarcely anything deepens and purifies a vital
faith as surely as perseverance in prayer, despite long disappointment.
So I should like to share a few
of the things I have personally discovered about praying: who
can pray, when one should pray, what to pray about, the form
of one's prayers, why prayer is unanswered sometimes, and even
where prayer is best offered -- whether in public or in
private. I am not suggesting that my answers to some questions
will satisfy those whose temperament is different; but they might
serve perhaps to explain why some of us form certain habits as
the result of experience which seem to others either not helpful
or even a hindrance. It might help our fellowship together in
the Lord to understand a little more clearly why there are differences
between us in our practices.
To begin with, we may consider
briefly whether effectual prayer is necessarily limited
to the child of God: and if not so limited, what advantage there
is for the Christian in this regard.
The Prayers of the Non-Christian
Many years ago
a friend and I found ourselves working on neighbouring farms
as hired men. We were both what might be called "healthy
pagans," but I also think we were both what could be described
as reverent in our attitude toward God. Among the books my friend
found at his farmhouse, one told the wonderful story of an Irish
woman who was totally illiterate and yet had marvellous answers
to her prayers. The woman's name was Ann Preston, and the book
was called The Life Story of an Irish Saint. If I remember
rightly, she had come over from Ireland somewhere about the turn
of the century and was employed as a servant in a well-to-do
household north of Toronto. Her answers to prayer were truly
extraordinary, and only in very recent years did the book
go out of print. My friend, Ted, read this book and was deeply
moved. He brought it to me to read, which I did. I was equally
stirred by it. We both agreed to see whether we too could get
such answers to prayer. My recollection is that Ted did not experience
the kind of answers which I did, though in due course he became
a far more mature Christian. But this was sometime later.
I subsequently found myself in the company of young Christians
of my own age in the University of Toronto within the framework
of an organization then known as TICCU (Toronto Intercollegiate
Christian Union), which is now known as IVCF (InterVarsity Christian
Fellowship), no one doubted at first that I knew the Lord because
I was still experiencing such specific and constant answers to
my prayers. But I knew that these people had had an experience
which I did not have, for I had no sense of sonship. I did not
think of God as my Father, I lacked assurance of salvation entirely,
and the Word of God was almost a closed book to my understanding.
All this changed, of course, when the Lord broke through my darkness
and revealed Himself to me as my Saviour. The nearness and reality
of His presence in those first weeks was something I shall never
forget. It was all so new. And thereafter whenever I prayed,
I felt as though my Father in heaven leaned forward personally
to attend to my concerns.
Now, I have recorded this because
I want to underscore the fact that an individual may indeed experience
concrete answers to his prayers even though he has no sense of
the Lord's presence and knows God only as He who answers prayer.
It is perhaps the only requisite for such an experience that
the non-Christian believe that God hears and answers (Hebrews
11:6). Let me give one or two illustrations from that early record,
dating around 1931.
One winter day I was skidding logs,
that is, driving a horse dragging the log from where the tree
had been felled up to the saw itself. I had a beautiful little
mare whom I knew well and had a real affection for. Queenie was
willing and fast. Through my carelessness I allowed her, pulling
for all she was worth and at some speed through the underbrush,
to run the end of the log she was dragging against a tree-stump
almost buried in the snow. The log stopped instantly and, unfortunately
for her, the trace did not break. The sudden shock was too much
for her chest muscles, and she tore them so badly that the vet
subsequently said she would never recover.
Needless to say, I felt broken-hearted,
for it really was my fault; and needless to say, the boss was
more than a little displeased. We managed to get Queenie back
to the stable and into her stall. The vet said, "If she
ever lies down, she'll never get up. The best thing really is
to shoot her." I asked the boss if he would leave her for
one day. I wanted to pray about it -- though I didn't tell him
so. After quitting time that evening, I went down to the
stable and put my hand on her breast and asked God if He could
heal her. Queenie was motionless, being
reluctant to move at
all because of the injury to her front legs. In the morning I
went down before breakfast to see whether she was still on her
feet. She was not only on her feet, but actually eating hay.
She moved over a little as I went in beside her, and though she
hobbled she didn't seem to be in pain. Naturally I told the boss
about it at breakfast, but I don't think he really believed anything
had happened except that he was surprised she was still standing.
Well, to make a long story short, three weeks later Queenie was
hitched up to a cutter and took the boss's children to school.
She was never again used for logging, but there was no evidence
in the subsequent months that she had suffered the slightest
A skeptic might say that perhaps
the vet was mistaken. Perhaps he was. But I had a succession
of answers to prayer like this that could not all have been the
result of misinterpretation. I remember buying a bicycle and
riding it back to the farm along a country road that at one point
cut through a hilltop which was all sand. In the summer the road
was all sand too, as loose as dry sand always is. I found it
impossible to ride through that two-hundred-foot section. One
day, as I came to it on the bicycle, I said to God, "You
can keep me on the bicycle." And, taking my hands off the
handlebars, I rode straight through it and almost experienced
a sense of being supported on either side by what I then supposed
must have been angels!
Yet I not only prayed specifically
upon occasion, but tried also to cover myself against contingencies.
Among my other duties during the winter was responsibility for
the watering and feeding, at an otherwise deserted homestead,
of some ninety Poll Angus steers, the wildest "critters"
imaginable. I used to pray that God would keep them together
when I drove them down to a running stream to water them. I had
to be particularly careful when the job was done to make sure
that three barnyard gates were all securely closed once they
were penned up again. One day as I rode away from the yard and
was about 150 to 200 feet from the last gate, which I supposed
I had closed behind me, I suddenly heard my name called very
distinctly. I stopped for a moment, wondering who had called,
and then went on again down the road, only to be called again.
This time I turned the horse around and looked toward the barnyard
some distance back up the road and saw, to my grief, that I had
not properly closed the gate and that it had swung wide open.
I quickly asked God to keep the cattle in until I could get back
to it and galloped my horse as fast as he would go. The cattle
simply stood around,
looking at the open gate,
but made no move to pass through it. I soon had it closed and
all was well. But there was no one there who might have called
my name. Yet had it not been called, the cattle might have been
all over the countryside by next afternoon when I would have
The record of those pre-Christian
years is filled with such things, which demonstrate clearly that
there is a real relationship between man and God as between creature
and Creator, which can be exploited and is exploited in wonderful
ways by those who do not yet know Him as Father nor the Lord
as Saviour. It should be remembered of Cornelius that we are
told specifically how his alms and his prayers both had "come
up" before God and were acceptable (Acts 10:1-4), even though
it can hardly be doubted he was not yet a saved man.
In his book The Origins of Religion
(p.137), Samuel Zwemer records prayers of non-Christians
from around the world which are wonderful in their perceptiveness,
in their humility, in their sense of unworthiness, and in their
expression of faith: and there is little doubt that they owe
nothing to Christian influence. Like a Delaware Indian before
going to war: "Great Spirit above! Have pity on my children
and on my wife. Let them not mourn for me.... Have pity on me
and protect my life." Or this, from a Galla of East Africa:
"To Thee, O God, we take our flight [in sleep]; do not take
Thy flight and go away from us." And this, from a Kekchi
of India: "Who is my father, who is my mother? Only Thou,
O God, Thou seest me and guardest me on all my path in darkness
and trouble. Thou, Lord of the valleys and the mountains."
An Algonquin Indian, dedicating his dwelling place: "I am
thankful, O Thou Great Spirit, that we have been spared to live
until now to purify with cedar smoke this our house, because
that has always been the rule in the ancient world since the
beginning of creation."
In the literature of antiquity,
especially in the Cuneiform and hieroglyphics of the Middle East,
there are many prayers which reveal a tremendous sense of dependence
upon God and of unworthiness in His sight, often written by men
in high positions. It seems to me that some of these prayers
cannot possibly have gone unanswered, the very wording of them
revealing -- as it often does -- a genuine sense of personal
contact with God to whom they are addressed.
So the question arises, "In
what sense is the Christian's position different?" What
did Jesus mean when He said (John 14:6), "No man cometh
unto the Father but by Me"? Did these ancient people go
to God through
Jesus Christ? That men
could pray in those days and end their prayers as we do today,
with the words "for the Lord's sake," is borne out
by the fact that Daniel did (Daniel 9:17):
Now, therefore, O our God, hear
the prayer of thy servant and his supplications, and cause Thy
face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the
While we have
no record of any pagan suppliant addressing himself to God through
such a Mediator, yet we do have many records from antiquity
of genuine prayers directed to God in such a way that the suppliant
clearly believed God is approachable. Certainly the prayers of
Cornelius were heard, as we have noted. I suggest that the Lord
was speaking much more precisely than we have normally assumed
when He avoided saying that no man goes to God except
through Him. Any man may approach God as a creature before his
Creator, but only a child of God can go to Him as Father and
he does so through the mediation of Jesus Christ. This was my
experience exactly. I went to God as a creature to his Creator,
and God in His goodness met me in the way. But I did not know
Him as my Father until I came to know Jesus Christ as my Saviour.
The point is a very important one,
I believe. There are people who are religious, devout, having
not the slightest doubt of the reality of God's existence and
His accessibility to man, yet who do not know Him as Father and
have no assurance whatever of salvation. Such people need conversion,
as I needed conversion -- and as I knew I needed conversion
once I had associated with some of the Lord's children. They
were deceived a little bit by my devoutness and answers to prayer,
but in my own heart I knew otherwise. It is easy to be misled.
I also consider the issue important
because we should never suppose for one moment that only Christians
can expect answers to prayer, or that when men in public office
sincerely engage in prayer they are merely pretending or fooling
themselves or wasting their time. We should never discourage
men from looking to God in faith for help in time of need: nor
should we encourage them in the belief that such activities will
compensate when their lives are assessed in the time of judgment.
Let us next
consider the exercise of prayer as a function of a normal healthy
life for the child of God speaking to his Father in heaven.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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