H. M. S. Richards Sr.
The Victory of Prayer
Key Thought: There is one thing certain— we shall never have God's righteousness unless we ask Him for it. We shall never find forgiveness for our sins and be justified from all things, we shall never enter into the experience of sanctification, and finally be glorified at the coming of our Saviour, unless we pray.
WHAT is prayer? As we think about it carefully, we see that all the many phases of true prayer are really included in the one idea of communion with God. And the more we consider it, the more wonderful the idea becomes.
Some years ago I used the chapters of the book Steps to Christ as radio-broadcast messages. There was a wonderful response from the public. People said they were the best broadcasts we had ever given. Of course, it was because they were word for word from the Spirit of Prophecy. And the chapter "The Privilege of Prayer" received the best public response of all in this series.
I have recently reread this great chapter, and it seems to me that the very gist of all the good things I have read in a dozen other books on prayer is in that one chapter. Notice the very first paragraph. The thought is this: God speaks to us through nature, through the revelation of the Holy Scriptures, through His providence, and by the influence of His Spirit. But that's not enough. We must speak to God; we must have personal communion with Him. But in order to do that, we must have something to say to Him. How true, how reasonable, how scriptural, is this introductory paragraph. Read the whole chapter on "The Privilege of Prayer." It would, I believe, be a great blessing to us during this Week of Prayer.
Next follow those never-to-be-forgotten words that we all know and love: "Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend" (page 93). That is what it ought to be. Is it so with your prayers, my friend and fellow believer?
The title of this Week of Prayer reading is "Victory Through Prayer." First, victory in our own personal lives. Second, victory for the church of God in its final conflict. This double victory can come only through God's power. It seems that anyone could see this and believe it. The strange thing is that most of us work on an opposite pattern. In spite of everything, we insist on acting as if our victory and the victory of God's church would come through our own unaided human efforts. We might as well settle it here and now that as far as winning a place in God's heaven, it cannot be done by human strength. We cannot try, strive, agonize, sacrifice, or labor hard enough to get there. Someone has said that there are two roads to heaven. One is the road of our own human righteousness and accomplishments; the other is the path of imputed righteousness, where God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The first path is very lonely, because no one has ever arrived in God's heaven, or ever will arrive, through his own efforts. The path of imputed righteousness is the pathway to heaven. But there is one thing certain— we shall never have God's righteousness unless we ask Him for it. We shall never find forgiveness for our sins and be justified from all things, we shall never enter into the experience of sanctification, and finally be glorified at the coming of our Saviour, unless we pray.
The power of God to live a Christian life here and now comes through prayer, and only through prayer. We read in the Psalms, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. . . . This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles" (Ps. 34:4-6).
Do you find yourself surrounded by strong temptations? Listen, here is a promise: "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). If we fall, whose fault is it? Certainly not God's. He will give us grace to help in every time of need. Jesus tells us to make our petitions to God in His name, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). Of course, this means that we should actually say, "For Christ's sake," or, "In the name of Jesus," but it means a great deal more than that. To pray in the name of Christ means to pray as one with Christ. Our mind must be the mind of Christ. We must desire that our desires actually be the desires of Christ.
Now, what are the essential conditions of effectual prayer? First of all, faith. "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. 21:22). Second, there must be a readiness to obey God. We read in Psalm 34:15, "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry." If there is a cherished sin in the life, it will prevent answers to prayer. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps. 66:18).
Another reason for a lack of power in prayer is that we have unholy desires, and our prayers are selfish. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3).
Also, effectual prayer must be diligent. "He [that is, God] is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
Sometimes prayer and fasting go together, as we read in Mark 9:28, 29.
Then we must pray in the will of God. "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt," were the words of Jesus Himself when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39).
But there is one thing that should always accompany our prayers, and that is thanksgiving. "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6).
Prayer is not only a privilege, but a God-given duty. None of us are excused from it no matter what we believe, or where we are, or how young we are, or how old we are. If we have come to the years of accountability, it is our duty to pray. God asks all men to pray. "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you," we read in James 4:8. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matt. 7:7).
Sooner or later all men will pray. "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come" (Ps. 65:2). Someday it will be too late, forever too late; but it is our privilege, our joy, and our duty to pray now.
May our response be that of David, who in his prayer to God said, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, ‘Thy face, Lord, will I seek’" (Ps. 27:8). Believing friend, does not your heart say the same as you read this? Do you not hear God saying, "Seek My face; come to Me in prayer and see what blessings you will receive"?
If you have children, you enjoy giving them good things, don't you? It gives you pleasure to present them with gifts. Jesus said: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matt. 7:11). Why not ask Him?
Listen to these wonderful words of one who knew what she was writing about: "The darkness of the evil one encloses those who neglect to pray. The whispered temptations of the enemy entice them to sin; and it is all because they do not make use of the privileges that God has given them in the divine appointment of prayer. Why should the sons and daughters of God be reluctant to pray, when prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence?" —Steps to Christ, pp. 94, 95.
Why not read over again the great Bible examples of prayer? Moses, at the crisis hour, praying before God for a loveless, hateful, rebellious people. Moses' prayer was a selfless prayer. He turned down the offer to make of himself a great nation. He prayed that God's name would be honored and the people delivered, and his prayer was heard (Ex. 32:7-14).
Job was delivered when he prayed for his friends (Job 42:10).
Daniel prayed, and the great prophecies were fulfilled and Israel returned from captivity to the Holy Land.
The apostle Peter's execution hour was set, but the church prayed through the night, and he was delivered by angel hands. (Acts 12:6)
The apostle Paul's life was a living prayer. It seemed that churches sprang up almost everywhere he lifted his heart to God.
Later in the Christian story George Whitefield, the famous English evangelist, prayed, "O Lord, give me souls, or take my soul!" Think of the work he did!
Henry Martyn, missionary to India, cried out, "Now let me burn out for God!" And so he did.
David Brainerd, missionary to the North American Indians, in the seventeen hundreds, prayed: "Lord, to Thee I dedicate myself. Oh, accept me, and let me be Thine forever! Lord, I desire nothing else; I desire nothing more." Seven days before he died, the last words in his diary were, "Oh, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen."
A few hours before his appearance before the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther prayed in great agony: "Do Thou, my God—do Thou, God—stand by me against all the world's wisdom and reason. Oh, do it! Thou must do it! Stand by me, Thou true, eternal God."
John Hunt, missionary to the Fiji Islands, where cannibalism and heathenism reigned at that time, prayed on his deathbed: "Lord, save Fiji, save Fiji! Save these people, O Lord. Have mercy upon Fiji. Save Fiji!"
All these, and scores and hundreds and thousands more, were men of prayer.
The Advent Movement was born in prayer. As God's people enter the scenes of the last days, they must be much in prayer. Prayer will be their refuge in the time of trouble. As we face those days we should be preparing our hearts for what they will bring.
In Gospel Workers, pages 254, 255, we read: "Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. No other means of grace can be substituted, and the health of the soul be preserved. Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Well-spring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience."
How can we bring light to the world if we do not have light in our own hearts? "It is only at the altar of God that we can kindle our tapers with divine fire. It is only the divine light that will reveal the littleness, the incompetence, of human ability, and give clear views of the perfection and purity of Christ. ... It is only as we ask in earnest prayer, that God will grant us our heart's desire."—Ibid., p. 255.
I never tire of the story illustration used on page 255 of Gospel Workers. It is this: "God's messengers must tarry long with Him, if they would have success in their work. The story is told of an old Lancashire woman who was listening to the reasons that her neighbors gave for their minister's success. They spoke of his gifts, of his style of address, of his manners. 'Nay,' said the old woman, 'I will tell you what it is. Your man is very thick with the Almighty.'
"How about you, preacher, elder, deacon, church or Sabbath school officer, teacher, student? What about you, believer? Are you "thick with the Almighty"? Do you really know anything about prayer? There is no substitute for it—neither sermons, gifts, offerings, study, labor, nor tears. Prayer is the secret of power, and there will be no victory without power. "From the secret place of prayer came the power that shook the world in the Great Reformation."—The Great Controversy, p. 210. What about God's worldwide work now? What about your home? What about your own heart?
And soon the time of trouble such as never was is to open upon us. We are told that "we shall need an experience which we do not now possess, and which many are too indolent to obtain."—Ibid., p. 622. We shall need a faith that will endure weariness, delay, and hunger. It will be a time like the time of Jacob's trouble, when he prevailed because he was persevering and determined. "His victory is an evidence of the power of importunate prayer. All who will lay hold of God's promises, as he did, and be as earnest and persevering as he was, will succeed as he succeeded. Those who are unwilling to deny self, to agonize before God, to pray long and earnestly for His blessing, will not obtain it."—Ibid., p. 621.
Did Jesus pray? He was often in prayer, and sometimes spent whole nights in prayer. His communion with His Father was uninterrupted, and because of that His life was one uninterrupted victory. We have not only His example and His promise but the glory of His atoning sacrifice upon the cross. There is our encouragement, our eternal hope. "We must gather about the cross. Christ and Him crucified should be the theme of contemplation, of conversation, and of our most joyful emotion. We should keep in our thoughts every blessing we receive from God, and when we realize His great love, we should be willing to trust everything to the hand that was nailed to the cross for us."—Steps to Christ, pp. 103, 104.
And so, at His invitation, and following His example, and in His name, let us pray!
Review and Herald, October 13, 1960
Please share your feedback on what you learn here.