The general classes of people for whom Paul asked our intercession have been considered. A very important inquiry now presents itself: Are there special persons indicated by Christ's commands or practices who stand out with preeminence as persons for whom we should pray?
When we study Christ's own practices we find five classes of people for whom He prayed or for whom He taught us to pray. One was the sick. He Himself healed the sick, using miracles.
These miracles were Christ's advertisements. They called attention to His wondrous power, His wondrous words, and His wondrous personality. He might have used heralds to sound a trumpet and get the ears of the crowd whom He then would address. But He preferred to present Himself directly to men in the deeds of healing. Such healing was a blessing in itself. Such healing evidenced the kindliness of His heart and made clear His purpose to relieve distress. Such healing also, from its marvelous power, marked Him as the unique One who could not be confused with any other.
Only once, if then, did Christ pray over the sick. One was brought to Him that was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. Christ took him aside, looked up to heaven, sighed, and healed him. "Looked up to heaven." That is the only phrase in Christ's life containing even a hint that He prayed over the diseased. He seems never to have asked Heaven's aid to heal anyone. He always claimed that He had power in Himself to heal. That one upward look we think was intended to assist the observer. It helped the observer to associate the deed of healing with God above, and so it helped him to believe that the power whereby Christ wrought the miracle, was divine.
But while Christ did not pray for the sick, He intimated that we should pray for them. A lunatic boy was brought by the boy's father to Christ. The disciples had not been able to heal him. Christ healed the boy. The disciples inquired why they had failed to heal him. Christ answered that their failure was due to their lack of faith. But He immediately added that a disease of this kind would not leave a man except "by prayer."
This reference to prayer seems to be a direct intimation that Christ expects us to pray for the sick. It warrants us in bringing all our weak and suffering ones to Him that they may be made whole. Christ Himself never refused the prayer addressed to Him by loving hearts for the healing of disease. "He healed them all." Likewise He bade all who were weary and heavy laden come to Him, assuring them that He would give them rest.
A second class for whom Christ taught us to pray were children. He did this by direct example. As Matthew states it, "Mothers brought young children to Christ that He should put His hands on them and pray."
The significance of this scene is often lost. Many think of it as though Christ merely placed His hands on their heads and said some kindly words over the children. No. He "prayed" for them. A blessing spoken by a godly man over a child is indeed in its very nature a prayer. Accordingly it is true that were John the Beloved here today, and were he, placing his hands on the forehead of a little child presented to him, to say, "May God ever take care of you, and keep you, little child"—that blessing would be a prayer.
But when Christ "prayed" over little children there must have been, it would seem, distinct intercession for them. We wonder what petitions He offered! We wonder whether the hearts of the mothers were satisfied when they heard the special wishes He expressed for the children. The whole setting of the scene makes us feel that He did not ask for money, place, power or health. Rather He asked that they might be heavenly minded, so that they should do Heaven's work upon earth, and then do Heaven's work in glory.
There never can be too great and too earnest prayer for little children. "He who helps a child helps humanity with a distinctiveness, with an immediateness, which no other help given to human creatures in any other stage of their human life can possibly give again." Children have in themselves the making or unmaking of the world. Even while they are little children the characteristics of their lives are largely decided. Almost before parents and friends realize the fact, they are eight, ten and twelve years old. In most cases, by this time, character has taken its general bent. We must labor and pray very early if we are to reach children. It was so in Palestine when Christ was there. The boy at twelve became a citizen of Israel and entered the church. The girl at twelve was well on her way toward marriage. The statistics of the cities where great masses of children center, tell us that street boys are started upon their careers even before they are twelve. Captains of police, matrons of reform schools, and city missionaries report that character, good or bad, is stamped upon children even before the children reach their teens.
All students of the religious experience make similar report. The fathers and mothers who have children to be nurtured, the school teachers who have scholars to be guided, the instructors who through five days, and the nurses who through seven days are charged with the care of young lives, have a very grave responsibility. As goes the child, so goes the world. If Satan can hurt children, he hurts the kingdom of heaven, and all that that kingdom stands for. Instead of our being careless concerning children, we should be solicitous and even prayerful for them. Our prayer should be in the very spirit and to the very ends that characterized Christ's prayer for them—that they may belong to, and do the service of, the kingdom of heaven.
The third class for whom Christ taught us to pray were disciples. This prayer also He taught us by direct example.
Sometimes He prayed for a particular disciple, as, for Peter: sometimes for the Twelve, the special ones who in His day were charged with heralding His truth: and sometimes for the whole body of believers, present and future alike. He carried Christian people on His heart. He felt that the greatest responsibility that ever devolved upon men was devolved upon them. As the Father had sent Him into the world, even so did He send them into the world. They were to be His representatives. They were to bring forth much fruit to His glory. So great was their mission that before He chose the twelve He sought God's blessing in prayer. Later, as He was to ascend from Olivet, and leave His followers, He prayed for those followers.
Christian people need prayer. They are in the world to continue today the very work which Christ when here began. They are to seek the needy, relieve the oppressed, deliver the imprisoned. They are to comfort the sorrowful and to rescue the sinner. Every soul of all humanity is to be cheered and brightened by them. Service is their distinctive calling. It is for this they are chosen as Christ's disciples. Prayer then should be offered that every communicant, every officer, every worker in the Christian Church should answer to this call to service. "I am glorified in them," Christ said, and according to the faithfulness with which His disciples do His work is Christ glorified among men.
The three classes of persons that have been mentioned as those for whom Christ taught us to pray, are distinct classes by themselves. We pray for them because we infer from His words or example that we should do so. Now comes the fourth class for whom we are to pray. This fourth class is one for whom we are positively commanded to pray.
"Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you" Christ said. What He charged us to do He Himself did. On Calvary, when men maligned and tortured Him, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" The people for whom He thus prayed were the inflamed and passionate multitudes that surrounded the cross. Prominent among them were the priests. The Scripture reads that these priests stirred up the people to shout "Crucify!" and that the priests persuaded the people to choose Barabbas rather than Christ.
The Ober-Ammergau peasants, when they place the scene of the crucifixion on the stage, show the priests moving actively among the crowd. The priests whisper suspicions and breathe out hatred, until the popular mind is alarmed and even embittered. The peasants make, as does the Scripture, the priests the aggressive party in the crucifixion.
When Christ prayed, "Forgive them," He prayed for these very priests who despitefully used Him and persecuted Him. A few days later Pentecost came. Thousands of hearts turned to God in penitence. "And a great company of priests believed." The prayer indeed was answered!
It is not easy to pray for those that abuse us. We must have control of self and love to others to offer such prayer. The absence of bitterness is not enough. There must be the presence of sympathy. Christ was wonderfully wise when He commanded this prayer. Divided counsels are a hindrance in any good cause. So long as jealousies existed between the army officers of our civil war, that war was a failure. So long as officers asserted their own dignity to the detriment of their fellow officers, there could not be success. Animosities had to be surrendered. Loyalty to a single commander had to be cherished. Then the war hastened to its close.
We are to pray for the divided camps of Christendom. We are to pray that dissensions among God's people shall cease. Like Moses of old, we are to rejoice when others than ourselves have inspiration from the Almighty, and say, "Let Eldad and Medad be among the prophets. Would God that all the people might prophesy!"
The hurt to a man's own heart in cherishing hatred is fearful. Had Christ's spirit on the cross been bitter, the cross would have been the place of His shame, not His glory. He could not have died in peace unless His heart was sweet. Hate is folly. It discolors vision and biases judgment. It makes the man of war nurse his wrongs and sulk in his tent when he should be on the battle line. Nothing has hindered the advance of Christ's army more than the unkind feelings cherished by Christians towards those with whom they disagree. Such feelings are to be overpowered with love. Every denomination must sacrifice its cherished distinctions rather than let those distinctions be a hindrance to Christ's cause. Whatever embitters us against other Christians must be surrendered. Words like "Calvinism" and "Arminianism," intended to be sources of love, must never be sources of hate. Special doctrines must not become idols to us and so stand between God and the world's good. Christian men cannot afford to quarrel. Quarreling incapacitates for usefulness. Quarreling hardens the heart to the reception of truth. In praying for those who despitefully use us we do not pray that God will humble them to our special views or our special methods. Rather we pray that God will lead them as shall seem wisest and best to Him, and will use them to His own infinite glory.
The last persons for whom Christ charged us to pray were laborers for His harvest Field.
Here is a prayer that stands out by itself. It introduces us into a new realm of thought. Again and again this prayer is forgotten. Christ saw the multitudes. They came from cities and villages. They were pitifully ignorant. They were pitifully weak. They were like sheep that do not know where pasturage and safety are—like shepherdless sheep that are exposed to every danger. These multitudes made direct appeal to His heart. His heart answered to that appeal. What heart is there, if it have the least degree of tenderness, that does not pity the misled, the mistaken, and the imperiled? Seeing the multitudes and knowing their need, He said, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few."
What Christ then said many another has since repeated. "So many needy lives in the world and so few people to help them!" The deeper we see into the hearts of men, the more we realize their sorrows and their sins. There is not a village so small but that in it there are souls to be visited, comforted, and uplifted. Not a town so orderly but that in it there are vices to be fought. Not a city so evangelized but that in it multitudes are on the way to destruction. Who shall purify the homes of squalor, who take the children from the streets and save them, who protect the boys and girls of sixteen and direct their youthful energy into holy pleasures? The market places need righteousness, the courtrooms need justice, the schools need consecration, the churches need thousands upon thousands of workers. "Come over and help us," is the cry that is ringing out from multitudes that no man can number. Politics needs integrity, government needs faithfulness, the army and the navy need spirituality. Missionaries everywhere are calling for men and women to enter unoccupied fields.
It is startling to consider that the one great prayer laid upon Christ's people as a people is this prayer for laborers. In general terms we say each day, "Thy kingdom come!" In specific terms we are to say, "Send forth laborers into thy harvest." Praying for our enemies is usually a help to our personal sanctification. But praying for laborers is a help to the whole world's salvation.
"Today, as always, the great lack of the Kingdom is laborers." Every Christian enterprise laments because so few will help in its work. Every church is asking for teachers for the youth, who, like William E. Dodge, will lead souls to Christ. Merchant in New York City as he was, this man so knew and so taught the Bible that more than one hundred persons declared that he had brought them to the Christian life.
If men and women in one city like Chicago would enter dwellings, sitting down as a friend, cherishing interest in every individual child and beautifying the home, ten thousand of them could find opportunity for usefulness. A home thus made restful and attractive might prove a saving blessing to the father and the elder sons as they return at night.
The word "laborers," as Christ used it, is not to be limited to any particular set or sets of people. Laborers may be those who speak or those who write: may be those who give counsel, or money, or influence, or time. All who are engaged in efforts for the welfare of humanity are "laborers." It is true that Columbus, not Isabella, discovered America. But it is also true that unless Isabella had put her jewels at the use of Columbus, Columbus would not have discovered America. The direct and indirect laborers in God's harvest field are now very many. We name all men laborers whose purpose it is to elevate statesmanship, or purify literature, or sanctify commerce. Wherever there are those who fight against sin and strive to rescue the perishing, there are God's laborers. In homes, factories, railways, farms, there are great multitudes of such.
But granted that there are these multitudes thus engaged in their diversified efforts for human good, still the one prayer Christ commanded us to offer for "laborers" needs always to be upon our lips.
So many men brought up in Christian surroundings, are not "laborers!" They go to Alaska. Their single purpose is to get gold. Their interests are wholly selfish. As a result of their selfishness their influence upon the natives is destructive. Were they "laborers" how different their influence would be!
So with many of the troops that go to the Philippines. They drink, they carouse, they carry evil with them. So with many of the merchants that enter the treaty ports of China. They relax their principles. They live impurely. How they disgrace Christianity! How they hinder the missionary!
Suppose, merchants as they are, they were in China as "laborers!" What a blessing, instead of a curse, they would be!
The great purpose of every Christian home is to raise up "laborers." The one specific prayer Christ taught fathers and mothers to offer concerning their children is that they may be "laborers." It is to this end that parents are to feed them, protect them, educate them. Children fail of their glory unless they become "laborers." Parents fail of their responsibility unless they beseech God to equip their children for His service.
The words "send forth" are in the Greek one word. That word, used by Christ, is a very strong word. It means "drive out"—"thrust out." It is the very word applied to Christ when He, finding the Temple occupied by money changers and those who sold doves, "cast out" those intruders. It is also the word used when Christ "cast out" devils. Parents, pastors, and teachers are to pray that God will "thrust out" those dear to them into the harvest field. They are to pray that God will send such an irresistible conviction into their hearts as will compel them to do the labor of the harvest. "May my child have no rest until he is Thy laborer." So may we, so should we pray.
Yes, unless a family, a church, an institution exists to raise up laborers, it fails of its mission. All teaching, all friendship, all art, all literature answer to their supreme end when they help create Christian "laborers."
We are to pray that thousands upon thousands of laborers may be thrust forth. They are needed in America and in Africa. They are needed in every school, business, and church in the world. May we never, never forget that there is but one specific prayer which we are charged by Christ to offer concerning His kingdom. That prayer is, that God "would thrust forth laborers into His harvest."
Taken from James McClure's A Mighty Means of Usefulness: A Plea For Intercessory Prayer, (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1902), pp. 38-52.