Man's Difficulty Concerning Prayer

—and not to faint.

— St. Luke 18:1

What are we to think concerning prayer for others? If the fitness of answering prayer lies in the praying of him who prays, the attitude necessary to reception does not belong to those for whom prayer is made, but to him by whom it is made. What fitness then can there be in praying for others? Will God give to another for our asking what he would not give without it? If we believe that God knows every man’s needs, and will, for love’s sake, not spare one pang that may serve to purify the soul of one of his children, then how can we think he will in any sort alter his way with one because another prays for him? The prayer would arise from nothing in the person prayed for—why should it influence God?

The argument I know not how to answer. I can only, feeling all the difficulty, say “Yet I believe I may pray for my friend—for my enemy—for anybody! There must be some genuine, essential good and power in the prayer of one man for another to the maker of both.” The Lord himself prayed to his Father for those the Father loves because they have received his Son. Those who believe in Jesus will be satisfied, in the face of the incomprehensible, that in what he does, reason and right must lie; but not therefore do we understand. At the same time, though I cannot explain, I can show some ground upon which, even had he not been taught to do so, but left alone with his heart, a man might yet pray for another.

Commentary

In The Face of the Incomprehensible
by Dave Roney

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
— Luke. 18:1

“Those who believe in Jesus will be satisfied, in the face of the Incomprehensible, that in what He does, reason and right must lie; but not therefore do we understand.”

In the short parable of the widow and the unjust judge we have hitherto looked at the Lord's final words; “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  Now we turn to His first words, an exhortation, that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  The brief intervening verses are His illustrative method of trying to make what He is saying clear; let us exclude the actual parable and look at that toward which it points:

And he told them they... 'ought always to pray and not lose heart... Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'” 

Any true petition is made with at least some hope that it will be granted, be it made to the worst of tyrants or to the best God; such “hope” is, by another name, “faith.”  Faith waivers, exists, somewhere between the boundaries of two absolutes, that either of utter despair and abject hopelessness, or of absolute certitude; I say faith waivers, for what man's faith is absolutely constant, without any hills and valleys?  Therefore, the Lord's “pray and not lose heart” is qualified by His question; will His followers always pray, never lose heart?; the implied answer is that they will not and, therefore, He continues with the rhetorical question “...will He find faith on earth?”

The question is rhetorical because He does not expect His men to answer it, only think about what it means.  He uses only the barest amount of words to make His point; He is not suggesting the possibility that there will be no faith in the world when He returns—though St. Luke does not allude to it, I think He speaks more here of the quality rather than the quantity of faith.  All men are men of faith and that is inescapable; life as we know it would be impossible apart from faith.  Even the most rank, God-rejecting atheist, if he be reading these words has faith that the words have dependable definitions and that the chair he is sitting in will support his weight; and though he be no engineer, knows nothing of stresses and loads, he nonetheless automatically has faith the bridge he drives over today will hold fast as he crosses over it.  There is no person ever who is not a person of faith.

So the answer to the Lord's rhetorical question is yes, He will find faith on the earth when He returns, will find it everywhere and in every person.  Faith is not the issue, the objects of faith are and, depending on the reliability of the person or thing into which faith is invested, coupled with our own perception of its dependability, results the degree of our faith.  Faith, obviously, is easily misplaced, awarded to people and things which are unreliable; it is this placing of faith in people and things which are not worthy of our faith, and being then failed by them, disappointed, that faith in the Incomprehensible is first undermined, those other people and things which are lower, tangible, becoming the foundation for our incertitude, leading to rejection, of the highest things. 

But let us look deeper into ourselves, for even though we have faith in God how do we have our faith?  Is our faith for the hereafter greater than our faith for the moment?  That is, are we more sure  of faith in the future sense of “when the Son of Man comes” than we are of Him until He comes?  When we think, as the hymn says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,” do we really mean “I am sure that when He comes He will do me good, but in the meanwhile He doesn't answer my prayers, even though my very life depends on it?”

Of course, as long as our faith remains untried, we would never admit to such; but many are the believers who have turned back and followed Him no more because of severe testing.  I know a man whose mother was, when he was yet a young lad, stricken with fatal cancer, and at Christmastime he prayed earnestly that God would heal her—that would be the best Christmas present he could receive!—but though his very life depended on it, as a loving little boy might well think, and though he was utterly sincere in his prayer for such a good thing, she died; and when she died, and God had not answered his prayer for her recovery, he turned away from God and to this day, many years later, remains bitter, an avowed atheist.

There are two forms of atheism, the avowed type and the practical type; believers might never subscribe to the former of these, but how many of us, when our prayers are unanswered (as we think) are of the practical type, admitting to the reality of God, believing in Him, but denying Him His potency as God?  In such case are we not walking contradictions, atheistic believers, those of little faith?  Have you anyone in your life of whom you say “I love him, but I do not trust him?”  And shall we think so little of God that, when He does not grant our petitions as we see fit, we continue to hold to an academic, or intellectual, belief but lose practical faith in Him? 

Let us look to Christ, not only as Savior, Lord, King, but also for Example.  Did we not know that He had desires which were unmet?  And did ever anyone pray with such profound earnesty as Him?  Was any ever more in the will of God than He?  He prays “I desire this, but even so I submit My will to Your will.  And if Your will, O Father, differs from My own, then let Your will be done, and I will forget Myself and will to will what You will for Me!”

Does He ever pray for a thing which the Father would not otherwise do, and the Father respond to Him and grant it?  I am sure of it; for our God is no deterministic god who will not listen or respond to our righteous petitions.  In my own life I have discovered that when my will is surrendered to His will my prayers are always answered, that at times His grace is sufficient and I recognize it, and at others the sealed door suddenly swings open and what I desired from Self and was denied suddenly by the crucifixion of Self is awarded.  What I desire from Self He may give me as well; He may do so to teach me not to desire from Self.

What good earthly father, when his little child asks him for a thing which is good, is not tempted to give it to him, and does give it if he can afford to, and if it is in the best interest of love that it be given?  And can an earthly father be better than our great heavenly Father?  I see in our Father a great anticipation to give us His best; that He often is patient to wait for us to ask, in fact longing for us to ask, that He might then proceed and give; for in such case we will know that He hears us and our faith is thus strengthened and made joyous in Him.  And He always answers our prayers in one way or another, even though if not in the way we expected, even though we may think He does not hear.  In this He is also patient, helping us to grow, to depend, to trust, to have increasing faith in Him by trials, by poverty, by ache of heart, by living without what we would have; He is helping us to die to Self, and as we learn to sacrifice Self to Him His joy is growing for us and in us.

“What fitness then can there be in praying for others?  Will God give to another for our asking what He would not give without it?  If we believe that God knows every man's needs, and will, for love's sake, not spare one pang that may serve to purify the soul of one of His children, then how can we think He will in any sort alter His way with one because another prays for him?”

MacDonald answers “The argument I know not how to answer.”  He does not say there is no answer but that He does not understand how to answer; he only knows that somehow God grants what we ask and sometimes does so where, apart from our petition, He would not.  The question is whether or not we are praying for that which is within the will of God, including His time, His method, relying on His Incomprehensible Wisdom, Love, and purposes.  You might, in childlike innocence, pray that every person in the world would be saved; you might, having prayed in earnest sincerity, become disillusioned when you see the broken world continuing as it was before you prayed; it is a righteous prayer, and indeed the world will be saved, but not in the moment or manner you think.

As a small boy I began putting two and two together in childlike logic: If Satan is the source of so much evil in the world, wouldn't it be a good thing if he were to be saved?  And thus I prayed for Satan's salvation; it did not happen, my boyish faith was shaken; after many years I have come to believe that in time even fallen Lucifer will be restored, that God heard my boyhood prayer and will answer it in time, in His time, by His method, according to His Incomprehensible Love and the totality of the Victory which has been registered, now progressing, in the Atonement of Christ Jesus.  All things are from Him, and through Him, and to Him—and my faith is made sure by what “all” means.  To me “all” is absolute inclusiveness of everything created.

Every hearts' desire is included in the Victory of our Atoner to establish forever the invincible, consummating, utterly victorious Love of God over all the works of His hands.  He will sort out the wheat from the chaff in our prayers by means of our great Comforter and Guide, the Holy Spirit Who, in our behalf, takes those prayers in His hands, making groanings and utterings over them which are presently Incomprehensible to us, and ascending to the throne of God with them, purifying our prayers and making them right, presentable to God, the crooked things in them made straight, for which we are even now unaware.  This Spirit is continually making intercession for us in this manner, or much higher and better than I can even suppose: Even as a loving mother might clean her little child up and dress him in proper attire before that lad should make a court appearance before his king, so I think the Holy Spirit is ever doing for us as regards our praying, for we who know not how we ought to pray.  Thus:

I can only, feeling all the difficulty, say “Yet I believe I may pray for my friend—for my enemy—for anybody!  There must be some genuine, essential good and power in the prayer of one who prayed to his Father for those the Father loves because they [i.e. the praying believers] have received His Son.  Those who believe in Jesus will be satisfied, in the face of the Incomprehensible, that in what He does, reason and right must lie; but not therefore do we under stand.”

Yes, then! Let us pray and continue to pray for our neighbors; let us not grow weary, neither faint of heart in the praying, nor pray with expectation that God will answer in the way or at the time we think but by faith believe and be sure that He will answer speedily according to His method and time.  Our prayers, being surrendered to Him, are priceless gems to our Father; He will lose not a one but will treasure and honor them each and all in His good time and by the method which is best. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?”  He will find it everywhere; among the children of His Father He will find the faith that is true and dear to His great saving heart.  It will be the faith of those who know but little and therefore place their trust in Him Who is Incomprehensible in majesty, in goodness, in love, in faithfulness to them.

 

Faith on Earth...
“...and not to faint (become weary, lose heart)”—Luke 18:1

by Dave Roney

The depth, and the multitudinous facets, of what we are here approaching can not be summed in any single article; I've written this particular commentary several times, which is my habit with each, and finally arrived at this paltry offering, leaving out the majority of thought, yet from what remains am hopeful that the reader will glean some small benefit.

The particular aspect of it herein to be addressed is this: Prayer for others in whom there is little, or nothing apparent, which would commend them to God.  Lest anyone think such needful prayer to be academic in nature as from the intellect, or mechanical as by godly discipline alone to do it, let us be most practical; such praying as that of which I here speak comes at the deathly expense of our hearts rent, our spirits brought low, of an ongoing agony of soul—for I have in mind, in particular, those among our friends, family, and neighbors whom we love terribly but who by their lives, what they say and do, show us that their estrangement is acute, seemingly hopeless, ruining and continuing to ruin themselves in ever more desperate degrees even though our prayers are made with sufficient force to bring down the very heavens as though it were a shattered dome.

So it often is that our prayers for such as these go for years without any visible balm, bringing neither relief in the lives of the ones for whom we earnestly pray, nor for our own tortured souls; yet, we continue as we ought for, we are sure, our Father is hearing and feeling with us, and receiving to His ear and heart our petitions, and for this cause we say: “The attitude necessary to reception does not belong to those for whom prayer is made.”

While the Prodigal was away, making himself ever more miserable, do you not think that for him, in whom there was nothing to commend him to God, the sainted father was not also in a different way miserable in his praying for the son, and increasingly more piteous with the passing of time?  And is it not also true that while the life of wine and women was availed to him by a slender purse fast being emptied, that this Prodigal was for a season merry, or thought himself so, without concern or care for the father who's entire attention was by unrequited love riveted on him?  Unrequited love?  The most forlorn condition in all of heaven and earth and under the earth!  To send out love's dove only to have it return, having found no place to rest its feet!  Do we not, as this father, have children who have by degrees followed after the Prodigal son?  And are not we, as he, brokenhearted?  Would we not, as was the Apostle willing, give our own souls for the welfare of our beloved?  Ah, the agony of love!  A Savior praying “Forgive them!”  An Apostle willing to barter his own soul for that of his people!  A father suffering for his Prodigal!  And we, following their examples, suffering the torments brought upon us by the unlovely whom we desperately love!

With what brevity I can, allow me to address the text before us; it is found in St. Luke (18:1-8).  The first and the eighth verses serve as bookends, and the parable between are the Lord's way of helping the disciples understand His meaning.  He says, “...they ought always to pray and not lose heart... Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  This opening and closing of the passage is its essence; the parable itself serves only to clarify what is essential.

The first verse is instructive, the latter rhetorical.  Will there be faith on the earth?  Yes!  As long as there is prayer there will be faith; for the essence of faith is the believing as fact the things promised but not evident, and the believing is possible only through communication, which is relationship, with God, and the sweet unseen assurances He, by the Spirit, swells within our bosoms as a gathering tide rushing headlong over the heinous obstacles of our sight.  If God is faithful, we will only know it to the degree that we are faithful to Him; the occasional visitor to His throne will in every case be well received, but it is only those who are intimate with Him that sit His lap and fondle His face as they rejoice to call Him Abba, Daddy, Father.  It is for the faithful the assurances concerning things that are not, through faith considered as though they were, that behind the thunderous cumulus there is a bright sun shining.

Why does our Lord thus instruct?  Surely out of a dire need, for can you discover anywhere that the disciples prayed, even once, while He was in their midst?  What were they doing when He was in His Garden torment of prayer, but sleeping while their Master agonized!  In our parable at hand, the Lord used the example of a despicable worldly judge, a man who cared not for others, whose ear was bent only by the importunity of an abused woman; there is nothing to give us suspicion that either he or she was godly.  Our Lord has used base character examples to exalt a divine truth.  If a wicked earthly judge will do what is fit to be done by the pleadings of a woman perhaps no better than he, then what do you suppose of God and the granting of His saints' requests?  Could this judge, or even the finest of earthly judges, be better than God?  Shall not God do from devoted Love what a man does as a necessary and unavoidable duty?

It was by her insistence that the woman in the parable was able, through pestiferous persistence, to finally gain the ear, and the desired result, from this judge.  How is it with our God?  Shall not His eye, hand, and heart be instantly turned to our desires when first we raise a tiny finger to Him, seeking His grasp, longing for His strength and praying His resolve to conform to our humble desire?  In every case yes, provided our will has been submitted to His Will, even as did and does the Son of God.  A good servant can influence the decision of a good earthly master, and a mother can implore with success her Son to turn water to wine; it is obvious to me that the Mind of God can dwell in its perfections, yet be turned by the crying of obedient and Christlike children.  To those who suppose this cannot be, “The argument I know not how to answer.”  To those who would ask intellection, I can only say that “I cannot explain.”  But in admitting as much, am I not also answering the rhetorical question of our Lord, “...will He find faith on earth?”  Yes!  As long as His saints pray and do not despair in it; for faith is hope even when there is no tangible, nor even intelligible, reason to hope...