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

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...