By S.D. Gordon
The Greatest Doing Is Praying.
The greatest of all things we can do is to pray.
Jesus lived a life of prayer. All that He did and said grew out of His prayer. There is no way of knowing exactly how far it was so. But the more I study His life the stronger grows the impression that His teaching and activity, which form the greater part of these Gospel pages, were actually less than His praying. He seems to have put prayer first. All the rest was an outgrowth of it. He was on a world-winning errand. And this was what He thought of prayer. The emphasis of Jesus' personal habit was laid upon prayer.
The Holy Spirit is a prayer-spirit. He is the Master-Intercessor. He breathes into us the spirit of prayer, and makes it glow into a passion. He teaches us how to pray. It is a lifelong teaching. You who are teachers know that patience and skill are more in a good teacher than the knowledge taught. With greatest skill, and loving, tactful patience the Spirit teaches us to pray.
And then He does more: He uses each of us as His praying-room, praying in us with yearnings beyond utterance the prayer to which we have not yet reached up, but which needs to be prayed down on the earth. All the power needed in this great winning work is in the Holy Spirit and comes from Him. And the chief thing He emphasizes is prayer.
The greatest thing each one of us can do is to pray. If we can go personally to some distant land, still we have gone to only one place. But our field is the world. It is impossible for us to reach our whole field personally. But it can be reached, and reached effectually, by prayer. The place where you and I are sent, whether at home or abroad, is simply our base of action. It is our field for personal touch. And that means very much. But it is more than that. It is only a small part of our field of activity. It is most significant as our base of action, from which we send out our secret messengers of prayer to all parts of the field.
And then, in the particular town or city or country district to which we have been sent, or in which we are being kept, the prayer properly comes before the personal activity. And it runs along side by side with the activity, and follows along after. We give the personal touch which must be given, and which may be so marvellous in power, but there's something even there greater than the great personal touch; and that is the power of prayer.
It is through the prayer that the personal presence means most. That personal presence may become a positive hindrance. It may be a drag upon the work. It often is just that for lack of prayer. For the real sweetness and efficiency of personal service out among men is in secret prayer.
And if we give money, it needs even more the prayer to go with it. Money seems almost almighty. As a winning force, of course, it must be reckoned far less than personal service. For it is less. It gets its almost omnipotence from human hands. If the personal touch depends for its subtle power on prayer, how much more does money! Money given to missions, unaccompanied by prayer, can no doubt be made to do great good. But it is a very pauper in its poverty alongside the bit of money that is charged with the spirit-current of prayer.
At the Other End.
One day I ran across a party of about twenty Pittsburg men on their way to a men's Christian convention in Cincinnati. There were a few ministers in the party, but it was made up chiefly of business men, typical, keen, alert American business men. We got together and talked about things of common interest.
And this question was asked: Does prayer do things? Then the question was spread out some. I go into my room at night to retire. I read a bit from the Book, and kneel to pray. I pray for a man in Pittsburg or in Hang-chow, China. Does anything take place in Pittsburg or in Hang-chow that wouldn't have taken place if I hadn't prayed? Of course, the praying does me good. The very bending of knee and head before God, the good wishes in my heart going out to some one else--these influence me. I rise better for both.
But is that all? Does anything happen at the other end? Does my prayer do anything in Hang-chow? If I write a business letter to Hang-chow, enclosing a foreign draft, the letter does something. A vast amount of business is carried on that way. Would the prayer as really do something as the letter and the draft?
There was a good bit of talk back and forth, and questions asked. It was interesting to find these men were ready to admit that they really believed that something would occur at the other end. They belonged to a church noted for its sound teaching, and came from the orthodox church city of Pittsburg. The matter-of-fact power of prayer to do business "at the other end" seemed to appeal to these business men. Apparently they had not been looking at prayer that way. But they readily admitted that it must be so. Then the next question asked itself: How much of this foreign business are we doing? And so the little crowd talked along while the train pounded the rails at the rate of forty-odd miles an hour.
Prayer does do things. Something happens at the other end that wouldn't happen if the prayer were not made. The banker can touch London and Paris and Shanghai and Calcutta and Tokyo, without moving from the desk where he is dictating letters, with his correspondence spread out before him. The praying man can as really touch these cities as he kneels in his room, with map and Book spread out before him.
Things are changed out there that need changing. That banker does business, too, in his home city and out in the home-land. But many times, with many a house, the bulk of foreign business is in excess of that done at home. Now we want to do a large business abroad in soul-winning and in world-winning, as well as at home.
A Weekly Journey round the World.
I use that word "business" in this connection thoughtfully and reverently. I know there is a sacredness, a hallowedness about prayer that never or rarely enters into business matters. We keep the two things apart in our thoughts; reckoning the one a common thing, and the other a holy thing. And I would increase, if I could, that sense of reverence in prayer. But there is a great advantage in using the familiar language of business in thinking of the results of our praying.
Prayer is doing business for God. It gives a practicality, a something-you-can-touch-and-feel feeling to think in that way. Shall we not make plans at once to increase our foreign correspondence?
You can have a simple schedule or memorandum to guide your praying. I do not mean a slavish hard-and-fast system, or set of rules, set down to be followed, with a feeling that you have been untrue if you forget. Nothing of that sort at all. But merely a simple something to glance at each day, and so serve as a reminder to guide your thoughts.
A little memorandum can be made running through the days of the week. It can be so planned as to run around the world during the week. The little schedule which I use is divided into the days of the week, Sunday to Saturday. There is a daily page containing notes, catch-words, about personal affairs, and home, and friends, and church, and appointments, and such items. Then each day of the week has a page, and on it is marked home-land items and foreign items.
In marking out the weekly world journey I had to begin somewhere. The Master told the disciples to begin at Jerusalem and work out. So I followed that rule, and Sunday is marked Turkey and the lands grouped with it, Arabia and Persia. The memorandum moves east, following the compass-line of greatest need. Monday is India day, including Ceylon and the lands and islands lying adjacent. Tuesday is China day; Wednesday, Japan, the island kingdom; and the island world of the Pacific.
This brings me across the Pacific, and so Thursday is marked South America, including Central America and Mexico. The easterly line takes me across the Atlantic again to Africa on Friday. Saturday takes an upward turn to the papal lands of Europe, and to Russia, completing the world-journey for that week. The matters for prayer here in the home-land are noted through the days of the week in the same way. Each page has certain home and certain foreign items.
A little prayer-book of that sort grows under constant use. Your reading of missionary news leads to the making of fresh notes. Names of persons are added, and dates of coming conferences, and so on, and verses of Scripture that stand out in the daily reading. So the book becomes to you a very precious little batch of leaves, lying inside the precious Book of God.
It should be accompanied by a map of the world. For a good while I used the one which was inserted in one of Dr. A. T. Pierson's mission books. That copy has long since been replaced by others, larger, giving more information. It is an immense help to glance at the map daily, and look at the part marked for the day. The lands get fixed in mind in that way without special effort. Gradually they stand out more and more clearly, and come to be very real to you.
That map may become dear to you, for it suggests the field that you are influencing. It is your prayer sailing-chart. It becomes fragrant with memories. Experiences you have had alone with God over His Word, and over this map of His World, come back to refresh and sweeten.
Prayer a Habit.
There's a little sentence of Paul's that used to puzzle and bother me, "Pray without ceasing." But it has become a great help to me. It puzzled me because I didn't see any practical way of doing it. It didn't seem to mean the repetition of prayers, with little mechanical helps, such as some use. It surely doesn't mean staying on your knees a long time. But, as I tried to pray my way into its meaning, it came to mean four distinct things to me. And I would not be surprised to find more yet coming out of it.
First of all, it means that prayer should be a habit. There should be a fixed time every day, or times, for going off alone to pray. Into that time the Book is taken. Quiet time is spent in reading it. For this is listening to God. And that comes first in praying; listening first, then speaking. The reading may be rapid and broad, or slower and more meditative. Whichever it may be, there should be a cultivation of the habit of meditation.
I do not mean a sleepy trying to imitate what we suppose some holy men do. But a keen thinking into the meaning of the words, and into their practical use in one's own life. Then the praying itself. The being still before God, and the definite prayer for particular things, and persons, and places. That habit can be fixed until it becomes second nature. It can be cultivated until it becomes the sweet spot of the day to you.
A Praying Bent of Mind.
Then while the daily habit continues prayer may become an attitude, a bent of mind. Whatever comes up suggests prayer to you. The bent of your mind is to pray as things come up in the daily round. You can't stop your work, but you think prayers. Your heart prays while your hands are busy.
I shall never forget the school in which I learned to pray this way. A case of protracted illness in my home required my personal attention constantly for a time. It seemed as if no assistance I could get meant quite as much as what I could do personally. The life in peril was so precious that all else dropped out of sight. My habits of life were completely broken up. I was up night and day. The early morning hour of reading and prayer was broken into, with everything else of a regular sort.
But as I went about my round of service I found myself praying constantly. I was much wearied, and things sometimes seemed desperate. I realized how everything depended on God's touch. And without any planning a habit of continual praying formed itself. I could be engaged in conversation, thinking intently into something needing great care, and yet there was an undercurrent of prayer constantly. I shall never cease to be grateful for that trying experience, because in it this new habit of a praying bent of mind formed itself.
Do you not know how as you go about your ordinary round there is a constant undercurrent of thought? You may be talking, or reading, or writing, or doing something more mechanical, and yet this underneath train of thought is running along apparently of its own accord, regardless of you. It is broken at times, or you lose consciousness of it, as your work requires closer attention. When you swing into the habitual things that you have done over and over again until they almost do themselves, it reasserts itself.
I remember years ago, in a banking-house where I served for a time, I had long additions to make. Sometimes the rows of figures to be added up were a foot in length. And I got so used to adding that often I was surprised to find that my thoughts had been far away, completely taken up with something else, while I had been adding the figures. And fearing that I had been slighting my work, I would go back carefully all over the figures, only to find the footings correct. The adding habit had become fixed, and left the undercurrent of my thought free.
That current is apt to reveal the heart's purpose or set of mind. Whatever you are most set upon, whatever your favorite fads or hobbies or inclinations or moods are, they are apt to appear in that involuntary train of thinking. Now this can be cultivated. It can be cultivated chiefly by the cultivation of the controlling purpose of your life, and then by trying to give directions to the undercurrent, and holding it to that direction. If Jesus has gripped your heart the purpose of the life will be for Him. And if you have come to realize the tremendous power of prayer, this undercurrent of thought can be made a prayer-current.
I do not mean by any forced or artificial holding of one's self to such a current by dint of main force, and then mentally whipping yourself if you have forgotten. The power of all action lies in its being perfectly free and natural. You can cultivate the Jesus-passion, and the life-purpose, and the prayer-habit, and all of this will be a training of that undercurrent of thought toward prayer.
The shipping clerk, as he heads up his barrels and boxes, can be sending out and up his current of prayer. At intervals he is thinking closely about something connected with his work. Then his thoughts free themselves. As he hammers in the nails, his thought says, "This is China day." Each ringing blow of the hammer rings out "This is China day:--Thy blessing, Master, to-day upon the missionaries in Hang-chow;--upon Mr. Blank out there;--victory in Jesus' name to-day;--the physician missionaries, the nurses;--Thy power upon them;--help the native workers."
The picture of his little prayer memorandum comes up before his mind's eye. The map of China stands out more or less distinctly, according to how long he may have been practising looking at it in his prayer-hour. His mind runs of itself from one point to another. And so, all the while, his undercurrent of praying goes on. It is broken into by newer or more exacting duties; then free again, and swinging more or less to the thing his heart is set upon. It becomes a perfectly free, natural thing with him. This is part of the meaning of "Pray without ceasing."
The Man is the Prayer.
Then prayer is a life. The life is what you are in yourself. It is not the mere span of years you live through. Your thoughts and loves, your heart's ambitions and gripping purposes, the things you will to do, and to be--that is your life. That exerts an enormous influence upon the circle in which you live, and upon the world.
If underneath all else that driving purpose, that warm, intense love-power, that yearning desire, is Godward, and manward, and world-ward, that becomes a prayer, a continual prayer. You are not thinking of it that way. But that is your life, and that life is a prayer. Its influence against the evil one and for God is enormous.
That is a prayer unceasing, as long and as strong as your life itself. Satan fears it. It hinders him and thwarts him every day. The fragrant incense from the censer of your life rises up before the throne of God continually, and affects the events on the earth.
And then prayer is a person. That is to say, you yourself may be a prayer, a walking prayer offered up in Jesus' name. Your presence will affect the evil one, and change events, and help God in His plans. You may be so allied with Jesus in the simple gripping purpose of your heart that you yourself, where you are, by your mere presence, will be recognized by evil spirits, and by the Master Himself as a mighty power for God.
Your presence disturbs the evil one's plan. It has an influence upon those you meet. It is helping God. The whole effect of your presence is precisely the same as a prayer. You are a prayer yourself, though unconsciously. The whole trend of your life says, "Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as in heaven."
A few years ago President Roosevelt's daughter was a member of the Taft party that visited parts of the Orient. She did not go as the President's daughter, of course. There could be no official significance attached to her presence. We Americans can understand better than some others that she went simply as a young woman eager to see Japan and China, not as the President's daughter.
But everywhere she went in the Orient she was treated not merely as a member of the party, but as the daughter of the President of the United States. Presents were made to her, receptions tendered, and deference shown, because of her personal relation to her father. To the Orientals her presence stood for the head of our Government. They treated her in relation to him.
Even so it is with us Christians. The evil one doesn't think of you and me for ourselves simply. He thinks of us in relation to the Jesus, who is his Victor. We stand to him down here for Jesus. He fears us as he fears Jesus. That is, he can be made to fear us, by our being true to our Lord.
The final purpose of prayer is to defeat Satan and to bring about God's will. And we do just that in our persons, by our presence; or we may. Prayer is a person. You are a prayer. The man himself becomes a tremendous prayer, off-setting evil influences, changing men and events, and helping God in His plans.
These last two, the life and the person, may be called unconscious prayer. The influence is constantly going out, though we are not aware of it. But it is great encouragement to recall that this prayer-power is going out of us constantly. And these two are not limited to the place where we are. They act as a momentum to every wish we breathe, and every spoken prayer we utter, sending these with renewed force out to the place involved. Spirit influence does not know anything about the limitations of distance.
Unseen Changes Going On.
All this praying makes a difference at the other end, the place toward which it is directed. Things in Tokyo are made different. The copy of a Gospel that some native in India is reading becomes a plainer book to him because of this praying. Your prayer is a spirit-force travelling instantly through the distance between you and the place you are praying for. And things occur that otherwise would not.
Opposition lessens. Difficulties give way. The road some man is travelling clears and brightens. The truth on the printed page stands out in bigger letters. The health renews. The sickness or weakness gives way to a new health and strength. The judgment steers a straight course. The purpose holds its anchor steady. The man rides the rough seas of temptation safely.
Things are happening. And they are happening because some scarcely noticed young fellow hammering a barrel-head and marking the shipping directions, and some typewriter chopping her machine, are praying in the quiet time, and are praying softly in the undercurrent of their scarcely thought-out thoughts.
"Oh, if our ears were opened
To hear as angels do
Arising full and true,
We should hear it soft up-welling
In morning's pearly light;
Through evening's shadows swelling
In grandly gathering might;
The sultry silence filling
Of noontide's thunderous blow,
And the solemn starlight thrilling
With ever-deepening flow.
"We should hear it through the rushing
Of the city's restless roar,
And trace its gentle gushing
O'er ocean's crystal floor;
We should hear it far up-floating
Beneath the Orient moon,
And catch the golden noting
From the busy Western noon;
And pine-robed heights would echo
As the mystic chant up-floats,
And the sunny plain resounds again
With the myriad mingling notes.
"There are hands too often weary
With the business of the day,
With God-entrusted duties,
Who are toiling while they pray.
They bear the golden vials,
And the golden harps of praise,
Through all the daily trials,
Through all the dusty ways.
These hands, so tired, so faithful,
With odors sweet are filled,
And in the ministry of prayer
Are wonderfully skilled.
"There are noble Christian workers,
The men of faith and power,
The overcoming wrestlers
Of many a midnight hour;
Prevailing princes with their God,
Who will not be denied,
Who bring down showers of blessing
To swell the rising tide.
The Prince of Darkness quaileth
At their triumphant way,
Their fervent prayer availeth
To sap his subtle sway.
"And evermore the Father
Sends radiantly down
His ministers to crown;
The incense cloud returning
As golden blessing-showers,
We in each drop discerning
Some feeble prayer of ours,
Transmuted into wealth unpriced,
By Him who giveth thus
The glory all to Jesus Christ,
The gladness all to us!"