By Norman P. Grubb
A YOUNG Christian leader in the U. S.A., whose life and ministry have been greatly enriched by a fuller understanding of the principles of faith and prayer, wrote to a fellow-worker about the lessons he had been learning. The letter was not meant for publication, and possibly some things in it need qualification; but it glows with the enthusiasm of one who has found great spoil, it is written with the conviction of one who has proved for over five years the truth of what he is saying, and it sums up in personal experience much of what we have written in these recent chapters on guidance and faith in the daily life. As the writer owed some of the light he was given to the teachings outlined in this book, we feel justified in quoting the letter.
"During the past six years," he wrote, "the Lord has led me along rather radical lines when it comes to the matter of prayer and intercession.
"Previous to the coming of X., I had a real hunger in my heart to really get into a life of effective prayer and intercession. And I took various measures to achieve it too. I had read Praying Hyde, David Brainerd, Finney and others. I can well recall several times when I went on whole all-night prayer meetings when certain things were pressing. But somehow the wheels ground so slowly. My hunger for reality intensified and ached. This wasn't the answer! Then came X with a message on these matters, which was so bewildering that I was knocked off my feet.
He spoke of guided prayer, of faith, of the word of authority, of commissions, of life the way Jesus lived it. How different from the way I had been trying to follow. The words rang in my ears. 'Learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light...' All of this was so new to me that for the next months I was in the greatest perplexity, afraid to pray lest I do it wrong. When we went to see X, the one burden, which cried aloud within me, was to find out from him the HOW of effective prayer. Three times I asked him. Three times I poured out my heart, faint yet pursuing. And three times he looked at me with a very understanding look (for he had been over the ground himself) and said kindly: 'Keep at it, you'll get there.'
"At first my heart was filled with bitter disappointment. Why didn't he tell me? He knew the answer, then why not help me? It didn't take too long until God showed me that X had done the wisest thing. There was a unique stroke of spiritual insight and genius in the way he dealt with me. If he had given me an answer, a technique, a method, a ritual, I would have gone home and would have tried to work it for all I was worth. That's what I had done after reading the life of Brainerd and those other fellows. And I would have done it over again... But, by answering me as he did, he threw me off on the Lord, and I had somehow to press through until I found Him, and not some method, or technique, or ritual.
"I often think of the story of Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. There are very few things, which I have read anywhere where I have observed such rich understanding of God's ways. Christian had left the City of Destruction. He had crossed through the Mudhold of Despond. There on the other side he met Evangelist. He began to tell Evangelist his story-of his fleeing the city, of the Slough of Despond, of others who had turned back, and most of all of the great burden on his back. fie couldn't stand it any longer. How could he get rid of it? Would Evangelist please tell him? Evangelist knew the answer. He could have told him, but he didn't. Instead he bade the pilgrim look way down the road as far as be could see and said: 'Do you see yonder light?' The pilgrim shaded his eyes and peered through squinted eyes far down the road, and said: 'I think I see it!' Then Evangelist instructed him: 'Go on down the road towards that light until you come to a wicket gate, and on the other side it shall be told thee what thou shalt do...' The Pilgrim wasn't ripe yet. The great need with me and with so many more is not an answer, a technique, a method but a drastic obedience and steadfastness to whatever measure of light I see, or think I see. And as I go I shall get more light until beyond the wicket gate I meet not a technique, not a ritual, not a sacrament, but Him who alone can remove my load and set me free.
"When that became clear to me, I took a determined step and a radical one. I took my cherished prayer-life which I had nursed and trained and wept over and threw it out of the window. Out went all schedules, times and seasons. I determined that henceforth I would never again try to develop or cultivate a prayer-life. I was no longer interested in a prayer-life as such. I was ready to begin with nothing and to learn the ways of the Lord from scratch as He taught them to me.
"I can't tell you what an immense release came into my soul, and it has since then never departed. At last I felt I was beginning to get to grips with reality. At last I was honest with myself and with God; and, beginning there, I was ready for anything orthodox or unorthodox, which He might lead me into. Right there I began to form the practice of a never-ending waiting upon God, free, restful, natural. From then on I saw the experiences of Brainerd and others like that with new eyes. Up till then I would argue that because men who lived like that and prayed like that were mighty men of God, therefore if I wanted to be a mighty man of God, I should go and do likewise... but not so any more. From then on these men were to me examples of how God had led some men, and they were an encouragement to me to believe that as men sought God, so indeed He would be found of them. 'According to your faith be it unto you.' As one writes: 'Whatsoever ye desire, ye shall have. Those who seek a vision, receive a vision. Those who seek signs receive signs. Those who seek a Christ who manifests Himself as the Author of peace or love, purity or fire, receive as they choose.' Thus I no longer sought to copy the pattern set by these men, and I no longer made any attempt to follow any schedule or method or ritual or form.
"My whole attention began to get turned towards God - full of breathless expectation. I came to see that as His co-worker it was my business to be so open to Him that He could show me His ways, so that my expressional life of prayer or action might be just a simple reflection or manifestation of the will and desire and heart of God as they were breathed into my mind and soul by the Holy Spirit. And, so far, this has taken no set form with me. This was the pattern that Jesus set forth by His life: 'The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing; for what things soever He doeth, these the Son doeth in like manner.'
"Since then whenever some preacher fires away at an audience with such thrusts as 'Martin Luther prayed two hours a day, how many hours do you pray? The great sin is the sin of prayerlessness... etc.' I am no longer moved by it. It sounds pious and convicting, but to my mind it misses the boat completely. People who are moved by that kind of talk go home and try for all they are worth to pray more and to go round and round that endless mulberry bush of prayer-form, and they get nowhere and get nothing but discouragement and leanness of soul.
"The position to which the Lord brought me also gave me evangelical eyes with which to see the fallacy of much praying of today which is of the Old Covenant and under the law. I ran into big patches of it up at a certain Bible School. A lot of fellows came to see me about how to nourish and develop their spiritual lives. I was surprised at their honesty. Dozens of them told me that they felt dry and famished in their spiritual lives. Their testimony was stale. Prayer was uninteresting. They didn't hunger for the things of God the way they wanted. And all kinds of things like that. So I asked them how long this had been going on with them. And with some it had been that way for a long time. Then I asked them what measures they had taken to deal with it and to obtain freshness and vigour and vitality and life. And they told me a tale which I knew so well. They had tried to pray more. They had tried to read the Bible more diligently. They had tried to witness even when they had really nothing to say in the hope that by doing something like that they would somehow be returned into the green pastures. Some had confessed sins in the meetings. Some had fasted. And I can't tell you all that they had done. They had tried methods, techniques, prayer rituals, forms of resisting, standing, sitting, binding, loosing, etc., and they were all worn out.
"So I asked each one very simply: 'How did you get saved? By reading the Bible, by praying, by doing anything?' Never! No one ever got saved that way. Not by the works of the law. No man is ever justified that way. But by simple faith, simple believing, simple receiving. So I told them: 'As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.' It's as simple as that. They had begun in the Spirit but were seeking to maintain that life and to perfect it in the flesh. Nice, good, religious, pious, earnest, zealous but flesh all the same. Self-effort. How often men preach that, if you don't want to lose out with God, you have to read the Bible and pray and do all kinds of things. We get a stack of magazines here from all kinds of societies. It's common to see this idea held out that finances don't come in, souls aren't saved, workers don't offer themselves, and in general things aren't getting on too well because-well, because we aren't praying enough, we aren't doing this, that or the other thing enough. Brother, that's the Old Covenant, that's under the law, that's setting about to perfect in the flesh that which was perhaps begun in the Spirit. My whole soul stands up and cries 'No, no, a thousand times no!' The roots of the trouble go deeper than that. You can't make a tree good by pinning on a few more branches. Such an emphasis misses the boat completely! Dryness, dullness, lack of supply, failure and all these things are merely the symptoms of inner disease. You cannot remedy the disease by treating the symptoms. A lack of freedom in prayer and loss of hunger for the Word and such like things simply indicate that at bottom something is wrong. And that wrong will never be touched by somehow trying to pray more or read the Word more, or any such thing, never!
"For these reasons I don't feel that it is at all my business to go around and encourage people to pray, or to tell them how to carry on heavenly business on behalf of the work of God abroad. That's not the focal point that needs emphasis. The people are exhorted to death already. Preachers exhort and exhort and exhort, drive and drive, instruct and instruct.
"But I can and do try to do a few things: 1. I feel that I can give information concerning God's job. And this covers a lot; its purpose, scope, dimensions, oppositions, enemies, objectives and many other things. 2. I can set forth clearly the personal obligations of God's people towards this information. 3. I can encourage them to wait upon the Lord with open hearts to find out what He wants them to do about it. 4. I can urge them and encourage them to obey what they are told, and help a little in instructing those who are obedient as to how they can best do what they are told.
"The chief point to get at is that of basic relationship to God. When that is wrong, then all these ills of which we have been speaking naturally follow. But when that relationship is right, then the Holy Spirit will have a chance to have His way and lead them to go abroad, or to take up some commission here at home, or to give themselves to intercession, or to take up a program of heavenly labors such as Brainerd went through, or whatever it may be. That's God's business to lead them into whatever He likes.
"A great point in some societies is that of gathering up a filing index of folks who pledge themselves to pray for the workers who go. I have seen this practice so much abused that I am fearful of it. In so many missions it just becomes a neat way of lining up a list of supporters. And then if things are not going so well, they very conveniently blame the list of prayers and plead with them not to let them down. There is a fearful danger in this.
"Carey's illustration: 'I go yonder to dig, you folks at home must hold the ropes,' is very touching and appealing, but it is also dangerous. It is dangerous to the fellow who goes to dig, in the first place. He can get to be too occupied with the rope and with the folks at the other end who hold it. Then, if the rope breaks or if the folks let go at the other end, he is sunk.
"When Jesus commissioned the disciples He sent them forward with the promise-not of people holding the ropes, but with His own personal presence. 'Lo, I am with you always.' That seemed to be sufficient. When Paul set out he never seemed to look back to either Antioch or Jerusalem to feel whether the folks back there were still holding the ropes. I know that in his epistles he asks the folks to remember him in prayer that doors may be open to him, or that he may have boldness in preaching. But these folks were his converts, they were the folks on his mission field, not the folks back home who somehow or other were supposed to be holding the ropes for him as he went out in their name on their behalf.
"The snare is to get eyes off of God and onto men, and when one does, the game is up.
"Then, in the second place, there is a snare in that holding the ropes illustration (which is not a scriptural illustration), as far as the people are concerned who are supposed to be at home holding the ropes. From as far back as I can remember the punch-less challenge at the end of almost every missionary presentation is a very sickly and pathetic directive. 'Of course we all can't go to meet these awful needs, but we can at least pray and give some money.' That takes the teeth out of Christ's command and His lordship over their lives. And thousands of people are obeying the Lord's command by proxy, through some fellow or girl who has gone as their representative and through whom, as they pray for them and give for their support, they feel that they themselves are going in obedience. And thus their conscience gets a rest while they sit in disobedience.
"The note that must be struck, and struck hard, is the note of Christ's right to have lordship over their lives. His command is to go. Folks had better go to Him and find out what His orders are for them specifically. If it is to go, then they had better not stay around and pray. If it is to give, then they had better not substitute intercession. If it is to intercede, then they cannot obey by just putting money in the plate. If we go preaching to folks the necessity of becoming intercessors, then I feel that we are missing the chief point and will be laying burdens on people which the Holy Spirit is not laying. But if they will face up to the will of the Holy Spirit, then I dare to say that God will raise up such folks to be intercessors as He shall deem necessary. For folks on the fields to get occupied with burdens to pray that intercessors be raised up at home, is to get tangled up with burdens, which they could afford to leave well alone. God will care for such needs here, just as He will take care to see that financial supporters are raised up.
"To sum up this point, let me point out the simple relationship which characterized Paul's tie-up with the home base. Acts 14:26 tells of Paul's return to Antioch: 'from whence they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled.' And in 15: 40 Paul chose Silas and then began another journey: 'and they went forth (from Antioch), being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.' There wasn't much else that the brethren could do. They were persuaded that God was able to guard these men whom they had committed to His grace.
"That which will sustain you clear through, even in the deepest waters, will be only presence of Christ. 'Though I go through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for THOU ART WITH ME!' It would be fatal at such times to lean on anything less than the presence of the Lord. The Holy Spirit will cause other people to pray, but the fellow in the front trench would do better to keep his mind on the Lord alone... and not on people, even if they are praying people.
"The heavenly life is not 'up there' somewhere. It is no higher than the floor you walk on. Jesus said it was better for us if He should go up to heaven because then He would send the Holy Spirit down here to enable us to get the job done. So while He is looking after our affairs 'up there', He has left it up to the Holy Spirit and us to look after His affairs down here. Let's be careful that we don't get caught in the false business of somehow trying to get into the heavenlies, 'that is to bring Christ down.' But the 'righteousness which is of faith saith: the word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach.'
"That which gives the warrior power for the job down here is not getting all occupied with all kinds of things way up somewhere 'in the heavenlies.' But Jesus promised that we would have all the power we needed, and protection and authority; and healing, and guidance and victory over every enemy by a personal union with the Holy Spirit. He alone is authorized to minister to us the things of Christ, and He has been sent to do that for us down here. As He dwells within me down here He shall minister to me power and authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall in any wise hurt me!
"Now I'm all for simply taking that just as it stands and believing it. I don't see where it is said that this shall be so IF day by day, morning and evening, you diligently go through a ritual of binding and loosing, withstanding, resisting, etc., up in some imagined heavenly realm. But this will be true day or night, rain or shine, in the man who in simple faith trusts the Holy Spirit to maintain His rule and authority in his inner heart and disposition, perpetually, all the time, whether he is praying or not. Then whatever praying he does, or praising, or resisting, etc., it will be simply the outward expression of his inner state of being, and such expressions will not be a means by which he seeks to attain to a position of authority, or to maintain his freedom in God, or to achieve victory over obstacles...not at all.
"Now, Satan can attack me on these outward things. He can throw me into jail or make my horse fall down, or he can throw darkness and depression and dryness and oppression over me. He can make me feel dull and hopeless and weak. He can buffet me, roar at me, scare me, and make praying almost impossible for me. But he cannot touch my inner relationship to the Lord, my union with the Holy Spirit, my certain assurance of victory... not at all. Though we be pressed on every side, we are not straitened. Though he makes us perplexed, yet he cannot make us despair. Though he pursues us, yet we are not forsaken. Though he smites us down, yet he cannot destroy us.
"But, you say, what about those times when the devil oppresses you so much that you cannot pray, can't carry out various heavenly labors? What shall you do then? My answer would be; just stand still. Don't do anything. By all means don't go whacking at him. You only invite a fight. It takes two to make a fight, and if you don't fight, then there won't be any. As long as you just stand still and refuse to be taken up with anything other than your position of union with the Lord Jesus, he can't do more than growl and throw sand in your face. Luther suggests that you just laugh at him, for if he refuses to depart when presented with the Scripture, then he will soon leave when you laugh at him, for he can't stand that scorn. And, by the way, the Bible says that such laughing is a real part of the heavenly 'labours' too. Psalm 2 says that when all the kings set themselves against the Lord and against His anointed servants, then 'He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh: the Lord will have them in derision.' And the Scripture affirms that we are seated with Him in the heavens, so let's laugh with Him. If that's heavenly 'labors', then lead me to it!
"If it gets tough to pray, then quit trying to pray any more. He can touch your form but not your inner relationship and position. And just because you stop your ritual it doesn't mean that you have altered your position of faith and authority one whit. It's not your going through the ritual that's going to defeat him and give you the land. It's your inner attitude of faith; and that he cannot touch, even though he padlocks your mouth and fills your body with fear so that you can't even think to pray.
"It is far more important that you just rest quietly in God and not be moved in spirit than that you go through some kind of prayer-ritual. Where he fools us and gets us is when he gets us all in a stew and under a burden and even into a feeling of condemnation, because we find it so hard to pray and feel that however tough it is we must go through our outward form and ritual of heavenly 'labors' of intercession and such like... No, just quit trying. After that you have suffered awhile the Lord will bruise Satan under your feet. He will flee from you when you resist him without force and without taking note of him. And then the Holy Spirit will again gently lead you to pray or sing or praise or anything else by which you can most easily and naturally express the faith that is in you and the position and relationship which you enjoy with God, a relationship which has passed untouched and unscathed through the worst of the devil's assaults. It is the basic faith and relationship which wins the day and wins in the end. God will let the devil douse you again and again, that your basic faith and union with Him may be proved and found perfect at the day of His coming. For that inner faith and disposition is to Him more precious than silver or gold.
"Take a look at Paul. After he had been up in the third heaven he says that there was given to him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Stan to buffet him that he should not be exalted overmuch. Three times he asked the Lord that it might be removed, but the Lord told him that it was good for him. So Paul embraced it, embraced the messenger of Satan! And you know how the rest of that passage goes. Thus God uses the devil to polish up His saints and makes them strong in Christ's power.
"See how this was likewise true in the life of Christ. After His baptism, where He had been anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit for His ministry, it says that immediately He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be assailed by the devil. That was arranged by God and directed by the Holy Spirit. And when He had had enough, His Father had the angels right there to minister unto Him. Because He has suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them which are tempted or tested. See how, for over three years, He was able to escape the devil's attacks by the simple declaration that the hour had not yet come. And when the hour came He took all that was coming, forbidding Peter to do anything to defend Him. Under God's permission it was now the devil's hour. And the awful hellish brew which the devil handed Him in the cup of suffering He took, embraced it as coming from the Father's hand, and drank it to the dregs. Satan stripped Him, hung Him out in open shame, and killed Him; but he could not touch the basic inner relationship which He had to the Father and the faith which He had that the Father would see Him through to resurrection ground.
"And, lastly, I think of James I: 'Count it all joy, my brethren when you fall into manifold temptations and trials, knowing that the proving of your faith worketh steadfastness; and let steadfastness have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.'
"Here is set down with unmistakable language just what ought to be our attitude towards the hardships and trials and temptations which come our way. The negative is refuted by the positive. Light swallows up darkness. Evil is overcome by good. The devil's assaults are the meat and drink of steadfastness and patient faith. That leaflet 'The Adventure of Adversity' goes a step farther and shows how these very assaults in the grasp of faith become redemptive, and can be the very instruments by which we can achieve our desired ends."