A columnist in a Los Angeles paper writes a very descriptive column about social evils of our day. To me he seems to be Victor Hugo writing a “Les Miserables” of our modern world. A short time ago he praised a letter written from England by a nineteen-year-old girl, who wrote of the terrors of living through a night of bombing. His praise was for her attitude and religious expressions in the letter. Let me quote a few paragraphs from this article:
“But what impressed me most was the terror, the prayers, the eventual resignation to God’s will. And I wondered how many persons in these United States went down on their knees and thanked God for all the good things He has bestowed on them that day. and how many thanked God every morning for seeing them through the night, and asked that His will, not theirs, be done that day.
Outside of the cities of Soviet Russia, London, before the war, had the smallest per capita church attendance of any major city in Europe. But now things are different. People have virtually rushed, in agony, into the arms of God, knowing death might come at any moment, death from engines of destruction they invented out of their old, blind worship of science.
…. And may she tell us, in lectures and articles, of praying through the night to God, and at dawn thanking God, practices not very general in America, and scarcely ever mentioned in polite circles, or in American literature. . . .But, of course, bombs have not fallen here yet.”
This calls to our attention the lack of prayer in our day of science. And it shows the effect terror has on a populace. Some rush to God, claims the writer we quoted.
Yet we must be cautious in evaluating the present-day religious sentiment of people in such cities as London. It may very well be that people rush to churches and pray to their gods, that is, to their own conception of a god. Such religious sentiments may be compared to the religious fervor of the heathen tribes. Also among false religions there is a lack of zeal for the political gods, and political notions, and people must be whipped back to zeal and devotion.
Nevertheless, such talk causes us to contemplate the subject of prayer in the modern world. In the modern world, from all human vantage points, it seems as if prayer is out of step with modern social movements, world power, and that which is back of it all, science. It is true, it was always so from our finite, sinful point of view: but today as never before, it has been impressed upon us everywhere, in shops, in newspapers, and in literature, the foolishness of prayer. Not uncommon is it that one reared in a Christian family who has been taught to pray, first of all fails to pray when he begins to disregard the Christian habits given him in home, church, and in Christian school training. Before any dropping off of Christian life, there is, of course, the absence of true life in his heart. But the first act is the disregard of prayer. A need for prayer is not experienced, and the only prayer that he partakes in are the public prayers.
Such a condition cannot be changed. It is the falling away of those who are only outwardly in God’s covenant, the Esaus of the church, who reveal themselves as Esaus already in their adolescence. It is not the purpose of this article to speak to Esaus.
Another condition in the lives of all of us, and especially in the lives of young men and women of our faith needs the admonition and explanation of Scripture. There is a condition in which each soul asks itself a question when it comes to years of discretion and self-reflection in connection with God’s Word. We all have asked the question about the need of prayer, and about how we must pray. When we stop to think of God’s will and counsel which is as unchangeable as God Himself, we ask, why pray? God’s nature moves with such set motions as God has determined for it, and history too, according to Scripture, though it moves along as a rolling stream, yet irrevocably does it proceed according to the course mapped out and determined by God from eternity. If we are sick, what does prayer effect? If war wages, what does prayer do to bring about peace? If all things are determined by God, how must we pray? We would ask with the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray”. If we do ask with them, we have the same answer of Christ to us in the Lord’s Prayer. That ‘prayer is the example of true prayer and answers all our questions about prayer and God’s counsel.
Our answer, then, will not be, as is so commonly expressed and implied, “We must pray to obtain something from the Lord in the way of material things, or material changes in conditions.” The admonition. Pray without ceasing, is probably so explained, that we may cause God to hearken to our petition, and grant our request, which are only pet hobbies or desires for which we are striving. The Lord’s admonition to ask, to seek, and to knock with the promise of certain receiving, finding, and admittance, is then applied to all things. If we firmly believe, not doubting, the Lord will give whatsoever we ask. This statement of the Lord is repeated to prove the point that we must pray for prosperity, peace, unity, harmony, a good life in this world, and as we continue to do so in faith, we shall receive.
If we would so understand the blessed promise of our Savior, we would be no different in our attitude toward God than a Christian Scientist, or a heathen, who also first squares himself with the moral and religious code of his god and then continues to press his requests by incessant invocations. That is not prayer, true prayer.
In an attempt to speak of prayer and also to maintain the Reformed emphasis upon God’s counsel and sovereignty, some have created a difficulty by separating the two, by explaining that we cannot harmonize these two, and excusing them¬selves from further discussion with the baffling word, “mystery”. The difficulty is created because prayer is explained as arising in man’s natural heart and not in the regenerated heart. God’s answering such a prayer is explained as depending upon His free, gracious will at the moment of prayer. Then the difficulty is created because both the prayer and the answer are divorced from God’s counsel. The thinking young Christian is thus with such a negative answer left to wander out in the cold of doubt and misgiving, and in danger of the thought that either there is no use to pray because of irrevocable decrees, or that the God who listens to all the personal requests without any regard to His own wisdom and decree is no God at all.
For the thinking Christian who listens attentively to the Word of God, there can be and is no such difficulty. God’s decrees and will are everlasting, and according to His wisdom and good pleasure. His will is as unchangeable as God Himself. But His will is moved according to His divine being, which is almighty, all-wise, holy, and good. The true prayers of the children of God are all fruits, gifts of God’s grace which He bestows according to His will and good pleasure. Therefore, these very prayers cannot be contrary to God’s will. The Holy Spirit, God in our hearts, prays with us, for we know not for what we ought to pray. He, the Third Person, accompanies our prayers with groanings which cannot be uttered.
If, then, our prayers are the good works which God has ordained that we should walk in them, why is it necessary to pray? There is a necessity because throughout the Word of God there are repeated admonitions to God’s people to pray. Jesus admonishes His disciples to watch and pray that they enter not into temptation. Peter in his epistles voices the same admonition of God. True people of God are always praying people. And if we ask about prayer in the modern world, we can point to the admonition of Jesus that was given when He spoke the parable of the unjust judge. His purpose with that parable was to tell us that we should always pray and not faint. It was precisely during His discourse on the last times, our modern world, in which He taught the necessity of constant prayer. The description was that there should be wars and rumors of war, earthquakes in divers places, a forgetting of God and His Word. In such times we live, and must pray.
Prayer is necessary, for thereby are we in communion with God, who thereby causes us to love His will and way with us. We who are called according to His purpose are given grace to open our mouths in praise and prayer, are drawn into perfect inner harmony with His will. In Psalm 73, God’s child speaks, “It is good to be near unto God’’. Being near to God, we see reality from God’s point of view instead of from man’s finite, sinful position.
In prosperity and adversity, in war and in peace, in democracy and in totalitarianism, in the old order, and in the “new world order”, pray for the coming of Christ and His Kingdom.
We, as people of God, must be near to God when bombs are falling, when revolutions are fomenting, when the Antichrist and the false prophets are arising—near to Him in prayer, near to His will and word, filled with gratitude and hope for our final redemption. That is the prayer of the Bride, the Church.—“Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly”.
That is the only prayer in the modern world.