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The Power of Prayer

by Clarice Bowman and George Harper

Introduction        The Power of Prayer
    Chapter One        Prayer and My Life
        Chapter Two.        Preparing to Grow in Our Prayer Life
            Chapter Three.         Discovering What Prayer Means
                   Chapter Four.         A Rainbow of Moods in Prayer
                        Chapter Five.         Overcoming Difficulties
                            Chapter Six.         Aids in Achieving "Disciples' Disciplines"
                                Chapter Seven.         Prayer Changes Things and Persons
                                    Chapter Eight.             Toward a Fellowship of Power


Chapter 3

Discovering What Prayer Means

"Prayer will enable God to unlock in the spiritual realm the only power that can save the human race from destroying itself. This is the one and the only contribution most of us can make and it is enough." Laubach

What is prayer? What happens when I pray? What can happen? What may I expect to happen?

There is only one way of knowing what prayer means: from the center. Persons who have not prayed may be able to talk about prayer. But their faces will not have the glow, nor their voices the ring that shows they have experienced prayer. Knowing from the inside what prayer means is more important than being able to define it exactly in words. We can use electricity to light our homes, though we cannot explain it. We can use radio to bring us symphonies, though we cannot explain it.

Dynamic spiritual leaders of the past and present have not only believed that spiritual forces were available, but they have prayed in that belief. From their experiences, we gain light upon the meaning of prayer.

To the question, "What is prayer?", the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives answer:

"The offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies."

Georgia Harkness defines prayer as

"The attempt to become consciously aware of God's presence, to discover His will for our lives, to surrender our vagrant thoughts and self-centered desires to His controlling purpose, to find in Him power for living."

Prayer is more than passive waiting. It is an act of devotion. It calls on the fullest powers of will and mind. It changes motives at their very depths.

A prayer has worth in exact ratio to the man behind it. If he who prays is prejudiced, obstinate, undisciplined, his prayer will have these characteristics also - unless he consciously realizes his need and seeks God's help at those points. Prayer can bring an energizing of the total personality. Through prayer, man senses his higher destiny, and stretches toward it. Prayer releases the person from the prison-house of self. He learns to see his true worth as a child of God and a brother of all.

God's love continually surrounds us. His goodness never changes. When we pray, we make answer to His love. Our spirits respond to His. Like air rushing into a vacuum, God's spirit comes into our lives if we open the channels.

A photographer takes a camera and adjusts the lens and the size of the opening until the blurred objects take on form and come into clear focus. In prayer, a person adjusts his mind and spirit until the whirling activities and scenes of his life settle into new focus.

He centers attention upon God. As he prays, the picture of life assumes perspective. First things become first; lesser things are seen in their place. The soul is freed to give itself to concerns that really matter. No longer is the self a battleground of vagrant impulses, but it has become a theater of Divine activity and power. This is the creative process by which man is made new. He is now ready to seek God's help to remake the world.

Prayer does not necessarily require the saying of certain words or even the thinking of exact phrases. It is the focus of the whole heart Godward. It is the concentration of the whole personality - not upon "things" we may wish to ask for, or difficulties we may wish to pray about, not even upon our own feelings as we pray - but upon God Himself.

Asked to define prayer, the Japanese Christian Kagawa replied in one word: "Surrender." To really pray, we must surrender our will into the hands of God. "Prayer is the will to cooperate with God in your total life." (Jones, E. Stanley, How to Pray (pamphlet).)

To Seek God in Prayer is Natural

Any other way is unnatural. Just as laws of physical health are written into the cell-structure of our bodies, so laws of spiritual health through communion with God are written into our spirits. Without fellowship with Him, the human spirit has less chance of being healthy than does the human body without food or air. Not to breathe is unnatural. Not to pray is unnatural - for in prayer the human spirit seeks companionship with its Source. A man who prays is not doing "extras"; he is no mere "idealist." He is doing the minimum. He is realistic.

Back across the pages of history, we trace evidences of this longing for God. Primitive grandfathers, moved by fear of evil spirits, appealed to unknown forces for aid and protection. We deem some of their superstitions weird. But the desire to know God was there. Man's knowledge advanced, and his prayers changed first to many gods, then to one supreme God. He became more conscious of spiritual laws of the universe and found ways of better adjusting his life to them; just as he discovered "natural" laws of the physical world and stumbled along his way to modern science.

History brings evidence that the human race created by God for life with Him has always been restless for that fellowship. "In the beginning God created man in his own image." (Gen. 1:27)

Yet, to borrow a phrase from Dr. E. Stanley Jones, "man has allowed himself to become naturalized in the unnatural." A boy became used to riding a bicycle with crooked handle-bars; when the bars were straightened, he fell off! Man has denied and perverted this inner longing for God; he needs to be converted to a new understanding of his nature as a child of God.

Since Jesus' time, the ideas of "natural" and "unnatural" are still reversed. We speak of a "natural" man as one living on a merely human level, out of touch with God. "Well, it is only natural ..."; or, "you can't change human nature." When we find a person in constant communion with God, we are prone to label him an idealist or a religious fanatic or unnatural. But Jesus suggested that the opposite is true. It is natural to seek communion with God. Because man has tried to ignore this fact, the world is in a sorry plight today. We need conversion from this perversion of our true natures as children of God and brothers one with another.

"Prayer," said Thomas Carlyle, "is and remains always a native and deepest impulse of the soul of man."

Why such widespread unwillingness to admit this spiritual up- reach as natural to man? Perhaps one reason is the terrific challenge that goes with it! Once seeing himself as a child of God, how can he explain his selfish ways? Once seeing others as children of God, how can he explain his failure to offer them help?

To develop the body into strength and harmonious coordination is natural. To develop spiritually through prayer is natural. As the stalwart rippling-muscled athlete reveals to every growing boy a picture of what he might become, so prayer reveals to us our possible stature of spiritual development. In Jesus the "natural" is pictured in its fullest expression! In Jesus we see what God means when He says "Man"; and what man means when he says "God".

We Feel His Tug upon our Hearts

An old man passed a little fellow who was holding for dear life to a bolt of string that was stretching up - up. "My child," he asked, "why are you still holding to that string? The kite is out of sight." The child answered, "I know it's there. I can feel the tug of it."

Skeptics ask today, "Why keep holding on to this thing called God? He is out of sight, you know." But we can feel His tug upon our hearts. Our own experiences, if we had no evidences from nature or from Jesus to convince us, teach us that God is "there" all the time - reaching toward us, seeking, knocking; at times, taking us by the hand and leading us up to where we can see the light.

Have you ever rushed eagerly to the telephone, perhaps to tell your best friend some exciting news or to ask his help on some problem, only to find silence at the other end of the line and to have the operator say, "The line is dead?" Think how God's heart must yearn to "get through" to the hearts of His children. Yet how often we fail to open our minds and hearts to fuller experiences of Him through prayer.

Prayer, then, is not a matter of "overcoming God's reluctance," but rather a "laying hold of His highest willingness." The more we venture upon that faith the fuller grows our experience of communication with Him. We simply open our hearts, knowing that He is there seeking us even before we turn to Him.

The swimmer learns to relax upon the water, knowing that underneath are laws of gravitation that will bear him up. So it is with prayer. Underneath are the "everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27) ready to bear us up once we "let go ... let God."

Meditation that may Lead to Prayer, or from Prayer to Life Changes

Have you ever tried to "keep" your usual time for prayer, but felt out-of-tune somehow? No time nor energy should be wasted berating one's self. Relax. Take some deep breaths. And set yourself to meditation or "devotional reasoning." Don't try to force yourself to pray unless and until the "the prayer comes." Only then is it true prayer.

"What is the difference between prayer and meditation?" There is a difference between thinking about your friend and actual direct two-way conversation with him. The former is like meditation. The latter is like prayer. Meditation often helps prepare the way for prayer. Meditation may follow prayer, as you seek to discover the implications for our life. Or meditation may take place in the midst of prayer. Having placed yourself in God's presence through worship, you may meditate, just as with a real friend you may think together in silence.

Meditation is not skirting around a problem, instead of facing it squarely. The act of meditation requires our keenest powers, brought to bear upon the subject. We prod our minds with questions; we move logically from point to point. Meditation is a way of grappling with truth in the presence of God. Our minds may be like rusty hinges at first, but with practice they grow more nimble. We may be surprised at flashes of insight that will come.

Scientists know the experience of wrestling with facts, rearranging them in different patterns tirelessly; until "from out of the somewhere" a new idea flashes. This is "creative meditation." In the Christian life, new insights are needed, as to ways individuals and groups may live and work together and build brotherhood. Consecration of mind as well as heart is needed.

Steps in Private Devotions

Should there be an "order of service" for our private devotions? Prayer is an individual matter. Each must take those steps on the "ladder of faith" that come natural to him. Your sequence might not be that of another. The following is one suggestion:

  1. Close the door-against intrusions of thoughts that would interfere, against outside noises or distractions.

  2. Open the door of your heart to God. Concentrate upon His holiness ... His love.

  3. He will show you your self and your needs. Go over these with Him.

  4. Accept His response.

  5. Reverently, and not too hurriedly, withdraw from the "interview" keeping its atmosphere of quiet about you.

A similar "pattern" is suggested in the following:

  1. Reverently contemplate God. Think of His greatness, His love.

  2. Think of yourself in relationship to God. Look at your life as you think He must see it. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me." (Psa. 139:23-24)

  3. Select a specific point at which your life needs to be lifted toward the level of God's way.

  4. Concentrate upon fellowship with God about that problem. Exclude the irrelevant and focus your consciousness upon Him. Face it in the atmosphere of God, constantly recalling His presence and His principles. Don't let the problem or concern get in the way of seeing His light.

  5. Accept the new illumination that comes. You will see things in a new clarity if you have really looked at them in the presence of God.

  6. Plan now to apply the insight that has come to you, in specific action. Go beyond a vague commitment to list specific details in which you will seek to live differently. If we are "disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19) we shall lose it ... Now pray to God, offering yourself at this particular point and asking for his strength and guidance.

* * *

Prayer of Penny in Marjorie Rawlings' "The Yearling," by the grave of the little cripple.


"Almighty God, hit ain't for us to say what's right. Was ary one of us to be a-doin' of it, we'd not of brung this pore boy into the world a cripple. We'd of brung him in straight and tall like his brothers, fitten to live and work and do. But in a way o' speakin' you made it up to him. You give him a way with the creeters. You give him a sort o' wisdom, made him knowin' and gentle so they come to him. Now you've seed fit to take him where bein' crooked don't matter. But it pleasures us to think now you've done straightened out them legs and that pore bent back and them hands. Lord, give him a few redbirds and mebbe a squirrel to keep him comp'ny like he had here. All of us is somehow lonesome, and we know he'll not be lonesome do he have them leetle wild things around him, if it ain't asking too much. Thy will be done. Amen."

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Matthew 6:9-15  "Pray,  then, in this way: `Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. `Your  kingdom come. Your  will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. `Give  us this day our  daily bread. `And forgive  us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. `And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver  us from evil.   For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.  "For  if you forgive others  for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  "But if  you do not forgive others,  then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.   (New American Standard)

Matthew 6:9-15 With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what's best - as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. "In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part.  (The Message)

Matthew 6:9-15- "And then, when you pray, don't be like the play-actors. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street-corners so that people may see them at it. Believe me, they have had all the reward they are going to get. But when you pray, go into your own room, shut your door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees all private things will reward you. And when you pray don't rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words. Don't be like them. After all, God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him. Pray then like this - 'Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honored; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil'.  For if you forgive other people their failures, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you will not forgive other people, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your failures."   (J. B. Phillips Translation)

Matthew 6:9-15 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  (King James)

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.    Jude 1:24-25

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