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Understanding Prayer

Elisabeth Elliot: I love to think about the fact that there's never a minute in the entire universe when prayer is not going up. I believe that that is not an exaggeration.

Lisa Barry: Isn't that an awesome thought? I wonder how many of us really grasp the power and magnificence of prayer. How often we turn to prayer only when we've run out of our own resources to figure things out. Today on Gateway To Joy, we'll go on the road with Elisabeth Elliot as she speaks to a group on the subject of prayer. Not how to do it, but why it's something that should be at the top of every Christian's priority list. It's the first installment in the week devoted to leaving self behind. This is Lisa Barry, inviting you to stay with us for this Monday edition of Gateway To Joy. Now let's join Elisabeth in Denton, Texas. Here she is.

Elisabeth Elliot: Now I want to talk to you about prayer. Lillias Trotter, who was a great missionary in North Africa-a wonderful, godly English woman, who wrote beautifully and painted exquisitely. She had the privilege of sitting under a very great painter in England who felt that she had a very wonderful career ahead of her, if she would not be so foolish as to go to the mission field. But she gave it all up and went to the mission field. She did write several beautiful books, which she illustrated with exquisite flower pictures.

But she writes this about prayer: "One gets glimpses in the Bible of what delayed answer to prayer may mean. Moses, for instance. The answer to his prayer to enter the Promised Land was kept back for centuries till he stood there with Jesus Himself." You may have to think about that for a minute to figure out, "When did Moses stand with Jesus Himself?" Of course, it was on the Mount of Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah appeared out of the cloud and were speaking with Jesus as the three disciples were standing there watching.

"And Elijah's prayer to die was refused, because the glory of the fiery chariot was waiting for him. Even if the answer is carried on out of the bounds of this life altogether, it is not thereby lost. The powers of the world to come are more than we know yet."

My favorite thing to see in Washington, D.C., is the Lincoln Memorial. Maybe some of you remember that it's inscribed. Lincoln's prayer, his second inaugural address, is inscribed in that memorial. I want to read a part of it to you. It has a great deal to do with our understanding of prayer. He is referring of course to what was called the War Between the States in the South, and otherwise the Civil War.

"Each side looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces. But let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both sides could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. Woe unto the world because of offenses, for it must needs be that offenses come. But woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!"

Have you thought about the great mysteries-when two different sides are praying to the same God and of course the prayers of neither could be completely answered, as Lincoln points out? I'm sure you're very familiar with the last part of that address: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

I love to think about the fact that there's never a minute in the entire universe when prayer is not going up. I believe that that is not an exaggeration. Prayer is always ascending to heaven. I find it very encouraging in my quiet time in the morning to realize that I, as a solitary woman in a solitary room, praying on my knees-that I can bring my prayers into this great orchestra that God is orchestrating. I'm just one instrument in the orchestra.

But there's a hymn that I love that Jim Elliot and I used to sing often at sunset when we were living in the jungle. It tells about this whole concept of prayer being all over the world. "As o'er each continent and island the dawn brings on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent nor die the strains of praise away. We thank Thee that Thy Church, unsleeping as earth rolls onward into light, through all the world her watch is keeping and rests not now by day or night."

So no matter how feeble and foolish and stuttering my prayers may be to God, I believe that they are carried up to God, as the Book of Revelation tells us, from the angel with the censer and the golden altar. God knows what to do with those prayers.

I happened to be reading another one of Elizabeth Goudge's beautiful books. I hope that many of you are familiar with those. I presume that Elizabeth Goudge is dead by now. But she was obviously a Christian and wrote absolutely beautiful novels. Always there's Christian themes in the background.

But I came across her statement about prayer. She said, "It is the ceaseless offering up of the whole personality; every thought, word and action as a sacrifice." Prayer is the ceaseless offering of the whole personality; every thought, word and action as a sacrifice.

Some of you, I'm sure, are familiar with the lovely little story that Amy Carmichael told to her little Indian children about when she was a little girl at the age of three. She was told that God answers prayer. Since she believed everything that grown-ups told her, she figured that this was something that she should test. Does God really answer prayer? There was one thing that she wanted more than anything else in the world, which was blue eyes. She had brown eyes.

So she got down by her bed before she went to sleep that night and she prayed that God would change those brown eyes into blue ones. She went to sleep, confident that in the morning her eyes would be blue. She woke up in the morning, jumped out of bed, pushed a chair over to where she could climb up to look at a mirror and looked into the mirror at the same old brown eyes.

She said to her children, years and years later, "I don't remember whether it was an adult who said this to me or whether it was really God Himself who spoke these words to me, but somebody said, 'Isn't no an answer?'" Very often, God's answer is no to our prayers. So that was a very great lesson for her, of course. Little could she have imagined at that time that there would be occasions in India many years later as a missionary when it would be essential that she be taken for an Indian or she might have been killed. So her very life depended on the fact that she had very dark hair and very dark eyes. God does know what He is doing, doesn't He?

I heard the great missionary to China who had been a London parlormaid-her name was Gladys Aylward. She didn't know anything, except how to do parlors in London. But she told us-this was back in the 1960's, just shortly before she died. I heard her speak up in Canada. She told us how Jehovah God had sent her to China. She found herself standing on the wharf in China, looking around at all the people to whom Jehovah God had sent to her.

She said, "I thought about the fact that when I was growing up, I had two great sorrows. One, when all my friends were still growing, I stopped. The other, when all my friends had beautiful golden hair, mine was black. I stood on the wharf and I looked around at all the people to whom Jehovah God had sent me, and every single one of them had black hair and every single one of them had stopped growing when I did. I said, 'Lord God, You know what You're doing.'"

He does know what He is doing. He knows exactly what He is doing, and He doesn't overlook the most pitiful prayer of the tiniest child. Oswald Chambers was a man whose writings are just so down to earth and blunt. He says-here's just one of those sensible things that he comes up with, and I think, "Now why didn't I think of that? Why didn't I put it that way?": "Prayer is telling God what He already knows. To the rationalist, it is ridiculous to pray to God about everything. Hiding behind this ridicule is the devil, who wants to keep us from knowing the road to take when the crisis comes.

"Hezekiah, in Isaiah 37, tells God what he knows God knows already. That is the meaning of prayer. I tell God what I know He knows in order that I may get to know it as He does. It is not true to say that a man learns to pray in calamities. He seldom does. He calls on God to deliver him, but he does not pray. A man only learns to pray when there is no calamity."

Think about Him to whom we come when we pray. Who is it that we are addressing? He is the Lord of the universe. He is the Maker of all things. He is, as one familiar hymn says, "Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise." Magnificent lines in these great old hymns, aren't they? "Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise."

We come to the Father of all, to the Lord of the universe, the Father of all, One who calls Himself our refuge. We come to Him in worship.

Lisa Barry: And we'll hear more of Elisabeth's message on tomorrow's program. If prayer is lower on the priority list than it should be, then let me recommend a book that will help change that. It's called DISCIPLINE: THE GLAD SURRENDER. Now you ask, "Why a book on discipline and not on prayer?" Well, I think for most of us the reason we don't pray enough is because we lack the discipline.

The cost is $11.50, and that includes shipping and handling. The address to write to is Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or call toll-free: 1-800-759-4JOY. Or you can also find us on the Internet at www.gatewaytojoy.org.

Gateway To Joy is a listener-supported production of Back to the Bible.

Tomorrow Elisabeth talks about why God sometimes says no to your prayer. That's next time on Gateway To Joy.

 
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