(Chapter 1 of 3)
I met in England, a lady who told this of bit of a story. In a book that came into her hand the statement was made that one might pray here in London, for example, for someone two thousand miles away, and that something would happen at the other end; that always when one prays something is happening at the other end, and is changing because of the prayer. This lady had a brother in India, a long distance away, who was not a Christian, and she at once thought, " Now, if I pray especially for him, will something happen? Is this statement of the book true!" She felt led to pray especially for that brother, that he might come to Christ. She went on praying, day by day, saying to herself, half wondering as she said it, "Is something happening at the other end?" and, in her heart, saying, "Something is happening; but I wish I knew!"
By-and-by, in the course of the usual family correspondence, she put this sentence in the letter to her brother: "Has anything unusual happened to you lately? "That was the only reference she made to her special praying. Back, in the course of the mails from India, came a letter from him, saying this: "Yes, something has happened. Two months ago my thought was turned to God; I do not know why. It was not any book that I was reading; it was not any sermon that I heard; I did not go where I would hear sermons; but I do know that my thought was turned to think about God." He had been trained in a Christian home, he knew the whole Gospel story, and he now said, "I was led to give my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, and as I write to you I am a Christian man." She ran her mind quickly back over the calendar. The letter said, "Two months ago," and she found that two months carried the story back to the time when she began her special praying for her brother. That is, something had happened at the other end.
And, I have no doubt, that as one prays and centers all the power of one's thought upon, say, South Africa, upon those whom you may name here and there, upon this station and that, for my part, I am very clear about this: something is happening in South Africa. And, if it be true that you and I can join in prayer, or can go aside singly, or in twos, or threes, and pray that something may happen, something be changed through our prayer, then surely we will get more time alone with the Master to change things. And if things are not changed that ought to be, it will be a bit of reproach upon us that it is not so.
One's personal service must always seem very great. It is great. Wherever the Spirit of the Lord Jesus sways the heart, there is a passion to serve. You speak a word here, you do a kindly deed there, you conduct a meeting in this place, and you teach a class yonder. There is a passion to serve, wherever the Master's plan sways the heart. You must spend and be spent out. And yet, I think, the more we come in touch with our Lord Jesus Christ, and the more time we spend alone with His Word, the more we realize this: that we are doing most for man when we go away from man into the secret place with God.
When we are serving — I mean by that word "serving," direct personal service — it touches just the one place where we are of course. There is always a limitation in service. But prayer is peculiar in this: the limitations are gone. I may touch, in my spirit, by my prayer, different nations. When I go alone to pray, all the limitations of voice and bodily presence are gone. And I can loosen out the power of God that will touch a continent, and then a second continent, and more. If we realize that to be true, as without question it is true, we surely will get more time alone; time when the mind is fresh and clear, and the spirit is unhurried, time often, alone with the Master over His Word; and then we will ask, and then He will do. Although this will always remain true, there will be far more done than we know about. If we gauge our praying by what we know of the results, we will not do as much praying as we should. But if we gauge our praying by what the Master says is happening; and we walk in the dark as far as seeing is concerned, though not in the dark when we have the light of His face; if we go wholly by His Word, we will keep on asking and asking for bigger and bigger things.
If there be any regrets in heaven — heaven is not supposed to have any regrets, we think of heaven as having all the regrets turned out and kept out, — and yet, if there could creep in regrets, I think there would be at least two, as we look back to the earth-life from the hills of God. One regret would be this: that we did not do more quiet praying, more claiming. I do not mean more simple repetition of religious language on our knees, but more insistent claiming, that the power of the Lord Jesus Christ shall apply here, and there, over the earth. That will be one regret, if there be regrets: that we did not ask enough, and did not ask big enough. We will say to ourselves, "What beggarly askers we were down on the earth!"
The second regret, I think, if there be regrets, will be this: that we did not trust enough, that we did not trust God enough. We did not step out, when we could not see where to put the foot down, when He said, "Step out." And if we might rule our lives here by what we shall think of them when we get yonder, then, I believe, we shall surely wear down the doorsills into our prayer-rooms.
I suggest that we make a very careful examination of the doorsills going into our prayer-rooms. Some folks' doorsills into their prayer-rooms are very nicely rounded, as the carpenter made the sill. And that is a very good sill for the carpenter to make, but not a good doorsill for a good Christian to retain. The only decent doorsill into the prayer-room of the Christian man is one that has been flattened down, very very flat, worn through. I suggest that we make a rather careful examination of that door-sill, and if it is too big, just proceed to wear it down quietly, faithfully, day-by-day; and if we wear it down we will find a great wearing up in the lives of men, wherever our prayers may be turned in and out.
I have thought of a word or two from the Master's lips about prayer. It is very striking that, as the opposition to our Lord Jesus increased, the intensity of His teaching about prayer increased. As it became more plain to Him that He was to suffer death, as the opposition to Himself by the Jerusalem leaders grew more acute and pronounced than before, He taught more about prayer to His inner circle, and He said the keenest and the most intense things about its power.
There are, in the last six months of His life, six statements about prayer. I think I may take the time to speak just a bit, in grouping up those six things, because if we could get them afresh in our minds, and live by them, there would be a new South Africa, there would be a new Japan — new, in spite of opposition, not the opposition wholly gone, but the victory rising up through the opposition. Because we would find that prayer gives victory through opposition.
Wherever God goes, Satan goes. Satan always travels on God's roads; Satan is not a road-builder; he never makes roads; he is always a thief; he always steals God's pathway. Where the missionary goes with the message of the Cross, you will always find the evil one stealing along behind him, hard on his heels, using the road he made. There will be opposition, and oftentimes the more we pray, the keener the opposition; but in spite of it the brighter the shining of the sun through the darkening and gathering clouds, and the greater the victory in the midst of the opposition.
The first of these six promises is in Matt. 28: 19. It is a word spoken about six months before the end came. The Master said: "Again I say unto you, — notice the words as we go along — "that if two of you." There is peculiar power in corporate prayer. There is marvelous power in individual prayer: but there is an intensified power when a group of people come together to pray.
Two here means at least two, any number above one. The Divine unit is three; the human unit is two. The unit of humanity is not a man or a woman, but a man and a woman. We can understand the Trinity better if we think of our humanity. Just as it takes two to make the perfect human unit, it takes three to make the perfect divine unit. Now the Master says there is peculiar power when at least two or more — the number is indefinitely above one — gather to pray. There is peculiar power in that corporate prayer.
"If two of you shall agree." "Agree" is a music word. If you symphonize, if the wish of your heart and of the heart by your side joining with you, if these two perfectly harmonize — no jar, but perfect music in the two — if two of you make music in the longing of your heart.
"If two of you agree on earth." "On earth" is the place of prayer, because it is the place of conflict. There is peculiar power in being on the earth. Have you sometimes wished that the earth-journey was over, and you were in the Master's presence? Have you said, "How glad I will be when all this fighting and conflict is past, and I am up around the throne with the redeemed"? Well, it will be wonderful there with the Master. But, remember this: when we are on the earth, we are in the place of peculiar, power, because we are in the place of conflict. It is not the easiest place to live; it is not the most enjoyable place to live. There will be far more joy yonder, when we see His face, and a wondrous peace; but this is the place of conflict, and therefore the place of power. We are on the battlefield here, and every prayer uttered on the battlefield has peculiar power, because it directly interferes with and hinders the power of the Evil One. Let us rejoice that we are on the earth, and stay here by His grace just as long as we can, for this is the place of power in prayer, because it is the place of conflict.
"If two of you make music in your praying down on the battlefield as touching anything that they shall ask." "Anything!" That does not quite mean anything, does it? It does not exactly mean any thing, does it? You put a fence on this side and say, "Of course, these things are left out on that side." Somebody else puts a fence on this side and says, "Of course certain things are excluded here." We are very fond of putting a fence around that word and shutting something out. "It means a great many things, but not exactly anything," we say; and thus we contradict the Master, and under-cut the power of His Word by the limitation of our faith. He said, "anything," and He meant anything. "If two of you agree on earth as touching anything."
Mark this, the Master's meaning was just this: that where two make music with their prayer, and their music makes music with His heart, where there is perfect agreement upward and crossward, where there is music with His heart, and within our hearts in the perfect agreement of our thought and purpose in prayer; there the Master says: "There is no limit to the things that you may ask for." That is what He is saying here. "As touching anything that they shall ask" — money things, men things. The changing of a man's will is the most difficult thing of all. The loosing out of gold is the most difficult of all, I sometimes think, because it involves the human will. The last thing a man gives is his pocket-book, or his cheque-book — that is the last bondage to be freed. He is a wonderfully freed man who gets freedom from that, and yet even that is included. There is no slavery like the slavery of gold. "As touching anything that ye shall ask, it shall" — listen! use your pencil, please, under the word "shall" underscore "shall" till all your sense of doubt goes. "It shall be done for them of My Father who is in heaven."
Then the reason is given. Why? Because we pray earnestly? Because we believe? Because we have faith? Those things all count, but they are not the thing. For where two or three, that is, any number above one, are gathered together, drawn together, drawn together by the Holy Spirit moving in their hearts — "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." If you want to know how much the word "anything" means, find out how much that word "I" means. "There am I." If there be any limitation on the "I," that is a limitation on the "anything." "There am I in the midst." That is to say, if there are two, there are three; if three people meet to pray, there are four there. There is at least One more than you and I can see, and He is taking our prayer and making it His. That is the first of these six statements on prayer.
The second is in the Gospel of Mark. Chapter 11: 22. It is a word spoken within the last ten days. It is in connection with the story of the fig tree. The Master spoke to it, and it withered away at His word, and they marveled. Of course, there is a meaning in that fig-tree incident, quite apart from the prayer teaching. That fig-tree incident was practically an acted-out parable for the Israel nation. We do not get the real meaning of why He should smite the fig tree with death, except, as we understand that the fig tree stood for the nation of Israel. Their rejection of the Life brought them death. It is a parable in action. The disciples marveled at the quickness of the result. The tree withers away — spoken to in the morning, gone in the evening — as quickly as that. And as they marvel, the Master says, "Have faith in God."
And, please, remember that the chief factor in prayer is not faith, though that is so essential. The chief thing is God. The thing to look at is not your faith, but God. Have faith in Him. Of course, you can have faith in Him! Have faith in God. "Verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain" — picking out the most difficult thing in all the world, that a mountain should move off into the sea! — "Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea." If you live in a mountain country, or if you can call to your mind a mountain country, you cannot think of a mountain moving off, of its own accord, into the sea, can you? I can't. I can't conceive of Mount Washington, or Mount Blanc moving off. I can imagine men trying to spade and shovel them down. But to see the thing move off! — that is His illustration.
You say it is impossible for that man to be changed, for that opposition to be turned back, for this thing to change, and that thing to change.
Well, the Master knew how we would be tempted in just that way, and so He gave this illustration: "Shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea." Will you notice rather keenly, please, that the prayer influences the mountain. The mountain is the difficulty, it is the hindrance. The whole purpose of the prayer is to move the obstacle. The prayer does not work upward, it works from upward outward; it works from God downward into a human heart, and outward against the difficulty.
"And shall not doubt in his heart." That is the best definition of faith in the English language. That is the Master's own definition of faith — shall not doubt in his underneath thinking. As he kneels to pray and talks very earnestly, he won't find a sneaking, creeping-in question: "Will this thing come? It is really too much to expect it to come the way I am asking; I hope it will." "Shall not doubt in his heart," means shall not laugh behind the flap of the tent, like Sarah of old. God said, "I will return to this woman of ninety years, and the order of nature shall be changed, and a son will gladden this tent." And somebody laughed. Sarah said, "I know that cannot come!" The Master says — shall not laugh behind the flap of the tent, shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what He saith cometh to pass, he shall have it — "Therefore I say unto you, all things." Notice how sweeping that is. All the fencing is gone. "All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, or, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
Then I think we should always read the next verse. It speaks about forgiveness, but it speaks about more. "Whensoever ye stand praying forgive, if ye have aught against anyone, Forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you." That is to say, as you are bowed in prayer and you are conscious of anything in your life that is not God-like, it goes out. Prayer is a great searcher. There is no looking-glass like the knees to reveal the heart — most folks do not want to see into the heart, for they see too much in it. But the Master says, " If you find, as you quietly bow in prayer, that thing there which is not pleasing to Him, it has to go out. If, as you quietly bow in prayer, the soft Spirit-voice says, "I want you to make this change in your life," it is made; it is not discussed; you do not argue the matter, but you make the change.
If that quiet Voice says to you, for example, "There is that bit of property you have, it yields you a very nice income; I want you to put that on the market and let Me have it, please. I will take care of you, I will see about your income. Just now the thing I am concerned about," the Voice says, "is not the income, but the outcome. If you will attend to the outcome, I will attend to the income." If that quiet Voice says, "You take that bit that you control, and change it into gold, and use it yonder," you will say, "Yes, Master, guide me in the best way to get the most for it." You will do as the Voice says. This is what the Master means here; this is the full touch with Him. It is far more than forgiveness if we quietly follow Him here. This is the secret of the "all-things," and the "anythings," and of the "it-shall-be-done."
The other "done" statements are in the last long quiet talk the Master had with those eleven men, after Judas had gone out. That talk is preserved for us in Chapters 13-17 of John. It begins in John 13 near the end of the chapter in verse 31. It says, "After Judas had gone out." Mark that, the Master does not open His heart, He does not say the most intimate things, He does not give the freest power for prayer, until Judas has gone out. And there is a lesson of great force for us there. The Master cannot open His heart fully, He cannot open His power freely, to us, until any remnant of the Judas thing has been put forcibly out, and the door is shut against him. And oftentimes if you find that the answer to prayer is not coming, you would better just light a lantern, clean the glass of the lantern, and light it, and go hunting around for bits of Judas, at the time when he may be hanging around the table of the Master's prayer plan. After Judas has gone out, then the Master seems free, and He gives those wonderful words that run from Chapter 13: 31, to the close of Chapter 16.
In the midst of that talk, in those marvelous words preserved for us by John, there are just two things that stand out as the objective, as the driving point of all. The first is this: "You shall do greater things than I have done." The second is how we will do them: we will do them through praying. The rest of those chapters lead up to these, that is, I mean, they are the underlying basis of these. He says: "If ye abide." He says there must be the most perfect union, He says there must be obedience; and these words all mean simply this: there must be the most perfect touch of purpose between Him and me. I abide in Him; that means I obey Him, I obey that quiet inner Voice which may touch and call for the thing I prize most. I will obey. That is the underneath current of the whole talk — abide, obey, live in Him, do what He asks. Now then, as the result of this, we are to ask and He is to do.
I will simply repeat those four great promises. But remember, as I do, that these four are the peaks of this long talk that runs through chapters 13 to 17, including the prayer, and that all the rest leads up to this. In John 14: 13, 14, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, that will I do." Chapter 15: 7: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will and it shall be done unto you." Chapter 15: 16: Notice keenly, "Ye did not choose Me." He is not talking about salvation here, that is settled. It is not a salvation verse, it is a service verse. He has chosen us for a certain important service. That is what He is talking about. "Ye did not choose Me. I chose you" for a certain great purpose of service, "and appointed you that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My Name, He may give it you."
The fourth of these four is found in Chapter 16: "In that day ye shall ask Me no question." They were asking many questions. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, if ye shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in My Name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name." They had asked, they were praying men; but they had not been given the privilege of asking in that great Name. This is a new step up. "He will give it you in My Name." "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name. Now ask in that Name and ye shall receive, and your joy" — how would you feel if all the things you are asking for, the biggest things, were all to be done? Would there be singing?
If everything that your heart is asking for — for some loved one, for difficulties in certain personal problems that you have been working on for a long time — if the whole answer came in a flash now, do you think the roof could hold the volume of your singing! That is what the Master is saying here — that your joy may not simply be full, but bubbling over full. The emphasis of that verse is in the 26th verse: "In that day ye shall ask in My Name; and I do not say unto you that I would need to ask the Father to listen to you, because the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me." He now is especially loving you — "and ye have believed that I come forth from Him." That is, the Master asks for us — on our behalf, but the Father listens; The Father says, "What will you have?" and He gives it for the Son's sake.