This series of essays represents an attempt to get back to the “basics” of the DOC lifestyle. The first nine essays in the series dealt with the virtues set froth by Dr. Day in his “manual” for the DOC, Discipline and Discovery. Beginning with this essay, we are shifting to the seven recommended disciplines of the Order, the first one of which is private prayer.
As a Spirit-filled Christian who is committed to God’s written Word, I am fully committed to a life of prayer. My journey of private prayer began as a boy. Through the influence of family and church I became an innocent, though naïve, believer in Jesus; and I prayed innocent and naïve prayers. In 1963 my prayer life became more sophisticated and regular, because in that year I made a complete commitment of my life to Jesus Christ. Thus I have been praying for most of my life. I have read hundreds of books about prayer and spent additional hundreds of hours actually praying. And yet I have barely touched the surface of what it means.
The Bible makes some wonderful promises in regard to prayer. To refer only to Jesus and the apostle John, Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). He also told his disciples, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). And then the apostle John declares, “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:21-22). And again he says, “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him” (1 John 5:14-15). Of course these verses contain some stringent conditions. For this kind of prayer to take place, we must be obedient disciples who please God, and we must ask according to God’s will. But that doesn’t take away from the astounding nature of the promise.
Once in a while a book is seen, or a testimony heard, that suggests our prayers always should be “answered,” meaning answered in a positive sense that the thing prayed for shall happen. One area of prayer that belies such a view is that of prayer for physical healing. There is no doubt that we are called to pray for physical healing. Jesus prayed for the sick and commissioned the church to preach, teach and heal; and the apostle James commanded prayer quite specifically for both physical and spiritual needs, with a strong promise regarding the outcome, as follows:
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The same is true in respect to conversion. It is clear to most Christians that it is God’s will that every person be converted to Christ. For example, the apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, after urging prayer for everyone, wrote: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And as we have just seen, God wills that every Christian be healed when sick. So we pray for the conversion of the unsaved, and we pray for the sick. And yet not everyone for whom we pray are converted or healed.
I suspect that most of us have more difficulty with the lack of miraculous healings than with the lack of conversions. After all, one who needs conversion must give assent before conversion can take place. And there can be psychological blocks, etc. that affect the conversion process. But it is a fairly rare individual who doesn’t want to be healed.
In my personal experience the biggest disappointment in prayer for the sick came when I was a young pastor serving my first church. A young couple in our church had two daughters, Tammy and Debbie. We had forged a friendship with the family and enjoyed their company. Then Debbie, a beautiful girl about seven years old, suddenly, and inexplicably, came down with spiral meningitis; and her life hung in the balance for several weeks. Of course her sickness became a matter of intense prayer by the congregation, and especially by me. During Debbie’s sickness I became convinced in prayer that God was going to heal her. It was unusual for me to have that kind of conviction in regard to healing prayer. But it was there. I really believed that the Lord was going to heal her. Moreover I believed that conviction came from God.
And then she died. I was stunned. It certainly was not that I believed God always answers prayer the way we want him to. Rather in that particular instance, through prayer, I had become totally convinced that he was going to heal Debbie. And I was shocked when it didn’t happen. At the time the parents seemed to take it better than I did; but they couldn’t make the necessary adjustments for the long haul. Their relationship began to deteriorate, and they divorced. The experience did not destroy my faith in God, or in his healing power in the present age. But it did shake me. And I must admit that never again have I had the same kind of certain faith in the anticipated results of an intercessory prayer.
Dr. Day, the founder of the DOC, had a similar experience that he recorded in his book, An Autobiography of Prayer. However Day’s disappointment came not in the area of healing prayer, but in the area of prayer for renewal in the church. The need for renewal in his church and community was manifest. God had called him to win souls and renew Christians, and God’s word promised power for the effort. A book entitled Prevailing prayer: the Secret of Soul Winning inspired Day to begin a “protracted meeting,” during which he sponsored prayer meetings every day and preached every evening. Then he spent an entire night in intense prayer for his church and community. He described that night this way:
The hours passed. It was winter. The church grew colder and colder. My body ached and my heart ached. The longer I prayed, the more alone I felt. Where was God? Had I failed him? Wasn’t I praying right? Why didn’t he at least help me pray, breathe some faith into my wavering breast, give me some sign of his presence or some assurance of his power? At last, toward morning I stumbled, half frozen, homeward through the snow, inwardly defeated, yet still assuring myself that God was merely testing my faith and that the needed revival was on the way.
But it wasn’t. It never came to that community. Stubbornly I continued the series for four weeks, preaching, pleading, praying. Then the meeting closed, with little apparent result (Autobiography of Prayer, p. 34).
The kinds of experiences just outlined are not the kind that most pastors and other ministers usually share. They are too painful and discouraging. And yet most of us have been through that fire. In Dr. Day’s case, he found relief in a theology of prayer that emphasized tapping the consciousness of God that always is available to us with our own consciousness in a way that results in a satisfying and creative fellowship with God (Autobiography, pp. 40-46). That enabled him to lift petitions to God for the purpose of unfolding and seeing fulfilled the will, guidance and power of God, rather than seeking God’s help with his own agendas (Autobiography, p. 100).
I never would have thought to frame the solution for me in terms of consciousness, as Dr. Day did; but I nevertheless came to a place in my prayer life similar to that of Dr. Day. The language that has been more comfortable for me is the language of Jesus in his parable of the vine and the branches. I refer to the language of oneness, or union, with God. Jesus expressed it in terms of a mutual abiding relationship with him. In a verse already mentioned above (John 15:7) Jesus declared, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This mutual abiding relationship between Jesus and believers that Jesus taught is the foundation of my way of understanding intercessory prayer. By abiding in him, and letting him abide in me (through the indwelling Holy Spirit), I can be in union with him in a way that enables me to pray for his will with true faith (in the sense of trust, trust in the one with whom I am in union).
There may be a hundred reasons, unknown to me, why a particular prayer is not answered as I envision. But it doesn’t matter. I will pray with persistence, as Jesus he taught me to do (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8). But at the same time I will entrust every person and situation to Christ and his omnipotent, loving hand.
As I said at the beginning of this essay, the first recommended spiritual discipline of the DOC is private prayer. I am glad that is so. In no other way are we able to maintain the mutual abiding relationship with Christ that keeps us in the faith and enables us to pray intercessory prayers effectively. As we in the DOC are called back to the basics of spiritual living, private prayer is a foundation stone.