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The Privilege of Prayer
By Brian Pepper
I remember reading in a copy of the Readers Digest the thrilling story of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, the famous American War Ace of World War 1. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and his seven companions were forced down through lack of fuel while flying on a U.S.A. government mission over the Pacific Ocean during World War 1. With hardly any clothing, no water, and only four oranges for food, they were set adrift on the open sea. For 21 days they drifted in rubber rafts under the torrid heat of the sun. "Our faces, necks, hands, legs and ankles burned, blistered and turned raw," said Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. Their dry parched lips were covered with sores. They were in agony, hopeless and despairing. These men were not religious men, but one of them did have a New Testament so they decided to read the Bible and to call on God for help. After reading a passage of Scripture they offered up a short word of prayer. Some time later a gull appeared from no where and it settled on Captain Rickenbacker's head. They quickly caught the bird and cleaned it, divided it up for food and used the en-trails for fish bait and soon had fresh fish to eat. Then a sudden squall came bringing refreshing showers and they were able to catch some drinking water. Some time later they were rescued. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was interviewed by the newspaper men and he told them that it was prayer and faith in God that had brought them to safety.
That experience reminded me of another very famous man by the name of Elijah. When Elijah prayed, not only did his prayer bring fire down from heaven but it broke a drought that had lasted for three and one-half years. And more than that, it brought about a revival in Israel.
In James 5:16 the writer had Elijah in mind when he wrote theses words, "The effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Very few people realize the tremendous power of prayer, or what remarkable power is available to the Christian. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker realized the power of prayer and his life was saved because of that knowledge. A man may be blind and unable to read the Bible but he can pray. A man may be deaf and unable to hear the words of life but he can pray. A man may be dumb and unable to speak but God knows his thoughts and answers his unspoken petitions. The angels of heaven make a record of every prayer that is sincere and earnest. It is very important that we take time to pray and not let our minds become absorbed by the material things of life which so often happens.
Everyone realizes that we are in a worldwide Depression, they call it a Recession. Some folk liken it to the 1929 Depression. I want to tell you that things were bad back then. Many businessmen took their lives because of heavy financial losses. The United States of America was in a very serious position. So certain United States financial leaders were called to Washington to study ways of getting the nation back on its feet. A solution seemed impossible. With millions of unemployed and many people hungry and out of work, something had to be done. The situation was desperate. But what? Various plans were discussed, but none seemed to have the answer. At last Mr Eugene Black the district governor of the Federal Reserve Bank was asked to give his analysis and to make suggestions. Moving to the front, he turned and faced the financiers, and without any comment he began to repeat the words of Scripture found in 2 Chronicles 7:14. "If My people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." That unexpected note from a financial expert was like an electric shock. It turned the tide of discussion. These words point the solution of every problem whether it is national or international, personal or community.
I want to tell you that our greatest danger today is not enemy invasion from outside but spiritual erosion from within. Did you know that our country spends more money on liquor than on religion, education and welfare combined? I could hardly believe the statement in Adelaide’s Advertiser that South Australians consume over 100 gallons per day. As never before it is time to pray. It is only as we recognize prayer as a necessity that we will pray as we ought to.
Elijah, that mighty prophet who defied kings and turned a whole nation back to God was a man of prayer. James 5:17 says, "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months." You will notice the Scripture says, “He prayed earnestly.” The marginal reading is "He prayed in his prayer.” There is the secret of his power. He put himself into his prayer. Someone has said, "Prayer does not need proof; it needs practice." Not necessarily long hours on our knees but rather continual communion with God.
Years ago a lady whom I knew very well had an incurable cancer. The doctors told her she had only weeks to live. Realizing the power of prayer she placed herself in the hands of the LORD. Notice what the apostle James says in James 5:14, 15, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the LORD, And the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the LORD shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” Some years later I was over in the Eastern states and I met this lady, her cancer had been healed in a miraculous way.
Prayer has also been called the cry of one in need. It was David who in desperation cried out to God in Psalm 31:9, "Have mercy upon me, 0 Lord, for I am in trouble.” He was hedged in by almost insurmountable difficulties, at times he even despaired of his life. But those trials made him realize that he was dependant on God. And so he said in Psalm 46:1 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." David knew that there was a source of strength that he could turn to and claim protection.
It is wonderful to know that when surrounded by mounting problems and times of distress, we have access to a never failing supply of divine power. With disaster following disaster these days it certainly is a time to pray. It is right to ask God to help us when the pressures come on but we need to remember that prayer is not just asking God for things.
Unfortunately there are some who have the mistaken idea that prayer is a series of gim-mes. Give me this Lord, Give me that Lord. It is only natural that we are anxious to tell the Lord all our trouble. We are also anxious to ask Him for this and that.
However there is a very significant text which is found in Job: 42: 10. "And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends; also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Did you notice that things really happened when Job began to pray for his friends? He received not only his health back but material blessings as well. You can see that it is very important that we pray for others as well as ourselves.
The best definition I have ever read of prayer is the one found in a little book entitled 'Steps to Christ.' It says there that "prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend." Now isn’t that wonderful? I have never read anything better than that. It is like talking to a lifetime friend.
Did you know that prayer is as old as the world? In Genesis 3:8 we read, "And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: ...." Back in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve spoke to God face to face. They had direct communion with the LORD. That must have been wonderful! What a tragedy that sin came in to this world and robbed man of that precious privilege. While we cannot speak face to face with God we can still talk to Him in prayer.
It is rather unfortunate that there are too many who think that prayer is merely a kind of key to get things and they are very disappointed when they do not get what they wanted. God does not always see our needs as we do. In Matthew 5:45 we are told, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
If the Christian farmer always had good crops there is a possibility that the atheist would probably join the church which of course would make him a hypocrite. And if the Christian never got sick it could be that the churches would be overcrowded. You see, if prayer gave us everything that we wanted there is a chance that we would probably pray not so much for holiness as for the material benefits we receive. This is one of the many reasons that God does not always answer prayer just as we would like to have our prayers answered. Possibly it is like the little boy who failed to say grace at the table one morning. His father asked him why. The answer was surprising. "We do not need to pray for bread today. I looked in the bread box and there is enough for three days."
Then why do we need to pray? God knows our need. Do we have to tell Him all about it? Surely if He loves us and is interested in us He would supply those needs without our asking. This is true. In Matthew 6:8 Jesus says, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him." God knows our needs but He loves to have us ask Him about it. Yes, God knows even before you remind Him, but He delights to answer our prayers providing of course that the prayer is according to His will.
There are some people who do not receive the thing that they asked for so they get quite upset about it. The trouble is with us, not with God. We are sometimes a little shortsighted in our prayers. We ask God to give us that which will not be for our best good.
Every prayer that ascends to God is answered but not always as we expect or anticipate. For instance when we pray not to be led into temptation you have your part to play in that prayer. You must resist as far as possible the temptations that come to you. And if they become too strong then leave it to God to see you through. I suppose most of you have heard the Negro spiritual "O Lord, I am standing in the need of prayer." And how true that is.
Now I do not know if you have heard this story but it certainly is a wonderful one. It happened quite a long time ago but it goes on record as a very remarkable happening. In the summer of 1876 the grasshoppers did much damage to the crops in Minnesota. In the spring of 1877 the farmers were worried, for there was every indication that this dreaded plague might destroy the rich wheat crop and bring ruin to thousands. The situation was so serious that the Governor John Pillsbury proclaimed April 26 as a day of prayer and fasting. He urged every man, woman, and child to ask God to help against the terrible scourge. On that April day, all the schools, shops, stores, and offices were closed. Well, what happened? The next day dawned bright and clear. Temperatures soared to mid summer heat. It was not normal April weather. You can imagine the disappointment and horror of the people when billions of larvae of the dreaded pest began wiggling into life. There were three days of unusual heat and the larvae were all hatched out and were getting ready for their work of destruction. On the fourth day the temperature dropped suddenly, and that night frost covered the earth. That frost killed the creeping, crawling locusts just as surely as if poison or fire had been used. The grateful farmers never forgot that April 26. It went down in the history of Minnesota as the day God answered the prayers of the people. It happened then and it happens today.
St Paul says in Philippians 4:6 “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known unto God." There is really no limit to what God can do for us His children. God can do great things for us, but lack of faith on our part or sin in our hearts, may keep Him from doing that which He would. Someone said, "Prayer is the power that moves the arm that moves the world." For 6000 years this power has been at man's disposal.
Jesus recognized the importance of prayer. He spent whole nights in prayer. At other times He arose before the break of day in order to pray. Jesus dare not neglect prayer. He had a very heavy program of healing and teaching each day; so in order to give out He needed to take in. That communion with the Father supplied His need. Jesus said, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint." It is only when we recognize prayer as a necessity will we pray as we ought to.
As we mentioned earlier, considering the times in which we are living, the seriousness of the events that we are seeing in the world; the most urgent need of the days in which we live is time to pray. The question we have to answer is of vital importance to our eternal inheritance. How is my prayer life? How is your prayer life? How is your child’s prayer life? If our prayer life is right then everything else will be right. If ever it was to pray it is right now.