By Elder Lawrence Nelson
Prayer is absolutely vital to a robust Christian life. Prayer is something God’s last-day people need to cultivate in a very stirring and committed manner. The more we pray the closer we are drawn to God and the greater our faith grows.
My father was a great believer that God answered prayer. He often told how God answered his prayer when as a young man he tried desperately to overcome his drinking habit before he became an Adventist. He was a plasterer by trade, working in the Los Angeles area. Each night, as he returned to his home after his work day, he had a habit of spending time at a saloon located at the corner where he got off the street car.
As the days went by he realized he was well on the road to becoming an alcoholic. Listening to his mother’s prayers convinced him that God could help him. One day he asked God to help him not to stop at the saloon that night when he got off the street car. He even decided to help himself by riding the street car one block further to avoid walking by the saloon where he always stopped. He did not realize that the devil had a saloon on the next corner also.
Those were the days when the entrance door to the saloon was composed of two half-doors, allowing the liquor aroma to pass over and under the door and out to the sidewalk. As he started to walk by he was compelled by the smell to enter. He didn’t want to, he had determined not to, but his feet took him to the door automatically. His hands pushed the door in. Suddenly he remembered his morning prayer for help and again he cried out within his heart, “God, help me!”
Instantly God opened his eyes. What he saw he never forgot to his dying day. For over the bar he saw an evil angel hovering in the air above, controlling a dozen or more men who were drinking at the bar. He was captivated by this magnificent creature about 15 feet in length as it lay in the air above the bar. For a moment he was spell bound, until this evil angel turned from the men and looked him square in the eyes. He became terrified as he beheld such an evil face, and especially the devilish look in his evil eyes. Dad realized that if he joined the men at the bar this devil would completely control him as he was controlling all the other men. Quickly he turned around and walked away, never again to enter any saloon; never again to take another drink.
How often I have heard my father praise God for answering his prayer. In just a few months he became a baptized Seventh-day Adventist – ever faithful to the message with the hope that he would live to see Jesus come. Beloved, I know that he will, although he is now asleep in Jesus, for God has told us that all who die faithful to the Three Angels’ Messages will rise in that special resurrection to see Jesus come.
Let us pray. Oh loving Father, in this study we need Thy divine help to teach us how to earnestly pray in such a way that Deity can supply our every need in this final battle with Satan. Help us, Father, to follow Thy divine guidelines in temperate living that we may form characters worthy of Thy approval. In Jesus’ name we ask, Amen.
Faith and prayer are a part of each other, for faith gives birth to prayer and grows stronger, strikes deeper, rises higher in the struggles and the wrestling of a mighty petitioning. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” It is the one great condition of prayer. The lack of it lies at the root of all poor, feeble praying and unanswered prayer.
What a glorious achievement would come to God’s people if only they would be mighty in faith and prayer – especially now in these darkening hours of earth’s closing history. We need men of great faith and men who know how to pray. “Men of faith and prayer will be constrained to go forth with holy zeal, declaring the words which God gives them.” Great Controversy p. 606.
Faith needs to be cultivated. We need to keep praying, “Lord, increase our faith,” for faith is increased by exercise, nourished by sore trials. Faith also grows by reading and meditating upon the Word of God. And best of all, faith thrives in an atmosphere of prayer. Christ clearly taught that faith was the condition on which prayer was answered.
When we pray do we really believe that, without a single doubt, God hears our petitions? “By your fervent prayer of faith you can move the arm that moves the world.” Adventist Home p. 264. What a promise! But this is not easy – it is reached only after much praying and much waiting. Our faith must so increase until we realize and receive all the fullness there is in that Name which is guaranteed to do so much. Many a failure in a revival effort for others has been traceable to a lack of faith. To be much on our knees in private communion with God is the only surety that we shall have Him with us in our personal struggles and in our efforts to convert sinners.
God wants to be represented by a people that are on fire for Him. There are two things that are intolerable to God – insincerity and lukewarmness. Lack of heart and lack of heed are two things that He loathes. To the Laodiceans He said in condemnation, “I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot., I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15, 16. This was God’s expressed judgment on the lack of fire in the Laodicean church, and it is His indictment against individual Christians for the fatal want of sacred zeal. In prayer, nothing short of being red-hot for God can keep the glow of heaven in our hearts while living in this cold, sinful world.
Nothing distinguishes the children of God so clearly and strongly as prayer. It is the one infallible mark and test of being a Christian. But most Christians have not cultivated continual prayer in their lives. Prayer must be habitual – a yearning for divine communion. Prayer has everything to do with molding the soul into the image of God, for it has to do with enhancing and enlarging the measure of divine grace. It brings the child of God into complete communion with Him. The people of God cannot possibly be called Christians if they do not have daily prayer with their Maker.
In our prayers God must be approached in humbleness, for God is the Creator; we are the created. God is holy; we are sinful. God is the Giver; we are the receivers. God is immortal; we are mortal. God is perfect; we are imperfect. God is all-powerful; we are weak. God is self-sustaining; we are dependent. So, when we glimpse, even partially, the wisdom, justice, mercy and greatness of the eternal God we will approach Him with awe and humbleness. Whether we are kneeling or standing, or walking and offering our silent petitions to God we should feel solemn and humble in His presence. With the angels, who veil their faces at the very mention of His name, we will be filled with wonder that the One so great in majesty and power has invited us to commune with Him. Sensing our inadequacy, our sinfulness, and our dependence, we will approach our heavenly Father reverently in Jesus’ name.
The Bible writers had a clear view of God’s greatness, and as a result bowed down as they prayed. No one can examine carefully the reference of Bible writers to prayer without being impressed that the “spiritual greats” of ancient times considered it both a privilege and an obligation to kneel as they approached the Eternal in prayer. Even Solomon, who was king during the peak of Israel’s national glory and prestige, when he offered his magnificent prayer at the dedication of the temple kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel and spread forth his hands toward heaven. (2 Chronicles 6:13). Jesus, who is our example, kneeled down and prayed. (Luke 22:41).
“Where have our brethren obtained the idea that they should stand upon their feet when praying to God? …To bow down when in prayer to God is the proper attitude to occupy. …Both in public and in private worship it is our duty to bow down upon our knees before God when we offer our petitions to Him. This act shows our dependence upon God. …When you assemble to worship God, be sure and bow your knees before Him. Let this act testify that the whole soul, body, and spirit are in subjection to the Spirit of truth. …Man must come on bended knee as a subject of grace, a supplicant at the footstool of mercy.” Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 311 – 314.
However, let us keep in mind that prayer is appropriate anywhere and at any time. “Wherever we are, whatever our employment, our hearts are to be uplifted to God in prayer. …We need not wait until we can bow upon our knees, before we pray.” Bible Commentaries, Volume 3, p. 1136. We have also been instructed, “When engaged in our daily labor, we may breathe out our heart’s desire, inaudible to any human ear; but that word cannot die away into silence, nor can it be lost. Nothing can drown the soul’s desire. …It is God to whom we are speaking, and our prayer is heard.” Gospel Workers p. 258. Don’t you just feel like praising God for such an assurance!
Notwithstanding the fact that God is pleased to hear our prayers, whatever might be our situation or posture, it is indeed unfortunate that congregations stand instead of kneeling to prayer. Such behavior implies that they have a limited understanding of God’s character, His power, majesty and authority. But, as God’s people, let us remember that we are to have compassion and understanding of others and not be condemning of the posture that they may exercise when praying to God.
There is a wonderful song about prayer that is titled “When I Kneel Down to Pray.” I think the words go like this, “Somehow the Savior seems a little nearer, when I kneel down to pray; And fellowship with Him a little dearer, when I kneel down to pray. I know that He will always hear me, for He is never far away, And yet He seems a little closer to me, when I kneel down to pray.” Don’t you like that?
Part of praying is confessing our sins to God, but afterwards it means forsaking these sins. The prayer of repentance is acceptable to God. He delights in hearing the cries of a penitent sinner, but repentance involves not only sorrow for sin, but also the turning away from wrongdoing and living the Christ-centered life. A repentance which does not produce a change in character and conduct is a mere sham. Old things must pass away and all things must become new. Praying which does not result in right thinking and right living is a lie. We have missed the whole office of prayer if we fail to purge our character and rectify our conduct in keeping with our prayer.
Consider with me the Christian soldier. Take the word “war.” This is one word that makes most of us recoil even at the sound of it – except of course Satan. Satan has a strange infatuation with war. He is the author of war. You and I are now engaged in the last great war – the last great controversy between Christ and Satan. In this war two sides are now forming – God’s army and Satan’s army. Almost the entire world is marching to the drumbeat of Satan, but God is also preparing an army which is composed of His children – a few in each nation around the world. They are prepared to be Christian soldiers.
But a soldier for Christ, if he is to have courage for what lies ahead of him, must pray unceasingly. Listen, “The Christian life is a battle and a march. In this warfare there is no release; the effort must be continuous and persevering. It is by unceasing endeavor that we maintain the victory over the temptations of Satan. Christian integrity must be sought with resistless energy and maintained with a resolute fixedness of purpose. No one will be borne upward (and may I pause here to add, that means “taken to heaven”) without stern, persevering effort in his own behalf. All must engage in this warfare for themselves; no one else can fight our battle.” Ministry of Healing p. 453.
Many of today’s Christians are lacking the discipline of self-denial, a spirit of hardship and determination so prominently found in the military life. Yet, the Christian life is a warfare all the way. Prayer and more prayer increases our fighting qualities against sin and the assurance of more certain victories for God’s people. The power of prayer is most forceful on the battlefield amid the din and the strife of the conflict.
Paul was preeminently a soldier of the cross. For him, life was no flowerbed of ease; he was not what you call a dress-parade-, holiday- soldier whose only business was to don a uniform on set occasions. His was a life of intense conflict, of constant effort, and at his close we hear his final song of victory, “I have fought a good fight.”
The Christian soldier is to pray in all seasons and under all circumstances – in times of peace as well as in his hour of active conflict. Prayer must be offered up during his marching and during his fighting. The Christian soldier must be as intense in his praying as he is in his fighting, for his victories will depend much more on his praying than on his fighting. Prayer is the Christian’s weapon. The Christian soldier must always be on his guard for he is faced by a foe that never sleeps, who is always alert and ever prepared to take advantage of the fortunes of war. Watchfulness is a cardinal principle with Christ’s warriors. “Watch and pray” must forever be sounding in his ears.
One of the greatest soldiers for Christ was John the Baptist. Because of his prayer life and temperate diet he became so in tune with God that he was able to do a mighty work in preparation for the Messiah. Inspiration tells us, “In this age, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven, such a work as that of John is to be done. God calls for men who will prepare a people to stand in the great day of the Lord. The message preceding the public ministry of Christ was: ‘Repent, publicans and sinners; repent, Pharisees and Sadducees; repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ As a people who believe in Christ’s soon appearing, we have a message to bear—‘Prepare to meet thy God.’ Amos 4:12. Our message must be as direct as was the message of John. He rebuked kings for their iniquity. Notwithstanding that his life was imperiled, he did not hesitate to declare God’s word. And our work in this age must be done as faithfully. In order to give such a message as John gave, we must have a spiritual experience like his.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 8, p. 332, 333.
Such counsel demands that we must be temperate people, for God is interested in our health and happiness here on this earth as well as in our character development for eternity. The health message is a wonderful gift to the remnant church. It is a great privilege to have the instruction which God has revealed to us concerning the relationship between health habits and character development. In order to gain the victory we must be temperate. It is through the knowledge of God that we become partakers of the divine nature and temperance absolutely is necessary for the achievement of this experience. “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” 1 Corinthians 9:25.
You may ask, “How does health reform aid us in perfecting Christian characters?” – By temperate living – the way we eat – we do by faith according to the Word of God that says, “Whatsoever ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” But, because of indulgence of appetite all of mankind has become confused with a clouded vision so they cannot discern the truths of God’s Word or see the folly of trusting to the institutions and frailties of man. This is Satan’s design. He knows that the mind, which is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, will become defiled through the mistreatment of the physical frame and is less likely to acknowledge the claims of the Creator.
Health reform is one of our greatest blessings for it promotes a sound body and mind. It is not a hindrance of an unpleasant yoke. “Its purpose is to secure the highest development of body and mind and soul.” Counsels on Diet and Food p. 457. God has given the health message to this remnant church not merely to help us to feel better, but to give us clear minds with which to discern truth from error and to develop character. When we overeat we experience a mind-benumbing effect, and a lessening of desire that accompanies it, to appreciate spiritual truths. By eating improperly we can become easily irritated and impatient. If we have consulted our taste buds but not our intellect, and have eaten things that we know are harmful and become sick, then we need to accept responsibility and admit where the cause lies.
What we put into our mouths can mean either health or sickness. God has commanded us to eat only that which is good. Christians must eat and drink in a way that will please God. In order to do this we must govern our eating and drinking according to the principles laid down in the Word of God and not merely by our preferences. In addition, Seventh-day Adventists are even more obliged, as a remnant people, to put in practice the health principles which God has given to us in the Spirit of Prophecy.
The Creator who made us knows what is best for us to eat. God is love. He never deprives us of anything that is for our own good. Therefore, it is for our own good to obey Him. Intemperance always leads to moral weakness. “When men and women are truly converted, they will conscientiously regard the laws of life that God has established in their being, thus seeking to avoid physical, mental, and moral feebleness. …We must answer to God for our habits and practices. Therefore, the question for us is not, ‘What will the world say?’ but, ‘How shall I, claiming to be a Christian, treat the habitation God has given me?’” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6, p. 369, 370.