‘At an address in Cambridge some time ago (reported in “The Life of Faith,” April 3rd, 1912), Mr. S.D. Gordon told in his own inimitable way the story of a man in his own country, to illustrate from real life the fact of the reality of prayer, and that it is not mere talking.
“This man,” said Mr. Gordon,
came of an old New England family, a bit farther back an English family. He was a giant in size, and a keen man mentally, and a university-trained man. He had gone out west to live, and represented a prominent district in our House of Congress, answering to your House of Commons. He was a prominent leader there. He was reared in a Christian family, but he was a skeptic, and used to lecture against Christianity. He told me he was fond, in his lectures, of proving, as he thought, conclusively, that there was no God. That was the type of his infidelity.
One day he told me he was sitting in the Lower House of Congress. It was at the time of a presidential election, and when party feeling ran high. One would have thought that was the last place where a man would be likely to think about spiritual things. He said: ‘I was sitting in my seat in that crowded House and that heated atmosphere, when a feeling came to me that the God, whose existence I thought I could successfully disprove, was just there above me, looking down on me, and that he was displeased with me, and with the way I was doing. I said to myself, “This is ridiculous, I guess I’ve been working too hard. I’ll go and get a good meal and take a long walk and shake myself, and see if that will take this feeling away.” He got his extra meal, took a walk, and came back to his seat, but the impression would not be shaken off that God was there and was displeased with him. He went for a walk, day after day, but could never shake the feeling off. Then he went back to his constituency in his state, he said, to arrange matters there. He had the ambition to be the governor of his state, and his party was the dominant party in the state, and, as far as such things could be judged, he was in line to become Governor there, in one of the most dominant States of our central west. He said: “I went home to fix that thing up as far as I could, and to get ready for it. But I had hardly reached home and exchanged greetings, when my wife, who was an earnest Christian woman, said to me that a few of them had made a little covenant of prayer that I might become a Christian.” He did not want her to know the experience that he had just been going through, and so he said as carelessly as he could, “When did this thing begin, this praying of yours?” She named the date. Then he did some very quick thinking, and he knew, as he thought back, that it was the day on the calendar when that strange impression came to him for the first time.
He said to me, “I was tremendously shaken. I wanted to be honest. I was perfectly honest in not believing in God, and I thought I was right. But if what she said was true, then merely as a lawyer sifting his evidence in a case, it would be good evidence that there really is something in their prayer. I was terrifically shaken, and wanted to be honest, and did not know what to do. That same night I went to a little Methodist chapel, and if somebody had known how to talk with me, I think I should have accepted Christ that night.” Then he said that the next night he went back again to that chapel, where meetings were being held each night, and there he kneeled at the altar, and yielded his great strong will to the will of God. Then he said, “I knew I was to preach,” and he is preaching still in a western state.
That is half the story. I also talked with his wife – I wanted to put the two halves together, so as to get the bit of teaching in it all – and she told me this. She had been a Christian – what you call a nominal Christian – a strange confusion of terms. Then there came a time when she was led into a full surrender of her life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then she said, “At once there came a great intensifying of desire that my husband might be a Christian, and we made that little compact to pray for him each day until he became a Christian. That night I was kneeling at my bedside before going to rest, praying for my husband, praying very earnestly and then a voice said to me, “Are you willing for the results that will come if your husband is converted?” The little message was so very distinct that she said she was frightened; she had never had such an experience. But she went on praying still more earnestly, and again there came the quiet voice, “Are you willing for the consequences?” And again there was a sense of being startled, frightened. But she still went on praying, and wondering what this meant, and a third time the quiet voice came more quietly than ever as she described it, “Are you willing for the consequences?”
Then she told me she said with great earnestness, “O God, I am willing for anything thou dost think good, if only my husband may know thee, and become a good Christian man.” She said that instantly, when that prayer came from her lips, there came into her heart a wonderful sense of peace, a great peace that she could not explain, a ‘peace that passeth understanding’, and from that moment – it was the very night of the covenant, the night when her husband had that first strange experience – the assurance never left her that he would accept Christ. But all those weeks she prayed with the firm assurance that the result was coming.
What were the consequences? They were of a kind that I think no one would think small. She was the wife of a man in a very prominent political position; she was the wife of a man who was in the line of becoming the first official of his state, and she officially the first lady socially of that state, with all the honor that that social standing would imply. Now she is the wife of a Methodist preacher, with her home changed every two or three years, she going from this place to that, a very different social position, and having a very different income than she would otherwise have had. Yet I never met a woman who had more of the wonderful peace of God in her heart, and of the light of God in her face, than that woman.’
When we pray honestly, earnestly, intensely, God’s heart is moved with compassion as He hears our words, knows our intent and reaches into our soul to speak to us what we need to hear.
I have also experienced God’s audible voice, which is frightening when you’re inside a big conference room all by yourself and there’s nobody else around. When He asks a question of you that “comes out of nowhere”; when you’re expecting sweet fellowship and instead you’re rebuked or challenged (and rightfully so). …when you’re asking of Him and He turns around and instead asks of you. Yes, I was frightened – so much so that I nearly fell off the chair I was sitting in and instantly looked around to see who was speaking to me! I just know my hair was standing on end and I had goose bumps all over!
I’ll never forget that day as long as I live and I believe that was the whole point, lest we have to repeat the process. Gulp. His words to me were: “How can you expect Me to bless you (which is what I was asking for at the moment), when you haven’t done what I told you to do?” Was there any argument on my part? Nope, prayer time was over. God – 1, Rhonda – zip. I instantly left that conference room shaken to the core and determined to go and do what He told me to do before I dare approach Him again, for anything.
Another time when I was praying earnestly, the response from God was just as heavy to my heart, but holy fear didn’t follow as much as I felt shame of a sort. My daughter had just enlisted and I was fearful that she would be sent off to war to die. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing – she’s so young! She is my ‘only’ child,” I wailed in protest to the Lord over and over. And then God said very pointedly to me, “Then you know how I felt.” Whoa.
My sniveling was finished that day on the issue as I hung my head and wept bitter tears of repentance and embarrassment at my lack of trust in His provision of protection. But this time, God did not leave me to myself like He did when He spoke to me in the conference room. I experienced that ‘peace that passeth understanding’. It’s glorious to the heart and comforting to the mind.
‘D. L. Moody used to tell a story of a little child whose father and mother had died, and who was taken into another family. The first night she asked whether she could pray as she used to do. They said: “Oh, yes!” So she knelt down and prayed as her mother had taught her; and when that was ended, she added a little prayer of her own: “O God, make these people as kind to me as father and mother were.” Then she paused and looked up, as if expecting the answer, and then added: “Of course you will.” How sweetly simple was that little one’s faith! She expected God to answer and “do”, and “of course” she got her request, and that is the spirit in which God invites us to approach Him.’
A happy life is a surrendered life. Amen.
(Excerpts from E.M. Bounds: The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer)