The Power of Prayer
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." James 5:16
The power of prayer never can be fully understood on the earth. What wonders it has wrought cannot even be imagined. It is one of the forces of the world which is not down in the philosopher's scheme, and whose influence on the events and results of life is not the subject of mathematical calculation. It is not estimated in the preparation of tables of probabilities. In secret, in their inner chambers, lowly ones bow, pleading with God, and immediately new elements come in to modify the flow of events.
What lost souls prayer has saved, leading them as by an invisible hand to the cross!
What wanderers prayer has reclaimed, turning them from paths of sin and shame into ways of holiness!
What fainting ones prayer has cheered and upborne in hours of weakness and danger, as in quiet closets voices of love have pleaded!
What tempted ones prayer has delivered from the hands of the destroyer, and made strong for victory and noble service!
Only Heaven's great final revealing can make known all the wonders wrought in this world by prayer.
Surely among all prayers that go up to God, none are dearer or more prevailing, than the intercessions of parents for their children. They are hallowed breathings of the purest, tenderest love. Such prayers, if persistent, believing and importunate—may we not say that God always answers in some way in the end?
Monica, the mother of Augustine, prays for her son. For a time he goes deeper and deeper into sin, and it seems that the mother's supplications are unheard or unavailing. But she faints not; she will not give him up; she refuses to be disheartened. For many years her son wanders far from God, farther and farther—but she stays at her altar, undismayed, believing still and pleading with renewed earnestness. At last all her intercessions are answered in one hour when Augustine falls down at Jesus' feet in submission, and instantly turns all the wealth of his sinful life into the service of his new Master.
The mother of John Newton struggled mightily for her child. When he was eight years old, she died. For twenty years her prayers remained unanswered, while he plunged into the vilest depths of sin. But the faithful God sent the answer at last. And then are thousands more who have been saved by a mother's prayers.
A child can never get away from a parent's loving intercession. He may go far from home and roam on the streets and rush into dangers; but these prayers, faith-directed, love-winged, can find him anywhere, and build a wall of fire about him, and draw down over him the sheltering arms of God. He may plunge into some den of evil, some gateway of Hell, and start madly down a Hellward coarse. But if, in his home, loving parents are at their altars pouring out tears and prayers—the strong hand of God is on his shoulder, and he will be restrained and led back.
He may try to keep out of his parents' sight, and to break the restraints that bind him to his home; but he cannot get away from their prayers, nor break the chains of steel with which they have bound him thus to the throne of God. He may roam the world over to get away from God, but sometime, somewhere, in some narrow path—the home prayers will meet him face to face, with drawn sword—as the angel met Balaam in the road, and will turn him back to seek the way of truth and life.
Often a criminal hastens away from the commission of his dark deed, and takes passage in a vessel about to sail, and before his crime is discovered, he is far out upon the sea. With bounding heart he greets the first sight of a foreign shore. Stepping onto that shore, he will be free forever. He will then begin a new life. But when the vessel arrives in port—he is seized, bound in irons, and taken back to pay for his crime. On the quick telegraphic wire the news of his crime and the order for his arrest had outsped his flight, and justice stood waiting to lay her hands upon him and lead him back.
So it is that a parent's prayers often meet and arrest a wandering, sinning child. When he seems farthest away from God and from home influence, and when he is least expecting such a message, suddenly he is halted. An invisible hand is laid upon his arm; he is bound with strong chains, and borne back resistlessly to the bosom of God. It was the home prayers which did it.
A personal allusion may not be amiss. The writer, when a boy of about sixteen, one day carelessly opened the door of his mother's room, not knowing that she was engaged in her devotions. There I saw her bowed in prayer, pleading so earnestly with God that she had not been disturbed by my entrance. Instantly I withdrew, awed by the solemnity which filled the place; but as I softly closed the door, I heard my own name and the fragment of a sentence of prayer which revealed to me the fact that my mother was making intercession for me. Through all the events of the crowded years since that day, that momentary glimpse of my mother on her knees in intercession for me has been a power both of restraint and inspiration in my life.
In times of temptation, far from home, that holy picture has shone out in the darkness, and it has been impossible for me to do the wrong thing. In scenes of danger, that door has seemed again to open, revealing my mother still upon her knees in prayer, and courage and strength have come to my trembling heart.
It is utterly impossible to measure the influence on my life of that one moment's glimpse of my mother on her knees. It was a revelation, and told not only of one prayer that particular day, but of like intercession every day and every night. So it was a perpetual power all the years while the mother lived. And when she went home to God, one of the elements of my sorrow was that her daily intercession would no more rise from earth to Heaven for me.
No loving parent should then ever cease to pray for his child. Nor is it enough to pray once, or only occasionally. We should be "instant in prayer." To pray only for a few months or years is not enough. To cease to pray at all, is to give up the cause and lose everything. It is the last stroke, which fells the tree. It is the last hour of endurance, which wins the battle. Years of intercession have been lost because the parents fainted before the answer came. Every hour of God's delay, a richer blessing is gathered. Every prayer offered to God, is a new pledge laid up in Heaven for the child's salvation.
Men make rope out of many fine threads. One thread alone will not bear much stress; but a thousand threads twisted together make a mighty cable which will hold the ship against the storm. In the same way, home prayers may seem to be weak threads, as they are breathed out from quivering, trembling lips; but thousands of them make a mighty cable which binds the child to the throne of Christ so firmly, that no blast of evil can sweep him away. Every prayer makes the cable stronger.
The parent may die without seeing his supplications answered, or his child converted; but his prayers do not die with him. They remain where faith has fastened them; one end around God's throne, and the other around the heart of the child—fast anchoring it to Heaven. And some day, perhaps years after the parent has gone home to God, the angels will haul in the great cable and give him his child, his heart's treasure, the answer to all his prayers.
Let every one, parents and friends, seek to bind our loved ones fast to the feet at God with these chains of prayer!