While I haven't necessarily agreed with everything that I've read in this little book, every chapter is full of deep nsight into this most important Christian discipline. I will also post the next chapter (Chapter 18, "Prayer in Harmony With the Destiny of Man") because it so wonderfully illustrates the implications from chapter 17 for what man was intended to be and to do. My prayer is that you will come away from Murray's writings in these next two posts with a far richer understanding of who Christ is, who we are in Christ and why understanding these things are so important for us who want to enjoy intimacy with God and pray with confidence and power.
Prayer in Harmony With the Person of God
Andrew Murray, “With Christ in the School of Prayer” (pg. 113-119)
Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me (John 11:41-41).
You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance… (Psalm 2:7-8).
In the New Testament we find a distinction made between faith and knowledge. “To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:8-9). In a child or a child-like Christian there may be much faith with little knowledge. Childlike simplicity accepts the truth without difficulty and often cares little to give itself or others any reason for its faith but this: God has said it. But it is the will of God that we should love and serve Him not only with all our heart but also with all our mind; that we should grow up into an insight into the divine wisdom and beauty of all His ways and words and works. Only by growing in this way will the believer be able to fully approach and rightly adore the glory of God’s grace. Only in this Way can our heart intelligently comprehend the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found in redemption and be prepared to enter fully into the highest note of the song that rises before the throne: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33).
This truth has its full application in our prayer life. While prayer and faith are so simple that the newborn convert can pray with power, the doctrine of prayer presents deep problems. Is the power of prayer a reality? How can God grant to prayer such a mighty power? How can the action of prayer be harmonized with the will and the decrees of God? How can God’s sovereignty and our will, god’s liberty and ours, be reconciled? These and other similar questions are valid subjects for Christian meditation and inquiry. The more earnestly and reverently we approach such mysteries, the more we will fall down in adoring awe to praise Him who has in prayer given such power to men.
One of the secret difficulties with regard to prayer is one that though not expressed often hinders prayer. This difficulty is derived from the perfection of God, in His absolute independence of all that is outside of himself. Is He not the Infinite Being, who owes what He is to himself alone, who determines himself, and whose wise and holy will has determined all that is to be? How can prayer influence Him or He be moved by prayer to do what otherwise would not be done? Is not the promise of an answer to prayer simply condescension to our weakness? Is what is said of the much-availing power of prayer anything more than an accommodation to our way of thinking, since God can never be dependent on any action from without for His doings? Is not the blessing of prayer simply the influence it exercises upon us?
In seeking an answer to such questions, we find the key in the very being of God, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. If God were only one person, shut up within himself, there could be no thought of nearness to Him or influence on Him. But in God there are three persons. In God we have Father and Son, who have in the Holy Spirit their living bond of unity and fellowship. When eternal Love begat the Son, and the Father gave the Son as the second person a place next to himself as His equal and His counselor, there was a way opened for prayer and its influence in the very inmost life of God itself.
Just as on earth, so in heaven, the whole relationship between Father and Son is that of giving and taking. And if that taking is to be as voluntary and self-determined as the giving, there must be on the part of the Son as asking and receiving. In the holy fellowship of the divine persons, this asking of the Son was one of the great operations of the thrice-blessed life of God. We see it in Psalm 2: “Today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you…” The Father gave the Son the place and the power to act upon Him. The asking of the Son was no mere show or shadow, but one of those life-movements in which the love of the Father and the Son met and completed each other. The Father had determined that He should not be alone in His counsels: there was a Son on whose asking and accepting their fulfillment should depend. So there was in the very being and life of God as asking of which prayer on earth was to be the reflection and the outflow. It was not without including this that Jesus said, “I knew that you always hear me.” Just as the sonship of Jesus on earth may not be separated from His sonship in heaven, even so His prayer on earth is the continuation and counterpart of His asking in heaven. The prayer of the man Christ Jesus is the link between the eternal asking of the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father and the prayer of humankind upon earth. Prayer has its rise and its deepest source in the very being of God. In the bosom of Deity nothing is ever done without prayer—the asking of the Son and the giving of the Father.
This may help us somewhat to understand how our prayers, coming through the Son, can have an effect upon God. The decrees of God are not decisions made by Him without reference to the Son or His petition to be sent up through Him. The Lord Jesus is the first begotten, the head and heir of all things: all things were created through Him and unto Him, and all things consist in Him. In the counsels of the Father, the Son, as representative of all creation, has liberty as mediator and intercessor in the petitions of all who draw near to the Father in the Son.
If we think this liberty and power of the Son to act upon the Father is at variance with the immutability of the divine decrees, let us not forget that with God there is no past to which He is irrevocably bound, as is the case with man. God does not live in time with its past and future. The distinctions of time have no reference to Him who inhabits eternity. Eternity is an ever-present now, in which the past is never past and the future is always present. To meet our human weakness, Scripture must speak of past decrees and a coming future. In reality, the immutability of God’s counsel is always in perfect harmony with His liberty to do whatsoever He will. The prayers of the Son and His people were not taken up into the eternal decrees so that their effect should on bbly be an apparent one. Instead, the Father-heart holds itself open and free to listen to every prayer that rises through the Son; God does indeed allow himself to be decided by prayer to do what He otherwise would not have done.
This perfect harmony and union of divine sovereignty and human liberty is to us an unfathomable mystery, because God as the Eternal One transcends all our thoughts. But be assured that in the eternal fellowship of the Father and Son the power of prayer has its origin and certainty, and through our union with the Son our prayer is received and can have influence in the inner life of the blessed Trinity!
God’s decrees are not an iron framework against which man’s liberty vainly seeks to struggle. God himself is the living Love, who in His Son, as man, has entered into a tender relationship with all that is human. God through the Holy Spirit takes our humanness into the divine life of love and frees himself to give every human prayer its place in His government of the world.
It is in the revelation of such thoughts that the doctrine of the Trinity is no longer an abstract speculation, but the living manifestation of the way it is possible for man to be in fellowship with God and his prayer to become a factor in God’s rule of this earth. We can, as though from a distance, catch a glimpse of the light that from eternal glory shines on words such as these: “Through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).
This simple view of prayer is seen throughout Scripture: God hears us. It does not dwell on the reflex influence of prayer on our heart and life, although it abundantly shows the connection between prayer as an act and prayer as a state. Rather, it fixes or defines the objective or purpose of prayer: to obtain blessing, gifts, and deliverances from God. Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given.”
The following is adapted from The Hidden Life and The Lord’s Prayer by A. Saphir (no publication data available).
However true and valuable the reflection may be that God, foreseeing and foreordaining all things, has also foreseen and foreordained our prayers as links in the chain of events, of cause and effect, as a real power, yet we feel convinced that this is not the light in which the mind can find peace on this great subject, nor do we think that this is the attraction to draw us to prayer. We feel rather that such a reflection diverts the attention from the Object from whom comes the impulse, life, and strength of prayer. The living God, contemporary, yet eternal, the living, merciful, Holy One, God manifesting himself to the soul; God saying “Seek my face”; this is the magnet that draws us, this alone can open the heart and the voice….
In Jesus Christ the Son of God, we have the full solution for the difficulty. He prayed on earth, not merely as man, but as the Son of God incarnate. His prayer on earth is only the manifestation of His prayer from all eternity, when in the divine counsel He was set up as the Christ…. The Son of God was the way, the mediator. He was, to use our imperfect language, from eternity speaking unto the Father on behalf of the world.
Everlasting God, the Three-in-One, in deep reverence I would worship before the holy mystery of your divine Being. If it should please you, most glorious God, to unveil anything of that mystery, I would bow with fear and trembling and meditate on your glory.
Father, I thank you that you bear this name not only as the Father of your children here on earth but also as having from eternity subsisted as the Father with your only-begotten Son. I thank you that as Father you can hear our prayers because you have from eternity given a place in your counsels to the asking of your Son. I thank you that we have seen in Him on earth the blessed relationship He had with you in heaven and how from eternity in all your counsels and decrees there was room left for His prayers and their answers. And I thank you above all that through His true human nature on your throne above, and through your Holy Spirit in our human nature here below, a way has been opened by which every human cry can be received into the life and love of God and receive an answer.
Blessed Jesus, in whom as the Son the path of prayer has been opened up, and who gives us assurance of the answer, we beseech you to teach your people to pray. Each day let this be the sign of our own sonship: that like you we know that the Father always hears us. Amen.Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, (Bethany House, MN 2002), 113-119.