How God Gives
How God Gives.
Some one may object to all this that the statements of God's word do not
agree with this point of view.
At random memory brings up a few very familiar passages, frequently
quoted. "Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and will shew thee great
things, and difficult, that thou knowest not." "And call upon Me in the
day of trouble; I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me." "Ask,
and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be
opened unto you." Here it seems, as we have for generations been
accustomed to think, that our asking is the thing that influences God to
do. And further, that many times persistent, continued asking is necessary
to induce God to do. And the usual explanation for this need of
persistence is that God is testing our faith, and seeking to make certain
changes in us, before granting our requests. This explanation is without
doubt quite true, _in part_. Yet the thing to mark is that it explains
_only_ in part. And when the whole circle of truth is brought into view,
this explanation is found to cover only a small part of the whole.
We seem to learn best about God by analogies. The analogy never brings all
there is to be learned. Yet it seems to be the nearest we can get. From
what we know of ourselves we come to know Him.
Will you notice how men give? Among those who give to benevolent
enterprises there are three sorts of givers, with variations in each.
There is the man who gives because he is influenced by others. If the
right man or committee of men call, and deftly present their pleas,
playing skillfully upon what may appeal to him; his position; his egotism;
the possible advantage to accrue; what men whom he wants to be classed
with are doing, and so on through the wide range that such men are
familiar with; if they persist, by and by he gives. At first he seems
reluctant, but finally gives with more or less grace. That is one sort of
There is a second sort: the man of truly benevolent heart who is desirous
of giving that he may be of help to other men. He listens attentively when
pleas come to him, and waits only long enough to satisfy himself of the
worth of the cause, and the proper sort of amount to give, and then gives.
There is a third sort, the rarest sort. This second man a stage farther
on, who _takes the initiative_. He looks about him, makes inquiries, and
thinks over the great need in every direction of his fellow men. He
decides where his money may best be used to help; and then himself offers
to give. But his gift may be abused by some who would get his money if
they could, and use it injudiciously, or otherwise than he intends. So he
makes certain conditions which must be met, the purpose of which is to
establish sympathetic relations in some particular with those whom he
would help. An Englishman's heart is strongly moved to get the story of
Jesus to the inland millions of Chinese. He requests the China-Inland
Mission to control the expenditure of almost a million dollars of his
money in such a way as best to secure the object in his heart. An American
gives a large sum to the Young Men's Christian Association of his home
city to be expended as directed. His thought is not to build up this
particular organization, but to benefit large numbers of the young men of
his town who will meet certain conditions which he thinks to be for their
good. He has learned to trust this organization, and so it becomes his
Another man feels that if the people of New York City can be given good
reading they can thereby best be helped in life. And so he volunteers
money for a number of libraries throughout that city. And thousands who
yearn to increase their knowledge come into sympathy with him in that one
point through his gift. In all such cases the giver's thought is to
accomplish certain results in those whose purpose in certain directions is
sympathetic with his own.
Any human illustration of God must seem crude. Yet of these three sorts of
givers there is one and only one that begins to suggest how God gives. It
may seem like a very sweeping statement to make, yet I am more and more
disposed to believe it true that _most persons_ have unthinkingly thought
of God's answering prayer as the first of these three men give. Many
others have had in mind some such thought as the second suggests. Yet to
state the case even thus definitely is to make it plain that neither of
these ways in any manner illustrate God's giving. The third comes the
nearest to picturing the God who hears and answers prayer. Our God has a
great heart yearning after His poor prodigal world, and after each one in
it. He longs to have the effects of sin removed, and the original image
restored. He takes the initiative. Yet everything that is done for man
must of necessity be through man's will; by his free and glad consent. The
obstacles in the way are not numberless nor insurmountable, but they are
many and they are stubborn. There is a keen, cunning pretender-prince who
is a past-master in the fine art of handling men. There are wills warped
and weakened; consciences blurred; minds the opposite of keen,
sensibilities whose edge has been dulled beyond ordinary hope of being
ever made keen again. Sin has not only stained the life, but warped the
judgment, sapped the will, and blurred the mental vision. And God has a
hard time just because every change must of necessity be through that
sapped and warped will.
Yet the difficulty though great is never complex but very simple. And so
the statement of His purpose is ever exquisitely simple. Listen again:
"Call unto Me, and I will answer thee and shew thee great things and
difficult which thou knowest not." If a man call he has already turned his
face towards God. His will has acted, and acted doubly; away from the
opposite, and _towards_ God, a simple step but a tremendous one. The
calling is the point of sympathetic contact with God where their purposes
become the same. The caller is beset by difficulties and longs for
freedom. The God who speaks to him saw the difficulties long ago and
eagerly longed to remove them. Now they have come to agreement. And
through this willing will God eagerly works out His purpose.
A Very Old Question.
This leads to a very old question: Does prayer influence God? No question
has been discussed more, or more earnestly. Skeptical men of fine
scientific training have with great positiveness said "no." And Christian
men of scholarly training and strong faith have with equal positiveness
said "yes." Strange to say both have been right. Not right in all their
statements, nor right in all their beliefs, nor right in all their
processes of thinking, but right in their ultimate conclusions as
represented by these short words, "no," and "yes." Prayer does not
influence God. Prayer surely does influence God. It does not influence His
purpose. It does influence His action. Everything that ever has been
prayed for, of course I mean every right thing, God has already purposed
to do. But He does nothing without our consent. He has been hindered in
His purposes by our lack of willingness. When we learn His purposes and
make them our prayers we are giving Him the opportunity to act. It is a
double opportunity: manward and Satanward. We are willing. Our willingness
checkmates Satan's opposition. It opens the path to God and rids it of the
obstacles. And so the road is cleared for the free action already planned.
The further question of nature's laws being sometimes set aside is wholly
a secondary matter. Nature's laws are merely God's habit of action in
handling secondary forces. They involve no purpose of God. His purposes
are regarding moral issues. That the sun shall stay a bit longer than
usual over a certain part of the earth is a mere detail with God. It does
not affect His power for the whole affair is under His finger. It does not
affect His purpose for that as concerning far more serious matters. The
emergencies of earth wrought by sin necessitate just such incidents, that
the great purpose of God for man shall be accomplished.
Emergencies change all habits of action, divine and human. They are the
real test of power. If a man throw down the bundle he is carrying and make
a quick wild dash out into the middle of the street, dropping his hat on
the way, and grasp convulsively for something on the ground when no cause
appears for such action we would quickly conclude that the proper place
for him is an asylum. But if a little toddling child is almost under the
horse's hoofs, or the trolley car, no one thinks of criticising, but
instead admires his courage, and quick action, and breathlessly watches
for the result. Emergencies call for special action. They should control
actions, where they exist. Emergencies explain action, and explain
satisfactorily what nothing else could explain.
_The world is in a great emergency through sin._ Only as that tremendous
fact grips us shall we be men of prayer, and men of action up to the limit
of the need, and to the limit of the possibilities. Only as that intense
fact is kept in mind shall we begin to understand God's actions in
history, and in our personal experiences. The greatest event of earth, the
cross, was an emergency action.
The fact that prayer does not make any change in God's thought or
purpose, reveals His marvellous love in a very tender way.
Suppose I want something very much and _need_ as well as want. And I go to
God and ask for it. And suppose He is reluctant about giving: had not
thought about giving me that thing; and rather hesitates. But I am
insistent, and plead and persist and by and by God is impressed with my
earnestness, and sees that I really need the thing, and answers my prayer,
and gives me what I ask. Is not that a loving God so to listen and yield
to my plea? Surely. How many times just such an instance has taken place
between a child and his father, or mother. And the child thinks to
himself, "How loving father is; he has given me the thing I asked for."
But suppose God is thinking about me all the time, and planning, with
love-plans for me, and longing to give me much that He has. Yet in His
wisdom He does not give because I do not know my own need, and have not
opened my hand to receive, yes, and, further yet, likely as not, not
knowing my need I might abuse, or misuse, or fail to use, something given
before I had felt the need of it. And now I come to see and feel that need
and come and ask and He, delighted with the change in me, eagerly gives.
Tell me, is not that a very much more loving God than the other conception
suggests? The truth is _that_ is God. Jesus says, "Your Father knoweth
what things ye have need of _before ye ask_." And He is a Father. And
with God the word father means mother too. Then what He _knows_ we need He
has _already planned_ to give. The great question for me then in praying
for some personal thing is this: Do _I_ know what _He_ knows I need? Am I
thinking about what He is thinking about for me?
And then remember that God is so much more in His loving planning than the
wisest, most loving father we know. Does a mother think into her child's
needs, the food, and clothing and the extras too, the luxuries? That is
God, only He is more loving and wiser than the best of us. I have
sometimes thought this: that if God were to say to me: "I want to give you
something as a special love-gift; an extra because I love you: what would
you like to have?" Do you know I have thought I would say, "Dear God,
_you_ choose. _I_ choose what _you_ choose." He is thinking about me. He
knows what I am thinking of, and what I would most enjoy, and He is such a
lover-God that He would choose something Just a bit finer than I would
think. I might be thinking of a dollar, but likely as not He is thinking
of a double eagle. I am thinking of blackberries, big, juicy blackberries,
but really I do not know what blackberries are beside the sort He knows
and would choose for me. That is our God. Prayer does not and cannot
change the purpose of such a God. For every right and good thing we might
ask for He has already planned to give us. But prayer does change the
action of God. Because He cannot give against our wills, and our
willingness as expressed by our asking gives Him the opportunity to do as
He has already planned.
The Greatest Prayer.
There is a greatest prayer, _the_ greatest that can be offered. It is the
substratum of every true prayer. It is the undercurrent in the stream of
all Spirit-breathed prayer. Jesus Himself gives it to us in the only form
of prayer He left for our use. It is small in size, but mighty in power.
Four words--"Thy will be done." Let us draw up our chairs, and _brew_ it
over mentally, that its strength and fragrance may come up into our
nostrils, and fill our very beings.
"_Thy_": That is God. On one side, He is wise, with all of the
intellectual strength, and keenness and poised judgment that that word
among men brings to us. On another side, He is strong, with all that that
word can imply of might and power irresistible. On still another side He
is good, pure, holy with the finest thought those words ever suggest to us
in those whom we know best, or in our dreams and visions. Then on a side
remaining, the tender personal side, He is--loving? No, that is quite
inadequate. He is _love_. Its personification is He. Now remember that we
do not know the meaning of those words. Our best definition and thought of
them, even in our dreams, when we let ourselves out, but hang around the
outskirts. The heart of them we do not know. Those words mean infinitely
more than we think. Their meaning is a projection along the lines of our
thought of them, but measurelessly beyond our highest reach.
And then, this God, wise, strong, good, and love, _is kin to us_. We
belong to Him.
"We are His flock;
He doth us feed.
And for His sheep,
He doth us take."
We are His children by creation, and by a new creation in Jesus Christ. He
is ours, by His own act. That is the "Thy"--a God wise, strong, pure, who
is love, and who is a Father-mother-God, and is _our_ God.
"Thy _will_." God's will is His desires, His purposes, that which He
wishes to occur, and that to which He gives His strength that it may
occur. The earth is His creation. Men are His children. Judging from wise
loving parents among men He has given Himself to thinking and studying and
planning for all men, and every man, and for the earth. His plan is the
most wise, pure, loving plan that can be thought of, _and more._ It takes
in the whole sweep of our lives, and every detail of them. Nothing escapes
the love-vigilance of our God. What _can_ be so vigilant and keen as love?
Hate, the exact reverse, comes the nearest. It is ever the extremes that
meet. But hate cannot come up to love for keen watchfulness at every
turn. Health, strength, home, loved ones, friendships, money, guidance,
protecting care, the necessities, the extras that love ever thinks of,
service--all these are included in God's loving thought for us. That is
His will. It is modified by the degree of our consent, and further
modified by the circumstances of our lives. Life has become a badly
tangled skein of threads. God with infinite patience and skill is at work
untangling and bringing the best possible out of the tangle. What is
absolutely best is rarely relatively best. That which is best in itself is
usually not best under certain circumstances, with human lives in the
balance. God has fathomless skill, and measureless patience, and a love
utterly beyond both. He is ever working out the best thing possible under
every circumstance. He could oftentimes do more, and do it in much less
time if our human wills were more pliant to His. He can be trusted. And of
course _trust_ means _trust in the darkest dark_ where you cannot see. And
trust means trust. It does not mean test. Where you trust you do not test.
Where you test you do not trust. Making this our prayer means trusting
God. That is God, and that His will, and that the meaning of our offering
this prayer. "Thy will _be_." A man's will is the man in action, within
the limits of his power. God's will for man is Himself in action, within
the limits of our cooperation. _Be_ is a verb, an action-word, in the
passive voice. It takes some form of the verb to be to express the
passive voice of any action-word. It takes the intensest activity of will
to put this passive voice into human action. The greatest strength is
revealed in intelligent yielding. Here the prayer is expressing the utter
willingness of a man that God's will shall be done in him, and through
him. A man never _loses_ his will, unless indeed he lose his manhood. But
here he makes that will as strong as it can be made, as a bit of steel,
better like the strong oak, strong enough to sway and bend in the wind.
Then he uses all its strength in becoming passive to a higher will. And
that too when the purpose of that higher will is not clear to his own
limited knowledge and understanding.
"Thy will be _done_." That is, be accomplished, be brought to pass. The
word stands for the action in its perfected, finished state. Thy will be
fully accomplished in its whole sweep and in all its items. It speaks not
only the earnest desire of the heart praying, but the set purpose that
everything in the life is held subject to the doing of this purpose of
God. It means that surrender of purpose that has utterly changed the lives
of the strongest men in order that the purpose of God might be dominant.
It cut off from a great throne earth's greatest jurist, the Hebrew
lawgiver, and led him instead to be allied to a race of slaves. It led
that intellectual giant Jeremiah from an easy enjoyable leadership to
espouse a despised cause and so be himself despised. It led Paul from the
leadership of his generation in a great nation to untold suffering, and to
a block and an ax. It led Jesus the very Son of God, away from a kingship
to a cross. In every generation it has radically changed lives, and
life-ambitions. "Thy will be done" is the great dominant purpose-prayer
that has been the pathway of God in all His great doings among men.
That will is being done everywhere else in God's great world of worlds,
save on the earth and that portion of the spirit world allied to this
earth. Everywhere else there is the perfect music of harmony with God's
will. Here only is heard the harsh discordant note.
With this prayer go two clauses that really particularize and explain it.
They are included in it, and are added to make more clear the full intent.
The first of these clauses gives the sweep of His will in its broadest
outlines. The second touches the opposition to that will both for our
individual lives and for the race and the earth.
The first clause is this, "Thy kingdom come." In both of these short
sentences, "Thy will be done," "Thy kingdom come," the emphatic word is
"Thy." That word is set in sharpest possible contrast here. There is
another kingdom now on the earth. There is another will being done. This
other kingdom must go if God's kingdom is to come. These kingdoms are
antagonistic at every point of contact. They are rivals for the same
allegiance and the same territory. They cannot exist together. Charles II
and Cromwell cannot remain in London together. "Thy kingdom come," of
necessity includes this, "the other kingdom go." "Thy kingdom come" means
likewise "Thy king come," for in the nature of things there cannot be a
kingdom without a king. That means again by the same inference, "the other
prince go," the one who makes pretensions to being rightful heir to the
throne. "Thy will be done" includes by the same inference this:--"the
other will be undone." This is the first great explanatory clause to be
connected with this greatest prayer, "Thy kingdom come." It gives the
sweep of God's will in its broadest outlines.
The second clause included in the prayer, and added to make clear the
swing of action is this--"deliver us from the evil one." These two
sentences, "Thy will be done," and "deliver us from the evil one," are
naturally connected. Each statement includes the other. To have God's will
fully done in us means emancipation from every influence of the evil one,
either direct or indirect, or by hereditary taint. To be delivered from
the evil one means that every thought and plan of God for our lives shall
be fully carried out.
There are the two great wills at work in the world ever clashing in the
action of history and in our individual lives. In many of us, aye, in all
of us, though in greatly varying degree, these two wills constantly clash.
Man is the real battle-field. The pitch of the battle is in his will. God
will not do His will in a man without the man's will consenting. And Satan
cannot. At the root the one thing that works against God's will is the
evil one's will. And on the other hand the one thing that effectively
thwarts Satan's plans is a man wholly given up to God's will.
The greatest prayer then fully expressed, sweeps first the whole field of
action, then touches the heart of the action, and then attacks the
opposition. It is this:--Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done: deliver us
from the evil one. Every true prayer ever offered comes under this simple
comprehensive prayer. It may be offered, it _is_ offered with an infinite
variety of detail. It is greatest because of its sweep. It includes all
other petitions, for God's will includes everything for which prayer is
rightly offered. It is greatest in its intensity. It hits the very
bull's-eye of opposition to God.
Next: Breaking With God
Previous: Prayer A War Measure