“A story of the wars of the first Napoleon has often come back to me. He was trying in a winter campaign, to cut off the march of the enemy across a frozen lake. The gunners were told to fire on the ice and break it, but the cannon-balls glanced harmlessly along the surface. With one of the sudden flashes of genius he gave the word, “Fire upwards!” and the balls crashed down full weight, shattering the whole sheet into fragments, and the day was won. We can “fire upwards” in the battle, even if we are shut out from fighting it face to face.” Challenge to Faith
“Please come to the hospital. Max is in a coma,” was the urgent request of my friend. When Dave and I arrived at his bedside we were as baffled as it seemed were the attending doctors. He had returned from a trip to Africa with a mild fever that they put down to a bug picked up in a foreign clime. But it lingered – and built – and while being treated at the hospital he took a sudden and sharp turn for the worse. It was finally recognized as a form of malaria but the particular strain was unidentified. He was completely unresponsive to standard treatment. We watched as his condition worsened before our very eyes, the attending doctor placing phone calls to centers of infectious disease even while pouring through textbooks to gain some insight into possible cause and treatment.
As plans were being made to transfer him to a larger medical center, we gathered around his bed, holding hands as we prayed knowing full well that pressure was building in his brain and that time was at the essence – if it wasn’t already “too late.”
I returned home with a sense of desperation and helplessness. I placed a phone call to my mother (my own personal prayer warrior) to pray – and urged her to ask her friends to do the same. I dropped to my knees and begged of God to spare our friend. “It is too much,” I told God, reminding Him that she previously had lost both her young daughter and first husband within the same year. And now this. “It just can’t happen,” I pled. “Please heal Max.”
Meanwhile, Dave arrived at church just as the weekly fellowship supper was to begin. Before opening the evening with grace, he reported the urgency of this situation. Everything came to a halt while the collective prayers of this family of faith were channeled to our Heavenly Father.
Surely the very throne of God was bombarded with prayers during those few hours in which our friend’s life was held in the balance. All we could do now was wait.
“We can ‘fire upwards’ in the battle, even if we are shut out from out from fighting it face to face.” This prayer-principle was elaborated upon in the little leaflet, “A Challenge to Faith,” written and published by Lilias. It was written in the context of, but not exclusive to, prayers for the unbelieving people to whom she was called to serve. The principle in any case is the same: the prayer of faith, on behalf of another, does not require us to be present bodily. In fact, we can be more completely present “in the bright, free, spiritual air” apart from the immediate battlefield than if we were present physically. The question she presents – the challenge of faith – is succinct: “You may not have been definitely unbelieving, but have you been as definitely believing as the case demands?”
Amy Carmichael, a contemporary of Lilias, albeit in India referred to this direct assault of heaven in prayer as “telegraph prayers.” Today, perhaps, she would encourage “emails” or “texting” God! But the idea is to pray – telegraph, text – the need of the moment directly to God, trusting Him for His answer.
A Biblical precedent for this kind of prayer was set by Nehemiah, cupbearer to the King of Persia, on behalf of the remnant of his people in Jerusalem. For three months Nehemiah “mourned and fasted and prayed” as he considered their plight and pondered his role in their deliverance. The moment finally came, when the king noting his sadness, asked, “What is it you want?” One almost holds one’s breath with Nehemiah as he prepares to make his request. But first he shot off an “arrow prayer” to God: “then I prayed to the God of heaven,” quietly, no doubt, but directly from his heart to the heart of God. We know the rest of the story. The king grants his request, freeing him for and aiding him in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem!
Arrow prayers. Cannonballs. Telegraphs (or texting). Call them what you will but they are, in essence, those prayers of our hearts shot directly to the heart of God. I suspect that many of us “shoot off” such prayers more times than can be counted. And, I believe, that God “hears” those prayers and understands the intensity of the moment and longings of our hearts. Perhaps He hopes – even designed – that our needs will throw us at His mercy and turn our hearts toward Him?
So what about Max? That was the question that the doctor who referred him to the medical center asked the nurse several days later – assuming the worse. Her answer: “He is sitting up in bed watching a baseball game.” After a stunned silence the doctor replied, “I didn’t think he’d make it. It is a miracle.”
No one is too busy not to “fire upwards” sending our thoughts and desires of our hearts directly to the heart of God. As we continue this practice of prayer, throughout our daily rounds and common tasks – as well as in the times of crisis – we will be training our hearts ever God-wards even as we tune our hearts to His will.
Tune me O Lord,
into one harmony with Thee,
one full responsive vibrant chord;
Unto Thy praise all love and melody,
Tune me, O Lord.
Painting: Sketchbook 1889