Each prayer-beat down here vibrates up to the very throne of God, and does its work through that throne on the principalities and powers around us. . . We can never tell which prayer will liberate the answer, but we can tell that each one will do its work. . .” (Taken from a “rough manuscript” adapted from her 1899 journal. “Vibrations” is published in full in the biography: A Passion for the Impossible.)
Lilias records in her diary a strange occurrence. One of the pillars that supported the gallery of their old Arab house had fallen down into the court and lay shattered on the pavement bringing in its wake a shower of bricks and tiles from the arch above it. A consultant architect confirmed the probable cause of the collapse. A native baker, occupied the house alongside them, for the past six or seven years. Every night, two men had swung the huge see-saw which kneaded their bread and every blow backwards and forwards had vibrated through their house – until , at last, the “result was seen in the shattering of masonry that had looked as if it would last as long as the world.”
She saw an object lesson from the physical world into the mysteries of the spiritual world: “a truth, which had glimmered out before in thinking of the strange power of vibrations – once more ‘the invisible things being understood by the things that are made.'” She observes that there is a like vibrating power going on in this world that can make itself visible in starting results in the invisible world. “Each prayer-beat down here vibrates up to the very throne of God, and does its work through that throne on the principalities and powers around us, just as each one of the repeated throbs from below told on the structure of our house though it was only the last one that produced the visible effect. We can never tell which prayer will liberate the answer but we can tell that each one will do its work.”
This concept she illustrates with two parables from the Gospel of Luke. The first is the parable of the man who appealed to another friend, in the middle of the night, to give him 3 loaves of bread “because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to give him.” (Luke 11) The second is the plight of a widow who repeatedly appealed to a judge for justice on behalf of her son. (Luke 18) In both cases, their plights were ignored and dismissed. The friend refused to answer the door due to the inconvenience of the hour; the judge dismissed the woman as of no interest to him. Both, finally, due to the persistence of their pleas, were granted their requests.
While each parable is distinct in content both are rooted deeply in their culture. Hospitality being at the core of the Arab culture it would have been common practice to borrow from a neighbor during a crisis of inadequate food supply – regardless of time of day (or night). A widowed woman would have been powerless to face-off in the legal system being, herself, marginalized in society.
The listeners would have related to these stories and understood the common denominators: 1) the helplessness of the persons in question; 2) their refusal to give up asking; 3) the victorious result of their persistence. In short: the power of persistency. More to the point, given the context: the power of persistency in prayer.
Older versions of the Bible use the word “importunate” hence assigning this “The Prayer of Importunity” and refer to these parables, in particular, as illustration of the same. I confess, I had to look up the meaning of “importunity” in the dictionary: “insistently and persistently.” Lilias notes that while the lesson Jesus teaches in both parables is the same their aims differ. The man at midnight represents those who ask on behalf of individuals who come to us in their journey through life. The widow represents the person praying against the “principalities and powers in heavenly places headed by the adversary the devil.” Spiritual warfare. In both cases, the prayers are for others. The answers to our personal needs, she claims, can be found in the Bible and prayed for accordingly. Worth pondering. . .
I must admit, while I understand the principle of persistency, it seems fraught with problems. I can look back over my life (and witness the lives of others) and finger “answers” – the likely results of “persistent prayers.” At the same time, all the while I identify “victories” my doubting heart questions: “What about this; what about that?” A host of “failures” (?) begin to leverage the scoreboard.
This is where I must move beyond subjective speculation to the objective teaching of Scripture. Jesus was intentional in his teaching about this particular aspect of prayer. He, in both instances, set up and followed up these story-parables with a clearly stated purpose. The first was told in response to the disciples request: “Teach us how to pray.” The second was preceded by these words: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up.” He couldn’t be clearer!
No, I don’t understand how it works or when my prayers, solo or in concert with others, are the accumulative cause of a desired outcome. But this I know: Jesus told His disciples, replete with illustration, that they should always pray and never give up. And I can identify, even with my juvenile faith and myopic vision, certain things that happen when one does pray “insistently and persistently.” Somehow prayers unite us in time and place with a host of “pray-ers” joined in common vision beyond the personal wants of ones own singular existence and, perhaps, even ones lifetime. We become collaborators with God’s Purposes as we subject our prayers to His Will. Prayer does change things, we are told, and in the process it changes us.
I suggested in an earlier post, that the reader join me in exploring “pathways to God” through prayer. While I am no clearer now about the “mysteries” of prayer I have taken the 5 by 7 card from the back of my Bible in which I had penciled names of individuals and institutions for whom I’ve committed to pray. I have restored to the list individuals for whom I have slacked in the persistency of prayer. I have added people who, for whatever reason, have come to me “in their journey through life.” I have renewed my determination to lift up the churches and ministries (and their leaders) who battle “against the principalities and powers in heavenly places.”
I will let my prayer-beat join the sustained vibrations to the throne of God. Who knows which prayer will liberate the answer? At the end of the day, it is all about trust in our Heavenly Father. Trusting His Words; trusting His Character.
Our son shared with me a birthday letter written by Daughter #3. As she has, perhaps more than her sisters, been anxious about an upcoming move that will remove her from the world of the familiar, this letter had special meaning. “Dad, You are the best dad ever! You always are there for me, and you are so encouraging. Whenever I am sad, you make me happy again. I guess you just have that magic touch. Even though I am sad about moving, I know that if you are ready for this, I will be too. (my italics) I love you so much and I hope your day has been great! Love, Kinnon”
Matthew states, in his gospel, a variation of Luke’s account of Christ’s concluding thoughts on prayer: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
So we ask. . . we seek. . . we knock. . . “Asking, seeking, and knocking does have an effect on God, as Jesus insists,” writes Philip Yancey, “but it also has a lasting effect on the asker-seeker-knocker.”
“So I say to you:
Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.”