Out in one of the trans-Mississippi states I ran across an illustration of prayer in real life that caught me at once, and has greatly helped me in understanding prayer.
Fact is more fascinating than fiction. If one could know what is going on around him, how surprised and startled he would be. If we could get all the facts in any one incident, and get them colourlessly, and have the judgment to sift and analyze accurately, what fascinating instances of the power of prayer would be disclosed.
There is a double side to this story. The side of the man who was changed, and the side of the woman who prayed. He is a New Englander, by birth and breeding, now living in this western state: almost a giant physically, keen mentally, a lawyer, and a natural leader. He had the conviction as a boy that if he became a Christian he was to preach. But he grew up a skeptic, read up and lectured on skeptical subjects. He was the representative of a district of his western home state in congress; in his fourth term or so I think at this time.
The experience I am telling came during that congress when the Hayes-Tilden controversy was up, the intensest congress Washington has known since the Civil War. It was not a time specially suited to meditation about God in the halls of congress. And further he said to me that somehow he knew all the other skeptics who were in the lower house and they drifted together a good bit and strengthened each other by their talk.
One day as he was in his seat in the lower house, in the midst of the business of the hour, there came to him a conviction that God—the God in whom he did not believe, whose existence he could keenly disprove—God was right there above his head thinking about him, and displeased at the way he was behaving towards Him. And he said to himself: "this is ridiculous, absurd. I've been working too hard; confined too closely; my mind is getting morbid. I'll go out, and get some fresh air, and shake myself." And so he did. But the conviction only deepened and intensified. Day by day it grew. And that went on for weeks, into the fourth month as I recall his words. Then he planned to return home to attend to some business matters, and to attend to some preliminaries for securing the nomination for the governorship of his state. And as I understand he was in a fair way to securing the nomination, so far as one can judge of such matters. And his party is the dominant party in the state. A nomination for governor by his party has usually been followed by election.
He reached his home and had hardly gotten there before he found that his wife and two others had entered into a holy compact of prayer for his conversion, and had been so praying for some months. Instantly he thought of his peculiar unwelcome Washington experience, and became intensely interested. But not wishing them to know of his interest, he asked carelessly when "this thing began." His wife told him the day. He did some quick mental figuring, and he said to me, "I knew almost instantly that the day she named fitted into the calendar with the coming of that conviction or impression about God's presence."
He was greatly startled. He wanted to be thoroughly honest in all his thinking. And he said he knew that if a single fact of that sort could be established, of prayer producing such results, it carried the whole Christian scheme of belief with it. And he did some stiff fighting within. Had he been wrong all those years? He sifted the matter back and forth as a lawyer would the evidence in any case. And he said to me, "As an honest man I was compelled to admit the facts, and I believe I might have been led to Christ that very night."
A few nights later he knelt at the altar in the Methodist meeting-house in his home town and surrendered his strong will to God. Then the early conviction of his boyhood days came back. He was to preach the gospel. And like Saul of old, he utterly changed his life, and has been preaching the gospel with power ever since.
Then I was intensely fascinated in getting the other side, the praying-side of the story. His wife had been a Christian for years, since before their marriage. But in some meetings in the home church she was led into a new, a full surrender to Jesus Christ as Master, and had experienced a new consciousness of the Holy Spirit's presence and power. Almost at once came a new intense desire for her husband's conversion. The compact of three was agreed upon, of daily prayer for him until the change came.
As she prayed that night after retiring to her sleeping apartment she was in great distress of mind in thinking and praying for him. She could get no rest from this intense distress. At length she rose, and knelt by the bedside to pray. As she was praying and distressed a voice, an exquisitely quiet inner voice said, "will you abide the consequences?" She was startled. Such a thing was wholly new to her. She did not know what it meant. And without paying any attention to it, went on praying. Again came the same quietly spoken words to her ear, "will you abide the consequences?" And again the half frightened feeling. She slipped back to bed to sleep. But sleep did not come. And back again to her knees, and again the patient, quiet voice.
This time with an earnestness bearing the impress of her agony she said, "Lord, I will abide any consequence that may come if only my husband may be brought to Thee." And at once the distress slipped away, and a new sweet peace filled her being, and sleep quickly came. And while she prayed on for weeks and months patiently, persistently, day by day, the distress was gone, the sweet peace remained in the assurance that the result was surely coming. And so it was coming all those days down in the thick air of Washington's lower house, and so it did come.
What was the consequence to her? She was a congressman's wife. She would likely have been, so far as such matters may be judged, the wife of the governor of her state, the first lady socially of the state. She is a Methodist minister's wife changing her home every few years. A very different position in many ways. No woman will be indifferent to the social difference involved. Yet rarely have I met a woman with more of that fine beauty which the peace of God brings, in her glad face, and in her winsome smile.
Do you see the simple philosophy of that experience. Her surrender gave God a clear channel into that man's will. When the roadway was cleared, her prayer was a spirit-force traversing instantly the hundreds of intervening miles, and affecting the spirit-atmosphere of his presence.
Shall we not put our wills fully in touch with God, and sheer out of sympathy with the other one, and persistently plead and claim for each loved one, "deliver him from the evil one, and work in him Thy will, to Thy glory, by Thy power, in the Victor's name." And then add amen—so it shall be. Not so may it be—a wish, but so it shall be—an expression of confidence in Jesus' power. And these lives shall be won, and these souls saved.