VI. Prayer Is a Science
Leonard Ravenhill, the English evangelist, opened a series of meetings in the church where I have been pastor for some years, and as usual brought along Tom Haire as a companion and prayer helper. The two men are as different as night and day, the evangelist being a veritable son of thunder and Tom a gentle, affectionate soul who will listen to anyone's troubles as long as necessary and permit himself to be taken advantage of without limit just to be sure he will not miss someone who may actually be in need of help. The fiery Englishman bears patiently with the slow, smiling Irishman. Each one makes up what the other lacks and together they make a remarkable team.
Tom had not been long among us till he began to sense the spiritual condition of the people. "The trouble I find here," he said after a while, "is not gross sin of a fleshly kind, but sin on a higher, spiritual level." And this "higher" kind of sin was to him very much more serious. Pride, self-confidence, refined unbelief, worldly-mindedness - these are far more destructive and much harder to get at than those cruder sins which are the stock in trade of evangelistic preaching. Thereafter Tom's prayers followed very closely the direction indicated by the specific needs of the people. Tom doesn't like to waste prayer.
This habit of carefully surveying the situation before setting out to pray about things is characteristic of Tom Haire. To him prayer is a science whose laws can be learned. Praying itself is not a shot in the dark, not a net cast into the sea with the hope of a good catch. Praying is working along with God in the fulfillment of the divine plan. Praying is fighting close up at the front where the sharp deciding action is taking place.
According to Tom, there is such a thing as strategic prayer, that is, prayer that takes into account what the devil is trying to accomplish and where he is working, and attacks him at that strategic point. "Don't waste your time praying around the edges," he says. "Go for the devil direct. Pray him loose from souls. Weaken his hold on people by direct attack. Then your prayers will count and the work of God will get done."
Tom makes much of the believer's authority in Christ. Over the protests of the cautious expositor, he appropriates Scripture that might be proved to belong to a future age. "God says we are kings and priests," he declares, "and what is a king without a kingdom? There is a sphere where we can have full dominion in prayer. Complete authority is ours. We only need to ask and we shall receive." If this were mere theory we might dismiss it as being simply an error in interpretation, but it has been proved in the fires of practical living. God has given to His praying servant great power to command, to demand, and the results have been and are many and unusual.
One lesson we may learn from this man is to pray intelligently and with planned direction. When he cannot find the will of God about a thing he is as helpless as any man, but once he knows what God wants him to ask in prayer his voice takes on bold assurance. A young doctor in our congregation became suddenly ill with an acute form of hepatitis. He was taking advanced work in a Chicago hospital before returning to Ethiopia for his second term as a missionary. We asked Tom to pray for him, and he prayed dutifully but without much assurance. "God has not told me what He wants to do," he repeated again and again. "I have not heard from God about this." Shortly thereafter the doctor lapsed into a coma and in a few days died, leaving a wife and child and an empty place on his mission field. No one could fathom the ways of God in it all, but it did not stagger Tom. God had operated after His own hidden purpose, and for this once He had withheld His secret from all of us. "All I know about it," said Tom, shaking his head solemnly, "is that God must have had some strong reason for wanting His servant with Him." Some of us who have lived close to this man believe that if God had wanted to keep the doctor here on earth He would have told Tom.
Like many another plain believer who has sat at the feet of Christ longer than he has sat before books on theology, Tom tends to great simplicity in everything. All those fine shadings of truth that slow down so many highly educated persons are lost on Tom. To him there are just two forces in the universe, God and Satan, and if a specific phenomenon does not originate with one it will be found to have originated with the other. That may be oversimplification, but it puts an edge on his axe and gets results.
For one who fights as many battles as does this Irishman he is remarkably restful and self-possessed. Or better say, God-possessed, for his tranquility is not natural; it is a divine thing. One of his favorite words is "relax." He cannot see the good of tension anywhere. "Climb up into the arms of God," he says, "and relax. Getting things from God is as natural as breathing. When we pray we exhale; when we take the answer we inhale. Prayer is simply a restful inhaling and exhaling in the Spirit of God."
It is significant that Dr. A. B. Simpson in his day taught the same truth in almost the same words. A stanza of one of his songs runs like this:
I am breathing out my longings
In Thy listening, loving ears;
I am breathing in Thy answers,
Stilling every doubt and fear
This becomes all the more remarkable when it is remembered that Tom Haire never came under the influence of A. B. Simpson. He never heard him preach nor read one of his books. It can only be explained as the same Spirit saying the same thing to different men who listen to His voice with equal care.
From THE PRAYING PLUMBER OF LISBURN - A Sketch of God's Dealings with Thomas Haire by A. W. TOZER. Published in 1954 in The Alliance Weekly magazine. It has been explicitly authorized by the Alliance Life editors to be made available free online. The only stipulations are: 1) The work may only be made available for FREE. 2) The following citation must appear: Originally published in the Alliance Weekly (now Alliance Life) January 6, 13, and 20, 1954. Used by permission. Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0.
Insights of the past for the present
Plumber of Lisburn - A.W. Tozer
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.