11 May, 2021

Genuine, Fervent Prayers . . . and the Alternative

by | 27 February, 2020 | 0 comments

S. S. Lappin served as editor of Christian Standard from 1909 to 1917, and he then wrote hundreds of articles for the magazine until his death in 1960. Here are excerpts from an essay he wrote about prayer.

_ _ _

Praying and Saying Prayers

Bible prayers are brief but they are genuine and fervent. Ours are too long and we “say” them

By S. S. Lappin
March 2, 1940; p. 7

. . . When prayer becomes self-conscious it ceases to be a prayer; it is merely saying a prayer. A certain Pharisee could not make the grade with his formal, studied, well-wrought-out petition, but a publican standing near crashed the mercy gates with eight impassioned words from his penitent heart.

The close friends of Jesus must have been praying men, much as we are today; but something in His intimate appeals to God caused them to preserve His prayers and to ask that He teach them to pray. . . .

THERE is but one long prayer in the Old Testament, and the king who made it backslid in his later years. That of the upper room is the longest in the New Testament, and it can be read in less than three minutes. Besides these there are certain extended prayers of thanksgiving and adoration, as those of Hannah, Jonah, Mary and Zacharias.

The prayer of Abram for the righteous in Sodom, though it took the form of an argumentative appeal, used but 154 words. Lot, after his flight into nowhere, made out his pathetic status in a friendless world with seventy-six words. Elijah put the prophets of Baal out of action with sixty-five words. Jacob, wrestling with a divine presence during the long hours of a dark night, spoke, when at last he did speak, but twenty-five words. Moses prayed once with fourteen words, Samson with twenty-seven, Hannah with fifty-four, while the prayer Jesus taught His disciples was but sixty-five, including a gloss and an added amen. Perhaps the briefest and best of all Biblical petitions is that of Simon Peter when about to sink. His “Lord, save me” got instant answer. Had he taken the time for a formal petition, such as we have come to believe necessary, he would indeed have “sunk.”

I AM convinced there should be fewer and briefer public prayers. Nobody should ever “say a prayer” in public—or anywhere else, for that matter. And, if this is to be, few will pray in public; and those who do will make careful preparation of heart and mind in the light of the day and its needs.

If only those who actually do pray—can pray—were asked to lead public prayer much valuable time would be saved; but the prayer period would become the fervent, ruddy, life-giving center of the worship. Everyone would listen. Every one would join in confession of sin, pleading for forgiveness, praise to God and petition for life’s vital needs. As it is, even the communion service is often made to drag drearily along because the elders ministering at the table say prayers instead of offering thanks. . . .

Public prayer is grievously abused when prayers are merely said. It is an abuse of public prayer to be formal or grandiloquent; to pray long; to be bound by customary phrasing such as has been in use by moldy saints for generations past; to attempt the sensational or spectacular to catch the ears of hearers; to unwittingly think only of those present, while forgetting God. . . .

A hymn we once used declares that, “There is always a blessing, a blessing in prayer.” But there is no blessing in merely saying prayers. Saying prayers is not praying. When Eli watched Hannah, her face tense with depth of emotion, he thought she was drunk; little did he know about prayer. The account says “She spake in her heart; only her lips moved: but her voice was not heard.” She was praying. That was a new thing to the priest, as it would be to many priests in our day, and as well to many of us who count ourselves “kings and priests” before God. . . .

THE BRIEFEST and most effectual prayer I have ever heard was from the lips of my mother. It was phrased with five impassioned words. We were living in a small log house in the woods that used to be in southern Illinois, my mother and her orphaned brood, the eldest but sixteen years old. A terrible summer storm swept the forest. Trees were falling all about us. Lightning was constant and peal after sharp peal of thunder followed in quick succession. A wind of hurricane dimensions swept the forest. In the midst of it our west door was blown from its fastenings. It seemed that all the terrors of earth were let loose. We took refuge under the two beds. In one brief silence I heard my mother pray. She moaned trembling and trustingly, “O God, save us all.” And God did. Sixty years have passed and her five are still alive and well; only she is gone. And before she laid down her worn body I said to her once, “I don’t yet see how you got us through.” And she answered simply, “I did it by prayer.” And yet, save that once, I never heard her pray.

Is there not here a resource of power and guidance that we Christians are failing to utilize? We inject our vain worries into these various problems of ours and get nervous prostration as a result; what we need to do is to pray and trust God. We argue over our differences and they grow larger all the time; if we prayed together they would melt away. We lament the decline in evangelism, but do not “pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to his harvest.” We deplore it that prayer is so nearly a lost art; we study about it, preach about it and write articles about it, when WHAT WE NEED IS TO PRAY.

Let us pray! “Lord, teach us to pray.

_ _ _

This essay does not delve much into private prayer, except to say, “One can not be long contented to ‘say prayers’ in private; he will become tired or ashamed to take time for such silliness. He will either learn to pray or give up the counterfeit stunt.”

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

(Image: The author calls Simon Peter’s “Lord, save me” as “perhaps the briefest and best of all Biblical petitions.” This image is from a plate engraved for the Macklin Bible after a specially commissioned painting by Philippe Jacques De Loutherbourg (1795). Coutesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Articles

Stories

By taking these symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, we announce we believe there really was a Jesus, and he really did die for us and carried all our sins down to a grave . . .

Documentary Highlights Christian Response to Pandemics

Southeast Christian Church’s “Purpose in Pandemics” is a documentary that follows the response of the church to pandemics throughout history. The “Purpose in Pandemics” website also includes a study guide for small groups and individuals.

Used of God

I soaked up Sam Stone’s wit and wisdom during our lunches together. Afterward, I’d take notes about our conversations. After hearing of his passing, inspired by his wordsmithing, I felt compelled to share just a small part of his story.

Sam E. Stone: ‘He Tried to Speak the Truth in Love’

In memory and appreciation of our former editor, Sam E. Stone, who died early this week, we share this 2011 column from Christian Standard’s archives in which Sam discussed four Scripture verses significant to his life.

Elliott Library ‘Cornerstone’ Laid

Three Bibles of historical significance to Cincinnati Christian University were the first books place on the shelves during relocation of the George Mark Elliott Library.

The Death of Evil

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw in minority groups’ struggles for social equality in America a parallel with Israel’s bondage in Egypt. King envisioned God’s goodness would deliver the U.S. from the evil of segregation.

Mark Scott’s Greatest Kingdom Impact

Since I first enrolled at Ozark Christian College, Mark Scott has been my kingdom hero, and I’m not the only young preacher Mark has shaped. Over his 35 years at OCC, Mark has inspired generations of students.

‘Have We Plans for 1921?’

“All the Standard asks is the opportunity to serve, and it yearns to render in 1921 the greatest, finest, and best service of its history. . . .”

CCLF Concluding Strong First Year in Greater Cincinnati

In its first full year, the Christian Church Leadership Foundation has accomplished much to ensure Christian education and resources would continue to be available to people in the Greater Cincinnati area.

News Briefs for Dec. 9

Items from Timber Lake Christian Church (Moberly, Mo.), Choateville Christian Church (Frankfort, Ky.), Johnson University, and more.

My Counsel for Young Preachers

If I were counseling an aspiring young preacher fresh out of Bible college or seminary, champing at the bit to lead in the church, I would offer these three bits of advice.

My Memories of Marshall Leggett

By Ben Merold
As I think about Marshall Leggett, who passed away on March 2 at age 90, two personal experiences keep coming to my mind . . .

Powell Quintuplets Graduating from High School

When the Powell quintuplets were born in 2001, all of Kentucky celebrated, including Southeast Christian Church, where the Powells are longtime members. Now the quints are 18 and are all headed to the same university.

Reentry: It May Be Harder Than We Think

When the COVID-19 crisis eases, I anticipate that reentry is going to be harder than some people think. Churches, especially, need to prepare for this.

Mary’s Testimony

Look through Mary’s eyes at the bread and the cup. Listen to Mary’s voice as you thank God for paying the price for our sins. This was Mary’s testimony about God’s Son: “Do whatever he tells you.”

May 16 | Application

How will we face the challenges that confront us in the church, in our culture, and in our personal lives?

May 16 | Discovery

Compare David and Goliath. What was each one depending on to bring about victory?

Follow Us