Thursday, March 13, 2003

Learning to Pray from the Man Who Taught the World to Read

I had long been interested in learning more from and about Frank C. Laubach. Laubach was mentioned in Norman Vincent Peale's classic, The Power of Positive Thinking. From an acquaintance who once directed the work of a local literacy agency that bore Laubach's name, I knew that the one-time missionary who died many decades ago, had been inspired during a time of prayer to begin a movement to teach illiterate adults to read.

I figured that such a man could teach a lot about prayer, but his books are out of print.

Then one day a few weeks ago, I sat in a neighboring church's library and saw on the shelf the 1960 paperback edition of Laubach's Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World. I almost jumped on the book and checked it out immediately! Originally written right after World War Two, Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World urges people to pray for the United Nations, for world leaders, and for peace. As the crisis over Iraq heated up, Laubach's words were lent special immediacy and power.

One of Laubach's most important suggestions in this terrific little book is that we pray during the "chinks" that happen in all of our schedules: while stuck in traffic, doing mindless chores, standing in lines, and so on. Lengthy concentrated prayer time is good, Laubach asserts, but if we are to follow Saint Paul's admonition to "pray without ceasing," we need to cultivate the habit of offering up prayers all the time. Laubach is especially urgent in commending prayer for the leaders of all nations. (This is a suggestion that the New Testament authors, who even urged prayer for Roman emperors who persecuted the Church, would readily endorse, I'm sure.)

I keep a file of meaningful quotes drawn from the books I read. Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World is full of great quotes. In the current international crisis though, several stand out:

"Most of us will never enter the White House and offer advice to the President. Probably he will never have time to read our letters [or our e-mails, I thought, as I read this]. But we can give him what is far more important than advice. We can give him a lift into the presence of God, make him hungry for divine wisdom...We can visit the White House with prayer as many times a day as we think of it, and every such visit makes us a channel between God and the President."

He also says that in our praying for the President and other leaders, "[w]e do not 'persuade God to try harder'...; it is our world leaders, our statesmen and church men [sic] whom we persuade to try harder. We help God when we pray. When great numbers of us pray for leaders, a mighty invisible spiritual force lifts our minds and eyes toward God. His Spirit flows through our prayer to them, and He can speak to them directly."

I laughed out loud when I read this assertion by Laubach: "We can do more for the world with prayer than if we were to walk into Whitehall, London, or the Kremlin in Moscow, and tell those men [sic] what to do---far more! If they listened to our suggestions, we would probably be more or less wrong [emphasis mine]. But what God tells them, when they listen to Him, must be right. It is infinitely better for world leaders to listen to God than for them to listen to us." These lines made me laugh because I thought how right Laubach was. I remembered how many times I held doggedly to an opinion about a political matter only to learn how misguided and wrong my view had been. How much better it is to humbly and trustingly place matters in God's hands, confident in His infinitely superior judgment. And how much better it is to put frail human leaders in God's hands than trying to manhandle them with my very fallible opinions and judgments!

These insights from Laubach have proven helpful to me in the weeks that I've been praying about the possible war with Iraq. I've prayed that God would cause a hunger and thirst for God's righteousness to happen in all our international leaders. I've asked God to take control of the situation in Iraq (and in North Korea). And I've tried to offer those prayers during every "chink" in my daily schedule.

Jesus promises that when we approach the Father in His Name, submitting to His will, God hears and answers our prayers. It's clear to me that nobody wants this war---people from George W. Bush to those on the streets interviewed in Baghdad have said so repeatedly. I don't want this war to happen if it can be avoided. So, I'm going to keep praying that in His divine sovereignty and power, God will make a way for war to averted, a way for the people of Iraq to be freed from oppression and fear, a way for weapons of mass destruction the world over to be eliminated, and a way for the lives of Iraqis and American military personnel to be protected. And I'm offering these prayers up, never doubting God's good intentions for the human race, constantly throughout my day.

"...More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of," Tennyson observed. At a critical time, Laubach's Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World reminded me of this truth and challenged me to recommit myself to "pray without ceasing."