The Uniting Power of Prayer

[Acts 10:9]---' Peter went up upon the housetop to pray.

Of all the evangelists, St. Luke takes most pleasure in writing of prayer and in calling attention to men who prayed. He is the only one of the evangelists who tells us that Jesus was praying when He was baptized, that He was praying when He was transfigured, and that He went out of the world praying. He alone presents the parable of the Friend at Midnight, the parable of the Unjust Judge, and that of the Pharisee and the Publican.

In this chapter he tells the story of how two men went up, each one upon his own housetop to pray: one was a Roman; the other a Jew. One was a soldier; the other a preacher. One was a servant of Caesar; the other a sevant of Jesus of Nazareth. One was an Asiatic; the other a European. The two men were so far apart that it was immpossible for them to come together. Between them yawned a chasm worn deep and wide by centuries of false thinking and perverted feeling.

And yet, in their inner life, the two men were not far apart: both were pious; both recognized the existence of a Sovereign Spiritual Power; both were charitable. Cornelus had money and gave it; Peter had neither silver nor gold, but such as he had he gave [virtue left him; God Himself]---faith, hope, love, peace, joy. They were both sensitive to God and responsive to man; both went up upon their housetops to pray, and while they prayed something wonderful happened. While Cornelius prayed his prejudices were softened, his sympathies widened, and the thought of Simon Peter came into his mind. He had often heard of this man and had wanted to hear him, but had never dared to come near him. But now, in his prayer, his courage increased, and a deeper longing took possession of him to hear what this Christian preacher had to say. Accordingly, acting upon the inpulse which prayer brought him, he called his servants, and sent them to Joppa with an invitation to Simon Peter to come to Caesarea---an action springing out of his prayer.

Now what happened in Joppa? Peter went up as was his custom upon the housetop to pray, and while he prayed, his prejudices were softened and his sympathies widened. For a long time he had been trying to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with sundry requirements of the Mosaic law, and strange doubts and scruples had come into his heart which he had not been able to banish. These come up again while he prays. On this particular day he sees more clearly than ever before that the old distinctions have passed away, and, while he is meditating on his new vision, there is a knocking at the door. He meets the messengers of Cornelius, who give him the invitation. He accepts and sets out for Caesarea. In the house of Cornelius he finds assembleled a large company of Romans, to whom he talks about Jesus of Nazareth, and he tells them that he has recently learned something which he has never realized before---that God is no respecter of the exterior of men, and that, no matter who the man is, or what nationality, if he fears God and does right, God accepts him. While he speaks the same mysterious light and joy fill the hearts of those who listen which had come to the company of Jews in the Upper Chamber on the day of Pentecost, and forthwith Peter gives instructions that they shall all be baptized. That was the great day when Cornelius and Peter met---one of the great days in human history. On that day a mighty chasm was bridged. The miracle was wrought by prayer---by the uniting power of prayer.

We think of prayer, generally, in its subjective aspects. We know by experience what it does for our own heart. It tranquillizes the feelings, braces the spirit, and dissipates the clouds. But we do not often enough think of it as a force, a power by which God is building the world.

The outstanding feature of the world at the present hour is its divisions. In every quarter suspicions, antagonisims, and hatreds exist. The social world is divided. On one side are the rich, and on the other side the poor; the former are often indifferent to the latter, the latter often bitter and unjust to the former. In the industrial world, labor is arrayed against capital and capital against labor, and the smouldering resentments, again and again, break into flame. The ecclesiastical world is also the scene of strife. The Protestant communions are closer together than they were a generation ago, but they are not yet organized into a compact mass of consecrated life which can be used as an instrument in the hands of God for the reformation of the great cities of the land. Between Roman Catholicisim and Protestantism there is a great gulf still, and mischief-makers, on both sides, stir up bitterness. In the international realm, we see nations suspicious of one another, still counting their neighbors enemies, and doubtful of disarmament. Poor, torn, distracted, miserable world, full of separating chasms and dividing walls, and no clear prospect of a glorious union!

The present state of humanity is indeed amazing when one remembers that, for two thousand years, Christianity has been proclaiming the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; that, for four generations, Science has been teaching the solidarity of the race; that Socialism, for many years, has been preaching its doctrine of comradeship and working to knit the nations together. In addition to these mighty preachers, Business, in recent years, has been extolling the virtue of co-opperation, and teaching men the secret of efficiency. And yet, in spite of the labors of the Church, the efforts of Socialism, the teachings of Science, and the exhortations of Finance, men refuse to come together, still filling the world with their dissensions and hatreds.

We realize now that we have been misled by two words. The first of these is Progress. For fifty years it has been a goddess, and we have chanted to her hymns of endless praise. We have gloried in our cleverness and exulted in our superiority to the men who lived before us. We now see that material progress is one thing and moral progress another; that the first is worth little without the second. We imagined that the world was getting on. But we have discovered that it is possible to advance in physical comfort and not in love, and that, unless the world is advancing in love, it is not advancing at all. Knowledge may come, but if wisdom lingers we are no better off. We are really progressing in life only when we are moving toward the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy.

We have also been misled by Science. So wonderful have been her achievements that men have supposed she could do everything. They have concluded that she, alone, has the words of life, and that all which humanity needs is what Science can tell. Not a few have discarded the old religion of the prophets and apostles, convinced that in Science they had found a religion more adequate for these larger times. But war, with its blazing torch, has shown us the limitations of Science. She is mighty only within narrow limits. All her marvels are wrought inside the kingdom of matter. She can give a man wings and set him flying above the clouds; she can enable him to live at the bottom of the sea; she can give him power to talk to a friend, without a wire, across the ocean; she can unite the Atlantic and the Pacific, but she cannot bring two estranged hearts together. For the knitting of hearts we are as helpless as men were two thousand years ago, and are compelled to do what the apostles did---to fall back on the onipotence of God.

What the world most needs is prayer. We put too much trust in machinery; we rely too much on legislation; we foolishly imagine we can save the world by law. It is not by the might of mechanical forces, or by the power of civil enactments, but by the Spirit of the Eternal that humanity is to be healed. The rich and the poor will never get rid of the thoughts and feelings which push them apart, until they bow down together before the Maker of them all. The great branches of the Christian Church will not be brought together by the diplomatic adjustments of astute ecclesiastics, but the miracle will be wrought by all Christians drawing nearer to God. And how can the nations be so surely and swiftly reconciled to one another as by prayer? Various methods of ending war have been suggested, but the best method has been overlooked by the majority of the wise and prudent. If the nations would all go up upon their housetops and pray there would be no more talk of war.

It is when we use the higher range of our faculties that we desend into that which is deepest within us. Many of us place great emphasis upon the importance of opinions. We divide men according to their notions, and the men who differ from us in opinion we find it difficult to tolerate and impossible to admire. But opinions are, after all, transitory forms of thought floating on the surface of our life. They change from year to year. They do not represent what is deepest in us. Reason, then is deeper than opinion. Reason is more constant, and more stable. But reason is not the deepest thing in us. Feeling is deeper, instinct and passion are deeper. Patriotism is a passion, and patriotism is deeper than reason. But patriotism is not the deepest passion within us. Deeper than patriotism is religion. Our relation to God is deeper than our relation to our native land. We all belong to Him and we are all bound to Him, and therefore, sometime, all men will come together. Mankind is one, and when we go up upon the housetop and pray we speak out of the force which is deepest and most controlling within us. We do not pray because we have opinions, or because we belong to a certain nation. We pray, solely, because we are men. Man is unconquerably religious, and, being religious, he must pray. He cannot pray in the true spirit of prayer without drawing nearer to his brother. Joppa and Caesarea are brought together by prayer.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha

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