S.D. Gordon’s first book, Quiet Talks on Prayer, offers a number of insights for readers who are serious about training themselves in the art and necessity of the spiritual weapon of prayer. First published in 1904, Prayer may come across to many readers today as antiquated in both its illustrations—for example Gordon’s discussions of both electricity (Gordon, 14) and coaling stations (56)—and its verbiage. This fact does not detract, however, from the wealth of information and advice Gordon shares throughout his book. While the beginning of Prayer comes as more of a struggle than a journey, the attentive reader will soon become engrossed in Gordon’s wisdom, and he will truly sense the voice of the author as he quietly talks about this topic so evidently dear to his heart. The remainder of this paper will look closely at some positive aspects and one questionable point regarding prayer from Gordon’s book, both gleaned from the perspective of a reader seeking to improve his effectiveness in prayer.
First, several positive aspects stand out of Gordon’s Prayer. These aspects include Gordon’s emphasis on God’s will in prayer, his focus on God’s Word in prayer, his insight regarding prayer in general, and his insights regarding other various scriptural topics.
Gordon focuses first on God’s will in prayer. He opens this overarching discussion of God’s will in prayer by calling “Thy will be done” the greatest prayer of all (43). This same phrase shared by Christ in “The Lord’s Prayer” as the example of how all believers should pray was not simply a pithy statement. Instead, Christ proved to His disciples and to us through His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His arrest and death (73) that these words truly sum up all the necessary attitudes of prayer: humility, submission, honesty and desire. Gordon repeats that getting God’s will done is truly the main purpose of prayer (129, 132), for in making his requests, a man seeks to see his desires match God’s and to see those desires played out in reality. The man finds what God desires and he prays those desires back to God (108). This purpose of and focus in prayer is best evidenced through one of the main hindrances of prayer, when God’s viewpoint differs from that of the one praying (62).
Gordon also focuses on God’s Word in prayer. He discusses the power of utilizing God’s Word—or “the Book”—in prayer, by suggesting that a believer needs to “meet God alone, habitually, with the door shut, and the Book open” (75). Such a practice of prayerfully reading Scripture and praying the Scripture back to God is one often suggested but far less often practiced. God’s Word has its rightful place in prayer, however (110), and many believers need to return to the elementary idea that training of any kind best comes through the eyes (120). Gordon suggests specific methods of reading the Scriptures, most notably his idea of “wide reading” which involves approaching the Bible as if it were a story or novel, something to be appreciated as a chronicle of actual events (124). He also suggests that conscientious prayers read other books in addition to—though never in the place of—Scripture (121-123).
Gordon shares countless prudent insights on prayer throughout his book, but the following are three in particular that really effected a stirring in my heart. He first mentions that prayer without action is weakened, for service after prayer is the evident claiming of the victory already won in secret (14). He then shares the fact that prayer begins with both communion and petition, but finally climaxes when it moves into intercession (30). Gordon finally points out the three personalities of prayer: the God who hears, the man who prayer and the Satan who seeks to prevent it all from taking place (87).
Gordon also shares a number of other pertinent Scriptural insights which, in my mind, tie the spiritual and physical realms of prayer together. The most important comes when Gordon discusses the existence of a black and a white thread that weave throughout human history, threads that illustrate the perpetual existence of both an enemy and a man of God who prays (79). Such a description reminds me immediately of the only five existing forms of conflict: man versus self, man versus man, man versus nature, man versus society, and man versus God. In each of these types of conflict, one can see the two threads weaving so easily into the fabric of all conflict. Gordon encourages me to be the white thread, the man who responds in prayer, despite the conflict and despite the strength of the black.
Second, one questionable point stands out in Gordon’s Prayer. This questionable point regards Gordon’s implication of guaranteed victory in praying for the salvation of others. Gordon makes a poignant suggestion in Chapter 12 that with interpersonal contact comes opportunity to reach the lost, and that with this opportunity also comes great responsibility (140). He follows this suggestion with methods of praying for these lost individuals, but then finishes the discussion with a statement too bold for reality: “Without any doubt, we may assure the conversion of these laid upon our hearts by such praying” (142). While I do not doubt the realities of the power of prayer and how such praying can weaken Satan’s grip and free a man’s will (141), I also understand that every single human being must make the decision for himself, and nothing but his own will to answer the Spirit’s pleadings and accept Christ’s free gift of salvation can change that. As Gordon has already pointed out, “Satan cannot get into a man’s heart without his consent, and God will not” (34). While God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9), reality dictates that many, many souls will perish, despite the intense prayers of saints on their behalf.
Having looked closely at some of the major positives of S.D. Gordon’s Prayer, I feel that I have gained a better understanding of the spiritual warfare involved in prayer. I have seen Satan and his desire to hold on to what is not his, and I have see prayer consistently weaken his hold on men’s souls. Prayer truly does have the strength to overcome the power of sin.
Gordon, S. D. Quiet Talks on Prayer. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co, 1904.
© 2010 E.T.