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The Danger of Prayer

By all means, pray. But be careful what you ask for.

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Portrait of Eberhard Arnold as a young man.

Eberhard Arnold: an Appreciation

Writing the introduction to Arnold’s book, The Prayer God Answers, Foster describes him as a man who “spoke forcefully against the ... murderous strains of racism and bigotry [and] the heady nationalistic fervor” of Germany in the 1930s.

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When we call on God, we are asking him to do something that we cannot, to bring into being something that we ourselves do not know how to create. We are seeking for the impossible to happen, for something to be changed irrevocably that we could never change. We are asking for a history to unfold for which we ourselves could never be responsible.

The question is: Do we have the faith that through our prayer the status quo can be shattered? Can we believe that at our call Christ will come among us to judge and save? When we ask for the Holy Spirit, are we ready for God to strike us like a burst of flaming lightning, so that at last we experience Pentecost? Do we really believe that God’s kingdom is imminent? Are we capable of believing that through our pleading this kingdom will break in? Are we able to believe that as a result of our prayer the entire history of the world will be turned topsy-turvy?

Let us come to God in the absolute certainty that Jesus’ words are true: “The kingdom of God has drawn near!” and, “If you have faith, nothing will be impossible for you.” Wonders will occur, mountains will be torn from their place, and the whole situation as it is on earth will be changed. Mighty things will happen when we have faith.

It is dangerous to call on God in this way, for it means we are ready, not only to be lifted up from our place, but to be hurled down from our place. So let us concentrate all our powers on Jesus’ nearness, on the silent coming of the Holy Spirit, ready for everything to be changed by his intervention.

Prayer must never supplant work. If we sincerely ask God for his will to be done, for his nature to be revealed in our work, for his rule to bring humankind to unity, justice, and love, then our life will be one of work. Faith without works is dead. Prayer without work is hypocrisy. Unless we actively work to build up God’s kingdom, the Lord’s Prayer – “Your kingdom come” – is a lie on our lips. The purpose of Jesus’ prayer is to bring us to the point where its meaning is lived out, where it actually happens and becomes part of history. Each of us needs to find a way to devote our whole working strength so that God is honored, his will is done, and his kingdom comes. Unless our love for Jesus results in deeds, our connection to the Tree of Life will wither.

In addition, if we are going to endure the weight of evil and suffering in this world, we must not only ask God to forgive our sins, but that he would grant us the love that forgives everyone all the evil they have done to us. . . .

If our prayer is genuine, if we really want nothing but the kingdom of God, then we will think of all the regions of the world. We will call on God to intervene in the history of the nations, the history of classes and ranks, the history that has brought injustice to a climax. We will call on him to come with his judgment and to let his righteousness and peace break in like the dawn. This should be our prayer and the prayer of the church.


Taken from Eberhard Arnold’s The Prayer God Answers, newly released by Plough with an introduction by Richard J. Foster.

Vasilij Ivanovic Surikov, Young Woman at Prayer Vasilij Ivanovic Surikov, Young Woman at Prayer
Image from Private Collection. Photo © Bonhams, London, UK/Bridgeman Images
Related Article Eberhard Arnold: an Appreciation – by Richard J. Foster Read
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Eberhard Arnold was a theologian, educator, publisher, and community leader.

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