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    Gloriosa superba flower

    Prayer Hunger

    Why don’t we prioritize prayer more?

    By Amy Carmichael

    November 9, 2023

    This article is an excerpt from That Way and No Other: Following God Through Storm and Drought, a topical selection of quotes from Amy Carmichael's many books.

    If prayer matters, then it ought not to be counted continually second in our scheme of life…. All the time the devil is fighting our half-hour’s prayer; he never tires of fighting it. Sometimes there is a dullness which is a cloud of hell, sometimes a fiery assault.footnote

    The Gloriosa superba is native to South India. During the autumn rains you find it shooting in the lane bordered thickly by huge cactus and aloe. Here and there you see it in the open field. In the field it will have a chance, you think; but in the lane, crowded down by cactus and aloe, great strong assertive things with most fierce thorn and spike, what can a poor lily do but give in and disappear? A few weeks afterward you see a patch of color on the field, you go and gather handfuls of lovely lilies, and you revel in the tangle of color, a little bewilderment of delight. But the lane, go to the lane. There you see something far more satisfying: not only entangled color, but all the grace of form, God’s full thought grown to perfection. Eight feet up in the clear air, bright against the luminous blue, unfurling its fire-flowers like banners of triumph, there is the lily victorious. Each little delicate bud and leaf seems as if filled with a separate keen little joy: the joy of just being beautiful and free.

    The Gloriosa will exist in the field, as it will exist in the English hothouse, because it must. But it is not happy there. There is no proper development. Give it life, not just existence. Give it something to conquer. Give it the thorn and the spike.

    Sometimes it may seem to us that our prayer life would develop more easily under easier conditions. The open field with no obstacle near – there the lily will surely thrive. Look at the plant again. In itself it is very fragile, but each leaf tapers tendril-wise, and asks for something, however sharp, if only it may curl round it and climb.footnote

    Gloriosa superba flowers

    Gloriosa superba. Photograph by Vijayanrajapuram

    Recently – so recently that it would be unwise to go into detail – we were in trouble about a little girl of ten or eleven, who, though not a temple child, was exposed to imminent danger and sorely needed deliverance. I happened to be alone at Dohnavur at the time and did not know what to answer to the child’s urgent message: “If I can escape to you” (this meant if she braved capture and its consequences and fled across the fields alone at night), “can you protect me from my people?” To say “Yes” might have had fatal results. To say “No” seemed too impossible….

    Her case was complicated, if I may express it so, by the fact that though she knew very little – she had only had a few weeks’ teaching and could not read – she had believed all we told her most simply and literally, and witnessed to her own people, whose reply to her had been: “You will see who is stronger, your God or ours! Do you think your Lord Jesus can deliver you from our hand or prevent us from doing as we choose with you? We shall see!” And the case of an older girl who had been, as those who knew her best believed, drugged and then bent to her people’s will, was quoted: “Did your Lord Jesus deliver her? Where is she today? And you think he will deliver you!”

    “But he will not let you hurt me,” the child had answered fearlessly, though her strength was weakened even then by thirty hours without food; and, remembering one of the Bible stories she had heard during those weeks, she added, “I am Daniel, and you are the lions” – and she told them how the angel was sent to shut the lions’ mouths. But she knew so little after all, and the bravest can be overborne, and she was only a little girl; so our hearts ached for her as we sent her the message: “You must not try to come to us. We cannot protect you. But Jesus is with you. He will not fail you. He says, ‘Fear thou not, for I am with thee.’” That night they shut her up with a demon-possessed woman, that the terror of it might shake her faith in Christ. Next day they hinted that worse would happen soon. Our fear was lest her faith should fail before deliverance came.

    Three and a half months of such tension as we have rarely known passed over us….

    God in very truth interposed in such fashion that everyone saw it was his hand, for no other hand could have done it…. Until the time comes when it may be more fully told to the glory of our God, we have hid it in our hearts….

    All through those months there was prayer for that child in India and in England. The matter was so urgent that we made it widely known, and some at least of those who heard gave themselves up to prayer; not to the mere easy prayer which costs little and does less, but to that waiting upon God which does not rest till it knows it has obtained access, knows that it has the petition that it desires of him. This sort of prayer costs.footnote

    More and more as we go on, and learn our utter inability to move a single pebble by ourselves, and the mighty power of God to upturn mountains with a touch, we realize how infinitely important it is to know how to pray. There is the restful prayer of committal to which the immediate answer is peace. We could not live without this sort of prayer; we should be crushed and overborne, and give up brokenhearted if it were not for that peace. But the Apostle speaks of another prayer that is wrestle, conflict, “agony.” And if these little children are to be delivered and protected…. Then some of us must be strong to meet the powers that will combat every inch of the field with us, and some of us must learn deeper things than we know yet about the solemn secret of prevailing prayer.footnote

    There is a barren land which we reach when we have given all we have to give and feel drained to the last drop, and are plodding on without life or freshness, and our hearts are crying out for the quickening touch that renews us inwardly. We cannot live without that touch, and yet somehow we seem too spent to seek it. But we can stretch forth our hands, “I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land” (Ps. 143:6).footnote

    Our loving Lord is not just present, but nearer than thought can imagine, so near that a whisper can reach him. You know the story of the man who had a quick temper and had not time to go away and pray for help. His habit was to send up a little telegraph prayer, “Thy sweetness, Lord!” And sweetness came.

    Do you need courage? “Thy courage, Lord!” Patience? “Thy patience, Lord!” Love? “Thy love, Lord!” A quiet mind? “Thy quietness, Lord!” Shall we all practice this swift and simple way of prayer more and more? If we do, our Very Present Help will not disappoint us. For thou, Lord, hast never failed them that seek thee (Ps. 9:10).footnote

    Gloriosa superba flower

    Photograph by P. Jeganathan.

    Prayer in the name of his beloved Son cannot lose its way in the void. It must find the ear of God.

    For prayer is not emotion, it is a traffic between earth and heaven, “a commerce of love.” Our ships set sail for heavenly shores; they do not return empty; it is impossible that they should; but we are not told what tide will bring them back. We think in terms of time; God thinks in terms of eternity. We see the near end of the thread on which are strung our moments, minutes, hours, days, like pearls on a string; the other end is out of view, and yet the thread is one, indivisible. We call the near end time, and the far end eternity, as though somewhere the thread broke (at death perhaps). But it is not so. We are living in eternity now.footnote

    The more we pondered over all that is said about prayer in the only book in the world that can speak with authority about it, the more we found to make us ask to be filled with the knowledge of his will before offering petitions for a desired good. When we were in doubt about his will (as we often were and are) and had not liberty to ask for a clear sign, there was the prayer of prayers ready framed for us: Thy will be done, whatever that will may be (Matt. 26:39).footnote

    I have noticed that God sometimes waits until as a fellowship we wait on him about something. When we do that, things happen. Sometimes at the meeting there is a drag. Is our Father trying to show us that if he is to work wonders for us we must be in earnest about it, we must stir ourselves to lay hold of him? There are words in the Bible that make one wonder whether we do really as a company go very far in prayer. I want to go much further.footnote

    I know we have all, for some time back, felt the need of something more in our prayer life. I have, personally, and I know others have, and there are the many in our family who come to prayer meetings because it is the custom to do so, but who are not urged by a great desire. It is the lack of prayer-hunger that often makes a big united meeting difficult. The one thing we seem to need most is a revived prayer life in our own souls – then the wave will flow out to the others.footnote

    “Nothing had come this month,” [Dohnavur’s secretary in England] wrote once, for her heart is always burdened for the little ones in danger of something so much more than pain and death, “so I began to pray for a hundred pounds. It sounded a very large sum, but I prayed. And yesterday Miss R. called. She put a check for a hundred pounds in my hand. She had had it by her for some time, but she had no light about how to use it, and then during the week – just when I was praying – she knew what the Lord wanted her to do; so she brought it to me. We have a very gentle, loving Father.”

    “But why not wish for a thousand pounds? That would make everything so nice and easy,” said [one of our children] on hearing of the need to pray, and remembering the wish of the year before. But niceness and easiness would soon reduce the fibers of faith to jelly and pulp…. Peace was the first answer to our prayer, and soon afterward supplies were once more granted.footnote

    When I am in pain or too tired to find words, I look at a picture of the Matterhorn and the lake at its foot, and I let it pray for me for you. Let the strength of the mountains be theirs, the purity of the snows, the beauty of the blue water, the steadfastness of the rocks, the loveliness of the flowers on the banks and, above all, the joy of the little stream that flows forth to bless others.footnote

    The gates of access into the Father’s presence are open continually. There is no need to push – perhaps “trying to pray” is sometimes a sort of pushing. This was how it came to me – If the gates are open there is nothing to do but go in. It sounds too simple to tell, but it helped me very much.footnote

    Often the answer to our prayer comes as it were obliquely. We pray for one, and the prayed-for one goes on apparently unimpressed. But the prayer, if one may put it so, glances off the soul that has hardened itself, and falls like a shower on another, and that soul responds like a watered garden, and blossoms out in flower.

    There are two prayers, one of which we are constantly praying, sometimes in words, sometimes in thoughts, always in actions. One is, “Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee” (Ps. 143:10); the other is, “Lord, let me do the thing that pleaseth me.” … Some use the first in the morning, and the second all through the day; for such, the second is the habit of the soul. Some vary between the two, and that leads to an up-and-down life. Some are growing more and more into the first as an all-day prayer, and their lives are growing stronger and gladder, more equable, more dependable, and much more peaceful.footnote


    1. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, 321
    2. Overweights of Joy, 291–92
    3. Lotus Buds, 294–98
    4. Lotus Buds, 319
    5. Windows, 174
    6. Candles in the Dark, 71
    7. Ploughed Under, 150–51
    8. Gold Cord, 48
    9. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, 320
    10. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, 322
    11. Windows, 140–41
    12. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, 374
    13. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, 318
    14. Overweights of Joy, 50
    Contributed By AmyCarmichael Amy Carmichael

    Amy Carmichael, a Christian missionary to India, spent fifty-five years being a mother to hundreds of orphaned children and writing books on discipleship.

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