LandMarks Magazine  

June 2000 Table of Contents


The Divine Science
By Ralph Larson


We are obviously standing at the threshold of the time of trouble, and we have been warned that the final movements will be rapid ones. Modern communication skills make it easy for us to understand how issues can quickly become known throughout the whole world. We can expect the closing events to happen in rapid succession. How then shall we maintain our faith and move through those awful events without fear or failure? A healthy prayer program would be a must. Of what would a healthy prayer program consist? I do not pretend to know all that there is to know about prayer, but let me share with you some things that I have seen.

The story begins when I was pastoring the Seventh-day Adventist church in Hilo, Hawaii. I was responsible, of course, for the Sabbath morning sermons and for the Wednesday night prayer meeting studies. As I was preparing material for these appointments, I came across some Spirit of Prophecy statements that rather surprised me. "There is a divine science in prayer." Christ’s Object Lessons, 142.

The Prayer of Faith

This caused me to wonder. There is in science a principle that whoever conducts the same procedures in the same way will get the same results. Could this in any way be true of prayer? It seemed like an unusual combination of the terms, science and prayer. But I found them again in Education, 257 and Gospel Workers, 38: "In the prayer of faith there is a divine science." "…watch unto prayer. This is the science of your labor."

This encouraged me to make a study of the subject. As time permitted, I did more research on the subject of prayer. Then another incident further intrigued me. I had conducted some evangelistic meetings in our school auditorium and had baptized a nice group of people. Then one day I decided to remove some things from the shelf in the back of the church pulpit, and I found there, to my surprise, a heart shaped valentine box. I opened it, and found some names on prayer lists. As I looked at those names, I realized that most of the people whom I had just baptized were on those lists. This further stimulated my interest in the subject of prayer.

Secret Communion Sustains the Soul

Eventually, the brethren transferred me to the Central Church in Honolulu. By this time I thought I had enough material together on the subject of prayer for a series of studies, so I announced a series on The Science of Prayer. In these studies we gave careful attention to what appeared to be principles of the science. Among the important ones was the principle of Privacy. Notice the emphasis in this statement: "Family prayer, public prayer, have their place; but it is secret communion with God that sustains the soul life." Education, 258.

So we did not spend much time on the family and public prayers, because they are so limited in subject matter and in time, except to note that if all of them that were performed in a week were added together, the total would probably be less than an hour. We focused our attention on private prayer, and we found many interesting things. There is, for example, a recommendation about the best time of day for private prayers: "At an early hour of the evening, when we can pray unhurriedly and understandingly, we should present our supplications and raise our voices in happy, grateful praise." The Review and Herald, November 29, 1887.. "Let the youth follow His example in finding at dawn and at twilight a quiet season for communion with their Father in heaven." Education, 259.

This was accompanied by a suggestion regarding the time spent in prayer: "Many, even in their seasons of devotion, fail of receiving the blessing of real communion with God. They are in too great haste. With hurried steps they press through the circle of Christ’s loving presence, pausing perhaps a moment in the sacred precincts, but not waiting for counsel. They have no time to remain with the divine Teacher. With their burdens they return to their work." Education, 260.

Where Two or Three are Gathered

Then we come to the principle of Unity, and something happened that rather unnerved me. It was prayer meeting time on Wednesday evening, and the people in the meeting room had been singing. I was just opening the door to go in and lead the study when a member, whose name was Buddy Kelly, came up to me and said, "Elder Larson, would you please ask the people to pray that my wife will come back to church?"

"What is her problem?" I asked.

"I do not know, she will not tell me," he said. "But she has not been in church for three years."

I said that I would do it, and wrote her name on the bottom of my note page so that I would not forget it. I presented the study for the evening, on the principle of unity in prayer, based on the promise of Christ that when two or three are agreed as to what they should ask, it will be granted (Matthew 18:19-20). When I came to the end of the study, I noticed the name of Sister Kelly at the bottom of my notes and remembered my promise. I asked how many of the group knew her, and they all raised their hands. I asked how many of them would be willing to pray that she would come back to church. They all raised their hands again. Then it happened. Something slipped out of my mouth that I had not planned to say. It shocked some of the people, and it shocked me too. I said, "We have read the Lord’s promise and we have agreed to pray that Sister Kelly will come back to church. If she never comes back, we will know that this promise is false, will we not?"

Oh, Oh, Oh! Why did I say that? I do not know why I said it. It was not planned or premeditated. I had never said anything like that before. I am sure that if I had taken thought, I would not have said it at all. I had two tense and anxious days, Thursday and Friday, worrying about it. But my concerns were not necessary. On Sabbath morning the Lord had Sister Kelly in church. I apologized to the Lord, and I have never done such a thing again. But I sometimes wonder just how the Lord looked at it. Some day, by His grace, I may be able to ask Him.

Impressed by the Lord

Now that I have introduced you to Brother Kelly, I will step out of the time line of my story and tell you another experience involving him. He had remembered the thought about counseling with the Lord (see above) and a suggestion of mine that the Lord speaks to us at times, but we do not listen. On a certain Sunday, Brother Kelly, his wife, and his wife’s sister went shopping together in the Kelly’s car. When they had finished their shopping, they drove first to the sister’s home. She got out of the car and started up the walk to her house, and Brother Kelly started to pull away from the curb. Suddenly a thought struck him so forcibly that he stopped the car. What was the thought? Give her Bible studies. With his foot on the brake, he turned his head and looked at her going up her steps. "What a crazy idea," he thought. "She does not want Bible studies." But all the rest of the day he worried about it. He worried about it at work all day Monday and all day Tuesday. Finally he decided that he had to know the truth of the matter. Tuesday night he said to his wife, "Get cleaned up, honey. We’re going out."

"Where are we going?"

"We are going to your sister’s house."

"What for?"

"We are going to give her a Bible study."

"Are you crazy?"

"I do not know. We will find out if I am crazy when we get there."

So they went to the sister’s house and knocked on the door. She opened the door, put her head out, and said in surprise, ‘Well, Hello! What are you doing here?" Brother Kelly took a deep breath, then said firmly, "We came to give you a Bible study." For a long moment she just stared at them, while her face turned deathly pale. Finally she spoke. "Well, come in then."

They had a pleasant Bible study, and set up appointments for more. Things were progressing nicely, when I had to leave Honolulu for several weeks to fill an appointment on another island. When I returned, Brother Kelly came to see me. "Elder Larson," he said, "do you remember about my wife’s sister?"

"Yes, I remember. How are the studies going?"

"The studies went fine, but right now she is in the hospital, dying of cancer."

"Well, now we know why you got that signal from the Lord to give her Bible studies, do we not?"

"We sure do. I am so glad that I obeyed."

The Five Major Elements of Prayer

Now let us return to the prayer meeting story. As we continued our studies, we found information about the content of prevailing prayer. There seemed to be five major elements: Thanksgiving, Repentance, Consecration, Temporal needs, and Intercessory prayer for others. The first three are quite specific.

1 Thanksgiving

"If the loving-kindness of God called forth more thanksgiving and praise, we would have far more power in prayer. We would abound more and more in the love of God and have more bestowed to praise Him for. You, who complain that God does not hear your prayers, change your present order and mingle praise with your petitions. When you consider His goodness and mercies you will find that He will consider your wants." Testimonies, vol. 5, 317.

"He desires us to serve Him in newness of life, with gladness every day…To praise God in fullness and sincerity of heart is as much a duty as is prayer." Christ’s Object Lessons, 299.

2 Repentance

"This daily review of our acts, to see whether conscience approves or condemns, is necessary for all who wish to reach perfection of Christian character." Gospel Workers, 275.

3 Consecration

"Morning by morning, as the heralds of the gospel kneel before the Lord and renew their vows of consecration to Him, He will grant them the presence of His Spirit, with its reviving, sanctifying power." Acts of the Apostles, 56.

These three principles, taken together, present us with some regular morning exercises in prayer. First we think carefully about all of the specific and individual blessings granted to us in the past twenty-four hours, and thank the Lord for each of them. This is very beneficial. We will soon realize that the Lord is doing more for us every day than we were aware. We will be reminded of the old song, "Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done."

Then we repeat the memory exercise to see whether we may have disappointed the Lord in any way during the last twenty-four hours. This gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to impress our minds and teach us lessons that we need to learn.

Third, we renew our vows of consecration, which involves the exercise of the will in deciding and reaffirming decisions. The use of this marvelous "kingly power" is a rewarding study in itself, which we do not have space enough for here. Suffice it to say that there is real benefit in renewing and restating our vows of consecration.

4 Our Temporal Needs

"Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children.…Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice." Steps to Christ, 100.

It often happens that this is the major portion of our prayers, but it need not be. The real emphasis in our prayers would ideally be the next section.

5 Intercessory Prayers for Others

In this area, our attention was attracted to the following question: "Why do not two or three meet together and plead with God for the salvation of some special one, and then for still another?" Testimonies, vol. 7, 21.

Prayer for a Witch Doctor

This challenge appealed to us, so we decided to try it. We moved from the prayer meeting room to the main church auditorium so that we could spend part of the service in small groups with room enough to be separated from one another. The members of each group consulted together and agreed on a particular person for whom they would be praying. On the first Wednesday evening, three of the men came to me and asked me to join their group. I asked them for whom we would be praying. They answered, "We are going to pray for Joseph Poomaihealani. His brother, Ernest, is one of our members." That seemed to make sense, so I joined their group. But it was more than a month before I learned who Joseph really was. Those men had me praying for a kahuna, a Hawaiian witch doctor!

He was a man who had a special chair in his front room. If you sat in that chair without his permission, the chair would turn over and deposit you on the floor. He had a shelf on which he would place a glass of whiskey and watch it disappear as the spirits drank it. He believes, to this day, that he has seen the devil face to face. One night he attended a meeting that I was conducting in Honolulu. I happened to make the statement that some people do not believe there is a devil. As he left the auditorium, he said to me, "Mr. Larson, I will tell you what you can do. If they do not believe there is any devil, just send them to my house. I will show them."

I was dismayed. There were times when I felt like suggesting that we pray for someone else, but it seemed as if that would show a lack of faith, so I did not do it.

When Women Pray

Meanwhile, other things were happening. There were several ladies in the church whose husbands were not members, so it was difficult for them to attend prayer meetings. But they heard about what we were doing and wanted to get in on it. They talked it over and decided that they would have a set time each day when they would pray for their husbands, thus meeting at the throne of grace. And one by one their husbands started coming to church.

Mr. Kiehm came first, and was soon baptized. Then George Hirashima started coming and attending the Pastor’s Sabbath School Class, where we studied doctrines. One Sabbath morning, as I was walking up the stairs to the church door, I met him coming down. "Good morning, George," I said. He did not return my greeting, but said, "Say, are you ready to baptize me today?" I said, "George, are you serious?" He answered, "I’m serious. I want to be baptized. But do not tell my wife. I want to surprise her." So, at the end of the sermon I simply walked into the baptistry and performed the ceremony for him. Sister Hirashima almost fell off her seat. After him came three more husbands, Brother Kim, Brother Ho, and Brother Kahula for baptism.

The First Sabbath-keeping, Spiritualist, Pentecostal Church

Now, let us return to our kahuna, Joseph Poomaihealani. He began to make some changes. He visited some meetings that I was conducting and decided that the Sabbath was right. He visited some Pentecostal meetings and felt that he understood very well what he saw happening there. He decided to start a church of his own. Across the island from Honolulu there was a village named Waimanalo where there was no church of any kind. He bought some land there and built a church. Its design, in all details, was in line with directions that he received from the "spirits." There he established himself in what I suppose was the first Sabbath-keeping, spiritualist, Pentecostal church on earth.

Meanwhile, the brethren had transferred me from Honolulu Central Church to become a full-time conference evangelist. As such, I traveled from island to island conducting evangelistic meetings. After about a year they asked me to conduct a series of meetings in Waimanalo. Joseph and his wife had become acquainted with Dr. Robert Chung and his wife, Mae, who invited them to my meetings. To make a long story short, they attended the meetings, joined our church and donated their church to the conference. It is still active today. You can see it in Waimanalo.

So there is indeed a divine science in prayer that we need to study.

"In the prayer of faith there is a divine science; it is a science that everyone who would make his lifework a success must understand." Education, 257.

Freedom of Choice

We must keep in mind, however, that there is another principle involved in intercessory prayer, and that is the principle of freedom. God will never force anyone to submit to His will. If we keep this in mind, we will be protected against extreme views and fanaticism. Lucifer, after the fall, rebelled against a perfect God in a perfect heaven.

But our immediate concern is how we may come through the time of trouble victoriously. The situation calls for a trust in God that nothing can disturb, and a healthy, vigorous prayer program. We are hearing much these days about assurance. I find that my assurance relates more directly to my prayer program than to any doctrine that I hold. Let us take heed to these words of caution:

"Neglect the exercise of prayer, or engage in prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God." Gospel Workers, 255.

Let us remember the encouraging words of the apostle James: "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." James 5:16.

June 2000 Table of Contents



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