I love the way Oswald Chambers thinks about prayer. Here, he ties it to the Crucifixion, and says that unless the pray-er considers the effects of that to be “real,” prayer is just a kind of sympathetic grumbling, since only through the Crucifixion is the direct path to God opened (and direct power granted to the pray-er).
Oswald envisions prayer as a kind of focused meditation or visualization: the pray-er repeatedly brings the people or circumstances that are causing him concern “before God,” until God reveals His will. The goal is to get to know the mind of God on any given subject, something that can take a bit of time. It isn’t to press God to fulfill someone’s wishes. Perhaps, Oswald’s saying, those wishes aren’t in line with God’s will.
This entry has a choppy feel—it might be that Oswald’s wife, Biddy, edited it together from several disjointed passages—but the main theme is balancing one’s private relationship with God with one’s relationships with other people. For much of his life, Oswald was constantly surrounded by people—students at the Bible college he attended, and, later, at the missionary training college he ran in London—and the demands on his time were enormous. He often cautions readers, in Utmost, to be sure to maintain the private relationship with God first, and not to be constantly trying to help (or meddle with) others. Oswald worried that Christian workers substituted constant activity and fussing for their real work—which in his view is always prayer.
There is a lovely circularity to Oswald’s vision here: the pray-er maintains his direct relationship with God, refusing to be distracted, in order to bring those he’s praying for into direct relationship with God. This, in turn, allows him to maintain his own relationship with God undisturbed (since now all those people who needed his help will take their troubles directly to God, which is, after all, the only way they’ll get the help they need).
Anything other than this, Oswald declares, is a mere “patching-up.” You can make someone feel better temporarily by listening to their complaints and responding sympathetically, but you’ll never solve their problem for them: that privilege belongs solely to God.