[This is taken from Russell H. Conwell's Praying for Money.]
In all the forty years of praying, of which only a partial record could be kept, there was no topic more satisfactory than the experience of such a large company in praying for money. There was no prearranged plan of procedure and no speculative purpose to obtain the help of God in the accumulation of property. But for some reason, which is not now recalled, there was given out for an evening's meditation the topic, "Shall we pray for money?" There was a strong division of opinion, some asserting that we are not authorized to pray for anything but for the Holy Spirit. Others asserted with complete confidence that prayer should be made for anything which we felt we needed. The majority appeared to be assured that men must work and seek only "the kingdom of God," and that they should believe that all other things would be given from God as we should have need. Fortunately or providentially the men and women who held to the theory that God commands his disciples to pray for money determined to put the matter to a fair test. They were led by a consecrated deacon, at whose house they held the weekly meetings. They did not ask the Lord for money at first, but prayed daily for instruction on the important question whether it was a duty, or was permissible, for men to pray for success in their secular business. There were four men and several business women whose experience was especially valuable. One of them was the owner or partner in a bookbindery. The company of believers devoted an entire evening to prayer for the prosperity of his business. They agreed, further, to pray for that one thing in unison at twelve o'clock each day for one week. The conditions were especially for observation, as the owner of the business was a devout, unselfish Christian who had determined, years before, to give a tenth of all his income to the Lord's work, and he stood willing to give his all if any good cause demanded such a sacrifice.
The first week was without visible result, and some who were weak in faith abandoned the attempt to test the matter in that way. But the small number left began to study the conditions to which the Lord had required obedience in order to be certain of a favorable answer. Their first conclusion was that it is right to ask the Lord for the necessities of life, which always included food, clothing, shelter, health, and worship. The good deacon stated that he had all of those things. He, however, stated that he owed quite a large sum in his business obligations, and he had prayed to the Lord to aid him in paying his debts. Then with one accord that company decided to pray for that one thing.
The amount of the debts cannot now be recalled, but it was several thousand dollars, contracted for business furniture and machinery. Although there are several witnesses living, it is difficult to state with assured accuracy the amounts involved. But to those who shared in the experiment the principal facts stand out clearly in the memory. The first noon prayer was on Wednesday, which was the day following the prayer meeting. The deacon, after his noon lunch, went into a publishing house on Chestnut Street, as was his custom almost daily. There he was introduced to a gentleman from Washington, D. C., who told the deacon that "for the first time in life" he had forgotten his train. He did not know the deacon's business when he told the deacon that he must return to Washington without visiting New York, as his business in Washington could not be left longer without immediate attention. But in his explanation he mentioned that he intended to give out a contract in New York for the binding of blank books for the government. When the deacon mentioned the fact that he was a bookbinder, and doing the same kind of work, immediately the gentleman became interested, and remarked that he did not know before that such work could be done in Philadelphia. He made some inquiry in the store and, finding the deacon's reputation for integrity and honesty was very high, he arranged with the deacon to put in new machinery, to hire another floor in the building, and agreed that the government should make an advance payment on the first order.
The deacon hurried to another member of the prayer circle who was a jeweler also on Chestnut Street and, with a tear, declared that the Lord had already shown his hand in his business. The third day, as the deacon was looking at some machinery, the salesman told the deacon that he had heard that a New York bindery was going out of business on account of a larger opportunity for the firm in another line of work, and the salesman advised the deacon to go over and see it. When the next weekly meeting of the prayer circle was held the deacon had bought in New York all the machinery that he needed, all in good condition, and at an astonishingly low price. Ever after that the deacon, when he entered his office in the morning, shut himself in for ten minutes and prayed for the Lord's direction in his business.
Another prayer test followed by the agreement of that prayer circle to pray for the jeweler, who was one of the circle and whose business was in a most deplorable condition. The jeweler was old and forgetful, and his son had moved out of the city rather than stay among his acquaintances when the inevitable financial wreck should come. The jeweler stated his condition fully to the meeting, and even declared his intention of calling a meeting of his creditors as a preliminary to bankruptcy proceedings. He said that the condition was so manifestly his own fault that all he dared ask of the Lord was that the creditors would be lenient toward him.
Two or three days after that meeting the jeweler's son was called to Philadelphia to attend the funeral of a member of his wife's family. After the funeral, while talking with a manufacturer from Baltimore, who was one of the mourners, the son said that his father was a first-class clock maker of forty years' experience, but that he was unfitted for the management of finances. The manufacturer said that he needed an experienced man to superintend a new factory in Baltimore, then under construction. The son advised his father to write to the manufacturer for the job to begin work when he should close his Chestnut Street store. The jeweler wrote a long description of his troubles, and asked for employment. The manufacturer, after receiving it, took a train to Philadelphia and then spent the afternoon and the greater part of the night in trying to make a reasonable estimation of the value of the Chestnut Street business. The outcome of that examination was that the manufacturer took over the whole business, paid off the debts, and formed partnership with the jeweler which opened into a prosperous trade.
An old lady who must have been one of that prayer circle wrote that she recalled the fact that the circle agreed to pray for her business, which was then a "notion store" on Columbia Avenue, Philadelphia. She writes that soon after the united prayer for her business began there was a fire which destroyed the store next to her lot. In the reconstruction of the next store the owner was anxious to build larger and offered her an unexpectedly large sum as a bonus and also desired to combine in a partnership with her to put both stores into one general store. The bonus she invested in an annuity, and the business afterward paid her enough to live in all the comforts of a cultured life.
It is said that everyone of that prayer circle became prosperous, but it may be helpful to mention one more of the most remarkable cases. A young clerk in a great national bank, who came from a farm to learn what he could there of finances, stated freely that he was getting all that he was worth to the bank, and that he was contented with his financial condition. He told the circle that he did not wish to be included in their prayer list. But when the reports began to come in of the successful prayers and the circle grew in numbers and in interest he began to consider how much more good he could do if he had a larger income. He handled thousands of dollars daily, and checked up often the accounts of prosperous and generous business men of the city. At last the desire to be of more use to the Lord led him to begin to pray for money. Finally, he confessed his changed attitude and asked the circle to give one week of prayer for him. A few days later an epidemic of the grippe laid in bed all but three of the bank's employees. One day the assistant cashier and the clerk were the only persons on time at the opening of the bank. They persuaded a vice president of another bank to come to their assistance, and he was so impressed with the young clerk's efficiency and coolness that he offered him the place of assistant cashier in his own bank. The position was finally accepted, and led to his promotion, a few years after, to the presidency of the bank.
The experience of that prayer circle was more or less the general experience of the church members. The suggestions of a church service, the aid to an honest and industrious life, and the greater health of church members, generally confirm everywhere the fact that the Christian faith and habits are surely the most favorable for "the life that now is, as well as for the life which is to come."
In connection with this phase of our narrative there should be written a brief account of an experience which surprised even the most conservative minds. Appeals for subscriptions have been made rarely in the Temple. Such appeals have accomplished but little. The regular gifts of the many persons have steadily paid all expenses and provided enough over to finally pay off all debts.
But there were seasons when unusual sums were needed and when the money was furnished from some unexpected sources seemingly in direct answers to special prayer. On one occasion there was an especially large sum given into the treasury when it was imperatively needed and when no notice of the need had been given from the pulpit. On one Sunday morning the preacher could find no other satisfactory subject on which to build a sermon, and he talked with the people about the Bible-school lesson for that day. The subject included a description of how the Jews were required to select the best lamb of the flock for an offering to God. They did not hope that God would hear their prayers unless they gave their best to the Lord. The sermon closed with a sentence or two of application to our own times. The emphatic exhortation stated that offerings and prayers should go together, but the offering should precede the prayer. At the evening service some person sent to the pulpit a note, asking that the printed order of services "be changed so as, thereafter, to substitute the word 'offering' for the word 'collection.'" The minister, acting on the impulse of the moment, announced a change in the order of the services, and said that as the ancient custom of making an offering before asking the Lord for a gift or blessing was surely acceptable to God, an "offering" would be taken before the prayer, instead of after the prayer. No unusual sum came in that evening. The notes of the church were coming due ten days later. But those debts were not thought of by minister or ushers in any relation to that offering, though prayers were often made for the help of the Lord in the payment of the debt.
The following Sunday morning the collection was said to be the largest ever received by the ushers; while the fact was not mentioned from the pulpit, it was the subject of general comment among the people after service. At the evening service the offering was so great that one of the ushers related how he had to go out and empty the basket he was passing and come back to finish taking the offering. Nothing else had been done or said, and the church notes were paid as a matter of course. But the prayers made that day were made immediately before the offering was taken. The question was put to the audience twice to ascertain if anyone who made a special offering on that particular day had not been answered, and there was no exception in the mass of testimony to the efficiency of each prayer that day. The recitals of the marvels which followed that prayerful offering were too startling for general belief. The reports may have been exaggerated in the time of such general excitement, but the people had complied with the conditions, and God had answered clearly according to his promise. They had "brought the tithes into the storehouse," and the Lord had poured out the blessings as an infallible result. The letters which came to the officials of the church relating incidents concerning the effects of the prayers made that day were not filed then as they have been in later years, and the record here must depend wholly on the memory of two or three witnesses.
The following partial list of cases is very nearly correct. The cases of sudden and in some cases instantaneous recovery of the sick were related by hundreds of people. In one case a poor man whose only living child was insane put his money into the basket that morning and prayed for his child's recovery. Both he and she often declared that while being forcibly given a cold bath at the time that offering was made she felt "a loud report in her head like the report of a pistol," and her mind was found to be normal in all respects from that instant. The father went to the sanitarium that afternoon, as was his custom on the Sabbath, and his daughter met him at the door in her right mind.
A lady sold her best clothes and all her jewelry on Saturday and brought the whole of the proceeds and gave all as an offering as she prayed for her own healing. She suffered greatly from sciatic rheumatism, inherited from several generations. She fell on the front steps of the church, as they were helping her to the carriage, and arose to find the pain had permanently disappeared.
One old gentleman who was involved in a ruinous lawsuit over a lease of his little shop brought all the profits of the previous week and deposited them as he prayed for a legal and just victory. The next day or on the second day his goods were so badly damaged by the smoke and water, caused by a fire in the store next door, that the insurance company took the stock at his valuation and the landlord withdrew his suit.
Another case generally believed, but not fully confirmed, was of an Englishman who, not having money enough to pay his fare to Australia, deposited all that he did have into the offering and prayed for his passage. It was asserted and not contradicted that he found a one-hundred-dollar bill the next day in his wallet or in his bureau drawer, placed there by some friend whom he could not discover. Another related how she determined to risk all on one prayer, and gave all as she prayed. When the plumbers came to repair a leak the next week after the prayer they discovered a loose board in the floor under which her father had secretly hidden his money. The sum she found was much more than enough to pay off the overdue mortgage on her cottage.
There were probably fifty such cases reported in detail at the time. But a solemn sense of sacredness connected with those experiences pervaded the assemblies, and no notice of the cases was given from the pulpit. And yet a calm and careful examination of the results of that exercise of faith has often suggested a strong doubt whether that experience did not do more harm than good.
The direct and immediate results convinced the devout believers that when a true servant of God makes a sincere offering God will invariably accept the offering and answer in some manner his petition fully. But it seems impossible to find the line between the motives which may make an offering acceptable or unacceptable to God. The remarkable success of that day of offering led many to believe that they could drive a bargain with the Lord. Absurd as it seems, there were many earnest Christians who believed that they could invest a small sum in an offering and by asking for a large sum would make an immense profit in the transaction. A dangerous spirit of gambling arose. Noble men and women were caught in a theological net spread by the spirit of evil. The heavens soon became brass and no offering seemed acceptable. It was a dangerous period in the history of the church. Some gave up all faith in prayer. The speculative spirit led some to give largely with a hope of a hundredfold return. The treasury of the church was being filled rapidly, but there were divisions over the investment of the money. Some strong members left the church, while several counted their offerings as a dead loss and went back "into the world" altogether.
But there is left a good foundation for a consistent belief in the power of consistent prayer in producing objective results. While it may be difficult for a human father to discern between the motives of his child who brings him a gift so as to be sure that the gift is the exhibition of a pure affection, yet the Lord has no such limitation. He knows whether the offering is a gambling venture or a lovely deed inspired by a pure, unselfish love. God does love and does answer a cheerful giver. The loving son remembers the unselfish devotion of his mother and the offerings she gave him without thought of any return or reward and his delight to have her ask him to do for her. God is love, and he loves the lover. His intrinsic nature compels him to answer the call of his beloved. But he cannot be driven or tricked into granting the prayer of a greedy deceiver whose whole motive is selfish. The idea is foolishly unrighteous which looks upon the arrangement of Providence as a slot machine into which the pretended worshiper may put a copper penny and draw out a gold dollar. As gold must be given for gold, so love must be given for love.
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