Over the heads of the crowd the confident cry rang out, "There is no answer to prayer; it's all imagination. Don't be carried away. Use your common sense. There is no hereafter. When we are dead, we are done for."
The speaker was standing at the foot of a monument erected in an open space of a busy city. He had an excellent gift of speech and a winning manner. A large crowd of men and women stood around listening. In a persuasive voice he tried to prove the nonexistence of God and the inefficacy of prayer, concluding with a professed readiness to debate the question with any person in the audience.
At this juncture a man was seen making his way from the edge of the crowd toward the speaker, saying at the same time, "I accept the challenge."
The people eagerly made way for this champion of prayer, and in a few moments he was standing on the step of the monument facing the crowd. He was tall and well dressed, but he was no orator. He had no set phrases to tickle the ear; he had not the winning, catchy demeanor of his opponent. For a moment or two he stood looking at the sea of faces before him, faces waiting with eager expectancy for him to open the debate. A flush of color came over his features, and the sweat stood in beads on his brow.
"Friends, I am not a public speaker," he said. "I did not come to this meeting with the intention of disputing anything our friend might say; but when he denied that there is any efficacy in prayer, and challenged anyone to prove the contrary, I felt bound to come forward." The crowd cheered the frank yet modest statement.
He went on again: "You see standing before you a man who was once as big a scoundrel as it was possible to find in the city. I was a drunkard, a gambler, a wife beater; yes, everything the word brute implies. My wife and child dreaded the sound of my footsteps; and yet, bad as I was, for years my wife had been praying for me, unknown to me and she taught my child to pray."
He paused for a moment, as if over come with sadness at the memory, and then continued: "One night I went home unexpectedly, rather earlier than usual and, by accident, sober. When l opened the door, my wife had just gone upstairs to put the little one to bed. I stood listening at the foot of the stairs. My child was praying; she was praying for me. 'Dear Lord, save my daddy! Save my dear daddy!' And as she prayed in her simple, childlike way, I heard my wife saying, with a sob in her throat, 'Lord Jesus, answer her prayer.'
"They did not know I was listening. I crept softly out of the house into the street. Strange feelings were coming over me, and ringing in my ears was my child's prayer: 'Lord Jesus, save my dear daddy!' Was I indeed dear to that child? In what way? She had never known a father's love. I questioned whether she had ever known a father's kiss. And as I thought of it, a great lump came into my throat, tears filled my eyes, and I cried aloud, 'Lord, help me. Lord, answer my child's prayer.' And He did.
"Years have passed since then. Today I am a Christian. My past is repented of. I live in the present a new creature in Christ Jesus."
Again he paused, and then said earnestly: "Friends, don't you think I should have been a coward if I had kept silent today? Can I do other than believe there is a God, and that He not only hears but answers prayer?"
The skeptic made no reply. The man's story had moved the crowd to tears; and when he finished speaking, the people went silently and reverently away.
"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jeremiah 33:3).
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 18:19).
"And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).
"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7).