James A. Harding was a legendary evangelist, debater, and co-founder of Nashville Bible School (now Lipscomb University) and founder of Potter Bible College. During his prime, Harding was one of the most influential men in the Churches of Christ.
What is not often remembered about Harding is that he was a prayer warrior. Harding cultivated prayer believing it to be the most powerful tool available for Christian living in this present age. Indeed for Harding prayer was the “secret” weapon or power that is granted to disciples of Christ and through prayer Christians literally co-author the future of the world with God.
Christian prayer is not so much a matter of technique as the expression of relationship binding God and humanity in communion. Prayer is a means of grace, for Harding, rooted in the faith that the Creator of the Universe was the Abba of the Christian. As our Abba, God is just as active and involved in the world today as in the days of the Patriarchs or the Apostles.
“I believe that God loves his faithful children with a very great love. I believe he is near to them, takes great pleasure in them, knows their needs perfectly, and that he can supply their wants at any time, any where, under any circumstances. Indeed, I believe he loves these faithful children so much he guards them with a perfect care.” (Harding-White Discussion, p. 3)
Prayer, for Harding, was not simply rooted in a belief that God exists. Real prayer is instead rooted in passionate faith in a certain kind of God, a God who is “the gentlest and most loving, the most just and most merciful of all fathers.”
Unfortunately, in Harding’s view, not all Christians believed in this gentle, gracious, and attentive Father. In fact many were trading the God of the Bible for more rational, scientific, and distant God of the present age. The God these folks believed in used to be active in the world: at one time long ago God created the world, at one time long ago God would alter the path of the world in response to the cry of a saint, at one time God would get his hands “dirty.” But that was long ago.
These modern Christians believed that God had replaced his hands on approach with a more distant, and reasonable, management style and governed only through the rule of law. Everything was done according to “laws” and even God was subject to these “laws.” These supposed laws were akin to mathematical and scientific laws. This perspective is known as the infection of deism. Harding described this prayer destroying phenomena.
“Now a few people seem to be under the impression that all divine interventions have ceased since the death of the Apostles, and that since then there have been no super mundane or super-human influences known on earth. They think God gave the word and stopped – a very low and very erroneous conception of the reign of Christ . . . God has not changed in the least from all eternity. He is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. He has always loved and blessed those who love him and serve him in trusting faith” (Prayer for the Sick, The Way, May 9, 1901, p.41).
Harding lamented the invasion of this modernism invading the church that banished God to a book (even if that book is the Bible!) or safely to the distant past.
“I feel sorry for those who are afflicted by these blighting, semi-infidel materialistic notions, that leave God, Christ, the Holy Spirit . . . wholly out of the Christian’s life — for those who think all spiritual beings left us when the Bible was finished, and who think we now have to fight the battle alone. Some of these people pray, but what they pray for is more than I can tell, unless it is for the ‘reflex influence.‘” (Atlanta-God’s Providence-The Holy Spirit, Christian Leader and the Way, June 19, 1906, p. 9).
What a radical statement by one of the “pillars” of the Churches of Christ. Harding would suggest that it is Satan who has actually convinced religionists that God had subjected the world to “law” and then withdrew.
For Harding the greatest threats facing the church was not the myriad of issues (though he had opinions on those) but the cold, hard, law bound idol that had replaced the intimately intertwined with the world Father of Jesus. Harding would wage a long battle against deistic views of God. Harding was constantly calling for faith, simple trusting faith, in the Father who is revealed in the biblical narrative. Prayer was a “means of grace” to bring us into communion with our loving Father and to share in the mission of God. The loving, caring, gentle, giving, Abba is the God we worship and pray to. He remains the God of 2 Kings 20.1-11 (a story also related two other times in the Hebrew Bible, 2 Chronicles 32.24-26 and Isaiah 38.1-8).
(You can read more on Harding and his amazing views on prayer in the book by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding. )