In 1838, the Boys’ Orphan House lead by George Muller found itself very short of funds. Yet rather than make a plea for money — which Muller knew would be successful — he continued to trust the Lord’s provision even when such trust was strained by the circumstance: “Less than two months later the money-supply ran so low that it was needful that the Lord should give by the day and almost by the hour if the needs were to be met.” Arthur Tappan Pierson. George Müller of Bristol.
While making a public demand would be seemingly prudent, Muller did not take that solution:
He saw at once that this would be finding a way of his own out of difficulty, instead of waiting on the Lord for deliverance. Moreover, he also saw that it would be forming a habit of trusting to such expedients of his own, which in other trials would lead to a similar course and so hinder the growth of faith.
Rather, Muller turned to prayer:
At this time of need—the type of many others—this man who had determined to risk everything upon God’s word of promise, turned from doubtful devices and questionable methods of relief to pleading with God. And it may be well to mark his manner of pleading. He used argument in prayer ….
This method of holy argument—ordering our cause before God, as an advocate would plead before a judge— is not only almost a lost art, but to many it actually seems almost puerile. And yet it is abundantly taught and exemplified in Scripture
When we look to Scripture, we do find argument used throughout. For examples, Abraham uses such argument when pleading for the city of Sodom:
27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.
28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”
30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”
31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”
32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
33 And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. Genesis 18:27-33
Moses argues with the Lord, when he contends for the people of Israel:
11 But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'”
14 And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. Exodus 32:11-14
When we begin to realize how common such prayer is, we will find it everywhere.
Why then should one contend with God in prayer? Pierson explains that such prayer both exalts God & prepares our faith:
Of course God does not need to be convinced: no arguments can make any plainer to Him the claims of trusting souls to His intervention, claims based upon His own word, confirmed by His oath. And yet He will be inquired of and argued with. That is His way of blessing. He loves to have us set before Him our cause and His own promises: He delights in the well-ordered plea, where argument is piled upon argument.
We are to argue our case with God, not indeed to convince Him, but to convince ourselves. In proving to Him that, by His own word and oath and character, He has bound Himself to interpose, we demonstrate to our own faith that He has given us the right to ask and claim, and that He will answer our plea because He cannot deny Himself.
Arthur Tappan Pierson. “George Müller of Bristol.”