19 Oct 2008

Harding, Prayer & Our Loving Abba

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, James A. Harding, Kingdom Come, Ministry, Prayer, Restoration History, Spiritual Disciplines

Harding, Prayer & Our Loving Abba

One of my constant struggles in the last 11 months is the temptation to become a naval gazer in my prayer life. There are days that I am so consumed with “me” that I forget to pray for other people and even the advancement of the kingdom of God. But as comments in my previous blog more than reveal I am hardly alone in sometimes feeling that the world is full of bad stuff. Today I have been snatched back to reality somewhat by reflecting on two folks who have dealt with more hell than I hope to ever deal with … John Mark Hicks (Yet Will I Trust Him) and James A. Harding. These two men inspire me greatly as much by their genuineness as anything else. Let me tell you a little about Harding and what he taught us … this is stuff I’ve known for some time now but its interesting how God moves things from the realm of theory to life …

James A. Harding was a legendary evangelist, debater, and co-founder of Nashville Bible School (David 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 often not 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.

Prayer for Harding was rooted in the belief that the Creator of the Universe was the Abba of the Christian. As our Abba he is just as active and involved in the world today as he was 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.”

But, unfortunately, not all Christians (in Harding’s view) believed in this gentle, gracious, and attentive Father. In fact many were trading the God of the Bible for more rational and scientific god of the present age. The God these folks believed in used to be active in the world: at one time long ago he created the world, at one time long ago he 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.” 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 laments the invasion of this modernism invading the church that banishes God to a book (even if that book is the Bible!) or 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.

Harding was constantly calling for faith, simple trusting faith, in the Father who is revealed in the biblical narrative. He is the God we worship, he is the God we 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).

When you read the things Harding says about prayer, faith and our Loving Abba it is easy to assume he is quite naive or insensitive to pain, suffering and the fallenness of the world. But it is precisely out of incredible and intimate knowledge with death, pain and suffering that Harding makes such radical claims. He married Carrie Knight. He and Carrie had three children together but Harding buried two. After a mere five years of marriage his beloved Carrie died too. He remarried Patty Cobb and had six children with her but lost three with her too. I cannot imagine burying five children!!! And yet he believed in such a God as the one he dared to pray to as Abba. I am humbled when I think of such things. I am called on the carpet for my own lack of prayer … and I am also inspired. May you be too.

You can read more about Harding’s Spiritual Disciplines in my book, with John Mark Hicks, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding.

7 Responses to “Harding, Prayer & Our Loving Abba”

  1. Jeanne Says:

    I cannot imagine burying five children, either… but I can begin to imagine the pain a child might go through thinking her daddy didn’t love her enough to wear a helmet while riding his motorcycle, after some distracted cellphone-using driver slams into him at an intersection and his brains are smashed all over the asphalt.

    Hate to beat a dead horse, but honestly, Bobby, why in the name of all that’s good don’t you take control of the things in life that you do have control over???

  2. rich in ca. Says:

    that a boy stay focused on good things in the truma of your situation ….majoe emotional training. will shorten your gut hurt feed the big dog of DOING GOOD & love.
    let the other dog of regrete fade away.
    also listen to “right now”VAN HALEN


    its only b.s. as long as you preceive.that the lord isn’t trying to develop your charactor.


  3. george mearns Says:

    Thanks Bobby for the good thoughts on Harding and prayer. We were just talking about this in the morning assembly – God’s activity today. I agree with Harding and I think this needs to be made known beyond blogs. The Texas Tradition has label God’s activity being confined to the bible for far too long. I agree with Harding on the deistic nature of this – it is more difficult for me to see how people can pray when they think God isn’t involved in life. I certainly want a better relationship with Abba than I have. We have often looked at David and His relationship with God – an amazing study. Thanks to you, John Mark, and others who are opening this stream in the Restoration Movement.

  4. Jeanne Says:

    I thank our gentle, gracious, and attentive Father for watching over you in your travels… and I thank you for wearing your helmet tonight!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Good thoughts on prayer and the Father. Think about your usage of BS and how you use hell word and that s_ _ _ _ word. Just a thought.

  6. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    It is not my intent to offend you. But those words DO serve a purpose. The world is in fact at times full of stuff that can appropriately be termed “BS.” There are in fact plenty of cases of fairly strong language in the bible that show biblical saints felt the same way.

  7. Anonymous Says:


    After having read this article on prayer and FAITH, I believe that Bobby is fully covered from head to toe with the shield of God weather you see a visual representation of it or not (helmet). I also believe that it’s because of WHO (Abba) he belongs to that his daughters and he will surpass any physical danger of any kind. If someone were going to “smash” into him wearing a helmet (which I have FAITH will not happen… Lord willing) he could just as easily die form bodily injury. So instead, lets just believe & have faith together that this tradgedy will NEVER take place and that his “helmet” is the shadow of the Almighty’s wing. Amen

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