A.A.’s Eleventh Step Prayer and
The Opportunity, The Reward, A Guide
Dick B. © 2005
The Opportunity to Communicate with
our Creator and Know His Will
God either is, or He isn’t.
In its basic text, Alcoholics
Anonymous, Bill Wilson wrote:
When we became alcoholics, crushed
by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly
face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God
either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be? (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th
ed. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001, p. 53, bold face
Bill said that Rev. Sam
Shoemaker, Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, was the well spring of A.A.
ideas, was a co-founder of A.A., and that almost every one of the Twelve Step
ideas came directly from the teaching of Shoemaker (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes
of Age. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957, pp. 38-40; The
Language of the Heart. NY: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988, pp 297-298). And, in
fact, Sam’s influence was so great that we have the eye-witness account by Rev.
Garrett Stearly (friend of both Shoemaker and Wilson) that Shoemaker told him (Stearly)
that Bill Wilson asked Sam to write the Twelve Steps, but Shoemaker declined –
saying they should be written by an alcoholic, namely Bill (See Dick B., New
Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. Kihei HI: Paradise
Research Publications, Inc., 1999, p. 374).
Students of A.A. history must therefore look closely at what Sam Shoemaker said
and wrote over a period of some fifteen years before Bill Wilson ever took pen
to paper. In 1932, Sam Shoemaker published his book Confident Faith. A copy was
owned by Dr. Bob, was tucked into the copy of Anne Smith’s Journal that I found
at Stepping Stones, and had language which seems to have found its way into page
53 of Bill’s Big Book – almost verbatim. Sam wrote:
Faith is not sight; it is a high
gamble. There are only two alternatives here. God is, or He isn’t. You leap one
way or the other. It is a risk to take to bet everything you have on God. So it
is a risk not to (Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Confident Faith. NY: Fleming H.
Revell, 1932, p. 187; Extraordinary Living for Ordinary Men. Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1965, pp. 20-21, bold face added)
Long before these books were
published, Sam was quoting Hebrews 11:6:
But without faith, it is impossible
to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is
a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (bold face added. See Samuel M.
Shoemaker, Jr., Religion That Works. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1928, p. 88;
The Gospel According to You. NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1934, p. 47.
That God is our Creator,
Yahweh—God as He specifically names Himself in the Bible
Start with Genesis 1:1—the first verse in the Good Book, as early AAs described
In the beginning God created the
heaven and the earth.
The Bible repeatedly speaks of
God as our Creator. For example, the New Jerusalem Bible translates Isaiah
Did you not know? Had you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God, he created the remotest parts of the earth. He
does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming.
And Ecclesiastes 12:1:
Remember your Creator while you are
still young, before the bad days come, before the years come which, you will
say, give you no pleasure.
Though hardly a Bible student,
Bill Wilson explicitly refers to God as “Creator” twelve times (Big Book, pp.
13, 25, 28, 56, 68, 72, 75, 76, 80, 83, 158, 161).
And only a fool could read the Big Book, discover its over 400 references to God
as Creator, Maker, Father of Light, Heavenly Father, and God, and still conclude
that A.A.’s Eleventh Step discussion suggests praying to some mysterious god of
one’s own making, rather than Yahweh, the Creator, Maker, Father of Light, God
of our fathers, and Heavenly Father, to which Bill and Bob so often referred.
The references were clearly to Yahweh, the
God of the Bible, as they understood Him—as they sooner or later came to Him
through Jesus Christ
Bill Wilson and Sam Shoemaker both spoke of a surrender to Yahweh our Creator.
They indicated that, for a start, you need only surrender as much of yourself as
you understood to as much of God as you understood. They said this long before
the Eleventh Step was written.
In his own personal story in the first chapter of A.A.’s Big Book, Bill wrote of
There I humbly
offered myself to God, as I then
understood Him, to do with me
as he would. I placed myself unreservedly under his care and direction (Big
Book, p. 13, bold face added).
Explaining that he (Bill) was
then following the instructions that his sponsor Edwin Thacher (Ebby) had
received from his Oxford Group friends, Bill told his distinguished audience at
the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies:
“Where does the religion come in?” And his friends went on to say, “Ebby, it is
our experience that no one can carry out such a program with enough thoroughness
and enough continuity on pure self-sufficiency. One must have help. Now we are
willing to help you, as individuals, but we think you ought to call upon a power
greater than yourself, for your dilemma is well-nigh insurmountable.
So call on God as you understand
God. Try prayer” (Lecture 29,
The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. W.W. Alcohol, Science and Society:
Twenty-nine Lectures with Discussion as given at the Yale Summer School of
Alcohol Studies. New Haven: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1945, p.
Thus instructed by Ebby, and though
he told the following details in varying ways, Bill, the conservative atheist
(as he then called himself), said in his 1954 autobiographical tape:
“But what of the Great Physician?
For a brief moment, I suppose, the last trace of my obstinacy was crushed out as
the abyss yawned. I remember saying to myself, “I’ll do anything, anything at
all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.” Then, with neither faith
nor hope, I cried out, “If there be a God, let him show himself.” The effect was
instant, electric. Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light. .
. . Then came the blazing thought, “You are a free man”. . . . “This,” I
thought, “must be the great reality. The God of the preachers” . . . . I’d been
incapable of faith and so, God’s help. . . . Yet, out of no faith, faith had
suddenly appeared. No blind faith either, for it was fortified by the
consciousness of the presence of God. . . . For sure I’d been born again (Bill
W. My First 40 Years: An Autobiography by the Co-Founder of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000, pp. 145-147).
Many forget that only a few
days before his Towns Hospital appeal to our Creator, as Bill then understood
Him, Bill had gone to Calvary Rescue Mission, the rescue mission run by Sam
Shoemaker’s Episcopal Church. There Bill made a decision for Christ at the altar
or, as his wife Lois put it, “He gave his life to Christ.” And that trip to
Calvary was made as the result of Ebby’s first declaration to Bill that it was
there at the Mission that he (Ebby) had “got religion.” It was from that event
at Calvary Mission that Ebby was able to declare to Bill that God had done for
him what he could not do for himself. And this challenge was what propelled Bill
to the altar at Calvary.
After his Calvary Mission conversion, Bill wandered around drunk. But he made
his way to Towns Hospital where Dr. William D. Silkworth met him in the hall.
Bill shouted: “At last, Doc, I’ve found something!” (Bill W., My First 40 Years,
supra, pp. 137-140). And it was at Towns Hospital that Bill, with coaching there
by Ebby, made—as a follow-through appeal of a newly born again Christian (as
Bill then thought of himself)—to the Great Physician. That Physician, as Jesus
referred to himself in Luke 4:23 (“Physician, heal thyself”) and Luke 5:31
(“They that are whole need not a physician: but they that are sick”). This was
the Great Physician, whose treatment Dr. William Duncan Silkworth prescribed for
Charles, his alcoholic patient (Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of
Jesus Christ: Life Changing Adventures in Faith (Pauling, NY: Foundation for
Christian Living, 1980, pp 59-63). This was the Great Physician of whom
Old-timer Clarence Snyder spoke to the men he sponsored (Mitchell K., How It
Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder. NY: A.A. Big Book Study Group, 1997, p.
6). This was the Great Physician spoken of by Earle M. in his Big Book story
when he said “I couldn’t practice medicine without the Great Physician”
(Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.,
1976, p. 351).
Bill’s spiritual mentor, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, had taught, since his first
important title, that the spiritually miserable person needed to have a vital
religious experience, needed to find God, and needed Jesus Christ. In Realizing
Religion, Sam wrote:
What you want is simply a vital
religious experience. You need to find God. You need Jesus Christ (Samuel M.
Shoemaker, Jr., Realizing Religion. NY: Association Press, 1929, p. 9)
Could the emerging Twelve Step
path be any more obvious, even considering Bill’s scanty religious exposure and
his own lack of faith?
1. Bill Wilson had characterized
himself as a conservative atheist. He had no faith.
2. His friend Ebby Thacher told Bill plainly of the Oxford Group’s Christian
program, of how he had “got” religion through them and his surrender to Jesus
Christ at the altar at Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Rescue Mission, and of Carl
Jung’s advice to Rowland Hazard that there would be no cure without conversion –
a religious experience such as that of which Shoemaker spoke.
3. Convinced, Bill sallied forth to Calvary Rescue Mission as his first stop on
the way to a conversion and getting the religion that Ebby said he had “got.”
4. There at the Rescue Mission altar, Bill seems to have achieved salvation by
thus declaring his belief in God’s only begotten son, the Great Physician, Jesus
Christ (John 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-7; Romans 10:9-13)
5. Lois Wilson reports what really happened there:
Well, people got up and went to the
altar and gave themselves to Christ. And the leader of the meeting asked if
there was anybody that wanted to come up. And Bill started up. . . . And he went
up to the front, and really, in very great sincerity, did hand his life to
Christ (Record of Lois Wilson’s June 29, 1973 talk in Dallas, Texas).
6. Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker told me
personally on the telephone that she was present at the Rescue Mission and that
Bill there made his “decision for Christ.” And that, of course, was precisely
the intended purpose of the altar calls. Though some might dispute the new
birth, and though only Yahweh knows for certain, Bill wrote, said, and
concluded: “For sure, I had been born again” (Bill W., My First 40 Years, supra,
7. But the Oxford Group had taught that still more was involved in the new
design for living and being changed, through the “vital religious experience” of
which Shoemaker was speaking. They believed and taught that it was necessary to
cut out or clean out sin by their “soul surgery” process of inventory, and the
Five C’s— Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance. And
that aspect was involved in the coaching from Ebby at Towns Hospital (See Big
Book, pp. 12- 15).
8. Having been indoctrinated in the life-change requirement, then the born again
Bill believed it was time to “find” God through an actual experience. And he
underwent the experience by crying out to the Great Physician and asking that,
if he existed, he then and there show himself. It was at that point that Bill
said he actually experienced his “hot flash” and believed he had gone through
the requisite vital religious experience (the kind he felt he quickly validated
through the findings of Professor William James). Bill’s conclusion: “So this is
the God of the Preachers.” He had, he believed, “found God” (Bill W., My First
40 Years, supra, pp. 145-147). And, in finding Him, been cured of his alcoholism
(Big Book, p. 191). Hence in his famous Big Book Chapter Five, Bill expressed
the need for all to find God and urged: “May you find Him now!” (Big Book, p.
9. Jung had taught that a conversion was necessary. Bill received that at the
Rescue Mission. Shoemaker had taught that one needed a “vital religious
experience.” To receive that, you needed Jesus Christ, taught Shoemaker. If you
became born again of God’s spirit by accepting Christ, you would then have the
power to change by cutting out sin, making restitution, and continuing your
relationship with the Creator you had found. That process of “finding God” and
“continuing” the relationship through the practice of Steps Ten, Eleven, and
Twelve is the heart of the program of recovery Bill fashioned and suggested in
the Big Book.
There is nothing that
establishes that Bill had given his life to a radiator, a light bulb, a group, a
chair, a table, or Santa Claus—as many have since chosen to characterize their
Bill had been a conservative atheist. Yet his grandfather had been an alcoholic
who had been relieved of his alcoholism in a mountain-top experience much like
that which Bill was to have many years later. Bill had never studied the Bible.
He had not been a church member. He quite simply did not believe in God. But as
Ebby witnessed to him and told him what he (Ebby) had done, and Bill perceived
what he felt was a cure, Bill became willing to believe and to act. This, of
course, is what Sam Shoemaker was teaching and writing in his oft-quoted and
favorite verse, John 7:17 (See references in Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism:
God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications,
Inc., 1999, p. 89). It is what Bill was seeking. And there is not a scintilla of
evidence that suggests Bill thought he went to Calvary Mission to surrender to a
radiator; nor to Towns Hospital to find a light bulb, nor that he ever believed
Ebby had surrendered to a chair; nor that Santa Claus was in any way involved.
Consider Bill’s plain language as he wrote the Big Book. He spoke of the
Creator. He spoke of his Maker. He spoke of the Father of Light. He spoke of
God. Never, ever, did the strange concepts that emerged in A.A. in later years
appear during the formative A.A. events of 1934 to 1939. No Big Book talk about
making the “group” your god. No Oxford Group talk about humbly surrendering to
chairs or radiators. No Bible endorsement of “other gods” or idolatry. No
Shoemaker teachings intended to establish an understanding of light bulbs or
Santa Claus. Not even talk of a “higher power” until perhaps Bill heard the
expression later on from or through the teachings of Emmet Fox.
Shoemaker explicitly suggested that one
could “surrender as much of himself as he understood to as much of God as he
understood”—the very God of the Bible about whom Shoemaker regularly and
In 1936, Sam Shoemaker published National Awakening (NY: Harper and Brothers,
1936), where he spelled out some critical ideas that must have been part of what
Bill and Lois Wilson heard. Sam wrote:
One argument in religion is about as
good as another; but an experience beats an argument. Men run from your
arguments about God, they will not listen to your elaborate explanations; but
when you tell them what it is with Him, their hearts, as John Wesley said, are
“strangely warmed,” and their minds are strangely persuaded . . . . Jesus gave
His answer to John. . . . He just gathered up in a cascade of living words the
living deeds He and they had been seeing, and said, “Go your way, and tell John
what things ye have seen and heard: how that the blind see, the lame walk, the
lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel
is preached.” It was proof by evidence (p. 28)
Speaking of real security, Sam
And where is it? It lies in a faith
in God which includes an experiment. It lies in believing that God is, that He
has a plan, and that He will reveal that plan to us. It lies in fitting in with
that plan ourselves, and finding that God will take care of us when we dare to
make that experiment (p. 40).
We hear him saying to us (about
Psalm 46:10), “Give in, admit that God is, and that He is the great Answer to
your life, and that your life never is nor will be complete without Him.. . . .”
We want God because He created the hunger within us for Him. We want Him from
dependence, from fear, from loneliness, from the craving for perfection in our
souls. We want Him from bewilderment, confusion, and darkness. We want Him from
innate love for Him, for insatiable preoccupation with the invisible Reality of
the world (p. 47)
A man is born again when the control
of his life, its center and its direction pass from himself to God. You can go
to church for years without having that happen. . . . We shall begin by knowing
the need of a new birth when we begin knowing that it is the sins of people like
you and me that have made the world into the hell it is today. And the thing to
do with sin is to do what Nicodemus did: go and search out someone with whom we
can talk privately and frankly. Tell them of these things, and, with them as
witness, give these sins and our old selves to God. . . . I said I was going to
do that for years, but it never happened until I let a human witness come in on
my decision. That is the “how” of getting rid of sin if you are in earnest about
doing it at all: face it, share it, surrender it. Hate it, forsake it, confess
it, and restore for it (pp. 57-58)
You can find this obvious “12
Step” material in the first few pages of the Big Book. They describe what Ebby
Thacher had done and experienced. They describe how he had sought out Bill. They
describe how Ebby proclaimed his victory. And they describe the facing, sharing,
surrendering, forsaking, and restitution that Ebby said were required for Bill
to make what AAs were later to call a “real” surrender. Bill said:
My friend (Ebby) promised when these
things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator, that I
would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems. . . .
It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the
Father of Light who presides over us all (Big Book, pp. 13-14)
When Bill was telling his
story, whenever and wherever, whether in the Big Book, or at Yale, or in his
1954 taping, or at St. Louis, you can be sure he was talking about Yahweh, our
Creator, “the Father of Light who presides over us all.”
Just God as Bill understood Him
This talk of God as we understood Him was as old as the teachings of Rev. Sam
Shoemaker in the 1920’s, and of many before him.
Sam published Children of the Second Birth (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1927), and
elaborated on a well-known Oxford Group idea that even Anne Smith included in
her spiritual journal (Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939, 3rd ed., Kihei,
HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998, pp. 24-29; Stephen Foot, Life
Began Yesterday. NY: Harper and Brothers, 1935, pp. 12-13, 175; James D. Newton,
Uncommon Friends. NY Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1953, p. 72).
That idea was to “surrender as much of yourself as you know to as much of God as
Sam phrased it this way in Children of the Second Birth. He described sin as
“anything , and the only thing, that walled men away from God.” And see Dick B.
The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 130-133.
In Children, Sam told of a man that, at the beginning of his surrender, he
simply needed to “surrender as much of himself as he could, to as much of Christ
as he understood” (p. 25). Of the man, Shoemaker said he knelt in prayer and
dedicated his life not only to belief in Jesus Christ, but also to His life and
work. The man recorded in his diary: “I do feel reborn, born of the Spirit”
(Children, pp. 33-34). Telling in another story of a group which had prayed
together to help a man find the man find the “Power,” Shoemaker said they prayed
Opening their minds to as much of
God as he [the man] understood, removing first the hindrance of self-will
allowing the Spirit to focus an impression upon the mind, like light upon a
camera exposed (p. 47)
Shoemaker reported that the
man lifted his own life to God; the everlasting miracle of second birth
happened; and the man experienced a sense of liberty, of peace, an inward glow,
and a sense of rightness.
Compare the Big Book’s description of what happened when the early AAs took
their Third Step:
As we felt new power flow in, as we
enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we
became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow
or the hereafter. We were reborn (p. 63)
Quite plainly, neither Sam
Shoemaker nor Bill Wilson was talking about a surrender to some illusory chair
or table. They were talking about a new birth that comes from belief in God and
what His Son accomplished (John 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-7; Romans 10:9). For
these same ideas and verses were quoted by Shoemaker himself.
For more information on the roots of Big Book prayer and meditation, see Dick
B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., supra.
The Reward: A Rebirth and New Life
Bill opened his Eleventh Step
discussion in the Big Book by insisting on the importance of prayer and
meditation. First, he mentioned the Oxford Group idea that his program of
recovery was a “design for living” (p. 81) He was discussing the Ninth Step and
the last phase of clearing away the wreckage of the past. He then promised that
if AAs were painstaking about this phase of their development, they would know a
new freedom and a new happiness. They would realize “that God is doing for us
what we could not do for ourselves” (pp. 83-84)—using a phrase that Ebby had
used in his witness to Bill. After discussing the Tenth Step, Bill turned to the
action he said was required to receive strength, inspiration, and direction from
God “who has all knowledge and power” (p. 85).
Bill said we shouldn’t be shy on the matter of prayer. He said it works if we
have the proper attitude and work at it. And then he lays out what I call the
four parts of the Eleventh Step: (1) What you constructively review on retiring
at night—how well you practiced the Tenth Step. (2) How to ask God for direction
in the twenty-four hours ahead. (3) He then turns to the actual dealing with the
day. He speaks of prayer and meditation, suggesting that there are many helpful
books, which may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi. He adds: “Be
quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer” (4)
Finally, he covers the means of dealing with agitation and doubt.
And what is the purpose of all this “conscious contact” with God? Bill does not
really dive into the subject, but rather turns to “working with others” as his
presentation of the Twelfth Step.
And yet, the bonus, the prize, the fruit of practicing the new design for living
is a solid and rewarding relationship with God. One that needs continuing study,
prayer, nurture, fellowship, and witness. Fortunately, the Bible—with which Bill
had little familiarity—points up the purposes. And most certainly Dr. Bob, his
wife Anne, and the Akron pioneers pointed up the Biblical points quite well.
Bob said that the oldtimers felt that the answer to all their problems was in
the Bible. He suggested that the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1
Corinthians 13 contained the absolute essentials. Anne Smith said the Bible was
the main source book of all and that not a day should pass without reading it.
Bob, Anne, and many old timers pointed to the Four Absolute Standards of Jesus
that the Oxford Group had appropriated from two books: (1) Robert E. Speer’s The
Principles of Jesus. (2) Henry B. Wright. The Will of God and a Man’s Life Work.
The standards, known in A.A. usually as the “Four Absolutes,” were Absolute
Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love. And these
absolute standards could, they seemed strongly to believe, provide the guide to
obedience to God and His Will.
First, there was the assurance of Jesus Christ that he had come that believers
might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Second, there was the assurance that those who were born again of the Spirit of
God would be saved, have everlasting life, and be free from condemnation (John
3:1-8,16-17; Romans 8:1; 1 Peter 1:23-25)
Third, there were—among many others—four Biblical assurances that captured the
enthusiasm and repetitive statements of Dr. Bob, Anne Smith, and Cleveland
Old-timer Clarence Snyder. They were:
“But seek ye first the kingdom of
God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”
(Matthew 6:33) – First things first, as explained by Dr. Bob.
“And now abideth, faith, hope, charity [love]; but the greatest of these is
charity” [love] (1 Corinthians 13:13). The entire chapter on love is the subject
of Drummond’s widely read The Greatest Thing in the World—a book strongly
recommended by Dr. Bob.
“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health,
even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2) – a verse that especially captivated the
interest of Dr.Bob’s wife and is quoted in Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939. See
Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939. 3rd ed. Kihei, HI: Paradise Research
Publications, Inc., 1998, p. 71.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed
away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17) – a verse that was
specifically recommended by A.A. pioneer Bill Van Horn and became a favorite
quote and tool used by A.A. pioneer Clarence Snyder. See Our A.A. Legacy to the
Faith Community by Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timer and Their Wives,
Compiled and Edited by Dick B. FL: Came To Believe Publications, 2005, p. 28;
Dick B., That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics
Anonymous. San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1996, pp. 33-34.
Fourth, the alcoholic was
given the specific instruction to obey, do, and conform requests for help to,
the will of God:
“Not every one that saith unto me
[Jesus], Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth
the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves”
“And this is the confidence that we have in him [God], that, if we ask any thing
according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever
we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John
As a prelude to embarking on
the Eleventh Step, a newcomer who had “found” God and become one of God’s kids,
could know he or she was a new creature in Christ, assured of eternal life; and
assured, in the latter case, of an abundant, healthy, and prosperous life,
conditioned upon doing the will of the Father, and walking in love. To this end,
the Eleventh Step is the most profound, continuing duty of members of the
fellowship. It’s one thing to “find God.” It’s another to learn about,
understand, and obey God—a process that the Eleventh Step lays out.
You cannot read about pioneer A.A. without realizing what the drunks—long
despairing, lonely, selfish, frightened, confused, and at the bottom of the
well—were expecting. They didn’t want to be just dry. They didn’t want to be
just “sober”—whatever that means. They didn’t want to be perpetual members of a
sick society. They wanted a new life, a design for living, and a purpose that
conformed to God’s will, not their own.
That is why the Eleventh Step opportunity is so challenging. Take God out of A.A.,
and you have nothing but good deeds and congenial meetings. Take God out of the
Eleventh Step and you merely have a plan for “doing good.” Take God out of the
primary purpose of the Twelve Steps (which was to enable you to find God and
establish a relationship with Him), and you merely have what Bill was later to
call “a personality change sufficient to overcome the disease of alcoholism.”
But none of these holds a candle to Dr. Bob’s promise to those who really
trusted in God, cleaned house, and helped others: “Your Heavenly Father will
never let you down!” (Big Book, p. 181). Never! Ever!
A Guide to Eleventh Step Prayer and
Meditation the “Old School” Way
There is plenty of authority
in the Bible for what some have called “the Morning Watch.” On the back cover of
my prayer and meditation history title, I’ve listed some helpful sources: (1) In
the morning, we will direct our prayers to God—Psalm 5:1-3. (2) We can meditate
in God’s Word (the Bible) day and night—Psalm 1:2. (3) Study to show yourself
approved of God—2 Timothy 2:15. (4) We must look to God to teach us His
will—Psalm 143:10. (5) When we trust God, rely not merely on our own
understanding, and acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will direct our
paths—Proverbs 3:5-6. See Dick B. Good Morning! Quiet Time, Morning Watch,
Meditation, and Early A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications,
How simply it can be described:
1. Heed God’s commands, and it will
go well with you:
“Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye
in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you”
2. God our Saviour wants you to become His kids and know learn His will:
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”
(1 Timothy 2:4)
3. The prophet Samuel got the message: Tell God to speak, and that you are
“And the Lord [Yahweh] came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel,
Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak: for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:10)
4. Saul, later to be Apostle Paul, heard Jesus and asked what Jesus wanted him
“And he [Saul] trembling and astonished said, Lord [Jesus], what wilt thou have
me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall
be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6)
5. In a morning worship, George Washington thanked the Creator for His many
asked a blessing on the house, and concluded his prayer as follows::
“Grant the petition of Thy servant for the sake of Him whom Thou has called Thy
Beloved Son; nevertheless, not by will, but Thine be done. Amen” (William J.
Johnson, George Washington the Christian. TX: Accelerated Christian Education,
Inc., 1986, p. 127)
6. In the middle of confused debate, Benjamin Franklin suggested asking God for
“humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings”
(Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Freedom and Faith, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1949, pp.
7. Oxford Group writer Victor Kitchen told how very very simple it could be:
“Where I used to plan the day, making a list of all the jobs I thought I had to
finish, all the people I thought I had to see, all ‘phone calls I thought I had
to make and all the letters I thought I had to write, I now simply ask God’s
guidance for the day (Victor C. Kitchen, I Was a Pagan. NY: Harper and Brothers,
1934, p. 122).
8. In his very first radio broadcast, Sam Shoemaker explained laying out the
“May I tell you what we do in our house? When my wife and I get up, the first
thing we reach for is our Bible—not a cigarette, nor a drink, nor the morning
paper—but our Bibles. We read a chapter or two. Then we get quiet and spend some
time in prayer. . . . In quietness we pray for the people, the causes, the
immediate responsibilities of the day, and ask God to direct us. . . . We ask
Him for direction. . . . Bring the family and business problems before Him, ask
Him about them, and trust Him to tell you” (Dick B., Good Morning, supra, p. 3).
9. Nan Robertson summarized the simple, take it or leave it approach by Dr. Bob:
“Beginning in 1935, Dr. Bob quickly became an extraordinarily effective worker
with active alcoholics. He was tough. He was inflexible. He told his prospects:
“Do you want to surrender to God? Take it or leave it” Soon, carloads of drunks
were coming to Akron from as far away as Cleveland to meet in his house.
Recently, Young Bob tried to explain why his father had been so successful at
“fixing” drunks: . . . . “He knew that a drunk coming out of an alcoholic haze
would be absolutely overwhelmed by anything but a straightforward program that
anyone could understand. It wasn’t aimed at college grads—he kept it simple so
that anyone was capable of grasping it.” The doctor was authoritative, and he
was impressive” Nan Robertson, Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous. NY:
Fawcett Crest, 1988, p. 48)
10. And Dr. Bob practiced the very simplicity he “preached” when it came to
“Prayer, of course, was an important part of Dr. Bob’s faith. According to Paul
S., ‘Dr. Bob’s morning devotion consisted of a short prayer, a 20-minutes study
of a familiar verse from the Bible, and a quiet period of waiting for directions
as to where he, that day, should find use for his talent. Having heard, he would
religiously go about his Father’s business, as he put it’.” ( DR. BOB and the
Good Oldtimers. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., p. 314)
“Elgie R. recalled, ‘Doc told me that when he had an operation and wasn’t sure,
he would pray before he started. He said, ‘When I operated under those
conditions, I never made a move that wasn’t right’.” (DR. BOB, supra, p. 314)
There have been many
approaches within the A.A. umbrella:
1. Anne Smith conducted a Quiet Time
at the Smith home every single morning at the crack of dawn. Alcoholics and
family members gathered for what some joshingly called “spiritual pablum.” But
the meetings were simple. First, came the Bible. Then came prayer. Then came a
quiet period where God’s direction was sought. And then came a discussion from
Anne’s own spiritual journal or from a devotional like the Upper Room. Coffee
and stale doughnuts were part of the scene.
2. Oxford Group people often described a more elaborate process for their Quiet
Times. There was Bible. There was prayer. But the main emphasis was on
“listening” and “writing down thoughts” and then “checking them.” “Journaling,”
as some liked to call it was the focus. “The palest ink is better than the
strongest memory,” they often suggested. First came “listening.” Then came the
flood of thoughts with every item being “journaled” or written down. It was
conceded that not all thoughts had come from God. Therefore “checking” was the
next step. You checked to see if the thoughts conformed to Scripture. You
checked to see if they conformed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and to the
“Four Absolutes.” You checked “circumstances.” And you frequently checked with
other Oxford Group people for their view. There were also topical discussions if
there was a group. And some devotionals like My Utmost for His Highest were read
3. As time went by, still more elaborate guides became popular. There were a
host of devotionals in use. There were a host of prayer books in use. There were
a host of Quiet Time guides in use—guides that elaborated on “two-way” prayer,
on “how to listen to God,” on how to study the Bible, and on “meditation.” In
the latter case, the comment of one observer seems right: There are not only
many meditation books. There are too many. Nonetheless, when A.A. left the Bible
and the Oxford Group and Sam Shoemaker and Anne Smith behind, meditation became
a wandering field of confusion. Bill Wilson said that considerable study was
required for “guidance” to be effective. Several Roman Catholic critics said
that lay people were ill-equipped to receive guidance without the assistance of
clergy and without the infallible guidance of the Church. And then the
publishers joined the game. The Twenty Four Hour book was widely sold and used.
It was often given to everyone who entered a treatment program. But apparently
not content with the vast number of Hazelden meditation efforts, A.A. itself
finally published Daily Reflections which contains a wild assortment of opinions
and statements that were allegedly the result of the combined views of AAs.
4. How, then, could one “take” and continue to “practice” the Eleventh Step? One
method was to take Bill’s self-made set of instructions at Big Book pages 85 to
88 and follow them. They amount to four ideas: (a) Before you retire at night,
take a l look at your day, see how well you practiced the Tenth Step, and ask
for forgiveness and corrective measures where there was failure. That’s not
Biblical, but it has merit and simplicity. (b) When you awake in the morning,
tender your day and plans to God for guidance. Here the language is not
Biblical; and some of the theology is just plan wild – with talk of
“inspiration,” “intuitive thought.” a “hunch,” “absurd actions and ideas.”
Nonetheless the Shoemaker idea of laying out your day before God and asking
direction seems at the heart. (c) Growth factors which might be achieved through
religious bodies, a few set prayers, and “helpful books.” No mention of the
Bible or of any of the early literature. Just a bow to “one’s priest, minister,
or rabbi.” Here can be seen Bill’s efforts to secularize and universalize his
program. Certainly a far cry from Dr. Bob’s take it or leave it approach. Yet
probably a mouthful that even a tenacious believer can swallow by going to
church, reading the Bible, consulting with clergy, and absorbing religious
literature. Essentially, that’s what I did—much to the displeasure of my
sponsor, and his sponsor! (d) The idea of dealing with agitation and doubt by
proclaiming that God is in charge also has merit. But it is small advice when
compared to what one can gain from the early Christian concepts of healing,
forgiveness, kindness, tolerance, peace, revelation, deliverance, and a renewed
mind that casts out negatives and replaces them with the word of God.
How can you use the Eleventh
Step as an A.A. today and still further your fellowship with Yahweh, our
The first suggestion is that you learn the Big Book and the Twelve Steps, get
instruction from teachers or seminars, steep yourself in our real religious
history, and recognize that the Big Book is not the Bible, nor is it even a book
that incorporated the Biblical ideas or the principles and practices of the
early A.A. Christian Fellowship in Akron. When in Rome, do what the Romans do!
The second suggestion is that you make up your mind to brave the storm, stay the
course, hold your nose, and keep your mouth shut when the atheists,
intimidators, pseudo-control people, and purported “Tradition” proponents make
their remarks against God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Church, and
religion. You have a choice. You can fight them or ignore them. And, though it’s
hard to ignore an engine putting out hot air and steam, it may seem very wise to
move away and go about your own business. But not to surrender your beliefs and
Any AA today has as much right as the next person to believe what he or she
wants, to read what he or she wants, and to say what he or she wants. Though it
may look like it at times, there are no A.A. police, no sergeants-at-arms, no
kangaroo courts, no censors, and no governors who have any right or opportunity
to change your views. Hold your A.A. membership high. Wave your A.A. banner, and
don’t shrink under fire. Believe in God if you want to. Accept Jesus Christ as
your Lord and Saviour if you want to. Read the Bible all you wish. Read any
religious literature you choose to read if you like. Rely on the gift of the
Holy Spirit to the utmost if you want to. Go to a Bible fellowship, a church, or
a religious meeting any time you want to. And accept the fact that whether A.A.
is “spiritual” or “religious” doesn’t matter a fig to you.
A.A. today is what it is. It isn’t what it was. But it can be what it can be—an
immeasurably valuable support factor if you decide to quit drinking for good, to
abstain, to resist temptation, to accept the helping hands of other AAs, to
learn and apply the principles of the Steps, and to help others at every
opportunity. Practicing the Eleventh Step is your privilege and your own
business. It’s not subject to the dictated interpretation of some bigot, nor to
someone else’s mandate. The Big Book was written to guide you. By its own
statement, its contents are meant to be suggestive only. It should not be the
vehicle that drives you away from A.A., your church, your Bible, or Almighty
God, our Creator. And how you practice it can most assuredly be based on your
belief in Almighty God, in the accomplishments of His son Jesus Christ, in the
truth of the Bible, in your personal religious convictions, in your church or
Bible fellowship’s position, and in the religious literature of your choice.
Bill Wilson wrote in connection with the Tenth Step that “love and tolerance” is
our code. Dr. Bob said in his final address to AAs that the whole show could be
simmered to “love and service.” Both expressions bring to mind the basic
Biblical ideas A.A. borrowed from the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James,
and 1 Corinthians 13. And I can’t think of any greater application of the A.A.
Biblical principles than to adhere to God’s commandments that you love God with
all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself
And for a Biblical perspective on Quiet Time, Morning Watch, and Meditation as
they relate to Alcoholics Anonymous and its program of recovery and spiritual
history, I strongly recommend you obtain and read the details in my title, Good
Morning! Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A., supra. See the
In case the reader might ask, What do you do? The answers are that I am a
long-time active, sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I haven’t left, and I’m
not going to. I read and study the Big Book and Twelve Steps very very often. I
believe they have helped me to emphasize love instead of anger, trust instead of
fear, honesty in place of deceit, unselfishness in place of self-centered
living, and Godly thinking and actions in place of transgressions against God’s
will. I believe in Almighty God, Yahweh our Creator. I am born again of His
spirit by reason of believing in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I try to
read the Bible or listen to Bible tapes every single day. I try to pray to God
every single day—offering thanksgiving, praise, petitions, requests for
forgiveness and guidance, requests for protection, strength, and healing, and
requests for His care of me, my family, others, my possessions, and activities.
I ask Him for revelation and frequently receive it as and when He chooses to
provide it. I know that He is my refuge and my fortress and in Him I should
place my trust. I also know that obedience to His will is sometimes the most
difficult challenge of all, yet an indispensable part of fellowship with Him as
one of His loving sons. All these I do to His glory in the name of Jesus Christ.
Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808 874 4876;
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