Incense from Golden Vials
PREFACEIt may be, that some reader of this little book may question and even deny that man may have such a sweet and intimate communion with God as herein described. If so, I would ask him not to deny, but merely to say that he is not acquainted with such a life. There are those who thus walk with God. This little treatise does not lift up an ideal life of prayer too high to be attained, but describes real facts as far as it lies in the ability of the author's pen to describe them.
I would ask the reader to read slowly and thoughtfully. Especially would I have him meditate upon the quotations on the closing pages.
It was not at all my intention to make this a thorough work on prayer. It is intended to be a book that you may pick up and peruse now and then, when you become dull and do not have as much appetite for prayer as you desire. My hope is that this little volume will prove an encouragement to all its readers, and a stimulus to increase their relish for communion with God.
Yours in sincere prayer,
"Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand." Revelation 8:3-4
This incense is evidently the unction of the Holy Spirit which makes prayer fragrant and acceptable to God. In the Jewish tabernacle, Aaron, in his priestly service, burned incense upon a golden altar every morning and every evening. This burning of incense is typical of the prayers of saints. Prayer arising in the Spirit from Christian hearts is a fragrant and pleasant fragrance to God. The fragrance from some sweet-smelling flower, is very agreeable and solacing to us. Divine truth assures us that the prayer of the upright, delights the heavenly Father.
That beloved disciple who had the privilege of resting on the bosom of Jesus saw in a vision a door opening into Heaven; and looking through this door, he beheld worshipers before the Lamb of God. These had harps, and golden vials full of incense, which John says, were the prayers of saints. Revelation 5:8.
Prayer from Spirit-filled hearts arises to God and delights him with its balmy fragrance. This is not mere sentimentalism but scriptural verity. In ancient times it was a custom with some Oriental people to preserve the tears of mourners in vials as a memorial. True prayer ascends to the throne of God and is placed in golden vials, and by its fragrance, is a memorial of us before God. This also is a truth taught in scripture and not a mere fancy.
The centurion of the Italian band in Caesarea was a devout man, a man that feared God and prayed always. His prayers reached the throne, and God sent an angel to say to the praying man, "Your prayers and your alms are come up for a memorial before God." (Acts 10:1-4). That our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving come up before God as a sweet fragrance and are kept in golden vials as a memorial of us is not a mere fanciful conception, but a blessed reality, clearly seen by the eye of faith.
"The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping!" Psalm 6:8. There is a prayer of tears. What speaks more loudly to our hearts, than tears?
Israel's sweet psalm-singer once said when in earnest, tearful prayer, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle! You have recorded each one in your book!" Psalm 56:8. Tears add much to the fragrance of prayer. The tears which are set flowing by the emotions of the heart are bottled in Heaven and written in God's book!
O dear praying saint, pray on! Never will one tear be lost! It is too precious! Diamonds and pearls are mere trifles compared with your tears! Never a word of your prayer, however feeble it may seem to be will fail to reach the ear of God! Amid the many prayers that are ascending to the throne of grace from this lower world, and amid the noise of angels' shouts and songs He will catch the sweet strain of your feeble heart-cry, and record it in Heaven! The perfume of a prayer is never lost!
Prayer, the Need of the Soul
The soul is in need. Man is conscious of a lack, of a "missing link," of something outside of himself and higher than himself. He is internally conscious of having sunk below his level and of being unable of himself to rise. He looks and longs and prays for help. Music awakens feelings in the mind of an idiot and a moanful cry from his heart, as though he longed for something higher. The inspiring voice of nature pours into the soul of man, a melody which awakens in him a consciousness that beyond him is a nobler, higher plane of life. Within man, there lies a self-slumbering instinct of a lost union with a purer, holier realm; and . . .
the falling of a leaf, it may be,
or the whispering of the breeze,
the beauty and fragrance of a flower,
the song of a bird or the music of the rippling brook,
the broad plain or the lofty mountain,
the expanse of ocean or the azure vault of Heaven decked with glittering stars
awakens that instinct and declares to him that he was born for something higher and he prays!
Could you ascend to some height and observe the behavior of man what would you see? You would see him praying! You would see the African bowing down before his fetish. You would hear the muezzin notifying the Mohammedans of the hour of prayer. You would see the Parsi endeavoring to satisfy his soul's need in the Zend-Avesta. You would see the Tartar prostrating himself before the Grand Lama. You would see the countless number paying their devotion to the bird, the cow, the crocodile, the sun, Jupiter, and to the many wooden gods and gods of stone. You would see the Arabian before the Black Stone of Mecca, which, says a legend, was white when the angel gave it to Abraham, but was turned black by the sins of man. You would see the Indian with his Manitou, the devotee of the Roman Catholic church counting her rosary. You would see a Nathaniel under his fig tree or a woman pleading for a crumb. Among all these 'gods' some men fear they have not found the god that can meet the soul's demand so they worship the "unknown god".
Thus men pray. Everywhere man seeks for something to meet the need of the soul. The Christian has found the God and the only one that can satisfy the heart. He has found the one, true God he who through his Son restores the missing link, and brings man again into blissful union with himself. This union which man finds with God meets all the needs of the soul, and satisfies all its longings. When God is found, the soul sinks into perfect rest. There is no lack to those who fear the one, true God. He supplies all man's need. He leads him into green pastures and into quiet resting places. He restores his soul.
Amid the gods many to whom men pray, the Christian has found the true God the one, and the only one, that actually hears and answers prayer, lifts man to his proper plane and sphere, and gives him rest, joy, and peace. He is all in all to the Christian.
In this little book we deal only with the Christian's prayer the prayer that avails and brings the blessings of God to the heart of man.
The Soul's Hidden Life Sustained by Prayer
The soul that has found Jesus has found life. "And this is the record that God has given to us eternal life and this life is in his Son." 1 John 5:11. This life is a heavenly life because it comes from God. It is heavenly not only in its purity but also in its peacefulness.
This life of the soul is a hidden life. "Your life is hid with Christ in God." Christianity is not an exterior, visible something. As the fruit of a tree, is not the life of the tree so holy action is not the life of the soul but is the fruit of that life. And as the bearing of fruit does not sustain the life of the tree so the doing of good deeds does not keep the soul alive. Its life is sustained from an unseen hidden source.
If a man's religion consists in his doing and his talking then he has not the true vital Christian religion. If he loves to talk about the things of God more than he loves to talk with God; if he has more animation in public prayer than in secret prayer then it is to be feared that his religion is only an external thing, and not that true religion which has its source in God.
If a person can talk out more than he experiences in his heart; if he has more outward thought than inward feeling then his religion is gleaned from an outside source, and not breathed into his soul by the Spirit of God. If he has a religion that is fed through the intellect, a religion that is borrowed or learned from others, and not that which comes along as a hidden stream from God his religion is vain!
True spiritual life comes from God to man's soul and then flows out in holy living. This life is both gained and sustained through believing prayer. The reading of the Scriptures is listening to the voice of God; and is the listening side of prayer.
All true spiritual life and holy living comes by the soul's life being hid with Christ in God. "In him was life." The good deed, in order to be of value in God's sight needs to have the stamp of the divine life; just as a coin must bear the government stamp, in order to pass current. Our acts of kindness should have their origin deeper than in us. If they proceed only from us they will leave our imprint on others; if they have their source in God they will engrave his image on the character of others. "All my springs are in you!" said one who had all his expectations from God. "There is a river [or spring], the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God." Our stream of life should have its spring in God.
In Judges chapter one, Achsah was leaving her father Caleb's home to go and dwell with her husband. Taking advantage of a father's feeling she asked him for a blessing. He had given her a south land, and now she desired a spring of water. He gave her the upper and the lower springs. Too many, we fear, have only the upper, or surface springs, whose waters fail in a dry time and dry times will come. We should have the lower springs, whose waters never fail.
If our outward life has its rise in our own human sympathy, compassion, and kindness it will be feeble in a dry time. Oh! let your life be hid with Christ in God, that the spring of every act, word, and thought may be in him. If man's life has its rise in himself it may bind man to him; but if it has its rise in God it will bind men to God.
The cultivation of gentleness, kindness, and love are excellent but let it be the cultivation of that gentleness, kindness, and love which comes from God, and not the cultivation of merely our own qualities. If you desire to be kind then go into the presence of Jesus. Draw near to the Savior that He may breathe His Spirit upon you. A kind, tender feeling will begin to thrill your heart, and then as you go out among men, the expression that thrill will strike upon the hearts of men. If you would have more love look with steadfast eye to Calvary. See the pierced hands and side, the thorn-crowned brow, and hear the "My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me!" and there will begin to kindle in your soul a love that will make men feel the warmth of its flame.
It is by prayer, that the soul's life is sustained. The intellect may feed upon the external perceptions of God but the soul feeds and lives upon God himself. Live each moment under the cover of His feathers. Hide beneath the shadow of His wing. When the angry storm-clouds of life are gathering, oh, how blessed to feel the soft down of God's feathers covering us; and when the heat of trial is kindling upon us, to feel the cooling shadow of His wing!
Let your spirit, O pilgrim saint, closely entwine with the Spirit of your God. Let your life be hid in the secret of His pavilion and there in the closest intimacy commune with Him. Thus shall your daily life be like the peaceful flowing of the river, whose banks are ever as verdant as the springtime.
"I dwell beneath His shadow,
'Tis sweet to shelter there;
Secured within his loving arms
From all distracting care.
To nestle 'neath the feathers
Of his protecting wings;
Defying there hell's fiery darts
And all beside that stings!
I dwell beneath his shadow,
And gladly linger there;
While on his love I feed my soul
And his own peace I share!
Oh! precious are these tastes of bliss;
The fullness is to come;
But these refresh us on our way,
To fuller joys at home."
What is Prayer?
Prayer is a COMING to God. Some Bible expressions are: "He who comes to God." "He who comes to me." "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden." "He is able also to save those to the uttermost who come unto God by him." "Come to the waters." "Come buy, and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk." "Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
God is the Christian's tender Father. In prayer, we should come to Him as a child to its father. God loves this familiarity. This is not irreverence. We can come to Him familiarly and yet reverently.
We can conceive of God both as the Supreme Ruler of the universe on His throne and as our tender Father by our side. We should be so conscious of His being with us, that when we go into our prayer closets we shall almost feel like holding the door ajar to admit Him! Then a little closer still, we can conceive of Him as being in our own hearts. We should turn our voice inward and speak to Him in our own heart. We see Him then, not only as a ruler in Heaven but as a ruler in our own hearts. When we come to God, we should have this view of Him.
We should come to God in prayer and speak to Him, thanking Him or making a request of Him as familiarly as with the closest friend. In true prayer, we talk personally with God; we embrace Him as a bosom companion; we see Him and hear Him and speak to Him and feel His presence as we do that of a friend. This seeing and hearing and making Him a person with us is in the province of faith. In prayer we close our eyes to things that are seen and open them to things unseen. Prayer is a coming to God and embracing Him a drinking in of His life and spirit, a leaning on His bosom, and feeling the beating of His heart warm with love.
Prayer is the Christian pilgrim's staff
To walk with God all day!
Enoch walked with God three hundred years. That long walk we do not suppose was a walk in silence but a walk in converse. We do not know what was said, and it is not God's purpose that we should know but we can come to Him, and He will teach us what to say.
Prayer is more than bending the knee and saying some words. It is the shutting of the closet door and being ALONE WITH GOD. It is the coming of the soul, tremulous with love and holy awe before His sacred presence; and at the same time a talking to Him in childlike innocence and confidence.
The little child climbs upon its father's knee and, leaning upon his bosom, delighting itself in his companionship. There in the sacred silence, the heart seems to talk with heart, and the spirit of the child is fashioned into the likeness of the parent! Just so, prayer is Heavenly Father and His redeemed child in the most intimate converse and sweetest companionship. There he finds rest.
Wrapped in the bosom of his God,
His head upon his breast,
Forgetful of the cares of life,
He finds the perfect rest!
Prayer is ADORATION. By adoration we mean worship, reverence, esteem, respect, love. The soul adores God as it beholds his greatness and his goodness. When a person beholds the beauty of God's perfections, the glory of His majesty, and the wonders of His works he experiences a feeling of awe and of filial fear and dread. When he gives utterance to his feelings, he cries with the seraphim, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory!"
We have cause to fear there is great deficiency of adoration in prayer, especially in private prayer. Perhaps in silent meditation, there is not enough admiration of God's exalted nature and marvelous works. There is not a due ascription to him of glory and honor. Jesus said, "When you pray, say, Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name." As we bow down before Jehovah, oh, may there be not only the word "hallowed" on our lips but a hallowed feeling in our soul.
We hear the Psalmist in his meditation exclaiming: "Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty! He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent, and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants." Psalm 104:1-3.
Much adoring prayer is recorded in the Scriptures. Listen to the devotional song of Moses after the deliverance at the Red Sea. "Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power: your right hand, O Lord, has dashed in pieces the enemy!" "Who is like unto you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!" Exodus 15:6, 11.
The angels are engaged in the prayer of adoration. They are shouting, "Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might be unto our God forever and ever!" They are singing the song of Moses and the Lamb before the throne of God, saying, "Great and marvelous are your works, O Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways, O King of saints. Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? for you only are holy!" May the spirit of Moses and the angels fall upon our souls, as we approach the mercy seat in prayer.
Prayer is CONFESSION. Adoration is only a part of prayer. There is much that such dependent creatures as we, need to confess. We need to confess our dependence, and our weakness, and our faults. To confess our dependence does not make us independent, to confess our weakness does not make us strong, and to confess our faults does not make us faultless; but to do these things manifests a proper attitude of the heart.
God can make us strong if we but feel our weakness. It is for this reason that the weak can say that they are strong. But God cannot make us strong until we feel our weakness, any more than He can save a sinner who does not realize his sinfulness. We should feel our unprofitableness, our weakness, our need of help. We can draw so much closer to God in prayer if we feel the great need of His help. It is really precious to become terrified at the hideousness of sin and the devil and the world and to flee to our refuge under the shadow of God's wing! The blessedness is not found in the terror but in the feeling of security we experience when hiding in the secret of the Lord's pavilion.
Prayer is PETITION. God delights in having us ask Him for the things we need. He gives many encouraging promises. One is this: "Ask, and you shall receive." We are told to be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let our requests be made known unto God. To have a kind heavenly Father to whom we can come for everything we need is a blessing too great to conceive! He is faithful to fulfill all He has promised. May the Lord increase the faith of His children.
The "if" is not on the Lord's side but on man's side. A father brought his son that had a dumb spirit to Jesus and said, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." Christ, in His reply, gave the man to know that the "if" was on the latter's part. "If you can believe," said Jesus, "all things are possible to him that believes." The question is not whether Jesus can it is whether we will ask and believe.
Some people object to the petitioning side of prayer. They say that the Fatherhood of God is in opposition to all reasonableness in petitioning prayer. Since he knows our every need and is disposed to give us all we need there is, they say, no necessity to ask him. Being a God of infinite goodness and love, he is disposed to grant all our needs without our asking, the same as he gave his Son to die for us. They go further and illustrate, by referring to the readiness of earthly parents to supply the needs of their children without their asking. But the illustration is not perfectly analogous to God's manner of dealing with his children. Though parents provide everything good for their children, it is certainly respectful on the part of the children to ask for things they need.
The prayer of petition does not change God's disposition and influence him to a willingness to grant us our needs but it prepares our heart for the receiving of them in thankfulness. Prayer does not change God so much as it changes us! I am indeed glad that God has obligated us to ask. It brings us in such close personal contact with him. We would not be likely to come feelingly near to him in thanksgiving if we did not come feelingly near to him in petition. But of this we shall have more to say in another chapter.
Prayer is SUPPLICATION. In Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus, we find these words: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." And again, in his letter to the saints at Philippi, he says, "But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." He does not mean that prayer is one thing, and supplication something else. Supplication is prayer.
Petition is for the obtaining of some special object, for which there is to be the definite act of faith. Supplication is not so much a desire for the obtaining of any special object as a more general longing and intense love for God and his glory. There is not such a definite act of faith but an earnest pleading with a submission to the will of God. Supplication is more earnest and intense than petition and rises above it into a longing, yearning, pleading in love with a resignation to the divine will. Many people pray the prayer of petition but fewer pray the prayer of supplication.
Prayer is a pouring out of the soul to God. I do not attempt to discriminate between "supplication" and "pouring out the soul," for my mind is scarcely capable of conceiving any difference. The latter term seems to me to be but another form of expression, which may enable us to grasp more clearly the full meaning of the other. By the expression "pouring out of the soul" we can see more distinctly the labor and intensity of supplication.
Hannah, in her prayer, did not speak audibly. She spoke only in her heart. Her lips moved as in the formation of words but there was no voice. In reply to the high priests accusation, she said, "I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink but have poured out my soul before the Lord." As David's soul was panting after God and tears were his food day and night, he exclaims, "I pour out my soul within me." And again, when beholding God as his strength and refuge, he said, "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us." Pouring out the soul is deep, close communion with God. It is the losing of consciousness of earth and earthly things and the bringing of the soul up into the presence of God. It is leaving the body behind, so to speak, and talking to God in the spirit. Every Christian should occasionally have such communion with the Lord.
Prayer is a SUPPING with Jesus. The voice that was heard by one in the Spirit said, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Rev. 3:20. Elsewhere we said something about conceiving of God both as being on his throne and as being a companion by our side, and again as an abiding guest in our heart. The text just quoted pictures him to us as abiding in our hearts. There we can commune with him. We sup with him, and he sups with us. The heart is the communion chamber.
In the Canticles we read, "While the king sits at his table, my spikenard sends forth the smell thereof." Jesus brings his viands of grace and places them on the table and we bring our viands of joy, praise, and thanksgiving and place them on the table, and then we sup Jesus and we. We sup of His grace to the full need and satisfaction of our souls and He sups of the joy and the praise we bring, and delights himself in their sweetness and fragrance. And should we have burdens or sorrows, we may bring them, too and he will share them with us. Bless his name! This is prayer.
Prayer is THANKSGIVING. "But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." "In everything give thanks." "Giving thanks always for all things." Thanksgiving is the aroma of prayer. Every prayer should be perfumed with it. Unless we live in faith and in the Spirit our thanksgiving will be an empty form of words. It is good often and in some quiet place, to recount the goodness and mercy of God. Let faith be very active and see the Lord as the Giver of every blessing. Surely a sense of thankfulness will become more perceptible in your heart. It were good if you should be so thankful, that ofttimes tears of gratitude would fill your eyes at the remembrance of His mercies. O Lord, help our poor hearts to praise you!
Prayer is the HEART TALKING to God. It is a devout movement of the soul Godward. It is a quiet sitting by the Savior's side, leaning the head on his bosom, and feeling the beating of his heart. It is the opening of the soul to Heaven to be fed and renewed by the inflowing life of God. We become like that which we feed upon. Prayer makes us like God.
"Man, earthly, of the earth, with hunger feeds
Of earth's dark poison-tree,
Wild gourds, and deadly roots, and bitter weeds;
And as his food is he.
And hungry souls there are who find and eat
God's manna day by day;
And glad they are, their life is fresh and sweet,
For as their food are they."
Praying in Jesus' Name
Sing, oh, sing the name of Jesus
All along the way of life!
There is but one name in which we can come to God. That name is Jesus. If we come and knock in our name the door will not be opened unto us; but if we knock in Jesus' name it will be opened. At the name of Jesus, the angels bow. "Whatever you shall ask the Father in my name he will give it to you." The Father has promised to give us all things with Jesus. Thus in Christ, we have every temporal and spiritual need supplied. The Father was well pleased with the Son, and heard him in all things. It is only in him that God is well pleased with us and will hear us. Jesus offered himself to God as a sacrifice for us. This sacrifice is a sweet smelling savor unto God. Only when we come to God in the name of Jesus, and in acknowledgment of the sacrifice he made for us will our prayers be fragrant. There is no fragrance in sinful man.
What is meant by praying in Jesus' name we can understand by one text of scripture: "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:1. God never gives anything to man except through Christ. It is Jesus who holds the bank account. He has deposited riches of every kind with the Father. He has placed in the bank of Heaven, a generous deposit of grace, which contains all the needs of every creature. In that grace, there is remission of sins, sanctifying power, healing virtue; there is our daily bread, clothing, and every temporal need; there is comfort and consolation, joy and peace, love, meekness, and wisdom. Take a look at that store of grace, or call it the bank of Heaven if you choose. Everything that man has need of for soul or body, for time or eternity is deposited in that bank!
It was Jesus who made the deposit, and it is he who holds the account. Man has never placed one single thing there to his credit. In fact, there was a great debt there against him; but Jesus has paid that and has placed there a great storehouse of riches. But it is all in his name!
Now if I should give you a check on a bank in which I have made no deposit would you get any money when you presented the check? Certainly not, because I would have nothing there to my credit. But if a man that has placed money in the bank should give you a check, the cashier, on seeing the signature, would pay you what the check calls for. So if you go to the bank of Heaven in Jesus' name, you will certainly get what you ask for. But be sure you get the name of Jesus on your check! If you need wisdom and grace to help you bear your trial, or comfort to soothe the pain of sorrow he will certainly give you a check, because he has promised to do so. When you get his name on the check then go to God and present it. He will look at it and, seeing the name of Jesus will grant the request.
But God must also know the petitioner. FAITH is the act by which God recognizes the one presenting the check. So when you desire anything from God, get the signature of Jesus, exercise faith and you will certainly receive all for that the check calls!
Success in Prayer
We call prayer a success, when we get audience with God and receive the things we desire of him. This is a wonderful privilege. When we go to God in the right manner he will extend the golden scepter.
In order to get an answer to our prayers, we must have sincere desire. This arises from a sense of need. The desire will be to the extent of our sense of need. If we have but a slight sense of need then we have but little desire. "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24. "There is no lack to those who fear him." God supplies every need of his redeemed children. Desire, as we have said, arises from a sense of need, and God will supply our needs; therefore what we desire we shall receive.
Again, we read in the Word of Truth that "the desire of the righteous shall be granted." Thus we understand that in order to pray successfully we must experience a sense of need. Do you want more love for God? Do you feel in your soul a deep sense of such need? Then you have great desire for it and "the desire of the righteous shall be granted." God will not hear cold, dead, formal prayers! He will not give us that for which we feel no need.
In order to be successful in prayer, we must come to God humbly. It is the cry of the humble, that God hears. He heard the prayer of the publican because he came feeling a sense of need, and also came in a humble, dependent spirit. He did not hear the proud Pharisee. God heard the prayer of Abraham, when this patriarch came to him asking him to spare Sodom if a certain number of righteous people could be found there. God heard this prayer because of the manner in which the suppliant came. Abraham said, "Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord I who am but dust and ashes." If we come to the Lord feeling that he is under some obligation to us because of something we have done or because of what we are then he will not hear us. O Lord, help us to be humble, to feel our dependence.
In order for prayer to prevail with God it must come from a submissive and obedient heart. "Submit yourselves therefore to God" is the exhortation of the Bible. And "whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we obey his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." When we keep the commandments of God and love his will he will hear our prayers.
The Lord would have us come to him with reverence. We should come into the presence of God with a holy awe resting upon our souls. If we were to step into the presence of an earthly monarch, we would have a profound feeling of awe and reverence then how much more on coming into the majestic presence of God. Oh! do not dishonor him by bowing down so unfeelingly, as if God were no more than an ordinary man! We should address him with reverence.
Do not rush hurriedly and casually into his presence but come before him as Moses did at the burning bush. Prayer should be sacred and hallowed. We feel constrained to bow our heads when devout men pray. When we come upon anyone in secret communion with God, we feel impelled to withdraw in silence. In your worship around your family altar, let there be reverence. Teach your little ones to revere the name of Jesus. Let everything else be laid aside and come before him with profoundness of thought and feeling.
We should come before the Lord in childlikeness. Being reverential, does not necessitate being in slavish bondage. We can come to the Lord with reverence and also in childlike confidence and cheerfulness. We should come with a filial spirit filling our hearts. When we come in this manner, the Lord will hear us, and prayer will be availing.
Praying in the Spirit
That our prayers may be fragrant to God they must have the sweet incense of the Spirit breathed into them. It is the prayer that the Spirit inspires which reaches the ear of God. Alas! the many formal prayers. They have their bounds, and when the person has gone his round, he closes. He has gone over the same ground so often, that he wearies of it.
Every prayer would be a new prayer if we prayed in the Spirit. This is the prayer that God answers. We are as ignorant of true prayer as the disciple who said, "Lord, teach us to pray." We know not how to pray but the Spirit will teach us and help us. When the Spirit in our heart talks to God the answer is certain to follow. We build ourselves up on our most holy faith, by "praying in the Holy Spirit." We can have faith, when the Spirit prays. It may be there is not enough acknowledgment of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and waiting for him. We have prayed so many times we know just how to pray, we may conclude; and so we go ahead but the answer does not come. The language of Ephesians 6:18 teaches us, that effectual prayer is made only in the Spirit. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Formal prayers are not heard by the Lord!
It is only when the Spirit enlivens our hearts, that we can cry, "Abba, Father!" We can call God 'Father' only by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to God in prayer. He fills the heart with longing for God. Those who live in the Spirit, find no difficulty in prayer.
The Holy Spirit gives us power in prayer. It is the Spirit that keeps us in such a frame of mind as makes prayer delightful. He gives us a keen appetite for converse with God and makes prayer enjoyable. To those who are filled with the Spirit no hour is so hallowed and so heavenly sweet, as the hour of prayer. It is by the Holy Spirit that we have power over the enemy of our souls. The devil fears a prayer in the Spirit. Cold, lifeless, Spiritless prayers do not alarm him. But
"Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees."
He will do all he can to hinder the children of God in their prayers. He will tell them that they have no time for prayer. But the Christian must take time to pray. No other Christian exercise is as important as prayer; so the Christian must pray, if he does nothing besides. This temptation to leave off prayer, because of not having time is a cunning device of the enemy of prayer.
Satan endeavors to get us hurried in our prayers. But when praying in the Spirit, we shall not be hurried but shall pray in calmness and deliberation. Those who are acquainted with the laws pertaining to physical health, know that we should eat slowly, and that unless we do, we fail to get the full benefit of our food. This same law exists relative to spiritual health. Take time to pray and take time in prayer. The Spirit of God will not lead us hurriedly; and if we get in a hurry we shall get ahead of the Spirit.
The whole of the Christian experience, is to be filled with the Spirit. We are to worship God in the Spirit and in truth. Our bodies are to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is he who is to teach us and to guide us. It is he who anoints us that we may know God and the things of God. We get no true conception of God except by the Holy Spirit. "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. But God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit." 1 Corinthians 2:9, 10.
Oh, how dependent we are on him!
We cannot pray aright without him;
we cannot understand the truth of God without him;
we cannot know God without him;
we cannot love God without him;
we cannot have peace in the soul without him;
we can never get to Heaven without him.
Then, let us be careful never to grieve him nor quench him; let us do nothing that he would not have us to do, and let us do promptly all that he would have us do. Let us honor him; let us look to him for guidance and for help; let us acknowledge our dependence on him and seek his aid in prayer; let us have our whole life under his influence. A true, sincere Christian is one whose life is powerfully under the Holy Spirit's influence.
The FERVENCY of Prayer
Fervency in prayer is warmth of devotion the ardor of a loving heart. To avail with God, prayer must be fervent. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." It is said that when Elijah prayed for rain, he prayed fervently. The apostle Paul exhorts Christians to be "fervent in spirit." This passage is rendered in another translation, "Let your spirit glow with zeal." The same translation renders Ephesians 6:18 in these impressive words: "Continue to pray at every season with all earnestness of supplication in the Spirit."
I greatly fear, that there is a serious lack of fervency in prayer, with many dear saints. It is in the sweat of our face that we are to earn bread for the body and it is in labor that we are to gather manna for the soul. Epaphras labored fervently in his prayer. His was no easy, sleepy praying; it was labor! The literal rendering would be "striving as in the agony of a conflict." Jacob wrestled with the Lord, yes, wrestled all night! He desired a blessing, for he was going to meet an offended brother. He laid hold upon the Lord, saying, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Though the odds were against him, his thigh being out of place yet he wrestled on even in this agony. He was decided to prevail however great the cost. He did prevail at the coming of the morning, and stood a crowned prince on the field of prayer.
God will not give where there is no desire. Where there is a great desire there will be great earnestness. I wish that every reader would fully comprehend the importance of earnestness in prayer and had the indefatigable industry to work it out. Alas, those indolent prayers! There is not enough earnestness in them either to please the Lord or to alarm the devil!
Some have become listless in prayer because they pray with doubt and fear. But we should not fear. We should pray in confidence, not in fear and anxiety. Truly, the more confidence we have in God the more earnest we are in prayer. He who desires to accomplish a certain feat will labor hard if he is confident he can eventually succeed. Many a prayer goes unanswered, because it is not fervent enough. Wrestle until you get the answer. Too many come away from the place of prayer, not knowing anything. They do not know whether God answers or not. It is our privilege to know something, and we can, if we wrestle long enough. Be an Israel. Stay on the field until God tells you something.
If your child comes to you in very great earnestness, you will tell him that you will grant him his petition, or you will not, or that you will give him an answer at a later time. You will give him an answer of some kind if he is really in earnest and presses the question eagerly. But alas! too many come to God in a half-hearted way and make their request but never hear from that prayer again. They go to the telephone and call but they never so much as place the receiver to their ear. I read once in a book, of a Daniel Quorm, who went to visit a friend. At the family altar, Daniel heard his friend pray that the Lord would that day give him a Christlike Spirit, meek and quiet; but soon the visitor heard his host speak words most unchristlike. Thereupon Daniel said:
"You are expecting a present today?"
"A present? Why, no."
"I heard you say so this morning."
"You must be crazy, Daniel."
"I was hoping it might come while I was here."
"Whatever do you mean, Daniel?"
"Why, friend, did you not pray that you might have a meek and Christlike spirit today?"
"Oh, is that all you meant?"
This illustrates how little earnestness and expectation some people have when they pray. It is the Christian's privilege to get an answer to his prayers. He need never go away unanswered. He may have to pray fervently at times, sometimes wrestle unto the breaking of the day but if he is earnest enough, God will tell him something. God will grant him the petition or tell him he will not grant it or tell him to wait and he will answer later. To go to God with a petition and come away and know nothing is to show indolence.
Prayer is a mental effort. We are to pray in the Spirit, certainly but we cannot pray without taking thought. We can pray with the mind and not pray from the heart; but it is certain we cannot pray from the heart without praying with the mind. The schoolboy sometimes meets with a puzzling problem in his mathematics, one that requires him to put forth great mental effort. This mental exertion strengthens his mind and enables him to grasp other and more difficult problems. God sometimes brings us face to face with difficult problems, problems that can be solved only by earnest effort. This must needs be, in order that we may be able to grasp the deeper things of God. It is true that we can become habituated to prayer, as the pianist to playing so that but little mental effort will be required. But we must be very constant in prayer and keep a truly devotional spirit or the mind will wander and we shall have to pay the penalty of mental toil to get our thoughts back in the right channel again.
There are times when the Christian finds it easy to pray. The Spirit seems to have touched the mind and unsealed the fountain of thought, so that the thoughts flow out so spontaneously, that the mind is not conscious of any effort. Then how blessed it is to pray! But is it always so? It is well for us that it is not. It is not usually the learner who makes the mistakes, or meets with the accident but the adept. It is when but little mental effort is required, that the performer becomes careless and neglectful.
But however skilled we may become in the art of prayer, God will bring us face to face with difficulties at times so that he might save us from neglect. If we become indolent and will not strive in prayer then we shall become very feeble in prayer. This will be especially in secret prayer.
The apostle says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." Romans 15:30. Another translation says, "Agonize together with me." This earnestness, this agonizing was for Jesus' sake and the love of the Spirit. We are not on unscriptural grounds, when we exhort to fervency and labor in prayer. Listen to the prophet's lament: "There are none who call upon your name, who stirs up himself to take hold of you."
It is by faith that we behold God, yet the clearer the intellect the more vivid will be our conceptions of him. There can be no profound feeling in our soul without vividness of thought in beholding the beauty of the Lord.
The apostle to the Gentiles, after recounting a number of the hardships of his Christian warfare, said, "Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern and care for all the churches." 2 Corinthians 11:28. From the language used and the order it is in, we naturally conclude that the care of the churches, concerned him more than all his perils, persecutions, and hardships. If he had such care for the churches, what must have been his prayers for them? In his Colossian letter he tells us something of his conflict and agony in prayer. "Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily. For I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh."
I wish you would read the above quotations over again carefully, and from them picture to your mind, something of the earnestness of his prayer. It was no drowsy, droning prayer. In the Greek, the labor and striving here is the same as in chapter 4:12, where Epaphras is spoken of as "laboring fervently." It is the same also in Luke 22:44, "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." We have the same in the Greek again in Luke 13:24: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." The thought here is "a struggle for the mastery, forcing one's way in." "Many will seek" in their half-hearted, slothful way and "not be able," for none but "this violence" will ever take the kingdom of God.
Fervency in prayer, is a good preventive of wandering thoughts. Many people are seriously troubled by the wandering of their thoughts in prayer. This very often is because of mental indolence and lack of earnest mental discipline. Be earnest and fervent in your prayers. Gird up the loins of your mind and center your thoughts on God.
Importunity is not only reiteration of the petition but also earnestness in the petition. In importuning the throne of grace, each coming should be more pressing and earnest. Fervency and perseverance make us conquerors over that which is otherwise unconquerable. In the parable of the widow and unjust judge, Jesus teaches us the value and the necessity of importunity. Do we get the full import of his teaching in this parable? The widow kept coming. She would not be denied. Wearied by her continual coming, the judge granted her request. If an unrighteous judge can be wearied into granting the request of a widow who was an object of contempt, can not the righteous Lord, whose name is Love, be persuaded to hear the prayers of those who cry unto him day and night? He can! See to it that you cry, "strong crying and tears" and not sigh, a mere wish and let the crying unto God be day and night. Though your prayer is seemingly rejected do not cease your crying. Pray on, until you get a definite answer.
Jesus did not give the Syrophenician woman a positive refusal. He only said, "Let the children first be filled: for it is not fit to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs." Mark 7:27. There was yet some hope for her. "There may be," she thought, "a crumb left after the children have been filled." She was not denied this crumb. Be willing to take the answer in the most humiliating way. Your unwillingness to do so, may be why He is seemingly deaf to your cry. Perhaps he wants you to become more humble and earnest.
Be willing for him to answer in his way. But pray on. The very fact that he has not positively denied you, is some hope that he will hear you. Only get more earnest and humble. The apostle Paul prayed three times, before he received a definite answer. I think that he would have prayed many times more, if it had been necessary.
The Spirit gives us heavenly visions. The vision may be the meekness, patience, tenderness, sympathy, or love of Jesus. Desire springs up in our hearts to possess that spiritual blessing, whatever it may be. Give vent to that desire; ask, seek, knock, strive, and wrestle for that blessing, and he will surely give it. But he will not bestow his graces where they are not longed for and eagerly sought.
In closing this chapter, I will relate a story I read about an ant. A warrior was once forced to take shelter from his enemies in a ruined building, where he sat alone for many hours. To divert his mind from his hopeless condition, he fixed his observation upon an ant that was carrying a grain of corn larger than itself up a wall. He numbered the efforts it made to accomplish this object. The grain fell sixty-nine times to the ground but the insect persevered, and the seventieth time it reached the top of the wall. May the Lord help his saints to be fervent and persevering in prayer. Pray until you get an answer!
CONSTANCY in Prayer
Constancy in prayer implies a fixed principle of prayer in the life a habitually devout spirit. It does not mean fits of prayer, or prayer at stated times but it means to "Pray without ceasing."
There is a difference between constancy and fervency. By fervency we mean that earnest taking hold upon God for any specific object; by constancy we mean that habitual prayerful frame of spirit. Devoted men have said that prayer is the breath of the soul. Then let the soul never cease its breathing. Those who live in an atmosphere of prayer, will love the place of secret prayer, and the hour of public prayer. They will be glad when it comes time to go up to the house of prayer. To them it is a dear and sacred place. And oh, how they love the hour of private communion with God! He is the fairest and dearest of ten thousand to their souls. There is no companionship like his. No voice is so musical as his, no voice so tender and sweet.
Again we hear that excuse, "I have no time to pray." You had as well say that you do not love prayer. Somehow we will take time, to do that which we love to do. Those who love the amusements of the world, take time for them. You do not know how much you are saying, when you say you have no time for prayer. No time to do that which we have such a relish for and find such enjoyment in!
David said, "As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God." There should be a constant reaching forth of the soul after God. Life should be one long, undivided prayer. There has been much comment on the apostle's words, "Pray without ceasing." I believe them to mean that we should live in the spirit or temper of reverence and devoutness. We should have a continual spirit of prayer in our souls. This gives power to the life.
One who lives in a spirit of prayer is always ready to pray. I do not mean that he will always feel like praying, so far as emotions are concerned but he feels like it, so far as a sense of duty and his will are concerned. One who lives a life of prayer is one who has stated times for prayer and observes them as strictly as propriety will admit. Besides this, he is often lifting his heart to God in petition or praise. When he sees a man doing evil, his first thought is to pray the Lord to have mercy upon him. When he sees a man prosper, he thanks God for His goodness to that person. He prays for those who despitefully use him. He gives thanks in everything, and as the giving of thanks is praying so he who lives a life of thanksgiving lives a life of prayer.
We are to rejoice in the Lord always. A spirit of rejoicing in God is a spirit of prayer. A life of worry, anxiety, and care is not a life of believing prayer. God would have his children to be ever free and happy, and to be so they must live in intimate communion with him.
Many beautiful things have been said about the closet hour, and many of them set our souls longing for deeper communion with God. In the chapter on Mental Prayer, it is spoken of as the seclusion we may have with God in our hearts while in the crowded thoroughfare or anywhere else. This may be termed secret prayer but here we desire to speak of it in the sense of being in a secluded place in converse with God.
Those who have loved prayer most, and who have been most imbued with a spirit of prayer have been those who have resorted at stated times, circumstances permitting, to a quiet, secluded place. It is told of a certain devout man who had his stated time for retirement with God, that while he was once entertaining some friends, the hour came for his closet communion with God, and that not wishing to appear Pharisaical, he excused himself for a few moments, saying he had an important engagement with a very dear friend. We are not under bondage. We are free. We are just as free with our praying as we are with our eating. Just as we do not have to eat against our wishes, so we are not compelled to pray. But unless we do eat we shall die physically; and unless we pray we shall die spiritually. We have our stated times for eating; why not for praying? People are not so neglectful and irregular in their eating. They make some effort to get to the table at meal-time. Why not be as prompt and regular and diligent in praying? Regularity in eating is good for the body; and regularity in praying is good for the soul.
Jesus was in the habit of departing into a "solitary" place to pray. He would sometimes go out a great while before day. He spent whole nights in prayer. If we look into his prayer life, we conclude that he was a man of prayer. If he needed to pray long and often then how much more do we!
We repeat that those who have been most spiritual and eminently pious have been those who have had a private place for prayer. It may have been by a riverside, under a spreading tree in the leafy grove, in the garden, on the mountain, or in a private chamber of the home. They were so accustomed to visit those retired places, that the other members of their families knew where these devout people were when missing but did not care to disturb them.
We should pray even when laboring with our hands, or on the crowded street, as we shall learn from the following chapter but we should by all means have a certain place to which we resort and there on our knees pour out our hearts to God.
Talking with my Savior
In some quiet place,
Telling every secret,
Looking in his face.
What on earth is sweeter?
What more dear can be
Than to talk to Jesus,
Have him talk to me?
When the morn is blushing,
In the secret place,
Talking there with Jesus,
Gathering stores of grace.
For the fiery trial,
Heated like the sun,
That may come upon me
Before the day is done.
When the sun is setting
In the golden west,
A little talk with Jesus,
Leaning on his breast,
Rests the weary spirit,
Calms the heart within.
Oh, what joy and comfort,
Nestling close to him!
In the secret closet
Hearing his sweet voice
Makes my life an Eden
Bids my heart rejoice.
In the secret closet
Talking there with him
Drives away the shadow,
Lets the sunshine in.
(Written by Mrs. Florence Roberts)
When our thoughts, as well as our words and deeds continuously incline toward our heavenly Father and his Son, our blessed Redeemer, we shall comprehend as never before the interpretation of Paul's counseling us to "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Perhaps many of God's children conceive the idea that we can pray only when on our knees. Were that the case, the heavenly Father would, I fear, receive very little of our time and attention. It is blessed to kneel often and pray audibly but often this is not practicable.
Shortly after my conversion, more than fifteen years ago, when I began to delight in God's Word, the Holy Spirit deeply impressed me with the advice found in Matthew 6:6-8. I began to inquire as to the meaning of the "prayer-closet." At first I supposed this scripture to have only a literal meaning to retire to a room set apart for this one purpose and to lock one's self in. This was seldom convenient for me. While I was yearning for a private place for this purpose, the blessed Lord illuminated my mind by definitely revealing this: "The closet means the innermost recesses of the soul. Even when you are in a crowded assembly, you may enjoy secret communion with me." "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear."
Blessed assurance! blessed knowledge to the child of God, who is surrounded in his home by mockers of prayer! We can be constantly in the spirit of prayer, holding, unknown to others, silent converse with the King of kings! Ofttimes the most effective prayers we can offer are the silent prayers known to none but the heavenly Father.
Time and again have I personally realized this. Our Father, who sees in secret, has rewarded and will reward openly.
Dear reader, I beseech you in the name of Jesus to constantly hold mental conversation with God, the Giver of all good. He is very liberal, never giving with stinted hand. He yearns to bestow upon his waiting child his very best. Carelessness in prayer grieves him. Alas! that guilt lies at the door of many. They request favor from God but almost as soon as they cease praying, they forget what they asked for, therefore they are greatly surprised if God answers.
Our heavenly Father knows and he cares. He yearns for us to be deeply, intensely, in earnest concerning our souls' desires. "God is a Spirit: and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Nothing less will satisfy him; nothing less will bring answers to our prayers.
Reader, do you love him? Do you really, truly love him? If so, there is nothing that you will not do in order that you may have his perpetual smile upon your soul. As the bride centers her thoughts on her adored husband so will your spiritual mind be focalized upon this wonderful Bridegroom of your soul, who delights in anticipating your requirements and, not alone in granting your heart's desires but in lavishing upon you abundantly more than you could even ask or think.
Have you observed how much the thoughts are prone to wander while you are engaged in prayer? Of course you have, and so have I. We must watch and bring in our wandering thoughts and center our mind on God. This will require mental effort. Unless we use our willpower in the control of our thoughts, we shall drift on the dangerous shoals of vagrancy, coldness, and carelessness. It will then become most difficult to focus our mind on God.
How blessed that we have a Father who never tires of our appealing to Him! How very precious to know that He knows our yearnings, our desires whether uttered or unuttered! "No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly." God knows your thoughts and hears your prayers. Keep your thoughts on God. The Psalmist prayed, "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight." We pray with the heart and with the understanding also. Such prayers are answered.
The disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray." It was not that they had never prayed but when they heard Jesus pray, they felt their need of knowing better how to pray. Those who have been praying for years and have the closest intimacy with God, have a desire to know still more about prayer. How little we yet know of God! It is true that he has taught us many glorious things of himself, and that we are learning more each day but there is much more to learn.
"I am learning of my Savior
Precious lessons every hour,
How the soul which he has ransomed
May be kept by mighty power.
Learning more and more to love him,
Yielding all into his will;
While a joy beyond all utterance
Through and through my soul does thrill.
I am learning how to trust him
With my life and for all things;
And my spirit, filled with glory,
In exceeding gladness sings.
I am learning, I am learning,
Precious truths in Jesus' Word:
I am learning, I am learning,
Of the lowly Lamb of God!"
"Go forward," was the command of God to Israel, and that should be our Christian motto. The apostle Paul said, "This one thing I do reaching forth unto those things which are before." Growing in grace and in the knowledge of God is the exhortation of Peter. We learn of God, through prayer and by reading his Word. Devotionally reading the Bible is communicating with God, and is therefore prayer in its broader meaning. As two people between whom there is affinity associate, they get deeper into the heart of each other and know better how to commune with each other. The more we pray the better we know how to pray. Do not understand me to mean in form of words but the inward prayer of the heart.
There is a secret prayer and there is a secret in prayer. If you are a fervent whole-hearted Christian, you know more of prayer and can talk with God more intimately now than a few years ago; and you will know more of the secrets of prayer a few years hence if you "continue in prayer, and watch in the same."
There are lessons for us to learn, relating to the Christian life. One way to learn them is through prayer. There is a secret pavilion, a secret place of the Most High, and "the secret of the Lord is with those who fear him." The Lord has many secrets in prayer that He is eager to teach our hearts. The longer we live a life of sincere, fervent prayer the better we shall know how to pray, and the sweeter prayer will be to us.
In the secret of his presence,
Oh! such beauties there I see;
In the holy of the holies
There I learn still more of thee.
Brighter than the rosy morning
Or the evening's tint of gold,
In the inner court with Jesus
Wondrous things my eyes behold.
It has never, never entered
Into heart of erring man,
The pure grandeur of his temple,
The perfection of his plan.
But to those who love sincerely
He will graciously unseal
Deepest mysteries of his kingdom,
Hidden things to them reveal.
Oh! the blessedness of living
In the sacred, holy place,
In the shadow of his presence,
Talking with him face to face!
The Supreme MOTIVE in Prayer
We are not our own; we are the Lord's. He has bought us, and the price that he paid is an evidence that he greatly desired us. God sees the soul's capability of bearing his image and reciprocating his love; he sees its eternity. He looks at the price necessary to ransom it. Oh! will he pay or will he refuse? Listen while we softly and feelingly read, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life."
But why does he love us so? Because we are his. "You are mine." He says, "I will redeem you." And why does he want us? He wants us to bear his image and to glorify him in our body and spirit. Whatever we do in word or deed we are to do to his glory. Life should be spent exclusively to the glory of God. All self should be left out. Self should be crucified, and must be if we are to live for God. Not a breathing, not a pulse-beat, of a selfish life; not one word, one act, one thought, for the glory and praise of the creature all, all for God.
Prayer, that it may make fragrant the atmosphere around the throne of God, must be unselfish. "You ask amiss" when you ask from any selfish interest. The spirit of "may Your will be done" must permeate every word of our prayers. Many prayers go unanswered, because there is a slight selfish interest just a little glory for the creature, a little self-gratification, a little ease, a little blessing for one's own enjoyment, a little having of one's way.
We need to examine closely, lest we pray more for ourselves than for others, and have too great an interest in self. Jesus prayed, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from me," but immediately added, "Nevertheless, not my will but yours, be done," and then gave himself up to death on the cross. Oh! why should man draw one selfish breath? Why should he have one thought of self and the flesh? Why should he ponder over earthly things, and spend unnecessary thought upon the temporal side of life? Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and these temporal things shall be added unto you.
We should, of course, pray for temporal blessings for ourselves but only to glorify God with them. It is good to pray for a closer walk with God if we desire it only for God's praise. If we desire it merely that we may enjoy it or that others may think us spiritual then our motive is not pure. Do not seek deliverance from trials so earnestly but seek the good that God sends to you by them, so that he may be glorified. When trials discourage you, you do not yet know the Lord and his ways as you should, and it may be that you are a little selfish. Trials are as good for you as showers are for the flowers provided you make the proper use of your trials.
"It is raining, little flower!
Be glad of the rain;
Too much sun would wither you.
'Twill shine again.
The sky is very black, 'tis true,
But just behind, it shines the blue.
Are you weary, tender heart?
Be glad of pain;
In sorrow, sweetest things will grow
As flowers in rain.
God watches and you will have the sun
When clouds their perfect work have done."
Pure love to God should permeate every prayer. God's glory and pleasure should be kept uppermost in our mind.
We should go to God, not so much for the good things He has to give, and the enjoyment of companionship with him as for the pleasure and delight it gives him to have us come.
Our prayer life might take on a different phase, if we better understand the nature of God. The more we study the Bible and the more we pray the better we know him.
"He delights in the prayers of the upright!" Proverbs 15:8. If we comprehend the love that God has for communion with His redeemed children, if we conceived the intense desire that He has for us to come to Him we would not be so neglectful of prayer. Surely, too, our hearts would thrill with joy if we, by the eye of faith could see with what eagerness and delight He receives us when we come to Him in prayer.
It is the Bridegroom going out to meet His bride! Love is beating in His heart. In His love, He gave His life for you and now you have stepped aside from the world for a time, purposely to be alone with Him in some secluded place, and there talk with Him and pillow your head upon His bosom. It is His joy. His yearning heart awaits you! "O My dove in the clefts of the Rock . . . show Me your face, let Me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely!" Song of Songs 2:14
Will you go? Alas that traffic with the world engages you, and gives you no time to be alone with God!
But how can our feeble prayers add anything to the happiness of the Lord? God created man for his glory and his pleasure. That God might delight himself with man, he created him in affinity with himself, so that he might have the most intimate communion with him. Now, God delights the moment we are redeemed but prayer lifts us higher and higher into that life of close affinity with him, for which we were created; consequently God rejoices to have us seek him alone in the closet, by the riverside, or in the solitary place, that the soul may be freed from the entanglements of material things and be enabled to soar aloft on the wings of holy prayer into the embrace of its Beloved.
The young wife may be weary and indisposed but, knowing that her husband delights to have her meet him at the gate, she, for his sake, meets him there. The highest, purest motive in prayer is that God may be glorified, and our hearts may be so surrendered that he can work in us to will and do of his own good pleasure.
Meditation is dwelling on a subject in thought, revolving the subject over and over in the mind. We shall here speak of meditation as used in the contemplation of God and the truths of the Christian religion. Meditating on God and his law is of great importance; it is really the foundation of the whole prayer life.
The devout Psalmist understood something of the importance and benefits of right meditation when he prayed, "Let the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord." Speaking of the bodily man, he says, "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night." This is the ground and secret of godliness and godly living. With respect to his own meditation he said: "O, how love I your law! It is my meditation all the day." "Your testimonies are my meditation." "I meditate on all your works; I muse on the works of your hands." "While I was musing, the fire burned." "Musing" on the things of God, is a private devotion that usually results in the love of God being enkindled in our hearts.
Again, he says, "My meditation of him shall be sweet." "I meditate on you in the night watches." "My eyes stay open through the watches of the night-that I may meditate on your promises."
Meditation is prayer. It is sometimes called mental prayer, to distinguish it from the prayer of petition. Meditating prayer is not asking God for anything but it almost always ends in such a prayer.
Suppose you open your Bible to Isaiah 6:3 and read, "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty: the whole earth is full of his glory." You begin to meditate upon the holiness of God. You view his holy acts in creation and in redemption. You see his holiness as revealed in his law. The Spirit aids you, and you get a clearer conception of God and his holiness; you see its beauty more clearly, and you throw yourself lovingly, confidingly into his bosom and cry from an intense inward desire, "O God, let your holiness be upon me!" Thus the prayer of meditation ends in the prayer of petition.
Meditation is not study. The study of God's law is good, in that it produces intellectual results but meditation on God's law increases the love and devotion of our hearts. Nevertheless, meditation is carried on by the action of the mental faculties. You can see that the mind is more actively employed, while you are contemplating the character of God as revealed in his Word, and his works than it is when you are merely asking him for what you need. Very little mental effort is required to ask the Lord for that which we may need. This is why meditative prayer is denominated mental prayer.
We should study the Bible, that we may from an intellectual standpoint, rightly divide the Word of truth but we should have a higher aim than merely gaining an intellectual knowledge of divine things.
The different tissues of our bodies need food. The mouth and the stomach prepare the food and supply the different constituents of the body. Should the stomach retain all the nutrition of the foods, it would have a supply of foods but their strength and life-giving force would never be felt in the other parts of the body.
Our souls need food. It is the mind that is to supply the soul with the food it needs. If the mind retains all the nutrition of truth, we may have much intellectual knowledge of divine truth but the soul is not built up. In the spiritual being, there is a process whereby the truth prepared by the mind can be conveyed to the soul, imparting life-giving force and increasing the soul's warmth and strength of devotion.
Meditation is an aid to the will, and all our progress in spiritual life is made through the choice and the power of the will.
It is the love of God, which is the constraining power in the Christian's life. A person may do a great many things to be seen by men, have much enthusiasm in service, study hard that he may excel in intellectual strength but if he has not the fullness of the love of God, he will not be able to live in heart-to-heart communion with God. It is through meditation, that love is increased, and the ardor of love serves as a tonic to man's will and enables him to pray.
Many would love to pray more, and often resolve to do so but they are hindered. They cannot overcome indifferent feelings and a disposition to neglect and postpone. They are always going to do but never doing. They need their hearts touched by the constraining power of love. It is by meditating on the goodness of God, on his love to us, on his dying to save us which warms our hearts with love. This will enable us to suffer for his sake. It gives power to the will, so that man can pray in secret. Love energizes the will and enables man to do and to endure for God.
The Christian has many conflicts. Sometimes he finds it a conflict to pray; he feels dull and indifferent. He then thinks of the love and goodness of God. As he meditates his heart warms with love, his will is revived as with a tonic, and he hastens with delight to the secret closet for prayer.
Meditation is needful but meditation alone will not suffice. It should end in prayer. Beholding the love of God in silent thought should move us to pray for that love in our own hearts. The Holy Scriptures furnish subjects for meditation on every page.
Take, for example, the Sermon on the Mount. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew 6:25-26
On reading this, you will think of God's being your Father, a real Father, one who is living and ever present with you. You will see the care he has for all his redeemed children. You will see his sympathy, his love, and his pity. It is your Father who never forgets nor neglects the "birds of the air." If he will do so much for them will he not be mindful of his child? What if some have ceased to love you? What if friends have forsaken you? What if loved ones have misrepresented you? Your Father loves and cares for you! You see him very near to you, attending to your slightest need. Now you cannot be troubled about anything tomorrow, because you see the care that your kind heavenly Father has for you. A depressing feeling may be over you, a cloud may be eclipsing the sun but this cannot disturb you, for you realize your Father's care. When you see him thus in his Fatherly love and care for you then have childlike boldness to come to him and ask him for all you need.
Never leave the place of meditation without firmly resolving to practice what you have learned. Decide never to take any anxious thought for the morrow. Ask God to help you to live just such a free and happy life, and then believe that he will do it.
Such meditation will loosen any and every dependence you may have had upon any earthly thing. It will cause the affections to let go of every earthly thing and become centered upon God. Oh, how your heart will burn within you as you think of your Father's kind care. In your meditation, you will catch glimpses of his holiness in his care for all his children, and you will feel constrained to walk softly before Him. Take time for meditation and prayer in some quiet place.
BARRENNESS in Prayer
There are times when the heart seems dull, cold, and indifferent. Though there is joy and sweetness and effulgent emotion in prayer as a rule yet doubtless every Christian has times when God seems far away and the heart seems to have no depth. Prayer seems to be from the lips only. The heart becomes an arid desert where never a flower bloomed, nor refreshing spring babbled forth. There are no sweet fragrances nor voices of melody. All is empty, cold, and still. But why such dryness?
Perhaps there is some secret affinity with the world. Perhaps a tiny rootlet of the heart has taken hold of some earthly thing. Perhaps a little train of thought has departed from the heavenly way, and has been straying about aimlessly, vagrantly through the earth. Perhaps we have done something we cannot call overt sin but only the gratification of a human desire beyond the line of temperance. Perhaps there is an affinity with some worldly thing, which breaks affinity with God. It is well to search the heart at such a time, in order to discover whether some little parasite has crept in and is doing a deadly work.
If after diligent search, we discover nothing, we may conclude that Jesus has withdrawn from us that we may surrender ourselves more to him for his own sake. He would have you long for him, because longing strengthens the affections of the heart. He wants you to taste a little of what life would be without him so that you may the more appreciate him. He would not have you be in communion with him simply for the pleasure of communion but to be with him even though you experience no inward joy.
At such a time do not cease to pray. Do not think that God does not hear because he does not bless you. Wrestle with him; tell him of your love more earnestly. That is what he loves to hear. Tell him you cannot let him go, without at least one smile upon you, or a thrilling touch of his gentle Spirit upon your heart. But if you then receive no returns of his love, leave the matter with him. Let not your faith falter but remember that he is near even though you cannot perceive him. When the heart seems dull and the spirit low and Jesus far away it is the time to pray, and not to faint.
Salvation Worked Out in Prayer
Salvation is not by works and yet we must work as if our very hope of Heaven depended on our work. Jesus is our hope. We do not merit Heaven by our good works, nevertheless, we must work. The apostle said, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Great responsibility rests on the Christian. He has a priceless, immortal soul. That soul is washed in the blood of Jesus and made of a like nature with God and thus fitted for the pure glory world. But oh! there are so many pitfalls of Satan along the way to ensnare that soul while it is yet tabernacling in its house of clay. There are temptations upon every hand. Sin and the world are calling to allure that soul away from its God. Therefore "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." It is not a slavish fear, nor a fear and trembling that arises from doubts but it is a godly fear and a trembling, born of self-distrust lest you should fail.
There is so much at stake Heaven in all its transcendent beauty and glory, in its everlasting and supreme peace, joy, and happiness; God in his holiness and power; Jesus in his excellent glory. In the midst of all this, we can dwell in the very highest degree of delights while eternity rolls on and on forever. But all this is lost if we fail in running the race.
Look for a moment. Upon one hand there is a dark abyss of woe, misery, and death; on the other hand a mountain of light, peace, and happiness. As we journey through life, there is hope of the one and danger of the other. We are given power to shun the one and gain the other but there are temptations on every hand, and we must watch and pray, lest we enter into them.
We can fear and tremble and yet feel safe. A child may be walking with its little hand in its father's in the darkness of the night and amid some danger. Though the little one fears the darkness yet it feels a blessed safety. May God's dear children never lose their fear and trembling. As long as the child fears the darkness of the night and the danger of the way it presses close to the father and is safe but when it loses that fear and thinks there is not much danger it is inclined to leave its father's side, and then it is no longer safe!
Servants are to obey their masters "with fear and trembling" (see Ephesians 6:5) not that fear which enslaves but a dutiful fear. In their eagerness to please they fear and tremble lest they displease. The apostle Paul said to the saints at Corinth, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." His was not slavish fear and despair but fear and trembling before the greatness of responsibility. This is not fear which makes wretched. On the contrary, it is really blessed to have this fear and trembling on the soul.
We cannot have a consciousness of safety unless we have a consciousness of fear. It is only when we are conscious of the very greatest danger that we can enjoy and appreciate our perfect safety. In God we are safe, blessedly safe but we must not lose our consciousness of the awful danger outside. Looking out, we fear and tremble but we hide in God and are safe. Bless his name!
There are many problems in the Christian life which are to be worked out. The schoolmaster gives the child the first book in mathematics. It contains many problems for the little one to work out but the easiest ones are on the first page. As they are just difficult enough to task the little mind to its utmost, the solving of them increases the child's power of mind and prepares him for the more difficult problems on the next page. Thus it goes on through the book. Though the problems constantly grow more difficult yet the mind, ever increasing in strength, solves the harder ones even more easily than it did the simpler. When the child comes to a trying problem, what should he do? Should he shrink before the task and give it up? It so, he will never win but if he sets to work energetically, he will before long solve the problem. The labor expended will prepare him for problems that are harder.
So it is with us spiritually. We have many problems to be worked out. We are to work them out with fear and trembling. God, too, uses wisdom in the education of his children. He gives the easiest problems first. The solving of all the problems may rightly be termed prayer. Many of them are to be worked out upon the knees. As we progress, the problems become more difficult but there is strength of soul to work them out.
After the apostle says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," he adds, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Philippians 2:12, 13. This simply means that God gives power to will and to do his pleasure. So you can solve every problem in life if you will use that power. You can do God's will if you make use of the power God gives you. It is God who gives us power to will, and to do the work belonging to the Christian life. This power is obtained through prayer. Do you lack power then go to your God in prayer!
Through Prayer We Control Our Human Passions
There are desires, passions, and appetites belonging to the nature of man. These are to be kept under the control of the higher power and passion of divine love and grace in the soul. The due control and regulation of all the qualities in the human nature, is Christian triumph; it is victory.
The fiercest battles that the Christian has to fight on the 'battlefield of life' are those with his own human nature. Consequently, the greatest victories lie in conquest of this nature. Thank God! there is victory available for every Christian. God places in the hand of every saint, most powerful weapons with which he can stand a conqueror in the arena of life.
The place to win these victories is on the knees! There the victories are really won, before the battle is fought. He who goes forth to the contests of life, without first meeting them in his closet goes forth unprepared and is likely to suffer defeat. May the Lord by his Spirit give the Christian reader understanding here, and help him to know the importance of fervent, wrestling, agonizing prayer with God in the closet!
When danger approaches the little chick, there is a shudder in its little form, a shrink, and an instinct which teaches it to fly at once for safety beneath the mother's wing. Just so, by living with God in heart-to-heart prayer, the soul will take on an instinctiveness which will cause it to flee to God, its strength at the approach of every danger!
Satan brings many temptations to God's children. Sometimes these come with the rapidity of the lightning's flash and strike terror to the soul. Sometimes they are most ridiculous. There are presentations to the mind of things which you never thought of and which you abhor.
Please allow me to relate an experience I had along this line only a few evenings ago. Satan instantly presented a temptation that seemed to touch a sensibility in my nature. My soul trembled, gave a little cry, and then, like the chick, instinctively fled for refuge beneath the wing of God. My soul felt the soft down of his feathers, and oh, how safe and secure! The sweetness of such an experience can be felt but cannot be told.
Because of the sensibilities in the human nature, Satan gives some people a kind of moving picture entertainment. He will present many scenes a loss of money, the home on fire, a child dying, a friend proving untrue, a disaster here and a failure there, unchaste acts, etc. Living with God in prayer, habituates the soul to hide in the secret of God's pavilion, to take refuge beneath the shadow of his wing, and there to close the eye to all the scenes that may be presented through the sensibilities. Let the wing of God serve, like the shutter of the camera, to prevent the light from shining into the mind from an object Satan may present. The mind, like the camera, has a sensitive plate within, upon which impressions are made by light from objects without. If this light is permitted to shine in for any great length of time the impressions will be so deepened as to become difficult to obliterate. The more the mind is turned toward God with the shutter open, the more will heavenly images be pictured upon the retina of the mind's eye. Peace and rest of the soul will be the result.
On the other hand, if we remove the shutter and view the pictures which Satan places before the soul, we shall become troubled, and divine images will fade away. If, however, we will but "hide under the shadow of His wing," it will put all Satanic images in an eclipse!
The wing of God is something like the pillar of cloud that stood between Pharaoh's army and the children of Israel, and was light on the one side and dark on the other. To those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High the shadow of the Almighty is opaque when between them and Satan's images but beautifully transparent when the soul lifts its eyes toward Heaven.
The apostle Peter said, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." 1 Peter 2:11. It is through the human nature of man, that the lusts of the flesh assail the soul but there is a sweet and safe refuge in God. There we are safe from all the attacks of sin, the world, and Satan. It is through prayer, that the desires and the appetites of our human self can be duly regulated. This is freedom in Christ; the triumph that he has purchased for us; the abounding grace. The human nature has its limitations, and by grace through prayer, it can be kept within its proper bounds.
The will of man has already been spoken of in two or three chapters but it has so many connections that it may be appropriately spoken of under different headings. In order for us to have control of ourselves we must yield our wills to God, for the infusion of his power. We must love the will of God above all else. The prayer of our hearts must be, "May Your will be done." Our food and drink must be to do the will of God. Our wills must flow out into the current of God's will and there intermingling with it, flow on as one stream. Our wills must be lost in God's will. We must will to do the will of God.
Sometimes our wills may seem very weak. The claims of the human nature make such a demand, and appeal so strongly to the will that it seems scarcely able to withstand. That is the time to pray. This is a fierce battle that many have to face at different times, as they press their way through to glory. It may be a dear wife is scarcely able to say, "May Your will, not mine be done," as the fond husband implants a kiss upon her lips and says, "Goodbye," but, believing that God has called him to publish the glad tidings of "peace on earth, good will toward men," she struggles hard to bow in submission. Her own human self clings to him but her heart wants to say, "Go." The battle is on. What shall she do? She must pray; she must flee to God and give up that will, so that he may strengthen it by his own power. She triumphs through the grace of prayer. She stands a conqueror, yes, more than a conqueror.
Kindly indulge me again while I relate an experience that I met with but recently. For several days, when my mind was not actively engaged in prayer or in literary work, I would meditate upon a theme that was enjoyable and restful to my mind, and apparently perfectly innocent. After a few days, however, I discovered that my meditations were not good for my soul. They seemed to place God at a little distance from me. I felt that I must give them up but as they had become very fascinating, I seemed reluctant to part with them. My will seemed to be very weak. Prayer was my only way to victory. I yielded my will to God and implored his aid. A look at the love of God, inspired me and strengthened me to sacrifice this little pleasurable thing and to have only such meditations as are acceptable to him. To a degree, those innocent recreations of mine came between me and God. I could serve him and yet walk at a little distance from him, and continue in my pleasant pastime but if I walked close to him, I knew I must give them up.
Dear reader, there may be in your life, some things which, while not overtly sinful in themselves, are nevertheless some hindrance to you spiritually perhaps a lack of consecration, a holding a little to your own way in some matter, a little love for something not altogether pleasing to God, or an indulgence in something to a degree not pleasing to God. These must be given up if God is to be a power in your soul to enable you to triumph and keep your human self under the control of the higher power of constraining love.
It is earnest, wrestling prayer which keeps the 'fire of holy love' burning on the altar of our hearts; and it is love to God which conquers all the lower passions in the self life. When we love God as we should . . .
we will sacrifice for him;
we will forsake our own way;
we will give up the dearest idol of human affection;
we will flee from anything and everything that separates us in the least degree from God;
we will renounce anything which would hide his smile from our soul;
we never consult the passions of the human nature nor regard their voice but we seek to know the will of God.
A father comes home from his day's labor, fatigued and hungry. His nature is desiring and demanding food; but as he steps across the threshold of his home, his wife tells him of the sudden illness of their baby. He hastens to the little crib, where he finds the darling of his heart suffering in the grasp of a raging fever. He strokes the tresses of its hair; he cools the parched lips; he smooths the pillow; he watches and waits altogether forgetful of hunger. He really has ceased to be hungry. The passion of his lower nature, has been supplanted by a passion of the higher.
Through prayer, our hearts can be kept in the fullness of divine love, which will enable us to triumph and to live alone for the glory of God.
But intense, passionate love to God must fill our souls so that we may be able to 'pluck out an eye', or 'sever a hand' if we cannot control it and use it to the praise of our Beloved. Rather than have an eye look on anything that displeases the Lord we would pluck it out. The soul that is filled with such love, stands a conqueror over sin, the world and the desires and appetites of the flesh and bends all to the services of its God. Temptations may come with all their power, the flesh may raise its voice but the prayer of faith binds that soul to the everlasting throne and gives him precious victory!
It is the prayer of faith, out of a heart passionate with love to God, which takes hold upon the throne of grace, and enables the victory. The fond mother is enabled to say, "Goodbye and God be with you," to the son or the daughter that is ready to cross the ocean-wave to tell the sweet story of the cross.
When the human nature is touched with sorrow only prayer can console. Kind friends offer their sympathy, which gives a bit of comfort but cannot heal the wounded heart. Some would tell us to forget our sorrow nd travel, to go abroad but the grandeur of cascades, of canyons, and of snow-capped mountain peaks can never comfort a life out of which some loved one has gone. We must look higher. "My help comes from the Lord."
Alas! too many, we fear, are being influenced by human fleshly desires. Their desires hide from them the knowledge of the will of God. It seemed most reasonable to Martha, that she should prepare a meal for Jesus and to her, it seemed that Mary was acting most unreasonably. It seems most reasonable to the youth and the maiden that they should unite their lives whereas it may be only their own human fleshly desires which is prompting. Through earnest, believing prayer we can keep the voice of our human nature in harmony with the voice of God, and can use the world and all earthly things to our highest good, and not abuse them.
The 'Veil of Sense' Made Transparent by Prayer
It is prayer which brings us face to face with God. It is by the prayer of faith, that we close our eyes on things that are seen and look away to things unseen. The veil of sense, like a veil, hangs over us, dimming our vision to eternal things but prayer causes the mist to become transparent, so that the eyes of faith can pierce through and see many beauties in the perfections of God.
The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus when he prayed. His praying at the time of his baptism is mentioned by only one of the Gospel writers, Luke, who says, "It came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying the Heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him." If you would have the heavens open you must pray. If you would have the Holy Spirit rest upon you live much in prayer. Again, Luke is the only New Testament writer who speaks of Jesus praying at the time of his transfiguration. Perhaps Luke saw more clearly, the virtue and power of prayer. He says, "He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray." Matthew and Mark, who tell of Jesus' going up with these three disciples into the mountain, say nothing of his going there to pray. But it was to pray: "As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed!" There is a changing, transforming power in prayer.
O Christ, so lovely, pure, and fair,
So beautiful in holiness,
If we but live with you in prayer,
Your beauty will be seen on us!
Your beauty like the rosy morn,
Purity like the crystal sea.
O God, if we but live in prayer,
We come to be as pure as thee!
When Moses went up into the mountain, a cloud covered it, hiding the glory of the Lord for six days but on the seventh day, the cloud became transparent, and then Moses talked to God for thirty-three days. It is in prayer that we get visions of God.
Trials are good, in that they drive us to the Lord in earnest prayer. It is trials, which cause us to cling to the promises. Trials serve a very important part in keeping the Christian refined and holy. Ofttimes, God would have us see more of his love, tenderness, and beauty, and come nearer him. The only way whereby he can get us to do these things is to let some trial come upon us!
When Absalom was conspiring to dethrone his father David, the ambitious son asked Joab, captain of the king's army, to come and confer. At first Joab refused but Absalom devised a plan whereby he could get the old warrior to meet him. Joab's barley field being near Absalom's, the conspirator sent his servants to set fire to Joab's barley and thus drew Joab out to him. In like manner, the Lord must sometimes do something painful to us in order to get us to come nearer him. He must set our barley field on fire, so to speak.
Our affections may be taking hold on some earthly idol so that for our safety, God must set this idol on fire. We may be growing a little ambitious along some line, and building hopes on a foundation other than God himself. He must in some way rid us of those hopes and ambitions, and oftentimes there is no better way than a conflagration. The eye may become attracted by something of the world. That object grows as a thick mist between us and God, so that we can no longer see him. Seeing our danger, the Lord in his faithfulness to us sets fire to that object, and by the light of that fire we can see our way back to God.
Strive to avoid the thickening of the veil of sense around you. When the mist has cleared away, climb up aloft and you can see the smiling face of Jesus. Today this veil of sense may be very thin to you, almost as thin as it was to Stephen when he was being stoned to death but this transparency of our individual self has been brought about through much suffering and prayer. It has cost you something but it is all the dearer because it has. Many a night your heart has wept before the Lord. Sometimes you have wrestled until the dawning of the day.
There may be a vacant chair at your fireside. She who so long shared your joys and sorrows, who by her gentle words and cheering smile helped you over many a rough and trying place in life has died, never to return. Perhaps with bleeding heart you sit beside an empty crib. These things help to part the veil of the temple of human self, and you, looking through, see that your loving, faithful wife walking the gold paved streets of the celestial city, strolling amid the blooming flowers of an eternal Eden, or sitting peacefully in the shadow of the Tree of Life.
God designs every earthly loss to prove a heavenly gain to you. If you will draw near to him in prayer, he will tell you why those things are or bid you to wait a little longer with the promise that you shall know some day and understand why.
Not a single spot in our life is so barren but that if it is watered by prayer, it will produce some tender blade or blooming flower. Pray on and let your vision pass beyond the things which are seen and temporal to those which are unseen and eternal.
The 'Mind of Christ' Is Only Retained Through Prayer
The Christian has the mind of Christ. The Scripture says, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." "But we have the mind of Christ." These words contain a very deep thought. It is too deep for our finite mind to fathom. We can readily see, however, that it means to be humble-minded, meek, lowly, patient, longsuffering and loving like Jesus. Yes, it means to have a disposition like his but it means more. A deeper thought is, that we have such a union and communion with Jesus that we can think his thoughts. We are one body with Christ. "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." This is mysterious but it is true. Jesus being the head of this body, his will is to be done throughout the whole. Our minds are to be in harmony with the great mind of Jesus. Between our mind and the mind of the Lord there is a connection something like the connections of the nerves in the human body. Through this union, God conveys his thoughts to our minds.
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him! But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit!" 1 Corinthians 2:9-10. In the spiritual and eternal world, many beauties and glories are awaiting our vision. We here see through a glass darkly but even so, we can see some heavenly glories. The glass is not so dark, that we can see nothing of God. The Spirit of God reveals to us something of the scenes we shall see hereafter. We catch far away glimpses of them, so to speak. The closer we live to God in this life the farther we can see into the life beyond. By his Spirit, God shines into our hearts and gives us some knowledge of heavenly things.
In speaking of the great celestial city, the Revelator says, "And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light!" Revelation 21:23. That light which shines in the eternal city has been seen here upon earth. It was the light which shone around the Judean shepherds on the night of the nativity. It was that light which shone around Saul on the road to Damascus. It was so bright that it blinded Saul. Some years after, when relating this circumstance to a heathen king, the apostle said, "About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from Heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me!" Acts 26:13
The mind of the Christian, is in touch with the mind of the Lord. The minister who preaches under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, is but expressing the mind of God. The thoughts of the Lord become his thoughts and he simply expresses them. Prayer is the most essential means of keeping the mind of Christ. If the preacher would have the mind of the Lord while he is preaching, if he would minister grace to others in conversation he must live much in prayer. God is able to direct in conversation, so that it will be the most helpful to those engaged. The same is true in testimony and in preaching. Thus the mind of God controls the mind of his servant.
That our minds may be most perfectly imbued with the mind of God our life needs to be one of unceasing prayer. The mind needs to be stayed on God. Our life can never be successful, unless we have the mind of Christ in the sense in which I have been speaking. The work of our life, can only be successfully carried on under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
There is a sense in which God rules the minds of men. He puts it in the mind of the unregenerate, to befriend his praying children. In such an act, sinners are performing what God has in mind. We who live and walk in the Spirit, can so have the mind of Christ that we can always be acting out what is in the mind of God. Prayer keeps the channel open; it keeps the line of communication continuous, so that we can always be in the will of God.
Encouragements to Pray
There can be no greater encouragement to pray than to know that God answers prayer. "Ask, and it shall be given you." This is as true as the throne of God. "Seek and you shall find." This is the road that leads to all we need. "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." The great storehouse of blessings and every good, will open to your knock.
"I will be your God." Think of this promise for a moment. The God of Heaven, Creator of all is your God! He will hear you when you pray. He will give you all things you need and give them to you freely. He loves his children with an enduring love. He is a Father to them. He cares for them.
The Bible abounds in promises that are encouragements to prayer. "Whatever we ask we receive of him." 1 John 3:22. These words stand true forever. They are true now as you read them. This promise, like all the rest of God's exceeding great and precious promises, is conditional. We receive what we ask for if we keep God's commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. All must be submitted to the will of God.
Some get the idea that all things work according to established laws in nature and that, consequently, what is to be, will be as if God had made this world, set it in order, and then gone into far away depths creating and peopling other worlds, and never once thinking of this one. I am very happy to know that God is still mindful of this little world of ours.
"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." John 15:7. This promise has never failed. You may think you have asked and have not received yet you have never asked according to this promise but you have been answered according to it. Our abiding in him, and his words abiding in us implies a harmony of our mind with the divine mind.
God is a Father to all who love him, and as certainly as the sun rises he hears them when they pray. Do believe him. Never regard the feeling, the emotions; stagger not at the promise of God through unbelief. You can be strong; you can triumph; you can rise and live above the clouds on the wings of believing prayer. Your prayer has gone up to the throne of God, where it is kept in memorial, and some time, some where it will be answered. Be encouraged and pray on, believing. You will find an answer. Be childlike, and God will lead you safely. Do not fear to trust him. Look above the circumstances surrounding, and see the promise and believe it. It will never, never, NEVER fail.
The Blessedness of Prayer
Why are there so few who are often and long in secret prayer? It seems there can be but one answer. It is because so few have a relish for such prayer and find enjoyment in it. Men usually engage in that which they enjoy. When Christians get into the secrets of private prayer they find in it the highest joy of which the human soul is capable. Then no other place is so dear to them as their place of retirement; and no other comfort is so sweet as that which they there receive. Alas! secret prayer is a dull irksome duty to more than a few. It need not be so. Out of the fullness of our heart, we can sing that old familiar hymn:
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care
And bids me at my Father's throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter's snare
By your return, sweet hour of prayer.
God designed the place of secret communion with him to be the nearest approach that a mortal could make to Heaven. It is the place where souls take on the image of God; the place where the smile of the Lord leaves its imprint on the heart. It is the place where shadows pass away, and beams of light from the glory world peacefully steal over the soul. A few moments spent in prayer make us more like God.
Is it not true, that too few of God's children find sensible enjoyment in the hour of prayer? The world can sit for hours and tell of their pleasures and enjoyments but how much have Christians to tell of the pleasures they find in a life of prayer? They can say that they find happiness in God but can they tell the time when and the place where they found such blessedness in prayer? Can they talk of it, relating incident after incident of pleasurable communion with the Lord? Alas! too few can talk about the joy they find in their private devotions. They have but little to tell of their friendship with Jesus and very little in their life to indicate that they find delights in companionship with God. Many hearts find more struggle, more dullness, more weariness, more difficulties, and less enjoyment in secret prayer than in all their religious life beside. But it should be the place of freedom, of rest, of repose, of joy!
That disciple who leaned on Jesus' bosom says, "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write unto you that your joy may be full." Fellowship is companionship, such as the loving heart of the little child, and the loving heart of the father have as the little one lies upon his parent's bosom. Fellowship is familiar fellowship, such as congenial friends may enjoy. Fellowship is communion. When we have fellowship with God then it is that we have fullness of joy. It is not animation or personal enthusiasm or human sensibility but a thrill of heavenly joy as the living soul comes in touch with the living God!
The soul is as capable of experiencing delight, as the human nature. The inexpressible happiness that the young wife feels in the husband's embrace, is analogous to that bliss which thrills the soul in the embrace of its Beloved. Joy belongs to the Christian life; joy is a fruit of the Spirit. There cannot be Christian life, without joy. It is one of the constituents of heavenly life. In secret prayer, this joy reaches its flood-tide. The act of faith that makes Jesus our personal Savior, our close friend, our bosom companion causes us to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
The blessedness of prayer cannot be told in words. When the soul is upborne on the wings of prayer it has a sweet abstraction from the concerns of the world and is filled with a sense of being at home with God. Satan will try to keep us back from a full abandonment to the will of God, and an entrance into a close and deep intimacy with him the enemy suggesting that at some future time we may have a wish that God will not be willing to grant, or that we may want to follow some pleasing way but shall be forbidden. But if we would have the fullness of joy and the deepest union with God there must be a blindfolding to all the future, and a perfect yielding of all into his hands for all time to come, with a passionate desire for his will to be done.
Do not fear; do not shrink; his way is best. We need to become reckless, so to speak and cast ourselves adrift on the will of God.
In speaking of those who had joined themselves to the Lord to serve him and love his name, the prophet says, "Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer." It is one thing to talk about the blessedness of prayer but quite another to experience that blessedness. With too many, secret prayer is a dull irksome duty. Such people find it difficult to engage the heart in fervent, earnest communion with God. Doubtless seasons of dullness come to all but these seasons should not, and need not, be of long continuance. There should often be seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Keep your will in harmony with the divine will, walk with God in all his ways and you will receive copious refreshing showers showers that will make your heart like a watered garden.
What benefit did you receive from your secret prayer this morning? Did you talk with Jesus face to face, and feel his love warming your heart? Did you hear his voice, and have a vision of his loveliness? Too many get no more from their prayers, than the satisfying of the convictions of conscience. They think that they must pray but, oh, how dull, irksome, and uninviting! I do not mean to chide you but I long to help you.
Prayer has many sides. It has a side of privilege, a side of duty, a side of necessity. You should understand fully that prayer is an absolute necessity. You should pray because it is necessary not simply because you enjoy prayer. You cannot live a Christian life without praying; therefore it is a duty to pray. But it is such a duty as can be of fullest, purest joy. God has so designed.
The prayer of the upright is God's delight, and it is also the Christian's delight. When you find no enjoyment in eating you know that something is wrong. Should this continue but a few meals, you become concerned and search for the cause and the remedy.
Just so, there is a cause for lack of enjoyment in prayer. One cause, and I believe the principal one, is because there is so little praying. To enjoy prayer, one must pray much. A person can neglect prayer, until he gets into a low spiritual state, and then he will have no appetite for it and will find no enjoyment in it. What shall such a one do? Go to praying regularly, and taking time for prayer. He will find his appetite for prayer and enjoyment in it increasing each day.
But when he decides to do more praying, he will find all manner of difficulties in the way. The devil will try in every way to hinder him. We would not find it nearly so difficult to pray if there were no devil. He does not want God and his children to find enjoyment in association, for he knows that in enjoyment there is power. The joy of the Lord, is the Christian's strength. When God's children begin to find a blessedness in prayer, Satan knows that his kingdom is in danger. He will cast a feeling of indifference over you; he will call your attention to the many duties of life, and tell you that amid these duties, you have no time for prayer. He will make it appear most reasonable and make you feel that way. He will present subjects of thought, very pleasant subjects, and so innocent, so attractive, so fascinating. It is very hard to dismiss them but very agreeable to entertain them. You find, however, that they savor a little of the flesh, of the world and wean the affections from God.
To overcome this obstacle, faith in God is needed. This is the victory that overcomes the world, and also the devil even our faith. A bold, undaunted and yet childlike faith in God, will bring a hope to the soul, and that hope will give to the duty of prayer a vital principle that will make it a power and a joy.
What is to be gained by prayer? "Ask, and you shall receive." "What things soever you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them." We can have all that we need through prayer. We can have eternal life. We can have Heaven. Since so much can be gained by prayer surely if we have faith, prayer will be an important factor in life and will be a joy. A man who has his heart set upon gaining a home for himself and family, will toil and endure hardships and difficulties and do so hopefully and joyfully. His desire for the object to be gained, and his love for his family make a duty a privilege. Likewise our hope of gaining Heaven, and the love we have for Jesus will surely give joy to the duty of prayer.
Prayer becomes an instinct of the soul at conversion but as we grow in spiritual knowledge, we may in a measure lose that instinct (the more intelligent creatures are the less instinct they have) and come to regard prayer as a duty such an important one, however, that it becomes a business full of activity, power, and enjoyment.
Have faith in God when you pray. Make him real to you. Know when you kneel to pray, that your feeble voice is going to be heard in Heaven, and is going to have power with God, and bring you that for which you need and ask for. Faith will make prayer hopeful and joyful. As we bow upon our knees and by faith see God in his great love and care for us and readiness to hear our supplication the affections of our heart are aroused, causing us to love him with an intensity that makes the hour of communion with him, both sacred and delightful.
"My God, is any hour so sweet,
From blush of morn to evening star,
As that which calls me to your feet
The hour of prayer?
Blessed is the tranquil hour of morn
And blessed that hour of solemn eve
When on the wings of prayer upborne,
The world I leave.
Then is my strength, by you renewed,
Buoyancy to my hopes is given;
Then do you cheer my solitude
With light from Heaven.
No words can tell what sweet relief
There for my every need I find,
What strength for warfare, balm for grief,
What peace of mind.
Hushed is each doubt, gone every fear;
My spirit seems in Heaven to stay.
It is the hour when every tear
Is wiped away.
Lord, until I reach that blissful shore,
No privilege so dear shall be
As thus my inmost soul to pour
In prayer to thee!"
What Others Have Said About Prayer
Prayer moves the hand that moves the world. J. A. Wallace.
True prayer is an earnest soul's direct converse with its God. T. L. Cuyler.
Prayer in its simplest definition, is merely a wish turned Godward. Phillips Brooks.
The life of prayer is a life whose litanies are ever fresh acts of self-devoting love. F. W. Robertson.
Prayer is the pulse of the renewed soul; and the constancy of its beat is the test and measure of the spiritual life. Octavius Winslow.
The best and sweetest flowers of paradise God gives to his people when they are upon their knees! Prayer is the gate of Heaven. Thomas Brooks.
Expect an answer. If no answer is expected, why pray? True prayer has in it a strong element of expectancy. R. M. Afford.
The reason why we obtain no more in prayer, is because we expect no more. God usually answers us according to our own hearts. Richard Alleine.
Trouble and perplexity drive one to prayer and prayer drives away perplexity and trouble. Melanchthon.
There is no such thing in the long history of God's kingdom, as an unanswered prayer. Every true desire from a Christian's heart, finds some true answer in the heart of God. Norman Macleod.
When we pray for any virtue, we should cultivate the virtue as well as pray for it. The form of your prayers should be the rule of your life; every petition to God is a precept to man. Jeremy Taylor.
I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about, me seemed insufficient for that day. Abraham Lincoln.
Whatever we are directed to pray for, we are also exhorted to work for. We are not permitted to mock Jehovah, asking that of him which we deem not worth our pains to acquire. E. L. Magoon.
Prayer is the instrument for obtaining all the graces which stream down upon us from that divine fount of goodness and love. By prayer, you will put a sword into the hand of God, that he might fight and conquer for you. Lorenzo Scupoli.
Without a strong desire arising out of a conscious necessity, there can be nothing more than the form of prayer which differs from real prayer as a lifeless body does from a real man. C. A. Van Anda.
Who is there that does not feel that he needs more grace? Then ask for it. Be constant and persistent in your asking. Be importunate and untiring in your asking. God delights to have us shameless beggars in this direction. R. A. Torrey.
Whoever knew an eminently holy man who did not spend much of his time in prayer? Did ever a man exhibit much of the spirit of prayer who did not devote much of his time to his closet? No great degree of holiness was ever gained, by one who did not take time to be often and long alone with God. Austin Phelps.
The holiest people of the earth today are the people who pray. I do not mean the people who talk about prayer, nor those who say they believe in prayer, nor yet those who can explain about prayer; but I mean those people who actually take time and pray. Gordon.
Prayer is not eloquence but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness but the feeling of it; not figures of speech but compunction of soul. Hannah Moore.
There is nothing about which a young Christian should be more anxious than maintaining the spirit, the love, and the practice of private prayer; and nothing which should more seriously alarm him than any disposition to neglect it. John Angel James.
There is not a moment which cannot be freighted with prayer. Wm. Mountford.
How can we expect to enjoy a sense of the friendship of a present Savior, if we never linger in prayer, to freshen and intensify our thoughts of him? Austin Phelps.
The day we do not seek and obtain God's leading will be a day of failure to us. The day we go forth without prayer for divine blessing, when we do not lay our hand in Christ's as we go out into the great world is a day of uncertainty to us. J. R. Miller.
I find in my own case, that the principal cause of my leanness and unfruitfulness is owing to an unaccountable backwardness to pray. I can write or read or converse or hear with a ready will; but prayer is more spiritual and internal than any of these and the more spiritual any duty is, the greater the cost and labor to perform it. John Newton.
Religiously, a man is what his heart is before the mercy-seat. If love to God and faith in Christ draws him there, and holds him there he is a child of the Highest, an heir of Heaven. If seldom or never there, or if, when he is there his heart is somewhere else has he a right to regard himself as anything but an alien? Piety without prayer is a paradox. Prayer without faith is impious. A. C. Thompson.
Never wonder that men pray so seldom. For there are very few who feel the relish, and are enticed with the deliciousness, and refreshed with the comforts, and acquainted with the secrets of a holy prayer. The Still Hour.
The Christian on the whole will do more praying in private, than in public. If it be not more secret than public, more hidden than open he ought to doubt whether he does not pray to be seen of men rather than heard of God. Secret prayer is the fountain of all other prayer. Where there is no habit of private communion with God there will be no earnestness and power in public prayer. There may be noise but noise is not power. Adam Clarke.
Prayer should be just what one feels, just what one thinks, just what one needs; and it should stop the moment it ceases to be the real expression of the need, the thought, and the feeling. Beecher.
To lift our hearts to God in prayer
Promotes an inward work of grace;
It sets us free from earthly care
And brings us to behold his face.
Unceasing prayer brings us so near
To God in sweetest love,
Transfers our minds from things of earth
To brighter things above.
And he who would advance in grace,
Who would Christ's image wear,
Must oft behold his smiling face
In humble, pleading prayer!
He who is in the state of continual prayer continually lives and acts for God. The state of continual prayer is a fixed state, a disposition. It is the affections going out to God and attached to him, in consequence of faith being at the bottom of it, by a permanent law. It is the heart which is man's moral center, praying wholly and praying always. Such a prayer therefore necessarily commands the outward life. It is impossible to separate them. With a heart that is continually praying there is and must be a life continually acting; the one corresponding to the other. Upham.
In prayer, we draw nearer to Deity and feel that we belong to him. We rise on the wings of prayer, above all that is worthless and perishable, and become greater, yes, more godlike as we do so. We distinguish more clearly between what is everlasting and what is perishable; between what is real and what is mere appearance. We see the whole universe in a new light. Heavenly joy thrills through us. This is the power, this is the effect of drawing near unto God. Zschokke.
The oldest and wisest of us must be as little children in our communion with a prayer-hearing God. No errand to that mercy-seat is too trivial to lead our footsteps there. We may connect all the issues of life with the control of that overruling will. We may put our hand in that paternal Hand no matter how narrow the chasm, how gentle the activity and look truthfully and hopefully for that availing guidance. Ah! if we could learn this lesson of filial trust at every step of our way along our earthly pilgrimage no matter how steep or rough or obscure the path it would guide us safely and surely home to our Father's house! A. L. Stone.
Prayer is so mighty an instrument, that no one ever thoroughly mastered all its keys. They sweep along the infinite scale of man's needs and God's goodness. Hugh Miller.
Prayer is the breath of the soul. J. W. Phelps.
Prayer brings God and man together. It is the means through which the soul has recourse to, and communion with, its Creator. Elsie E. Egermeier.
There is in a prayer, a power that reaches the very heart of God and causes the gentle showers of his rich grace to fall upon the waiting soul. E. Faith Stewart.
Prayer is the wings of the soul with which it takes its flight to the throne of grace! It is the sweet incense which ascends to the God of all creation. D. Meyer.
Prayer mingled with faith, brings . . .
salvation to the sinner,
healing to the sick,
joy to the sorrowful, and
hope to the discouraged.
Prayer . . .
causes the enemy to flee,
unlocks the great treasure-house of the Lord,
opens the windows of Heaven, and
brings down showers of blessings upon the humble Christian.
E. E. Byrum
Pluck a lily, and because of its no longer receiving nourishment from the plant it loses its fragrance and soon withers and dies. Prayer is the means by which we receive nourishment to our souls. Cease praying, and the result will be a loss of spiritual fragrance, decay, and death. Blanche Millhorn.
Prayer is that communion of the soul with God, in which the former is confident of the divine love. A. L. Byers.
Prayer has been likened to a key. Such, indeed, it is a key to God's great storehouse; a key to the unsearchable riches of Christ. With it we can obtain all that we need for soul or body. Let us freely use this wonderful key! J. W. Lowder.
Prayer is face to face communion with God the outpouring of the sincere desire of the heart. It is also one of the channels through which God makes known His will to us and through which we express our gratitude to him. Eva Johnson.
"My Father is rich in houses and lands,
He holds the wealth of this world in his hands;
Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,
His coffers are full; he has riches untold!"
Prayer is the key which unlocks God's "coffers" and gives us access to His "riches untold." Nellie R. Robinson.
Prayer is the substance of spiritual life the breathing of the immortal soul. It is the Christian's sweet, simple, trustful conversation with its heavenly Father. Prayer sweetens the most bitter cup of human life, and causes the light of Heaven to burst through the darkest cloud. Nellie R. Robinson.
Prayer is a devotional expression of the heart, and, like the rising of incense ascends to the throne of grace, imploring mercy, seeking help, or giving vent to the soul in praise and thanksgiving. It may be spoken in audible tones, or it may be a whisper a gentle breathing of the desire of the heart, or a fervent thought sending a petition to him who is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." E. E. Byrum.
A prayer from a humble, earnest, believing, obedient soul is never unavailing. It reaches God. Just as sure as God exists so sure will he respect such a prayer. His word says so and it can never fail. J. W. Lowder.
Through the avenue of prayer, God and man communicate with each other. This communication is not one-sided; man speaks to God and God speaks to man. Hazel D. Soules.
Prayer is the path that leads us home to God. It develops the immortal part of our being. Through it, we can know God better and can grow to be more like him. By it, we are better fitted for his presence and for enjoyment with him eternally. Prayer expands the inner spirit-being of man, and brings him into contact with the widest possible range of heavenly things. O child of God, push forth to the utmost every tentacle of your heart to embrace the things of God, so that you may be wiser, stronger, and deeper experienced in the kingdom of grace and thus bear in your life, more of the power and beauty and fragrance of the glory world. Through prayer the vision of the soul becomes clearer and keener, and beholds new scenes, new glories, and new perfections in Heaven. As it beholds these, it receives the radiance of these heavenly glories and is transformed more into the image of things in the world of light. Thus prayer leads us Godward and prepares us for the eternal home!