How Prayer Helps us
Prayer's best help is not in the earthly good things it gets for us from God. These are blessings indeed — but there are better things than these in prayer's storehouses for us. Oft-times there is greater benefit in God's denial — than there would have been in his granting what we sought. We have not begun to learn the meaning or to appreciate the privilege of prayer, if we ask only for things which our body needs, things for the comfort of our physical life — for health, for plenty, for friends, for success.
This is only John Bunyan's story of the man with the muck-rake over again — with weary pain, gathering up the rubbish of the dust, not seeing the crown which hangs above our head. Jesus taught the great lesson in a single sentence when he said, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." With undivided heart and singleness of quest, we are to seek the things of God, and then the promise is that he will look after the supplying of our earthly need.
The same lesson is taught in the Lord's Prayer, which, we should remember, Jesus gave the disciples in answer to their request that he would teach them how to pray. Instead of beginning with requests for earthly things, the first three petitions are for the hallowing of God's name, the coming of his kingdom, and the doing of his will. Not until we come to the latter half of this divine model of prayer, are we led to ask for anything for ourselves. Then we have the petitions for daily bread — only enough, however, for the one day; for the forgiveness of sins; and for deliverance in temptation.
When we do come to pray for ourselves, it is not the mere earthly side of our life which should first concern us. The deepest yearning of our heart, should be for spiritual growth, that our life may be conformed to the will of God. This should be our first object indeed in everything we do.
We are not in this world simply to make a living — but to build a life. We are not here primarily to do good farming or carpentering or housekeeping, or to be a good business man or a successful physician, or to do any kind of work well. These things are all right and important in their place, and we are to put our life into our calling whatever it is, and do our very best in it. But our earthly vocation is only the scaffolding — the real life is that which rises within. We are here to grow into Christly manhood.
So in prayer the first thing is not to have our physical needs supplied — a far more important matter is to grow in spiritual life. We go to God to get grace from him, that we may be strong and that our life may be enriched. An old promise says: "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."
"Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in your presence will avail to make,
What heavy burdens from our bosom take,
What parched grounds refresh, as with a shower!
We kneel, and all around us seems to lower;
We rise, and all the distant and the near,
Stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear;
We kneel how weak — we rise how full of power!"
True prayer promotes holiness of heart and life. When we have looked into God's face, even for a brief season — we cannot be altogether as we were before. We cannot go back into the world — and be again like the world. We cannot return to the follies and sins which we committed yesterday so easily. We have seen God, and this puts a new reverence into our soul, and sets our life apart to a new sacredness. Having looked into the face of Christ there are new visions in our soul. We have caught a glimpse of higher things, and there is instilled in us a new longing to reach them. Thus true prayer ever uplifts the heart and life. We should always be holier, even after a few moments with our Master.
No day is well begun, which is not begun with Christ. When during an engagement Wellington had given one of his officers a perilous duty to perform, the officer held out his hand to his commander, saying, "Let me have the clasp of your all-conquering hand before I go," and then went forth bravely to fulfill his command.
Just so, as we go into any new day, we need the clasp of the Master's hand to inspire and nerve us for the tasks, the duties, the struggles and the dangers of the day. This is one of the ways prayer helps us. The morning devotions, if they are really talks with Jesus — make us braver, stronger and truer, for the whole day. For not only do we thus begin the day with Christ — but we then take Him with us from our closet of prayer, into all the day's paths and experiences. We need never to be a moment away from His side, unless we sinfully leave Him to go forth into some path of wandering of our own choosing.
These are suggestions of the way true prayer helps us. It brings Christ into all our life. It holds us continually under the power of his grace. It inspires us ever to seek better things. It makes us strong for duty and struggle. It sweetens our spirit, it cheers us for the roughest way, it helps us to be victorious over all that would hinder or hurt us.