“God wondered.” This is a very striking thought! The very boldness of the idea ought surely to arrest the attention of every earnest Christian man, woman and child. A wondering God! Why, how staggered we might well be if we knew the cause of God’s “wonder”! Yet we find it to be, apparently, a very little thing. But if we are willing to consider the matter carefully, we shall discover it to be one of the greatest possible importance to every believer on the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing else is so momentous – so vital – to our spiritual welfare.
God “wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 59:16)–“none to interpose” (R.V., margin) But this was in the days of long ago, before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ “full of grace and truth” – before the outpouring of holy spirit, full of grace and power, “helping our infirmity,” “...itself making intercession for us” and in us (Romans 8:26). Yes, and before the truly amazing promises of our Savior regarding prayer. Before men knew very much about prayer; in the days when sacrifices for their sins loomed larger in their eyes than supplication for other sinners.
Oh, how great must be God’s wonder today! For how few there are among us who know what prevailing prayer really is! Every one of us would confess that we believe in prayer, yet how many of us truly believe in the power of prayer? Now, before we go a step further, may the writer most earnestly implore you not to read hurriedly what is contained in these chapters. Much – very much – depends upon the way in which every reader receives what is here recorded. For everything depends upon prayer.
Why are many Christians so often defeated? Because they pray so little. Why are many church workers so often discouraged and disheartened? Because they pray so little. Why do most men see so few brought “out of darkness to light” by their ministry? Because they pray so little. Why are not our churches simply on fire for God? Because there is so little real prayer. The Lord Jesus is as powerful today as ever before. The Lord Jesus is as anxious for men to be saved as ever before. His arm is not shortened that it cannot save: but, He cannot stretch forth His arm unless we pray more – and more really. We may be assured of this – the secret of all failure is our failure in secret prayer.
If God “wondered” in the days of Isaiah, we need not be surprised to find that in the days of His flesh our Lord “marveled.” He marveled at the unbelief of some – unbelief which actually prevented Him from doing many mighty work in their cities (Mark 6:6). But, we must remember that those who were guilty of this unbelief saw no beauty in Him that they should desire Him, or believe on Him. What then must His “marvel” be today, when He sees amongst us who do truly love and adore Him, so few who really “stir themselves up to take hold of God” (Isaiah 64:7). Surely there is nothing so absolutely astonishing as a practically prayerless Christian? These are eventful and ominous days. In fact, there are many evidences that these are “the last days” in which God promised to pour out His spirit – the spirit of supplication – upon all flesh (Joel 2:28).
Yet the vast majority of professing Christians scarcely know what “supplication” means; and very many of our churches not only have no prayer meeting, but sometimes unblushingly condemn such meetings, and even ridicule them. The Church of England, recognizing the importance of worship and prayer, expects her clergy to read prayers in Church every morning and evening. But when this is done, is it not often in an empty church? And are not the prayers frequently raced through at a pace which precludes real worship? “Common prayer,” too, often must necessarily be rather vague and indefinite. And what of those churches where the old-fashioned weekly prayer-meeting is retained? Would not “weakly” be the more appropriate word? C. H. Spurgeon had the joy of being able to say that he conducted a prayer-meeting every Monday night, “which scarcely ever numbered less than from a thousand to twelve hundred attendants.”
My brothers, have we ceased to believe in prayer? If you still hold your weekly gathering for prayer, is it not a fact that the very great majority of your church members never come near it? Yes, and never even think of coming near it. Why is this? Whose fault is it? [This is fault-finding.] Only a prayer-meeting”– how often have we heard the utterance? How many of those reading these words really enjoy a prayer-meeting? Is it a joy or just a duty? Please forgive me for asking so many questions and for pointing out what appears to be a perilous weakness and a lamentable shortcoming in our churches. We are not out to criticize – far less to condemn. Anybody can do that. Our yearning desire is to stir up Christians “to take hold of” God, as never before. We wish to encourage, to enhearten, to uplift.
We are never so high as when we are on our knees. Criticize? Who dare not criticize one another? When we look back upon the past and remember how much prayerlessness there has been in our own lives, words of criticism of others wither away on the lips. But, we believe the time has come when a clarion call to the individual and to the Church is needed – a call to prayer. Now, dare we face this question of prayer? It seems a foolish query, for is not prayer a part and parcel of all religions? Yet we venture to ask our readers to look at this matter fairly and squarely. Do I really believe the power of prayer? Isn't prayer the greatest power on Earth, or is it not? Does prayer indeed “move the Hand that moves the world”?
Do God’s prayer-commands really concern Me? Do the promises of God concerning prayer still hold true? We have all been muttering “Yes – Yes – Yes” as we read these questions. We dare not say “No” to any one of them. And yet, has it ever occurred to you that our Lord never gave an unnecessary or an optional command? Do we really believe that our Lord never made a promise, which He couldn't, or wouldn't, keep? Our Saviour’s three great commands for definite action were: Pray ye! – Do this! – Go ye! Are we obeying Him? How often His command, “Do this“ is reiterated by our preachers, today! One might almost think it was His only command! How seldom we are reminded of His bidding to “Pray Ye” and to “Go Ye.” Yet, without obedience to the “Pray Ye,” it is of little or no use at all either to “Do this” or to “Go Ye.” In fact, it can easily be shown that all want of success, and all failure in the spiritual life and in Christian work, is due to defective or insufficient prayer.
Unless we pray aright we cannot live aright or serve aright. This may appear, at first sight, to be a gross exaggeration but, the more we think it over in the light of scripture, the more convinced we are be of the truth of this statement.
Now, as we begin once more to see what the Bible has to say about this mysterious and wonderful subject, shall we endeavor to read some of our Lord’s promises, as though we had never heard them before. What will the effect be? Some twenty years ago the writer was studying in a Theological College. One morning, early, a fellow student – who is today one of England’s foremost missionaries –burst into the room holding an open Bible in his hands. Although, he was preparing for Holy Orders, he was at that time only a young convert to Christ.
He had gone up to the University “caring for none of these things.” Popular, clever, athletic – he had already won a place among the smart set of his college, when Christ claimed him. He accepted the Lord Jesus as a personal Saviour, and became a very keen follower of his Master. The Bible was, comparatively, a new book to him, and as a result he was constantly making “discoveries.” On that memorable day on which he invaded my quietude he cried excitedly – his face all aglow with mingled joy and surprise – “Do you believe this? Is it really true?” “Believe what?” I asked, glancing at the open Bible with some astonishment. “Why, this –“and he read in eager tones.(Matthew 21: 21, 22): “If ye have faith and doubt not...all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall have them." Do you believe it? Is it true?” “Yes,” I replied, with much surprise at his excitement, “of course it’s true – of course I believe it.”
Yet, through my mind there flashed all manner of thoughts! “Well, that’s a very wonderful promise,” said he. “It seems to me to be absolutely limitless! Why don’t we pray more?” And he went away, leaving me thinking hard. I had never looked at those verses quite in that way. As the door closed upon that eager young follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, I had a vision of my Saviour and His love and His power such as I never had before. I had a vision of a life of prayer – yes, and “limitless” power, which I saw depended upon two things ONLY– faith and prayer. For the moment I was thrilled. I fell on my knees, and as I bowed before the Lord, thoughts surged through my mind – what hopes and aspirations flooded my soul! God was speaking to me in an extraordinary way. This was a great call to prayer. But, – to my shame I did not heed the call.
Where did I fail? True, I prayed a little more than before, but nothing much seemed to happen. Why? Was it because I did not see what a high standard the Saviour requires in the inner life of those who would pray successfully? Was it because I had failed to measure up in my life to the “perfect love” standard so beautifully described in 1st Corinthians Chapter 13? For after all, prayer is not just putting into action good resolutions “to pray.” Like David, we need to cry, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” Psalm 51:10). Before we can pray aright. And the inspired words of the Apostle of Love need to be heeded today as much as ever before: “Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and [then] whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him”(1John 3:21).
“True – and I believe it.” Yes, indeed, it is a limitless promise, and yet how little we realize it, how little we claim it from Christ. And our Lord “marvels” at our unbelief. But, if we could only read the Gospels for the first time, what an amazing book it would seem! Should not we “marvel” and “wonder”? And today I pass on that great call to you. Will you give heed to it? Will you profit by it? Or shall it fall on deaf ears and leave you prayerless?
Fellow-Christians, let us awake! The devil is blinding our eyes. He is endeavoring to prevent us from facing this question of prayer. These pages are written by special request. But it is many months since that request came. [Every attempt to begin to write has been frustrated, and even now one is conscious of a strange reluctance to do so. There seems to be some mysterious power restraining the hand. Do we realize that there is nothing the devil dreads so much as prayer? His great concern is to keep us from praying. He loves to see us “up to our eyes” in work – provided we do not pray. He does not fear because we are eager and earnest Bible students – provided we are little in prayer. Someone has wisely said, [“Satan laughs at our toiling, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”] All this is so familiar to us – but, do we really pray? If not, then failure must dog our footsteps, whatever signs of apparent success there may be.
Let us never forget that the greatest thing we can do for God or for man is to pray. For we can accomplish far more by our prayers than by our works. Prayer is omnipotent; it can do anything that God can do! When we pray, God works. All fruitfulness in service is the outcome of prayer – of the worker’s prayers, or of those who are holding up holy hands on his behalf. We all know how to pray, but perhaps many of us need to cry as the disciples did of old, “Lord teach us to pray.” “O Lord Jesus, by Whom we come to God, The Life, The Truth, The Way, The Path of prayer Thyself hast trod; Lord, teach us now to pray.”
ALMOST INCREDIBLE PROMISES
“When we stand with Christ in glory, looking o’er life’s finished story,” the most amazing feature of that life as it is looked back upon will be its prayerlessness. We shall be almost beside ourselves with astonishment that we spent so little time in real intercession. It will be our turn to “wonder.”
In our Lord’s last discourse to His loved ones, just before the most wonderful of all prayers, the Master again and again held out His kingly, golden scepter and said, as it were, “What is your request? It shall be granted unto you, even unto the whole of My kingdom!” Do we believe this? We must do so if we believe our Bibles. Shall we just read over very quietly and thoughtfully one of our Lord’s promises, reiterated so many times? If we had never read them before, we should open our eyes in bewilderment, for these promises are almost incredible. From the lips of any mere man they would be quite unbelievable. But it is the Lord of heaven and earth Who speaks; and He is speaking at the most solemn moment of His life. It is the eve of His death and passion. It is a farewell message. Now listen!
"Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, that will I do."(John 4: 13,14).
Now, could any words be plainer or clearer than these? Could any promise be greater or grander? Has anyone else, anywhere, at any time, ever offered so much? How staggered those disciples must have been! Surely they could scarcely believe their own ears. But, that promise is made also to you and to me. And, lest there should be any mistake on their part, or on ours, our Lord repeats Himself a few moments afterwards. Yes, and the Holy Spirit bids St. John record those words again. “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be My disciples”. (John 15: 7,8)
These words are of such grave importance, and so momentous, that the Saviour of the world is not content even with a threefold utterance of them. He urges His disciples to obey His command to “ask the Father in my name.”(John 15:16) In fact, He tells them that one sign of their being His “friends” will be the obedience to His commands in all things (John 15: 14). Then, He once more repeats His wishes: “Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, in My name, He may give it you.”(John 15:16)
One would think that our Lord had now made it plain enough that He wanted them to pray; that He needed their prayers and that without prayer they could accomplish nothing. But, to our intense surprise He returns again to the same subject, saying very much the same words.
“In that day ye shall ask nothing of me” “Verily, verily I say unto you, if ye ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in My name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled”.(John 16: 23,24)
Never before had our Lord laid such stress on any promise or command – never! This truly marvelous promise is given us six times over. Six times, almost in the same breath our Savior commands us to ask whatsoever we will. This is the greatest – the most wonderful – promise ever made to man. Yet most Christians practically ignore it! The exceeding greatness of the promise seems to overwhelm us. Yet, we know that He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us”.(Ephesians 3:20)KJV
So Jesus gives the final exhortation, before His arrest, scourging and crucifixion, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name...for the Father, Himself, loveth you”(John 16:26). We have often spent much time in reflecting upon our Lord’s seven words from the cross, and it is well we should. However, it would be far better, to meditate upon His sevenfold invitation to pray. Today, He sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high and bids us to appropriate the blessings, “according to the riches of His glory,” that we may “be strengthened with might, by His Spirit in the inner man.”(Ephesians 3: 16) The secret is that our strength, our joy, our fruitfulness depends upon answered prayer.
And yet we allow the devil to persuade us to neglect prayer! He makes us believe that we can do more by our own efforts than by our prayers, by politics rather than by intercession with God. It passes one’s comprehension that so little heed should be given to our Lord’s sevenfold invitation. How dare we work for Christ without being much on our knees? Quite recently an earnest Christian “worker” – a Sunday school teacher and communicant – wrote me, saying, “I have never had an answer to prayer in all my life.” But why? Is God a liar? Is not God trustworthy? Do His promises count for nothing? Does He not mean what He says? And, doubtless there are many reading these words who in their hearts are saying the same thing as that Christian worker. If we would do much for God, we must ask much of God: we must be men and women of prayer. If our prayers are not answered–always answered, but not necessarily granted–the fault must be entirely in ourselves, and not in God. [This is fault-finding] God delights to answer prayer; and He has given us His Word, that He will answer. He desires that ask and ask much. He tells us that we glorify God by asking much! Nothing is beyond the scope of prayer which is not beyond the will of God and God’s willingness is always equal to His ability.[Effectual prayer is based upon asking for a specific thing and asking for it to be delivered by a specific time.] [Tell God exactly what you want and by when!] Specify the color, dimensions and condition of the thing prayed for! Just as if you were ordering a product off of the internet.]
We dare not say God’s Word is untrue, even though few Christians really seem to believe it. What holds us back from prayer? What keeps us off our knees? Do we doubt Jesus' love? He gave His life for us and to us. Do we doubt the Father’s love? When urging His disciples to pray, Jesus said, “The Father, Himself loveth you”.(John 14:21 Do we doubt God’s power? Jesus also said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and on Earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations...and I am with you always even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Do we doubt His judgment? His choice for us? His wisdom? Yet, so few of His followers consider prayer really worthwhile, of course, they would deny it. But, actions speak louder than words. Are we afraid to put God to the test? He has instructed us to do so! “Bring ye all the tithes into the store-house, that there may be meat in mine house. And prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing such that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”(Malachi 3:10) Whenever God makes us a promise, let us boldly say, “I believe God.”(Acts 27:25) and trust Him to keep His Word.
Shall we begin today to be men and women of prayer? Let us not put it off for a more convenient time. God wants us to pray. Our dear Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, wants us to pray. So much so, that everything depends upon prayer. Why hold back? Just ask yourselves the question: “If no one on earth prayed for the salvation of sinners more fervently or more frequently than I do, how many of them would be converted to God through prayer? Do we spend ten minutes a day in prayer? Do we consider it important enough to do at least that? Ten minutes a day?
When the Kingdom of God can be had for the asking? Ten minutes? It seems so inadequate a portion of our time, to spend in taking hold of God! God has given us His Word that He will answer! He always answers every real prayer of faith! “How often do you pray?” This was the question put to a Christian woman. She replied, “Three times a day, and all the day beside,” was the quick reply. But how many are there like that? Is prayer to me just a duty, or is it a privilege, a pleasure, a real joy, a necessity? Let us get a fresh vision of Christ in all His glory, and a fresh glimpse of all the “riches of His glory” which He places at our disposal, and of all the mighty power given unto Him. Then let us get a fresh vision of the world and all its needs. And the world was never so needy as it is today.
Why, the wonder is not that we pray so little, but that we can ever get up from our knees if we realize our own need; the needs of our home and our loved ones; the needs of our pastor and the Church; the needs of our city, our country, of the unsaved living without Christ. All these needs can be met by the riches of God in Christ Jesus. St Paul had no doubt about this – nor have we. Yes! “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory, in Christ Jesus”.(Phillipians 4:19) But to share His riches we must pray, for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him.(Romans 10:12) So great is the importance of prayer, that God has taken care to anticipate all the excuses or objections we may be likely to make. Men plead their weakness or infirmity – or they declare they do not know how to pray. God foresaw this inability long ages ago. Di He not inspire St. Paul to say: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity, for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is in the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God”.(Romans 8:26,27)
Yes. Every provision is made for us. But only the Holy Spirit can “stir us up” to take hold of God.” And if we will but yield ourselves to the Spirit’s promptings we shall most assuredly follow the example of the apostles of old, who “gave themselves to prayer,” and “continued steadfastly in prayer”(Acts 4:4). We may work for Christ from morning until night; we may spend much time in Bible study; we may be most earnest and faithful and “acceptable” in our preaching and in our individual dealing, but none of these things can be truly effective unless we are much in prayer. We shall only be full of good works; and not “bearing fruit in every good work”(Colossians 1:10). To be little with God in prayer is to be little for God in service. Much secret prayer means much public power. If you wonder why the Revival delays, there is only one thing that can delay it, our lack of prayer. All Revivals have been the outcome of prayer. One sometimes longs for the voice of an archangel, but what would that avail if the voice of Christ Himself does not stir us up to pray? It seems almost impertinence for any man to take up the cry when our Savior has put forth His “limitless” promises. Yet we feel that something should be done, and we believe that the Holy Spirit is prompting men to remind themselves and others of Christ’s words and power. No words of mine can impress men with the value of prayer, the need of prayer, and the omnipotence of prayer. But these utterances go forth steeped in prayer that the Holy Spirit will convict Christian men and women of the sin of prayerlessness, and drive them to call upon God day and night in burning, believing, prevailing intercession! Our Lord Jesus, who is now, seated in the heavenlies, beseeches us to claim the riches of His grace.
No one should prescribe for another how long a time he ought to spend in prayer, nor do we suggest that any should make a vow to pray so many minutes or hours a day. Of course, the Bible's command is to “Pray without ceasing.” This of course can only be done through perfect prayer or praying in the spirit, but it also refers to the attitude of one’s life. Here we are speaking of definite conscious acts of intercession. Have you ever timed your prayers? We believe that most of us would be amazed and confounded if they did time themselves!
Some years ago I faced this prayer question. I felt that for myself, at least, one hour a day was the minimum time that I should spend in prayer. Carefully, I noted down each day, a record of my prayer life. Later, I met a working-man who was being much used of God, when I asked him to what chiefly he attributed his success, he replied, “Well, I could not get on without at least 2 hours a day of private prayer.” Then there came across my path a spirit-filled missionary from overseas, who told very humbly of the wonderful things God was doing through his ministry. One could see all along that God was given all the praise and all the glory. “I find it necessary, often-times, to spend four hours a day in prayer,” said this missionary.
And we remember how the Greatest Missionary of all used sometimes to spend whole nights in prayer. Why? Our blessed Lord did not pray simply as an example. He prayed because He needed to pray. If prayer was a necessity to the only perfect man, how much more is it a necessity to you and me? “Four hours a day in prayer!” exclaimed a man who is giving his whole life to Christian work as a medical missionary. “Four hours? Give me ten minutes and I’m done!” That was an honest and a brave confession – even if it was a sad one. Yet, if some of us were to speak out as honestly?
Now, it was not by accident that these men crossed my path. God was speaking through them. It was just another “call to prayer” from the “God of patience”, who is also “the God of all comfort”(Romans 15:5), and when their quiet message had sunk into my soul a book came into my hands, “by chance,” as people say. It told briefly and simply the story of John Hyde – “Praying Hyde,” as he came to be called. Just as God sent St. John the Baptist to prepare the way of our Lord at His first coming, so He sent in these last days St. John the Pray-er, to make straight paths for His coming again. “Praying Hyde”–what a name! As one read of this marvelous life of prayer, one began to ask, “Have I ever really prayed?”
I found others were asking the same question. One lady, who is noted for her wonderful intercession, wrote me, saying, “When I laid down this book, I began to think that I have never in all my life really prayed!” But, here we must leave the matter. Shall we get on our knees before God and allow the Holy Spirt to search us through and through? Are we sincere? Do we really desire to do God’s will? Do we really believe His promises? If so, will it not lead us to spend more time on our knees before God? Do not vow to pray “so much” time a day. Resolve to pray much, but prayer to be of value, must be spontaneous, and not from constraint. But, we must bear in mind that mere resolutions to take more time for prayer, and to conquer reluctance to pray, will not prove lastingly and effective unless there is a wholehearted and absolute surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. If we have never taken this step, we must take it now if we desire to be men and women of prayer. I am quite certain of this fact: God wants me to pray: wants you to pray. The question is, are we willing to pray? Gracious Saviour, pour out upon us the fullness of your holy spirit, that we might indeed become Kneeling Christians. To God your every want, in instant prayer display, Pray always; pray and never faint: Pray! Without ceasing, pray.
“ASK OF ME AND I WILL GIVE”
God wants me to pray, to be much in prayer – because all success in spiritual work is dependent on prayer. A preacher who prays little may see some results of his labors, but if he does it will be because someone, somewhere is praying for him. The “Fruit” is the prayer’s – not the preacher’s. How surprised some of us preachers will be one day, when the Lord shall “reward every man according to his works.” “Lord! Those were my converts! It was I who conducted that mission at which so many were brought into the fold.” Ah, yes,–I did the preaching, the pleading, the persuading; but was it “I” who did the praying? Every convert is the result of the Holy Spirit’s pleading in answer to the prayers of some believer. O God, grant that such surprise may not be ours. O Lord, teach us to pray! We have had a vision of a God pleadingly calling for prayer from His children. How am I treat that call? Can I say, with St. Paul, “I was [am] not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:”(ACTS 26:19)?
Again we repeat, if there are any regrets in heaven, the greatest will be that we spent so little time in real intercession while we were here on Earth. Think of the wide sweep of prayer! Ask of Me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”Psalm 2:8 [*NOTE: Regrettably this is not a verse about evangelism but instead it is about military conquest. (verse 9) “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”*] Yet many people do not trouble to bring even the little details of their lives to God in prayer, and nine out of ten Christian people never think of praying for the heathen! One is staggered at the unwillingness of Christians to pray. Perhaps it is because they have never experienced, or even heard of, convincing answers to prayer. In this chapter we are setting out to do the “impossible.” What is that? I long to bring home to the heart and conscience of every reader the power of prayer. I venture to describe this as “impossible.” For if men will not believe, and act upon, our lord’s promises and commands, how can I expect them to be persuaded by any poor exhortations of mine?
But do you remember that our Lord, when speaking to his disciples, asked them to believe that He was in the Father and the Father in Him? Then he added: “If you cannot believe My bare word about this, believe Me for the very works’ sake”(John 14: 11). It was as if He said, “If My Person, My sanctified life, and My wonderful words do not elicit belief in Me, then look at My works; surely they are sufficient to compel belief? Believe Me because of what I do.” Then He went on to promise that if they would believe, they should do greater works than these. It was after this utterance that He gave the first of those six wonderful promises in regard to prayer. The inference surely is that those “greater works” are to be done only as the outcome of prayer.
May the disciple therefore follow the Master’s method? Fellow-worker, if you fail to trust our Lord’s astounding promises regarding prayer, will you not believe them “for the very works’ sake”? That is, because of those “greater works” which men and women are performing today – or, rather, the works which the Lord Jesus is doing, through their prayerful co-operation? What are we “out for”? What is our real aim in life? Surely, we desire most of all to be abundantly fruitful in the Master’s service. We seek not position, or prominence, or power. But, we do long to be fruitful servants. Then we must be much in prayer. God can do more through our prayers than through our preaching. A. J. Gordon once said, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.” If only, we would believe this!
A lady in India was cast down through the failure of her life and work. She was a devoted missionary, but somehow or other conversions never resulted from her ministry. The Holy Spirit seemed to say to her, “Pray more.” But, she resisted the promptings of the Spirit for some time. “At Length,” said she, “I set apart much of my time for prayer. I did it in fear and trembling lest my fellow-workers should complain that I was shirking my work. After a few weeks, I began to see men and women accepting Christ as their Saviour, Moreover, the whole district was soon awakened, and the work of all the other missionaries was blessed as never before. God did more in six months than I had succeeded in doing in six years. And,” she added, “no one ever accused me of shirking my duty.” Another lady missionary in India felt the same call to pray. She began to give much time to prayer. No opposition came from without, but it did come from within. But, she persisted and in two years the baptized converts increased sixfold!
God promised that He would “pour out the spirit of grace and supplication upon all flesh.” (Joel 2: 28) How much of that spirit of “supplication” is ours?[All of it!] Surely, we must get that Spirit at all costs?[*NOTE: If you are born-again of God’s holy spirit, you already have that spirit.] Let us not be numbered among those who are “resisting the Spirit,” and possibly “quenching” the Spirit. A few years ago when in India, I had the great joy of seeing something of Pandita Ramabai’s work. She had a boarding-school of 1,500 Hindu girls. One day some of these girls came with their Bibles and asked a lady missionary what St. Luke 7:49 meant – “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I, if it is already kindled?” The missionary tried to put them off with an evasive answer, not being very sure herself what those words meant. But, they were not satisfied, so they determined to pray for this fire. And, as they prayed–and because they prayed–the very fire of heaven came into their souls. A very Pentecost from above was granted them. No wonder they continued to pray!
A party of these girls upon whom God had poured the “spirit of supplication” came to a mission house where I spent some weeks. “May we stay here in your town and pray for your work?” they asked. The missionary did not entertain the idea with any great enthusiasm. He felt that they ought to be in school, and not “gadding about” the country. But they only asked for a hall or barn where they could pray; and we all value prayers on our behalf. So their request was granted, and the good man sat down to his evening meal, thinking. As the evening wore on, a native pastor came round. He broke down completely. He explained, with tears running down his face, that God’s holy spirit had convicted him of sin, and that he felt compelled to come and openly confess his wrongdoing. He was quickly followed by one Christian after another, all under deep conviction of sin. There was a remarkable time of blessing. Backsliders were restored, believers were sanctified, and heathens brought into the fold–all because a few mere children were praying.
God is no respecter of persons(Samuel 14:14, Proverbs 24:23, 24. Romans 2: 4-11, ACTS 10:34, 35 ) If anyone is willing to conform to His conditions, He for His part will assuredly fulfill His promises. Does not our heart burn within us, as we hear of God’s wonderful power? And that power is ours for the asking. I know there are “conditions”, but you and I can fulfill them all through Christ. And those of us who cannot have the privilege of serving God in India or any other overseas mission, may yet take our part in bringing down a like blessing. When the Revival in Wales was at its height, a Welsh missionary wrote home begging the people to pray that India might be moved in like manner. So the coal miners met daily at the pit-mouth half an hour before dawn to pray for their comrades overseas. In a few weeks time the welcome message was sent home: “The Blessing has come.”
[* THE CONDITIONS]
Isn’t it just splendid to know that by our prayers we can bring down showers of blessing upon India, or Africa, or China, just as readily as we can get the few drops needed for our own little plot? Many of us will recall the wonderful things which God did for Korea a few missionaries decided to meet together to pray daily at noon. At the end of the month one brother proposed that, “as nothing had happened,” the prayer-meeting should be discontinued. [“Let us each pray at home as we find it convenient,” he said. The others, however, protested that they ought rather to spend even more time in prayer each day.] So they continued the daily prayer meeting for four months. Then suddenly the blessing began to be poured out. Church services here and there were broken up by weeping and confessing of sins. At length a mighty revival broke out.
At one place during a Sunday evening service the leading man in the church stood up and confessed that he had stolen one thousand dollars in administering a widow’s legacy. Immediately conviction of sin swept the audience. That service did not end till 2o’clock on Monday morning. God’s wondrous power was felt as never before. And when the Church was purified, many sinners found salvation. Multitudes flocked to the churches out of curiosity. Some came to mock, but fear laid hold of them, and they started to pray. Among the “curious” was a brigand chief, the leader of a robber band. He was convicted in his heart and converted. He went straight off to the magistrate and gave himself up. “You have no accuser,” said the astonished official, “yet you accuse yourself! We have no law in Korea to meet your case.” So he dismissed him. One of the missionaries declared, “It paid well to have spent several months in prayer, for when God gave the holy spirit, He accomplished more in half a day than all the missionaries together could have accomplished in half a year.” In less than two months, more than 2,000 heathens were converted.
The burning zeal of those converts has become a byword. Some of them gave all they had to build a church, and wept because they could not give more. Needless to say, they realized the power of prayer. Those converts were themselves baptized with the “spirit of supplication.” In one church it was announced that a daily prayer-meeting would be held at 4:30 every morning. The very first day 400 people arrived long before the stated hour–eager to pray! The number rapidly increased to 600 as days went on. At Seoul, 1,100 is the average attendance at the weekly prayer-meeting. Heathen people came–to see what was happening. They exclaimed in astonishment,“ The living God is among you.” Those poor heathens saw what many Christians failed to see. Did not Christ say, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”? Matthew 18:20. What is possible in Korea is possible here. God is “no respecter of nations. [Or Persons} He is longing to bless us, longing to pour out His spirit upon our nation.
Now, if we–here in this so-called Christian country–really believed in prayer, i.e., in our Lord’s own gracious promises, should we avoid prayer-meetings? If we had any genuine concern for the lost condition of thousands in our own country and tens of thousands in heathen lands should we withhold our prayers? Surely we do not think, or we should pray more. “Ask of Me–I will give,” says the Almighty, all-loving God, and we scarcely heed His words! In my journeys, I came to Rawal Pindi, in N.W. India. What do you think happened there? Some of Pandita Ramabai’s girls went there to camp. Before this, Pandita Ramabai had said to her girls, “If there is any blessing in India, we may have it. Let us ask God to tell us what we must do in order to have the blessing.”
As she read her Bible she paused over the verse, “Wait for the promise of the Father...ye shall receive power after that the holy spirit is come upon you”(Acts 1:4-8). “‘Wait’! Why, we have never done this,” she cried. [because it was not yet available.]“We have prayed, but we have never expected any greater blessing today than we had yesterday!” Oh, how they prayed! One prayer-meeting lasted six hours. And what a marvelous blessing God poured out in answer to their prayers. While some of these girls were at Rawal Pindi, a lady missionary, looking out of her tent towards midnight and was surprised to see a light burning in one of the girls’ tents–a thing quite contrary to rules. She went to reprove this girl, but found the youngest of those ten girls – a child of fifteen–kneeling in the farthest corner of the tent, holding a little tallow candle in one hand and a list of names for intercession in the other. She had 500 names on her list – 500 out of the 1,500 girls in Pandita Ramabai’s school. Hour after hour, she was naming them before God. No wonder God’s blessing fell wherever those girls went, and upon whomsoever those girls prayed.
Pastor Ding Li Mei, of China, has the names of 1,100 students on his prayer-list. Many hundreds have been won to Christ through his prayer. And so out and out are his converts that many scores of them have entered the Christian ministry. It would be an easy matter to add to these amazing and inspiring stories of blessing through prayer. And so out-and-out are his converts that many scores of them have entered the Christian ministry. It would be an easy matter to add to these amazing and inspiring stories of blessing through prayer. But there is no need to do so. I know that God wants me to pray. I know that God wants you to pray.
“If there is any blessing in Christ we may have it. “Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3). God’s great storehouse is full of blessings. Only prayer can unlock that storehouse. Prayer is the key, and faith both turns the key and opens the door, and claims the blessing. Blessed are the pure in heart, for **they shall see God. And to see Him is to pray aright.
Listen! We have come – you and I – once more to the parting of the ways. All our past failures, all our past inefficiencies and insufficiencies, all your past unfruitfulness in service, can be banished now, once and for all, if you will only give prayer its proper place. Do it today. Do not wait for a more convenient time. Everything worth having depends upon the decision we make today. Truly God is a wonderful Father! And one of the most wonderful things about Him is that He puts His all at the disposal of the prayer of faith. Believing prayer from a wholly-cleansed heart never fails. God has given us His Word for it. Yet vastly more wonderful is the amazing fact, that Christian men and women should either not believe God’s Word, or should fail to put it to the test.
When Christ is “all in all” – when He is Savior and Lord and King of our whole being, then it is really He Who prays our prayers. We can then truthfully alter one word of a well-known verse and say that the Lord Jesus ever liveth to make intercession for [in] us. Oh, that we might make the Lord Jesus “marvel” not at our unbelief but at our faith! When our Lord shall again “marvel,” and say of us, “Verily ... I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel”(Matthew 8:10), then indeed shall “palsy” [paralysis] be transformed into power.
Has not our Lord come to “cast fire” upon us? Are we “already kindled”? Can He not use us as much as He used [the First Century Church]? God is no respecter of persons. If we can humbly and truthfully say, “To me to live is Christ”(Phillipians 1:21), will He not manifest forth His mighty power in us?[With Him freely give us all things] Some of us have been reading about Praying Hyde. Truly, his intercession changed things. Men tell us that they were thrilled when John Hyde prayed. They were stirred to their inmost being when he just pleaded the name “Jesus! – Jesus! – Jesus!” and a baptism of love and power came upon them. But it was not John Hyde, it was the holy spirit of God whom one consecrated man filled with spirit, brought down upon all around him. May we not all become “Praying Hydes”? Do you say “No! He had a special gift of prayer”? Very well – how did he get it? He was once just an ordinary Christian man – just like any of us.
Have you noticed that, humanly speaking, he owed his prayer-life to the prayers of his father’s friend? Now get hold of this point. It is one of greatest importance, and one which may profoundly affect your whole life. Perhaps I may be allowed to tell the story fully, for so much depends upon it. Shall we quote John Hyde himself? He was on board a ship sailing for India, whither he was going as a missionary. He says, “My father had a friend who greatly desired to be a foreign missionary, but was not permitted to go. The friend wrote me a letter directed in care of the ship. I received it a few hours out of New York harbor. The words were not many, but the purport of them was this: ‘I shall not cease praying for you, dear John, until you are filled with the Holy Spirit.’ When I had read the letter I crumpled it up in anger and threw it on the deck. Did this friend think I had not received the baptism of holy spirit, or that I would think of going to India without this equipment? I was angry. But by and by better judgment prevailed, and I picked up the letter, and read it again. Possibly I did need something which I had not yet received. I paced up and down the deck, a battle raging within me. I felt uncomfortable: I loved the writer; I knew the holy life he lived, and down in my heart there was a conviction that he was right, and that I was not fit to be a missionary....This went on for two or three days, until I felt perfectly miserable....I began to see myself, and what a selfish ambition I had.”
But he did not yet receive the blessing sought. He landed in India and went with a fellow-missionary to an open-air service. “The missionary spoke”, said John Hyde, “and I was told that he was speaking about Jesus Christ as the real Savior from sin. When he had finished his address, a respectable-looking man, speaking good English, asked the missionary whether he himself had been thus saved? The question went home to my heart; for if it had been asked me, I would have had to confess that Christ had not fully saved me, because I knew there was a sin in my life which had not been taken away. I realized what a dishonor it would be on the name of Christ to have to confess that I was preaching a Christ that had not delivered me from sin, though I was proclaiming to others that He was a perfect Savior. I went back to my room and shut myself in, and told the Lord that it must be one of two things: either He must give me victory over all my sins, and especially over the sin that so easily beset me, or I must return to America and seek there for some other work. I said I could not stand up to preach the Gospel until I could testify of its power in my own life. I...realized how reasonable this was, and the Lord assured me that He was able and willing to deliver me from all sin. He did deliver me, and I have not had a doubt of this since.”
It was then, and then only, that John Hyde became “Praying Hyde”. And it is only by such a full surrender and such a definite claiming to be delivered from the power of sin in our lives that you and I can be men and women of prevailing prayer. The point we wish to emphasize, however, is the one already mentioned. A comparatively unknown man prays for John Hyde, who was the unknown to the world, and by his prayers brings down such a blessing upon him that everyone knows of him now as “Praying Hyde.” Did you say in your heart, dear reader, a little while ago, that you could not hope to be a Praying Hyde? Of course, we cannot all give so much time to prayer. For physical or other reasons we may be hindered from long-continued praying. But, we all have His spirit of prayer [holy spirit]. And may we not all do for others what the unnamed friend did for John Hyde?
Can we not pray the blessing down upon others – upon your pastor or upon the president of our nation, upon our families and upon our friends. What a ministry would be ours, if we would but enter in! But to do so, we must make the full surrender which John Hyde made. Have we not done it? Failure in prayer is due to a fault in the heart. Only the “pure in heart” can see God. And only those who “call on the Lord out of a pure heart”(2Timothy 2:22) can confidently claim answers to their prayers. What a revival would break out, what a mighty blessing would come down if only everyone who reads these words would claim the fullness of the Holy Spirit now!
Do you not see why it is that God wants us to pray? Do you now see why everything worth having depends upon prayer? There are several reasons, but one stands out very clearly and vividly before us after reading this chapter. It is just this: if we ask anything in Jesus Christ's name, God will give it to us. Every unanswered prayer is a clarion call to search the heart to see what is wrong there; for the promise is unmistakable in its clearness: “If ye shall ask anything in My name, that will I do”(John 14:14). Truly he who prays puts, not God, but his own spiritual life to the test!
Let me come close to Thee, Jesus,
Oh, closer every day;
Let me lean harder on Thee, Jesus,
Yes, harder all the way.
ASKING FOR SIGNS
“Does God indeed answer prayer?” is a question often on the lips of people, and oftener still in their innermost hearts. “Is prayer of any real use?” Somehow or other we cannot help praying; but then even pagan savages cry out to someone or something to aid them in times of danger and disaster and distress. And those of us who really do believe in prayer are soon faced with another question: “Is it right to put God to the test?” Moreover, a further thought flashes into our minds: “Dare we put God to the test?” For there is little doubt that failure in the prayer-life is often – always? – due to failure in the spiritual life. So many people harbor much unbelief in the heart regarding the value and effectiveness of prayer; and without faith, prayer is vain.
Asking for signs? Putting God to the test? Would to God we could persuade Christian men and women to do so. Why, what a test this would be of our own faith in God, and of our own holiness of life. Prayer is the touchstone of true godliness. God asks our prayers, values our prayers, needs our prayers. We do not mean by this that effective prayer always gets just what it asks for. Now, the Bible teaches us that we are allowed to put God to the test. The example of Gideon in Old Testament days is sufficient to show us that God honors our faith even when that faith is faltering. He allows us to “prove Him” even after a definite promise. This is a very great comfort to us. Gideon said unto God, “If Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only then shall I know that Thou has said.” Yet, although there was a “bowl full of water” in the fleece the next morning, this did not satisfy Gideon! He dares to put God to the test the second time, and to ask that the fleece should be dry instead of wet the following night. “And God did so that night”(Judges 6:40)
It is all very wonderful, the Almighty God just doing what a hesitating man asks Him to do! We catch our breath and stand amazed, scarcely knowing which startles us the more – the daring of the man, or the condescension of the LORD! Of course, there is more in the story than meets the eye. No doubt Gideon thought that the “fleece” represented Gideon, himself. If God would indeed fill him with His Spirit, why, salvation was assured. But as he wrung the fleece out, he began to compare himself with the saturated wool. “How unlike this fleece am I! God promises deliverance, but I do not feel full of the Spirit of God. No inflow of the mighty power of God seems to have come into me. Am I indeed fit for this great feat?” No! But then, it is “Not I, but God.” “O God, let the fleece by dry – canst Thou still work? Even if I do not feel any superhuman power or any fullness of spiritual blessing within me: even if I feel as dry as this fleece, canst Thou still deliver Israel by my arm? (Little wonder that he prefaced his prayer with the words, “Let not Thine anger be hot against me!”) “And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground”. (verse 40) Yes, there is more in the story than can be seen at a glance. And is it not so in our own case? The devil so often assures us that our prayers cannot claim an answer because of the “dryness” of our souls. Answers to prayer, however, do not depend upon our feelings, but upon the trustworthiness of the Promiser. Now, we are not urging that Gideon's way of procedure is for us, or for anyone, the normal course of action. It seems to reveal much hesitation to believe God’s Word. In fact, it looks gravely like doubting God. And surely it grieves God when we show a faith in Him which is but partial.
The higher and better and safer way is to “ask, nothing doubting.” But it is very comforting and assuring to us to know that God allowed Gideon to put Him to the test. Nor is this the only such case mentioned in Scripture. The most surprising instance of “proving God” happened on the Sea of Galilee. St. Peter put our Lord Himself to the test. “If it be Thou –“ yet our Savior had already said, “It is I.” “If it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.” And our Lord said, “Come” and Peter “walked on the water”. (Matthew 14:28,29) But this “testing-faith” of Peter’s soon failed him. “Little faith” (verse 31) so often and so quickly becomes “doubt.” Remember that Christ did not reprove him for coming. Our lord did not say, “Wherefore didst thou come?” but “Wherefore didst thou doubt?” To put God to the test is, after all, not the best method. He has given us so many promises contingent on believing prayer, and has so often proved His power and His willingness to answer prayer, that we ought, as a rule, to hesitate very much before we ask Him for signs as well as for wonders! But, someone may be thinking does not the Lord God Almighty, Himself bid us to put him to the test? Did He not say, “Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse...and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open unto you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it?” (Malachi 3:10)
Yes that is true: God does say, “Prove Me: test Me.” But it is really we ourselves who are thus tested.” If the windows of heaven are not opened when we pray, and this blessing of fullness-to-overflowing is not bestowed upon us, it can only be because we are not whole-tithers. When we are in very deed wholly yielded to God – when we have brought the whole tithe into the storehouse for God – we shall find such a blessing that we shall not need to put God to any test! This is a thing we shall have to speak about when we come to the question of unanswered prayer.
Meanwhile we want every Christian to ask, “Have I ever fairly tested prayer?” How long is it since you last offered up a definite prayer? People pray for “a blessing” upon an address, or a meeting, or a mission; and some blessing is certain to come, for others are also pleading with God about the matter. You ask for relief from pain or healing of sickness: but Godless people, for whom no one appears to be praying, often recover, and sometimes in a seemingly miraculous way. And we may feel that we might have got better even if no prayer had been offered on our behalf. It seems to me that so many people cannot put their finger upon any really definite and conclusive answer to prayer in their own experience. Most Christians do not give God a chance to show his delight in granting His children’s petitions; for their requests are so vague and indefinite. If this is so, it is not surprising that prayer is so often a mere form – an almost mechanical repetition, day by day, of certain phrases; a few minutes’ “exercise” morning and evening.
Then there is another point. Have you, when in prayer, ever had the witness borne in upon you that your request was granted? Those who know something of the private life of men of prayer are often amazed at the complete assurance which comes over them at times that their prayers are answered, long before the boon they seek is actually in their possession. One prayer-warrior would say, “A peace came over my soul. I was confident my request was granted me.” He then just thanked God for what he was quite sure God had done for him. And his assurance would prove to be absolutely well founded. When Jesus stood before the opened tomb of Lazarus, before he had actually called upon the dead to come forth, He said, “Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. And I know that Thou hearest Me always”.(John 11:41,42) Why then did He utter His thanks? “Because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me.” If we are indwelt by God in Christ, and we are praying according to His promises, will not those who stand by begin to recognize that we, too, are God-sent?
Men and women of prayer will agonize before God for something which they know is according to his will, because of some definite promise on the page of Scripture. They may pray for hours, or even for days, when suddenly the Holy Spirit reveals to them in no uncertain way that God has granted their request: and they are confident that they need no longer send up any more petitions to God about the matter. It is as if God said in clear tones: “Thy prayer is heard and I have granted thee the desire of thy heart.” This is not the experience of only one man, but most men to whom prayer is the basis of their life will bear witness to the same fact. Nor is it a solitary experience in their lives: it occurs again and again. The prayer must give place to action. God taught Moses this: (Exodus 14:15)“Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward”.
We are not surprised to find that Dr. Goforth, a much-used missionary in China, often had this assurance given him that his petitions are granted. “I knew that God had answered. I received definite assurance that He would open the way.” For why should anyone be surprised at this? Jesus said, “Ye are My friends, if ye do the things I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends”. (John 15:14, 15) Are you surprised, then, if the Lord lets us, His “friends,” know something of His plans and purposes?
The question at once arises, Does God mean this to be the experience of only a few chosen saints, or does He wish all believers to exercise a like faith, and to have a like assurance that their prayers are answered? We know that God is no respecter of persons, and therefore we know that any true believer in Him may share His mind and will. We are His friends if we do the things He commands us. One of those things is “prayer.” Our Savior begged His disciples to “have faith in God” (the literal translation is “Have the faith of God”). Then, He declares, you can say to a mountain, “Be thou taken up and cast into the sea,” and if you believe and doubt not, it shall come to pass. Then he gives this promise: “All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them [that is, in heaven], and ye shall have them [on earth].”(Mark 11:24) Now, this is exactly the experience we have been talking about. This is just what real men and women of prayer do. Such things naturally pass the comprehension of unbelievers. Such things are perplexing to the half-believers. Our Lord, however, desires that men should know that we are His . (John 13:35) But another proof is provided, and it is this: if we know and they see that “God heareth us always. (John 11:42)
The prayer-life or George Mueller typified confidence towards God. On one occasion, while traveling by ship from Quebec, Canada to Liverpool, England; Mueller prayed that a special rocking chair, that his dear wife used to counteract motion sickness, would be delivered to the ship before it set sail. Mueller was so confident that God had answered his prayer, that when informed that no chair had arrived and the ship was about to set sail, he refused to buy another chair. The ship’s steward tried to induce him to make a last minute purchase at a near-by shop. Mueller said, “we have prayed that God would provide it, and He will. We’ll just trust Him.” Then he went aboard without giving the chair a second thought. Moments before the ship left port, a van drove up and on it was the chair! The ship’s steward saw first hand the testimony of George Mueller’s confidence toward God. It tipped the scales in his struggle to believe the message of the gospel. He saw how this man of prayer, expressed no surprise whatsoever but quietly removed his hat and thanked his Heavenly Father for His care and bounty. What was the ship’s steward’s response to this manifestation of answered prayer? It was the same as that of the jailer in the Book of Acts, who sprang in and said, ‘what must I do to be saved? This shows how a life of prayer and simple trust in God can be a witness to those around us. To Mueller answered prayer was a natural event, not a miraculous occasion. Perhaps God allowed the holding back of the chair as a testament to this poor seeker who needed something more than words to help him believe!
In her book, “Nor Scrip”, Amy Wilson Carmichael tells us how she “proved God” repeatedly. In this time-honored book about prayer and deliverance, she sited an instance, in which she was able to rescue a Hindu child from possible death and an assured life of prostitution through an investment of only one hundred rupees. This some was more than she was spending on other cases, however, and it was money she did not have. Amy Carmichael felt led to pray that God would send her the round sum of a hundred rupees no more, no less. Remember God has ‘cattle on a thousand hills’, He can meet any need! The money came, the exact amount. The donor explained that as she sat down to write her monthly sponsorship check, she was led to include the sum of one hundred rupees, no more, no less.
Amy Carmichael’s testimony of God’s beneficence is this: “Never once in fifteen years has a bill been left unpaid. Never once has a man or a woman been told that we were in need of help. And, never once have we lacked any good thing. Once, the 100 rupees came, just in time, by telegram. Another time a man would slipped the exact sum Ms. Carmichael needed into her pocket amid the clamoring crowd at a Bombay railway station. Afterwards, the giver disappeared in the crowd without a trace.”
To call it wonderful is to show our want of faith. It is natural to God to answer prayer: normal, not extraordinary. The fact is – let us be quite honest and straightforward about it – the fact is so many of us do not believe God. We may just as well be quite candid about it. If we love God we ought to pray, because He wants us to pray, and commands us to pray. If we believe God we shall pray because we cannot help doing so: we cannot get on without it. Fellow-Christian, you believe in God, and you believe on Him, (John 3: 16) but have you advanced far enough in the Christian life to believe Him; that is, to believe what He says and all He says? Does it not sound blasphemous to ask such a thing of a Christian man? Yet how few believers really believe God! – God forgive us! Has it ever struck you that we trust the word of our fellow-man more easily than we trust God’s word? And yet, when a man does “believe God,” what miracles of grace God works in and through him! No man ever lived who has been revered and respected by so many peoples and tongues as that man of whom we are told three times over in the New Testament that “He believed God.”(Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23) Yes, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.” And today, Christians all over the world vie with each other in honoring his name. We implore every believer on Christ Jesus never to rest till he can say, “I believe God, and will act on that belief.”(Acts 27:25)
But before we leave the question of testing God, we should like to point out that sometimes God leads us on “to prove Him.” Sometimes God has put it into the heart of Miss Wilson Carmichael to ask for things she saw no need for. Yet she felt impelled by the Holy Spirit to ask. Not only were they granted her, but they also proved an inestimable boon. Yes, God knows what things we have need of, whether we want them or not, before we ask. (Matthew 6:8) Has not God said, “I will in no wise fail thee”? Oftentimes the temptation would come to Miss Wilson Carmichael to let others know of some special need. But always the inner assurance wold come, as in the very voice of God, “I know, and that is enough.” And, of course, God was glorified. During the trying days of the war, even the heathen used to say, “Their God feeds them.” “Is it not known all the country round,” said a worldly heathen, “That your God hears prayer?”
Oh, what glory to God was brought about by their simple faith! Why do not we believe God? Why do we not take God at His word? Do believers or unbelievers ever say of us, “We know your prayers are answered”? Ye missionaries the wide world over, listen! (Oh, that these words might reach every ear, and stir every heart!) It is the yearning desire of God – of our loving Savior Jesus Christ – that eery one of us should have the same strong faith as that devoted lady missionary we are speaking about.
Our loving Father does not wish any child of His to have one moment’s anxiety or one unsatisfied need. No matter how great our need may be; no matter how numerous our requirements, if we only “prove Him” in the manner He bids us, we shall never have room enough to receive all the blessing He will give. (Malachi 3:10)
Oh, what peace we often forfeit!
Oh, what needless pain we bear!
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer;
or all because, when we do “carry it,” we do not believe God’s word. Why is it we find it so hard to trust Him? Has He ever failed us? Has He not said over and over and over again that He will grant all petitions offered out of a pure heart, “in His name”? “Ask of Me”; “Pray ye”; “Prove Me herewith”; “Try Me.” The Bible is full of answers to prayer – wonderful answers, miraculous answers; and yet somehow our faith fails us, and we dishonor God by distrusting Him!
If our faith were but more simple
We should take Him at His word,
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the bounties of our Lord.
But our eye must be “single” if our faith is to be simple and our “whole body full of light”. (Matthew 6:22) Christ must be the sole Master. We cannot expect to be free from anxiety if we are trying to serve God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24, 25) Again we are led back to the Victorious Christian Life! When we indeed present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God”; (Romans 12:1) when we present our members “as servants to righteousness and sanctification”; Romans 6:19) then He presents Himself to us and fills us with all the fullness of God.(Ephesians 3:19)
Let us ever bear in mind that real faith not only believes that God can, but that he does answer prayer. We may be slothful in prayer, but “the Lord is not slack concerning His promise”. (II Peter 3:9) Isn’t that a striking expression? Perhaps the most extraordinary testing of God which a missionary tells us of is the following. The question arose of purchasing a rest-house in the hills nearby. Was it the right thing to do? Only God could decide. Much prayer was made. Eventually the petition was offered up that if it was God’s will that the house should be purchased, the exact sum of $4,000.00 should be received. That amount came at once. Yet they still hesitated. Two months later they asked God to give them again the same sign of His approval of the purchase. That same day another check for the down payment of $4,000.00 came. Even now they scarcely liked to proceed in the matter. In a few days’ time, however, another round sum of $4,000.00 was received, earmarked for the purchase. That same day another check for $4,000.00 came. Even now they scarcely liked to proceed in the matter. In a few days’ time, however, another round sum of $4,000.00 was received, the exact sum of the down payment for the purchase of such a house.
Does it not flood our hearts with joy to remember that our gracious Savior is so kind? It is St. Luke the physician who tells us that God is kind. (Luke 6:35) Love is always “kind” (I. Corinthians 13:4); and God is Love. Think it over when you pray, Our God is “kind”. It will help us in our intercessions. He bears so patiently with us when our faith would falter. “How precious is Thy lovingkindness, O God” (Psalm 36:7); “Thy lovingkindness is better than life”.(Psalm 63:3)
The danger is that we read of such simple faith in prayer, and say, “How wonderful!” and forget that God desires every one of us to have such faith and such prayer. God has no favorites! He wants me to pray; He wants you to pray. He allows such things to happen as we have described above, and suffers them to come to our knowledge, not to surprise us, but to stimulate us. One sometimes wishes that Christian people would forget all the man-made rules with which we have hedged prayer about! Let us be simple. Let us be natural. Take God at His word. Let us remember that “the kindness of God our Savior, and His love toward man,” has appeared.(Titus 3:4) God sometimes leads men into the prayer-life. Sometimes, however, God has to drive us into such a life.
As some of us look back over our comparatively prayerless life, what a thrill of wonder and of joy comes over us as we think of the kindness and “patience of Christ”. (II Thessalonians 3:5) Where should we have been without that? We fail Him, but, blessed be His name, He has never failed us, and He never will do so. We doubt Him, we mistrust His love and His providence and His guidance; we faint and we murmur because of the way; yet all the time He is there blessing us, and waiting to pour out on us a blessing so great that there shall not be room to receive it.
The promise of Christ still holds good: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”. (John 14:14)
Prayer changes things –
And yet how blind and slow we are to see
The blessedness that comes to those
Who trust in Thee.
But henceforth we will just believe God!
WHAT IS PRAYER?
Dwight L. Moody was once addressing a crowded meeting of children in Edinburgh. In order to get their attention he began with a question: “What is prayer?” – looking for no reply, and expecting to give the answer himself. To his amazement scores of little hands shot up all over the hall. He asked one lad to reply; and the answer came at once, clear and correct, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.” However that was more than a century ago, how many adults could answer this simple question today. What do we mean by prayer? I believe the vast majority of Christians would say, “Prayer is asking things from God.” But surely prayer is much more than merely “getting God to run our errands for us.” As someone put it. It is a higher thing than the beggar knocking at the rich man’s door.
The word “prayer” really means “a wish directed towards,” that is, towards God. All that true prayer seeks is God himself, for with Him we get all we need. Prayer is simply “the turning of the soul to God.” David describes it as the lifting up of the living soul to the living God. “Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.”(Psalm 25:1) What a beautiful description of prayer that is! When we desire the Lord Jesus to behold our souls, we also desire that the beauty of holiness may be upon us. When we lift up our souls to God in prayer it gives God an opportunity to do what He will in us and with us. It is putting ourselves at God’s disposal. God is always on our side, but we are not always on His side. When man prays, it is God’s opportunity. The poet says:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the moment when heaven and earth kiss each other. Prayer is not persuading God to do what we want Him to, it is not bending His will to our own, it does not change His purpose, it does not overcome His reluctance; but, instead it releases His power and lays hold of His most holy willingness. For God always purposes our greatest good, even the prayers offered in ignorance and blindness cannot swerve Him from that. If we were to persistently pray for some harmful thing, our wilfulness might bring it about, but it would not be by the hand of God. “He gave them their request”, says the Psalmist, “but sent leanness into their soul.”(Psalm 106:15) We must remember that God is never the author of anything bad, in the old testament every result was attributed to God. The reality was the rebellious Israelites, brought this “leanness”upon themselves. They were “cursed with the burden of a granted prayer.”
Prayer, in the minds of some people, is only for emergencies! Danger threatens, sickness comes, things are lacking, difficulties arise – then they pray. Like the infidel down a coal mine: when the roof began to fall he began to pray. An old Welsh Christian standing by quietly remarked, “Aye, there’s nowt like cobs of coal to make a man ta pray.”
Prayer is, however, much more than merely asking God for something, although that is a very valuable part of prayer if only because it reminds us of our utter dependence upon God. It is also communion with God. That is, talking WITH not only TO God. We get to know people by talking with them. We get to know God in like manner. The highest result of prayer is not deliverance from evil, or the securing of some coveted thing, but knowledge of God. “And this is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Yes, prayer discovers more of God, and that is the soul’s greatest discovery. Men still cry out, “O, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat.” (Job 23:3)
The kneeling Christian always “finds” Him, and is found of Him.. The heavenly vision of the Lord Jesus blinded the eyes of Saul of Tarsus on his downward course, but he tells us, later on, that when he was praying in the temple at Jerusalem he fell into a trance and saw Jesus. “I. . . saw Him”. (Acts 22:18) Then it was that Christ gave his great commission to go to the Gentiles. Vision is always a precursor of vocation and venture. It was so with Isaiah. “I saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.”(Isaiah 6:1) The prophet was evidently in the sanctuary praying when this happened. This vision also was a prelude to a call to service, “Go . . .” Now, we cannot get a vision of God unless we pray. And where there is no vision the soul perishes. A vision of God! Brother Lawrence once said, “Prayer is nothing else than a sense of God’s presence” – and that is just the practice of the presence of God.
When the great man of prayer, Horace Bushnell, prayed, there came over those who were praying with him a wonderful sense of God’s nearness. An witness of this miraculous spiritual presence once said, “when Horace Bushnell buried his face in his hands and prayed, I was afraid to stretch out my hand in the darkness, lest I should touch God.” The Psalmist, Asaph, cried, “My soul, wait thou only upon the Lord.”(Psalm 62:5) I believe that much of our failure in prayer is due to the fact that we have not asked, “what is prayer?”.
Real prayer at it highest and best reveals the soul’s thirst for God alone. Real prayer comes from those whose affections are set on things above and not on things on this earth. What a man of prayer Zinzendorf was, he sought the Giver rather than his gifts. He said, “I have but one passion, it is God and God alone.” The Islamic principle that there are three (3) degrees in prayer: the lowest is prayer only spoken on the lips, the second with the prayer’s heart fixed on thoughts of Divine things, the third and greatest is when the soul find it difficult to turn away from God to any mundane thing! God, of course, bids us “ask of Him”, when we do so, we both please God, and receive His bounty. It is a strange child indeed who only seeks his father’s presence in order to receive some gift. It is central to the quest for perfect prayer to strive to rise above mere petitions. This is done by realizing both God’s glory and His grace.
Grace and glory flow from Thee;
Shower, O shower them, Lord, on me.
What does God’s glory have to do with prayer? Answer: It is necessary to remind ourselves Who He is to Whom we pray. There is logic in this couplet:
Thou art coming to a King;
Large petitions with thee bring!
Do you think that any one of us spends enough time in pondering over, yes, and marveling over, God’s exceeding great glory? And do you suppose that any one of us has grasped the full meaning of the word “grace”? Are not our prayers so often ineffective and powerless – and sometimes even prayerless – because we rush unthinkingly and unpreparedly into God’s presence, without realizing the majesty and glory of the God Whom we are approaching, and without reflecting upon the exceeding great riches of His glory in Christ Jesus, which we hope to draw upon? We must “think magnificently of God.” Therefore before we lay our petitions before God, we should first dwell in meditation upon His glory and grace. Lift your hearts to God (1), place yourselves in His presence(2) and direct our prayers to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He alone has immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable . . . to Whom be honor and power and glory forever. Let us then give Him adoration and praise because of His exceeding great glory, consecrating ourselves to his service and worship.
(1) Meditation of God’s presence before prayer
(2) Practicing the presence of God at all times even when not bringing a petition
Read the memoirs of Brother Lawrence, “Practicing The Presence of God.”
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts,” cry the seraphim; “the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) “Glory to God in the highest,” cries the “whole multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2: 14) Yet some of us try to commune with God without stopping to “put off our shoes from off our feet.”(Exodus 3:5)
Lips cry “God be merciful”
That never cry “God be praised.”
O come let us adore Him!
Before we ask His grace.
And we may approach His glory with boldness. Did not our Lord pray that His disciples might behold His glory? (John 17:24) Why? And why is “the whole earth full of His glory”? The telescope reveals His infinite glory. The microscope reveals His uttermost glory. Even the unaided eye sees surpassing glory in landscape, sunshine, sea and sky. What does it all mean? These things are but a partial revelation of God’s glory. It was not a desire for self-display that led our Lord to pray, “Father, glorify Thy Son” . . . “O Father, glorify Thou Me.” (John 17: 1, 3) Our dear Lord Jesus Christ wants us to realize His infinite trustworthiness and unlimited power, so that we can approach Him in simple faith and trust.
In heralding the coming of Christ the prophet declared that “glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” (Isaiah 40:5) Now we must get a glimpse of that glory before we can pray aright. So our Lord said, “When ye pray, say Our Father, Who art in heaven [the realm of glory], hallowed by Thy name.” There is nothing like a glimpse of glory o banish fear and doubt. Before we offer up our petitions may it not help us to offer up our adoration in the words of praise used by some of the saints of old? Some devout souls may not need such help. We are told that Saint Francis of Assisi would frequently spend an hour or two in prayer while only uttering the one word, “Jesus”. Most of us need some help in realizing the glory of the invisible God so that we can adequately praise and worship Him. Sir William Law said it best: “When you begin to pray, use such expressions of the attributes of God as will make you sensible of his greatness and power.”
This point is of such tremendous importance that we venture to remind our readers of helpful words. Some of us begin every day with a glance heavenwards while we say, “Glory to God”. This is often enough to bring a solemn awe and a spirit of holy worship upon the soul. The Gloria in Excelsis Deo of the Roman Catholic communion service, is most uplifting: “Glory be to God on high and in earth peace . . . We praise Thee; we bless Thee; we worship Thee; we glorify Thee; we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.” Which of us can from the heart utter praise like that and remain unmoved, unconscious of the very presence and wondrous majesty of the Lord God Almighty? A verse of a hymn may serve the same purpose.
My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty how bright.
How beautiful Thy mercy-seat
In depths of burning light!
How wonderful, how beautiful
The sight of Thee must be.
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power
And awful purity.
This carried us into the very heavenlies, as also do the words:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,
All Thy works shall praise Thy name
In Earth, and sky, and sea.
We need to cry out, and to cry out often, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”(Luke 1:46, 47) Can we catch the spirit of the Psalmist and sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name”?(Psalm 103:1) Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honor and majesty.”(Psalm 29:9) Let us too cry, Glory! Worship, praise and thanksgiving to God not only put us into the spirit of prayer, but in some mysterious way they help God to work on our behalf. “Whosoever offereth the sacrifice of praise, glorifyeth Me and prepareth a way that I may show him the salvation of God.” (Psalm 1: 23) Praise and thanksgiving not only open the gates of heaven for us to approach God, but they also “prepare a way” for God to bless us. St. Paul cried, “Rejoice evermore!” before he says, “Pray without ceasing.” So then our praise, as well as our prayers, to be without ceasing.
At the raising of Lazarus our Lord’s prayer had as its first utterance a not of thanksgiving. “Father, I thank Thee that Thou hearest Me.”(John 11:41) He said it for those around to hear. Yes, and for us as well! You may wonder why we should give special thanks to God for His great glory or why we should meditate on that glory? It is because He is King of Glory, all that He does is glorious. His holiness (Exodus 15:11), His name (Deuteronomy 28:58), His works (Psalm 111:3), His power (Colossians 1:11) and His voice (Isaiah 30:30), all are glorious.
All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small.
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
“For of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things: to whom be glory for every”. (Romans 11:36) And this is the God who bids us come to Him in prayer. This God is our Father, and He it is, “who has gifts for men”(Psalm 68:18) God says that everyone that is called by his name has been created for His glory. (Isaiah 43: 7) Christ’s Church is to be a “glorious church without spot of wrinkle or any such thing.” (Ephesians 5:27) Have you every fully realized that the Lord Jesus Christ wants to share with us the glory we see in Him? This is His greatest gift to the Church. The more we have of God’s glory, the less we shall seeks his gifts. “When He shall come to be glorified in His saints” (II. Thessalonians 1:10) There is glory for us here and now – today! [*NOTE* Not some pie in the sky glory, but a glory that becomes a life which is more than abundant] Jesus wants us to be partakers of His glory! He declares in John 17:22 “The glory which Thou has given Me, I have given unto them..” Isaiah said, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”(Isaiah 60:1,2)
God would have people say of us as St. Peter said of the disciples: “The Spirit of Glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you.” (I. Peter 4:14) Could we ask for anything more? How do we lay hold upon this glory? How do we reflect it? Only as the result of prayer. It is when we pray, that the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and reveals them unto us.(John 16:15) It was when Moses prayed, “Show me, I pray Thee, Thy Glory!”(Exodus 33:18 and 34:29) Not only did Moses see the glory of God, but his own face show with the light of it. It is our great hope that we too shall gaze upon the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II. Corinthians 4:6)
We need to see that we can gain that glory ourselves, but only through prayer. There is no other way of securing that glory than prayer, that God may be glorified in us. (Isaiah 60:21) Let us often meditate upon Christ’s glory – gaze upon it and so reflect it and receive it. This is what happened to our Lord’s first disciples, it can happen to us as well! They said, “We beheld His glory! As the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” What followed was a miracle, a few plain, unlettered, obscure fishermen made others marvel “and took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.”(Acts 4:13) We should declare aloud, “Yeah, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:3) Lift up prayers to the living God, and gain the beauty of holiness.
Like a flower becomes more beautiful in the sunlight, and as our Lord was transfigured when He prayed, so shall our countenance be changed also. We shall have our own Mount of Transfiguration, when prayer has its rightful place in our lives. And men will see in our faces, “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Our value to God and to man is in exact proportion to the extent in which we reveal the glory of God to other. (Matt. 17:1 - 9)
In this chapter, we have dwelt extensively on the glory of Him to whom we pray, in the next chapter we shall turn to a discussion of His grace. What is prayer? It is a sign of spiritual life. It would be more likely for a dead body to show life, than that a prayerless soul should manifest a spiritual transformation. Our spirituality and our fruitfulness are always in proportion to the reality of our prayers. If, then, we have at all wandered away from home in the matter of prayer, let us today resolve, “I will arise and go unto my Father, and say unto Him, Father –.” (Luke 15:18)
The secret of failure is that we see men rather than God. Romanism trembled when Martin Luther saw God. The ‘great awakening’ sprang into being when Jonathan Edwards saw God. The world became the parish of one man when John Wesley saw God. Thousands of orphans were fed when George Mueller saw God. It is time that we received a new vision of God – of God in all His glory? Who ca say what will happen when the Church sees God? But let’s not wait for others let us with unveiled faces and unsullied hearts, get this vision of the glory of the Lord. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”(Matthew 5:8)
No missionary whom it has been my joy to know, ever impressed me quite as much as Dr. Wilbur Chapman. He wrote to a friend: “I have learned some great lessons concerning prayer. At one of our missions in England the audiences were exceedingly small. But I received a note saying that an American missionary was going to pray God’s blessing down upon our work. He was known as ‘Praying Hyde.’ Almost instantly the tide turned. The hall became packed, and at my first invitation fifty men accepted Christ as their Savior. As we were leaving I said, ‘Mr. Hyde, I want you to pray for me.’ He came to my room, turned the key in the door, and dropped on his knees, and waited five minutes without a single syllable coming from his lips. I could hear my own heart thumping and his beating. I felt the hot tears running down my face. I know I was with God. Then, with upturned face, down which the tears were streaming, he said ‘O God!’ Then for five minutes at least he was still again’ and then, when he knew that he was talking with God, there came up from the depth of his heart such petitions for men as I had never heard before. I rose from my knees to know what real prayer was. We believe that prayer is mighty, and we believe it as we never did before.”
Dr. Chapman used to say, “It was a season of prayer with John Hyde that made me realize what real prayer was. I owe to him more than I owe to any man for showing me what a prayer-life is, and what a real consecrated life is . . . Jesus Christ became a new Ideal to me, and I had a glimpse of his prayer-life; and I had a longing which has remained to this day to be a real praying man.” And The Holy Spirit can so teach us.
Oh, ye who sigh and languish
And mourn your lack of power,
Hear ye this gentle whisper:
“Could ye not watch one hour?”
For fruitfulness and blessing
There power for holy service
Is prayer and praise of God.
HOW SHALL I PRAY?
How shall I pray? Could there be a more important question for a Christian man to ask? How shall I approach the King of Glory? When we read Christ’s promises regarding prayer we are apt to think that He puts far too great a power into our hands – unless, indeed, we hastily conclude that it is impossible for Him to act as He promises. He says, ask “anything,” “whatsoever,” “what ye will,” and it shall be done. But then He puts in a qualifying phrase. He says that we are to ask in His name. This is the condition, and the only one, although, as we shall remind ourselves later on, it is sometimes couched in different words.
If, therefore, we ask and do not receive, it can only be that we are not fulfilling this condition. If then, we are true disciples of His – if we are sincere – we shall take pains (infinite pains, if need be) to discover just what it means to ask in His name; and we shall not rest content until we have fulfilled that condition. Let us read the promise again to be quite sure about it. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.”(John 14:13, 14) This was something quite new, for our Lord said so. “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name.” but now, “ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) Five times over our Lord repeats this simple condition, “In my name.” (John 14:13, 14; John 15:16; John 17:23, 24, 26) Evidently something very important is here implied. It is more than a condition – it is also a promise, an encouragement, for our Lord’s biddings are always His enablings. What, then, does it mean to ask in His name?
We must know this at all costs, for it is the secret of all power in prayer. And it is possible to make a wrong use of those words. Our Lord said, “Many shall come in my name, saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:5) He might well have said, “And many shall think they are praying to the Father in my name, while deceiving themselves.” Does it mean just adding the words, “and all this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ,” at the end of our prayers? Many people apparently think that it does. But have you never heard – or offered – prayers full of self-will and selfishness which ended up in this way, “for Christ’s sake, Amen?”
God could not answer the prayers that St. James referred to in his epistle just because those who offered them added, “we ask these things in he name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” Those Christians were asking “amiss”. (James 4:3) A wrong prayer cannot be made right by the addition of some mystic phrase! And a right prayer does not fail if some such words are omitted. No! It is more than a question of words. Our Lord is thinking about faith and facts more than about some formula. The chief object of prayer is to glorify the Lord Jesus. We are to ask in Christ’s name “that the Father may be glorified in the Son”. (John 14:13) Listen! We are not to seek wealth or health, prosperity or success, ease or comfort, spirituality or fruitfulness in service simply for our own enjoyment or advancement or popularity, but only for Christ’s sake – for His glory.
Let us take these steps to a right understanding of those important words, “in my name.”
First, there is a sense in which some things are done only “for Christ’s sake” – because of His atoning death. Those who do not believe in the atoning death of Christ cannot pray “in His name.”They may use the words, but without effect. For we are “justified by His blood”. (Romans 5:9), and “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins”. (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14) In these days when Unitarianism under its guileful name of Modernism has invaded all sects, it is most important to remember the place and work of the shed blood of Christ, or “prayer” – so-called – becomes a delusion and a snare.
Let us illustrate this point by an experience which happened quite early in Dwight L. Moody’s ministry. The wife of an infidel judge – a man of great intellectual gifts – begged D. L. Moody to speak to her husband. D. L. Moody, however, hesitated at arguing with such a man, and told him so quite frankly. “But,” he added, “if ever you are converted will you promise to let me know?” The judge laughed cynically, and replied, “Oh, yes, I’ll let you know quick enough if I am ever converted!” D. L. Moody went his way, relying upon prayer alone. That judge was converted, and within a year. He kept his promise and told Mr. Moody just how it came about:
“I began to grow very uneasy and miserable one night when my we was at a prayer-meeting. I went to bed before she came home. I could not sleep all that night. Getting up early the next morning, I told my wife I should not need any breakfast, and went off to my office. Telling the clerks they could take a holiday, I shut myself up in my private room. But I became more and more wretched. Finally, I fell on my knees and asked God to forgive me my sins, but I would not say ‘for Jesus sake,’ for I was Unitarian, and I did not believe in the atonement. In an agony of mind I kept praying, ‘O God, forgive me my sins,’ but no answer came. At last in desperation, I cried, ‘O God, or Christ’s sake forgive my sins.’ Then I found peace at once.” That judge had no access to the presence of God until he sought it in the name of Jesus Christ. When he came in Christ’s name he was at once heard and forgiven. Yes, to pray “in the name” of the Lord Jesus is to ask for things which the blood of Christ has secured – “purchased” – for us. We have “boldness to enter into the holy of holies by the blood of Christ.” (Hebrews 10:19) There is entrance by no other name, because no other man is seated at God’s right hand, no other man but Christ, Jesus is mediator between God and man. (I Timothy 2:5) But this is not all that those words, “In My Name” mean.
The most familiar illustration of coming “in the name” of Christ is ☺that of drawing money from a bank by means of a check. I can draw from my bank account only up to the amount of my deposit there. In my own name, I can go no farther. In the Bank of America I have no money whatsoever, and can therefore draw nothing therefrom. But suppose a very wealthy man who has a big bank account gives me a blank check bearing his signature, and tells me to, “fill in the amount”. He is my friend! What should I do? What would you do? Should I just fill in the most meager amount in order to satisfy my present need, or shall I draw as much as I dare? I shall certainly do nothing to offend my friend, or to lower myself in his esteem! Well, we are told by some that heaven is our bank. God is the Great Banker, for “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father”. (James 1:17) We need a “check” wherewith to “draw” upon this boundless store. The Lord Jesus gives us a blank check in prayer. “Fill it in,” he says. “To any amount; ask ‘anything’, ‘whatsoever you will’ and you shall have it. Present your check in My name, and your request will be honored.”
Let me put this in the words of the evangelist, Billy Graham, “This is what happens when you go to the bank of heaven – when you go to God in prayer. You have nothing on deposit, no credit either, and if I go in my own name that is what I will receive nothing! But Jesus has unlimited credit in heaven and he has granted me the privilege of using his name. His Power of Attorney. That means I have his name on my checks, not just one check, but all of my checks. And when I go to my knees in prayer, then, in the name of Jesus Christ, I am drawing upon His credit not my own. It is the purchasing power of his shed blood that makes answered prayer possible.
(1) This is delightful, and in a sense, very true. If the check were drawn upon a Government account, or upon some wealthy corporation, one might be tempted to get all one could. But remember we are coming to a loving Father to Whom we owe everything. A Father, Whom we love with all our hearts, and before Whom we can come repeatedly. In cashing our checks at the bank of heaven we desire chiefly His honor and His glory. We wish to do only that which is pleasing in His sight. To cash some of our “checks” – to answer some of our prayers – would only bring dishonor to His name, and discredit and discomfort to us. True, His resources are unlimited; but His honor is assailable.
But experience makes argument unnecessary! Dear reader, have we not – all of us – often tried this method only to fail? How many of us dare say we have never come away from the bank of heaven without getting what we asked for, although we have apparently asked “in Christ’s name”? Wherein do we fail? Is it because we do not seek to learn God’s will for us? We must not try to exceed His will.
May I give a personal experience of my own which has never been told in public, and which is probably quite unique? I happened over thirty (30) years ago, and now I see why! It makes such a splendid illustration of what we are now trying to learn about prayer. A well-to-do friend, and an exceedingly busy one, wished to give me some money towards a certain purpose. He invited me to his office, and hastily wrote out a check for $100.00. He folded the check and handed it to me, saying, “Would you cash this check at the bank?” On arrival at the bank I glanced at my name on the check without troubling to verify the amount, I endorsed it, and then handed it to the teller who said, “this is a rather large sum of money to cash over the counter.” I said, “Yeah, right!”
Then I looked at the check, it was for $100,000! You see, my friend was, accustomed to writing big checks as his business was quite large. And since he made large transactions and large purchases for his business and also since the check was written hurriedly, he had inadvertently written the check for One Hundred Thousand Dollars instead of for One Hundred Dollars. Now, what was my position legally? Could I have legally cashed the check? Yes, it was in my name, all that it needed to be negotiable was my endorsement, which I had already made. The check was written deliberately, if hurriedly, and given freely to me, by a person who was extremely wealthy. Why shouldn’t I just take the money? But I was dealing with a friend. He had revealed his mind to me, I knew and understood his wishes and desires. He had meant to give me ONLY ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS and no more. I at once took back the “too generous check”, and in due time I received the $100.00 he had intended to give me. Had that donor given me a blank check, the matter could have been solved much more easily. I would have simply filled in the proper amount, ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Either way, it was my honor and our friendship that was at stake. The lesson from this is, GOD HAS HIS WILL FOR US ALL, and unless we seek to know that will we are likely to ask for “ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS, when our need can be met with just ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.” In our prayers we are coming to a Friend – a loving Father. We owe everything to Him. He bids us come to Him whenever we like for all we need. His resources are infinite. But He bids us to remember that we should ask only for those things that are according to His will, [only for those things that will bring glory to His name.] First John 5:14 says, “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us”. So then when our friend gives us a blank check and says, “fill in what you will”, and we fill in $100,000 instead of $100.00 or $10.00 instead of $100.00 they are both a fraud. Do you ask God for too much? Do you ask God for too little? Do we dare to ask “according to His riches in glory”? We cannot be sure that we are praying in Jesus Christ’s precious name, unless that we know His will for us.
Even now we have not exhausted the meaning of those words, “In my name”. We all know what it is to ask for a thing “in the name” of another. But we are very careful not to allow anyone to use our name, who is not to be trusted. He might very well abuse our trust and discredit our name. Gehazi, the trusted servant, dishonestly used Elisha’s name when he ran after Naaman. In Elisha’s name he secured riches, but also inherited a curse for his wickedness. [He got Naaman’s leprosy.]
A trusted clerk often uses his employer’s name and handles great sums of money as if they were his own. But this he does only so long as he is thought to be worthy of such confidence in him. And he uses the money for his master’s sake, not his own. All our money belongs to our Master, who is Christ the Lord. We can go to God for supplies in His [Jesus’] name if we use all we get for His [God in Christ’s] glory.
When I go to cash a check payable to me, the banker is quite satisfied if the signature of his client is genuine and that I am the person authorized to receive the money. He does not ask for references to my character. He has no right whatever to enquire whether I am worthy to receive the money or to be trusted to use it aright. It is not so with the Bank of Heaven. Now, this is a point of greatest importance. Do not hurry over what is now to be said. When I go to heaven’s bank in the name of the Lord Jesus, with a check drawn upon the unsearchable riches of Christ, God demands that I shall be a worthy recipient. Not “worthy” in the sense that I can merit or deserve anything from a holy God – but worthy in the sense that I am seeking the gift not for my own glory or self-interest, but only for the glory of God.
Otherwise I may pray and not get. “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss that ye may [consume it upon your lusts.“-KJV] [spend it in your pleasures.”-RSV] (James 4: 3) The great Heavenly Banker will not cash checks for us if our motives are not right. Is not this why so many fail in prayer? Christ’s name is the revelation of His character.
To pray “in His name” is to pray in His character, as His representative* sent by Him: it is to pray by His spirit* and according to His will*; to have His approval* in our asking, to seek what He seeks*, to ask help to do what He Himself would wish to be done*, and to desire to do it not for our own glorification, but for His glory alone*
To pray “in His name” we must have identity of interests and purpose*. [Self and its aims and desires must be entirely controlled by God’s Holy Spirit], so that our wills are in complete harmony with Christ’s will*.
We must reach the attitude of St. Augustine when he cried, “O Lord, grant that I may do Thy will as if it were my will, so that Thou mayest do my will as if it were Thy will.” Child of God, does this seem to make prayer “in His name” quite beyond us? That was not our Lord’s intention. He is not mocking us! Speaking of the Holy Spirit our Lord used these words: “The Comforter...Whom the Father will send in my name”–John 14:26. Now, our Savior wants us to be so controlled by the Holy Spirit that we may act in Christ’s name. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God”–Romans 8:14. And only sons can say, “Our Father”.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said of Saul of Tarsus: “He is a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel” Acts 9:15. Not “to them”, but “before them”. So that St. Paul was able to say: “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me.”
We cannot pray in Christ’s name unless we bear that name before people*. And this is only possible so long as we “abide in” Him* and His words abide in us. So we come to this – unless the heart is right, the prayer cannot be right! Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you”. John 15:7 Ask anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13, 14 and Ask
Remember, if we ask anything, according to His will, we have the petitions 1John 5:14. Oh what a wonder it is to know this! How eagerly and earnestly we should seek to know His “mind”. His wish, His will! How amazing it is that any one of us should by our own self -seeking miss such unsearchable riches! We know that God’s will is the best for us! We know that He longs to bless us and make us a blessing to others. We know that to follow our own inclinations is guaranteed to bring us to harm, and to harm those we love as well. We know that to turn away from His will for us, is to court disaster. O Child of God, why do we not trust Him fully and wholly? Here we are, then, once again brought face to face with a life of holiness. We see with the utmost clarity that our Savior’s call to prayer is simply a call to holiness. “Be ye holy!” for without holiness no man can see God, and prayer cannot be efficacious.
When we confess that we “never get answers to our prayers,” we are condemning not God, or His promises, or the power of prayer, but ourselves. There is no greater test of spirituality than prayer. The man who tries to pray quickly discovers just where he stands in God’s sight. Unless we are living the Victorious Christian Life, we cannot truly pray “in His [Christ’s] name. Our prayer will be feeble, fitful and oft-times unfruitful. “In His name” must mean, “according to His will”. But can we know His will? Assuredly we can. St. Paul not only says, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus...”Phillipians 2:5; but he also boldly declares, “We have the mind of Christ”. 1Corinthians 2:16 And so the questions persists: What is God’s Will? For example, I can confidently ask God for wisdom, because His Word says, “If any...lack wisdom, let him ask of God...and it shall be given him”. James 1:5, We cannot be men and women of prevailing prayer unless we search the scriptures for His great and precious promises. His Word is His Will!
Remember our Heavenly Father has pledged to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. -Luke 11:13 and not only the Holy Spirit, but any other “good thing” also. -Matthew 7:11. It is imperative to be wholeheartedly yielded to Christ. A lukewarm Christian is of little use to God. One sin allowed in the life, wrecks at once the life of the spirit and the joy of life. It also robs our prays of the power they should have. The power God wants them to have in Christ’s name. This is the grace and glory of God, that our Lord Jesus Christ is at once willing to make us His ministers of blessing to others, and the repository of His glory. Turn to Jesus, and eagerly and earnestly cry, “Lord, what shall I do?” –Acts 22:10 RSV. And then in the power of His might follow His instructions with all your might and with all your heart.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;And above all these things put on charity [the love of God in the renewed mind, in manifestation, in the Church], which is the bond [cord that binds these five (5) together] of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, in the which also ye are called in one body, and be ye thankful...Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom... And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by [through] Him..” Colossians 3: 12, 14, 17
When we do everything in the name of Jesus Christ and for the glory of God, then God will do whatsoever we ask in Jesus’ name.
LOOKING UNTO JESUS, THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF OUR FAITH; WHO FOR THE JOY THAT WAS SET BEFORE HIM ENDURED THE CROSS, DESPISING THE SHAME AND IS SET DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD. Hebrews 12:2
WORK AND PRAY
We must remember that we are workers together with God, and that there are endless opportunities to both work in pursuit of the Kingdom and to lift holy hands” – or at least holy hearts to the Lord in prayer. Do we seize these priceless opportunities: to praise and bless our Redeemer? We can pray* doing simple household chores, while at a factory job, while doing yard work, while caring for our children. Indeed the Apostle Paul encouraged us to “pray without ceasing”.I Thessalonians 5:17. Try it!, you can train yourself to pray when performing a specific duty [i.e. washing dishes, walking anywhere, etc.]. Then whenever you begin washing dishes or performing some routine task, you will automatically fall into prayer. For those of you who already speak in tongues this will be comparatively easy. Because speaking in tongues bypasses your sense-knowledge awareness, it is much easier to form this habit pattern when you speak in other tongues.
For those of you who do not speak in tongues, our Heavenly Father is pledged to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, Luke 11:11. and any other good thing too! Matthew 7:11 It will benefit your prayer life to be wholly yielded to Christ? The half-and-half Christian is of little use either to God or man. God cannot use him, and man has no use for him, but considers him a hypocrite. One sin allowed in the life wrecks at once our usefulness and our joy, and robs prayer of its power. Beloved, we have caught a fresh glimpse of the grace and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is willing and waiting to share with us both His glory and His grace. He is willing to make us His hands and feet to minister to a hurting generation. Shall we not worship God in sincerity and truth, and cry eagerly and earnestly, “Lord, what shall I do?” Acts 22:10 R.V. and then, in the power of His might, do it? This is God’s answer:
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Colossians 3:12-17
It is only when whatsoever we do is done in His name that He will do whatsoever we ask in His name. Don’t children, both young and old, work better when some loved one is watching? Won’t it help us ever to remember that the Lord Jesus is always with us, watching? Ah, and helping us in everything. The very consciousness of His eyes upon us will be the consciousness of His power within us.
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. Philippians 4:5,6
When the Lord sent his disciples forth to work, He said, “Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20 What a blessed thought, that the Lord is always at our left hand, we being at His right hand, the hand of blessing! The nearness of the Lord is not just His coming advent, but His constant presence. In everything suggests that no matter what befalls us, we should make it the focus of prayer and praise to the Lord who is always closer that our own breath.
Sir Thomas Browne, the celebrated physician, had caught this spirit. He made a vow “to pray in all places where quietness inviteth; in any house, highway or street; and to know no street in this city that may not witness that I have not forgotten God, my Savior in it, and that no town or parish where I have been may not say the like. I will take every occasion to pray for every church which I see as I ride about. To pray daily and particularly for my sick patients, and for all sick people, everywhere. And at the entrance into the house of the sick to say, “the peace and the mercy of God be upon this house. After a sermon to make a prayer and desire a blessing, and to pray for the minister.”
But we question if this habitual communion with our blessed Lord is possible unless we have times – whether long or brief – of definite prayer. And what of these prayer seasons? Prayer is as simple as a little child asking something of his or her father. I wouldn’t need to repeat this statement were it not for the existence of the evil one. There is no doubt whatsoever that the adversary opposes our approach to God in prayer, and does all that he can to prevent our praying. The devil’s chief hindrance to our prayers of faith, is to introduce thoughts of our own needs, so that we do not attend to the thoughts and goals of God. He wants us to concentrate on the gift rather than the Giver. Indeed, the study of the holy spirit field in the Bible, is devastated by the blurring of the line between the Giver and His gift, until none can tell the difference between the two. How difficult Satan makes it to concentrate our thoughts upon God! This is why I urge you to acquire a realization of the glory of God*, and the power of God* and the presence of God*, before offering up any petition.
If there were no devil there would be no difficulty in prayer, but it is the evil one’s chief aim to make prayer impossible.
A prayer-warrior remarked, “God does not wish us to waste either His time or ours with long prayers. We must be business-like in our dealings with God, and just tell Him plainly and briefly what we want, and leave the matter there.” But does our friend think that prayer is merely making God acquainted with our needs? If that were all there was to it, there would be no need to pray at all! For as Jesus, Himself once said, “Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask.” Matthew 6:8 Of course, Jesus had some words to say about long prayers, but those were long prayers “made for a pretense”, for show. Luke 20:47. When people’s prayers bounce off the ceiling they use pretension and vain words like: “feeble breathings,” or “unworthy utterings.” they fain piety, calling themselves “humble servants” and “worthless slaves”.
They do this according to Jesus because they seek “Praise of men”. John 12:43 The Lord says, “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Matthew 6:2 Jesus, Himself spent long hours in prayer, He would sometimes arise a “great while before day” and depart to a solitary place for prayer. Mark 1:35 Undoubtedly the reality of prayer is that, nights of prayer with God have been followed by days of power with men.
Do the pressures of service and boundless opportunities for usefulness call you away from prayer? Pray more. Do you long to serve the Lord as He served others? Pray more. Is your dayplanner clogged with more obligations than you can fulfill? Pray even more! After one of the Lord’s busiest days, at a time when His popularity was at its highest, just when everyone sought His company and His counsel, He turned His back upon the crowd and retired into a solitary place and there prayed. Matthew14:23 Once when a great multitude came together to hear Him and to be healed by Him, Jesus withdrew into the desert and prayed. Luke 5:15,16 Why did He do this? Because He needed to! Because He knew how much more potent prayer could be than mere service. Because He wanted His Father to know that the service was for God and not for men.
We say we are too busy to pray. But the busier our Lord was, the more He prayed. Sometimes He had no leisure time whatsoever, not even to eat; Mark 3:20 and sometimes He had no leisure for needed rest and sleep! Mark 6:31 Yet He always took time to pray. If frequent prayer and long hours of prayer were necessary for our Savior, aren’t they also necessary for us? “There is no need for us to go beating about the bush, and not telling the Lord distinctly what it is that we crave at His hand. Nor will it be seemly for us to make any attempt to use fine language; but let us ask God in the simplest and most direct manner for just the things we want...I believe in business-like prayers. I mean prayers in which you take to God one of his many promises which He has given us in His Word, and expect it to be fulfilled as certainly as we look for the money to be given us when we go to the bank to cash a check. We should not think of going there, lolling over the counter chattering with the clerks on every conceivable subject except the one thing for which we had gone to the bank, and then coming away without the money we need; but we should lay before the clerk the promise to pay the bearer a certain sum, tell him in what form we wished to take the amount, count the cash after him, and then go on our way to attend to other business. That is just an illustration of the method in which we should draw supply from the Bank of Heaven.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
Be definite in prayer, be specific and above all else, be confident! Put eloquence and verbosity aside and come in faith expecting to receive. But would the bank clerk pass me the money, if he could see a robber at my elbow ready to steal the money? No! He would wait until the thief was gone. St. Peter urges certain things upon believers, “that your prayers be not hindered”. I Peter 3:7 Satan can hinder our prayers and delay the answer as Jesus describes: “Then cometh the evil one and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in the heart”. Matthew 8:19 R.V.
Satan’s object in ripping off the answers to our prayers is simple, He wants to get at the Word of God which is sown in our hearts, He wants to get us to doubt God! Scripture gives us one instance – probably only one out of many – where the adversary actually succeeded in keeping back – delaying – for three (3) weeks an answer to prayer: “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to humble thyself before God, thy words were heard: and I am come for thy word’s sake. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia [a very powerful devil-spirit] withstood me one and twenty days. But lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me”. Daniel 10:12 & 13
PREVAILING PRAYER, TRAVAILING PRAYER
We must not overlook this Satanic opposition and hindrance to our prayers. If we were to be content to ask God only once for some promised thing or one we deemed necessary, these chapters would never have been written. Are we never to ask again? For instance, I know that God willeth not the death of a sinner. So I come boldly in prayer: “O God, save my friend.” Am I never to ask for his conversion again? George Mueller prayed daily – and oftener – for sixty years for the conversion of a friend. But what light does the Bible throw upon “business-like” prayers? Our Lord gave two parables to teach persistence and continuance in prayer. The man who asked three loaves from his friend at midnight received as many as he needed “because of his importunity”-- or persistency (Weymouth), i.e. his “shamelessness,” as the word literally means. Luke11:8 The widow who “troubled” the unjust judge with her “continual coming” at last secured redress. Our Lord adds
“And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?” Luke 18:7
How delighted our Lord was with the poor Syro-Phoenician [Philistine] woman who would not take “no” for an answer. Because of her continual request He said: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt”. Matthew 15:28 Our dear Lord, in His agony in Gethsemane, found it necessary to repeat even His prayer. “And he left them and went away and prayed a third time, saying again the same words”. Matthew 24:44 St. Paul asked God time after time to remove his thorn in the flesh. “Concerning this thing,” he says, “I besought the Lord thrice* that it might depart from me”. II Corinthians 7:8 To Constrain someone is to ask a thing three (3) times.(Luke 24: 28, 29)
God cannot always grant our petitions immediately. Sometimes we are not fitted to receive the gift. Sometimes He says “No” in order to give us something far better. Think, too, of the days when St. Peter was in prison. If your boy was unjustly imprisoned, expecting death at any moment, would you – could you – be content to pray just once, a “business-like” prayer: “O God, deliver my boy from the hands of these men”? Would you not be very much in prayer and very much in earnest?
This is how the Church prayed for St. Peter. “Long and fervent prayer was offered to God by the Church on his behalf.” Acts 12:5(Weymouth) Bible students will have noticed that the A.V. rendering, “without ceasing,” reads “earnestly” in the R.V. Dr. Torrey points out that neither translation gives the full force of the Greek. The word means literally “stretched-out-ed-ly.” It represents the soul on the stretch of earnest and intense desire. Intense prayer was made for St. Peter. The very same word is used of our Lord in Gethsemane: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became as it were: great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” Luke 22:44
Ah! There was earnestness, even agony in prayer. Now, what about our prayers? Are we called upon to agonize in prayer? Many of God’s dear saints say “No!” They think such agonizing in us would reveal great want of faith. Yet most of the experiences which befell our Lord are to be ours. We have been crucified with Christ, and we are risen with Him. Shall there be, with us, no travailing for souls? Come back to human experience. Can we refrain from agonizing in prayer over dearly beloved children who are living in sin? I question if any believer can have the burden of souls upon him – a passion for souls – and not agonize in prayer.
Can we help crying out, like John Knox, “O God, give me Scotland or I die”? Here again the Bible helps us. Was there no travail of soul and agonizing in prayer when Moses cried out to God, “O, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin –; and if not, blot, me, I pray Thee, out of thy book”? Exodus 32:32 Was there no agonizing in prayer when St. Paul said, “I could wish” – (“pray,” R.V. marginal note) – “that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake”? Romans 9:3
We may, at all events, be quite sure that our Lord, Who wept over Jerusalem, and Who “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears”, Hebrews 5:7, will not be grieved if He sees us weeping over lost souls. The Lord would, I think, be glad to see us in soul travail over the sin which also grieves Him? The Bible says, “As soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children.” Isaiah 66:8 St. Paul must have been thinking of the travail for souls which he as an evangelist did on behalf of the Galatians when in Galatians 4:19 he says to them, “My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you”? Agonizing over the perishing is a sign of spiritual tenderheartedness and great compassion! There is such a thing as wrestling in prayer. Not because God is unwilling to answer, but because of the opposition of the “world-rulers of this present darkness” R.V. Ephesians 6:12
Therefore the scriptures say:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places [from on high] Ephesians 6:12
The very word used for “striving” in prayer means “a contest”. The contest is not between you and God, the contest is between You and God on the one side and the adversary and his evil hosts on the other, for Satan desires that he may thwart our prayers. We also are on high, or in heavenly places in Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. Ephesians 1:3, 4
It is only in Christ that we can be victorious:
Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches; he abideth in me, and I in him, bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:4, 5
Our wrestling may be a wrestling of our thoughts from thinking Satan’s suggestions, and keeping them fixed on Christ our Savior – that is, watching as well as praying:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. [Watching unto prayer] R.V. Ephesians 6:18 K.J.V.
We may, perhaps, like Nehemiah, weep, and mourn, and fast when we pray before God. Nehemiah 1:4 “But,” one asks, “may not a Godly sorrow for sin and a yearning desire for the salvation of others induce in us an agonizing which is unnecessary, and dishonoring to God?” Might it not reveal in us a lack of faith in God’s promises? Perhaps it may do so. But there is little doubt that St. Paul regarded prayer – at least sometimes – as a conflict (see Romans 15:30). In writing to the Colossians he said, “I would have you know how greatly I strive for you ... and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh’ that their hearts may be comforted”. Colossians 2: 1, 2 Undoubtedly St. Paul refers to his prayers for them not some earthly conflict. Again, St. Paul speaks of Epaphras as one who is “always striving for you in his prayers, that ye may stand perfect, and fully assured in all the will of God”. Colossians 4:12 The word for “strive” is our word “agonize,” the very word used of our Lord being “in an agony” when praying Himself. Luke 22:44
When we sing, “Oh How He loves you and me”, we remember that Jesus taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father in the spirit of His unfathomable love and that prayer is not some burden to be borne, or an irksome duty to fulfill, but a joyous and powerful undertaking which has no limits. Prayer is given to us the we might “find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). When Jesus said, “Pray ye”, it was an invitation to a banquet, not an assignment. The Lord Jesus loves us infinitely more than any earthly friend, “He gave His life, what more could He give.”
Jesus said, “Your [heavenly] Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.”Matthew 6:8 And if God knows everything about prayer, and you long to know how to pray effectually, don’t you think that He will be willing to teach you? God knows how little leisure time some of us have, that’s why for some of us God makes leisure. (Psalm 23:2)
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
If you are looked upon as a spiritual leader and have the welfare and training of others as your mission [I am speaking to both pastors and the parents of young children] you are bound to be much in prayer. “Moreover as for me, God forbid that we should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and right way;”(I Samuel 12:23) Yes, with some of us it is our very business, almost our life’s work to pay. Others of us might have more mundane employment. We can also pray while doing wash or changing diapers. Can you make time for prayer? I may be wrong, but my own belief is that it is not God’s will for most of us and perhaps not for any of us, to spend so much time in prayer as to injure our physical health through getting insufficient food or sleep. With very many it is a physical impossibility, because of bodily weakness, to remain long in the spirit of intense prayer.
Prayer is measured, not by time, but by intensity. When you think about men and women of earnest prayer who sometimes remained on their knees before God all day or all night, refusing food and scorning sleep, whilst they prayed and prayed and prayed, do you wonder, “what’s up with this?” Must all of us follow their example?”
We must remember that those believers did not pray by time. They continued so long in prayer because they could not stop praying. I may appear that in earlier chapters I was suggesting that we must all follow their lead and do what they would do, or as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”(I Corinthians 11:1)
Just be willing to do what He will have you to do!
St. Paul says of Epaphras “he hath much labor for you,”[that is in his prayers] St. Paul saw him praying there in prison, and witnessed his intense striving as he engaged in a long indefatigable effort on behalf of the Colossian church. How the Praetorian guard to whom St. Paul was chained must have wondered – yes, and have been deeply touched – to see these men at their prayers. Their prayers. Their agitation, their tears, their earnest supplications as they lifted up chained hands in prayer must have been a revelation to him! What would they think of our prayers? No doubt St. Paul was speaking of his own custom when he urged the Ephesian church and others “to stand,” “with all prayer and supplication, Praying at all seasons in he Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and on my behalf ... an ambassador in chains.” Ephesians 6:18-20
This is a picture of St. Paul’s own prayer life!
So then our prayer when our prayers meet with obstacles, which must be prayed away, and that is what true prayer warriors mean when they say, praying through. We must wrestle with the machinations of Satan. I may be bodily weariness or pain, or the insistent claims of other thoughts, or doubt, or the direct assaults of spiritual hosts of wickedness. With us, as with St. Paul, prayer is something of a “conflict,” a “wrestling in the spirit”, and at least some of the time, we are compelled to “stir” ourselves up “to lay hold on God.” Isaiah 64:7
A friend who occasionally visited for two (2) or three (3) days and was always a great trial, and a real tax upon my temper and patience. I would have to spend much time in prayer preparation before her arrival. Then one year, this “critical christian” decided to spend an entire week with me! I thought that nothing but an entire night on my knees would fortify me for so lengthy a visit. I beseeched God for an entire night to give me the grace to remain sweet and loving, patient and noncritical during the impending “vacation”. But, while praying a scripture came to mind: My fears vanished, and I immediately gave God thanks and praise for all His goodness. Then I jumped into bed and slept like a log. My guest arrived the next day, and I thoroughly enjoyed her visit.
But, my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:19
No one can lay down rules to pray by, even for himself. God alone is able to direct the heart, moment by moment, through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. The Holy Spirit is our guide in all things spiritual. Only remember that prayer is a many-sided thing.
As Bishop Moule says, “True prayer can be uttered under innumerable circumstances.” Very often:
Prayer is the burden of a sigh
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near
Prayer may be just letting your request be made known unto God. (Phillippians 4:6) We cannot think that prayer need to always be a conflict and a wrestling. For if it were, many of us would soon become physical wrecks. For many it is a physical impossibility to stay up all night praying, and for some kneeling to pray is a physical agony not a soul agony. Remember, prayer genuine and victorious, is to be continually offered without the least physical effort or disturbance. It is often in the deepest stillness of the soul and spirit. But, there is another side of the matter: Prayer is never meant to be easy, however born out of simple, childlike faith it may be. Prevailing prayer is full of labor, persistence, conflict and travail. It is an infinitely important transaction between you and God.
God cannot do something of which He is incapable. What is that?, you ask, “...it was [is] impossible for God to lie!...” Hebrews 6:18 If God were but a “wish machine”, where would His Sovereignty be? If God were not bound by His Word, why would He expect us to be bound by ours? God can always do more than His Word promises, He can never do less. The “more” part that is in the realm of phenomena, like “the cloven tongues like as of fire”Acts 2:3. God can never do less than His Word: Jesus prophesied that they would receive “the promise of the Father”, Acts 1:4, and they were “endued [clothed about] with power from on high”. Luke 24:49, as He promised.
DOES GOD ALWAYS ANSWER PRAYER?
We now come to one of the most important questions that any man can ask. Very much depends upon the answer that we give. Let’s face the question squarely and honestly. Does God always answer prayer? Even the doubting heart concedes that God does appear to answer ‘some’ prayers, from ‘some’ people, sometimes. But does He always answer “true” prayer: the kind of prayer that follows the pattern described in the preceding chapters?; 1.)the kind of prayer that is made according to a [scriptural] promise claimed?; 2.)prayer that goes directly to the Father?; 3.)with boldness?; 4.)simple childlike faith?; 5.)a specific prayer that doesn’t “let God out of it”, by being so vague it could be answered any way at all? 6.)and above all a prayer by a person that first goes to God’s Word to discern His will, and then, goes directly to God without saying once, “If it be Thy will”? [Creel, I don’t know how to express this thought in a grammatically correct manner. Help!]
We all know that there are prayers that never go any higher than the ceiling. But that is because God never hears them! God says in His Word, “When ye make many prayers, I will not hear”. Isaiah 1:15 But God is talking to the proud and the idolatrous [merely religious people, who have a divided heart toward God.] But a child of God ought to expect answers to prayer. God means for every one of us to have an answer, to get our needs met, both heavenly and earthly, to truly know God as our “sufficiency in all things”. II Corinthians 9:8
Not a single prayer according to this pattern will ever fail! The Scriptures say, “All things are yours; ... for ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s”. I Corinthians 3:21, 23 It is a tragedy that more Christians don’t believe this promise. The Christian Church is like the owners of Mount Morgan in Queensland, who toiled arduously for years, trying to farm it’s desolate slopes when all the time they were sitting on a gold mine of immense wealth. The Church unfortunately knows of the riches of God’s grace and mercy and God’s glory in Christ Jesus, our Lord. But they don’t seem to know how to receive this glory, this grace, this mercy.
Now, our Lord tells us that they are to be had for the asking. May he indeed give us all a right judgment in “prayer-things”. When we say that no true prayer goes unanswered we are not claiming that God always gives just what we ask for. Have you ever met a parent so foolish as to treat his child like that? We do not give our children what might hurt them, or what we have expressly forbidden, simply because of the child’s clamoring. Wealthy people are the most careful not to allow their children much pocket-money.
God’s answer to prayer may be “Yes,” or it may be “No”. It may also be “Wait,” for it may be that He plans a much larger blessing than we imagined, and one which involves other lives as well as our own. God cannot answer a prayer that involves His superseding the free will of another! Then on the other hand with enough time and prayer God can work in the hardest or the most foolish of hearts, “both to will and to do of His good pleasure”. Phillipians 2:13 The one great work of the Spirit is to direct the heart.