The Kneeling Christian
o CHAPTER 1: GOD’S GREAT NEED
o CHAPTER 2: ALMOST INCREDIBLE PROMISES
o CHAPTER 3: “ASK OF ME AND I WILL GIVE”
o CHAPTER 4: ASKING FOR SIGNS
o CHAPTER 5: WHAT IS PRAYER?
o CHAPTER 6: HOW SHALL I PRAY?
o CHAPTER 7: MUST I AGONIZE?
o CHAPTER 8: DOES GOD ALWAYS ANSWER PRAYER?
o CHAPTER 9: ANSWERS TO PRAYER
o CHAPTER 10: HOW GOD ANSWERS PRAYER
o CHAPTER 11: HINDRANCES TO PRAYER
o CHAPTER 12: WHO MAY PRAY?
THE KNEELING CHRISTIAN
By AN UNKNOWN CHRISTIAN
A traveller in China visited a heathen temple on a great feast-day.
Many were the worshippers of the hideous idol enclosed in a sacred shrine.
The visitor noticed that most of the devotees brought with them small pieces
of paper on which prayers had been written or printed. These they would wrap
up in little balls of stiff mud and fling at the idol. He enquired the
reason for this strange proceeding, and was told that if the mud ball stuck
fast to the idol, then the prayer would assuredly be answered; but if the
mud fell off, the prayer was rejected by the god.
We may smile at this peculiar way of testing the acceptability of a
prayer. But is it not a fact that the majority of Christian men and women
who pray to a Living God know very little about real prevailing prayer? Yet
prayer is the key which unlocks the door of God’s treasure-house.
It is not too much to say that all real growth in the spiritual
life-all victory over temptation, all confidence and peace in the presence
of difficulties and dangers, all repose of spirit in times of great
disappointment or loss, all habitual communion with God-depend upon the
practice of secret prayer.
This book was written by request, and with much hesitancy. It goes
forth with much prayer. May He Who said, “Men ought always to pray, and not
to faint,” “teach us to pray.”
1. GOD’S GREAT NEED
2. ALMOST INCREDIBLE PROMISES
3. “ASK OF ME AND I WILL GIVE”
4. ASKING FOR SIGNS
5. WHAT IS PRAYER?
6. HOW SHALL I PRAY?
7. MUST I AGONIZE?
8. DOES GOD ALWAYS ANSWER PRAYER?
9. ANSWERS TO PRAYER
10. HOW GOD ANSWERS PRAYER
11. HINDRANCES TO PRAYER
12. WHO MAY PRAY?
CHAPTER 1: GOD’S GREAT NEED
“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” (Isa. lix. 16) — ‘none to
interpose” (R.V., marg.). 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 the Holy Spirit, full of grace and power, “helping our
infirmity,” “Himself making intercession for us” and in us (Rom. viii. 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 farther, 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 “marvelled.” He marvelled at the
unbelief of some — unbelief which actually prevented Him from doing any
mighty work in their cities (Mark vi. 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” (Isa. Ixiv.
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
ii. 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
The Church of England, recognizing the importance of worship and
prayer, expects her clergy to read prayers in Church every morning and
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 numbers 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?
“Only a prayer-meeting” — how often we have 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,
We are never so high as when we are on our knees.
Criticize? Who dare criticize another? When we look back upon the past
and remember how much prayerlessness there has been in one’s own life, 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
that prayer is a power? Is 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 good? 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 could not, or would not, fulfil? Our Savior’s three great commands
for definite action were: —
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” and to “Go.” Yet, without
obedience to the “Pray ye,” it is of little or no use at all either to “Do
this” or to “Go.”
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 gross exaggeration, but the
more we think it over in the light Scripture throws upon it, the more
convinced shall we 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
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 amongst the smart
set of his college, when Christ claimed him. He accepted the Lord Jesus as a
personal Savior, 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 St. Matthew xxi. 21, 22: “‘If ye have faith and doubt not . . .
all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.’
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 Master, I had a vision of my
Savior 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 my Lord what 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
be it said — I heeded not that 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 Savior requires in the inner life of those who would pray
Was it because I had failed to measure up my life to the “perfect love”
standard so beautifully described in the thirteenth chapter of the first
Epistle to the Corinthians?
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”
(Psa. li.) 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
heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and [then] whatsoever we
ask, we receive of Him” (I John iii. 21).
“True — and I believe it.” Yes, indeed, it is a limitless promise, and
yet how little we realize it, how little we claim 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
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
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
work. 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, by Whom ye come to God,
The Life, the Truth, the Way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod;
Lord, teach us now to pray.
CHAPTER 2: 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 sceptre 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.
“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 xiv. 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
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 bare much fruit; and so shall ye be My disciples”
(John xv. 7, 8).
These words are of such grave importance, and so momentous, that the
Savior of the world is not content even with a threefold utterance of them.
He urges His disciples to obey His command “to ask.” In fact, He tells them
that one sign of their being His “friends” will be the obedience to His
commands in all things (verse 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 xv. 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 Me nothing” — i.e., “ask Me no question”
(R.V., marg.) — “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 xvi.
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 men — Christian men — practically ignore it! Is it not so?
The exceeding greatness of the promise seems to over-whelm us. Yet we
know that He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or
think” (Eph. iii. 20).
So our blessed Master gives the final exhortation, before He is seized,
and bound, and scourged, before His gracious lips are silenced on the cross,
“Ye shall ask in My name . . . for the Father Himself loveth you” (verse
26). We have often spent much time in reflecting upon our Lord’s seven words
from the cross. And it is well we should do so. Have we ever spent one hour
in meditating upon this, our Savior’s sevenfold invitation to pray?
Today He sits on the throne of His Majesty on high, and He holds out to
us the sceptre of His power. Shall we touch it and tell Him our desires? He
bids us take of His treasures. He yearns to grant us “according to the
riches of His glory,” that we may “be strengthened with power through His
Spirit in the inner man.” He tells us that our strength and our fruitfulness
depend upon our prayers. He reminds us that our very joy depends upon
answered prayer (John xvi. 24).
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
our intercourse with men than by our intercession with God. It passes one’s
comprehension that so little heed should be given to our Lord’s sevenfold
invitation — command — promise! 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 nought. 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. Payson is right — is
Scriptural — when he says: “If we would do much for God, we must ask much
of God: we must be men 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. God delights to answer prayer; and He has given
us His word that He will answer.
Fellow-laborers in His vineyard, it is quite evident that our Master
desires us to ask, and to ask much. He tells us we glorify God by doing so!
Nothing is beyond the scope of prayer which is not beyond the will of God —
and we do not desire to go beyond His will.
We dare not say that our Lord’s words are not true. Yet somehow or
other few Christians really seem to believe them. What holds us back? What
seals our lips? What keeps us from making much of prayer? Do we doubt His
love? Never! He gave His life for us and to us. Do we doubt the Father’s
love? Nay. “The Father Himself loveth you,” said Christ when urging His
disciples to pray.
Do we doubt His power? Not for a moment. Hath He not said, “All power
hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye . . . and lo, I am
with you alway . . .”? (Matt. xxviii. 18-20). Do we doubt His wisdom? Do we
mistrust His choice for us? Not for a moment. And yet so very few of His
followers consider prayer really worth while. Of course, they would deny
this — but actions speak louder than words. Are we afraid to put God to the
test? He has said we may do so. “Bring Me the whole tithe into the
storehouse . . . 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 that
there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. iii. 10). Whenever God
makes us a promise, let us boldly say, as did St. Paul, I believe God (Acts
xxvii. 25), and trust Him to keep His word.
Shall we begin today to be men of prayer, if we have never done so
before? Let us not put it off till a more convenient season. God wants me to
pray. The dear Savior wants me to pray. He needs my prayers. So much — in
fact, everything — depends upon prayer. How dare we hold back? Let every
one of us ask on our knees this 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 for that?
Ten minutes a day on our knees in prayer — when the Kingdom of Heaven
can be had for the asking!
Ten minutes? It seems a very inadequate portion of our time to spend in
taking hold of God (Isa. lxiv. 7) !
And is it prayer when we do “say” our prayers, or are we just repeating
daily a few phrases which have become practically meaningless, whilst our
thoughts are wandering hither and thither?
If God were to answer the words we repeated on our knees this morning
should we know it? Should we recognize the answer? Do we even remember what
we asked for? He does answer. He has given us His word for it. He always
answers every real prayer of faith.
But we shall see what the Bible has to say on this point in a later
chapter. We are now thinking of the amount of time we spend in prayer.
“How often do you pray?” was the question put to a Christian woman.
“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
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 —
of our country — of the heathen and Mohammedan world! 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” (Phil. iv. 19). But to share His
riches we must pray, for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him
(Rom. x. 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. Did 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 Himself 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” (Rom. viii. 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” (R.V., Acts vi. 4).
We may rest fully assured of this — a man’s influence in the world can
be gauged not by his eloquence, or his zeal, or his orthodox, or his energy,
but by his prayers. Yes, and we will go farther and maintain that no man can
live aright who does not pray aright.
We may work for Christ from morn till 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” (Col. i. 10). To be little
with God in prayer is to be little for God in service. Much secret prayer
means much public power. Yet is it not a fact that whilst our organizing is
well nigh perfect, our agonizing in prayer is well nigh lost?
Men are wondering why the Revival delays its coming. There is only one
thing that can delay it, and that is 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 God the Holy
Spirit will Himself convict Christian men and women of the sin of
prayerlessness, and drive them to their knees, to call upon God day and
night in burning, believing, prevailing intercession! The Lord Jesus, now in
the heavenlies, beckons to us to fall upon our knees and claim the riches of
No man dare prescribe for another how long a time he ought to spend in
prayer, nor do we suggest that men should make a vow to pray so many minutes
or hours a day. Of course, the Bible command is to “Pray without ceasing.”
This is evidently the “attitude of prayer” — the attitude of one’s life.
Here we are speaking of definite acts of prayer. Have you ever timed
your prayers? We believe that most of our readers would be amazed and
confounded if they did time themselves!
Some years ago the writer faced this prayer question. He felt that for
himself at least one hour a day was the minimum time that he should spend in
prayer. He carefully noted down every day a record of his prayer-life. As
time went on he met a working-man who was being much used of God.
When asked to what he chiefly attributed his success, this man quietly
replied, “Well, I could not get on without two hours a day of private
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, oftentimes, 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 to us: He never did things merely as an example. He prayed
because He needed to pray. As perfect Man, prayer to Him was a necessity.
Then how much more is it necessary 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
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 a “God of comfort” (Rom. xv. 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 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 I bad never in all my life really prayed!”
But here we must leave the matter. Shall we get on our knees before God
and allow His Holy Spirit 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” 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
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 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 Savior, pour out upon us the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that
we may indeed become Kneeling Christians.
To God your every want
In instant prayer display.
Pray always; pray and never faint:
Pray! Without ceasing, pray.
CHAPTER 3: “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 pray-er’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
We have had a vision of a God pleadingly calling for prayer from His
children. How am I treating that call? Can I say, with St. Paul, .”I am ‘not
disobedient to the heavenly vision’ ” ? Again we repeat, if there are any
regrets in heaven, the greatest will be that we spent so little time in real
intercession whilst we were 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 ii. 8). Yet many people do not trouble to bring even the
little details of their own 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
In this chapter we are setting out to do the “impossible.” What is
that? We long to bring home to the heart and conscience of every reader the
power of prayer. We venture to describe this as “impossible.” For if men
will not believe, and act upon, our Lord’s promises and commands, how can we
expect them to be persuaded by any mere human exhortations?
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 xiv. 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 grasp, 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
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 Savior.
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 ii. 28). How much of that Spirit of
“supplication” is ours? Surely we must get that Spirit at all costs? Yet if
we are not willing to spend time in “supplication,” God must perforce
withhold His Spirit, and we become numbered amongst those who are “resisting
the Spirit,” and possibly “quenching” the Spirit. Has not our Lord promised
the Holy Spirit to them that ask? (Luke xi. 13).
Are not the very converts from heathendom putting some of us to shame?
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 xii. 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 at 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. Back-sliders were restored,
believers were sanctified, and heathen brought into the fold — all because
a few mere children were praying.
God is no respecter of persons. 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 comrade overseas.
In a few weeks’ time the welcome message was sent home: “The blessing has
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 years ago, entirely in answer to prayer. 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,” said he.
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
hundred dollars in administering a widow’s legacy. Immediately conviction of
sin swept the audience. That service did not end till 2 o’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 stayed to pray. Amongst the “curious”
was a brigand chief, the leader of a robber band. He was convicted 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 heathen 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 heathen saw what
many Christians fail to see. Did not Christ say, “Where two or three are
gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”? (Matt.
xviii. 20). What is possible in Korea is possible here. God is “no
respecter” of nations. He is longing to bless us, longing to pour His Spirit
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 land 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 an almighty, all-loving God, and we
scarcely heed His words!
Verily, converts from heathendom put us to shame. In my journeyings 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. But a little while 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 Ghost is come
upon you” (Acts i. 4-8). “‘Wait’! Why, we have never done this,” she cried.
“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.
Whilst some of these girls were at Rawal Pindi, a lady missionary,
looking out of her tent towards midnight, was surprised to see a light
burning in one of the girls’ tents — a thing quite contrary to rules. She
went to expostulate, 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 for.
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 prayers. And
so out-and-out are his converts that many scores of them have entered the
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 England we may have it.” Nay, more — if
there is any blessing in Christ we may have it. “Blessed be the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual
blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. i. 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 failure, all our past inefficiency and insufficiency, all
our past unfruitfulness in service, can be banished now, once and for all,
if we 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. Truly God is
a wonderful God! 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 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” (Matt. viii. 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 those mere children of Khedgaon? God is
no respecter of persons. If we can humbly and truthfully say, “To me to live
is Christ” (Phil. i. 21), will He not manifest forth His mighty power in us?
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
But it was not John Hyde, it was the Holy Spirit of God whom one
consecrated man, filled with that 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. This 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 the 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. 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. . . . At last, in a
kind of despair, I asked the Lord to fill me with the Holy Spirit; and the
moment I did this . . . I began to see myself, and what a selfish ambition I
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 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
then 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 may all have his spirit of prayer. 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 vicar or
pastor? Upon your friend? Upon your family? What a ministry is ours, if we
will but enter it! But to do so, we must make the full surrender which John
Hyde made. Have we done it? Failure in prayer is due to 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” (II Tim. ii. 22) can confidently claim answers to their
What a revival would break out, what a mighty blessing would come down
if only everyone who read these words would claim the fullness of the Holy
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 and God does not give, then the fault is
with 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 xiv. 14).
Truly he who prays puts, not God, but his own spiritual life to
Let me come closer to Thee, Jesus,
Oh, closer every day;
Let me lean harder on Thee, Jesus,
Yes, harder all the way.
CHAPTER 4: ASKING FOR SIGNS
“DOES God indeed answer prayer?” is a question often on the lips of
people, and oftener still in their inmost 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 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 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. And if those prayers fail, we have only ourselves to
blame. 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 from Himself. 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 wilt save Israel by
mine hand, as 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 vi.
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
God! Of course, there is more in the story than meets the eye. No doubt
Gideon thought that the “fleece” represented himself, Gideon.
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 be dry — canst
Thou still work? Even if I do not feel any superhuman power, 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” (Matt. xiv. 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”? (Mal. iii.
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
Our Lord Himself always had this assurance, and we should ever bear in
mind that, although He was God, He lived His earthly life as a perfect Man,
depending upon the Holy Spirit of God.
When He 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 xi. 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 Christ is
dwelling in our hearts by faith: if the Holy Spirit is breathing into us our
petitions, and we are “praying in the Holy Ghost,” ought we not to know that
the Father “hears” us? (Jude 20). And will not those who stand by begin to
recognize that we, too, are God-sent?
Men of prayer 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.
Then prayer must give place to action. God taught Moses this:
“Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they
go forward” (Exod. xiv. 15).
We are not surprised to find that Dr. Goforth, a much-used missionary
in China, often has 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? The Lord 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 xv. 14, 15). Do you think it surprising,
then, if the Lord lets us, His “friends,” know something of His plans and
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 xi. 24). Now, this is exactly the
experience we have been talking about. This is just what real men 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 disciples, sent as He was sent (John xvii. 18
and xx. 21). They will know this if we love one another (John xiii. 35). But
another proof is provided, and it is this: if we know and they see that “God
heareth us always” (John xi. 42).
Some of us at once recall to mind George Muller’s wonderful
prayer-life. On one occasion, when crossing from Quebec to Liverpool, he had
prayed very definitely that a chair he had written to New York for should
arrive in time to catch the steamer, and he was quite confident that God had
granted his petition. About half an hour before the tender was timed to take
the passengers to the ship, the agents informed him that no chair had
arrived, and that it could not possibly come in time for the steamer. Now,
Mrs. Muller suffered much from sea-sickness, and it was absolutely essential
that she should have the chair. Yet nothing would induce Mr. Muller to buy
another one from a shop near by. “We have made special prayer that our
Heavenly Father would be pleased to provide it for us, and we will trust Him
to do so,” was his reply; and he went on board absolutely sure that his
trust was not misplaced, and would not miscarry. Just before the tender
left, a van drove up, and on the top of the load it carried was Mr. Muller’s
chair. It was hurried on board and placed into the hands of the very man who
had urged George Muller to buy another one! When he handed it to Mr. Muller,
the latter expressed no surprise, but quietly removed his hat and thanked
his Heavenly Father. To this man of God such an answer to prayer was not
wonderful, but natural. And do you not think that God allowed the chair to
be held back till the very last minute as a lesson to Mr. Muller’s
friends-and to us? We should never have heard of that incident but for that
God does all He can to induce us to pray and to trust, and yet how slow
we are to do so! Oh, what we miss through lack of faith and want of prayer!
No one can have very real and deep communion with God who does not know how
to pray so as to get answers to prayer.
If one has any doubt as to God’s willingness to be put to the test, let
him read a little book called Nor Scrip (Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Ltd.).
Miss Amy Wilson Carmichael tells us in its pages how again and again she
“proved God.” One gets the impression from the book that it was no accident
that led her to do so. Surely God’s hand was in it? For instance, in order
to rescue a Hindu child from a life of “religious” shame, it was necessary
to spend a hundred rupees. Was she justified in doing so? She could help
many girls for such a sum: ought she to spend it on one? Miss Wilson
Carmichael felt led to pray that God would send her the round sum of a
hundred rupees — no more, no less — if it was His will that the money
should be spent in this way. The money came — the exact amount — and the
sender of it explained that she had sat down to write a check for a broken
sum, but had been impelled to make it just a hundred rupees.
That happened over fifteen years ago, and since that time this same
missionary has put God to the test over and over again, and He has never
failed her. This is what she says: “Never once in fifteen years has a bill
been left unpaid; never once has a man or woman been told when we were in
need of help; but never once have we lacked any good thing. Once, as if to
show what could be done if it were required, 25 pounds came by telegram!
Sometimes a man would emerge from the clamoring crowd at a railway station,
and slip some indispensable gift of money into the hand, and be lost in the
crowd again before the giver could be identified.”
Is it wonderful? Wonderful! Why, what does St. John say, speaking by
the Spirit of God? “And this is the boldness which we have towards Him, that
if we ask anything, according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know
that He heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions
which we have asked of Him” (I John v.14, 15). Have you and I such
“boldness”? If not, why not?
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 iii. 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” (Rom. iv. 3; Gal. iii. 6; James ii. 23). Yes, “Abraham believed God,
and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.” And today, Christian and
Jew and Moslem 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 xxvii. 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
(Matt. vi. 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 would 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 every 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 (Mal. iii. 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”; “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
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” (Matt. vi. 22). Christ must be the sole Master.
We cannot expect to be free from anxiety if we are trying to serve God and
Mammon (Matt. vi. 24, 25). Again we are led back to the Victorious Life!
When we indeed present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to
God” (Rom. xii. 1); when we present our members “as servants to
righteousness and sanctification” (Rom. vi. 19); then He presents Himself to
us and fills us with all the fullness of God (Eph. iii. 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 iii. 9). Is not that a
Perhaps the most extraordinary testing of God which that Dohnavur
missionary tells us of is the following. The question arose of purchasing a
rest-house in the hills near by. 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 100 pounds 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 100 pounds
came. Even now they scarcely liked to proceed in the matter. In a few days’
ever, another round sum of 100 pounds was received, earmarked 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 vi. 35). Love is always “kind” (I Cor. xiii. 4);
and God is Love. Think over it when you pray. Our Lord 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 xxxvi.7);
“Thy lovingkindness is better than life” (Psalm lxiii. 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 iii. 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 Thess. iii. 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 because of the way”; we murmur because of the way;
yet all the time He is there blessing us, and waiting to pour out upon 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
Prayer changes things — and yet how blind
And slow we are to taste and see
The blessedness that comes to those
Who trust in Thee.
But henceforth we will just believe God.
CHAPTER 5: WHAT IS PRAYER?
MR. 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
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.” Mr. Moody’s delighted comment was, “Thank
God, my boy, that you were born in Scotland.” But that was half a century
ago. What sort of answer would he get today? How many English children could
give a definition of prayer? Think for a moment and decide what answer you
yourself would give.
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 puts
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” (Psa. xxv. 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. 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,” says an old Jewish mystic, “is the moment when heaven and
earth kiss each other.”
Prayer, then, is certainly not persuading God to do what we want God to
do. It is not bending the will of a reluctant God to our will. It does not
change His purpose, although it may release His power. “We must not conceive
of prayer as overcoming God’s reluctance,” says Archbishop Trench, “but as
laying hold of His highest willingness.”
For God always purposes our greatest good. Even the prayer offered in
ignorance and blindness cannot swerve Him from that, although, when we
persistently pray for some harmful thing, our wilfulness may bring it about,
and we suffer accordingly. “He gave them their request,” says the Psalmist,
“but sent leanness into their soul” (Psa. cvi. 15). They brought this
“leanness” upon themselves. They were “cursed with the burden of a granted
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 Christian standing by quietly remarked, “Aye, there’s
nowt like cobs of coal to make a man 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 —
intercourse with God — 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” (John xvii. 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 xxiii. 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 xxii. 18). Then it was that Christ gave him 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” (Isa vi. 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.
A friend of Horace Bushnell was present when that man of God prayed.
There came over him a wonderful sense of God’s nearness. He says: “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.” Was the
Psalmist of old conscious of such a thought when he cried, “My soul, wait
thou only upon God”? (Psa. lxii. 5.) I believe that much of our failure in
prayer is due to the fact that we have not looked into this question, “What
is prayer?” It is good to be conscious that we are always in the presence of
God. It is better to gaze upon Him in adoration. But it is best of all to
commune with Him as a Friend — and that is prayer.
Real prayer at its highest and best reveals a soul athirst for God —
just for God alone. Real prayer comes from the lips of those whose affection
is set on things above. What a man of prayer Zinzendorf was. Why? He sought
the Giver rather than His gifts. He said: “I have one passion: it is He, He
alone.” Even the Mohammedan seems to have got hold of this thought. He says
that there are three degrees in prayer. The lowest is that spoken only by
the lips. The next is when, by a resolute effort, we succeed in fixing our
thoughts on Divine things. The third is when the soul finds it hard to turn
away from God. Of course, we know that God bids us “ask” of Him. We all obey
Him so far; and we may rest well assured that prayer both pleases God and
supplies all our need. But he would be a strange child who only sought his
father’s presence when he desired some gift from him! And do we not all
yearn to rise to a higher level of prayer than mere petition? How is it to
It seems to me that only two steps are necessary — or shall we say two
thoughts? There must be, first of all, a realization of God’s glory, and
then of God’s grace. We sometimes sing:
Grace and glory flow from Thee;
Shower, O shower them, Lord, on me.
Nor is such a desire fanciful, although some may ask what God’s glory
has to do with prayer.
But ought we not to remind ourselves Who He is to Whom we pray? There
is logic in the 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.”
May we then suggest that before we lay our petitions before God we
first dwell in meditation upon His glory and then upon His grace — for He
offers us both. We must lift up the soul to God. Let us place ourselves, as
it were, in the presence of God and direct our prayer to the King of kings,
and Lord of lords, Who only hath immortality, dwelling in light
unapproachable . . . to Whom be honor and power eternal (I Tim. vi. 16). Let
us then give Him adoration and praise because of His exceeding great glory.
Consecration is not enough. There must be adoration.
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts,” cry the seraphim; “the whole
earth is full of his glory” (Isa. vi. 3). “Glory to God in the highest,”
cries the “whole multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke ii. 14). Yet some of
us try to commune with God without stopping to “put off our shoes from off
our feet” (Exod. iii. 5).
Lips cry “God be merciful”
That ne’er cry “God be praised.”
O come let us adore Him!
And we may approach His glory with boldness. Did not our Lord pray that
His disciples might behold His glory? (John xvii. 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 xvii. 1, 3). Our dear Lord 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” (Isa. xl.
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 be Thy name.” There is nothing like a glimpse of glory
to 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
Francis of Assisi would frequently spend an hour or two in prayer on the top
of Mount Averno, whilst the only word which escaped his lips would be “God”
repeated at intervals. He began with adoration — and often stopped there!
But most of us need some help to realize the glory of the invisible God
before we can adequately praise and adore Him. Old William Law said, “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 whilst saying, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to
the Holy Ghost.” The prayer, “O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O
holy and merciful Savior!” is often enough to bring a solemn awe and a
spirit of holy adoration upon the soul. The Gloria in Excelsis of the
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 thanks to Thee 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
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 carries 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 often, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke i. 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”? (Psa. ciii. 1.) “Bless the Lord, O
my soul. O Lord my God, Thou art very great; Thou are clothed with honor and
majesty” (Psa. civ. 1). When shall we learn that “in His temple everything
saith Glory!” (Psa. xxix. 9, R.V.) Let us, too, cry, Glory!
Such worship of God, such adoration and praise and thanksgiving, not
only put us into the spirit of prayer, but in some mysterious way they help
God to work on our behalf. Do you remember those wonderful words, “Whoso,
offereth the sacrifice of thanksgiving, glorifyeth Me and prepareth a way
that I may show him the salvation of God”?, (Psa. l. 23, R.V., marg.) Praise
and thanksgiving not only open the gates of heaven for me to approach God,
but also “prepare a way” for God to bless me. St. Paul cries, “Rejoice
evermore!” before he says, “Pray without ceasing.” So then our praise, as
well as our prayers, is to be without ceasing.
At the raising of Lazarus our Lord’s prayer had as its first utterance
a note of thanksgiving. “Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me” (John
xi. 41). He said it for those around to hear. Yes, and for us to hear.
You may perhaps be wondering why it is that we should specially give
thanks to God for His great glory when we kneel in prayer; and why we should
spend any time in thinking of and gazing upon that glory. But is He not the
King of Glory? All He is and all He does is glory. His holiness is
“glorious” (Exod. xv. 11). His name is glorious (Deut. xxviii. 58). His work
is “glorious” (Psa. cxi. 3). His power is glorious (Col. i. 11). His voice
is glorious (Isa. xxx. 30).
All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small.
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
for His glory.
“For of him and through him and unto him are all things; to whom be
glory for ever” (Rom. xi. 36). And this is the God who bids us come to Him
in prayer. This God is our God, and He has “gifts for men” (Psa. lxviii.
18). God says that everyone that is called by His name has been created for
His glory (Isa. xliii. 7). His Church is to be a “glorious” Church — holy
and without blemish (Eph. v. 27). Have you ever fully realized that the Lord
Jesus desires to share with us the glory we see in Him? This is His great
gift to you and me, His redeemed ones. Believe me, the more we have of God’s
glory, the less shall we seek His gifts. Not only in that day “when he shall
come to be glorified in his saints” (II Thess. i. 10) is there glory for us,
but here and now — today. He wishes us to be partakers of His glory. Did
not our Lord Himself say so? “The glory which thou has given me, I have
given unto them,” He declares (John xvii. 22). What is God’s command?
“Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen
upon thee.” Nay, more than this: “His glory shall be seen upon thee,” says
the inspired prophet (Isa. Ix. 1, 2).
God would have people say of us as St. Peter said of the disciples of
old: “The Spirit of Glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you” (I Peter
iv. 14). Would not that be an answer to most of our prayers? Could we ask
for anything better? How can we get this glory? How are we to 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 xvi. 15).
It was when Moses prayed, “Show me, I pray thee, thy glory,” that he
not only saw somewhat of it, but shared something of that glory, and his own
face shone with the light of it (Exod. xxxiii. 18, xxxiv. 29). And when we,
too, gaze upon the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. iv.
6), we shall see not only a glimpse of that glory, but we shall gain
something of it ourselves.
Now, that is prayer, and the highest result of prayer. Nor is there any
other way of securing that glory, that God may be glorified in us (Isa. Ix.
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. They said in awed tones, “We beheld his glory!” Yes, but what
followed? A few plain, unlettered, obscure fishermen companied with Christ a
little while, seeing His glory; and lo! they themselves caught something of
that glory. And then others marveled and “took knowledge of them that they
had been with Jesus” (Acts iv. 13). And when we can declare, with St. John,
“Yea, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”
(I John i. 3), people will say the same of us: “They have been with Jesus!”
As we lift up our soul in prayer to the living God, we gain the beauty
of holiness as surely as a flower becomes beautiful by living in the
sunlight. Was not our Lord Himself transfigured when He prayed? And the
“very fashion” of our countenance will change, and we shall have our 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 others.
We have dwelt so much upon the glory of Him to Whom we pray, that we
must not now speak of His grace.
What is prayer? It is a sign of spiritual life. I should as soon expect
life in a dead man as spiritual life in a prayerless soul! 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,
At this point I laid down my pen, and on the page of the first paper I
picked up were these words: “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. Multitudes were saved when
Whitfield saw God. Thousands of orphans were fed when George Muller saw God.
And He is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ ”
Is it not time that we got a new vision of God — of God in all His
glory? Who can say what will happen when the Church sees God? But let us not
wait for others. Let us, each one for himself, with unveiled face and
unsullied heart, get this vision of the glory of the Lord.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. v. 8).
No missioner whom it has been my joy to meet 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 knew 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 God 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 is no royal road;
The power for holy service
Is intercourse with God.
CHAPTER 6: 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. That 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 xiv. 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 xvi. 24).
Five times over our Lord repeats this simple condition, “In my name”
(John xiv. 13, 14; xv. 16; xvi. 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” (Matt. xxiv. 5). He might
well have said, “And many shall think they are praying to the Father in my
name, whilst 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
that way, “for Christ’s sake. Amen”?
God could not answer the prayers St. James refers to in his epistle
just because those who offered them added, “we ask these things in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those Christians were asking “amiss” (James iv.
3). A wrong prayer cannot be made right by the addition of some mystic
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 xiv. 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 three steps to a right
understanding of those important words, “in my name.”
(1) 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” (Rom. v. 9), and “we
have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. i. 7;
Col. i. 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 Mr. Moody’s ministry. The wife of an infidel judge — a man of
great intellectual gifts — begged Mr. Moody to speak to her husband. 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!” Moody went his way, relying upon
prayer. That judge was converted, and within a year. He kept his promise and
told Moody just how it came about. “I began to grow very uneasy and
.miserable one night when my wife 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, for 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 holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. x.
19). There is entrance by no other way.
But this is not all that those words “In my Name” mean.
(2) 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 England I have no money whatsoever, and
can therefore draw nothing therefrom. But suppose a very wealthy man who has
a big account there gives me a blank check bearing his signature, and bids
me fill it in to any amount I choose. He is my friend. What shall I do?
Shall I just 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
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 i. 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,” says He, “to any amount; ask ‘anything,’ ‘what ye
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 a well-known
evangelist of today. “That is what happens when I go to the bank of
heaven-when I go to God in prayer. I have nothing deposited there; I have no
credit there; and if I go in my own name I will get absolutely nothing. But
Jesus Christ has unlimited credit in heaven, and He has granted me the
privilege of going with His name on my checks; and when I thus go my prayers
will be honored to any extent. To pray, then, in the name of Christ is to
pray, not on the ground of my credit, but His.”
This is all very delightful, and, in a sense, very true.
If the check were drawn on 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 all, and Whom we love with all our
heart, and to Whom we may 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
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? It happened over thirty 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 one
pound towards a certain object. He invited me to his office, and hastily
wrote out a check for the amount. He folded the check and handed it to me,
saying, “I will not cross it. Will you kindly cash it at the bank?” On
arriving at the bank I glanced at my name on the check without troubling to
verify the amount, endorsed it, and handed it to a clerk. “This is rather a
big sum to cash over the counter,” he said, eyeing me narrowly. “Yes, I
replied laughingly, “one pound!” “No,” said the clerk: “this is made out for
‘one thousand pounds!’ ”
And so it was! My friend was, no doubt, accustomed to writing big
checks; and he had actually written “one thousand” instead of “one” pound.
Now, what was my position legally? The check was truly in his name. The
signature was all right. My endorsement was all right. Could I not demand
the 1,000 pounds, provided there was sufficient in the account? The check
was written deliberately, if hurriedly, and freely to me — why should I not
take the gift? Why not?
But I was dealing with a friend — a generous friend to whom I owed
many deeds of lovingkindness. He had revealed his mind to me. I knew his
wishes and desires.
He meant to give me one pound, and no more. I knew his intention, his
“mind,” and at once took back the all-too-generous check, and in due time I
received just one pound, according to his will. Had that donor given me a
blank check the result would have been exactly the same. He would have
expected me to write in one pound, and my honor would have been at stake in
my doing so. Need we draw the lesson? God has His will for each one of us,
and unless we seek to know that will we are likely to ask for “a thousand,”
when He knows that “one” will be best for us. 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 that which will bring glory to
His name. John says, “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth
us” (I John v.14). So then our Friend gives us a blank check, and leaves us
to fill in “anything”; but He knows that if we truly love Him we shall never
put down — never ask for — things He is not willing to give us, because
they would be harmful to us.
Perhaps with most of us the fault lies in the other direction. God
gives us a blank check and says, Ask for a pound — and we ask for a
shilling! Would not my friend have been insulted had I treated him thus? Do
we ask enough? Do we dare to ask “according to His riches in glory”?
The point we are dwelling upon, however, is this — we cannot be sure
that we are praying “in His name” unless we learn His will for us.
(3) But 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, or he might 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.
A trusted clerk often uses his employer’s name and handles great sums
of money as if they were his own. But this be does only so long as he is
thought to be worthy of such confidence in him. And he uses the money for
his master, and not for himself. All our money belongs to our Master, Christ
Jesus. We can go to God for supplies in His name if we use all we get for
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 m 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 spend it in your pleasures” (James iv. 3, R.V.).
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 xiv. 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” (Rom. viii. 14). And
only sons can say, “Our Father.”
Our Lord 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 ix.
15). Not to them, but before them. So St. Paul says: “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 must be wrong.
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 xv. 7).
Those three promises are really identical — they express the same
thought in different words. Look at them —
Ask anything in my name, I will do it (John xiv. 13, 14).
Ask what ye will (if ye abide in me and my words abide in you), and it
shall be done (John xv. 7).
Ask anything, according to his will, we have the petitions (I John v.
And we could sum them all up in the words of St. John, “‘Whatsoever we
ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things
which are pleasing in his sight” (I John iii. 22). When we do what He bids,
He does what we ask! Listen to God and God will listen to you. Thus our Lord
gives us “power of attorney” over His kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, if
only we fulfil the condition of abiding in Him.
Oh, what a wonder is 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. We know that to follow our own inclination is absolutely certain
to harm us and to hurt us and those whom we love. 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 clearness that our
Savior’s call to prayer is simply a clarion 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 Life we cannot truly pray “in the
name” of Christ, and our prayer-life must of necessity be feeble, fitful and
And “in His name” must be “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 . . .” (Phil. ii. 5); he also boldly declares, “We
have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. ii. 16). How, then, can we get to know
We shall remember that “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear
him” (Psa. xxv. 14).
In the first place, we must not expect God to reveal His will to us
unless we desire to know that will and intend to do that will. Knowledge of
God’s will and the performance of that will go together. We are apt to
desire to know God’s will so that we may decide whether we will obey or not.
Such an attitude is disastrous. “If any man willeth to do His will, he shall
know of the teaching” (John vii. 17).
God’s will is revealed in His Word in Holy Scriptures. What He promises
in His Word I may know to be according to His will.
For example, I may confidently ask for wisdom, because His Word says,
“If any . . . lack wisdom, let him ask of God . . . and it shall be given
him” (James i. 5). We cannot be men of prevailing prayer unless we study
God’s Word to find out His will for us.
But it is the Holy Spirit of God Who is prayer’s great Helper. Read
again those wonderful words of St. Paul: “In the same way the Spirit also
helps us in our weakness; for we do not know what prayers to offer nor in
what way to offer them, but the Spirit Himself pleads for us in yearnings
that can find no words, and the Searcher of hearts knows what the Spirit’s
meaning is, because His intercessions for God’s people are in harmony with
God’s will” (Rom. viii. 26, 27; Weymouth).
What comforting words! Ignorance and helplessness in prayer are indeed
blessed things if they cast us upon the Holy Spirit. Blessed be the name of
the Lord Jesus! We are left without excuse. Pray we must: pray we can.
Remember our Heavenly Father is pledged to give the Holy Spirit to them
that ask Him (Luke xi. 13) — and any other “good thing” too (Matt. vii.
Child of God, you have often prayed. You have, no doubt, often bewailed
your feebleness and slackness in prayer. But have you really prayed in His
It is when we have failed and know not “what prayers to offer” or “in
what way,” that the Holy Spirit is promised as our Helper.
Is it not worth while to be wholly and whole-heartedly yielded to
Christ? The half-and-half Christian is of very 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 channels of blessing. Shall we
not worship God in sincerity and truth, and cry eagerly and earnestly,
“Lord, what shall I do?” (Acts xxii. 10, R.V.) and then, in the power of His
might, do it?
St. Paul once shot up that prayer to heaven; “What shall I do?” What
answer did he get? Listen! He tells us in his counsel to believers
everywhere just what it meant to him, and should mean to us: “Beloved, put
on . . . a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, longsuffering; . .
.above all things put on love and let the peace of Christ rule in your
hearts. . . . 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 the Father through him” (Col. iii. 12-17).
It is only when whatsoever we do is done in His name that He will do
whatsoever we ask in His name.
CHAPTER 7: MUST I AGONIZE?
PRAYER is measured, not by time, but by intensity. Earnest souls who
read of men like Praying Hyde are today anxiously asking, “Am I expected to
pray like that?”
They hear of others who sometimes remain on their knees before God all
day or all night, refusing food and scorning sleep, whilst they pray and
pray and pray. They naturally wonder, “Are we to do the same? Must all of us
follow their examples?” We must remember that those men of prayer did not
pray by time. They continued so long in prayer because they could not stop
Some have ventured to think that in what has been said in earlier
chapters I have hinted that we must all follow in their train. Child of God,
do not let any such thought — such fear? — distress you. Just be willing
to do what He will have you do — what He leads you to do. Think about it;
pray about it. We are bidden by the Lord Jesus to pray to our loving
Heavenly Father. We sometimes sing, “Oh, how He loves!” And nothing can
fathom that love.
Prayer is not given us as a burden to be borne, or an irksome duty to
fulfil, but to be a joy and power to which there is no limit. It is given us
that we “may find grace to help us in time of need” (Heb. iv. 16, R.V.). And
every time is a “time of need.” “Pray ye” is an invitation to be accepted
rather than a command to be obeyed. Is it a burden for a child to come to
his father to ask for some boon? How a father loves his child, and seeks its
highest good! How he shields that little one from any sorrow or pain or
suffering! Our heavenly Father loves us infinitely more than any earthly
father. The Lord Jesus loves us infinitely more than any earthly friend. God
forgive me if any words of mine, on such a precious theme as prayer, have
wounded the hearts or consciences of those who are yearning to know more
about prayer. “Your heavenly Father knoweth,” said our Lord: and if He
knows, we can but trust and not be afraid.
A schoolmaster may blame a boy for neglected homework, or unpunctual
attendance, or frequent absence; but the loving father in the home knows all
about it. He knows all about the devoted service of the little laddie in the
home circle, where sickness or poverty throws so many loving tasks in his
way. Our dear, loving Father knows all about us. He sees. He knows how
little leisure some of us have for prolonged periods of prayer.
For some of us God makes leisure. He makes us lie down (Psa. xxiii. 2)
that He may make us look up. Even then, weakness of body often prevents
prolonged prayer. Yet I question if any of us, however great and reasonable
our excuses, spend enough thought over our prayers. Some of us are bound to
be much in prayer. Our very work demands it. We may be looked upon as
spiritual leaders; we may have the spiritual welfare or training of others.
God forbid that we should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray enough for
them (I Sam. xii. 23). Yes, with some it is our very business — almost our
life’s work-to pray, Others —
Have friends who give them pain,
Yet have not sought a friend in Him.
For them they cannot help praying. If we have the burden of souls upon
us we shall never ask, “How long need I pray?”
But how well we know the difficulties which surround the prayer-life of
many! A little pile of letters lies before me as I write. They are full of
excuses, and kindly protests, and reasonings it is true. But is that why
they are written? No! No! Far from it. In every one of them there is an
undercurrent of deep yearning to know God’s will, and how to obey the call
to prayer amid all the countless claims of life.
Those letters tell of many who cannot get away from others for times of
secret prayer; of those who share even bedrooms; of busy mothers, and maids,
and mistresses who scarcely know how to get through the endless washing and
cooking, mending and cleaning, shopping and visiting; of tired workers who
are too weary to pray when the day’s work is done.
Child of God, our heavenly Father knows all about it. He is not a
taskmaster. He is our Father. if you have no time for prayer, or no chance
of secret prayer, why, just tell Him all about it — and you will discover
that you are praying!
To those who seem unable to get any solitude at all, or even the
opportunity of stealing into a quiet church for a few moments, may we point
to the wonderful prayer-life of St. Paul ? Did it ever occur to you that lie
was in prison when he wrote most of those marvelous prayers of his which we
possess? Picture him. He was chained to a Roman soldier day and night, and
was never alone for a moment. Epaphias was there part of the time, and
caught something of his master’s passion for prayer. St. Luke may have been
there. What prayer-meetings! No opportunity for secret prayer. No! but how
much we owe to the uplifting of those chained hands! You and I may be never,
or rarely ever, alone, but at least our hands are not fettered with chains,
and our hearts are not fettered, nor our lips.
Can we 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
The posture in which we pray is immaterial. God will listen whether we
kneel, or stand, or sit, or walk, or work.
I am quite aware that many have testified to the fact that God
sometimes gives special strength to those who curtail their hours of rest in
order to pray more. At one time the writer tried getting up very early in
the morning — and every morning — for prayer and communion with God. After
a time he found that his daily work was suffering in intensity and
effectiveness, and that it was difficult to keep awake during the early
evening hours! But do we pray as much as we might do? It is a lasting regret
to me that I allowed the days of youth and vigor to pass by without laying
more stress upon those early hours of prayer.
Now, the inspired command is clear enough: “Pray without ceasing” (I
Thess. v. 17). Our dear Lord said, “Men ought always to pray, and not to
faint” — “and never lose heart” (Weymouth) (Luke xviii. 1).
This, of course, cannot mean that we are to be always on our knees. I
am convinced that God does not wish us to neglect rightful work in order to
pray. But it is equally certain that we might work better and do more work
if we gave less time to work and more to prayer.
Let us work well. We are to be “not slothful in business” (Rom. xii.
11). St. Paul says, “We exhort you, brethren, that ye abound more and more;
and that ye. . . do your own business, and to work with your hands. . . that
ye may walk honestly . . . and have need of nothing” (I Thess. iv. 11, 12).
“If any will not work, neither let him eat” (I Thess. iii. 10).
But are there not endless opportunities during every day of “lifting,
up holy hands” — or at least holy hearts — in prayer to our Father? Do we
seize the opportunity, as we open our eyes upon each new day, of praising
and blessing our Redeemer? Every day is an Easter day to the Christian. We
can pray as we dress. Without a reminder we shall often forget. Stick a
piece of stamp-paper in the corner of your looking-glass, bearing the words,
— “Pray without ceasing.” Try it. We can pray as we go from one duty to
another. We can often pray at our work. The washing and the writing, the
mending and the minding, the cooking and the cleaning will be done all the
better for it.
Do not children, both young and old, work better and play better when
some loved one is watching? Will it not help us ever to remember that the
Lord Jesus is always with us, watching? Aye, and helping. The very
consciousness of His eye upon us will be the consciousness of His power
Do you not think that St. Paul had in his mind this habitual praying
rather than fixed seasons of prayer when he said, “The Lord is at hand” —
i.e., is near (Weymouth). “In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by
prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known
unto God” (Phil. iv. 5, 6)? Does not “in everything” suggest that, as thing
after thing befalls us, moment by moment, we should then and there make it a
“thing” of prayer and praise to the Lord Who is near? (Why should we limit
this “nearness” to the Second Advent?)
What a blessed thought: prayer is to a near-God. When our Lord sent His
disciples forth to work, He said, “Lo, I am with you alway.”
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 and my Savior in it; and that no town or
parish where I have been may not say the like. To take occasion of praying
upon the sight of any church which I see as I ride about. To pray daily and
particularly for my sick patients, and for all sick people, under whose care
soever. 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? We have said earlier that prayer
is as simple as a little child asking something of its father. Nor would
such a remark need any further comment were it not for the existence of the
There is no doubt whatever that the devil opposes our approach to God
in prayer, and does all he can to prevent the prayer of faith. His chief way
of hindering us is to try to fill our minds with the thought of our needs,
so that they shall not be occupied with thoughts of God, our loving Father,
to Whom we pray. He wants us to think more of the gift than of the Giver.
The Holy Spirit leads us to pray for a brother. We get as far as “O God,
bless my brother” — and away go our thoughts to the brother, and his
affairs, and his difficulties, his hopes and his fears, and away goes
How hard the devil makes it for us to concentrate our thoughts upon
God! This is why we urge people to get 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. That is why most
of us find it hard to sympathize with those who profess to condemn what they
call “vain repetitions” and “much speaking” in prayer — quoting our Lord’s
words in His sermon on the mount.
A prominent London vicar said quite recently, “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 is all there is in it, why,
there is no need of prayer! “For your Father knoweth what things ye have
need of before ye ask him,” said our Lord when urging the disciples to pray.
We are aware that Christ Himself condemned some “long prayers” (Matt.
xxiii. 14). But they were long prayers made “for a pretense,” “for a show”
(Luke xx. 47). Dear praying people, believe me, the Lord would equally
condemn many of the “long prayers” made every week in some of our
prayer-meetings — prayers which kill the prayer-meeting, and which finish
up with a plea that God would hear these “feeble breathings,” or “unworthy
But he never condemns long prayers that are sincere. Let us not forget
that our Lord sometimes spent long nights in prayer. We are told of one of
these — we do not know how frequently they were (Luke vi. 12). He would
sometimes rise a “great while before day” and depart to a solitary place for
prayer (Mark i. 35). The perfect Man spent more time in prayer than we do.
It would seem an undoubted fact that with God’s saints in all ages nights of
prayer with God have been followed by days of power with men.
Nor did our Lord excuse Himself from prayer — as we, in our ignorance,
might think He could have done — because of the pressing calls to service
and boundless opportunities of usefulness. After one of His 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 them all and retired to a
mountain to pray (Matt. xiv. 23).
We are told that once “great multitudes came together to hear Him, and
to be healed of their infirmities.” Then comes the remark, “But Jesus
himself constantly withdrew into the desert, and there prayed” (Luke v. 15,
16, Weymouth). Why? Because He knew that prayer was then far more potent
We say we are too busy to pray. But the busier our Lord was, the more
He prayed. Sometimes He had no leisure so much as to eat (Mark iii. 20); and
sometimes He had no leisure for needed rest and sleep (Mark vi. 31). Yet He
always took time to pray. If frequent prayer, and, at times, long hours of
prayer, were necessary for our Savior, are they less necessary for us?
I do not write to persuade people to agree with me: that is a very
small matter. We only want to know the truth. Spurgeon once said: “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 hands. 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 prayers. I mean prayers in which you take to God one of the 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 coin we
needed; 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 supplies from the
Bank of Heaven.” Splendid!
But — ? By all means let us be definite in prayer; by all means let us
put eloquence aside — if we have any! By all means let us avoid needless
“chatter,” and come in faith, expecting to receive.
But would the bank clerk pass me the money over the counter so readily
if there stood by my side a powerful, evil-countenanced, well-armed ruffian
whom he recognized to be a desperate criminal waiting to snatch the money
before my weak hands could grasp it? Would he not wait till the ruffian had
gone? This is no fanciful picture. The Bible teaches us that, in some way or
other, Satan can hinder our prayers and delay the answer. Does not St. Peter
urge certain things upon Christians, that their “prayers be not hindered”?
(I Peter iii. 7.) Our prayers can be hindered. “Then cometh the evil one and
snatcheth away that which hath been sown in the heart” (Matt. xiii. 19,
Scripture gives us one instance — probably only one out of many —
where the evil one actually kept back — delayed — for three weeks an
answer to prayer. We only mention this to show the need of repeated prayer,
persistence in prayer, and also to call attention to the extraordinary power
which Satan possesses. We refer to Daniel x. 12, 13: “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 withstood me one and
twenty days. But lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me.”
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 Muller 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 (Luke xi. 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 elect which cry unto
him day and night, and he is longsuffering over them?” (Luke xviii. 7, R.V.)
How delighted our Lord was with the poor Syro-Phoenician woman who
would not take refusals or rebuffs for an answer! Because of her continual
request He said: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou
wilt” (Matt. xv. 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” (Matt. xxvi. 44). And we
find St. Paul, the apostle of prayer, asking God time after time to remove
his thorn in the flesh. “Concerning this thing,” says he, “I besought the
Lord thrice that it might depart from me” (II Cor. xii. 8).
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 xii. 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 xxii. 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”? (Exod. xxxii.
Was there no agonizing in prayer when St. Paul said, “I could wish” —
(“pray,” R.V. marg.) — “that I myself were anathema from Christ for my
brethren’s sake”? (Rom. ix. 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” (Heb. v. 7), will not be grieved if He sees us weeping over
erring ones. Nay, will it not rather gladden His heart to see us agonizing
over the sin which grieves Him? In fact, may not the paucity of conversions
in so many a ministry be due to lack of agonizing in prayer?
We are told that “As soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her
children” (Isa. lxvi. 8). Was St. Paul thinking of this passage when he
wrote to the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I am again in travail
until Christ be formed in you”? (Gal. iv. 19.) And will not this be true of
spiritual children? Oh, how cold our hearts often are! How little we grieve
over the lost! And shall we dare to criticise those who agonize over the
perishing? God forbid! No; 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 darkness” (Eph. vi. 12, R.V.).
The very word used for “striving” in prayer means “a contest.” The
contest is not between God and ourselves. He is at one with us in our
desires. The contest is with the evil one, although he is a conquered foe (I
John iii. 8). He desires to thwart our prayers.
“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of
wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. vi. 12). We, too, are in these
“heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. i. 3); and it is only in Christ that we
can be victorious. 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 (Eph. vi. 18); “watching unto prayer.”
We are comforted by the fact that “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities:
for we know not how to pray as we ought” (Rom. viii. 26) How does the Spirit
“help” us, teach us, if not by example as well as by precept? How does the
Spirit “pray”? “The Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings
which cannot be uttered (Rom. viii. 26). Does the Spirit “agonize” in prayer
as the Son did in Gethsemane?
If the Spirit prays in us, shall we not share His “groanings” in
prayer? And if our agonizing in prayer weakens our body at the time, will
angels come to strengthen us, as they did our Lord? (Luke xxii. 43.) We may,
perhaps, like Nehemiah, weep, and mourn, and fast when we pray before God
(Neh. i. 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?”
May it not reveal 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 Rom. xv. 30). In writing to the Colossian
Christians he says: “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” (Col. ii. 1, 2). Undoubtedly he refers to his prayers for
Again, he 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” (Col. iv. 12).
The word for “strive” is our word “agonize,” the very word used of our
Lord being “in an agony” when praying Himself (Luke xxii. 44).
The apostle says again, Epaphras “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 Colossians. 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 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 Christians and others “to stand,” “with all prayer and
supplication, praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto
in all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and on my behalf . . .
an ambassador in chains.” (Eph. vi. 18-20). That is a picture of his own
prayer-life, we may be sure.
So then prayer meets with obstacles, which must be prayed away. That is
what men mean when they talk about praying through. We must wrestle with the
machinations of Satan. It 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 “wrestle,” at least sometimes, which compels us to “stir”
ourselves up “to lay hold on God” (Isa. Ixiv. 7). Should we be wrong if we
ventured to suggest that very few people ever wrestle in prayer? Do we? But
let us never doubt our Lord’s power and the riches of His grace.
The author of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life told a little
circle of friends, just before her death, of an incident in her own life.
Perhaps I may be allowed to tell it abroad. A lady friend who occasionally
paid her a visit for two or three days was always a great trial, a veritable
tax upon her temper and her patience. Every such visit demanded much
prayer-preparation. The time came when this “critical Christian” planned a
visit for a whole week! She felt that nothing but a whole night of prayer
could fortify her for this great testing. So, providing herself with a
little plate of biscuits, she retired in good time to her bedroom, to spend
the night on her knees before God, to beseech Him to give her grace to keep
sweet and loving during the impending visit. No sooner had she knelt beside
her bed than there flashed into her mind the words of Phil. iv. 19: “God
shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ
Jesus.” Her fears vanished. She said, “When I realized that, I gave Him
thanks and praised Him for His goodness. Then I jumped into bed and slept
the night through. My guest arrived the next day, and I quite enjoyed her
No one can lay down hard and fast rules of prayer, even for himself.
God’s gracious Holy Spirit alone can direct us moment by moment. There,
however, we must leave the matter. God is our judge and our Guide. But let
us 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.
It may be just letting your request be made known unto God (Phil. iv.
6). We cannot think that prayer need always be a conflict and a wrestle. For
if it were, many of us would soon become physical wrecks, suffering from
nervous breakdown, and coming to an early grave.
And with many it is a physical impossibility to stay any length of time
in a posture of prayer. Dr. Moule says: “Prayer, genuine and victorious, is
continually offered without the least physical effort or disturbance. It is
often in the deepest stillness of soul and body that it wins its longest
way. But there is another side of the matter. Prayer is never meant to be
indolently easy, however simple and reliant it may be. It is meant to be an
infinitely important transaction between man and God. And therefore, very
often . . . it has to be viewed as a work involving labor, persistence,
conflict, if it would be prayer indeed.”
No one can prescribe for another. Let each be persuaded in his own mind
how to pray, and the Holy Spirit will inspire us and guide us how long to
pray. And let us all be so full of the love of God our Savior that prayer,
at all times and in all places, may be a joy as well as a means of grace.
Shepherd Divine, our wants relieve
In this and every day;
To all Thy tempted followers give
The power, to watch and pray.
The spirit of interceding grace
Give us the faith to claim;
To wrestle till we see Thy face
And know Thy hidden Name.
CHAPTER 8: 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 we are led to give. Let us not shrink
from facing the question fairly and honestly. Does God always answer prayer?
Of course, we all grant that He does answer prayer — some prayers, and
sometimes. But does He always answer true prayer. Some so-called prayers He
does not answer, because He does not hear them. When His people were
rebellious, He said, “When ye make many prayers, I will not hear” (Isa. i.
But a child of God ought to expect answers to prayer. God means every
prayer to have an answer; and not a single real prayer can fail of its
effect in heaven.
And yet that wonderful declaration of St. Paul: “All things are yours,
for ye are Christ’s” (I Cor. iii. 21), seems so plainly and so tragically
untrue for most Christians. Yet it is not so. They are ours, but so many of
us do not possess our possessions. The owners of Mount Morgan, in
Queensland, toiled arduously for years on its barren slopes, eking out a
miserable existence, never knowing that under their feet was one of the
richest sources of gold the world has ever known. There was wealth, vast,
undreamt of, yet unimagined and unrealized. It was “theirs,” yet not theirs.
The Christian, however, knows of the riches of God in glory in Christ
Jesus, but he does not seem to know how to get them.
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 child a red-hot poker because he clamors for
it! Wealthy people are the most careful not to allow their children much
Why, if God gave us all we prayed for, we should rule the world, and
not He! And surely we would all confess that we are not capable of doing
that. Moreover, more than one ruler of the world is an absolute
God’s answer to prayer may be “Yes,” or it may be “No.” It may 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’s answer is sometimes “No.” But this is not necessarily a proof of
known and wilful sin in the life of the suppliant, although there may be
sins of ignorance. He said “No” to St. Paul sometimes (II Cor. xii. 8, 9).
More often than not the refusal is due to our ignorance or selfishness in
asking. “For we know not how to pray as we ought” (Rom. viii. 26). That was
what was wrong with the mother of Zebedee’s children. She came and
worshipped our Lord and prayed to Him. He quickly replied, “Ye know not what
ye ask” (Matt. xx. 22). Elijah, a great man of prayer, sometimes had “No”
for an answer. But when he was swept up to glory in a chariot of fire, did
he regret that God said “No” when he cried out “O Lord, take away my life”?
God’s answer is sometimes “Wait.” He may delay the answer because we
are not yet fit to receive the gift we crave — as with wrestling Jacob. Do
you remember the famous prayer of Augustine — “O God, make me pure, but not
now”? Are not our prayers sometimes like that? Are we always really willing
to “drink the cup” — to pay the price of answered prayer? Sometimes He
delays so that greater glory may be brought to Himself.
God’s delays are not denials. We do not know why He sometimes delays
the answer and at other times answers “before we call” (Isa. lxv. 24).
George Muller, one of the greatest men of prayer of all time, had to pray
over a period of more than sixty-three years for the conversion of a friend!
Who can tell why? “The great point is never to give up until the answer
comes,” said Muller. “I have been praying for sixty-three years and eight
months for one man’s conversion. He is not converted yet, but he will be!
How can it be otherwise? There is the unchanging promise of Jehovah, and on
that I rest.” Was this delay due to some persistent hindrance from the
devil? (Dan. x. 13). Was it a mighty and prolonged effort on the part of
Satan to shake or break Muller’s faith? For no sooner was Muller dead than
his friend was converted — even before the funeral.
Yes, his prayer was granted, though the answer tarried long in coming.
So many of George Muller’s petitions were granted him that it is no wonder
that he once exclaimed, “Oh, how good, kind, gracious and condescending is
the One with Whom we have to do! I am only a poor, frail, sinful man, but He
has heard my prayers ten thousands of times.”
Perhaps some are asking, How can I discover whether God’s answer is
“No” or “Wait”? We may rest assured that He will not let us pray sixty-three
years to get a “No”! Muller’s prayer, so long repeated, was based upon the
knowledge that God “willeth not the death of a sinner”; “He would have all
men to be saved” (I Tim. ii. 4).
Even as I write, the postman brings me an illustration of this. A
letter comes from one who very rarely writes me, and did not even know my
address — one whose name is known to every Christian worker in England. A
loved one was stricken down with illness. Is he to continue to pray for her
recovery? Is God’s answer “No,” or is it, “Go on praying — wait”? My friend
writes: “I had distinct guidance from God regarding my beloved . . . that it
was the will of God she should be taken . . . I retired into the rest of
surrender and submission to His will. I have much to praise God for.” A few
hours later God took that loved one to be with Him in glory.
Again may we urge our readers to hold on to this truth: true prayer
never goes unanswered.
If we only gave more thought to our prayers we should pray more
intelligently. That sounds like a truism. But we say it because some dear
Christian people seem to lay their common sense and reason aside before they
pray. A little reflection would show that God cannot grant some prayers.
During the war every nation prayed for victory. Yet it is perfectly obvious
that all countries could not be victorious. Two men living together might
pray, the one for rain and the other for fine weather. God cannot give both
these things at the same time in the same place!
But the truthfulness of God is at stake in this matter of prayer. We
have all been reading again those marvelous prayer-promises of our Lord, and
have almost staggered at those promises — the wideness of their scope, the
fullness of their intent, the largeness of the one word “Whatsoever.” Very
well! “Let God be found true” (Rom. iii. 4). He certainly will always be
Do not stop to ask the writer if God has granted all his prayers. He
has not. To have said “Yes” to some of them would have spelt curse instead
of blessing. To have answered others was, alas! a spiritual impossibility —
he was not worthy of the gifts he sought. The granting, of some of them
would but have fostered spiritual pride and self-satisfaction. How plain all
these things seem now, in the fuller light of God’s Holy Spirit!
As one looks back and compares one’s eager, earnest prayers with one’s
poor, unworthy service and lack of true spirituality, one sees how
impossible it was for God to grant the very things He longed to impart! It
was often like asking God to put the ocean of His love into a thimble-heart!
And yet, how God just yearns to bless us with every spiritual blessing! How
the dear Savior cries again and again, “How often would I . . . but ye would
not”! (Matt. xxiii. 37.) The sadness of it all is that we often ask and do
not receive because of our unworthiness — and then we complain because God
does not answer our prayers! The Lord Jesus declares that God gives the Holy
Spirit — who teaches us how to pray — just as readily as a father gives
good gifts to his children. But no gift is a “good gift” if the child is not
fit to use that gift. God never gives us something that we cannot, or will
not, use for His glory (I am not referring to talents, for we may abuse or
“bury” those, but to spiritual gifts).
Did you ever see a father give his baby boy a razor when he asked for
it, because he hoped the boy would grow into a man and then find the razor
useful? Does a father never say to his child, “Wait till you are older, or
bigger, or wiser, or better, or stronger”? May not our loving heavenly
Father also say to us, “Wait”? In our ignorance and blindness we must surely
In very love refuse
Whate’er Thou seest
Our weakness would abuse.
Rest assured that God never bestows tomorrow’s gift today. It is not
unwillingness on His part to give. It is not that God is ever straitened in
Himself. His resources are infinite, and His ways are past finding out. It
was after bidding His disciples to ask that our Lord goes on to hint not
only at His providence, but at His resources. “Look at the wild birds”
(Matt. vi. 26, Moffatt); “your heavenly Father feedeth them.” How simple it
sounds. Yet have you ever reflected that not a single millionaire, the wide
world over, is wealthy enough to feed all “the birds of the air,” even for
one day? Your heavenly Father feedeth them every day, and is none the poorer
for it. Shall He not much more feed you, clothe you, take care of you?
Oh, let us rely more upon prayer! Do we not know that “He is a Rewarder
of them that diligently seek Him”? (Hebrews xi. 6.) The “oil” of the Holy
Spirit will never cease to flow so long as there are empty vessels to
receive it (I Kings iv. 6). It is always we who are to blame when the
Spirit’s work ceases. God cannot trust some Christians with the fullness of
the Holy Spirit. God cannot trust some workers with definite spiritual
results in their labors. They would suffer from pride and vainglory. No! we
do not claim that God grants every Christian everything he prays for.
As we saw in an earlier chapter, there must be purity of heart, purity
of motive, purity of desire, if our prayers are to be in His name. God is
greater than His promises, and often gives more than either we desire or
deserve — but He does not always do so. So, then, if any specific petition
is not granted, we may feel sure that God is calling us to examine our
hearts. For He has undertaken to grant every prayer that is truly offered in
His name. Let us repeat His blessed words once more — we cannot repeat them
too often — “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 xiv. 13, 14).
Remember that it was impossible for Christ to offer up any prayer which
was not granted. He was God — He knew the mind of God — He had the mind of
the Holy Spirit.
Does He once say, “Father, if it be possible, let. . .” as He kneels in
agony in Gethsemane’s garden, pouring out strong crying and tears? Yes, and
“He was heard for His reverential awe” (Heb. v. 7, Dr. Moule). Surely not
the “agony,” but the son-like fear, gained the answer? Our prayers are heard
not so much because they are importunate but because they are filial.
Brother Christian, we cannot fully understand that hallowed scene of
dreadful awe and wonder. But this we know — that our Lord never yet made a
promise which He cannot keep, or does not mean to fulfil. The Holy Spirit
maketh intercession for us (Rom. viii. 26), and God cannot say Him “Nay.”
The Lord Jesus makes intercession for us (Hebrews vii. 25), and God cannot
say Him “Nay.” His prayers are worth a thousand of ours, but it is He who
bids us pray!
“But was not St. Paul filled with the Holy Spirit?” you ask, “and did
he not say, ‘We have the mind of Christ?’ Yet he asked thrice over that God
would remove the ‘thorn’ in his flesh — and yet God distinctly tells him He
would not do so.”
It is a very singular thing, too, that the only petition recorded of
St. Paul seeking something for his own individual need was refused! The
difficulty, however, is this: Why did St. Paul, who had the “mind” of
Christ, ask for something which he soon discovered was contrary to God’s
wishes? There are doubtless many fully-consecrated Christians reading these
words who have been perplexed because God has not given some things they
We must remember that we may be filled with the Spirit and yet err in
judgment or desire. We must remember, too, that we are never filled with
God’s Holy Spirit once for all. The evil one is always on the watch to put
his mind into us, so as to strike at God through us. At any moment we may
become disobedient or unbelieving, or may be betrayed into some thought or
act contrary to the Spirit of love.
We have an astonishing example of this in the life of St. Peter. At one
moment, under the compelling influence of God’s Holy Spirit, he cries, “Thou
art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Our Lord turns, and with words
of high commendation says, “Blessed art thou, Simon, for flesh and blood
hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father, which is in heaven.” Yet, a
very little while after, the devil gets his mind into St. Peter, and our
Lord turns and says unto him, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” (Matt. xvi. 17,
23.) St. Peter was now speaking in the name of Satan! Satan still “desires
to have” us.
St. Paul was tempted to think that he could do far better work for his
beloved Master if only that “thorn” could be removed. But God knew that Paul
would be a better man with the “thorn” than without it.
Is it not a comfort to us to know that we may bring more glory to God
under something which we are apt to regard as a hindrance or handicap, than
if that undesired thing was removed? “My grace is sufficient for thee: for
My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. xii. 9). Remember that
God nothing does, nor suffers to be done,
But what thou would’st thyself
Did’st thou but see
The end of all He does as well as He.
St. Paul was not infallible — nor was St. Peter, or St. John; nor is
the Pope or any other man. We may — and do — offer up mistaken prayers.
The highest form of prayer is not, “Thy way, O God, not mine,” but “My way,
O God, is Thine!” We are taught to pray, not “Thy will be changed,” but “Thy
will be done.”
May we, in conclusion, give the testimony of two who have proved that
God can be trusted?
Sir H. M. Stanley, the great explorer, wrote: “I for one must not dare
to say that prayers are inefficacious. Where I have been in earnest, I have
been answered. When I prayed for light to guide my followers wisely through
the perils that beset them, a ray of light has come upon the perplexed mind,
and a clear road to deliverance has been pointed out. You may know when
prayer is answered, by the glow of content which fills one who has flung his
cause before God, as he rises to his feet. I have evidence, satisfactory to
myself, that prayers are granted.”
Mary Slessor, the story of whose life in West Africa has surely
thrilled us all, was once asked what prayer meant to her. She replied, “My
life is one long, daily, hourly record of answered prayer for physical
health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for errors
and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at
the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor
service. I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I
believe God answers prayer. I know God answers prayer!”
CHAPTER 9: ANSWERS TO PRAYER
MERE human nature would choose a more startling title to this chapter.
Remarkable answers — wonderful answers — amazing answers. But we must
allow God to teach us that it is as natural to Him to answer prayer as it is
for us to ask. How He delights to hear our petitions, and how He loves to
answer them! When we hear of some wealthy person giving a treat to
poverty-stricken people, or wiping out some crushing deficit in a missionary
society, we exclaim, “How nice to be able to do a thing like that!” Well, if
it is true that God loves us — and we know it is true — do you not think
it gives Him great joy to give us what we ask? We should like, therefore, to
recount one or two answers to prayer out of very many which have come to our
notice, so that we may have greater boldness in coming to the Throne of
Grace. God saves men for whom we pray. Try it.
In talking over this question with a man of prayer a few days ago, he
suddenly asked me, “Do you know St. M-‘s Church, L-?”
“Quite well — have been there several times.”
“Let me tell you what happened when I lived there. We had a
prayer-meeting each Sunday before the 8 o’clock communion service. As we
rose from our knees one Sunday a sidesman said, ‘Vicar, I wish you would
pray for my boy. He is twenty-two years old now, and has not been to church
for years.’ ‘We can spare five minutes now,’ replied the vicar. They knelt
down again and offered up earnest supplication on behalf of that man.
Although nothing was said to him about this, that youth came to church that
same evening. Something in the sermon convicted him of sin. He came into the
vestry broken-hearted, and accepted Jesus Christ as, his Savior.”
On Monday morning my friend, who was working as a Church Army captain
in the parish, was present at the weekly meeting of the staff. He said to
the vicar, “That conversion last night is a challenge to prayer — a
challenge from God. Shall we accept it?” “What do you mean?” asked the
vicar. “Well,” said he, “shall we single out the worst man in the parish and
pray for him?” By unanimous consent they fixed upon K- as the worst man they
knew. So they “agreed” in prayer for his conversion. At the end of that
week, as they were conducting a Saturday night prayer-meeting in the mission
hall, and whilst his very name was on their lips, the door swung open and in
staggered K-, much the worse for liquor. He had never been in that mission
hall before. Without thinking of removing his cap he sank on a chair near
the door and buried his face in his hands. The prayer-meeting suddenly
became an enquiry-room. Even as he was — in drink — he sought the Lord Who
was seeking him. Nor did he ever go back. Today he is one of the finest
dockyard missioners in the land.
Oh, why do we not pray for our unconverted friends? They may not listen
to us when we plead with them, but they cannot hold out if we pray for them.
Let two or three agree in prayer over the salvation of the worst, and then
see what God will do! Tell God and then trust God. God works in a wonderful
way, as well as in a “mysterious” way, His wonders to perform.
Dan Crawford told us recently that when returning to his mission field
after a furlough, it was necessary to make all possible haste. But a deep
stream, which had to be crossed, was in flood, and no boats were available,
or usable, for that matter. So he and his party camped and prayed. An
infidel might well have laughed aloud. How could God get them across that
river! But, as they prayed, a tall tree which had battled with that river
for scores of years began to totter and fall. It fell clear across the
stream! As Mr. Crawford says, “The Royal Engineers of heaven had laid a
pontoon bridge for God’s servants.”
Many young people will be reading these prayer-stories. May we remind
them that God still hears the voice of the lad — yes, and the lass? (Gen.
xxi. 17.) For them may we be allowed to add the following story, with the
earnest desire that prayer may be their heritage, their very life; and that
answered prayer may be their daily experience.
Some little time ago, a Chinese boy of twelve years old, named
Ma-Na-Si, a boarder in the mission school at Chefoo, went home for the
holidays. He is the son of a native pastor.
Whilst standing on the doorstep of his father’s house he espied a
horseman galloping towards him. The man — a heathen — was in a great state
of perturbation. He eagerly enquired for the “Jesus-man” — the pastor. The
boy told him that his father was away from home. The poor man was much
distressed, and hurriedly explained the cause of his visit. He had been sent
from a heathen village some miles away to fetch the “holy man” to cast a
devil out of the daughter-in-law of a heathen friend. He poured out his sad
story of this young woman, torn by devils, raving and reviling, pulling out
her hair, clawing her face, tearing her clothes, smashing up furniture, and
dashing away dishes of food. He told of her spirit of sacrilege, and
outrageous impiety, and brazen blasphemy and how these outbursts were
followed by foaming at the mouth, and great exhaustion, both physical and
mental “But my father is not at home,” the boy kept reiterating. At length
the frenzied man seemed to understand. Suddenly he fell on his knees, and,
stretching out his hands in desperation, cried, “You, too, are a Jesus-man;
will you come ?”
Think of it — a boy of twelve! Yes, but even a lad, when fully yielded
to his Savior, is not fearful of being used by that Savior. There was but
one moment of surprise, and a moment of hesitation, and then the laddie put
himself wholly at his Master’s disposal. Like little Samuel of old he was
willing to obey God in all things. He accepted the earnest entreaty as a
call from God. The heathen stranger sprang into the saddle, and, swinging
the Christian boy up behind him, he galloped away.
Ma-Na-Si began to think over things. He had accepted an invitation to
cast out a devil in the name of Christ Jesus. But was he worthy to be used
of God in this way? Was his heart pure and his faith strong? As they
galloped along he carefully searched his own heart for sin to be confessed
and repented of. Then he prayed for guidance what to say and how to act, and
tried to recall Bible instances of demoniacal possession and how they were
dealt with. Then he simply and humbly cast himself upon the God of power and
of mercy, asking His help for the glory of the Lord Jesus. On arrival at the
house they found that some of the members of the family were by main force
holding down the tortured woman upon the bed. Although she had not been told
that a messenger had gone for the native pastor, yet as soon as she heard
footsteps in the court outside she cried, “All of you get out of my way
quickly, so that I can escape. I must flee! A ‘Jesus-man’ is coming. I
cannot endure him. His name is Ma-Na-Si.”
Ma-Na-Si entered the room, and after a ceremonial bow knelt down and
began to pray. Then he sang a Christian hymn to the praise of the Lord
Jesus. Then, in the name of the Risen Lord, glorified and omnipotent, he
commanded the demon to come out of the woman. At once she was calm, though
prostrate with weakness. From that day she was perfectly whole. She was
amazed when they told her that she had uttered the name of the Christian
boy, for she had never heard of it or read of it before, for the whole of
that village was heathen. But that day was veritably a “beginning of days”
to those people, for from it the Word of the Lord had free course and was
Beloved reader, I do not know how this little narrative affects you. It
is one that moves me to the very depths of my being. It seems to me that
most of us know so little of the power of God — so little of His
overwhelming, irresistible love. Oh, what love is His! Now, every time we
pray, that wonderful love envelops us in a special way.
If we really loved our blessed Savior, should we not oftener seek
communion with Him in prayer? Fellow Christian, is it because we pray so
little that we criticise so much? Oh, let us remember that we, like our dear
Savior, are not sent into the world to condemn, to judge, the world, “but
that the world should be saved through Him” (John iii. 17).
Will any thoughtless word of criticism of anyone move anyone nearer to
Christ? Will it even help the utterer of that fault-finding to be more like
the Master? Oh, let us lay aside the spirit of criticism, of blaming, of
fault-finding, of disparaging others or their work. Would not St. Paul say
to us all, “And such were some of you, but ye are washed”? (II Cor. vi. 11.)
Do you see what we are aiming at? All the evil dispositions and
failings we detect in others are due to the devil. It is the evil one in the
heart who causes those words and deeds which we are so ready to condemn and
to exaggerate. Demon-possession is not unknown in England, but it takes a
different form, perhaps. Our very friends and acquaintances, so kindly and
lovable, are often tied and bound by some besetting sin — “whom Satan hath
bound, lo, these many years.”
We may plead with them in vain. We may warn them in vain. Courtesy and
charity — and our own failings and shortcomings — forbid us standing over
them like Ma-Na-Si and exercising the evil spirit! But have we tried prayer
— prayer always backed up by love which cannot be “provoked”? (I Cor. xiii.
God answers prayer from old and young, when there is a clean heart, a
holy life, and a simple faith. God answers prayer. We are but frail and
faulty servants at the best. Sincere as we may be, we shall sometimes ask
amiss. But God is faithful that promised, and He will guard us from all harm
and supply every need.
Can I have the things I pray for?
God knows best;
He is wiser than His children.
I can rest.
“Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and
whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and
do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (I John iii. 21.)
CHAPTER 10: HOW GOD ANSWERS PRAYER
FOR man fully to understand God and all His dealings with us is an
utter impossibility. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the
knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past
tracing out!” (Rom. xi. 33.) True, but we need not make difficulties where
none exists. If God has all power and all knowledge, surely prayer has no
difficulties, though occasionally there may be perplexities. We cannot
discover God’s method, but we know something of His manner of answering
But at the very outset may we remind ourselves how little we know about
ordinary things? Mr. Edison, whose knowledge is pretty profound, wrote in
August, 1921, “We don’t know the millionth part of one per cent about
anything. We don’t know what water is. We don’t know what light is. We don’t
know what gravitation is. We don’t know what enables us to keep on our feet
to stand up. We don’t know what electricity is. We don’t know what heat is.
We don’t know anything about magnetism. We have a lot of hypotheses, but
that is all.” But we do not allow our ignorance about all these things to
deprive us of their use! We do not know much about prayer, but surely this
need not prevent us from praying! We do know what our Lord has taught us
about prayer. And we do know that He has sent the Holy Spirit to teach us
all things (John xiv. 26). How, then, does God answer prayer? One way is
just this: —
He reveals His mind to those who pray. His Holy Spirit puts fresh ideas
into the minds of praying people. We are quite aware that the devil and his
angels are busy enough putting bad thoughts into our minds. Surely, then,
God and His holy angels can give us good thoughts? Even poor, weak, sinful
men and women can put good thoughts into the minds of others. That is what
we try to do in writing! We do not stop to think what a wonderful thing it
is that a few peculiar-shaped black marks on this white paper can uplift and
inspire, or depress and cast down, or even convict of sin! But, to an
untutored savage, it is a stupendous miracle. Moreover, you and I can often
read people’s thoughts or wishes from an expression on the face or a glance
of the eye. Even thought transference between man and man is a commonplace
today. And God can in many ways convey His thoughts to us. A remarkable
instance of this was related by a speaker last year at Northfield. Three or
four years ago, he met an old whaling captain who told him this story.
“A good many years ago, I was sailing in the desolate seas off Cape
Horn, hunting whales. One day we were beating directly south in the face of
a hard wind. We had been tacking this way and that all the morning, and were
making very little headway. About 11 o’clock, as I stood at the wheel, the
idea suddenly came into my mind, ‘Why batter the ship against these waves?
There are probably as many whales to the north as to the south. Suppose we
run with the wind instead of against it? In response to that sudden idea I
changed the course of the ship, and began to sail north instead of south.
One hour later, at noon, the look-out at the masthead shouted ‘Boats ahead!’
Presently we overtook four lifeboats, in which were fourteen sailors, the
only survivors of the crew of a ship which had burned to the water’s edge
ten days before. Those men had been adrift in their boats ever since,
praying God frantically for rescue; and we arrived just in time to save
them. They could not have survived another day.”
Then the old whaler added, “I don’t know whether you believe in
religion or not, but I happen to be a Christian. I have begun every day of
my life with prayer that God would use me to help someone else, and I am
convinced that God, that day, put the idea into my mind to change the course
of my ship. That idea was the means of saving fourteen lives.”
God has many things to say to us. He has many thoughts to put into our
minds. We are apt to be so busy doing His work that we do not stop to listen
to His Word. Prayer gives God the opportunity of speaking to us and
revealing His will to us. May our attitude often be: “Speak, Lord, Thy
God answers other prayers by putting new thoughts into the minds of
those we pray for. At a series of services dealing with the Victorious Life,
the writer one afternoon urged the congregation to “makeup” their quarrels
if they really desired a holy life. One lady went straight home, and after
very earnest prayer wrote to her sister, with whom, owing to some
disagreement, she had had nothing to do for twenty years! Her sister was
living thirty miles away. The very next morning the writer of that note
received a letter from that very sister asking forgiveness and seeking
reconciliation. The two letters had crossed in the post. While the one
sister was praying to God for the other, God was speaking to that other
sister, putting into her mind the desire for reconciliation.
You may say, Why did not God put that desire there before? It may be
that He foresaw that it would be useless for the distant sister to write
asking forgiveness until the other sister was also willing to forgive. The
fact remains that, when we pray for others, somehow or other it opens the
way for God to influence those we pray for. God needs our prayers, or He
would not beg us to pray.
A little time back, at the end of a weekly prayer-meeting, a godly
woman begged those present to pray for her husband, who would never go near
a place of worship. The leader suggested that they should continue in prayer
then and there. Most earnest prayers were offered up. Now, the husband was
devoted to his wife, and frequently came to meet her. He did so that night,
and arrived at the hall while the prayer-meeting was still in progress. God
put it into his mind to open the door and wait inside — a thing he had
never done before. As he sat on a chair near the door, leaning his head upon
his hand, he overheard those earnest petitions. During the homeward walk he
said, “Wife, who was the man they were praying for tonight?” “Oh,” she
replied, “it is the husband of one of our workers.” “Well, I am quite sure
he will be saved,” said he; “God must answer prayers like that.” A little
later in the evening he again asked, “Who was the man they were praying
for?” She replied in similar terms as before. On retiring to rest he could
not sleep. He was under deep conviction of sin. Awaking his wife, he begged
her to pray for him.
How clearly this shows us that when we pray, God can work! God could
have prompted that man to enter that prayer-meeting any week. But had he
done so it is a question whether any good at all would have come from it.
When once those earnest, heartfelt petitions were being offered up on his
behalf God saw that they would have a mighty influence upon that poor man.
It is when we pray that God can help us in our work and strengthen our
resolves. For we can answer many of our own prayers. One bitter winter a
prosperous farmer was praying that God would keep a neighbor from starving.
When the family prayers were over, his little boy said, “Father, I don’t
think I should have troubled God about that. Why not?” he asked. “Because it
would be easy enough for you to see that they don’t starve!” There is not
the slightest doubt that if we pray for others we shall also try to help
A young convert asked his vicar to give him some Christian work. “Have
you a chum?” “Yes,” replied the boy. “Is he a Christian?” “No, he is as
careless as I was.” “Then go and ask him to accept Christ as his Savior.”
“Oh, no!” said the lad, “I could never do that. Give me anything but that.”
“Well,” said the vicar, “promise me two things: that you will not speak to
him about his soul, and that you will pray to God twice daily for his
conversion.” “Why, yes, I’ll gladly do that,” answered the boy. Before a
fortnight was up he rushed round to the vicarage. “Will you let me off my
promise? I must speak to my chum!” he cried. When he began to pray God could
give him strength to witness. Communion with God is essential before we can
have real communion with our fellow-man. My belief is that men so seldom
speak to others about their spiritual condition because they pray so little
The writer has never forgotten how his faith in prayer was confirmed
when, as a lad of thirteen, he earnestly asked God to enable him on a
certain day to secure twenty new subscribers for missions overseas. Exactly
twenty new names were secured before night closed in. The consciousness that
God would grant that prayer was an incentive to eager effort, and gave an
unwonted courage in approaching others.
A cleric in England suggested to his people that they should each day
pray for the worst man or woman and then go to them and tell them about
Jesus. Only six agreed to do so. On arrival home he began to pray. Then he
said, “I must not leave this to my people. I must take it up myself. I don’t
know the bad people. I’ll have to go out and enquire.” Approaching a
rough-looking man at a street corner, he asked, “Are you the worst man in
this district?” “No, I’m not.” “Would you mind telling me who is?” “I don’t
mind. You’ll find him at No. 7, down that street.”
He knocked at No. 7 and entered. “I’m looking for the worst man in my
parish. They tell me it might be you?” “Whoever told you that? Fetch him
here, and I’ll show him who’s the worst man! No, there are lots worse than
me.” “Well, who is the worst man you know?” “Everybody knows him. He lives
at the end house in that court. He’s the worst man.” So down the court he
went and knocked at the door. A surly voice cried, “Come in!”
There were a man and his wife. “I hope you’ll excuse me, but I’m the
minister of the chapel along the round. I’m looking for the worst man in my
district, because I have something to tell him. Are you the worst man?” The
man turned to his wife and said, “Lass, tell him what I said to you five
minutes ago.” “No, tell him yourself.” “What were you saying?” enquired the
visitor. “Well, I’ve been drinking for twelve weeks. I’ve had the D.T’s and
have pawned all in the house worth pawning. And I said to my wife a few
minutes ago, ‘Lass, this thing has to stop, and if it doesn’t, I’ll stop it
myself — I’ll go and drown myself.’ Then you knocked at the door! Yes, sir,
I’m the very worst man. What have you got to say to me?” “I’m here to tell
you that Jesus Christ is the greatest Savior, and that He can make out of
the worst man one of the best. He did it for me, and He will do it for you.”
“D’you think He can do it even for me?” “I’m sure He can. Kneel down and ask
Not only was the poor drunkard saved from his sins, but he is today a
radiant Christian man, bringing other drunken people to the Lord Jesus
Surely none of us finds it difficult to believe that God can, in answer
to prayer, heal the body, send rain or fair weather, dispel fogs, or avert
We have to do with a God whose knowledge is infinite. He can put it
into the mind of a doctor to prescribe a certain medicine, or diet, or
method of cure. All the doctor’s skill is from God. “He knoweth our frame”
— for He made it. He knows it far better than the cleverest doctor or
surgeon. He made, and He can restore. We believe that God desires us to use
medical skill, but we also believe that God, by His wonderful knowledge, can
heal, and sometimes does heal, without human co-operation. And God must be
allowed to work in His own way. We are so apt to tie God down to the way we
approve of. God’s aim is to glorify His name in answering our prayers.
Sometimes He sees that our desire is right, but our petition wrong. St. Paul
thought he could bring more glory to God if only the thorn in the flesh
could be removed. God knew that he would be a better man and do better work
with the thorn than without it. So God said No-No-No to his prayer, and then
So it was with Monica, who prayed so many years for the conversion of
Augustine, her licentious son. When he was determined to leave home and
cross the seas to Rome she prayed earnestly, even passionately, that God
would keep him by her side, and under her influence. She went down to a
little chapel on the seashore to spend the night in prayer close by where
the ship lay at anchor. But, when morning came, she found that the ship had
sailed even while she prayed! Her petition was refused, but her real desire
was granted. For it was in Rome that Augustine met the sainted Ambrose, who
led him to Christ. How comforting it is to know that God knows what is best!
But we should never think it unreasonable that God should make some
things dependent upon our prayers. Some people say that if God really loves
us He would give us what is best for us whether we ask Him or not. Dr.
Fosdick has so beautifully pointed out that God has left man many things to
do for himself. He promises seedtime and harvest. Yet man must prepare the
soil, sow, and till, and reap in order to allow God to do His share. God
provides us with food and drink. But He leaves us to take, and eat, and
drink. There are some things God cannot, or at least will not, do without
our help. God cannot do some things unless we think. He never emblazons His
truth upon the sky. The laws of science have always been there. But we must
think, and experiment, and think again if we would use those laws for our
own good and God’s glory.
God cannot do some things unless we work. He stores the hills with
marble, but He has never built a cathedral. He fills the mountains with iron
ore, but He never makes a needle or a locomotive. He leaves that to us. We
If, then, God has left many things dependent upon man’s thinking and
working, why should He not leave some things dependent upon man’s praying?
He has done so. “Ask and ye shall receive.” And there are some things God
will not give us unless we ask. Prayer is one of the three ways in which man
can co-operate with God; and the greatest of these is prayer.
Men of power are without exception men of prayer. God bestows His Holy
Spirit in His fullness only on men of prayer. And it is through the
operation of the Spirit that answers to prayer come. Every believer has the
Spirit of Christ dwelling in him. For “if any have not the Spirit of Christ,
he is none of his.” But a man of prevailing prayer must be filled with the
Spirit of God.
A lady missionary wrote recently that it used to be said of Praying
Hyde that he never spoke to an unconverted man but that he was soundly
converted. But if he ever did fail at first to touch a heart for God, he
went back to his room and wrestled in prayer till he was shown what it was
in himself that had hindered his being used by God. Yes, when we are filled
with the Spirit of God, we cannot help influencing others God-ward. But, to
have power with men, we must have power with God.
The momentous question for you and me is not, however, “How does God
answer prayer?” The question is, “Do I really pray?” What a marvelous power
God places at our disposal! Do we for a moment think that anything
displeasing to God is worth our while holding on to? Fellow-Christian, trust
Christ wholly, and you will find Him wholly true.
Let us give God the chance of putting His mind into us, and we shall
never doubt the power of prayer again.
CHAPTER 11: HINDRANCES TO PRAYER
THE, poet said, and we often sing —
What various hindrances we meet
In coming to the mercy-seat.
Yes, indeed, they are various. But here again, most of those hindrances
are our own making.
God wants me to pray. The devil does not want me to pray, and does all
he can to hinder me. He knows that we can accomplish more through our
prayers than through our work. He would rather have us do anything else than
We have already referred to Satan’s opposition to prayer:
Angels our march oppose
Who still in strength excel
Our secret, sworn, relentless foes,
But we need not fear them, nor heed them, if our eyes are ever unto the
Lord. The holy angels are stronger than fallen angels, and we can leave the
celestial hosts to guard us. We believe that to them — the hosts of evil —
we owe those wandering thoughts which so often wreck prayer. We no sooner
kneel than we “recollect” something that should have been done, or something
which had better be seen to at once.
These thoughts come from without, and are surely due to the promptings
of evil spirits. The only cure for wandering thoughts is to get our minds
fixed upon God. Undoubtedly a man’s worst foe is himself. Prayer is for a
child of God — and one who is living as a child of God should pray.
The great question is: Am I harboring any foes in my heart? Are there
traitors within? God cannot give us His best spiritual blessings unless we
fulfil conditions of trust, obedience and service. Do we not often ask
earnestly for the highest spiritual gifts, without even any thought of
fulfilling the necessary requirements? Do we not often ask for blessings we
are not fitted to receive? Dare we be honest with ourselves, alone in the
presence of God? Dare we say sincerely, “Search me, O God, and see –“? Is
there anything in me which is hindering God’s blessing for me and through
me? We discuss the “problem of prayer”; we are the problem that needs
discussing or dissecting! Prayer is all right! There is no problem in prayer
to the heart which is absolutely stayed on Christ.
Now, we shall not quote the usual Bible texts which show how prayer may
be frustrated. We merely desire that everyone should get a glimpse of his
own heart. No sin is too small to hinder prayer, and perhaps to turn the
very prayer itself into sin, if we are not willing to renounce that sin. The
Moslems in West Africa have a saying, “If there is no purity, there is no
prayer; if there is no prayer, there is no drinking of the water of heaven.”
This truth is so clearly taught in Scripture that it is amazing that any
should try to retain both sin and prayer. Yet very many do this. Even David
cried, long ages ago, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not
hear” (Psa. lxvi. 18).
And Isaiah says, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your
God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isa. lix. 2). Surely we must
all agree that it is sin in us, and not the unwillingness of Christ to hear,
that hinders prayer. As a rule, it is some little sin, so-called, that mars
and spoils the prayer-life. There may be:
(1) Doubt. Now, unbelief is possibly the greatest hindrance to prayer.
Our Lord said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin — “of sin
because they believe not on Me” (St. John xvi. 9). We are not “of the
world,” yet is there not much practical unbelief in many of us? St. James,
writing to believers, says: “Ask in faith, nothing doubting; for he that
doubteth . . . let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord”
(St. James i. 6-8). Some have not because they ask not. Others “have not”
because they believe not. Did you think it a little strange that we spent so
much time over adoration and thanksgiving before we came to the “asking”?
But surely, if we get a glimpse of the glorious majesty of our Lord, and the
wonders of His love and grace, unbelief and doubt will vanish away as mists
before the rising sun? Was this not the reason that Abraham “staggered not,”
“wavered not through unbelief,” in that he gave God the glory due unto His
name, and was therefore “fully assured that what He had promised He was able
also to perform”? (Rom. iv. 20, 21). Knowing what we do of God’s stupendous
love, is it not amazing that we should ever doubt?
(2) Then there is Self — the root of all sin. How selfish we are prone
to be even in our “good works”! How we hesitate to give up anything which
“self” craves for. Yet we know that a full hand cannot take Christ’s gifts.
Was this why the Savior, in the prayer He first taught, coupled us with
everything else? “Our” is the first word. “Our Father . . . give us . . .
forgive us . . . deliver us . . .”
Pride prevents prayer, for prayer is a very humbling thing. How hateful
pride must be in the sight of God! It is God who gives us all things “richly
to enjoy.” “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” asks St. Paul (I
Cor. iv. 7). Surely, surely we are not going to let pride, with its hateful,
ugly sister, jealousy, ruin our prayer-life? God cannot do great things for
us whereby we may be glad if they are going to “turn our heads.” Oh, how
foolish we can be! Sometimes, when we are insistent, God does give us what
we ask, at the expense of our holiness. “He gave them their request, but
sent leanness into their soul” (Psa. cvi. 15). O God, save us from that —
save us from self! Again, self asserts itself in criticising others. Let
this thought burn itself into your memory — the more like Jesus Christ a
man becomes, the less he judges other people. It is an infallible test.
Those who are always criticising others have drifted away from Christ. They
may still be His, but have lost His Spirit of love. Beloved reader, if you
have a criticising nature, allow it to dissect yourself and never your
neighbor. You will be able to give it full scope, and it will never be
unemployed! Is this a harsh remark? Does it betray a tendency to commit the
very sin — for it is sin — it condemns? It would do so were it spoken to
any one individual. But its object is to pierce armor which is seemingly
invulnerable. And no one who, for one month, has kept his tongue “from
picking and stealing” the reputation of other people will ever desire to go
back again to back-biting. “Love suffereth long and is kind” (I Cor. xiii.
4). Do we? Are we?
We are ourselves no better because we have managed to paint other
people in worse colors than ourselves. But, singularly enough, we enhance
our own spiritual joy and our own living witness for Christ when we refuse
to pass on disparaging information about others, or when we refrain from
“judging” the work or lives of other people. It may be hard at first, but it
soon brings untold joy, and is rewarded by the love of all around. It is
most hard to keep silent in the face of “modern” heresies. Are we not told
to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto
the saints”? (Jude 3.) Sometimes we must speak out — but let it always be
in the spirit of love. “Rather let error live than love die.”
Even in our private prayers fault-finding of others must be resolutely
avoided. Read once more the story of John Hyde praying for the “cold
brother.” Believe me, a criticising spirit destroys holiness of life more
easily than anything else, because it is such an eminently respectable sin,
and makes such easy victims of us. We need scarcely add that when a believer
is filled with the Spirit of Christ.– who is Love — he will never tell
others of the unchristian behavior he may discern in his friends. “He was
most rude to me”; “He is too conceited”; “I can’t stand that man”; and
such-like remarks are surely unkind, unnecessary, and often untrue.
Our dear Lord suffered the contradiction of sinners against Himself,
but He never complained or published abroad the news to others. Why should
we do so? Self must be dethroned if Christ is to reign supreme. There must
be no idols in the heart. Do you remember what God said of some leaders of
religion? “These men have taken their idols into their heart . . . ; should
I be inquired of at all by them?” (Ezek. xiv. 3.)
When our aim is solely the glory of God, then God can answer our
prayers. Christ Himself rather than His gifts should be our desire. “Delight
thyself in the Lord and He shall give thee the petitions of thine heart”
(Psa. xxxvii. 4, R.V., marg.).
“Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and
whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do
the things that are pleasing in his sight” (I John iii. 21, 22).
It is as true today as in the early days of Christianity that men ask,
and receive not, because they ask amiss that they may spend it on their
pleasures –.i.e., self (James iv. 3).
(3) Unlove in the heart is possibly the greatest hindrance to prayer. A
loving spirit is a condition of believing prayer. We cannot be wrong with
man and right with God. The spirit of prayer is essentially the spirit of
love. Intercession is simply love at prayer.
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the great God Who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Dare we hate or dislike those whom God loves? If we do, can we really
possess the Spirit of Christ? We really must face these elementary facts in
our faith if prayer is to be anything more than a mere form. Our Lord not
only says, “And pray for those that persecute you; that ye may be sons of
your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. v. 44, 45).
We venture to think that large numbers of so-called Christians have
never faced this question. To hear how many Christian workers — and
prominent ones, too — speak of others from whom they disagree, one must
charitably suppose they have never heard that command of our Lord!
Our daily life in the world is the best indication of our power in
prayer. God deals with my prayers not according to the spirit and tone which
I exhibit when I am praying in public or private, but according to the
spirit I show in my daily life.
Hot-tempered people can make only frigid prayers. If we do not obey our
Lord’s command and love one another, our prayers are well-nigh worthless. If
we harbor an unforgiving spirit it is almost wasted time to pray. Yet a
prominent Dean of one of our cathedrals was recently reported to have said
that there are some people we can never forgive! If so, we trust that he
uses an abridged form of the Lord’s prayer. Christ taught us to say “Forgive
us . . . as we forgive.” And He goes farther than this. He declares, “If ye
forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive
your trespasses” (Matt. vi. 15). May we ever exhibit the Spirit of Christ,
and not forfeit our own much-needed forgiveness. How many of our readers who
have not the slightest intention of forgiving their enemies, or even their
offending friends, repeated the Lord’s prayer today?
Many Christians have never given prayer a fair chance. It is not
through conscious insincerity, but from want of thought. The blame for it
really rests upon those of us who preach and teach. We are prone to teach
doctrines rather than doings. Most men desire to do what is right, but they
regard the big things rather than the little failings in the life of love.
Our Lord goes so far as to say that even our gifts are not to be
presented to God if we remember that our brother “hath ought against us”
(Matt. v. 23). If He will not accept our gifts, is it likely He will answer
our prayers? It was when Job ceased contending with his enemies (whom the
Bible calls his “friends”) that the Lord “turned his captivity” and gave him
twice as much as he had before (Job xlii. 10).
How slow we are — how unwilling we are — to see that our lives hinder
our prayers! And how unwilling we are to act on love-lines. Yes, we desire
to “win” men. Our Lord shows us one way. Don’t publish abroad his
wrongdoings. Speak to him alone, and “thou hast gained thy brother” (Matt.
xviii. 15). Most of us have rather pained our brothers!
Even the home-life may hinder the prayer-life. See what Peter says
about how we should so live in the home that our “prayers be not hindered”
(I Peter iii. 1-10). We would venture to urge every reader to ask God to
search his heart once again and to show him if there is “any root of
bitterness” towards anyone. We all desire to do what is pleasing to God. It
would be an immense gain to our spiritual life if we would resolve not to
attempt to pray until we had done all in our power to make peace and harmony
between ourselves and any with whom we have quarreled. Until we do this as
far as lies in our power, our prayers are just wasted breath. Unkindly
feelings towards another hinder God from helping us in the way He desires.
A loving life is an essential condition of believing prayer. God
challenges us again, today, to become fit persons to receive His
superabundant blessings. Many of us have to decide whether we will choose a
bitter, unforgiving spirit, or the tender mercies and loving-kindness of our
Lord Jesus Christ. Is it not amazing that any man can halt between two
opinions with such a choice in the balance? For bitterness harms the bitter
more than anyone else.
“Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive if ye have ought against anyone;
that your Father also, who is in heaven, may forgive you” (Mark xi. 25). So
said the blessed Master. Must we not then either forgive, or cease trying to
pray? What shall it profit a man if he gain all his time to pretend to pray,
if he harbors unlove in his heart to prevent real prayer? How the devil
laughs at us because we do not see this truth!
We have God’s word for it that eloquence, knowledge, faith, liberality,
and even martyrdom profit a man nothing — get hold of it — nothing, unless
his heart is filled with love (I Cor. xiii.). “Therefore give us love.”
(4) Refusal to do our part may hinder God answering our prayers. Love
calls forth compassion and service at the sight of sin and suffering, both
here and overseas. Just as St. Paul’s heart was “stirred” — “provoked” —
within him as he beheld the city full of idols (Acts xvii. 16). We cannot be
sincere when we pray “Thy kingdom come” unless we are doing what we can to
hasten the coming of that kingdom — by our gifts, our prayers and our
We cannot be quite sincere in praying for the conversion of the ungodly
unless we are willing to speak a word, or write a letter, or make some
attempt to bring him under the influence of the Gospel. Before one of
Moody’s great missions he was present at a meeting for prayer asking for
God’s blessing. Several wealthy men were there. One began to pray that God
would send sufficient funds to defray the expenses. Moody at once stopped
him. “We need not trouble God about that,” he said quietly, “we are able to
answer that prayer!”
(5) Praying only in secret may be a hindrance. Children of a family
should not always meet their father separately. It is remarkable how often
our Lord refers to united prayer — “agreed” prayer. “When ye pray, say, Our
Father”; “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything they shall
ask, it shall be done for them. . . . For where two or three are gathered
together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. xviii. 19, 20).
We feel sure that the weakness in the spiritual life of many churches
is to be traced to an inefficient prayer-meeting, or the absence of meetings
for prayer. Daily matins and evensong, even when reverent and without the
unseemly haste which is so often associated with them, cannot take the place
of less formal gatherings for prayer, in which everyone may take part. Can
we not make the weekly prayer-meeting a live thing and a living force?
(6) raise is as important as prayer. We must enter into His gates with
thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise, and give thanks unto Him and
bless His name (Ps. c. 4). At one time in his life Praying Hyde was led to
ask for four souls a day to be brought into the fold by his ministry. If on
any day the number fell short of this, there would be such a weight on his
heart that it was positively painful, and he could neither eat nor sleep.
Then. in prayer he would ask the Lord to show him what was the obstacle in
himself. He invariably found that it was the want of praise in his life. He
would confess his sinfulness and pray for a spirit of praise. He said that
as he praised God seeking souls would come to him. We do not imply that we,
too, should limit God to definite numbers or ways of working; but we do cry:
“Rejoice! Praise God with heart and mind and soul.”
It is not by accident that we are so often bidden to “rejoice in the
Lord.” God does not want miserable children; and none of His children has
cause for misery. St. Paul, the most persecuted of men, was a man of song.
Hymns of praise came from his lips in prison and out of prison: day and
night he praised His Savior. The very order of his exhortations is
significant. “Rejoice evermore; pray without ceasing; in everything give
thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you” (I Thess. v.
The will of God. Get that thought into your mind. It is not an optional
REJOICE: PRAY: GIVE THANKS
That is the order, according to the will of God — for you, and for me.
Nothing so pleases God as our praises — and nothing so blesses the man who
prays as the praises he offers! “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he
shall give thee the petitions of thine heart” (Ps. xxxvii. 4, R.V., marg.).
A missionary who had received very bad news from home, was utterly cast
down. Prayer availed nothing to relieve the darkness of his soul. He went to
see another missionary, no doubt seeking comfort. There on the wall was a
motto-card: “Try Thanksgiving!” He did; and in a moment every shadow was
gone, never to return.
Do we praise enough to get our prayers answered? If we truly trust Him,
we shall always praise Him. For
God nothing does nor suffers to be done
But thou would’st do thyself
Could’st thou but see
The end of all events as well as He.
One who once overheard Luther praying said, “Gracious God! What spirit
and what faith is there in his expressions! He petitions God with as much
reverence as if he were in the Divine presence, and yet with as firm a hope
and confidence as he would address a father or a friend.” That child of God
seemed quite unconscious that “hindrances to prayer” existed!
After all that has been said, we see that everything can be summed up
under one head. All hindrance to prayer arises from ignorance of the
teaching of God’s Holy Word on the life of holiness He has planned for all
His children, or from an unwillingness to consecrate ourselves fully to Him.
When we can truthfully say to our Father, “All that I am and have is
thine,” then He can say to us, “All that is mine is thine.”
CHAPTER 12: WHO MAY PRAY?
IT is only two centuries ago that six undergraduates were expelled from
the University of Oxford solely because they met together in each other’s
rooms for extempore prayer! Whereupon George Whitefield wrote to the
Vice-Chancellor, “It is to be hoped that, as some have been expelled for
extempore praying, we shall hear of some few others of a contrary stamp
being expelled for extempore swearing.” Today, thank God, no man in our land
is hindered by his fellow-men from praying. Any man may pray — but has
every man a right to pray? Does God listen to anyone ?
Who may pray? Is it the privilege — the right — of all men? Not
everyone can claim the right to approach the King of our realm. But there
are certain persons and bodies of people who have the privilege of immediate
access to our sovereign. The Prime Minister has that privilege. The ancient
Corporation of the City of London can at anytime lay its petition at the
feet of the King. The ambassador of a foreign power may do the same. He has
only to present himself at the gate of the palace of the King, and no power
can stand between him and the monarch. He can go at once into the royal
presence and present his request. But none of these has such ease of access
and such loving welcome as the Kings own son.
But there is the King of kings — the God and Father of us all. Who may
go to Him? Who may exercise this privilege — yes, this power — with God?
We are told — and there is much truth in the remark — that in the most
skeptical man or generation prayer is always underneath the surface,
waiting. Has it the right to come forth at anytime? In some religions it has
to wait. Of all the millions in India living in the bondage of Hinduism,
none may pray except the Brahmins! A millionaire merchant of any other caste
must perforce get a Brahmin — often a mere boy at school! — to say his
prayers for him.
The Mohammedan cannot pray unless he has learned a few phrases in
Arabic, for his “god” only hears prayers offered in what they believe to be
the holy language. Praise be to God, no such restrictions of caste or
language stand between us and our God. Can any man, therefore, pray?
Yes, you reply, anyone. But the Bible does not say so. Only a child of
God can truly pray to God. Only a son can enter His presence. It is
gloriously true that anyone can cry to Him for help — for pardon and mercy.
But that is scarcely prayer. Prayer is much more than that. Prayer is going
into “the secret place of the Most High,” and abiding under the shadow of
the Almighty (Ps. xci. 1). Prayer is a making known to God our wants and
desires, and holding out the hand of faith to take His gifts. Prayer is the
result of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. It is communion with God. Now,
there can scarcely be communion between a king and a rebel. What communion
hath light with darkness? (II Cor. vi. 14.) In ourselves we have no right to
pray. We have access to God only through the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. iii.
18, ii. 12).
Prayer is much more than the cry of a drowning man — of a man sinking
in the whirlpool of sin: “Lord, save me! I am lost! I am undone! Redeem me!
Save me!” Anyone can do this, and that is a petition which is never
unanswered, and one, if sincere, to which the answer is never delayed. For
“man cannot be God’s outlaw if he would.” But that is not prayer in the
Bible sense. Even the lions, roaring after their prey, seek their meat from
God; but that is not prayer.
We know that our Lord said, “Everyone that asketh receiveth” (Matt.
vii. 8). He did say so, but to whom? He was speaking to His disciples (Matt.
v. 1, 2). Yes, prayer is communion with God: the “home-life” of the soul, as
one describes it. And I much question whether there can be any communion
with Him unless the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart, and we have “received”
the Son, and so have the right to be called “children of God” (John i. 12).
Prayer is the privilege of a child. Children of God alone can claim
from the heavenly Father the things which He hath prepared for them that
love Him. Our Lord told us that in prayer we should call God “our Father.”
Surely only children can use that word? St. Paul says that it is “because ye
are sons God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying,
‘Abba, Father'” (Gal. iv. 6). Is this what was in God’s mind when, in
dealing with Job’s “comforters,” He said, “My servant Job shall pray for
you; for him will I accept”? (Job xlii. 8.) It looked as if they would not
have been “accepted” in the matter of prayer. But as soon as one becomes a
“son of God” he must enter the school of prayer. “Behold, he prayeth,” said
our Lord of a man as soon as he was converted. Yet that man had “said”
prayers all his life (Acts ix. 11). Converted men not only may pray, but
must pray — each man for himself, and, of course, for others. But, unless
and until we can truthfully call God “Father,” we have no claim to be
treated as children — as “sons,” “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”
— no claim at all. Do you say this is hard? Nay, surely it is natural. Has
a “child” no privileges?
But do not misunderstand me. This does not shut any man out of the
kingdom of heaven. Anyone, anywhere, .can cry, “God be merciful to me, a
sinner!” Any man who is outside the fold of Christ, outside the family of
God, however bad he may be, or however good he thinks he is, can this very
moment become a child of God, even as he reads these words. One look to
Christ in faith is sufficient “Look and live.” God did not even say “see” —
He says just look! Turn your face to God.
How did those Galatian Christians become “sons of God”? By faith in
Christ. “For ye are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal.
iii. 26). Christ will make any man a son of God by adoption and grace the
moment he turns to Him in true repentance and faith. But we have no rightful
claim even upon God’s providence unless we are His children. We cannot say
with any confidence or certainty, “I shall not want,” unless we can say,
with confidence and certainty, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
A child, however, has a right to his father’s care, and love, and
protection, and provision. Now, a child can only enter a family by being
born into it. We become children of God by being “born again,” “born from
above” (John iii. 3, 5). That is, by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ
(John iii. 16).
Having said all this as a warning, and perhaps as an explanation why
some people find prayer an utter failure, we hasten to add that God often
hears and answers prayer even from those who have no legal right to pray —
from those who are not His “children,” and may even deny that He exists! The
Gospels tell us of not a few unbelievers who came to Christ for healing; and
He never sent one away without the coveted blessing — never. They came as
“beggars,” not as “children.” And even if “the children must first be fed,”
these others received the crumbs — yea, and more than crumbs — that were
So today God often hears the cry of unbelievers for temporal mercies.
One case well known to the writer may be given as an illustration. My friend
told me that he had been an atheist many years. Whilst an infidel, he had
been singing for forty years in a church choir because he was fond of music.
His aged father became seriously ill two or three years ago, and lay in
great pain. The doctors were helpless to relieve the sufferer. In his
distress for his father, the infidel choirman fell on his knees and cried,
“O God, if there is a God, show Thy power by taking away, my father’s pain!”
God heard the man’s piteous cry, and removed the pain immediately. The
“atheist” praised God, and hurried off to his vicar to find out the way of
salvation! Today he is out-and-out for Christ, giving his whole time to work
for his newly-found Savior. Yes, God is greater than His promises, and is
more willing to hear than we are to pray.
Perhaps the most striking of all “prayers” from the lips of unbelievers
is that recorded of Caroline Fry, the author of Christ Our Example. Although
possessed of beauty, wealth, position and friends, she found that none of
them satisfied, and at length, in her utter misery, she sought God. Yet her
first utterance to Him was an expression of open rebellion to and hatred of
Him! Listen to it — it is not the prayer of a “child”: —
“O God, if Thou art a God: I do not love Thee; I do not want Thee; I do
not believe there is any happiness in Thee: but I am miserable as I am. Give
me what I do not seek; give me what I do not want. If Thou canst, make me
happy. I am miserable as I am. I am tired of this world; if there is
anything better, give it me.”
What a “prayer”! Yet God heard and answered. He forgave the wanderer
and made her radiantly happy and gloriously fruitful in His service.
In even savage bosoms
There are longings, servings, yearnings
For the good they comprehend not.
And their feeble hands and helpless.
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God’s right hand in the darkness,
And are lifted up and strengthened.
Shall we, then, alter our question a little, and ask, who has a right
to pray?” Only children of God in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. But, even so,
we must remember that no man can come unashamed and with confidence to his
Father in heaven unless he is living as a son of God should live. We cannot
expect a father to lavish his favors upon erring children. Only a faithful
and sanctified son can pray with the Spirit and pray with the understanding
also (I Cor. xiv. 15).
But if we are sons of God, nothing but sin can hinder our prayers. We,
His children, have the right of access to God at any time, in any place. And
He understands any form of prayer. We may have a wonderful gift of speech
pouring itself out in a torrent of thanksgiving, petition, and praise like
St. Paul; or we may have the quiet, deep, lover-like communion of a St.
John. The brilliant scholar like John Wesley and the humble cobbler like
William Carey are alike welcome at the throne of grace. Influence at the
court of heaven depends not upon birth, or brilliancy, or achievement, but
upon humble and utter independence upon the Son of the King.
Moody attributed his marvelous success to the prayers of an obscure and
almost unknown invalid woman! And truly the invalid saints of England could
bring about a speedy revival by their prayers. Oh, that all the shut-ins”
would speak out!
Do we not make a mistake in supposing that some people have a “gift” of
prayer? A brilliant Cambridge undergraduate asked me if the life of prayer
was not a gift, and one which very few possessed? He suggested that, just as
not everyone was musical, so not everyone is expected to be prayerful!
George Muller was exceptional not because he had a gift of prayer, but
because he prayed. Those who cannot “speak well,” as God declared Aaron
could, may labor in secret by intercession with those that speak the word.
We must have great faith if we are to have great power with God in prayer,
although God is very gracious and oftentimes goes beyond our faith.
Henry Martyn was a man of prayer, yet his faith was not equal to his
prayers. He once declared that he “would as soon expect to see a man rise
from the dead as to see a Brahmin converted to Christ.” Would St. James say,
“Let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord”? (James i.
7.) Now, Henry Martyn died without seeing one Brahmin accepting Christ as
his Savior. He used to retire, day by day, to a deserted pagoda for prayer.
Yet he had not faith for the conversion of a Brahmin. A few months back
there knelt in that very pagoda Brahmins and Mohammedans from all parts of
India, Burma and Ceylon, now fellow-Christians. Others had prayed with
greater faith than Henry Martyn.
Who may pray? We may; but do we? Does our Lord look at us with even
more pathos and tenderness than when He first uttered the words, and say,
“Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name? Ask, and ye shall receive, that
your joy may be full” (John xvi. 24). If the dear Master was dependent on
prayer to make His work a power, how much more are we? He sometimes prayed
with “strong crying and tears” (Heb. v. 7). Do we? Have we ever shed a
prayerful tear? Well might we cry, “Quicken us, and we will call upon Thy
name” (Ps. Ixxx. 18).
St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy may well be made to us all: “Stir up
the gift of God which is in thee” (II Tim. i. 6). For the Holy Spirit is
prayer’s great Helper. We are incapable of ourselves to translate our real
needs into prayer. The Holy Spirit does this for us. We cannot ask as we
ought. The Holy Spirit does this for us. It is possible for unaided man to
ask what is for our ill. The Holy Spirit can check this. No weak or
trembling hand dare put in motion any mighty force. Can I — dare I — move
the Hand that moves the universe? No! Unless the Holy Spirit has control of
Yes, we need Divine help for prayer — and we have it! How the whole
Trinity delights in prayer! God the Father listens: the Holy Spirit
dictates: the eternal Son presents the petition — and Himself intercedes;
and so the answer comes down.
Believe me, prayer is our highest privilege, our gravest
responsibility, and the greatest power God has put into our hands. Prayer,
real prayer, is the noblest, the sublimest, the most stupendous act that any
creature of God can perform.
It is, as Coleridge declared, the very highest energy of which human
nature is capable. To pray with all your heart and strength — that is the
last, the greatest achievement of the Christian’s warfare on earth.
“LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY!”