Oh, that you would leave off objecting, and fall upon praying.
4. Fourthly, You say you cannot pray, etc. Oh, that you would leave off objecting, and fall upon praying.
If you cannot pray as you would, nor as you should, pray as well as you can. Joseph's brethren stood so long dallying, and delaying, and trifling out the time, that, having a journey to go to buy corn, they might have bought and returned twice before they went and bought once. When Elijah called Elisha, he beats about the bush, and he must go bid his father and mother farewell before he could follow the prophet (1 Kings 19:20). O friends! take heed of dallying, delaying, trifling, and beating about the bush, when you should be getting down to the work of prayer. What though with Hannah you can't but weep out a prayer, or with Moses stammer out a prayer, or with Hezekiah chatter out a prayer, yet do as well as you can, and you shall find acceptance with God: 2 Cor. 8:12, `For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.'
The publican's prayer did not have much rhetoric or eloquence in it, `God be merciful to me a sinner,' (Luke 18:13), and yet God accepted it. He prayed much, though he spoke little, and God did not turn a deaf ear upon him. That God who once accepted a handful of meal for a sacrifice, and a handful of goat's hair for an oblation, and the poor widow's two mites, as if they had been two millions, will certainly accept of what you are able to do, though you fall short, yea, much short of what you ought to do (Lev. 2:1, 2; and 6:15; Luke 21:3). `Lord', says Luther, `you command me to pray. I cannot pray as I would, yet I will obey; for though my prayer be not acceptable, yet your own commandment is acceptable to you.'
If weak Christians would but put forth in prayer that little strength they have, God would quickly renew their spiritual strength; he would certainly carry them on from strength to strength; he would still, by secret assistances and secret influences, help them on in their heavenly trade (Isa. 49:20-22; Psa. 84:7). As a loving indulgent father will take his little child in his arms, and carry him on in his way homeward, when his strength begins to fail him, and he can walk no further, and the way proves dirty, slippery, or uneven, so God does by his: Hos. 11:3, `I taught Ephraim also to go' (as a nurse does the infant), `taking them by their arms.' When God's poor children come to a foul way, or a rough place, he takes them up in his own arms, and helps them over the quagmire of crosses, and the difficulties of duties, and over all that straitness, and narrowness, and weakness of spirit that attends them in their closet performances.
It is observable that, when the king of Israel was to shoot the arrow, he did put his hand upon the bow, and Elisha did put his hand upon the king's hand (2 Kings 8:16). So when we go into our closets, we are to put up our hands, and then the Spirit of God likewise will put his hand upon our hand, he will put his strength to our strength, or rather to our weakness: Rom. 8:26, `Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities', lifts with us, or helps together. The Greek word (..) properly signifies such a help as when another man of strength and ability steps in to sustain the burden that lies upon our shoulders, be it a log, or a piece of timber, setting his shoulders under it, to lift up, and bear part of it with us, or to help us as the nurse helps her little child, upholding it by the sleeve.
When a poor Christian sets himself to closet prayer, or to mourn, or to believe, or to obey, etc., then the Spirit comes in with new help, and new influences, and new assistances, and so carries him on in all these noble services. That child that does but stammer at first, in time will speak plainly and fluently. Oh, how many Christians are there that now can pray with much freedom, liberty, and fluency, who at first could only sigh out a prayer, or stammer out a prayer, or weep out a prayer! You say you cannot pray, but did you but stir up yourself to obey that command (Matt. 6:6), as well as you can, you do not know but that a power may go forth with the command, that may enable you to act suitable to the command. In Matt. 9:1-9, Christ bid the palsied man rise and walk: `Take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.' The palsied man might have objected, `Alas! I am carried by four, I am not able to stir a limb, much less to rise, but least of all to take up my bed and walk', etc. Oh, but he rouses himself up as well as he could, and a power went forth with the command, that enabled him to do what was commanded. So, Matt. 12:10-14, there was a poor man who had a withered hand, and Christ commands him to stretch forth his hand; he might have replied, `My hand is withered, and if I might have as many worlds as there be men in the world, to stretch it forth, I could not stretch it forth; yea, if my very life, if my very salvation lay upon stretching forth my withered arm, I could not stretch it forth.' Oh! but he throws away all such pleas, and complies with Christ's command as well as he could, and a power went forth and healed his hand.
0 sirs! if you would but pray in your closets as well as you can, you do not know but that such a power and virtue might flow from Christ into your hearts, as might carry you on in your closet-duties, beyond expectation, even to admiring wonder; others have found it so, and why not you, why not you? Well! remember, that God is no curious nor critical observer of the incongruous expressions that falls from his poor children when they are in their closet-duties; he is such a Father as is very well pleased with the broken expressions and divine stammerings of his people when they are in a corner. It is not a flood of words, nor studied notions, nor seraphical expressions, nor elegant phrases in prayer, that takes the ear, or that delights the heart of God, or that opens the gates of glory, or that brings down the best of blessings upon the soul; but uprightness, holiness, heavenliness, spiritualness, and brokenness of heart: these are the things that make a conquest upon God, and that turns most to the soul's account.