The Hidden Life of Prayer
The Engagement: Request
Once, when the late Dr. Moody Stuart happened to be in Huntly, Duncan Matheson took him to see some earnest Christian people. He visited, among others, an aged woman who was in her own way a "character." Before leaving, he prayed with her; and she, as her habit was, emphasized each petition with some ejaculatory comment, or note of assent. Towards the close of his prayer, he asked that God, according to His promise, would give her "all things." The old lady interjected, "All things, na, that wad be a lift." The mingling of comfort and doubt which was revealed by the quaint insertion is characteristic of the faith of very many of the children of God when they are brought face to face with some great promise addressed to believing prayer: "And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. 21:22); "Therefore I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24, R.V.); "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7, R.V.). It is so reasonable to think that He who spared not His own Son should with Him also freely give us all things; and it is so hard to believe that He will. As Dr. Moody Stuart says elsewhere, the controversy is between the mustard-seed and the mountain: "The trial is whether the mountain shall bury the mustard-seed, or the mustard-seed cast the mountain into the sea." The mustard-seed is so small, and the mountain so great, that faith is not easily come by. Indeed, it is literally "the gift of God." It is a divinely-implanted persuasion, the fruit of much spiritual instruction and discipline. It is vision in a clearer light than that of earth.
The prayer of faith, like some plant rooted in a fruitful soil, draws its virtue from a disposition which has been brought into conformity with the mind of Christ.
1. It is subject to the Divine will-"This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us" (1 John 5:14).
2. It is restrained within the interest of Christ-"Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).
3. It is instructed in the truth-"If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7).
4. It is energized by the Spirit-"Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph. 3:20).
5. It is interwoven with love and mercy-"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25).
6. It is accompanied with obedience-"Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22).
7. It is so earnest that it will not accept denial-"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Luke 11:9).
8. It goes out to look for, and to hasten its answer "The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working" (James 5:16, RV).34
But, although the prayer of faith springs from a divinely-implanted disposition, there is nothing mysterious in the act of faith. It is simply an assurance which relies upon a sufficient warning.
(a) In the first instance, the warrant of faith is the Word of God. The promises of God are letters of credit, drawn on the bank of heaven, to be honoured at sight. Some time ago a bundle of Bank of England notes was stolen, but they were unsigned, and therefore valueless. But the promises of God are all witnessed to by the eternal veracity, and are countersigned in the blood of the cross. They are subject to no discount; those who present them will receive their full face-value. "I am the Lord; I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall be performed."
(b) The word of God rests on the Divine character. Therefore we are taught to pray, "O Lord,...do Thou it, for Thy name's sake." God is our Father, and He knoweth what things we have need of. He is our God in covenant-our own God-and He will bless us. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He will secure to His well-beloved Son the inheritance which He has purchased in blood. He is the source of blessing, from whom the Comforter proceeds, and the prayer which He inspires He will fulfill.
In the intercession of Daniel the prophet we have a signal illustration of petitions founded on this two-fold warrant. He "understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem." But the prophet does not rest His trust only on the promise; he urges that which is due to the Divine character: "Now, therefore, O our God, hearken unto the prayer of Thy servant, and to his supplications, and cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake. O my God, incline Thine ear, and hear; open Thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by Thy name: for we do not present our supplications before Thee for our righteousness, but for Thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not; for Thine own sake, O my God, because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name" (Dan. 9:17-19).
But it may be objected, If our Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him, and if it is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom, is it necessary that we should present our petitions deliberately before Him? The simplest answer to that question is that we are instructed to do so. In the Old Testament we read, "Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." And in the New Testament, "In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." We have a striking illumination of the working of this Divine law in the case of Elijah. He had preserved unhesitating fidelity towards God, and so had fulfilled the conditions by which alone fellowship with the Holy One is secured and maintained-"Jehovah liveth, before whom I stand." He had won Israel back to covenant allegiance-"And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is the God; the Lord, He is the God." He had received, and acted upon a definite promise-"Go, show thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth" (1 Kings 18:15, 39, 1, 41). He had the inward assurance that God's answer to his long-continued importunity of prayer was already on its way, "There is a sound of abundance of rain." Nevertheless, he did not cease from praying-he could not until the skies grew dark with the gathering storm.
It is possible, however, to suggest certain reasons why we should with particularity and importunity implore those blessings which are already ours in Christ.
(1) By prayer our continued and humble dependence on the grace of God is secured. If the bestowments of the covenant came to us without solicitation, as the gifts of nature do, we might be tempted to hold ourselves in independence of God, to say, "My power, and the might of mine hand, bath gotten me this wealth"35 (Deut. 8:17).
(2) The Lord desires to have us much in communion with Himself.36 The reluctance of the carnal heart to dwell in God's presence is terrible. We will rather speak of Him than to Him. How often He finds occasion to reprove us, saying, "The companions hearken to thy voice; cause Me to hear it." A father will prize an ill-spelled, blotted-scrawl from his little child, because it is a pledge and seal of love.37 And precious in the sight of the Lord are the prayers of His saints.
(3) Much, very much, has often to be accomplished in us before we are fitted to employ worthily the gifts we covet. And God effects this preparation of heart largely by delaying to grant our request at once, and so holding us in the truth of His presence until we are brought into a spiritual understanding of the will of Christ for us in this respect. If a friend, out of his way (Luke 11:6, marg.), comes to us, hungry, and seeking from us the bread of life, and we have nothing to set before him, we must go to Him who has all store of blessing. And if He should seem to deny our prayer, and say, "Trouble Me not," it is only that we may understand the nature of the blessing we seek, and be fitted to dispense aright the bounty of God.
(4) Once more, we are called to be fellow-laborers together with God, in prayer, as in all other ministries. The exalted Saviour ever lives to make intercession; and to His redeemed people He says, "Tarry ye here, and watch with Me" (Matt. 26:38). There is a great work to be done in the hearts of men, there is a fierce battle to be waged with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Demons are to be cast out, the power of hell to be restrained, the works of the devil to be destroyed. And in these things it is by prayer above all other means that we shall be able to co-operate with the Captain of the Lord's host.38
When prayer rises to its true level, self, with its concerns and needs, is for the time forgotten, and the interests of Christ fill, and sometimes overwhelm, the soul. It is then that prayer becomes most urgent and intense. It was said of Luther that he prayed "with as much reverence as if he were praying to God, and with as much boldness as if he had been speaking to a friend." One remarked of the prayers of Guthrie of Fenwick that "every word would fill a corn measure. Livingstone reports of Robert Bruce that in prayer "every sentence was like a strong bolt shot up to heaven." The biographer of Richard Baxter tells us that when he gathered his spirit together to pray, it "took wing for heaven." And it is related in similar terms of Archbishop Leighton that "his manner of praying was so earnest and importunate as proved that his soul mounted up to God in the flame of his own aspirations." Henry Martyn notes in his diary that, having set apart a day for fasting and humiliation, he began to pray for the establishment of the Divine kingdom upon earth, with particular mention of India. He received so great an enlargement, and had such energy and delight in prayer, as he had never before experienced. He adds, "My whole soul wrestled with God. I knew not how to leave off crying to Him to fulfill His promises, chiefly pleading His own glorious power."
How much of the regeneration of Central Africa do we not owe to the prayers of David Livingstone? He did not live to see the healing of "the open sore;" it was not given to him to know the advancing Christian culture of "the dark continent." But the record of his prayers is on high. His journals give some slight indication of his lonely vigils, his daily and nightly intercessions. He lived praying for Africa, and when he felt the coldness of death seizing upon his frame, he crept out of bed, and as he knelt upon the floor of the rude grass hut in Chitambo's village in Ilala his soul took flight to God in prayer. He died, his sympathetic biographer informs us, "in the act of praying prayer offered in that reverential attitude about which he was always so particular; commending his own spirit, with all his dear ones, as was his wont, into the hands of his Saviour, and commending Africa-his own dear Africa-with all her woes, and sins, and wrongs, to the Avenger of the oppressed, and the Redeemer of the lost."