WHAT WE BELIEVE:
From: The Christian's Reasonable Service, Vol. 3
The Nature or Essence of Prayer
In our treatment of the subject of prayer we shall first show what its nature is, and then we shall stir you up to the exercise of prayer. In order to unfold the true essence of prayer we shall present 1) its definition (which we shall expound and enlarge upon); 2) its characteristics; 3) its external incidentals; and 4) the exercise of prayer, consisting in preparation, practice, and reflection.
Prayer is the expression of holy desires to God in the name of Christ, which, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, proceed from a regenerated heart, along with the request for the fulfillment of these desires. Each word is of emphatic importance and needs to be further enlarged upon.
Prayer is the expression of desires. With this phrase we wish to give expression to what the soul’s activity is in prayer. There is total involvement; that is, the intellect, will, passions, eyes, mouth, hands, knees, the entire soul, and the entire body are involved.
(1) The supplicant is focused upon himself. He knows, sees, and perceives his deficiency. He perishes from hunger and desires to be filled. He perceives his impotence-his inability to help himself. He also knows that no creature can give him this and he also does not desire to receive it from the creature. God alone can give this to him, but he sees and perceives with sorrow and anxiety of heart his unworthiness, hatefulness and abominableness. God can thus not be moved to help him by his disposition-indeed, this would sooner provoke Him to wrath. He perceives that he is not worthy-not even from afar-to address God, for his prayer is so sinful and so deficient that by it he cannot move God to hear and help him. He is so intensely focused on his disposition that he sinks away in misery and despair, and does not have a hope in anything within him or that proceeds from him.
(2) The supplicant is focused upon God, holding the Lord before Him as being majestic, omniscient, glorious, immanent, holy-as well as gracious in Christ, merciful, and omnipotent. Here he bows in humility and trembles due to the respect he has. Here he takes liberty to receive Christ and to make known his desires in and through Him, knowing that God is glorified in hearing and helping repentant sinners.
(3) The supplicant is focused upon the matters which he desires-be it deliverance from a cross which oppresses or threatens him, or a blessing for either soul or body. He perceives how necessary and beneficial it would be for him either to be delivered from this, or to receive a blessing. He knows what he desires, vividly reflects upon it, is enamored with it, and pants and yearns for it.
The supplicant intermingles these three matters. In one motion he focuses upon himself, God, and the matter at hand. Being in that disposition, he not only presents himself before God as such, but also gives expression to his desires before the Lord. The expression of desires is vividly presented in Scripture, conveying to us both the matter itself, as well as all who are or have been in such a disposition. Furthermore, Scripture stirs up inclinations toward such a disposition-yes, frequently causes a soul to be thus disposed. That which we denominate as an “expression,” Scripture refers to as:
(1) a pouring out: “...but I have poured out my soul before the LORD” (1 Sam. 1:15); (2) “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD” (Ps. 102:1);
(3) a declaring: “I have declared my ways, and Thou heardest me” (Ps. 119:26);
(4) a lifting up: “Unto Thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul” (Ps. 25:1);
(5) a looking up: “In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee (that is, arrange everything in as orderly a fashion as an army is organized in rows and divisions) and will look up” (Ps. 5:3);
(6) a conversing: “When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek” (Ps. 27:8);
(7) a crying, a panting: “They cried unto Thee, and were delivered” (Ps. 22:5); “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God” (Ps. 42:1).
(8) a seeking with all our heart and our whole desire: “They had sworn with all their heart, and sought Him with their whole desire” (2 Chr. 15:15).
All these expressions are indicative of the intense involvement of the soul in prayer. When the soul intends to pray, she can frequently not find words-yes, all words are too inferior and inadequate to express the desire and the intense disposition of the soul. Therefore:
(1) She does so by simply manifesting that disposition to the Lord.
(2) Sometimes she does so by a sigh, which conveys more than she can express.
(3) When the soul is more enlarged, she begins to formulate words, doing so either strictly mentally, or quietly with the mouth-only moving the lips noiselessly, or with a soft whisper.
(4) As the desires increase in intensity, the voice also becomes louder, and if one is so far removed from people that one cannot be heard, there will be a calling out.
(5) And if the emotions become more abundant, there will be tears, especially if hope and love become stronger. What a wonder it is when a man who is not easily moved to tears and would be ashamed if he cried (this being inconsistent with his dignity), at times melts before the Lord in tears, which flow down his cheeks as rivers! The soul is never more in her element than when she has been soft and has been able to weep in a heartfelt manner. Job, that unemotional man, was able to cry: “I cry unto Thee” (Job 30:20). David, that valiant hero, who had the heart of a lion, wept before the Lord as a child: “All the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears” (Ps. 6:6); “Hold not Thy peace at my tears” (Ps. 39:12). The brave and respected Paul generally prayed with tears: “Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears” (Acts 20:19).
Prayer: The Expression of holy Desires
We denominate prayer to be an expression of desires-not an expression of matters. An unconverted person who has a judgmental knowledge of spiritual matters, and who furthermore is eloquent, has an expressive voice, and has control over his emotions, can have a perception of the necessity and beauty of spiritual matters (although in a more natural manner and as if relating to natural matters) and present them in prayer in a very emotional and mournful manner. Yes, he can stir up his emotions to such an extent that he can speak tearfully about these matters. This is particularly true when he knows that he is being listened to or could be listened to; or, if he leads in prayer in a gathering where he can render himself pleasant by such expressions and tears, so that it appears that he is very spiritual, is very near to God, and is ignited with holy zeal-and yet it is no more than a natural work. I therefore refer to prayer as an expression of desires, and not of matters. Man is but an empty vessel who must obtain his fulfillment from elsewhere-from a source external to himself. To that end the Lord has given man the ability to desire and to give expression to his desires. The strength of his desires is proportionate to the measure in which he is sensitive of his deficiency, the magnitude and desirability of the matters which in his judgment could satisfy him, and the probability that they are to be obtained. He endeavors to express these desires accordingly. However, this does not necessarily render the desires holy, and we therefore do not merely refer to prayer as an expression of desires.
Instead, it is an expression of holy desires. We can indeed desire temporal matters in a spiritual sense, and spiritual matters in a carnal sense. Desires are carnal if they relate to sin, or if we desire good things with a sinful motive, in order to gain honor, love, favor, advantage, and pleasure. We desire temporal and spiritual matters in a spiritual sense if it is lawful to desire these things and we desire them in order to be able to better serve God joyfully and zealously-that is, if we desire those matters in the way we have prescribed earlier, and so that in them we may observe, acknowledge, and praise God’s grace, goodness, help, and power, finding a delight in doing so.
We call prayer an expression of holy desires toward God. We then look beyond all creatures-both good and evil-knowing that they are not able to help. Yes, even if they were able to help, we would nevertheless not wish to pray to them. Apart from God we do not wish to be helped, because we love God and do not wish to give His honor to another.
(1) It is idolatry to serve those who by nature are no gods (Gal. 4:8).
(2) God wills that we call upon Him alone. “Call upon Me” (Ps. 50:15); “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:10).
(3) Only such prayer has a promise associated with it. “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).
(4) God alone has the required perfections of someone who is to be worshiped. He who prays aright desires to glorify God in prayer as the One who alone is worthy of worship; the only fountain of all good gifts; the omniscient One who knows the hearts and the mind of the Spirit; the omnipotent One for whom nothing is too wonderful; the One who is good, merciful, gracious, and the One who delights in mercy; the One who waits for someone to come to Him in order that He might be gracious to Him; and the One who is true and has promised to hear and to give. It is for this reason that the supplicant turns to the Lord, bows before Him in humility and reverence, displays his needs before Him, requests from Him the fulfillment of His desires, and thus waits upon the Lord. It is his delight and joy to worship God.
Prayer to Be Offered in the Name of Jesus Christ
Prayer must be offered in the name of Jesus Christ. “...and the Branch that Thou madest strong for Thyself” (Ps. 80:15); “...for the Lord’s sake” (Dan. 9:17); “If ye shall ask any thing in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14); “...that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you” (John 15:16).
(1) “In the name of” occasionally means out of love for someone. “And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me” (Matthew 18:5). To pray thus in Christ’s name is as much as to say, “Lord, Thou dost love Thy Son, Thou art pleased with His sacrifice, and Thy Son loves me and I love Him. I now pray for the sake of the love which Thou hast for Thy Son that Thou wouldest hear me and grant my desire.”
(2) Occasionally “in the name of” means upon the command of: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 3:6). Then it means as much as to say: “Thy Son, who is my Surety with Thy approval, has sent me to Thee and enjoined me that I would call upon Thee and petition Thee for all that I stand in need of. This gives me boldness to humbly make this request.”
(3) Sometimes, yes, most frequently, it signifies: for the sake of Christ Himself; for the sake of His atoning suffering and death. “Through faith in His name hath made this man strong” (Acts 3:16); “...for there is none other name under heaven” (Acts 4:12); “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him” (Heb. 7:25). Since man, due to his sin, has made a separation between God and himself, he neither may nor is able to immediately come unto God. God would be a consuming fire to him and he would encounter what Nadab and Abihu experienced, who approached unto God with strange fire and were killed by God through fire. However, the Lord has given Jesus to be a Surety and Mediator who, by His suffering and death, has reconciled the sinner with God and has eliminated the separation. Upon His death, the veil was rent in the temple so that without any impediment one would be able to look into and enter the Holy of Holies. Believers thus have boldness to go unto God “by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh” (Heb. 10:20). Christ is the way by which alone one may and can go to the Father (John 14:6). If we therefore pray in Christ’s name, that is as much as praying for the sake of the merits of Christ. The supplicant receives Christ who is offered to him and thus becomes a partaker of Christ and all His merits. With these merits he goes to God and displays them, and in this manner he petitions God for all that he desires.
Those who pray are not always in one and the same condition. Some are not able to assure themselves that they are partakers of Christ. Since they have strong desires for spiritual and temporal blessings, they take their refuge to God. However, they do so not directly, but with an eye upon Christ and His satisfaction, and they pray that God would be gracious to them for the sake of Christ and His merits and thus bless them. This constitutes praying in Christ’s name-although faith is weak. Some are principally assured of their portion in Christ; however, there is an estrangement from God. For such, upon engaging in prayer, it is therefore their first task to receive Christ and to reflect expressly upon His merits while consciously repenting. They thus show to the Father the merits of Christ and pray that their prayer for the fulfillment of their desires be heard on the basis of those merits. Some live a closer life and habitually are focused upon the covenant of grace, as well as the satisfaction and merits of Christ. Such, when engaging in prayer, are not always in need of an express transaction with Christ and a specific reflection upon His merits for the purpose of showing them to the Father, to say that they are coming and praying in Christ’s name and that they request the fulfillment of their desires for the sake of the merits of Christ. Rather, they approach and remain in the disposition of being partakers of the covenant, children, and partakers of Christ. They pray by way of the covenant and the atonement of Christ, even though they do not mention it as such. However, we must take care not to be without an express transaction with and a returning unto Christ too long and too frequently, lest we lose sight of Christ and approach unto God in a more direct sense, thus dealing with God in a less humble and appropriate manner.
The Originator of true Prayer
A true prayer proceeds from the Holy Spirit. Man is spiritually dead by nature, and neither has a good disposition of heart, nor good desires. He is blind and ignorant of what can truly satisfy him. Nevertheless, he perceives bodily deficiencies and is fearful of evil. He also takes refuge to God when he is deprived of creature-help; however, neither the disposition of his heart, nor his prayer is pleasing to God. In order for anyone to pray aright, the Holy Spirit must grant the disposition, the desires, and the expressions. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications” (Zechariah 12:10); “God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6); “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). This means that He grants the disposition and desires, gives the words in the mouth, goes before them, and causes them to pray after Him. In proportion to whether the Holy Spirit moves in a moderate or stronger manner, prayer will also be either more feeble or more zealous. Sometimes the supplicant is fervent at the beginning of his prayer, but then there gradually comes more darkness and he becomes increasingly dull. Sometimes he is in darkness and dull at the outset, but while he is wrestling he becomes more lively. Sometimes he is completely closed up within and He can neither produce a prayer, sigh, nor tears, and in such a condition He must arise and depart. Sometimes he is so filled that he does not know where all these desires, words, and tears originate, so that he is more in want of time than desire.
Question If we cannot pray aright without the Holy Spirit, why are we then commanded to pray for the Spirit?
Answer: Man has a natural intellect, he perceives his deficiency, and nature teaches him that he must pray. Under the administration of the means of grace he learns that the Holy Spirit is the author of prayer, and he learns from the Word of God that he must pray God for the Holy Spirit. By means of these natural convictions and motions the Holy Spirit works in the elect the inclination to pray and shows them that they neither have the right prayerful disposition, the right desires, nor do they express them correctly. The Holy Spirit will show them that He must work all this in them and that therefore they must pray for the Holy Spirit. They are thus secretly wrought upon to pray for the Spirit, and are therefore already praying for the Spirit by the Spirit. Those who presently perceive in themselves the beginnings of the operation of the Spirit will pray that this might be increased by the Spirit.
Man, upon the Holy Spirit having wrought and stimulated a prayerful disposition in the soul, begins to express his desires from a regenerated heart. The regenerate man is thus the formal cause of his deeds. If even a natural man has an inclination toward prayer, this is much more so for a regenerate man due to the regenerate disposition of his heart. Since not all the regenerate know that such is the case with them, but perceive that they have a sinful heart; and since all manner of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds proceed from this sinful disposition, they become concerned as to whether they are permitted to pray-yes, at times they do not dare to pray, for it is as if they mock God. As they engage in prayer, it is always their intention not to sin, but they, nevertheless, always fall again into the same sin. The following passages come to their mind: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD” (Prov. 15:8); “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov. 28:9); “Now we know that God heareth not sinners” (John 9:31). For your instruction you ought to know:
(1) It is the duty of all the ungodly to repent and to pray. The abomination lies not in the fact that they pray, but in that, while praying for temporal matters, they do not repent, they willingly and consciously continue to sin; neither do they beseech God to be reconciled with Him, nor for a change of heart and deeds. They do so routinely, being accustomed from their youth to offer a prayer both morning and evening, which, if they were to neglect, would cause them to be restless. Or they do this hypocritically, being desirous, in spite of their worldly lifestyle, to be esteemed as good Christians.
(2) The prayer of those whose heart is upright before the Lord, who seek for reconciliation and the forgiveness of their sins, desire to be delivered from sin and to live in the love and fear of God according to His will, and pray for this while endeavoring to focus upon the Lord Jesus-their prayer will not be an abomination, but be pleasing to God. The Lord seeks after such supplicants, and He deals tenderly with such bruised reeds and smoking flax. Therefore let this give you liberty. Your repeated falling into sin is contrary to your intent, grieves you, and does not proceed from an evil intent. Rather, it is the result of weakness, the flesh becoming stronger than the spirit.
Prayer Under Consciousness of Committed Sin
They who presently know that they have been translated from death to spiritual life, or may perceive the evidences within themselves from which they may conclude this (even if the assurance of this is not very strong), occasionally come into a condition which is more sinful than their common trend of life. They can also be taken captive by sin to such an extent that at the moment they cannot make a complete, joyful, and courageous resolution to presently arise from this sin and earnestly strive against it. Or it can be when the trend of their life is good, that they occasionally fall into a special sin. If under such conditions, they were to engage in prayer immediately-that is, without first coming to themselves, making a resolution to repent so that their heart convinces them that they are upright in their intention-it would be an irreverent undertaking and displeasing to God. Such persons would personally have no liberty in prayer, nor do so with holy attention, for their heart condemns them while they are thus engaged. Those who are in such a condition must first recover themselves, so that they may have an upright intention to battle against that sin, and betake themselves to prayer to beseech God for reconciliation and strength against this sin. They will then be at liberty because their heart does not condemn them (1 John 3:20-21).
It occasionally also happens that a regenerate person is entirely void of desires-not in essence, but in the exercise. When such a one engages in prayer he knows not what to pray, for he has no desire for anything. He has either lost sight of the desirability of the matters due to spiritual darkness, or he is discouraged due to not having received his desire after so much prayer. This will close his heart. What shall he do? Pray? He cannot. Shall he neglect prayer?-which such a person neglects all too often, and, due to such neglect, turns away from prayer entirely. That he cannot do, for his regenerated nature will not permit this and will continually incline him to pray. Such a person must not resist such feeble inclinations, which is so easily done; rather, he must be as a small child. Or, as one who revives from a fainting spell moves about very feebly and speaks very softly, he must follow his feeble inclinations, present them before the Lord, persevere in prayer, and acquaint himself with the Lord-or else he will backslide even further. However, in doing so he will experience that “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer” (Ps. 102:17).
The Purpose of Prayer
The purpose for which one presents his holy desires is the fulfillment of those desires, beseeching that they be granted. The supplicant makes a request. When someone makes a request to another, he will support that request with arguments; such is also the case here. The supplicant will not merely say: “Lord, save me, and create a new heart within me; say to my soul ‘I am thy salvation’; teach and guide me,” but the supplicant will enlarge his request by way of argumentation. This is to be observed in Christ, David, and other saints, for this renders the supplicant:
(1) More humble, for as he perseveres, he will behold God and himself all the more clearly. He will think: “How do I dare to speak so boldly-I, who am so sinful, so abominable, and so unworthy!” He sinks away, so to speak, and acknowledges that it is nothing but incomprehensible grace that he may speak with God and that God would hear him.
(2) More active and his prayer more fervent, for he perceives the necessity and desirability of the matters all the better. His desires are quickened, and his heart is enlarged and begins to flow forth as a river.
(3) More holy in his prayer, for his objective will be more genuine, he is more aware of this genuine objective. The more genuine his objective becomes in desiring a matter, the more liberty he will have in desiring it.
(4) More fit to persevere in prayer, since he then views the matter from all angles. The one desire will then engender another and those desires in turn will engender others. Such perseverance causes him to dwell longer in the presence of God; the soul comes into and remains in a more holy disposition, and has already received a blessing.
The presentation of such arguments must not occur artificially, but as they spontaneously issue forth from the prayerful heart and as the Lord causes matters to come to our attention. We shall then strive for the glorification of God, whose glory, goodness, and power would manifest itself in the hearing of prayer and in granting the matter itself. At one time we shall use as an argument that, if the Lord were to grant us our desire, our abilities would be such that the congregation would be edified and it would be to the benefit of others. Then again we shall focus upon the promises of God, being exercised with them until we believe the immutable truth of God in a more lively manner and we can be more assured that this matter will also become our portion-God having promised the hearing of prayer. At another time the godly will present themselves to the Lord as being His children, knowing that God, being pleased when His children hunger and thirst after Him, will consequently give them something and gladden them-just as a father according to the flesh is compassionate toward his hungry and desirous children, and rejoices in giving them their desires and making them happy. Then again they will present with urgency the merits of the Lord Jesus. They will remind the Lord of His mercies previously manifested toward them-as Jacob did inGenesis 32:9-12, and the church in Psalm 85:1-5. While thus engaged, faith will be quickened, love will become active, they will engage in more intimate transactions, and, with quiet resignation, will submit themselves to the will of God.
The Characteristics of true Prayer
The characteristicsof prayer are as follows: It is engaged in humbly, in spirit and in truth, earnestly, fervently, incessantly, and by faith.
First there is humility. This is the sensible, humble disposition of the supplicant, resulting from a view of the majesty of God, and of his own sinfulness, unworthiness, and impotence either to supply for his deficiency or to have it fulfilled by God. Man must in all things be humble toward God. “What doth the LORD require of thee, but to...walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). This must particularly be the case when engaging in prayer, for:
(1) The creature then approaches his Creator, the lowly one to Him who is majestic and exalted, the sinner to the Holy One, the despised one to the glorious One, and one worthy of condemnation to the Judge of heaven and earth who has power over life and death. When Moses approached the burning bush, the voice of God resounded, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). Here one may think in truth: “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God?” (Micah 6:6). Abraham said, “Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
(2) Humility in prayer is very pleasing to God. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17); “...for in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy” (Hosea 14:3).
(3) God hears and answers humble supplicants. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).
(4) A godly supplicant finds a special delight-yes, acknowledges it as a great grace and as an answer upon his prayer-if, with such a humble and reverent disposition, he may have a view of the Lord’s majesty and glory, even if he received nothing else upon his prayer. However, he does receive immediate assurance that God has heard him and will provide according to His will, for He “giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).
Secondly, it is done in spirit and in truth. To recite verbally what has been memorized (even if we pay attention to every word and even if it is our general objective to pray to God) but not to understand the matters, and if we do understand them not to desire them, is but a mocking with God. It is foolishness if we desire a matter, and to that end recite the Lord’s prayer, a morning or an evening prayer, in order to attain it.
Praying in spirit and in truth:
(1) Consists of a praying with the understanding; that is, to be acquainted with the Lord to whom one is praying; with the Christ through whom one approaches unto God; with ourselves in our perplexity and unworthiness; with the matter which we desire; and with the objective in requesting the matter. Not only is it necessary to be habitually acquainted with this (thus being able to be conscious of this if we were to give heed to this), but there must be an actual knowledge of all this. Thus, while presently praying, we shall perceive and observe that which is being expressed, and by such perception will be moved and made active. “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15).
(2) Is an exercise of the will, so that we desire the matters in truth. Our conscience must testify before God that we desire them, that this is our objective-not only when considering the matter as such, but also together with its attending circumstances, willingly renouncing all that stands in opposition to the desired matter. An unconverted person when hearing the desirability of holiness presented as such would perhaps say, “Yes, I want this, and I have a desire for holiness.” If, however, that sin which he views as an honest practice, cherishes, delights in, and deems profitable is observed in this light, and he perceives that he must fully renounce it, he does not desire holiness, but his sin instead. Alexander wanted to be Diogenes if he were not Alexander. The rich young ruler had a desire for salvation and the keeping of God’s commandments; however, when he must part with his goods, he departs sorrowfully (Matthew 19:21-22).
(3) Is also attended by thoughtfulness and attentiveness. We must be on guard that passion does not run ahead of the understanding and the will; rather, the engagement of the understanding and the will must precede, stimulate and govern our zeal. If matters proceed in this way, the heart will remain in a proper disposition. “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).
Spirit and truth are absolutely essential in prayer, for:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24);
God requires the heart: “My son, give Me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26);
God knows the heart as well as the mind of the Spirit: “...for Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1 Ki. 8:39);
God desires truth in the inward parts (Ps. 58:8);
“Thine eyes (are) upon the truth” (Jer. 5:3), “for the Father seeketh such to worship Him” (John 4:23);
God hates and punishes such who approach unto Him physically and not with the heart. “Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me....Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder” (Isa. 29:13-14).
Thirdly, there must be earnestness and fervency. This neither consists in calling out loudly, nor in the lengthy expression of words in fluent sequence, nor in a joining together of intellectual arguments in a passionate and mournful manner. All this a natural man can do. Rather, fervency is an intense motion of the heart which is engendered by a strong desire, expressed in an understanding and thoughtful manner. Fervency is the engagement of all the energy of soul and body. It penetrates through all opposition and overcomes the wandering of thoughts, the lethargy of the flesh, and the arising of unbelieving thoughts (such as, “It is in vain; God does not hear you; you will not receive it,” etc.), and the subtle deceit and insinuations of Satan, etc. The believer cannot so readily desist, for his desires are too strong; he perseveres. “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me” (Gen. 32:26). With the Caananitish woman, he pursues the Lord with prayer and supplication (Matthew 15:22). However, fervency neither takes away reverence for God, nor the quiet and composed disposition of the soul. Quietness and fervency go hand in hand here. Those who, so to speak, cannot bring themselves to pray, but rather avoid it and look up against it, ought to be ashamed. When, without their fault, an impediment presents itself at their devotional time, they are not grieved, but are secretly satisfied that they are relieved from the duty of prayer. One prays more to satisfy the conscience (having prayed) than to attain the fulfillment of his desires. Such permit themselves to be easily hindered by an unbelieving thought that they will not be heard. They do not have fervent desires toward a matter, and therefore move from the one matter to the other by merely enumerating them-matter, words, and desires being absent. This is an abominable matter. If you have no desires, then be gone. If you do not come with your own needs, you need not come simply because of God’s will. He does not desire such a lukewarm, listless, and slothful service.
The sacrifices and incense had to be ignited with fire, and our prayer must likewise be aflame with fervency. The reasons for this are as follows:
(1) Fervent supplicants are pleasing in God’s sight: “My suppliants...shall bring Mine offering” (Zep. 3:10).
(2) An earnest prayer avails much with God. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
(3) A believer must be fervent in all that he does. “Be...fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11); “Be zealous therefore” (Rev. 3:19).
(4) The examples of the saints, whose footsteps we must follow, stimulate us to be fervent in prayer. Their entire life consisted of prayer. David even arose at midnight. He was ahead of the dawning of the morning. He called, and he cried; he did not cease. It becomes us to do likewise, so that the Lord may perceive that it is our objective to know Him and to acknowledge Him as the Giver-as the One who gives freely-and that it is grace alone which can help us.
Fourthly, there must be an incessant perseverance in prayer. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
(1) Perseverance consists in making prayer a daily activity, disciplining ourselves not to neglect prayer and letting it become an unfamiliar practice. A Christian is a supplicant. Prayer is the very essence of religion (Gen. 4:26).
(2) Perseverance consists in always being in a prayerful disposition. Even if one is not always expressly engaged in prayer, the heart must nevertheless always be near to God, be focused on Him, and walk with Him. Such a disposition will, time and again, bring forth ejaculatory prayers-be it that we are in solitude, traveling, engaged in our work, or in the presence of people. Nehemiah prayed to God while he was speaking to the king (Neh. 2:3-4).
(3) There are matters which God will not bestow all at once, but gradually, step by step-such as growth in faith, hope, and love, spiritual life, strength against sin, and sanctification. We must therefore persist in prayer for these during our entire lifetime.
(4) There are specific circumstances in which we are in special need of the help of the Lord and the guidance of the Spirit. Such is true when we must either leave or enter our home, to undertake a special task, to come into the company of people, to pay someone a special visit, come into situations where snares have been prepared for us, must make a choice between things, must hire a servant, must buy or sell, or encounter unforeseen circumstances. In each situation we must take refuge to prayer.
(5) There are matters which are extraordinarily oppressive and threatening, or which we desire in an extraordinary manner-their fruition being imminent. It can be true in both a temporal and spiritual sense that we are subject to uncommon temptation. There can be a sin which is extraordinarily strong; there can be a strong desire for more than a common revelation of God to the soul; we can be exceptionally desirous of being assured of being a partaker of Christ and salvation, or for a foretaste of heaven, etc. In such given circumstances the supplicant will persevere 1) by expressing the same prayer, not being able to desist until having received something; 2) by repetition of the prayer for the same matters at different times, either at the regular devotional hour, or occasionally outside of these times if there is opportunity to be alone and if the desire becomes fervent. In this manner we may persevere, looking unto the Lord (Ps. 34:5) until the matter is resolved; that is, until the Lord grants us the matter (or some measure of it) or makes the soul so content with His will that the desires are no longer that vehement. Rather, we shall be quiet and satisfied, being assured that the Lord will make it well.
(6) Sometimes there will be a strong desire for the well-being of others-be it for the church in general, for one who has a specific or extraordinary need, or for the election of a minister, elders, or deacons. Or else one may have a strong desire for the well-being of a particular family or person, either in regard to body or soul, be it that they are converted or unconverted. Husband, wife, children, or parents can weigh heavily upon the heart. We may have a strong desire for their conversion and thus engage in prayer, not being able to desist. This prayer will beget many supplications, and we shall frequently repeat it at other times, until the Lord either grants the matter or grants us a quiet confidence that our prayer for them has been heard and that the Lord will do it even if we were never to see it. It may also be that the Lord begins to hide Himself and we no longer dare to press the issue that strongly, or the Lord may exclude these people from our prayers, not wanting to be approached by His children in vain. When it is our duty to do so, however, we must not neglect it due to laxity or discouragement, but persevere until the Lord sweetly refreshes us, showing that our earnest praying has been pleasing to Him. We shall thus give the matter over into the hand of God, our prayer will return into our bosom (Ps. 35:13), and our peace will return to us (Matthew 10:13).
Exhortation to Persevere in Prayer
In order that we be stirred up to persevere, let us consider the following matters:
(1) Perseverance in prayer is everywhere recommended and commanded as being our particular duty. “...continuing instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12); “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance” (Eph. 6:18); “Continue in prayer” (Col. 4:2); “And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
(2) Perseverance brings the soul into a good disposition. First, it teaches us better to acknowledge God as the free Giver who is under no obligation to us; who may either give or not give; and if He gives, it is solely due to His grace and goodness. Secondly, it will cause the supplicant to be more humble, since he perceives himself as being unworthy of all grace and blessings. “The poor useth entreaties” (Prov. 18:23). We shall esteem a matter much more if we have received it upon many prayers, and it will render us more joy if we may perceive in all this that God has granted it to us upon our prayers.
(3) Perseverance will cause us to obtain. Upon lengthy wrestling Jacob was blessed (Gen. 32). After a long pursuit the Canaanitish woman received what she desired (Matthew 15). Upon the frequent repetition of his prayer Elijah received rain (1 Ki. 18). Upon the continual prayer of the congregation Peter was wondrously delivered out of prison (Acts 12). Upon persevering with one accord in prayer and supplication, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the day of Pentecost (Acts 1, 2). Since many pray but once for a matter and do not persevere, they also do not obtain it. Therefore see to it that you refrain from everything which would hinder you in persevering, such as: lethargy, laziness, not believing that the matters will be obtained, divergence among our desires (being partially spiritual and partially focused on earthly things), and the instability of our desires. Such and similar matters cause the supplicant to readily desist from praying and prevent him from repeating it frequently. He thus must go forth without having received his desires. Therefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.
Praying in Faith
The fifth characteristic is that prayer is offered in faith. Prayer requires faith in a special sense. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22); “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24); “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6).
First, this requires that the supplicant be a believer-a truly converted one (James 5:16). “And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him?” (Luke 18:7). As God hears the young ravens when they call to Him, He also does indeed hear an unconverted person, and will bestow some blessings upon him. This is but of a temporal nature, however, proceeding from the common goodness of God and apart from His promises. However, His children are the heirs of the promise and they pray through the Spirit of prayer. Therefore “the eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry” (Ps. 34:15); “He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them” (Ps. 145:19).
Secondly, this requires that the supplicant appropriate all the promises of God’s Word as having been made to him, and that he thus consider himself to be an heir of the promise (Heb. 6:17). He must furthermore consider that not only are all promises yea and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), but that also for him they are certain and true-particularly those that pertain to the hearing of prayers.
Thirdly, it is requisite that the supplicant consider in a believing manner that:
(1) God has ordained prayer as a means from man’s side to thereby give him all that he stands in need of.
(2) God is not only omniscient and acquainted with the hearts of all men, but also that God during prayer looks upon the supplicant, takes note of the expressions of his desires, and hears this (Ps. 34.
(3) God is omnipotent and is able to grant him his desire, irrespective of whether this is probable, the means are available, or if everything seems to be opposed to it. “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20); “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).
(4) God is good and thus desirous to give the supplicant his desire. He is ready to forgive (Ps. 86:5), loves freely (Hos 14:4), waits that He might be gracious (Isa. 30:18), and rejoices over doing good to His people (Jer. 32:41). In prayer, faith must acknowledge God to be such.
(5) God is faithful in fulfilling all His promises made to supplicants. “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10).
Fourthly, the supplicant must with impression and with lifting up his heart believe that:
(1) Everyone who comes through Christ unto God, is pleasing to God in Christ (Dan. 9:23; Acts 10:30, 33).
(2) The Lord is pleased with the yearning, tears, groaning, and the cries of His children to Him. “Let Me see thy countenance, let Me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song 2:14).
(3) God views his countenance in Christ, hears his prayer, and answers it according to His will. “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24). These matters mentioned the supplicant must deem to be sure and certain, for they are according to truth. The more he holds them before him with increased esteem, the more he prays in faith, the more pleasing his prayer will be, and the more certain it will be that he will obtain the matter for which he prayed.
However, many of God’s children are deficient here. They do not actively pursue these matters mentioned and these dispositions, and they randomly give expression to their desires. Many are also weak in faith-particularly to believe that God will hear them and grant their desire. “For,” they think, “how can I believe, since I am too sinful, and furthermore, I have experienced too frequently that I did not receive anything upon my prayer.” For their instruction it should be noted:
(1) That God does not hear for the sake of our righteousness, but for Christ’s sake. Therefore for him who is in Christ-the measure of the grace of light and life is immaterial as far as prayer being answered-it is the carelessness of his prayer and his failure to exercise faith in prayer which prevents his prayer from being answered.
(2) You cannot truthfully say that God has never answered your prayer nor that He has never given you what you prayed for. It is a certainty that God has frequently been pleased with your tears and groans, and frequently has granted you blessings upon your prayer. However, you have neither taken notice of these blessings nor related them to your previous prayer.
(3) There are individual cases where God, these matters having been brought before Him, has answered prayer relative to them. However, God has neither promised time, manner, nor measure. We do not know what is best, and if God had given many matters in those circumstances as we had asked for them, we would see subsequently that it would have been better had we not received them. The supplicant must therefore indeed believe that his prayer was pleasing to God and that He has answered it. He must subject himself, however, and with contentment submit himself to the will of God, doing so neither with murmuring, fretfulness, unbelief, nor entertaining the thought: “God does not love me and does not hear me anyway.” That would displease God and it would not benefit him personally.
(4) There are matters which we absolutely may not desire, and thus we may also not pray that we obtain them. The supplicant will then also not have liberty in prayer and it ought not to seem strange to him that he does not receive them. It is great foolishness to desire that God would give us that particular matter for which we do not even dare to pray. Therefore govern your desires according to the will of God and be not too passionate in your desires for temporal matters. Let God’s wisdom, goodness, and will be your delight. You will then be able to pray in faith and submissively wait upon it being answered. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
The externals of prayer are: time, place, gestures, and the voice.
The Time of Prayer
First, the time of prayer, considered in a general sense, is every day, every opportunity-always. Specific times of prayer are when we engage in it corporately-be it in public gatherings, in private gatherings, or in our individual family worship which ought to be conducted in every Christian family. This ought to occur both morning and evening, and if the opportunity permits it, also at noon. At this time the father-or if he is absent or unable to do this, the mother-must read a chapter, speak about it, catechize children and servants, sing a psalm together, and bow and offer a prayer-all in accordance with the ability the Lord grants each one. Joshua desired to serve the Lord with his house (Josh. 24:15), and Cornelius feared God with all his house (Acts 10:2). One must make of his home a small church, for then the Lord will bless the home. Children and servants will learn to fear the Lord and thus will experience salvation. It will beget mutual love, there will be mutual respect, restraining everyone from sin, and one will exemplify godliness to each other and follow each other in this way. We must make use of all these opportunities, and take them into consideration, both when praying and when following the example of others.
In addition to this, however, everyone ought to have his private exercises of prayer, which are either prompted by extraordinary circumstances or are commonly conducted. There is no express command as to the time of private prayer; however, the saints, with their custom, have given us an example to be imitated: It is to be done in the morning, at noon, and at night. Observe this in the following passages: “Daniel...kneeled upon his knees three times a day” (Dan. 6:10); “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice” (Ps. 55:17). These examples are to be followed-not as if prayer at such times is more pleasing to God and more effectual, but rather to bring us into and maintain continual communion with God. For, if we are neglectful in this, we shall perceive that communion with God will decrease. At first we shall not be aware of this, since there will be many ejaculatory prayers during the course of the day. We shall experience, however, that there will be a gradual decrease in ejaculatory prayer, and if we by renewal adhere to regular devotions, we shall perceive how far we have degenerated. Then we shall perceive that there was not such a steadfast basis for intimate communion with God, that there were no extraordinary encounters and illuminations relative to the mysteries of godliness. Yes, we shall perceive that the Spirit of prayer has departed from us and that of ourselves we are not capable of engaging in fellowship with God for some period of time. Therefore he who desires to be in an assured state, to have continual fellowship with God, to attain to a higher level of illumination and experience, and to fear God steadfastly, let him strictly observe his devotional time and let him not be neglectful in this-for the devil greatly strives to bring this about.
It is true that those who strictly observe their devotions will experience more assaults, darknesses, weaknesses of faith, and unusual strife than someone who is not steadfast in his devotions, and who only prays when there are special circumstances and otherwise is satisfied with uttering some ejaculatory prayers on the run. This takes place due to having a deeper insight into self, due to striving for a higher measure of fellowship. Others do not observe this as closely and thus avoid such strife. Furthermore, by way of such extraordinary strife, such a person will grow in grace and become mature in Christ, whereas others continue without progress.
Someone may think, “I am much more spiritual when I utter ejaculatory prayers than when I specifically engage myself to pray. Then I become listless and darkened, and I cannot pray. I am therefore of the opinion that it is better not to observe a set time, and to pray only when the Spirit moves me.” For your instruction you ought to note the following:
(1) The occurrence of listlessness and darkness is frequently due to laziness. One is not willing to wrestle, but at the very outset wishes to have that prayer which God generally does not give until the end. They desire to be carried at once rather than walk themselves. Scripture says, “Seek and ye shall find,” but not “find and ye shall seek.”
(2) Else, listlessness ensues due to thinking that at such times one immediately ought to have a greater measure of light, a more elevated disposition, and stronger exertion than apart from this time. If we do not immediately find this to be true, we cease from our work. Instead, we ought to use our devotional time to offer ourselves to the Lord and sacrifice ourselves to Him as a morning and evening sacrifice. Our being pleasing in God’s sight is commensurate with our objective and activity in seeking to attain to this, and not whether or not He favors us with light and grace. We then wish to fly higher than befits the wings we have been granted, being of the opinion that to be in a more elevated disposition is in our own power and that we then ought to be able to make use of this accordingly. Or we may think that God, at the time set apart by us to separate ourselves in order to seek the Lord, immediately ought to enable us to engage in this duty with ease. If we then do not find it to be so, the hands become weak and we think, “God cannot be pleased with such a listless and fleshly performance. It will be better if I desist.” It is thus that we shall “fall to the ground” due to wanting to fly too high at first, and will come in darkness because we initially had too strong a desire to see the light.
However, the cause of listlessness is generally in those who do not strictly maintain their devotion time in the activity and testimony which they may have sought. Because of this, as soon as they begin to observe that there is a godly person who has a greater measure of light and more intimate communion and fellowship than they do, having thought previously that all was quite well and that good progress in godliness had already been made, they now perceive that they have but little light, life, and strength. This they categorize as listlessness and the withdrawal of the Spirit, whereas it is but their feeble disposition which causes them to succumb when a greater task is to be undertaken, or when they wish to engage in something which exceeds their spiritual strength. We ought habitually to have a devotional time and we ought to be active in harmony with the greater or lesser measure of our strength and spirituality.
The Place of Prayer
The second circumstance is the place. It is equally true that the location does not attribute worthiness to prayer. The only requirement is that it be a place of solitude where we are not under human observation.
(1) The Lord Jesus commands this: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).
(2) Such was the practice of the saints. Isaac went out into the field to pray (Gen. 24:63); Jacob remained alone at the other side of the brook Jabbok in order to pray (Gen. 32:24); Daniel went into his chamber (Dan. 6:11); and Peter went up upon the housetop (Acts 10:9).
(3) The disposition of our soul and the matter which we wish to present demand solitude; rarely would one want to make this public to men.
(4) The proximity of people is detrimental to our concentration and takes our zeal away. If we but think that someone is in the vicinity and that we are being listened to, we shall be hindered.
The Physical Gestures Used in Prayer
Thirdly, there are the physical gestures. These also do not attribute worthiness and fortitude to prayer. Saints have prayed in various bodily postures; that is, being prostrate, sitting, and standing. Generally they have done so kneeling, however, this being one of the most humble postures.
(1) David recommends this: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Ps. 95:6).
(2) Such has been the practice of the saints. Solomon the king made his prayer while kneeling (1 Ki. 8:54). Daniel kneeled three times a day (Dan. 6:11). The Lord Jesus Himself kneeled and prayed (Luke 22:41); Stephen did likewise (Acts 7:60), and so did Paul together with the congregation (Acts 20:36). How then can we do otherwise but to come to God in such a humble physical posture so that we may glorify God both in our bodies as well as with our souls?
The Voice in Prayer
The fourth circumstance is the use of the voice. This is not an absolute requirement, for we can indeed pray in a spiritual sense, doing so mentally without letting our voice be heard. The Lord has created us in such a manner, however, that we are able to express our thoughts by way of our tongue. Furthermore, it is His will that we deal with Him in harmony with our nature and He commands us that we should call upon Him (Ps. 50:15), open our mouth (Ps. 81:10), and speak unto God (Luke 11:2). The earnestness and the motions of the soul are at times so ardent that one opens the mouth spontaneously. Then we shall also not be plagued as much by wandering thoughts, and the soul at times gets opening by way of speaking and the motions of the soul are thereby quickened. However, we must take notice here of the place. If we are far removed from people, we shall indeed be able to lift up our soul in harmony with the motions of our heart. If we are in the proximity of people, our voice must be controlled in such a manner that we can hear ourselves but yet are not heard by others. To pray so loudly that others also hear it is an offense to the unconverted and an impediment even to godly hearers. The requirement that we enter our closet when we pray does not only imply that we must not be visible, but we must also be beyond the auditory reach of people. To pray so loudly that we can be heard on the street is as much as praying while standing or lying in the street.
Exhortations to Prayer
We shall now proceed to the exhortations to prayer.
In the first place, pray-for prayer glorifies God: “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me” (Ps. 50:23). A believer is desirous to glorify God. Therefore, even if he were in need of nothing, he would nevertheless desire to worship God, being desirous to render unto God what is His due. He desires to acknowledge God as the One who is worthy of being worshiped, for in prayer we acknowledge all the attributes of God as they are revealed in Christ: His righteousness and holiness, because we cannot approach unto Him except through Christ; His goodness, because He has made available such a way of approach and is willing to hear those, and grant their desire, who go to God through Christ; His majesty, before which we bow ourselves with delight and reverence; His omniscience, in that He knows the heart and its intent; His omnipotence, in that He is able to give everything; and His faithfulness in that He will fulfill all His promises-also those made to supplicants. It renders joy to the supplicant to behold these perfections. The acknowledgment of them renders him more joy than many other blessings received from God. Who is able to
refrain himself from prayer? Who, being acquainted with this, does not become desirous to pray?
Secondly, the prayer of the upright supplicant is pleasing to God. However feeble his prayer may be, God finds delight in it; prayer is to Him as sweet incense (Ps. 141:2). He testifies that the voice of the supplicant is sweet to Him (Song 2:14). And is it your desire to please the Lord and to do that which is pleasing to the Lord? Well, there is no better way to do so than by way of prayer.
Thirdly, God hears prayer; the Lord already sees the supplicant approach from afar, and He goes to meet him (Luke 15:20). And when he prays, He will hear him and will permit the supplicant to pour out his heart before Him. “His ears are open unto their cry” (Ps. 34:15).
Fourthly, prayer is a glorious work, for it permits us to enter the inner chambers of the King of kings-of God, the Lord of heaven and earth. Yes, we enter heaven itself and speak in immediate proximity to the throne of grace. Prayer is a sweet duty. He who has been permitted to experience the softening of his heart and has been able to weep before the Lord; who, with opening, has been able to pour out his desire before the Lord; who at one time was privileged to supplicate; and who with strong crying and tears has been able to flee unto the Lord-all of this, as frequently as he thinks of it, will yet render him joy for a long time. If this occurs at an unusual place, he will be refreshed as frequently as he returns to that place or thinks upon it.
Prayer is a sanctifying duty. After having been with God on the mountain, Moses’ countenance had become radiant. When the Lord Jesus prayed, a holy radiance came upon Him (Matthew 17:2). This still occurs if we have been much in prayer. Even if it appears that the matter for which we have specifically prayed has not been received, we shall nevertheless come away from prayer with a holy and radiant soul. Reflect upon this and your soul will take flight, and you will be desirous to pray.
Fifthly, prayer is the means whereby and upon which God fulfills the desires of believers. If they do not pray, they will also not receive. If God does not stir them up to pray for a desired matter, this is generally a sign that God does not intend to give it. “...Ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2). If, however, it is God’s intention to give something to His children, He generally first grants them prayer for this. The promises are for those who pray. When God promises to give a new heart, to cause men to walk in His ways, and to grant all manner of temporal and spiritual blessings, the Lord states as an additional blessing, “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them” (Ezek. 36:37). The promises relative to prayer being answered are numerous: “And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee” (Ps. 50:15); “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10); “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
How much the saints have already received by means of prayer! By means of Moses’ prayer Amelek was defeated (Ex 17:11-12). By means of the prayer of Joshua the sun and moon were made to stand still (Josh. 10:12). By means of prayer the barren Hannah received a son, Samuel (1 Sam. 1:20). By means of prayer Asa defeated Zerah, the Ethiopian, and his thousand times thousand men (2 Chron 14:9-12), and Jehoshaphat defeated Moab and his confederates (2 Chr. 20). Elijah unlocked heaven through prayer, so that it rained after three-and-one-half years of drought (1 Ki. 18:42-45). Through prayer Elisha brought a dead person to life ( 2 Ki 4:35, etc). Through prayer Hezekiah received a fifteen-year extension of his life (Isa. 38:5). What great things have believers received upon prayer! Moreover, God is still the same God. The promises upon prayer are still the same, and they were people of like passions as we were. Therefore, believers, if you desire or are in need of something, betake yourself to prayer.
Sixthly, consider furthermore that you will experience much more joy if God grants you something upon prayer than if you receive your wish without having prayed for it. For by means of prayer you have at the same time received a holy disposition. You have then been privileged to speak with the Lord in His immediate presence. Then you will notice that the Lord has received you as His child in Christ. Then it will be apparent that God has heard you and is benevolent toward you. You will have seen His perfections and the matter received upon prayer is in the form of a blessing. Therefore, accustom yourself to pray.
Godly reader, why do you complain about your spiritual deficiency and your bodily tribulations if you are so negligent in prayer, so lax to engage in prayer, so listless while praying, and so quickly finished? Pray if you are desirous for something. Such excuses as made by many who are lazy in the practice of prayer-which cause grief to some tender godly persons-and will not avail here. If you were diligent in prayer, you would avoid these excuses or very readily have an answer for them, so that you would not be hindered by them. The primary mental obstacles are the following:
Mental Obstacles to Prayer
Obstacle #1:God is well-acquainted with my needs, anxieties, and desires. Why then do I need to bring them before God in prayer?
Answer: It is not to make something known to God with which He is unacquainted; rather, you thereby show that you are also acquainted with them and are sensible of them, as well as that you acknowledge God to be your only helper.
Obstacle #2: God has already decreed what I shall or shall not have. I cannot change that decree by means of prayer.
Answer: The secret things are for the Lord, but the revealed things are for us. God has bound us to the means and He wills that we believe and rely upon His promises made to conscientious users of the means. God has also decreed already how long you will live. Do you therefore desist from eating and drinking?
Obstacle #3: Many people do not pray and yet receive everything in abundance.
Answer: These are but temporal matters, with which you are not satisfied. These earthly goods are not a blessing to them, and due to their sins they abuse all the blessings of God to their destruction. Prosperity will be the death of the ungodly. However, the little that a righteous person receives upon his prayer is better than the abundance of many ungodly. The righteous have received it as a blessing and they have thereby been drawn to God. Furthermore, you are primarily concerned with the spiritual, and this the Lord will most certainly grant you upon prayer. You would have more if you would pray more.
Obstacle #4: I have prayed very much for various matters, but God does not hear me, and I do not receive them.
Answer: Perhaps you-as was true of Samuel-are not acquainted with the answering voice of God. Perhaps you have not given careful attention to what you have received upon prayer; or else, due to unbelief, you have not related that which you have received to your prayer. Perhaps you are too covetous and too bent on having your will, and you do not acknowledge it as long as you have not received everything which your inordinate lusts demand, there being no submission to the manner and the benevolence of that which is dispensed to you. If you take note of all this, you will not be able to say that God has never heard your prayer and that you have never received anything upon prayer.
Obstacle #5: I lack all that I have heard said in this discourse on prayer. My heart closes up when I wish to begin.
Answer: You are focusing on a measure of spirituality in prayer which exceeds your measure of spirituality, and you want to pray at such a level of spirituality, or else it is nothing. If you are a child, pray as a child; if a man, pray as a man. God also hears the mourning of a dove and the chattering of a swallow; even sighing is not hidden from Him. God does not give because of prayer, but upon prayer. Such is not only true of a very spiritual and fluent prayer, but also for those feeble efforts in expressing desires. He does not despise the prayer of the destitute.
Obstacle #6: I sin time and again, and therefore I do not dare to come again unto God-it would be as if I were mocking with God.
Answer: When you prayed in a most acceptable manner and when God heard and answered your prayer, God saw all your future sins as if they were presently committed. It is God’s will that we shall forgive our neighbor seventy times seven-this being required in one day. God, however, is infinitely more longsuffering and benevolent than man. Reconciliation has already been accomplished in Christ and you may accept this at all times to your continual justification. You do not have it in your power to keep yourself from sin; your old man is too evil and too strong for this. God permits sin to remain in you for the very reason that you would always be of a humble disposition and to make use of Christ daily. It would be mockery if you did not repeatedly have a heartfelt desire to sin no more, while yet praying for strength against and the forgiveness of sin. Since, however, this is the case with you, do not allow the fact that you sin repeatedly keep you from prayer. Rather, come all the more, since you are in need of forgiveness and strength, so that the grace of God may be glorified all the more.
Obstacle #7: I fear that I am not regenerated. What business do I then have to pray, since the prayer of the unconverted is not pleasing to God?
Answer: Pray because necessity compels you, and because you cannot go on without the matter you desire-even if your prayer could not be recorded on the register of virtues. God indeed hears the young ravens when they call to Him. God heard the crying of Ishmael, when he, having been laid under a shrub, would have perished for thirst. You desire to be converted, to be a partaker of Christ, to be holy, and to possess all spiritual benefits. The more you would be a partaker of them, the more it would be to your liking. Such desires and motions are indeed the beginnings of regeneration and life. The Holy Spirit alone has wrought them in you and stirs you up to pray for them. Therefore follow the Spirit, and you will experience that your prayer is pleasing to God, and that He will repeatedly give you all that you need according to body and soul.
Since I consider to have satisfactorily dealt with all your concerns, take therefore the liberty to pray. However, see to it that you do not use these excuses to stimulate your laziness and to pacify yourself when you neglect to pray.
Guidance to Supplicants
It now remains to give some guidance to the supplicant who has been stirred up to pray as to how he is to conduct himself in the preparation for, exercise of, and reflection upon prayer.
The preparation for prayer must be contingent upon the condition in which we are. If you are in a good frame, you must first of all withdraw yourself from whatever you are occupied with and conduct yourself as if you were alone in the world and had nothing else to do but to walk with God. Secondly, while lifting up your soul, you must focus upon God as One who is worthy of worship, as the fountain of all good gifts, as omniscient, as omnipotent, or in whatever manner you may be conscious of God when you lift up your heart and engage in prayer. Thirdly, you must endeavor to bring about a reverent and humble disposition of heart. Fourthly, you must lift up your heart with a sigh for the spirit of prayer, for assistance, and for a blessing upon this exercise of prayer.
If you are in a backslidden condition, if you have just entertained vain thoughts and uttered vain words, if you have just committed a sin, if there were estrangement from God due to worldly concerns, or if something else has deprived you of liberty, causing you to be confused and restless, you must resolve to bring your heart where it belongs and endeavor to have the disposition of your heart humble and meek. Such a disposition must prompt you to arise with sincere intent and be firmly resolved to be on guard against those sins in the future. Furthermore, you must be resolved that if you were again to be overcome by those sins that you will battle against them. This is to be done so that your heart will not condemn you, and that instead you will be able with a clear and quiet conscience to approach boldly unto God. Furthermore, if you add to this what we have said concerning the previous disposition, you will be fit personally in your approach to God, and do so in a manner pleasing to Him.
However, you must generally not be occupied too long with preparation before actually proceeding with that which belongs to prayer itself. You could thereby easily come into darkness, become confused, and be less fit for the exercise of prayer.
In the exercise of prayer you must not limit yourself to a set order; rather you must adjust yourself to the disposition of your soul which varies greatly. If you are dull, you could begin by reading the Word of God and thus to permit your heart to be wrought upon by the truth-or else by the reading or singing of a psalm-in order to enliven your spirit thereby. If you are in a praising and worshipful disposition, you must not remove yourself from this, but rather adjust yourself to that disposition and immediately begin with prayer. It is to be done in this manner:
(1) Be on guard against routine in your initial address-against always using the same terminology. Rather, address the Lord with such language which either agrees with the disposition of the soul, is consistent with the manner in which the Lord reveals Himself at that moment, is consistent with the manner in which you wish to focus upon the Lord-or is subservient to beget humility, magnify the Lord, or strengthen your faith. Do not do this with too much premeditation, however, but proceed in this according to the inclination of your heart. Otherwise you will easily lose your prayerful disposition.
(2) We must not use pompous words in prayer nor merely link one Scripture passage to another; this will rarely move either the supplicant or the hearer. It is a different matter if we use a Scripture passage to urgently request the fulfillment of a promise, or to obligate ourselves to obedience.
(3) You must also not take great pains to express yourself fluently. It is sometimes necessary to pause for a moment-be it that the matter or the disposition of the soul requires this-and that you begin by renewal with new strength and vigor. You also need not concern yourself as to what you will say first or last; that would be more the work of the head than the heart. You also need not be concerned as to whether you repeat the same matters and words time and again, as long as it does not proceed from inattentiveness. However, you must carefully guard against the thoughtless use of the word Lord as an interjection.
(4) At times we can be dull and be in darkness when commencing prayer. However, then we must not immediately desist and depart; instead, we must persevere. It can happen that after great darkness very clear light ensues, and that a languishing soul can become very lively. If you cannot bring yourself to prayerful wrestling at all, it is frequently beneficial to read a psalm prayerfully. If the soul becomes lively, you must cease to read and enlarge upon your spiritual motions. If these motions cease, you must again proceed to read prayerfully.
(5) At times we begin with much light and liveliness and then it suddenly becomes dark. We ourselves can be the cause of this. It can be that we were too high already, thus forgetting to be humble and reverent. Then we must readily sink down in our insignificance and begin by deeply humbling ourselves, conducting ourselves as a little child and thus climb upward step by step. If some business matter, worldly concern, or lust suddenly surfaces, we must be brought by this to view our sinful hearts, and while thus conscious of our sinfulness, present ourselves, with much humility, to the Lord in our wretchedness, seeking forgiveness and acknowledging that it is only grace that such a sinful man may speak to the Lord. If there be a sudden stirring of unbelief, we must wrestle against it by claiming the promises as they are confirmed in the Mediator. If unbelief pertains to a specific matter, especially physical matters, we must be very diligent in seeking to submit ourselves with full acquiescence to the will of the Lord as far as its outcome is concerned. The soul thus having been delivered from self-will and stubbornness and having been placed at liberty, may at times again receive freedom and liveliness in prayer-yes, sometimes more so than previously. If there is an interjection of the devil, we must reject this without paying attention and responding to it. Even though the soul may have been wounded thereby, we must nevertheless proceed to rise above ourselves and lift our hearts up to God. It will then hinder us less, and the Lord will occasionally take such a soul into His protection-so to speak, into a refuge-and at times will grant her more comfort. If not, He will demonstrate that our resisting and avoidance of the enemy is pleasing to Him. If, however, such darkness (when occurring in the middle of our prayer) is due to a withdrawal of the Spirit, and if this prevails in spite of our pressing on, it is advisable to condense and shorten our prayer, doing so in submission to God’s sovereign will. Desistance must, however, in no wise issue forth from slothfulness, being secretly satisfied that we are now permitted to terminate our prayer.
(6) While praying-in the beginning, in the middle, as well as at the end-we must pray that we be heard, as we generally observe with David. Yes, not only must we pray, but we must also strive for a lively assurance that both we and our prayer are pleasing to God, and that He hears our prayer, answers it, and will most certainly give what we ask for. This assurance is neither founded upon our godliness, nor upon our ability to pray, but rather upon the promises of the Word of God and the merits of the Lord Jesus, and because those spiritual desires we have expressed in prayer have proceeded from the Holy Spirit Himself. Such assurance will beget liberty and earnestness, and we shall conclude by giving thanks that we were privileged and able to pray-even if it were but a spiritual sigh-as well as that the Lord has heard it and will most certainly grant those desires according to His will. This will be concluded with a believing“amen,” that is, it shall be.
Reflection upon prayer consists particularly in the following two matters. It first of all consists in the preservation of this reverent and godly disposition, so that a luster radiates, indicating that we have been with the Lord-just as Moses came from the mountain with a shining countenance. Be very much on guard against those sins which we have confessed in prayer and against which we have made a holy resolution. Secondly, pay careful attention to the manner in which God answers our prayer.
That God answers earnest and believing prayers is evident, first of all, from God’s promises: “He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when He shall hear it, He will answer thee” (Isa. 30:19); “Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer” (Isa. 58:9); “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer. 33:3).
Secondly, it is evident from the prayer of saints for an answer: “Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me” (Ps. 27:7).
Thirdly, it is evident from their declaration that God has answered them: “I sought the LORD, and He heard me” (Ps. 34:4); “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and He heard me” (Jonah 2:2). Observe this in Eliezer (Gen. 24:15), in Elijah (James 5:17-18), David (1 Sam. 30:8), Daniel (Dan. 9:23), and others in their special temptations, which have been recorded for us in order that we would know that God answers the prayers of His children and we thus will be assured that He will also answer our prayers.
Fourthly, it is evident from the complaints uttered by the saints when God did not answer them. “I cry unto Thee, and Thou dost not hear me” (Job 30:20); “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not” (Ps. 22:2).
Since God answers, you must also see it as your obligation to observe whether God answers you and how He answers you. It is not sufficient to commend the outcome to God and to believe that He will make it well; we must also take notice of the outcome, however, and relate this to our prayers as being an answer to them, for:
(1) This will sweetly move you to be astounded and grateful that the Lord has heard your voice, and with David you will exclaim, “What shall I render unto the LORD for all His benefits toward me?” (Ps. 116:12), which is a reference to verse 1: “He hath heard my voice.” This brings forth the confession: “This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23); “Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that Thou hast brought me hitherto?” (2 Sam. 7:18).
(2) The experience that the Lord answers our prayer engenders love toward God. “I love the LORD, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications” (Ps. 116:1).
(3) It begets a desire for prayer and zeal in prayer. “Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live” (Ps. 116:2); “I will confess...and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found” (Ps. 32:5-6).
(4) This renders more joy to a believer than the receiving of the matter itself for which he had prayed. For he would rather perceive that the Lord loves him than to enjoy everything outside of God.
(5) It is a great stimulus to lead an observant and holy life. Nothing so draws out our love than that a loved one shows his love to us. If we may perceive that God loves us and that His goodness is engaged on our behalf, we shall be willing to give our all to God: “...He hath heard my voice and my supplications. I will walk before the LORD” (Ps. 116:1, 9); “What shall I say? He hath both spoken unto me, and Himself hath done it: I shall go softly” (Isa. 38:15).
The supplicant who attentively takes notice of the answers upon his prayers, will receive such glorious dispositions, along with the resultant fruit. And even if the Lord were to answer his prayers with nothing besides this, would it not be an explicit answer? He who prays and submissively leaves the outcome to the Lord, however, will indeed have his prayers answered by the Lord. Since, however, he does not give heed to those answers, and does not relate the gifts of grace as being answers to his prayers, he will rob himself of these desired fruits.
God’s Answers to Prayer
Many are as Samuel when he did not yet know the voice of the Lord. Such will ask: “When does God answer? Whereby can we recognize this answer?” For their instruction it should be noted that God answers at the outset of prayer, during prayer, and after prayer.
First, God at times answers at the outset of prayer. “Before they call, I will answer” (Isa. 65:24); “At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth” (Dan. 9:23).
The Lord shows that He wishes to answer if the Spirit moves the person to pray in an extraordinary manner, continually stirring up the soul, and does not give the soul any rest until she prays with free access. Yes, she may do so in such an intimate and amicable manner that it takes some effort to remember that one is but a man and a sinner, and thus to maintain a disposition of the deepest humility. What else is this but the Lord saying to you: “I know you; you have found grace in My sight; I love you. Mine eye will be upon you; I shall guide you with My counsel and shall hereafter take you to Me into glory.” The supplicant will also perceive it as such, will be astonished and rejoice, and cannot but say, “Abba, Father!”
Secondly, God answers during prayer:
(1) If after a period of darkness, troubles, and wrestlings, we become of a quiet and joyous disposition due to the soul, so to speak, hearing the voice of God: “Thou art Mine. I am thy salvation. Thy sins are forgiven thee, and your prayer is pleasing to Me.” Such an answer brings the soul into a holy disposition to serve the Lord with her entire heart to the glory of her God. This we observe in many of David’s psalms, in which he begins with lamentation, proceeds with joy, and ends with thanksgiving.
(2) If we strongly persevere in prayer for a particular matter-be it deliverance from an affliction or a request for a desirable matter-and the Lord reveals His friendly countenance to the supplicant, embracing him with His love. “Thou art greatly beloved” (Dan. 9:23); “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12:9). When the Lord answers in such a manner, the supplicant frequently goes beyond what the Lord has said, thinking that it was a most certain promise that a given evil would not come, and that he would receive the desired matter. If, however, this does not occur, this can be very grievous to the supplicant at other times-as if the promise does not correspond to reality. The Lord had only shown, however, that the supplicant was pleasing to Him in prayer and that He would bring about this matter to his best advantage, not having made any promise as far as time and manner were concerned. If he had not taken the answer beyond its intended purpose, but interpreted it as he should have done, this would have resulted in a more sanctified disposition. He would have been content with the will of God, and the manifestation of the love of God would have rendered him more joy, as if he received the matter according to his wishes.
(3) When He grants him a strong faith and full assurance that his prayer will be answered. This occurs either by application of the promises which pertain to the answering of prayers, or at times by an immediate operation upon his heart, without an indication of the manner in which it is to be answered. Such an answer is sufficient to cause the supplicant to rejoice, contentedly leaving time and manner to the Lord.
However, he will easily mislead himself, if he, when praying for a particular matter, by either the probability or non-probability of it, persuades his own heart that God has declared that he will have the matter, or that he will not become a partaker of it. If he relies upon this, whatever he has imagined will fail, and if he sets it aside, he renders himself unfit to persevere.
It occurs rarely-and that only to very few-that God grants someone immediate revelations concerning future events, although I am assured that the Spirit of prophecy or revelation (relative to future events) has not departed entirely from the church. If, however, such is the case, a person will know very well that God has revealed it to him. He will know it as well as if a familiar friend had said such and such to him. Whatever God reveals to the one is not regulative for the other. I advise a person against having any strong desire that God would reveal the outcome of a given matter to him in advance, lest he tempt the Lord and were to delude himself due to his strong desire.
If God assures someone that his prayer has been heard, he ought to deem that as being an answer to his prayer. He ought to rejoice in this and thank the Lord for this. He should leave the matter-as well as its execution-in the Lord’s hands, and from the outcome conclude as to the manner in which the Lord fulfills His promise to hear his prayer. This will engender much steadfastness and inner peace.
Thirdly, God answers prayer by giving the matter prayed for subsequent to prayer. It is here that the supplicant must be very attentive.
(1) There are matters of which we know that God will not grant them all at once upon the first request, but will grant them step by step-such as growth in grace. If we have prayed for this in a heartfelt manner and if God grants some growth-strength against a particular sin, a more steadfast godly disposition of the soul, a stronger faith as far as our spiritual state is concerned, the exercise of a particular virtue, more liveliness and joy in the expectation of eternal felicity, etc.-then we must note this as an answer upon all our prayers, particularly upon that prayer which had been so expressly uttered relative to a given matter.
(2) There are matters which God grants at once-such as deliverance from a present situation which is either pressing or threatening. This can also be true for a special matter which we desire to have, the outcome of which will either be evident within a short period of time, or there being no indication of time at all. If God grants the matter at once, he who takes note of the answer upon his prayers will readily observe that God has answered his prayer. God thus answered Eliezer (Gen. 24:13-21). God does also grant the matter at a later time. If, upon reflection, we then become conscious of having prayed heartily for this, we shall also note this as being an answer upon our prayers, and we shall rejoice in a double measure about this. The Lord thus answered the prayer of Zacharias (Luke 1:13). God also answers our prayers when He does not give us a particular matter, but rather gives something else in its place, even though in some respects it relates to the desired matter. This-either in and of itself, due to some circumstances, or due to consequences-is nevertheless more beneficial and desirable for us. It was thus that Abraham’s desire was fulfilled when he, praying for Ishmael that the promises pertaining to the multiplication of his seed would be fulfilled through him, received Isaac.
(3) There are matters which pertain to others: either the church in general, a specific godly person, the conversion of our near relatives or someone else, or someone’s physical well-being. If God grants such a request, and we realize that we have prayed for this, we have indeed received an answer upon that prayer and it must make us doubly grateful and joyous. If we do not perceive this to be the case, we must nevertheless believe that our prayer has been heard. For every true prayer is heard, and God will either give the matter later-even if it be after our death-or the Lord will answer the prayer of the supplicant in a different manner.
Give heed therefore that you do not attribute it to the general providence of God if you receive something. More particularly, refrain from attributing it to chance, or from focusing only on the secondary causes-to which our corrupt nature is so inclined. Even Job himself came so far that he said, “If I had called, and He had answered me; yet would I not believe that He had hearkened unto my voice” (Job 9:16). Therefore acknowledge the hand of the Lord in all the good you receive-from the least to the greatest, and that which is common as well as extraordinary.
And if you receive something good, and cannot remember that you have heartily prayed for it, be all the more amazed that the Lord has thought upon you when you did not think upon Him, and that He has granted you more than you have ever requested from Him. Then say with Hagar, “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” (Gen. 16:13). If, however, you receive something, and, when reflecting on time gone by, you become aware that you have prayed for this-even if it were in your youth-then relate this gift to your prayer as being an answer to it. Do not allow yourself to be hindered by your sinfulness, your weakness, or your deficiency in prayer, but acknowledge that the least upright sigh proceeded from the Spirit and that the Lord has therefore heard it. This will cause you to be grateful and express your love toward God. “Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee” (Job 22:21).
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