A little while ago I wrote to you on the necessity of systematically reading the word of God: I now desire to make a few practical remarks on the subject of prayer.
And, in the first place, I feel impelled to say that it is extremely necessary for you to remember that in prayer you address God. The Psalmist said, "Unto Thee will I pray. My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up" (Psalm 5:2, 3). Prayer is the exercise of heart Godward in earnest petitions for needed blessing.
Though persuaded you know this elementary truth as well as I do, yet I believe I am not mistaken in supposing you are in great danger of forgetting the high and holy character of the One to Whom you pray. I am not now overlooking the fact that God is our Father, and that our relationship to Him is very near and dear. But, at the same time, He is God as well as Father; and therefore a spirit of reverence becomes us, and is indeed inseparable from every true prayer. We ought not to forget that the privileges of grace never remove or obliterate the responsibilities of the creature.
On this account seek to feel in Whose sacred presence you are. Bow down your heart before Him. Have it impressed on your very soul that He is omniscient as well as omnipotent — that He reads your inmost thoughts more easily than we can a book.
You will admit, I am sure, the tendency of your heart, even on the solemn occasion of addressing the Lord, whether silently or audibly, to wander to other and improper themes. In the language of scripture your lips draw near, but your heart is far off. This arises from a lack of apprehension, or from the fault of forgetting the real nature of this sacred occupation and the inexpressibly holy presence into which you come.
You find, I dare say, that you fall into this snare more commonly during your habitual prayers, in the mornings and evenings, for example. You suddenly become aware that you are quite mechanically presenting the ordinary round of petitions, and at the same time your thoughts are travelling in all directions. This fault, if unchecked, will cause your prayers to become "vain repetitions," hateful to God, and injurious instead of beneficial to yourself.
The only safeguard against this error is to take care before ever you commence to pray to have it well on your mind that you are about to address GOD, with Whom you dare not trifle. The soul of the believer will then instinctively assume the proper attitude of "reverence and godly fear."
But I referred just now to the practice of habitual prayer. This is an important point and demands a word or two. I hope it is true of every one of you; for prayer is, undoubtedly, the secret source of spiritual power. And just as the natural body requires regular supplies of air and food, so does the soul ever need regular supplies of heavenly grace to meet the constant vicissitudes of daily life. You should therefore make it a very rigid rule to spend an allotted time in earnest prayer at least twice a day.
You must arrange these seasons according to your own particular circumstances; but morning and evening are certainly the best times. In saying "twice a day," however, I only mention the minimum allowance. You will doubtless recollect there is scripture for praying always as well as everywhere. So whatever opportunities you may have in this respect, you are at liberty to take the fullest advantage of them.
Some are afraid of making a "rule"; but I think they have more reason to be afraid of breaking it when it is made. I hope none of you would seek to excuse yourselves for passing a whole day without prayer by the plea of not wishing to be in bondage to a rule. For myself, I must risk the charge of being somewhat commonplace by saying that I think good habits are very good things to possess, and bad habits are very bad things to get hold of and worse things to get rid of; while the best way to avoid bad habits altogether is to acquire good ones.
Be persuaded, therefore, to put yourself, if necessary, to a great deal of pains to become an orderly Christian. And remember there can be no spiritual order in the soul unless it be in the right frame Godward. Open your Bible and let God speak to you; fall on your knees and breathe out your requests to God.
The Christian is like a diver at the bottom of the sea, whose very life depends upon the maintenance of a connection with the surface. There is nothing around him to sustain life, but the reverse. A slender tube supplies him with air to breathe, and in his hand he holds the means of summoning help from above in the moment of danger. But this connection must be maintained constantly. Even so must the believer be in continuous, not spasmodic, communication with the power on high. This must be done by regular habits of prayer.
If you start the day with prayer you are not so. likely to forget to pray before you give a passionate reply to the person who insults you to your face. "Pray without ceasing."
Hoping, if the Lord permit, to return to this subject.
"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire.
Uttered or unexpressed;
The motions of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of the eye
When none but God is near.
Prayer is the Christian's vital breath
The Christian's native air;
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters Heaven with prayer.
O Thou by Whom we come to God!
The Life, the Truth, the Way!
The path of prayer Thyself halt trod:
Lord! teach us how to pray."