We usually form some opinion of the sincerity of those with whom we deal. We like the man whose heart evidently goes with the flash of his eye, the word of his lip, and the grip of his hand. And if sincerity is desirable in human relationships and communications, it is essential in our dealings with God. The charge Jehovah brought against backsliding Israel was, "This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." The divine call to man is, "My son, give Me thine heart." Without earnest care on our part the charge against Israel might be brought against us. Are our prayers, for instance, always the desires of our heart?
I have been reading again the words of the Psalmist, "Delight thyself also in the LORD: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart" — Ps. 37:4. And I see there two truths respecting the heart of the man of this Psalm:
(1) The Lord is the delight of his heart;
(2) The Lord gives him the desires of his heart.
Let us try to take these things to ourselves. First, there is the heart's delight, and then the heart's desires answered. But the heart is the essential factor throughout, so far as we are concerned.
(1) "Delight thyself also in the Lord." This is the heart-satisfaction and the joy which arise from the contemplation of the excellency and the glory of our living Master. It was out of sheer delight of heart that John the Baptist, looking upon the anointed Jesus as He walked, said, "Behold the Lamb of God." Two of John's disciples heard the burning words come from the heart of their master, and they followed Jesus. Out of the abundance of his heart's delight, John's mouth spoke, and his words were with power.
"Will ye also go away?" the Lord said to the twelve when some of His followers deserted Him. But the company of Jesus had been the delight of their hearts, and Simon Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." — John 6:68. When the Lord spoke to the disciples of His departure, sorrow filled their hearts. But, as He said, He would see them again, and their hearts would rejoice. Accordingly, when the Lord stood in their midst after His resurrection, we read, "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord," — John 20:20. Indeed, such an intense joy thrilled them, as He showed them His hands and His side, that they hesitated to believe what they saw. Again, think how Paul, chained to the Roman Soldier, delighted himself in the Lord who never left him. In the Epistle the prisoner of the Lord wrote to the Philippians, the delight in his heart flowed from his pen, and his refrain is, "Rejoice in the Lord." "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again, I say Rejoice." — Phil. 4:4. In every case, joy in the Lord is the strength and stay of the followers of Christ.
(2) If you know the presence of the Lord, and if you experience the delight of His company, you may then appropriate the promise of this Psalm: "Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart."
The heart of us is moved to its depths when we are before the Lord in spirit. For we feel He searches and knows us altogether. It is useless to seek to hide from Him. The heart of John reclining on the bosom of his Master was too near the heart of Infinite Love for duplicity. And we also, in our prayers, are conscious that we cannot conceal the deep longings of the soul from Him. And then as we think of His love unto death, of the free gifts of His grace, and of the unfathomable mercies that crowd our days, we know He will give us the desires of our hearts.
When we feel we know not what we should pray for as we ought, His love entwines itself about us, and we remember His deep compassions that fail not. Then we say, "O Lord, Thou knowest all things; all our desire is before Thee; the desire of our soul is to Thy name and to the remembrance of Thee; there is none upon earth that we desire beside Thee. Such, O Lord, are the desires of our heart: Thou knowest." Can we doubt that this prayer would be heard? The apostle John wrote: "And if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him." — 1 John 5:15.
I have been speaking of those heart desires which are yearnings after a fuller knowledge of Christ, and which lead to a confidence that He will manage our affairs for us so well that we can safely leave them in His wise hands. Much more might be said on the subject, but for the moment I only press upon you that frequent communings with the Master and personal devotion to Him are of primary importance. And for your part you would do well always to keep "first things first." In prayer as in other exercises of the spiritual life, it is a good rule to seek first the "things of Jesus Christ" in preference to our "own things;" and the lesser things shall be added to us. Then the Lord will give you your heart's desire, and will not withhold the request of your lips. — Ps 21:2. That you may prove this fully in your experience is the earnest wish and the heart's desire of your sincere friend,
Remarks on Prayer.
We are told in Scripture to offer to God prayers for ALL men. — 1 Tim. 2:1. Think how much this injunction means, and who are included — those who love you and whom you love, your friends, acquaintances, strangers, enemies, and even the enemies of your Lord. Do you ask, "Am I to pray for the enemies of my Lord?" Yes, since God's word says so. Remember the prayer of Divine love at the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Seeing then the importance and necessity for the exercise of prayer, what are the essential features of prayer that we must keep in mind?
Our prayers must not be selfish. Let each one ask, Can I conclude my request to God with the phrase, "for Thy honour and glory" — or, do I merely wish it? I believe that our petitions should have this conclusion, made with all sincerity as in the sight of Him we address.
In prayer there should be unanimity. Two or three should be agreed according to Matthew 18:19. This agreement adds power to the prayer. I always like to know that others are offering up the same petition as myself.
Then, simplicity is desirable. Think of the prayers of the sufferers and the sinners recorded in the Gospels. They are invariably short and to the point. True prayers come from the heart, and not from the lips merely.
Another condition of prayer is faith. The Lord said to one who sought His help, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." — Mark 9:23.
To impress us with the importance of prayer, can we require more than our Saviour's words and example? He commenced and finished His ministry with prayer. In the commencement, at His baptism, He prayed — Luke 3:21; and at the close of His life, amidst the agonies of the cross, He prayed for His enemies. — Luke 23:34. E.J.W.