Simple Christian Truths.

VIII.

Prayer.

There is no need to insist upon the importance of prayer; for, while it may often be neglected, there are few who will not admit that it is a necessary expression of the Christian life. Our purpose, however, in this paper is to offer a few considerations upon its nature, as well as upon its conditions and objects.

There are three things contained in prayer - dependence, confidence, and expectation. Necessarily prayer is the language of dependence, springing from the fact, as it does, that we are dependent on Him to whom we pray. When the Lord said to Ananias, concerning Saul, "Behold, he prayeth," He intimated that Saul had now learnt his true place of dependence, along with the conviction of his guilt in persecuting the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the sense of dependence that begets need, and turns our eyes upward to Him who alone can meet it. This is expressed in the language of the psalmist, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him." (Psalm 62:5.) There might, however, be entire dependence without confidence; and in such a case there could be no real prayer. A natural man, for example, might be convinced that he is dependent on a higher power for his existence; but with his carnal mind enmity against God he could not turn to Him in prayer. The believer not only knows his dependence on, but he has also confidence in God.

He has learnt something of His grace, His heart, and he thus, under the sense of his need, casts himself in childlike confidence on God, in the assurance that He will hear his prayer. Then, allied with this, there is expectation, waiting for the answer in faith. No doubt the heart is relieved by the very utterance of its needs before God; but he who prays in the Spirit will be found watching in his prayer for the expected answer. As the psalmist again speaks, "I waited patiently [in waiting I waited] for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry." And again, "I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning." So in the New Testament we are exhorted to "continue [to persevere] in prayer, and to watch in the same with thanksgiving." As also to "pray without ceasing." (Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17.)

The conditions of prayer according to God are found in various scriptures. Jude speaks in his epistle of praying in the Holy Ghost, and this may perhaps be termed the fundamental condition; for while we read in the Scriptures of prayers offered by natural men, and of such being answered by God in His tender mercy and compassion, it is yet true that no believer could pray except in and by the Spirit of God. It is He who must produce in us the sense of need, and it is He who must lead us into the presence of God, as well as guide us in our petitions. As the apostle says, when speaking of our connection with a groaning creation, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered." (Rom. 8:26.) We are thus as dependent on the power of the Spirit for prayer as for walk. It is owing to the forgetfulness of this truth that Christendom seeks refuge in its prayer-books, both in families and in public assemblies, and at the same time conceals thereby its need and poverty.

Our Lord has also laid down an indispensable condition of prayer - a condition which, when fulfilled, always ensures the answer to our cries. He says, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it." (John 14:13, 14.) It becomes therefore a matter of the utmost importance to ascertain the meaning of the words "in my name." It could not mean the utterance simply of the words, or closing our petitions with, "through our Lord Jesus Christ." That would attach the answer of prayer to a mere formula. This is impossible, and we shall see that much more is involved. Even in human transactions the name of another cannot be used without his consent and authority. If we ask anything of a third person in another's name, in the name of one that would give us influence in our request, it can only be with his express permission, and a permission which must be proved if the demand is made. In like manner we cannot use the name of Christ in our prayers without His warrant - a warrant that must be found in His own Word. When we have this, and we have it for every petition which is evoked from us by the Holy Ghost, for every prayer which is the expression of His own mind, we appear before God with all the authority of Christ Himself, in all His value and preciousness to God, and hence the prayers so offered ascend with the same power as if presented by Himself This is seen from the promise He annexes to the condition, "I will do it." And He will do it, moreover, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. How blessed then when we thus pray! And what an encouragement thus to pray! And what a foundation, we may also add, for faith to build its hopes and expectations upon!

In John 15 the Lord has given us another condition - "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (v. 7.) This is sometimes spoken of as a lower kind of prayer, but the slightest examination of the terms our Lord employs will dispel the misconception. True it is asking what we will, but this is preceded by a double condition. The first is, "If ye abide in me." Now abiding in Christ is the constant maintenance in our souls of our dependence upon Him for life, strength, and everything; a dependence as complete as that of the branch on the vine for its power to bear fruit. "Apart from me," He says, "ye can do nothing," anymore than the branch could bear fruit after it was severed from the vine. Whatever of life towards God, service in testimony, fruit-bearing of every kind, that flows out from His people, has its source in Him, and can only flow out through them, as the connection is maintained by abiding in Him, realizing that they are dependent on Him, that in this sense they live, move, and have their being in Him. Then He adds, "And my words abide in you." The two things must go together - abiding in Him and His words abiding in us. The first gives the secret of the power and the second the knowledge of His mind; for when His words abide - dwell in us - they become the source of His thoughts to us; yea, they form His mind, and as a consequence what we will is according to His will. This reveals to us that our prayers - the prayers that have power with God - flow from God's own mind as revealed in the Scriptures. An example of this may be found in the life of David. When the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David that not he, but his son, should build Jehovah's house, and gave him promises concerning his own house, his throne, and kingdom, he went in and sat before the Lord with his heart overflowing with gratitude, and praise, and prayer; and, among others, he used these remarkable words, "Thou, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee." (2 Samuel 7:27.) That is, David's prayer concerning his house was founded upon and formed by the gracious communications which Jehovah had been pleased to make. So likewise our truest prayers are those which spring from the word of God, the words of Christ, as in John, dwelling in our hearts, because we then pray in communion with, as well as according to, the divine mind, and hence necessarily also in the Holy Ghost.

In the gospel of Matthew another aspect of prayer is presented - "All things, whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." (Matt. 21:22; see also Mark 11:24.) James too speaks of the necessity of faith in asking, and adds that a waverer must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Now faith can only spring from confidence in God about the thing sought, and this confidence in God will only follow upon the conviction that what is prayed for is according to God's will; and, it may be added, the assurance that we have the mind of God can only be produced by the Holy Spirit, and by the Holy Spirit, speaking generally, through the written Word. Once having this assurance, we await with the certainty of expectation the answer, according to that word of the apostle John: "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: 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 5:14, 15.) This passage is important as showing that faith finds its sure foundation in the knowledge of God's will - a will that is unfolded to us in the Scriptures.

The apostle John warns us of a common hindrance to prayer. He says, "Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." (1 John 3:21, 22.) Self-judgment and confession, if there has been failure or sin, are therefore pre-requisites to effectual prayer, even as the psalmist says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." This will again link itself with the statement of James - "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." The righteous man being, we judge, one who is practically such; one who, in the language of John, "keeps God's commandments." For walking in obedience is not only the path of holiness, but it is also the source through the Holy Spirit of intelligence in God's mind, and thus of confidence in prayer. The very example of Elijah that James adduces is an illustration in point. In the history Elijah announces by a word of the Lord that there should be no rain upon the earth for "these years;" and again, after that period, that there should be rain. And now we learn from James that both the one and the other were answers to his prayers.

We can only touch briefly upon the objects, or, perhaps we should rather say, the subjects, of prayer. From Phil. 4 we learn that we may tell out before God everything which burdens our hearts: "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God," etc. It is not said that God will answer all these requests; still, in His love and grace, He would have us unburden ourselves, and He engages that His peace shall guard our "hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Yes, He would have us, as Peter exhorts, to cast all our care upon Him in the knowledge that He careth for us. These requests are connected with our personal needs, but outside of these (and it is our privilege to rise above ourselves) we may have fellowship with the heart of God in His thoughts, aims, and purposes, in His desires for the saints, and in the activities of His grace which flow out towards the world. Take an example from the prophet Isaiah

"For Zion's sake," says the prophet, speaking in the Lord's name, "will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth;" and then afterwards we read, "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night; ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth." (Isa. 62:1, 6, 7.) Thus while He purposes to bless Zion, He would have His remembrancers upon the earth to plead with Him for the accomplishment of that on which He has set His heart. To pray intelligently, therefore, needs acquaintance with His word. It is in the epistles of Paul especially that we find what God's desires are for the saints, in the inspired prayers of the apostle, as well as in the exhortations given for their direction. Besides these the apostle often asks for prayer for his own ministry; and in 1 Tim. 2 he names special subjects for supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks. This will suffice to show the reader that it is from the word of God we must learn what are the suited subjects of prayer; and that if led out, in the energy of the Holy Spirit, into this blessed field of service, he may occupy himself unceasingly with fervent labours in prayer (see Col. 4) in communion with the mind and heart of God.

There are other questions, such as the secret of liberty and power in prayer, the character of private as distinguished from public prayer, or prayer in the assembly, or in unison with others (Matt. 18:19), which must be reserved for another opportunity. In the meantime the whole subject, both as connected with the Christian life, and the life of the assembly, may be earnestly commended to the attention of the saints. E. D.

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Jesus alone is sufficient, but seems insufficient when He is not wholly and solely embraced.