PRAYER and the PRAYER MEETING
IN CONSIDERING the deeply important subjeet of prayer, two
things claim our attention; first, the moral basis of prayer; secondly, its
1. The basis of prayer is set forth in such words as the following: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7). Again, "Beloved, if our heart 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). So also, when the blessed apostle seeks an interest in the prayers of the saints, he sets forth the moral basis of his appeal - "Pray for us; for we trust use have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly" (Hebrews 13:18).
From these passages, and many more of like import, we learn that, in order to effectual prayer, there must be an obedient heart, an upright mind, a good conscience. If the soul be not in communion with God - if it be not abiding in Christ - if it be not ruled by His holy commandments - if the eye be not single, how could we possibly look for answers to our prayers? We should, as the apostle James says, be "asking amiss, that we may consume it upon our lusts." How could God, as a holy Father, grant such petitions? Impossible.
How very needful, therefore, it is to give earnest heed to the moral basis on which our prayers are presented. How could the apostle have asked the brethren to pray for him if he had not a good conscience, a single eye, an upright mind - the moral persuasion that in all things he really wished to live honestly? We may safely assert, he could do no such thing.
But may we not often detect ourselves in the habit of lightly and formally asking others to pray for us? It is a very common formulary amongst us- "Remember me in your prayers," and most surely nothing can be more blessed or precious than to be borne upon the hearts of God's dear people in their approaches to the mercy-seat; but do we sufficiently attend to the moral basis? When we say, "Brethren, pray for us," can we add, as in the presence of the Searcher of hearts, "For we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly"? And when we ourselves bow before the throne of grace, is it with an uncondemning heart - an upright mind - a single eye a soul really abiding in Christ, and keeping His commands?
These, beloved reader, are searching questions. They go right to the very centre of the heart - down to the very roots and moral springs of our being. But it is well to be thoroughly searched - searched in reference to every thing, but especially in reference to prayer. There is a terrible amount of unreality in our prayers - a sad lack of the moral basis - a vast amount of "asking amiss."
Hence, the want of power and efficacy in our prayers - hence, the formality - the routine - yea, the positive hypocrisy. The Psalmist says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." How solemn this is! Our God will have reality; He desireth truth in the inward parts. He, blessed be His Name, is real with us, and He will have us real with Him. He will have us coming before Him as we really are, and with what we really want.
How often, alas! it is otherwise, both in private and in public! How often are our prayers more like orations than petitions - more like statements of doctrine than utterances of need! It seems, at times, as though we meant to explain principles to God, and give Him a large amount of information.
These are the things which cast a withering influence over our prayer meetings, robbing them of their freshness, their interest, and their value. Those who really know what prayer is - who feel its value, and are conscious of their need of it, attend the prayer meeting in order to pray, not to hear orations, lectures, and expositions from men on their knees. If they want lectures, they can attend at the lecture hall or the preaching room; but when they go to the prayer meeting, it is to pray. To them, the prayer meeting is the place of expressed need and expected blessing - the place of expressed weakness and expected power. Such is their idea of "the place where prayer is wont to be made;" and therefore when they flock thither, they are not disposed or prepared to listen to long preaching prayers, which would be deemed barely tolerable if delivered from the desk, but which are absolutely insufferable in the shape of prayer.
We write plainly, because we feel the need of great plainness of speeeh. We deeply feel our want of reality, sincerity, and truth in our prayers and prayer meetings. Not unfrequently it happens that what we call prayer is not prayer at all, but the fluent utterance of certain known and acknowledged truths and principles, to which one has listened so often that the reiteration becomes tiresome in the extreme. What can be more painful than to hear a man on his knees explaining principles and unfolding doctrines? The question forces itself upon us. "Is the man speaking to God, or to us?" If to God, surely nothing can be more irreverent or profane than to attempt to explain things to Him; but if to us, then it is not prayer at all, and the sooner we rise from the attitude of prayer the better, inasmuch as the speaker will do better on his legs and we in our seats.
And, having referred to the subject of attitude, we would very lovingly call attention to a matter which, in our judgment, demands a little serious consideration; we allude to the habit of sitting during the holy and solemn exercise of prayer. We are fully aware, of course, that the grand question in prayer is, to have the heart in a right attitude. And further, we know, and would ever bear in mind, that many who attend our prayer meetings are aged, infirm, and delicate people, who could not possibly kneel for any length of time - perhaps not at all. Then again, it often happens that, even where there is not physical weakness, and where there would be real desire to kneel down, as feeling it to be the proper attitude, yet, from actual want of space, it is impossible to change one's position.
All these things must be taken into account; but, allowing as broad a margin as possible in which to insert these modifying clauses, we must still hold to it that there is a very deplorable lack of reverence in many of our public reunions for prayer. We frequently observe young men, who ean neither plead physical weakness nor want of space, sitting through an entire prayer meeting. This we confess, is offensive, and we cannot but believe it grieves the Spirit of the Lord. We ought to kneel down when we can; it expresses reverence and prostration. The blessed Master "kneeled down and prayed" (Luke 22:41). His apostle did the same, as in Acts 20:36 "When he had thus spoken, he kneeled down and prayed with them all."
And is it not comely and right so to do? Assuredly it is. And can aught be more unseemly than to see a number of people sitting, lolling, lounging, and gaping about while prayer is being offered? We consider it perfeetly shocking, and we do here most earnestly beseech all the Lord's people to give this matter their solemn consideration, and to endeavor, in every possible way, both by precept and example, to promote the godly habit of kneeling at our prayer meetings. No doubt those who take part in the meeting would greatly aid in this matter by short and fervent prayers; but of this, more hereafter.
We shall now proceed to consider, in the light of holy Scripture, the moral conditions or attributes of prayer. There is nothing like having the authority of the divine Word for everything in the entire range of our practical Christian life. Scripture must be our one grand and conclusive referee in all our questions. Let us never forget this.
What, then, saith the Scripture as to the necessary moral conditions of prayer? Turn to Matthew 18:19- "Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven."
Here we learn that one necessary condition of our prayers is, unanimity - cordial agreement - thorough oneness of mind. The true force of the words is, "If two of you shall symphonize" - shall make one common sound. There must be no jarring note, no discordant element.
If, for example, we come together to pray about the progress of the gospel - the conversion of souls, we must be of one mind in the matter - we must make one common sound before our God. It will not do for eaeh to have some special thought of his own to earry out. We must come before the throne of grace in holy harlnony of mind and spuit, else we cannot claim an answer, on the ground of Matthew 18:19.
Now, this is a point of immense moral weight. Its importance, as bearing upon the tone and character of our prayer meetings, cannot possibly be overestimated. It is very questionable indeed whether any of us have given sufficient attention to it. Have we not to deplore the objectless character of our prayer-meetings? Ought we not to Come together more with some definite object on our hearts, as to which we are going to wait together upon God? We read in the first chapter of Acts, in reference to the early disciples, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren." And again, in the second Chapter, we read, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." How interesting to find "Mary the mother of Jesus" named here, as being at the prayer meeting! What would she have said if any one had told her that millions of professing Christians would yet be praying to her?
They were waiting, according to our Lord's instructions, for the promise of the Father - the gift of the Holy Ghost. They had the sure word of promise. The Comforter was, without fail, to come; but this, so far from dispensing with prayer, was the very ground of its blessed exercise. They prayed; they prayed in one place; they prayed with one accord. They were thoroughly agreed. They all, without exception, had one definite object before their hearts. They were waiting for the promised Spirit; they continued to wait; and they waited with one accord, until He Came. Men and women, absorbed with one object, waited in holy concords in happy symphony - waited on, day after day, earnestly, fervently, harmoniously waited until they were indued with the promised power from on high.
Should not we go and do likewise? Is there not a sad lack of this "one accord," "one place" principle in our midst? True it is, blessed be God, we have not to ask for the Holy Ghost to come, -He has come; we have not to ask for the outpouring of the Spirit, -He has been poured out: but we have to ask for the display of His blessed power in our midst. Supposing our lot is cast in a place where spiritual death and darkness reign. There is not so much as a single breath of life - not a leaf stirring. The heaven above seems like brass; the earth beneath, iron. Such a thing as a conversion is never heard of. A withering formalism seems to have settled down upon the entire place. Powerless profession, dead routine, stupefying mechanical religiousness, are the order of the day. What is to be done? Are we to allow ourselves to fall under the fatal influence of the surrounding malaria? Are we to yield to the paralyzing power of the atmosphere that enwraps the place? Assuredly not.
If not, what then? Let us, even if there be but two who really feel the condition of things, get together, with one accord, and pour out our hearts to God. Let us wait on Him, in holy concord, with united, firm purpose, until He send a copious shower of blessing upon the barren spot. Let us not fold our arms and vainly say, "The time is not come." Let us not yield to that pernicious offshoot of a one-sided theology, which is rightly called fatalism, and say, "God is sovereign, and He works according to His own will. We must wait His time. Human effort is in vain. We cannot get up a revival. We must beware of mere excitement."
All this seems very plausible; and the more so because there is a measure of truth in it; indeed it is all true, so far as it goes: but it is only one side of the truth. It is truth, nothing but the truth; but it is not not whole truth. Hence its mischievous tendercey. There is nothing more to be dreaded than one-sided truth, it is far more dangerous than positive, palpable error. Many an earnest soul has been stumbled and turned completely out of the way by one-sided or misapplied truth. Many a true-hearted and useful workman has been chilled, repulsed, and driven out of the harvest field by the injudicious enforcement of certain doctrines having a measure of truth, but not the full truth of God.
Nothing, however, can touch the truth, or weaken the force of Matthew 18:19. It stands in all its blessed fullness, freeness, and preciousness before the eye of faith; its terms are clear and unmistakable. "If two of you shall agree upon earth, as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven." Here is our warrant for coming together to pray for any thing that may be laid on our hearts. Do we mourn over the coldness, barrenness, and death around us? Are we discouraged by the little apparent fruit from the preaching of the gospel - the lack of power in the preaching itself, and the total absence of practical result? Are our souls cast down by the barrenness, dullness, heaviness, and low tone of all our reunions, whether at the table of the Lord, before the mercy-seat, or around the fountain of holy Scripture?
What are we to do? Fold our arms in cold indifference? Give up in despairs or give vent to complaining, murmuring, fretfulness, or irritation? God forbid! What then? Come together, "with one accord in one place;" get down on our faces before our God, and pour out our hearts, as the heart of one man, pleading Matthew 18:19.
This, we may rest assured, is the grand remedy - the unfailing resouree. It is perfectly true that "God is sovereign," and this is the very reason why we should wait on Him; perfectly true that "human effort is in vain," and that is the very reason for seeking divine power; perfectly true that "we cannot get up a revival," and that is the very reason for seeking to get it down; perfectly true that "we must beware of mere excitement;" equally true that we must beware of coldness, deadness, and selfish indifference.
The simple fact is, there is no excuse whatever - so long as Christ is at the right hand of God - so long as God the Holy Ghost is in our midst and in our hearts - so long as we have the Word of God in our hands - so long as Matthew 18:19 shines before our eyes - there is, we repeat, no excuse whatever for barrenness, deadness, coldness, and indifference - no excuse for heavy and unprofitable meetings - no excuse whatever for lack of freshness in our reunions or of fruitfulness in our service. Let us wait on God, in holy concord, and the blessing is sure to come.
If we turn to Matthew 21:22, we shall find another of the essential conditions of effectual prayer. "And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." This is a truly marvelous statement. It opens the very treasury of heaven to faith. Mere is absolutely no limit. Our blessed Lord assures us that we shall receive whatsoever we ask in simple faith.
The apostle James, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, gives us a similar assurance in reference to the matter of asking for wisdom. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But " - here is the moral condition - " let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall obtain any thing of the Lord."
From both these passages we learn that if our prayers are to have an answer, they must be prayers of faith. It is one thing to utter words in the form of prayer, and another thing altogether to pray in simple faith, in the full, clear, and settled assurance that we shall have what we are asking for. It is greatly to be feared that many of our so-called prayers never go beyond the ceiling of the room. In order to reach the throne of God, they must be borne on the wings of faith, and proceed from hearts united and minds agreed, in holy purpose, to wait on our God for the things which we really require.
Now, the question is, are not our prayers and prayer meetings sadly deficient on this point? Is not the deficiency manifest from the fact that we see so little result from our prayers? Ought we not to examine ourselves as to how far we really understand these two conditions of prayer, namely, unanimity and confidence? If it be true - and it is true, for Christ has said it - that two persons agreed to ask in faith can have whatsoever they ask, why do we not see more abundant answers to our prayers? Must not the fault he in us? - are we not deficient in concord and confidence?
Our Lord, in Matthew 18:19, comes down, as we say, to the very smallest plurality - the smallest congregation - even to "two;" but of course the promise applies to dozens, scores, or hundreds. The grand point is, to be thoroughly agreed and fully persuaded that we shall get what we are asking for. This would give a different tone and character altogether to our reunions for prayer. It would make them very much more real than our ordinary prayer meeting, which, alas! alas! is often poor, cold, dead, objectless, and desultory, exhibiting any thing but cordial agreement and unwavering faith.
How vastly different it would be if our prayer meetings were the result of a cordial agreement on the part of two or more believing souls, to come together and wait upon God for a certain thing, and to persevere in prayer until they receive an answer! How little we see of this! We attend the prayer meeting from week to week - and very right we should - but ought we not to be exercised before God as to how far we are agreed in referenee to the object or objects which are to be laid before the throne? The answer to this question links itself on to another of the moral conditions of prayer.
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