I commend to you the importance of earnestness in prayer. It is not necessary that a man should shout, or scream, or be very loud, in order to prove that he is in earnest. But it is desirable that we should be hearty and fervent and warm, and ask as if we were really interested in what we were doing. It is the “effectual fervent” prayer that “availeth much.” This is the lesson that is taught us by the expressions used in Scripture about prayer. It is called, “crying, knocking, wrestling, laboring, striving.”
This is the lesson taught us by Scripture examples. Jacob is one. He said to the angel at Penuel, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Daniel is another. Hear how he pleaded with God: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God” (Daniel 9:19). Our Lord Jesus Christ is another. It is written of him, “In the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).
Alas, how unlike is this to many of our supplications! How tame and lukewarm they seem by comparison. How truly might God say to many of us, “You do not really want what you pray for.”
Let us try to amend this fault. Let us knock loudly at the door of grace, like Mercy in Pilgrim’s Progress, as if we must perish unless heard. Let us settle it in our minds, that cold prayers are a sacrifice without fire.
Let us remember the story of Demosthenes the great orator, when one came to him, and wanted him to plead his cause. He heard him without attention, while he told his story without earnestness. The man saw this, and cried out with anxiety that it was all true. “Ah,” said Demosthenes, “I believe you now.”
I commend to you the importance of praying with faith. We should endeavor to believe that our prayers are heard, and that if we ask things according to God’s will, we shall be answered. This is the plain command of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24). Faith is to prayer what the feather is to the arrow: without it prayer will not hit the mark. We should cultivate the habit of pleading promises in our prayers.
We should take with us some promise, and say, “Lord, here is thine own word pledged. Do for us as thou hast said.” This was the habit of Jacob and Moses and David. The 119th Psalm is full of things asked, “according to thy word.”
Above all, we should cultivate the habit of expecting answers to our prayers. We should do like the merchant who sends his ships to sea. We should not be satisfied, unless we see some return. Alas, there are few points on which Christians come short so much as this. The church at Jerusalem made prayer without ceasing for Peter in prison; but when the prayer was answered, they would hardly believe it (Acts 12:15). It is a solemn saying of Traill, “There is no surer mark of trifling in prayer, than when men are careless what they get by prayer.”
I commend to you the importance of boldness in prayer. There is an unseemly familiarity in some men’s prayers which I cannot praise. But there is such a thing as a holy boldness, which is exceedingly to be desired.
I mean such boldness as that of Moses, when he pleads with God not to destroy Israel. “Wherefore,” says he, “should the Egyptians speak and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains? Turn from thy fierce anger” (Exodus 32:12). I mean such boldness as that of Joshua, when the children of Israel were defeated before men of Ai: “What,” says he, “wilt thou do unto thy great name?” (Joshua 7:9).
This is the boldness for which Luther was remarkable. One who heard him praying said, “What a spirit, what a confidence was in his very expressions. With such a reverence he sued, as one begging of God, and yet with such hope and assurance, as if he spoke with a loving father or friend.” This is the boldness which distinguished Bruce, a great Scotch divine of the seventeenth century. His prayers were said to be “like bolts shot up into heaven.” Here also I fear we sadly come short. We do not sufficiently realize the believer’s privileges. We do not plead as often as we might, “Lord, are we not thine own people? Is it not for thy glory that we should be sanctified? Is it not for thy honor that thy gospel should increase?”
I commend to you the importance of fullness in prayer. I do not forget that our Lord warns us against the example of the Pharisees, who, for pretense, made long prayers; and commands us when we pray not to use vain repetitions.
But I cannot forget on the other hand, that he has given his own sanction to large and long devotions by continuing all night in prayer to God. At all events we are not likely in this day to err on the side of praying too much. Might it not rather be feared that many believers in this generation pray too little? Is not the actual amount of time that many Christians give to prayer, in the aggregate, very small? I am afraid these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily. I am afraid the private devotions of many are most painfully scanty and limited; just enough to prove they are alive and no more.
They really seem to want little from God.
They seem to have little to confess,
little to ask for,
and little to thank him for.
Alas, this is altogether wrong. Nothing is more common than to hear believers complaining that they do not get on. They tell us that they do not grow in grace as they could desire. Is it not rather to be suspected that many have quite as much grace as they ask for? Is it not the true account of many, that they have little, because they ask little?
The cause of their weakness is to be found in their own stunted, dwarfish, clipped, contracted, hurried, narrow, diminutive prayers. They have not, because they ask not. Oh, we are not straitened in Christ, but in ourselves. The Lord says, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” But we are like the King of Israel who smote on the ground thrice and stayed, when he ought to have smitten five or six times.