What Profit Should We Have if We Pray Unto Him? Job 21 :15.
The great majority of us have little faith in prayer. This is one of those causes which may produce a habit of mind in devotion, resembling that of impenitent prayer, and yet distinguishable from it, and coexistent, often, with some degree of genuine piety. Christians often have little faith in prayer as a power in real life. They do not embrace cordially, in feeling as well as in theory, the truth which underlies the entire scriptural conception and illustration of prayer, that it is literally, actually, positively, effectually, a means of power.
Singular as it may appear, the fact is indisputable, that Christian practice is often at a discount by the side of heathen habits of devotion. Heathen prayer, whatever else it is or is not, is a reality in the heathen idea. A pagan suppliant has faith in prayer, as he understands it. Groveling as his notion of it is, such as it is, he means it. He trusts it as an instrument of power. He expects to accomplish something by praying.
When Ethelred, the Saxon king of Northumberland, invaded Wales, and was about to give battle to the Britons, he observed near the enemy a host of unarmed men. He inquired who they were, and what they were doing. He was told that they were monks of Bangor, praying for the success of their countrymen. 'Then,' said the heathen prince, ' they have begun the fight against us; attack them first.'
So any unperverted mind will conceive of the scriptural idea of prayer, as that of one of the most downright, sturdy realities in the universe. Right in the heart of God's plan of government it is lodged as a power. Amidst the conflicts which are going on in the evolution of that plan, it stands as a power. Into all the intricacies of Divine working and the mysteries of Divine decree, it reaches out silently as a power. In the mind of God, we may be assured, the conception of prayer is no fiction, whatever man may think of it.
It has, and God has determined that it should have a positive and an appreciable influence in directing the course of a human life. It is, and God has purposed that it should be, a link of connection between human mind and Divine mind, by which, through His infinite condescension, we may actually move His will. It is, and God has decreed that it should be, a power in the universe, as distinct, as real, as natural, and as uniform, as the power of gravitation, or of light, or of electricity. A man may use it, as trustingly and as soberly as he would use either of these. It is as truly the dictate of good sense, that a man should expect to achieve something by praying, as it is that he should expect to achieve something by a telescope, or the mariner's compass, or the electric telegraph.
This intense practicalness characterizes the scriptural ideal of prayer. The Scriptures make it a reality, and not a reverie. They never bury it in the notion of a poetic or philosophic contemplation of God. They do not merge it in the mental fiction of prayer by action in any other or all other duties of life. They have not concealed the fact of prayer beneath the mystery of prayer. The scriptural utterances on the subject of prayer admit of no such reduction of tone, and confusion of sense, as men often put forth in imitating them. Up, on the level of inspired thought, prayer is Prayer — a distinct, unique, elemental power in the spiritual universe, as pervasive and as constant as the great occult powers of Nature.
The want of trust in this scriptural ideal of prayer, often neutralizes it, even in the experience of a Christian. The result cannot be otherwise. It lies in the nature of mind.
Observe, for a moment, the philosophy of this. Mind is so made, that it needs the hope of gaining an object, as an inducement to effort. Even so simple an effort as that involved in the utterance of desire, no man will make persistently, with no hope of gaining an object. Despair of an object is speechless. So, if you wish to enjoy prayer, you must first form to yourself such a theory of prayer, — or, if you do not consciously form it, you must have it, — and then you must cherish such trust in it, as a reality, that you shall feel the force of an object in prayer. No mind can feel that it has an object in praying, except in such degree as it appreciates the scriptural view of prayer as a genuine thing.
Our conviction on this point must be as definite and as fixed as our trust in the evidence of our senses. It must become as natural to us to obey one as the other. If we suffer our faith to drop down from the lofty conception of prayer as having a lodgment in the very counsels of God, by which the universe is swayed, the plain practicalness of prayer as the Scriptures teach it, and as prophets and apostles and our Lord himself performed it, drops proportionately; and in that proportion, our motive to prayer dwindles. Of necessity, then, our devotions become spiritless. We cannot obey such faith in prayer, with any more heart than a man who is afflicted with double vision can feel in obeying the evidence of his eyes. Our supplications cannot, under the impulse of such a faith, go, as one has expressed it, 'in a right line to God.' They become circuitous, timid, heartless. They may so degenerate as to be offensive, 'like the reekings of the Dead Sea.'