The Still Hour
Ch. 10: Continuance in Prayer
Key Thought: "no large growth in holiness was ever gained, by one who did not take time to be often, and long, alone with God. This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
Could Ye Not Watch With Me One Hour? Matt. 26: 40.
Continuance in Prayer
We lose many prayers for the want of two things which support each other, - speciﬁcness of object, and intensity of desire. One’s interest in such an exercise as this, is necessarily dependent on the coexistence of these qualities.
We are often in a religious hurry in our devotions. How much time do we spend in them daily? Can it not be easily reckoned in minutes?
Probably, many of us would be discomposed by an arithmetical estimate of our communion with God. It might reveal to us the secret of much of our apathy in prayer, because it might disclose how little we desire to be alone with God. We might learn from such a computation, that Augustine’s idea of prayer, as ‘the measure of love,’ is not very flattering to us. We do not grudge time given to a privilege which we love.
Haste in Prayer
Why should we expect to enjoy a duty which we have no time to enjoy? Do we enjoy anything which we do in a hurry? Enjoyment presupposes something of mental leisure. How often do we say of a pleasure, ‘I wanted more time to enjoy it to my heart’s content.’ But of all employments, none can be more dependent on ‘time for it,’ than stated prayer.
Fugitive acts of devotion, to be of high value, must be sustained by other approaches to God, deliberate, premeditated, regular, which shall be to those acts like the abutments of a suspension-bridge to the arch that spans the stream. It will never do, to be in desperate haste in laying such foundations. This thoughtful duty, this spiritual privilege, this foretaste of incorporeal life, this communion with an unseen Friend, — can you expect to enjoy it as you would a repartee or a dance?
In the royal gallery at Dresden, may be often seen a group of connoisseurs, who sit for hours before a single painting. They walk around those halls and corridors, whose walls are so eloquent with the triumphs of Art, and they come back and pause again before that one masterpiece. They go away, and return the next day, and again the first and the last object which charms their eye, is that canvas on which Genius has pictured more of beauty than on any other in the world. Weeks are spent every year, in the study of that one work of Raphael. Lovers of Art cannot enjoy it to the full, till they have made it their own, by prolonged communion with its matchless forms. Says one of its admirers: ‘I could spend an hour every day, for years, upon that assemblage of human, and angelic, and divine ideals, and on the last day of the last year discover some new beauty, and a new joy.’
I have seen men standing in the street, before an engraving of that gem of the Dresden Gallery, a longer time than a good man will sometimes devote to his evening prayer. Yet, what thoughts, what ideals of grace, can Genius express in a painting, demanding time for their appreciation and enjoyment, like those great thoughts of God, of Heaven, of Eternity, which the soul needs to conceive vividly, in order to know the blessedness of prayer? What conceptions can Art imagine of the ‘Divine Child,’ which can equal in spirituality, the thoughts which one needs to entertain of Christ, in the ‘prayer of faith’? "We cannot hope, commonly, to spring into possession of such thoughts, in the twinkling of an eye.
Prayer as Communion
Prayer, as we have observed, is an act of friendship also, It is intercourse; an act of trust, of hope, of love, all prompting to interchange between the soul and an Infinite, Spiritual, Invisible Friend. We all need prayer, if for no other purpose, for this which we so aptly call communion with God.
Robert Burns lamented that he could not ‘pour out his inmost soul without reserve to any human being, without danger of one day repenting his confidence.’ He commenced a journal of his own mental history, ‘as a substitute,’ he said, ‘for a confidential friend.’ He would have something ‘which he could record himself in,’ without peril of having his confidence betrayed. We all need prayer, as a means of such intercourse with a Friend who will be true to us.
Zinzendorf, when a boy, used to write little notes to the Saviour, and throw them out of the window, hoping that He would find them. Later in life, so strong was his faith in the friendship of Christ, and of his own need of that friendship as a daily solace, that once, when travelling, he sent back his companion, that he might converse more freely with ‘the Lord,’ with whom he spoke audibly.
So do we all need friendly converse with Him whom our souls love. ‘He alone is a thousand companions; he alone is a world of friends. That man never knew what it was to be familiar with God, who complains of the want of friends while God is with him.’
But who can originate such conceptions of God, as are necessary to the enjoyment of His friendship in prayer, without time for thought, for self-collection, for concentration of soul? Momentary devotion, if genuine, must presuppose the habit of studious prayer.
We have portraits of deceased friends, before which we love to sit by the hour, striving to recall the living features which are so feebly portrayed there, and to resuscitate the history of expression on those countenances in life, which no Art could fix on canvas, and to which our own memory is becoming treacherous. Have we never struggled with the twilight, to make those loved but flitting expressions live again?
Yet, have we any more vivid or indelible conceptions of God, ‘whom no man hath seen at any time’? How can we expect to enjoy a sense of the friendship of a present Saviour, if we never linger in the twilight, to freshen and intensify our thoughts of Him? Does He never speak to us that plaintive reproof, ‘Could ye not watch with me one hour?’
A very busy Christian says, ‘This is a cloistral piety which demands much time for secret prayer.’ No, not that. But, on the other hand, it is not a piety which, in its recoil from the monastery, is heedless of the look of business in devotion, which is expressed by the words, ‘Enter into thy closet and shut thy door;’ and of the scriptural stress upon perseverance in prayer; and of the inspired idea of fasting and prayer; and of the historic argument from the example of eminent saints, both of Biblical, and of later times.
Continuance in Prayer
Who ever knew an eminently holy man, who did not spend much of his time in prayer? Did ever a man exhibit much of the spirit of prayer, who did not devote much time to his closet? Whitefield says, ‘Whole days and weeks have I spent prostrate on the ground, in silent or vocal prayer.’ ‘Fall upon your knees, and grow there,’ is the language of another, who knew that whereof he affirmed. These, in spirit, are but specimens of a feature in the experience of eminent piety, which is absolutely uniform.
It has been said, that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained, by one who did not take time to be often, and long, alone with God. This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. Not otherwise can the great central idea of God enter into a man’s life, and dwell there supreme.
‘Holiness,’ says Dr. Cudworth, ‘is something of God, wherever it is. It is an efflux from Him, and lives in Him; as the sunbeams, although they gild this lower world, and spread their golden wings over us, yet they are not so much here where they shine, as in the sun from whence they flow.’ Such a possession of the idea of God, we never gain but from still hours. For such holy joy in God, we must have much of the spirit of Him who rose up a great while before day, and departed into a solitary place and prayed, and who continued all night in prayer; ‘the morning star finding Him where the evening star had left Him.’