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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."—Matt. 7:7,8
Basics of Prayer
So much is said and written on the subject of real prayer that it seems impossible to say anything new. Yet there is the danger in this, as in other vital subjects, of overlooking elementary truths. Many doubtless attempt to apply the advanced lessons and experiences in the Christian life without having ﬁrst learned the elementary ones; and failure and discouragement are the result.
Christian experience is a school that takes the beginner in the ﬁrst grade and leads him up through primary school, high school, college, and university. The Bible is the textbook, and it contains the lessons for every grade. Much of the failure comes from primary students either having no ambition to advance beyond their present attainment or endeavoring to master the lessons in the college grades before having laid a good foundation in the lower grades.
To make the illustration concrete: Moses was called of God to do a great work, which required a Christian experience corresponding to a university education. He attempted it while yet in the primary grades, and failed. Forty years in the wilderness solitudes caring for the sheep .was the university course in humility, meekness, care for the weak, and communion with the unseen but ever-present God, which ﬁtted him for as great responsibilities as were ever borne by man.
It is of the utmost importance to learn the simple essentials necessary to an ever-deepening and enlarging prayer life. How often we hear the remark from some discouraged church member: “My prayers do not seem to do any good; I feel as if they do not go higher than my head.” The sad part of it is that they are probably right, for there is no little truth in the old fable of the church building, which, on being torn down, revealed a great quantity of prayers up under the rafters-prayers which had never got through the roof.
One who studies the Scriptures on the subject must conclude that no man will be saved who does not pray. On the other hand, if he listens to the prayers of others, he can hardly fail to observe that many reveal an ignorance of the simplest principles laid down in the Scriptures as the basis of prevailing prayer. We shall take up in order and examine some of these principles.
1. Renounce sin. The only prayer an unregenerate man can consistently pray is a prayer for pardon. When uttered in sincerity, “God be merciful to me a sinner” will always reach the ear of our Father in heaven. But that prayer, and every other petition, must come from a heart ready and willing to acknowledge and put away every known sin.
“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.” “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” Ps. 66: 18; Isa. 59: 2; Prov. 28: 9.
God makes no promise to hear or to answer the prayer of one who cherishes evil or refuses forever to renounce every known sin.
2. Obey God. Nor is it enough to turn from sin. That is only the negative side of God’s requirement. To see the true hatefulness of sin and long to be delivered from it means to see the true desirability of holiness, to hunger and thirst for it, and to choose to walk therein. Then God can safely answer prayer.
“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: 22.
3. Forgive. The disciples asked Christ to teach them to pray. In the model prayer He gave them there are three simple, deﬁnite petitions:
Give us this day our daily bread. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The only comment Christ made regarding this prayer is: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matt. 6:12; Mark 11:25,26
4. Right motive. “You have not because you do not pray; or pray and, yet do not receive, because you pray wrongly, your object being to waste what you get on some pleasure or another.” James 4: 3, Weymouth’s Translation.
All selﬁshness in the heart tends to ruin and death; and therefore God could not consistently respond to a prayer whose motive is selﬁsh. If one’s petitions are not granted, one may well examine with the greatest care the motives that prompt them, for prayers made in harmony with God’s will cannot fail of fulﬁllment.
5. Ask. These scriptures make it very plain that we are to make requests of God.
“Ask, and it shall be given you.” “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.” Matt. 7: 7; 21: 22; John 16: 23. In some respects our receiving is deﬁnitely limited by our asking. “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” James 4:2.
6. Ask in faith. It is also made plain that there is a right way and a wrong way to ask.
‘’But let him ask in faith and have no doubts; for he who has doubts is like the surge of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed into spray. A person of that sort must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1: 6, 7, Weymouth’s Translation. To ask in faith is not to expect the answer but to accept the answer. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Mark 2: 24.
Submit to God
7. Ask according to God’s will. “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.” 1 John 5: 14.
In the Scriptures God has expressed His will regarding many things, and has given deﬁnite promises, which we may claim with no reservation when we have met the conditions. But when our requests are not covered by a deﬁnite promise, we are to ask Him to grant our petition or withhold the answer as He may see best. This is in harmony with the prayer of our Saviour: “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.” Luke 22: 42.
8. Ask in the name of Jesus. Here is doubtless the supreme condition of great achievement in prayer.
“Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:23,24
Not that the mere form, or saying the words, “in the name of Jesus,” has any particular virtue. It is the clear realization that we deserve nothing, but that Christ, who stands at the right hand of the throne of God as our Mediator and representative, merits everything, and He has given us permission and urges us to use His name.
9. Be deﬁnite. How many wandering, indeﬁnite, pointless prayers there are! We can never hope to prevail, to remove mountains, to achieve the mighty victories of faith, by repeating a prayer that has become a mere form or that lacks a deﬁnite aim.
“What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Real prayer expresses the most intense desire and longing of the soul. Mark 11:24
10. Persevere. It is the preceding element of deﬁniteness, leading to the holy determination to realize God’s promises, which takes no denial. No one persists long in wandering petitions which have back of them no intense, passionate desire and purpose.
In Luke11: 5-8 Christ gives a striking illustration of the importance of perseverance on behalf of others, following the story with the threefold injunction, “I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall ﬁnd: knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And in Luke 18: 1-8 is given a similar lesson emphasizing the necessity of perseverance in prayer for one’s own personal needs.
There is much more to learn about successful prayer, but these ten suggestions will help one who puts them into practice to ﬁnd the way into the life of real prayer.
Australian Signs of the Times, September 12, 1932
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