From Alone With God
"Lord, teach us to pray." Luke 11: 1.
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God answers prayer.
Sometimes, when hearts are weak,
He gives the very gifts believers seek.
But often faith must learn a deeper rest,
And trust God's silence when He does not speak;
For He whose name is Love will send the best.
Stars may burn out, nor mountain walls endure;
But God is true. His promises are sure
To those who seek.
THE young Christian who would live the life that counts, who would be equipped for successful service, must not only spend much time alone with God in prayer, but must make the most of this supreme privilege. One writer says, "The stigma upon Christian life is the unholy content without any distinct experiences of answers to prayer."
In all business relations, one must meet the conditions, in order to reap the results. The same law obtains in prayer. "Most prayers are not answered, and yet God fulfills His promises. The cause of this recognized failure, then, must be in the failure to fulfill conditions." The spirit of Christ must enter into every true prayer, and true prayer is always answered.
"If our prayers are not answered," declares D. L. Moody, "it may be that we have prayed without the right motive, or that we have not prayed according to the Scriptures." Let us see what the elements of true prayer are as revealed in the Bible and in the experiences of others. If you feel that prayer is a failure, perhaps it is because some of these elements are missing in your own petitions.
Do you adore the God upon whom you call for daily blessings? The centurion and the Syrophoenician woman recognized His superiority. Someone has said truly, "If we know Christ, we cannot be proud; if we know ourselves, we must be humble."
How much thanksgiving do you mix in with your prayers? Paul says, "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." If Christians would spend more time thanking God for His wonderful goodness to the children of men, they would have little time or disposition to murmur or complain.
The old farmer kneeling at a soldier's grave near Nashville leaves us a good example of gratitude. Someone asked him: "Why do you pay so much attention to this grave? Was your son buried there?" "No," said he. "During the war, my family was all sick. I knew not how to leave them. I was drafted. One of my neighbors came over and said: 'I will go for you; I have no family.' He went. He was wounded in the Chickamauga. He was carried to the hospital, and there he died. And, sir, I have come a great many miles that I might write over his grave these words: He died for me."
The Saviour died for you and me. After His resurrection, He went to heaven to plead the sinner's case. Every day, He is pleading our cases before the heavenly court; every day, He is sending His angels to guard us, and the Holy Spirit to teach us; every day, He is showering upon us the manifold blessings of life. Surely our hearts should overflow with gratitude, our daily lives should be a constant expression of genuine appreciation of His wonderful goodness, and our prayers should be saturated with praise and thanksgiving.
Do you confess to Him your sins in the spirit of true penitence? Daniel, the greatly beloved, classed himself with his people, and seven times, in his prayer, he confessed offenses of which they were guilty. Notice the prayers of Job, David, the publican. These were all uttered in the spirit of humility. Not so with Pharaoh's prayer that the plagues be stayed, or the Pharisee's proud announcement that he was not like other men. Thomas Fuller says that man's owning his own weakness is the only stock onto which God can graft the grace of His assistance. Humility and confession must characterize the prayer that does not fail. God has promised to answer the prayer of the humble. 2 Chronicles 7: 14.
So far as lies in your power, have you tried to make restitution wherever you have wronged others? Zacchaeus did. A writer commenting on Zacchaeus, gives the following illustration of restitution: "Sultan Selymus could tell his counselor Pyrrhus, who persuaded him to bestow the great wealth he had taken from the Persian merchants upon some notable for the relief of the poor, that God hates robbery for burnt offering. The dying Turk commanded it rather be restored to the right owners, which was done accordingly, to the great shame of many Christians, who mind nothing less than they do restitution."
Did you ever ask God to forgive you for an offense while you were harboring in your heart a grudge against someone else? And did you expect Him to be so inconsistent as to do it?
"I believe," says D. L. Moody, in speaking on this subject, "this is keeping more people from having power with God than any other thing; they are not willing to cultivate a spirit of forgiveness . . . . When you go into the door of God's kingdom, you go in through the door of forgiveness. I never knew a man to get a blessing into his own soul if he was not willing to forgive others." If we pray according to His will, we will pray in a forgiving spirit, with a heart that harbors no grudge; for He has taught us to say, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." The prayer of one who has an unforgiving heart is bound to fail.
We are told by James to "ask in faith, nothing wavering;" for says he of the one who wavers "Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord." Mere words do not constitute prayer. A picture of a fire is not a fire; a description of Niagara Falls is not the falls. So-called "prayer," says Bishop Hall, "if it is only dribbled from careless lips, falls at our feet." To form words into prayer — into the effectual prayer that pierces the clouds above, and reaches the throne of heaven — takes faith; but every child of God may pray the "effectual prayer that availeth much." Prayer without faith is like a check without a signature. It is worthless; for the signature below is what gives a check value. But the prayer of faith has on it the signature of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is good for any amount when presented at the bank of heaven. See the promise given in Philippians 4: 19.
A little mountain village had been amply and regularly supplied with water from a lake above; but one morning, the housewives opened the faucets in vain. There was a little noise, but no water. The pipe connecting the village with the lake was carefully examined. No break was found; nothing seemed wrong; yet no water came, and the villagers despaired. Some moved away. But one day, one of the town officials received a note. It said: "Ef you'll jes pull de plug out from de top, you’ll get all de water you want." The plug was removed, there was an abundance of water, and prosperity returned to the half-famished, half-deserted village.
How many Christians are robbing themselves of heaven's blessings in just this way! They pray; but the channel through which the blessing must come is plugged with unbelief. Asking and not believing is like holding a well-corked bottle under a faucet to be filled. Read these words from The Desire of Ages: "It is faith that connects us with heaven and brings us strength for coping with the powers of darkness. In Christ, God has provided means for subduing every sinful trait, and resisting every temptation, however strong."
And again, from the same author we read this promise: "The grace of God comes to the soul through the channel of living faith, and that faith it is in our power to exercise. True faith lays hold of and claims the promised blessing before it is realized and felt. We must send up our petitions in faith within the second veil, and let faith take hold of the promised blessing and claim it as ours."
Faith brings the resources of heaven within reach of the humblest petitioner; and the sad thing is that there seems to be so little of it among Christians. Most Christians exercise faith freely in temporal things. For instance, you go to a railroad ticket office. You buy a ticket, and hand over to the agent your money in exchange for a piece of paper that will take you to your destination. You do not fret and worry, and keep wondering if it will take you there. You have confidence in the railroad company. You go to the dining room, and there unbelief does not seem to trouble you; you eat, definitely expecting your food to nourish you. What must God think of us when we look up to our never-failing Friend with distrust and unbelief stamped upon our hearts.
When Christ came down from the mount of transfiguration, and the perplexed father cried to him, "If Thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us," Jesus replied, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. That is exactly what He says to you and to me. And shall we not cry, with that Galilean petitioner, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief"?
As Cortland Myers says; "If we could only look behind the curtains, we would be able to trace the streams of power back to their source in the heavens. We would discern that the very instant the prayer of faith was uttered in the secret silence of the lonely soul, there was something taking place at the other end of the line, and in other lines, and in other parts of the world."
This absolute faith in God that is needed to carry our petitions to the courtroom above, is a most wonderful transformer of human life. It lifts one above worry. It gives to life a buoyancy that is a tonic to others. It inspires others just as the pipers did the Highlanders. History tells us that during the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington discovered that the valiant Forty-second Highlanders were wavering. Immediately the pipers were called into the firing line. When those Scotch heroes heard the first strains of that martial music, they rallied; the lines were quickly reformed; and with a wild cheer, they swept the field before them. Even so our faith should help to inspire others to be victorious in the battle of life.
Then, too, absolute faith in God, in His personal care, gives that wonderful peace which pleasure, prosperity, fame, or anything else cannot give; neither can sorrow, poverty, nor trouble take it away. The faith of Paul and Silas had ripened into perfect trustfulness as they sang praises to God in the prison dungeon, with iron shackles on their feet. Truly, as Isaiah says, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee."
The promise is, "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 "Faith must have for its companion, obedience. Faith never walks alone the path that leads to the heart of God." Rather, obedience is the invariable fruit of faith. It is the "obedience of faith."
Several years ago, I attended the International Student Volunteer Convention. There were present, at the first meeting, about five thousand student delegates from the colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. John R. Mott, in his opening address, spoke of the importance of that great gathering. One sentence in that address, I think I never shall forget: "The most obscure delegate in this great convention may hinder us from getting the appointed blessing."
Even so, the most obscure known sin hidden in the heart of any Christian will hinder him from living the life that counts. The terrible thing about little pet sins is that they do not stay little; they are bound to grow, and ruin the life. Someone has said, "Every indulgence is a waste pipe by which we let life run into the gutter." The heart that harbors known sin cannot get into close touch with God, for sin is an insulator. It breaks one's connection with heaven. He who would pray well must endeavor to live well. There is but one prayer for the heart with known sin in it, and that is, "Cleanse me." Clinging to sin makes praying, effectual praying, impossible, for "praying is working with God; sin is working against God."
What would you think if a friend, after repeatedly urging you to call, should lock the door each time you came near, and refuse to let you in? Very soon you would say, "Well, he doesn't want me to come, even though he keeps on asking me." That is just the way some of us treat the Holy Spirit. We want His power in our lives, but we are unwilling to give Him the right of way. We must learn that we cannot use the Holy Spirit; we are to let Him use us.
God can use any kind of vessel, large or small, metal or wooden; but it must be clean; so, naturally, the first thing the Holy Spirit does when He is called to enter a human heart, is to begin to clean up the life. He points out wrong things in it. He puts His finger on that pet sin, and says, "This must be cast out." If a person had a malignant cancer, and the surgeon should say, "The only thing that will save your life is an operation," you would consider the patient extremely foolish to refuse to have the operation. Yet when the divine Surgeon comes to cut cherished sins out of our lives in order to save us, how many individuals say: "Oh, I never can give those up! It seems to me I have to give up so much more than anyone else!"
Yes, it will seem so. Living Waters says: "If God has called you to be really like Jesus, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put upon you such demands of obedience, that you will not be able to follow other people, or measure yourself by other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let other good people do things which He will not let you do. Settle it forever, then, that you are to deal directly with God, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that He does not seem to use with others. Now when you are so possessed with the living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven."
"Faith has no desire to have its own will, when that will is not in accordance with the mind of God," says Spurgeon; "for such a desire would at bottom be the impulse of an unbelief which did not rely on God's judgment as our best guide. Faith knows that God's will is the highest good, and that anything which is beneficial to us will be granted to our petitions." One day, a woman who was very sick was asked whether she desired to live or to die. She replied, 'Which God Pleases." "But," asked another, "if God should refer it to you, which would you choose?" "Truly," came back the answer, "I would refer it to Him again." Fénelon, too, was anxious to obey the divine will; for he prayed, "Oh God, take my heart, for I cannot give it; and when Thou hast it, keep it, for I cannot keep it for Thee; and save me in spite of myself."
Every young Christian should pray, with Fénelon to be made willing to obey His will in all things—always to say, "Thy will be done." If obedience brings suffering and sacrifice, remember, in the words of Dyer: "Afflictions are blessings to us when we can bless God for afflictions. Suffering has kept many from sinning. God had one Son without sin, but He never had any without sorrow. Fiery trials make golden Christians; sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions.
Rutherford exclaimed: "Oh, what owe I to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus, who hath now let me see how good the wheat of Christ is that goeth through His mill and His oven to be made into bread for His own table! Grace tried is better than grace; it is more than grace; it is glory in its infancy. Oh, how little getteth Christ of us, but that which He winneth with much toil and pains! And how soon would faith freeze without a cross! . . . Why should I start at the plow of my Lord, which maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know that He is no idle husbandman; He purposeth a crop."
If you are determined to be an "extraordinary Christian," and be able to prevail with God in prayer, and with men in service, you must not grieve the Holy Spirit, but give Him the right of way. The hands that are lifted up in prayer for power must be clean; the arms that are stretched out to save men must not be broken. David exclaimed , "The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath He recompensed me." 2 Samuel 22:21. Cortland Myers puts it in this way: "The name of Jesus must be the ruling power in life in order to be the ruling power in prayer." This sounds almost like slavery; but it is not, in the harsh sense of the term; it is slipping into the care and guidance of Him who loved us so much that He died to save us. And we may be sure that He will ask us to give up only those things which hurt or hinder our life, and —
"Sometime, when all life's lessons we have learned,
And sun and stars forevermore have set,
The things which our weak judgments here have spurned,
The things o'er which we've grieved with lashes wet,
Will flash before us, out of earth's dark night,
As stars shine most in deepest tints of blue,
And we shall see how all God's plans were right,
And what we deemed reproof was love most true."
A young minister came to Spurgeon lamenting the fact that so few were led to Christ under his preaching. "But," said Spurgeon, "you don't expect someone to accept Christ in every service, do you?" "Oh, no, of course not," said the young man. "Well," continued Spurgeon, "that is just why you are failing." We must not only "attempt great things for God," and "expect great things from Him," but we must be definite in our requests. The majority of our prayers are so general that we do not know whether they are answered or not.
Dr. J. G. K. McClure tells of an invalid woman residing in Springfield, Illinois, who had been bedridden for seventeen years, and was almost helpless. For many years, she had been praying to God in a general way to save souls. One day she asked for pen and paper. She wrote down the names of fifty-seven acquaintances. She prayed for each of them by name three times a day. She wrote them letters of her interest in them. She also wrote to Christian friends in whom she knew these persons had confidence, and urged them to speak to these persons about their soul's welfare, and do their best to persuade them to repent and believe. She had unquestioning faith in God. In her humble, earnest dependence upon Him, she thus interceded for the unsaved. In time, every one of these fifty-seven persons avowed faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour.
Perhaps you are familiar with the story of the boy soul winner in England. After this little boy had passed away, they opened a small box he had kept with other treasures, and found in it a list of forty boys. The first one was his seatmate at the time he went to the pastor and asked for something to do for the Lord, and the last name was Neddie Smith. And every boy on the list was converted. He had taken them one by one in faith and prayer, giving them books to read, showing them texts of Scripture, praying with and for them till the Lord awakened them, and the whole forty had been converted through his unceasing efforts.
Shortly after the Civil War, D. L. Moody was holding meetings in one of the southern cities. One night, a man came to him weeping and trembling. Mr. Moody says: "I thought something I had said had aroused him, and I began to question him as to what it was. I found, however, he could not tell a word of what I had said. 'My friend,' said I, 'what is the trouble?' He put his hand in his pocket, and brought out a letter, all soiled, as if his tears had fallen on it. 'I got that letter,' he said, 'from my sister last night. She tells me that every night, she goes to her knees and prays to God for me. I think I am the worst man in all the Army of the Cumberland. I have been perfectly wretched today.' That sister was six hundred miles away; yet she had brought her brother to his knees in answer to her earnest, believing prayer. It was a hard case; but God beard and answered the prayer of this godly sister, so that the man was as clay in the bands of the potter. He was soon brought into the kingdom of God — all through his sister's prayers."
Stop a moment and look upon your own prayers. How many definite things are you pleading with God for, day after day? Notice some of the wonderful prayers in the Bible: Jacob wrestled with God all night pleading with Him to soften Esau's heart, and the brothers were reconciled. Genesis 32: 24-30. Elijah asked that the heavens be closed, and for three and one-half years no rain fell. James 5:17. Elisha prayed for the dead child and it was restored to life. 2 Kings 4: 33-35. Jehoahaz prayed that Israel be freed from the yoke of Syria; God heard his cry and sent a deliverer. 2 Kings 13:4. Hezekiah's prayer for deliverance from Sennacherib's army was answered. 2 Kings 19:20. Jabez made a definite request of God and the record says it was granted. I Chronicles 4: 10. Asa's prayer brought deliverance from the Ethiopians. 2 Chronicles 14: 11, 12. Read Jehoshaphat's prayer recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:6-17
The prayers of Manasseh, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, David, Jeremiah, Daniel, the blind man, the thief on the cross, Cornelius, and many others, show the importance of being definite in our petitions. In fact, how do you know that your prayers are not answered, if you are making no definite requests?
The soul-winning evangelist, D. L. Moody, says: "Our prayers go all around the world without anything definite being asked for. We do not expect anything. Many people would be greatly surprised if God did answer their prayers." Do not forget that while not all definite prayers are answered, all answered prayers on record were definite.
The world is strewn with men and women who are failures because they lacked perseverance in pursuit of some chosen goal. Much money has been wasted in good oil fields and in mines rich in ore, because the prospectors gave up too soon. Cyrus W. Field refused to give up, and he brought two continents within speaking distance.
Regardless of all obstacles, and even though the crew threatened to kill him, Columbus each day wrote in his diary, "And this day we sailed westward, as our course was." His perseverance brought to Europe's millions a new world of opportunity. For several months, Edison toiled to get his phonograph to say "Specia." It persisted in saying "Pecia." But finally he conquered.
Perseverance always wins. The men and women who have prayed without ceasing, not only have had their prayers answered, but have enriched the world and lifted it spiritually. George Müller prayed for the conversion of three friends; and he said he knew they would become Christians, for he was going to pray till they did. Livingstone died upon his knees, and he opened a continent for the gospel. "Over a hundred years ago, a number of students in Yale University rose each morning before daybreak, and through the long winter months, pleaded with God for a revival. The revival came, and it is said that every student in the university surrendered to Christ."
A Christian woman in England had an unconverted husband. She was anxious that he should accept Christ as his personal Saviour. Her husband had forbidden her to speak to him on the subject; but she knew she could take his case to God, and she did. She said to herself, I am going to pray for his conversion every day for twelve months." Every day, she went alone with God, and pleaded for the conversion of her husband. When the year was up, he had not yielded, neither did he show any signs of being under conviction. She said, "I am going to keep on six months longer." She did. Still there was no change. Should she give up? "No," she said, I will pray for him as long as God gives me breath." That very day, the answer came. Her husband came home to dinner, but instead of eating, he retired to his room. After she had waited a long time for him, she went to learn what detained him. There he was on his knees, pleading with God for mercy. He was thoroughly converted, and became a splendid Christian worker. This woman sought and found; asked and received; knocked, and it was opened unto her; for she knocked until the answer came. Let every young Christian be equally persevering in asking God for divine blessings.
It will be well to keep a written prayer list, and check off each item as God answers your request concerning it. Let us test our petitions by His word, subject them to His will, and then keep them spread before Him until the answer comes. And let us know for ourselves that "that is the sublimest moment in human life which holds on by faith to God's promises with a deathless grip."
Sometimes God answers immediately. Daniel's prayer was answered at once. Daniel 7: 19,23. Sometimes the answer is delayed; and then we may be sure the delay is for our best good. The earnest, sincere prayer is never unheard, and never left unanswered; for "shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him?" Luke 18:7. Sometimes God's answer is different from what the petitioner expects. Three times, Paul prayed for deliverance from a thorn in the flesh; but God said, "No," and Paul then gloried in that refusal. God gave him something better than he asked for. Often God's answer is far beyond the expectation of His praying child.
"Call unto Me," is God's message to you, "and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." Jeremiah 33:3. David says, "I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry." Psalm 40: 1
And He will answer you, if you too wait patiently for Him in the spirit of persevering prayer.
Pray without ceasing. Christ did. He lived in the atmosphere of prayer. Never give up. Christ wants to enter your heart, to repeat His victory in your life, His miracles in your work; but you must keep the connection unbroken.
Lastly, our prayers must always be made in the spirit of "Thy will be done." Sometimes we spread before God His promises, but cover up the conditions on which they are fulfilled. Isaiah tells us, "The Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear." This is where we often stop, and say, "God must fulfill this promise." But the prophet does not stop there. He adds this strong negative clause: "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God; and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear." David said, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
Where there is a lack of submission, prayers are very liable to be selfish. We ask for blessings not for His glory, not for the good of others, but for selfish gratification. Is there not a lesson for us in the experience of Job? We read that "the Lord turned the captivity of job, when he prayed for his friends."
But never should the Christian make the phrase "Thy will be done" an excuse, for failing to persevere in prayer, for failing to be victorious in daily life, for failing to have power for Christian service. Do not say, "I asked God to make this weak point in my character strong, but He has not, so I must say, Thy will be done;" or, "I asked God to make me a soul winner, still I just cannot do personal work, so I must say, 'Thy will be done.' Never cover your failures with "Thy will be done."
Sometimes we do not realize that we do this; for we are living in an Athenian age, when many young Christians are spending their days telling and hearing news, and failing to take time to become acquainted with their own hearts. We all need to pray, with David: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23
The words of Anna Shipton bring a message of devotion to every seeking Christian. We can have faith in the heavenly Father; His power is omnipotent.
Have faith in God; for He who reigns on high
Hath borne thy grief, and hears the suppliant's sigh.
Still to His arms, thine only refuge, fly.
Have faith in God.
Fear not to call on Him, O soul distressed!
Thy sorrow's whisper woos thee to His breast.
He who is oftenest there is oftenest blessed.
Have faith in God.
Lean not on Egypt's reeds; slake not thy thirst
At earthly cisterns. Seek the kingdom first.
Though man and Satan fright thee with their worst,
Have faith in God.
Go, tell Him all. The sigh thy bosom heaves
Is heard in heaven. Strength and peace He gives,
Who gave Himself for thee. Our Jesus lives.
Have faith in God
Taken from Alone With God, a wonderful little book that includes many meaningful quotations on prayer and the devotional life.
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