"If I had to live my life over again, I would give less time to work, and more time to prayer." Adolph Monod
Acts 9:11 "And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,"
I am expected to open the discussion on "Prayerfulness," and I am allowed twenty minutes. You will not expect me to enter deeply into the subject, but I may point out the extreme importance of it.
I need not remind you of the place prayer occupies in the Holy Scriptures. Many most notable texts might be quoted on the subject, but I will refer only to one—the words of Christ to Ananias when He sent him into the street called Straight, and made him inquire for Saul of Tarsus, "for behold he prayeth." He had "said" many prayers, no doubt: but now he was truly praying; here was a new departure and the first breath of a "man in Christ." As regards united prayer, we have a very striking illustration. "Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him,"—and what do we find? That the prayers of the men and women who were lifting up their heart and their voice to heaven for him were effectual, and proved stronger than Herod, his iron-gated prison, and his four quaternions of soldiers.
Where are now the men and women who can be called men and women of prayer? I am far from saying there are none, but I am afraid I am in the right in thinking they are but few, and perhaps fewer than they were some years ago. There is far more activity, and a far wider sphere of work attempted and accomplished by the Church, but perhaps fewer of those who daily give themselves up to prayer. However that may be, we should have many,. more. First of all, we should be, as ministers and elders of the Church, men of prayer, leaders in prayer; not only leaders in public prayer, but patterns in private and secret prayer ourselves. "These are days," said Thomas Collins, "in which we ought to pray exceedingly." Where are our Abrahams, pleading, arguing, and discussing the matter with God in all humility and all boldness? Where are our Daniels, who, with their hands full of secular business, give themselves to prayer three times a day? No wonder they found he had an excellent spirit! Where are our St. Pauls, who wonder that they have asked three times of the Lord and have not received? Where are our Luthers, setting apart for fellowship with God the best three hours of the day? The folly of the world, and oftentimes of the Church, inquires how it was possible, with such a work as he had to do, that he could find time for three hours given to prayer? whereas the wisdom of God replies: Because he gave three hours to prayer, he was what he was, and did what he did. There are great differences between God's children : but if you take the life of God's true servants, whatever the Church they belong to, whatever the age in which they live, whatever the special calling to which God has called them, you will find this one point in common—which, besides the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is the living bond of union between them all— that they are instant in prayer. Whether you take your George Müllers, or Finneys, or Pennefathers, or Collinses, or hundreds of others, you will find them to have been men and women of prayer. I may be allowed to quote a word or two from one whose dying words are in many hands. Many of you have read Les Admix d'Adolphe Monod. I had the privilege to see him on his dying bed, and to assist in taking from his lips some of those adieus. He said, "I would not undervalue labour of any kind—mental labour, learning, research, in preparing for the pulpit; but if I had to live my life over again, I would give less time to work, and more time to prayer."
In this, as in all things, Jesus is our one pattern, and He shows us that prayerfulness is needed, not only because we are guilty, because we are weak, because we are blind, but because man, as man, was made to live in prayer. Jesus, the perfect, the ideal man, did not live in another way. The philosophy of prayer, if one might use those words, is found in one verse of the Prophet Ezekiel. After the Lord God had given a promise to His people, He goes on to say, "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them" (Ezek. xxxvi. 37). So far from there being any conflict between the purposes of God on the one hand, and prayer on the other, prayer itself enters into the purpose of God, and if we would have God do a thing for us we are bound to pray for it, and we shall be answered.
And observe what a wonderful way of governing the world this is. God might have taken the government altogether into His own hands, in this sense that we should have had nothing at all to say, not even a wish to express. He might have gone His own way, treating us as though we were things and not persons, as if we were not endowed with a will, a heart, and a conscience. Or God might have told us that things should be altogether as we might wish. What a mercy it is that toe do not govern the world! What has He done? He has associated us to Himself. He has told us, "Ask, and I will give thee." He has put the question to us, "What shall I do for thee" He has given the promise, "Ask, and ye shall receive." He has revealed Himself to us, in short, not as a despot who takes no account of his subjects; not as a king who does not care to govern at all and leaves the people to anarchy; but as a sovereign Father—at once the Father, the Maker, and the Ruler of men—to whom we have been taught to say, " Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." It is the kingdom of the Father for the coming of which we pray; it is the will of the Father which is to be done in earth as in heaven.
We may inquire now, Who is to pray? Every man, every soul is to pray. Whether in adversity or in prosperity, whether in spiritual darkness or in abundance of peace and light—perhaps even more in the latter case than in the former—we all have to pray, and at all times. So the Apostle tells us, and so the Master said before him. To what purpose are we to pray? To one purpose. "Ye ask and receive not," says the Apostle James, "because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." That is to say, ye ask your own pleasure. We should ask, not for our satisfaction nor for our own progress merely, nor for ourselves, nor for our Church, nor for our glory in any sense, personal or collective, but for the glory of God, and for the work of God.
And especially should we remember that God gives no grace in answer to prayer except with a view to work. Oftentimes we are as a man might be who was in charge of a steam-engine, and thought that all he had to do was to keep up plenty of steam and drive the flywheel round, but who never thought of putting on a strap so as to connect the steam-power with some kind of work. God will not give His grace just that we may have pleasant gatherings, and that we may speak well of our churches: God always means work for the salvation of men and for the glory of His name.
Finally, where are we to pray? We are to pray, first of all, in our closets, having shut the door, as the Lord said—and nothing in the world can take the place of that kind of prayer. Then we are to pray at the family altar. I don't know how it is with you, but with us, in France, we have to deplore that in many cases the children have not kept up the worship of the fathers at the family altar. Then we have to pray, of course, in the public worship of the Church; but between that worship and the service in the household there is yet another kind of prayer—the special meeting for prayer. I wish there might be a time, before the proceedings of the Council come to a close, for some conference about prayer-meetings, which is an exceedingly practical and very difficult subject. Many prayer-meetings, begun with good intentions, seem to have fallen through altogether. We have many Churches where there is not what is usually understood by a prayer-meeting. There are many elders who will not, cannot, or dare not lift up their voices in prayer. And yet how helpful is a true prayer-meeting! Let me give you one recent instance. A young pastor with whom I am acquainted was in deep distress because he had to travel for days and nights to fetch home the body of his brother, who had been killed in being faithful to a trust. He could not bring himself to accept so grievous a trial, and he was full of trouble and bitterness, when suddenly there came upon him a great calm. He was enabled to accept the will of God without understanding it, and thus arrived at his journey's end in perfect peace. On his return home he told his people about it, and they said: "Was it on such an evening, at such an hour?" He replied that it was. They told him that at that moment they were all gathered together to pray for him. Such is the power of united prayer. It is the union of hearts before God in faith; it is the petition which God cannot fail to answer.
The last question is, How are we to pray? We are to pray in faith; and let me point out one verse on the subject. It is in Mark xi. verse 24: "What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." In our old French Version it is: "Believe that ye shall receive them, and ye shall have them." But if you look at the Revised Version, and at the Greek itself, you will find, "Believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them." That is one step beyond believing that we shall receive, or even that we are receiving: it is believing that we have received. It is believing that the prayer has been answered, that the gift has been granted, though we cannot see or feel it yet; but we know that God's word has gone forth in reply to our request. Have we any example of prayer thus answered before the answer was made manifest? Surely we have. The Lord Himself, standing before the grave of Lazarus, said : "Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me." He knew that His prayer was heard, and now there was but one thing to do: it was to show the people that it was heard indeed, and to say, "Lazarus, come forth." In that spirit let us go forward; let us believe that all we ask for, according to the will of God, is ours at once, and we shall see it to be ours at the moment when we need it.—Taken from Minutes and Proceedings of the Fourth General Council, London, 1888, (London: Presbyterian Alliance Office, 1889), 79-83