"> '); Prevailing Intercessory Prayer : Secret Prayer Ch. 02: The Act of Secret Prayer

Secret Prayer Ch. 02: Act of Secret Prayer

Henry Wright

Key Thought: "He declares emphatically there is no alternative, unless the heart be right, the prayer must be wrong. Hence it follows that prayer may seem to us a great reality, when to our God it is little better than a mockery. It is not a passing frame of feeling, but the condition of the ground of the heart that makes prayer real before Him. It is not enough to be carried away by an intensity of devotional feeling which seems at the time to lift the soul to heaven, nor to be possessed at the moment by an earnestness of desire that seems determined to gain the blessing sought—otherwise Balaam would not have died as he did,—what we need is a heart right before God; a state of which we can only safely judge, by the tone and temper, the aim and ends of our daily life, in the calm seasons of reflection and self-examination."

The Act of Secret Prayer

(Chapter 2)

How shall I pray so that my prayer may be a great reality? I propose to offer a few suggestions on the mode, the language, the length, the subjects, and the spirit of prayer.

1. The Mode—Two questions suggest themselves. In what posture shall I pray? and shall I pray aloud, or shall I pray to myself, i.e., inaudibly? The first question is only suggested that we may not forget that the posture of the body is nothing with God. Generally, the usual position of kneeling is doubtless the best; it has the largest amount of scriptural authority and example, viz.,— Solomon, 1 Kings viii. 54; Ezra, chap. ix. 5; Daniel, chap. vi. 10; Peter, Acts ix. 40; Paul, Acts xx. 36-xxi. 5; Eph. iii. 14; Jesus, Luke xxii. 41; (see also Psalm xcv. 6, etc.)—and it accords best with the spirit of the humble and acceptable suppliant; yet it is not necessary; circumstances of body may occur, and of mind too, when the reality of prayer may best be promoted by a standing, walking, sitting, or lying posture—let us remember in such cases that we are 'dead with Christ to the rudiments of the world.' Kneeling will not render acceptable a proud heart; neither will standing in any way taint the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit.

With respect to the second question, 'Shall I pray aloud, or inaudibly?' I am disposed to think that the usual practice, which, I presume, is that of praying inaudibly, is not the one most calculated to give reality to prayer. I know there may be external circumstances that may make it necessary, and there are differences of temperament which must regulate a matter of this kind; yet I am very doubtful whether many would not find the reality of secret prayer greatly increased by adopting the former method, especially if the mind is wearied, as it often is in an evening, and so apt to wander or to slumber. The effort required to express the thoughts aloud, acts as a spur to the indolence of the mind. From my own experience, I can speak strongly of the benefit—it has enabled me to pray when else it would have been a physical impossibility. I would add, as an inducement at least to prove it, that this seems to have been the mode of prayer with holy men of old. It was so with David. We meet with many such expressions as the following:—' Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice' (Psalm xxvii. 7); 'Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice' (Psalm lv. 17). It was so with Hezekiah. It must have been so with Daniel when the princes found him praying and making supplication before his God. So unusual was silent prayer, that Eli could think of no other cause than drunkenness to account for the moving of Hannah's lips. Not to mention others, we have, at least on certain occasions, the undoubted example of our blessed Lord Himself.

2. The Language.—On this I would briefly offer two suggestions. First, Let us never be afraid of being too simple.

'Prayer is the simplest form of speech

That infant lips can try.'

Secondly, Let us never be afraid of being too particular in our requests. Such a fear is the offspring of unbelief. The spiritually-minded Evans says, 'Generalities are the death of prayer;' and certainly the reverse is true, that particular requests give life to prayer. In intercessory prayer it is well, I think, at all events in secret, to mention our friends by name.

3. The Length.—This, upon consideration, appears to me to be a very important point, and to affect more intimately the reality of secret prayer than many may be disposed to think. No doubt, to be able to continue in prayer is a very very blessed thing, and a gift we should all most earnestly covet. The work of most of us would, I believe, be far more than double its present value, if we could spend half our present working time in prayer. All of us know that those who have had most power with men are those who have had most power with God. 'I have so much to do,' said Luther, in the busiest period of his busy life, 'that I cannot get on without three hours a-day of praying.' Of Him, moreover, who came to do the work which only man in union with God could do, it is written, and the occasion was very far from a solitary one, 'He continued all night in prayer.'

Yet, just because this is so, it is the more important we should give earnest heed to our Master's words, 'They {i.e., the heathen) think they shall be heard for their much speaking; be not ye therefore like unto them.' Our God is He 'who measures life by love;' and He measures prayer, not by its length, but by its reality. A great deal of unreal secret prayer, especially in an evening, results, I am convinced, from a notion that in order to please God our prayers must be of a certain length. For instance, the evening finds us wearied and exhausted—totally unfit to pray for more than a few moments with any sense of reality. Our consciences—I would rather say the Spirit of adoption within us—will not suffer us to omit prayer. What are we to do? We are never too wearied to lift up the heart to Heaven and say, 'Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit; for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.' Surely such a filial breathing as this must be far more acceptable than a prayer spun out in the spirit of bondage. In illustration of this, a most touching anecdote is told of the devout Bengel. He is represented as a man strong in faith and great in prayer. After he became a Professor, a countryman, a former parishioner, took a longing to see him once more. Calling on Bengel after evening service, he hid himself to watch the private devotions of one he so revered. Midnight passed, and still Bengel's lamp burned and his pen moved, while turning ever to the open Bible, he bent his head over the holy page. Far on in the time when others sleep, he dug still for other's need into the mine of heavenly gold. At length he shut the book and rose. 'At last I hear Bengel pray,' thought the peasant; 'what words they will be! my long watch repaid!' But Bengel only turned his eyes up to the Master's throne and said, 'O Lord Jesus Christ, things are between us as on the old score.' What childlike simplicity! what filial confidence! what reality in that secret breathing! Did it pass unnoticed, think you, because it was so short? Surely not.

But, while I suggest thus, let me guard against being misunderstood. I speak to those who, like Bengel, are esteeming it their greatest privilege upon earth to live in habitual communion with God. I take it for granted that we are unavoidably wearied, and that in the Lord's service. Of course it would never do to weary ourselves unnecessarily through not appreciating the privilege of prayer, and then expect God to be satisfied with the dregs of our energies. It would almost be like eating the kernel ourselves, and keeping the husk for God. To this subject we may apply the Apostle's words, 'Ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion for the flesh.' We must never forget that while our beloved Master is tenderly considerate for our infirmities, He is exquisitely sensitive to our sins. 

4. The Subject.—Prayer, of course, includes confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. With respect to all I have only one suggestion to offer—a very simple one, yet all-important, I must only utter what I feel. Trying as it is to our spirits, some of us are at times compelled, in our public capacity, to utter words which, at the time, through our frailty or our sin, we do not feel. But this never need be, and never ought to be, in our secret worship. It is surely better not to pray at all, or only to lament before God that we cannot, than utter words that are not 'heart deep.' It was the conviction of this, doubtless, that drew forth the Psalmist's prayer, 'My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken Thou me.' Prayer, to have reality and power, must have its birthplace in the heart—'This people honoureth Me with their lips,' saith the Lord of His backsliding people, 'but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me.' It is as much a condition of acceptable prayer that it be 'whatsoever things ye desire,' as that it be 'according to His will.'

‘Prayer is the soul's sincere desire.'

If desire slumbers, our wisdom is to plead first of all that it be awakened. The desire for good is as much God's gift as the good itself. And as the clouds must precede the rain, so must desire precede the blessing. It is, moreover, a certain earnest, like 'the little cloud out of the sea, that the blessing will not linger long. 'Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.' 'He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.'

Furthermore, we must not forget that, unobserved by the suppliant, there may be a great deal of romance in prayer—asking for blessings through a consciousness of their abstract worth and beauty, which we are not willing to receive, through the self-sacrifice that their actual possession involves. The author of 'The Still Hour' has offered some very searching remarks on this subject in his third chapter. All I would suggest is the earnest honest prayer—'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.'

5. The Spirit of Prayer.—This subject follows fitly on the last. 'God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.' Thus spake the Son of God—'Must.' He declares emphatically there is no alternative, unless the heart be right, the prayer must be wrong. Hence it follows that prayer may seem to us a great reality, when to our God it is little better than a mockery. It is not a passing frame of feeling, but the condition of the ground of the heart that makes prayer real before Him. It is not enough to be carried away by an intensity of devotional feeling which seems at the time to lift the soul to heaven, nor to be possessed at the moment by an earnestness of desire that seems determined to gain the blessing sought—otherwise Balaam would not have died as he did,—what we need is a heart right before God; a state of which we can only safely judge, by the tone and temper, the aim and ends of our daily life, in the calm seasons of reflection and self-examination.

Should it be asked expressly, What is the spirit of Prayer? I answer at once, The spirit of Christ. Our prayers will grow in power, in proportion as we grow in likeness to Him. If we long for the assured confidence of 'I know Thou hearest me always,' we must be panting after the ability to say, 'I do always those things that please Him.'

Hence any suggestions towards attaining conformity to Christ will conduce to the spirit of prayer. Among the many that might be made, I would humbly submit one which has special connection with this subject, namely, the constant and careful study of the prayer that Christ Himself dictated for us; with a view to discovering and drinking into the spirit that is implied in it. We do well, doubtless, to take the framework of that prayer as a guide in framing our petitions, but surely we do better to ponder deeply the spirit that it breathes, in order that it may be made our own. Many, probably, unless they have set themselves deliberately to meditate upon it, have little idea how much they may learn of the true spirit of holiness from such an exercise. The very fact of familiarity with the letter leads us to overlook too much the spirit and the life. Beguiled by its very simplicity, we imagine, in our vain conceit, that we have fathomed it as soon as we understand the meaning of the words; like silly children who think that when they can tell the letters of the alphabet they have nothing more to learn. Yet surely if it be true of any part of the Bible more than another it is true of this, that while it contains shallows in which a lamb may wade, it contains depths also in which an elephant may swim. It is suitable to be put into the mouth of a child in whom the Spirit of adoption has but lately found a home—it is the most fitting of all prayers for the advanced believer, just waiting to enter the immediate presence of God.

Oh dear friends, if we want to grow in Heaven's spirit, let us study the Lord's Prayer, word by word, and clause by clause.

Let us meditate upon the filial reverence, 'Our Father, which art in heaven;' the devoted loyalty, 'Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy Kingdom come;' the calm submission, 'Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven;' that breathes in it towards God, leading us upward and onward to the time when God shall be all in all. ' For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, for ever and ever. Amen.'

Let us think upon the consciousness of dependence, 'Give us this day our daily bread;' of infirmity, 'Forgive us our trespasses;' and of weakness, 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,' which it implies in ourselves.

While as regards others, let us ever be reminded, that if we are to draw near acceptably, it must not be with the feeling of selfish isolation, but as members of a holy brotherhood of love, 'Our Father,' etc.; as cultivating towards all men that spirit of forgiveness and forbearance, of tender consideration and sympathy, which the servant who had been forgiven ten thousand talents by his lord, ought to have had towards his fellow-servant— 'as we forgive them that trespass against us.' In offering these remarks, I would be very careful to give no discouragement to any one who really prays, though it be with the sense of manifold infirmities. Our God, we may well remember, is very pitiful—'He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax;' He does not refuse to listen to us until the spirit of prayer has been perfected in us, or else, woe unto us! He looks for an honest purpose to indulge no sin, and an honest purpose to omit no duty. He looks, in the language of our Church Catechism, 'whether we repent us truly of our former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life, whether we have a lively faith in His mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of His death, and are in charity with all men. Happy indeed are we, if He looks and finds it thus. We are welcome equally at our Master's Table and at our Father's Throne. Many of the powers of our new life may be only as yet in the germ, and may seem to us in imminent danger of being overgrown and choked by the weeds of corruption; yet if our earnest aim and desire is, that the good may live and grow, and all that is of the flesh may die, our prayers, broken and stammering as they may be, shall assuredly be recorded by Him as real, who 'can love us though He read us true.'

It is hardly needful to add, except by way of remembrance, that, while we may and ought to use all the helps within our reach, all true prayer must have its source in Him who is the Author and Giver of life. We may prepare the altar and the wood, and the sacrifice, but the fire must come down from Heaven. All is death till He moves upon the soul; no breath but His can bring music from the bruised reed; none can mourn aright whose hearts have not been melted by Him; 'no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost;' none can shake off the spirit of bondage and look up and say 'Abba, Father,' except as He enables them.

‘If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.'

'Awake, O north wind; and come thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.'

'They that seek to God for grace, shall have grace and peace, grace and comfort, grace and glory.'

Directory Secret Prayer

Chapter 1    

Chapter 2    

Chapter 3