I look upon all the four Gospels as thoroughly genuine, for there is in them the reflection of a greatness which emanated from the person of Jesus and which was of as Divine a kind as ever was seen on earth.——Goethe
There are no
possibilities, no necessity for prayerless praying, a heartless performance,
a senseless routine, a dead habit, a hasty, careless performance——it
justifies nothing. Prayerless praying has no life, gives no life, is dead,
breathes out death. Not a battle-axe but a child’s toy, for play not for
service. Prayerless praying does not come up to the importance and aims of a
recreation. Prayerless praying is only a weight, an impediment in the hour
of struggle, of intense conflict, a call to retreat in the moment of battle
Why do we not pray?
What are the hindrances to prayer? This is not a curious nor trivial
question. It goes not only to the whole matter of our praying, but to the
whole matter of our religion. Religion is bound to decline when praying is
hindered. That which hinders praying, hinders religion. He who is too busy
to pray will be too busy to live a holy life.
Other duties become pressing and absorbing and crowd out prayer. Choked to death, would be the coroner’s verdict in many cases of dead praying, if an inquest could be secured on this dire, spiritual calamity. This way of hindering prayer becomes so natural, so easy, so innocent that it comes on us all unawares. If we will allow our praying to be crowded out, it will always be done. Satan had rather we let the grass grow on the path to our prayer-chamber than anything else. A dosed chamber of prayer means gone out of business religiously or what is worse, made an assignment and carrying on our religion in some other name than God’s and to somebody else’s glory.
God’s glory is only
secured in the business of religion by carrying that religion on with a
large capital of prayer. The apostles understood this when they declared
that their time must not be employed in even the sacred duties of
alms-giving; they must give themselves, they said, “continually to prayer
and to the ministry of the Word,” prayer being put first with them and the
ministry of the Word having its efficiency and life from prayer.
The process of
hindering prayer by crowding out is simple and goes by advancing stages.
First, prayer is hurried through. Unrest and agitation, fatal to all devout
exercises, come in. Then the time is shortened, relish for the exercise
palls. Then it is crowded into a corner and depends on the fragments of time
for its exercise. Its value depreciates. The duty has lost its importance.
It no longer commands respect nor brings benefit. It has fallen out of
estimate, out of heart, out of the habits, out of the life. We cease to pray
and cease to live spiritually.
There is no stay to
the desolating floods of worldliness and business and cares, but prayer.
Christ meant this when He charged us to watch and pray. There is no
pioneering corps for the Gospel but prayer. Paul knew that when he declared
that “night and day he prayed exceedingly that we might see your face and
might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.” There is no arriving at
a high state of grace without much praying and no staying in those high
altitudes without great praying. Epaphras knew this when he “labored
fervently in prayers” for the Colossian Church, “that they might stand
perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
The only way to
preserve our praying from being hindered is to estimate prayer at its true
and great value. Estimate it as Daniel did, who, when he “knew that the
writing was signed he went into his house, and his windows being opened to
Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave
thanks before his God as he did aforetime.” Put praying into the high values
as Daniel did, above place, honor, ease, wealth, life. Put praying into the
habits as Daniel did. “As he did aforetime,” has much in it to give firmness
and fidelity in the hour of trial; much in it to remove hindrances and
master opposing circumstances.
One of Satan’s wiliest
tricks is to destroy the best by the good. Business and other duties are
good, but we are so filled with these that they crowd out and destroy the
best. Prayer holds the citadel for God, and if Satan can by any means weaken
prayer he is a gainer so far, and when prayer is dead the citadel is taken.
We must keep prayer as the faithful sentinel keeps guard, with sleepless
vigilance. We must not keep it half-starved and feeble as a baby, but we
must keep it in giant strength. Our prayer-chamber should have our freshest
strength, our calmest time, its hours unfettered, without obtrusion, without
haste. Private place and plenty of time are the life of prayer. “To kneel
upon our knees three times a day and pray and give thanks before God as we
did aforetime,” is the very heart and soul of religion, and makes men, like
Daniel, of “an excellent spirit,” “greatly beloved in heaven.”
The greatness of
prayer, involving as it does the whole man, in the intensest form, is not
realised without spiritual discipline. This makes it hard work, and before
this exacting and consuming effort our spiritual sloth or feebleness stands
The simplicity of
prayer, its child-like elements form a great obstacle to true praying.
Intellect gets in the way of the heart. The child spirit only is the spirit
of prayer. It is no holiday occupation to make the man a child again. In
song, in poetry, in memory he may wish himself a child again, but in prayer
he must be a child again in reality. At his mother’s knee, artless, sweet,
intense, direct, trustful. With no shade of doubt, no temper to be denied. A
desire which burns and consumes which can only be voiced by a cry. It is no
easy work to have this child-like spirit of prayer.
If praying were but an
hour in the closet, difficulties would face and hinder even that hour, but
praying is the whole life preparing for the closet. How difficult it is to
cover home and business, all the sweets and all the bitters of life, with
the holy atmosphere of the closet! A holy life is the only preparation for
prayer. It is just as difficult to pray, as it is to live a holy life. In
this we find a wall of exclusion built around our closets; men do not love
holy praying, because they do not love and will not do holy living.
Montgomery sets forth the difficulties of true praying when he declares the
sublimity and simplicity of prayer.
Prayer is the simplest
form of speech
Prayer in the Old
Testament is called wrestling. Conflict and skill, strenuous, exhaustive
effort are involved. In the New Testament we have the terms striving,
laboring fervently, fervent, effectual, agony, all indicating intense effort
put forth, difficulties overcome. We, in our praises sing out——
We also have learned
that the gracious results secured by prayer are generally proportioned to
the outlay in removing the hindrances which obstruct our soul’s high
communion with God.
Christ spake a parable
to this end, that men ought always to pray and not faint. The parable of the
importunate widow teaches the difficulties in praying, how they are to be
surmounted, and the happy results which follow from valorous praying.
Difficulties will always obstruct the way to the closet as long as it
Courageous faith is
made stronger and purer by mastering difficulties. These difficulties but
couch the eye of faith to the glorious prize which is to be won by the
successful wrestler in prayer. Men must not faint in the contest of prayer,
but to this high and holy work they must give themselves, defying the
difficulties in the way, and experience more than an angel’s happiness in
the results. Luther said: “To have prayed well is to have studied well.”
More than that, to have prayed well is to have fought well. To have prayed
well is to have lived well. To pray well is to die well.
Prayer is a rare gift,
not a popular, ready gift. Prayer is not the fruit of natural talents; it is
the product of faith, of holiness, of deeply spiritual character. Men learn
to pray as they learn to love. Perfection in simplicity, in humility in
faith——these form its chief ingredients. Novices in these graces are not
adepts in prayer. It cannot be seized upon by untrained hands; graduates in
heaven’s highest school of art can alone touch its finest keys, raise its
sweetest, highest notes. Fine material, free finish are requisite. Master
workmen are required, for mere journeymen cannot execute the work of prayer.
The spirit of prayer
should rule our spirits and our conduct. The spirit of the prayer-chamber
must control our lives or the closet hour will be dull and sapless. Always
praying in spirit; always acting in the spirit of praying; these make our
praying strong. The spirit of every moment is that which imparts strength to
the closet communion. It is what we are out of the closet gives victory or
brings defeat to the closet. If the spirit of the world prevails in our
non-closet hours, the spirit of the world will prevail in our closet hours,
and that will be a vain and idle farce.
We must live for God
out of the closet if we would meet God in the closet. We must bless God by
praying lives if we would have God’s blessing in the closet. We must do
God’s will in our lives if we would have God’s ear in the closet. We must
listen to God’s voice in public if we would have God listen to our voice in
private. God must have our hearts out of the closet, if we would have God’s
presence in the closet. If we would have God in the closet, God must have us
out of the closet. There is no way of praying to God, but by living to God.
The closet is not a confessional, simply, but the hour of holy communion and
high and sweet intercourse and of intense intercession..
Men would pray better
if they lived better. They would get more from God if they lived more
obedient and well pleasing to God. We would have more strength and time for
the Divine work of intercession if we did not have to expend so much
strength and time settling up old scores and paying our delinquent taxes.
Our spiritual liabilities are so greatly in excess of our spiritual assets
that our closet time is spent in taking out a decree of bankruptcy instead
of being the time of great spiritual wealth for us and for others. Our
closets are too much like the sign, “Closed for Repairs.”
John said of primitive Christian praying, “Whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things which are pleasing in His sight.” We should note what illimitable grounds were covered, what illimitable gifts were received by their strong praying: “Whatsoever”——how comprehensive the range and reception of mighty praying; how suggestive the reasons for the ability to pray and to have prayers answered. Obedience, but more than mere obedience, doing the things which please God well.
They went to their
closets made strong by their strict obedience and loving fidelity to God in
their conduct. Their lives were not only true and obedient, but they were
thinking about things above obedience, searching for and doing things to
make God glad. These can come with eager step and radiant countenance to
meet their Father in the closet, not simply to be forgiven, but to be
approved and to receive.
Our praying to be
strong must be buttressed by holy living. The name of Christ must be honored
by our lives before it will honor our intercessions. The life of faith
perfects the prayer of faith.
Our lives not only
give color to our praying, but they give body to it as well. Bad living
makes bad praying. We pray feebly because we live feebly. The stream of
praying cannot rise higher than the fountain of living. the closet force is
made up of the energy which flows from the confluent streams of living. The
feebleness of living throws its faintness into closet homes. We cannot talk
to God strongly when we have not lived for God strongly. The closet cannot
be made holy to God when the life has not been holy to God. The Word of God
emphasizes our conduct as giving value to our praying. “Then shalt thou call
and the Lord shalt answer, Thou shalt cry and He shall say, Here I am. If
thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth the
finger, and speaking vanity.”
Men are to pray
“lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.” We are to pass the time
of our sojourning here in fear if we would call on the Father. We cannot
divorce praying from conduct. “Whatsoever we ask we receive of Him because
we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His
sight.” “Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss that ye may consume it
upon your lusts.” the injunction of Christ, “Watch and pray,” is to cover
and guard conduct that we may come to our closets with all the force secured
by a vigilant guard over our lives.
Our religion breaks
down oftenest and most sadly in our conduct. Beautiful theories are marred
by ugly lives. The most difficult as well as the most impressive point in
piety is to live it. Our praying suffers as much as our religion from bad
living. Preachers were charged in primitive times to preach by their lives
or preach not at all. So Christians everywhere ought to be charged to pray
by their lives or pray not at all. Of course, the prayer of’ repentance is
acceptable. But repentance means to quit doing wrong and learn to do well. A
repentance which does not produce a change in conduct is a sham. Praying
which does not result in pure conduct is a delusion. We have missed the
whole office and virtue of praying if it does not rectify conduct. It is in
the very nature of things that we must quit praying or quit bad conduct.
Cold, dead praying may exist with bad conduct, but cold, dead praying is no
praying in God’s esteem. Our praying advances in power as it rectifies the
life. A life growing in its purity and devotion will be a more prayerful
The pity is that so much of our praying is without object or aim. It is without purpose. How much praying there is by men and women who never abide in Christ——hasty praying, sweet praying full of sentiment, pleasing. praying, but not backed by a life wedded to Christ. Popular praying! How much of this praying is from unsanctified hearts and unhallowed lips! Prayers spring into life under the influence of some great excitement, by some pressing emergency, through some popular clamour, some great peril. But the conditions of prayer are not there. We rush into God’s presence and try to link Him——to our cause, inflame Him with our passions, move Him——by our peril. All things are to be prayed for——but with clean hands, with absolute deference to God’s will and abiding in Christ.
Prayerless praying by
lips and hearts untrained to prayer, by lives out of harmony with Jesus
Christ; prayerless praying, which has the form and motion of prayer but is
without the true heart of prayer, never moves God to an answer. It is of
such praying that James says: “Ye have not because ye ask not; ye ask and
receive not, because ye ask amiss.”
The two great
evils——not asking, and asking in a wrong way. Perhaps the greater evil is
wrong asking, for it has in it the show of duty done, of praying when there
has been no praying——a deceit, a fraud, a sham. The times of the most
praying are not really the times of the best praying. The Pharisees prayed
much, but they were actuated by vanity; their praying was the symbol of
their hypocrisy by which they made God’s house of prayer a den of robbers.
Theirs was praying on state occasions——mechanical, perfunctory,
professional, beautiful in words, fragrant in sentiment, well ordered, well
received by the ears that heard, but utterly devoid of every element of real
The conditions of
prayer are well ordered and clear——abiding in Christ; in His name. One of
the first necessities, if we are to grasp the infinite possibilities of
prayer, is to get rid of prayerless praying. It is often beautiful in words
and in execution; it has the drapery of prayer in rich and costly form, but
it lacks the soul of praying. We fall so easily into the habit of prayerless
service, of merely filling a program.
If men only prayed on
all occasions and in every place where they go through the motion! If there
were only holy inflamed hearts back of all these beautiful words and
gracious forms! If there were always uplifted hearts in these erect men who
are uttering flawless but vain words before God! If there were always
reverent bended hearts when bended knees are uttering words before God to
please men’s ears!
There is nothing that
will preserve the life of prayer; its vigor, sweetness, obligations,
seriousness and value, so much as a deep conviction that prayer is an
approach to God, a pleading with God, an asking of God. Reality will then be
in it; reverence will then be in the attitude, in the place, and in the air.
Faith will draw, kindle and open. Formality and deadness cannot live in this
high and all-serious home of the soul.
lacks the essential element of true praying; it is not based on desire, and
is devoid of earnestness and faith. Desire burdens the chariot of prayer,
and faith drives its wheels. Prayerless praying has no burden, because no
sense of need; no ardency, because none of the vision, strength, or glow of
faith. No mighty pressure to prayer, no holding on to God with the
deathless, despairing grasp, “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.”
No utter self-abandon, lost in the throes of a desperate, pertinacious, and
consuming plea: “Yet now if Thou wilt forgive their sin——if not, blot me, I
pray Thee, out of Thy book;” or “Give me Scotland, or I die.” Prayerless
praying stakes nothing on the issue, for it has nothing to stake. It comes
with empty hands, indeed, but they are listless hands as well as empty. They
have never learned the lesson of empty hands clinging to the cross; this
lesson to them has no form nor comeliness.
Prayerless praying has
no heart in its praying. The lack of heart deprives praying of its reality,
and makes it an empty and unfit vessel. Heart, soul, life must be in our
praying; the heavens must feel the force of our crying, and must be brought
into oppressed sympathy for our bitter and needy state, A need that
oppresses us, and has no relief but in our crying to God, must voice our
Prayerless praying is
insincere. It has no honesty at heart. We name in words what we do not want
in heart. Our prayers give formal utterance to the things for which our
hearts are not only not hungry, but for which they really have no taste. We
once heard an eminent and saintly preacher, now in heaven, come abruptly and
sharply on a congregation that had just risen from prayer, with the question
and statement, “What did you pray for? If God should take hold of you and
shake you, and demand what you prayed for, you could not tell Him to save
your life what the prayer was that has just died from your lips.” So it
always is, prayerless praying has neither memory nor heart. A mere form, a
heterogeneous mass, an insipid compound, a mixture thrown together for sound
and to fill up, but with neither heart nor aim, is prayerless praying. A dry
routine, a dreary drudge, a dull and heavy task is this prayerless praying.
But prayerless praying
is much worse than either task or drudge, it divorces praying from living;
it utters its words against the world, but with heart and life runs into the
world; it prays for humility, but nurtures pride; prays for self-denial,
while indulging the flesh. Nothing exceeds in gracious results true praying,
but better not to pray at all than to pray prayerless prayers, for they are
but sinning, and the worst of sinning is to sin on our knees.
The prayer habit is a
good habit, but praying by dint of habit only is a very bad habit. This kind
of praying is not conditioned after God’s order, nor generated by God’s
power. It is not only a waste, a perversion, and a delusion, but it is a
prolific source of unbelief. Prayerless praying gets no results. God is not
reached, self is not helped. It is better not to pray at all than to secure
no results from praying. Better for the one who prays, better for others.
Men hear of the prodigious results which are to be secured by prayer: the
matchless good promised in God’s Word to prayer. These keen-eyed worldlings
or timid little faith ones mark the great discrepancy between the results
promised and results realized, and are led necessarily to doubt the truth
and worth of that which is so big in promise and so beggarly in results.
Religion and God are dishonored, doubt and unbelief are strengthened by much
asking and no getting.
In contrast with this,
what a mighty force prayerful praying is. Real prayer helps God and man.
God’s Kingdom is advanced by it. The greatest good comes to man by it.
Prayer can do anything that God can do. The pity is that we do not believe
this as we ought, and we do not put it to the test.