When Jesus was upon earth, he taught his disciples how to pray. He directed them to present their daily needs before God, and to cast all their care upon him. And the assurance he gave them that their petitions should be heard, is assurance also to us.
One of the first things necessary in order to have our prayers answered, is to feel our need of help from God. We may come to him just as we are, helpless, destitute, needy, and he will not send us empty away. The riches of the universe belong to God; his are all temporal and spiritual treasures. He can supply all our needs out of his abundant fullness. We receive our breath from him; every blessing in nature that we enjoy is an expression of his love. We are likewise dependent upon him for spiritual blessings, for grace and wisdom and strength to do the will of God. And he is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him than parents are to give good gifts to their children.
Our great need is itself an argument, and pleads most eloquently in our behalf. But the Lord is to be sought unto to do for us those things that we desire. Oh how shamefully has Jesus been treated! He is inviting, urging us to come to him and receive the very help we need; yet too often his invitations are slighted, his proffered aid refused.
We are sinful by nature, and so are commanded to be zealous and repent. If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us; but the prayer of the penitent, contrite soul is always accepted. When all known wrongs are righted, we may believe that God will answer our petitions. We must do what we can on our part; but our own merit will never commend us to the favor of God. It is the worthiness of Jesus that will save us, his blood that will cleanse us.
Another element of prevailing prayer is faith. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Jesus said to his disciples, “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Jesus said to the man who brought to him his son that was grievously afflicted with an evil spirit, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”’ Christ commands and encourages the prayer of faith; do we take him at his word? If we ask doubting and distrusting, that prayer is not of faith; and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
“Ask, and ye shall receive.” The assurance is broad and unlimited, and He is faithful who has promised. We sometimes fail in faith because Infinite Wisdom does not come to our terms. When for any reason we do not receive the very things we ask for at the time we ask, we are still to believe that the Lord hears, and that he will give us those things that are best for us. His own glory is a sufficient reason for sometimes withholding what we ask for, and answering our prayers in a manner that we did not expect. But we are to cling to the promise; for the time of answering will come, and we shall receive the blessings we need most.
We need to examine our hearts as a preparation for coming before God in prayer, that we may know what manner of spirit we are of. If we do not forgive those who have trespassed against us, our prayers for forgiveness will not be heard. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” When as sinners we approach the mercy-seat, we cannot express the sentiment of this petition without forgiveness in our hearts for all who have done us an injury. Upon this petition Jesus makes a comment: “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.”
On another occasion Jesus enforced the duty of forgiveness still more earnestly. Peter asked, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” In reply, Jesus related a parable of a certain king who forgave his servant a debt of ten thousand talents, but who revoked the pardon, and commanded this servant to be delivered to the tormentors, because in his dealings with his fellow-servants he did not carry out the same righteous principles that had been manifested in dealing with him. After he had received so great mercy, he would not, in his turn, forgive a small debt of a hundred pence, but, on the contrary, treated his debtor with great severity. Our Lord concludes in these impressive words: “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”
“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” We must cherish a kind, forbearing spirit. It is solemn mockery to engage in acts of religious worship with hearts full of envy, malice, and bitterness toward our fellow-men. The God who sees every action and understands every motive of the soul, a Being of infinite purity and exhaustless goodness, mercy, and truth, regards the prayers of such persons with abhorrence.
Persevering prayer has been made a condition of receiving. We must pray always if we would grow in faith and experience. We are to be instant in prayer,—“to continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Peter exhorts believers to be “sober, and watch unto prayer.” Paul directs: “In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” “But ye, beloved,” says Jude, “praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God.”
Unceasing prayer is the unbroken union of the soul with God, so that life from God flows into our life, and from our life purity and holiness flow back to God.
There is necessity of diligence in prayer; let nothing hinder you. You will obtain the blessing you desire if you faint not. Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden him; you cannot weary him. He who numbers the hairs of your head, who notices the fall of a sparrow, is not indifferent to the wants of his people. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” He is affected by our sorrows, and even by our utterance of them. Take everything to him that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for him to bear; for he holds up worlds; he rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing is too small for him to notice that in any way disturbs our peace. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for him to read; there is no perplexity too sore for him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of his people, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere, contrite prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which he takes no immediate interest. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.”
There is an individual work for each one to do. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon earth to share the watchful care of our heavenly Father, not another soul for whom he gave his beloved Son. “Thou understandest my thought afar off,” says the psalmist. “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.” “Thou tellest my wanderings. Put thou my tears in thy bottle; are they not in thy book?” Here we have a representation of the unsearchable greatness of God, while we can but be impressed with his intimate knowledge of all our ways, and with the great tenderness expressed for the objects of his creation.
Jesus has given us his name, above every name. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name,” says Christ, “that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it. If ye love me, keep my commandments.” “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” “At that day ye shall ask in my name; and I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” We have a string of precious pearls in the promises, if we will but comply with the conditions. But to pray in the name of Jesus is something more than a mere mention of that name at the beginning and ending of a prayer. It is to pray in the mind and Spirit of Jesus, while we work his works, believe his promises, and rely on his matchless grace.
God does not mean that any of us shall become hermits or monks, and retire from the world to devote ourselves to acts of worship. The life must be like Christ’s life,—between the mountain and the multitude. He who does nothing but pray will soon cease to pray, or his prayers will become a formal routine. When men take themselves out of social life, away from the sphere of Christian duty and cross-bearing; when they cease to work earnestly for the Master, who worked earnestly for them, they lose the subject matter of prayer, and have no incentive to devotion. Their prayers become personal and selfish. They cannot pray in regard to the wants of humanity or the upbuilding of Christ’s kingdom, pleading for strength wherewith to work.
Let us maintain the habit of close intercourse with God. Let us lay all parts of our lives open before him in gratitude for his long forbearance, penitence for sin, and earnest faith in the promises. The prayer of Jesus just before his crucifixion should be intensely interesting to us; let us read it, and enter into its spirit.
— Signs of the Times, August 21, 1884