Prevailing Prayer: A Sermon

This is a sermon that Sister White gave in Oakland, California on April 20, 1884. We shared her article on the conditions of prevailing prayer recently; now, we shall learn more about our duty to pray and what prevailing prayer looks like.

“Watch ye therefore, and pray always,” is the injunction of Christ to his disciples. Again we read in the inspired word, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”

God has made it our duty to pray. The riches of the universe belong to him. He has all temporal and spiritual treasures at his command, and can supply every want from his abundant fullness. We receive our breath from him; every temporal blessing that we enjoy is his gift. We are dependent upon him not only for temporal blessings, but for grace and strength to keep us from falling under the power of temptation. We daily need the Bread of Life to give us spiritual strength and vigor, just as much as we need food to sustain our physical strength and give us firm muscles. We are compassed with weakness and infirmities, doubts and temptations; but we can come to Jesus in our need, and he will not turn us away empty. We must accustom ourselves to seek divine guidance through prayer; we must learn to trust in Him from whom our help cometh. Our desires should be unto God; our souls should go out after him, and their attitude should always be that of supplication.

The reason that we do not realize greater help is because there is lack of earnest, fervent devotion. Jesus reproved the Pharisees for drawing near to God with their mouth, and honoring him with their lips, while their hearts were far from him. “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” We must have a deep, earnest sense of our needs. We must feel our weakness and our dependence upon God, and come to him with contrition of soul and brokenness of heart. Our petitions must be offered in perfect submission; every desire must be brought into harmony with the will of God, and his will must be done in us. We must not pray in a doubting, half-hearted manner, but with full assurance of faith. When we come to him in this manner, Jesus will listen to our prayers, and will answer them; but if we regard iniquity in our hearts, if we cherish any darling sin, we may be assured that no blessing will be given in response to our prayers.

One sister said this morning that she did not have the experience she desired. She tried to do her duty as far as she could understand it, but she did not experience the joy and peace that others seemed to have. This sister does not believe the word of God. What has faith to do with feeling? Faith takes God at his word, with or without feeling. It “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We can believe our fellow-men, and can we not trust the word of God? When we go to him for wisdom or grace, we are not to look to ourselves to see if he has given us a special feeling as an assurance that he has fulfilled his word. Feeling is no criterion. Great evils have resulted when Christians have followed feeling. Satan can give feelings and impressions, and those who take these as their guides will surely be led astray. How do I know that Jesus hears my prayer? I know it by his promise. He says he will hear the needy when they cry unto him, and I believe his word. He has never said to the “seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain.”

If we walk in the light as Christ is in the light, we may come to the throne of grace with holy boldness. We may present the promises of God in living faith, and urge our petitions. Although we are weak, and erring, and unworthy, “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.” But too often our prayers are molded by coldness and backsliding. Those who do not deny self and lift the cross of Christ, will have no courage to approach a heart-searching God. We must learn to watch unto prayer, and to be importunate. When we have offered our petition once, we must not then abandon it, but say, as did Jacob when he wrestled all night with the angel, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me,” and like him we shall prevail. In the public assembly of God’s people, prayers should not be offered that are suitable only to secret communion with him. We should pray understandingly and intelligently, and every day we should know better how to offer appropriate and prevailing prayers.

Jesus invites, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” This is no doubtful, uncertain promise, but a positive one. If we come to him, we shall not be disappointed. Yet how unwilling we seem to accept the gracious invitation. When in trouble, we too often go for help to our brethren, who are no wiser nor stronger than ourselves; but if we would go to Jesus, if we would take our troubles to him in prayer, we should find rest, and peace, and courage. The wisdom that God gives is unerring; his strength is sufficient for all our needs. Let us lay our burdens at the feet of Jesus, and, according to his promise, he will take the weary load, and encircle us in the arms of his love.

“I am meek and lowly in heart.” There is a beautiful blending of tenderness and lowliness, majesty and humility, in the character of Christ. He who was the mightiest one that ever trod the earth, was also the most pure and sinless, and was the meekest of all. In the cluster of graces upon which he pronounces a blessing, meekness and poverty of spirit stand foremost; and among all his traits of character he selected this for the peculiar study and imitation of his disciples. “Learn of me,” he says; “for I am meek and lowly in heart.” And the inspired apostle Paul also, in exhorting his Corinthian brethren to manifest in their lives the fruits of the Spirit, beseeches them by the “meekness and gentleness of Christ.” From the mountain summit, the tempter presented before our Saviour the kingdoms of the world in all their glory, making the sight as alluring and enchanting as possible; but none of these things moved the divine Son of God. Beneath all the glitter and pomp of earth, he saw misery, sorrow, and remorse,–suffering which earthly prosperity is powerless to alleviate; and he spurned the temptation and the tempter.

There are many who are surrounded with clouds of darkness. They try to do something themselves, some great and good work which will win the favor of God and make them happy, but they neglect the very work that they should do. But the path of happiness is the path of obedience. We should in no case blind our eyes to our true condition, and then pray in a loose, general manner. Prayers of this kind rise no higher than the petitioner’s head, and bring no answer of mercy, because they are dictated by no sense of need. Says the apostle, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” Inquire into the character of your thoughts, purposes, temper, words, and deeds. Compare your experience with the declarations of Scripture, and see whether you are gathering with Christ or scattering abroad. See if your life testifies that you are in the faith.

As you discover your sinfulness, do not be discouraged; for Jesus has invited you to come to him. No humble suppliant was ever spurned from his presence. His patience is unwearied. The waves of mercy, beaten back by hearts hard as rocks, only return with a stronger tide of subduing, inexpressible love. Then shall we not closely examine our own hearts, and see if the soul-temple is not defiled by sins that are unrepented of? Shall we not cease to criticise the faults of others, while the deformity of our own characters is left uncorrected? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” It will deceive you if you let it, and will lead you to think that you are spiritually much better than you are.

We are here in a world of doubt and skepticism. The law of God is made void, unbelief seems to be in the very air we breathe; and to resist all these influences, and battle successfully against the powers of darkness, requires strong faith and earnest prayer. But amid all these opposing influences, we may repose in God with perfect confidence. I once read of an eagle that had left her home in the Alps, and clouds dark and heavy intervened between her and her home in the towering cliffs. She seemed bewildered, and with loud screams flew first one way and then another against the over-hanging clouds. Suddenly, with a shrill scream of determination, she darted upward through the dense clouds into the clear sky above. The clouds were beneath her, and she was again in her mountain home. And so may we rise above the clouds of skepticism, and dwell in the clear sunshine of God’s presence.

We should search the Scriptures daily; for the word of God is our unerring guide. We must not, for the sake of worldly advantage, place ourselves under wrong influences; for by so doing we are entering into temptation. Are we choosing to remain near some central point of evil? Then let us test our motives thoroughly, lest Satan obtain advantage over us. If this is our post of duty, and we are letting our light shine, we may be safe; for when temptation meets us in the path of duty, it is our privilege to lean more heavily upon God.

The Christian has duties to do in the world, and God holds him responsible for their faithful performance. He is not to confine himself in monastic walls, nor to avoid all association with worldlings. It is true that his principles will be put to the severest test, and he will be pained by what his eyes see and his ears hear. But he must not, by becoming familiar with these sights and sounds, learn to love them. By association with the world, we incline to catch the spirit of the world, and to adopt their customs, tastes, and preferences. But we are commanded, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters.” Never let the world say that worldlings and Christ’s followers are alike in their tastes and pursuits; for God has drawn a line between his people and the world. This line of demarkation is broad and deep and clear; it is not so blended with the world that it is not discernible. “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

It is only by watching unto prayer, and the exercise of living faith, that the Christian can preserve his integrity in the midst of the temptations that Satan brings to bear upon him. But “whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Talk to your heart constantly the language of faith: “Jesus said he would receive me, and I believe his word. I will praise him; I will glorify his name.” Satan will be close by your side to suggest that you do not feel any joy. Answer him, “‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.’ I have everything to be glad of; for I am a child of God. I am trusting in Jesus. The law of God is in my heart; none of my steps shall slide.”

— E.G. White, Signs of the Times, May 15, 1884

Historical Author

This is a republished article or book excerpt from early Adventist history. The author will be credited at the end of the article.

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