PRAYER is the most exalted and spiritual activity of the Christian
life, the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable. Paul's prayers manifest
rare intellectual strength, spiritual vigor, and an almost seraphic worship. Short of the
glory the soul of man will never rise higher than Paul did in his prayers and doxologies.
Prayer transforms the one who prays. It engages him with God and excludes all other
objects. In His presence men come to reality. More, they are assimilated to the likeness
of Him with Whom they have intimate communion. The original image and likeness of the
Creator is renewed as they prolong communion with Him.
An abiding law of God's government is enunciated by our Lord thus: "Be requesting
and it shall be given you" (Matt.7:7). God is bountiful to all, yet on those who ask
of Him He bestows blessings others do not receive. Nor is this all, for prayer is more
than requesting favors. Prayer includes all kinds of worshipful approach to God, whether
in adoration, thanksgiving, confession, submission, or in petition and pleading. To these
activities God calls His saints.
God's invitations to prayer, and His provisions for our approach and access to Him are
found throughout the Scriptures. Since man became estranged God has ever been telling His
erring humanity of the one Way of return to Him. The Way Himself said, "No man is
coming to the Father except through me." To bring us to the Father is the goal of His
mission. The purpose of all the ritual offerings and of the sacrifice of Christ Himself
was to give us access to God. Christ died concerning sins, the just for the sake of the
unjust, that He may be leading us to God. It is through Him that reconciled Jew and
Gentile both have their access, in one spirit, to the Father. In true prayer we get access
to God and audience with Him. His word bids us "Draw near to God and He will be
drawing near to you" (James 4:8). God invites us to approach Him. That involves
turning away from what is opposed to Him. Prayer is the culminating point of our drawing
nigh to God. God draws near and speaks to those who are ready to hear Him. He asks us to
draw near as a condition of His drawing near to us because He is always more ready to
speak than we are to hear Him.
"Prayer is and remains the native and deepest impulse of the soul of man,"
said Carlyle. It springs out of man's instinctive recognition of his dependence upon God,
known or unknown. In hours of peril humanity involuntarily cries to God. This is so
because prayer is a natural impulse. Whatever may be argued against the efficacy of
prayer, the fact is that when in extremity of need men do pray, and the reason is that
they cannot help it. Humanity is religious, and in all religions prayer is addressed to
some deity. The persistence of the prayer instinct in spite of the difficult problems
which prayer presents is witness to the fact that man was made for dependence upon His
Maker and for fellowship with Him.
There are various grades of prayer. The soul's instinctive appeal to God may be crude
and akin to the cry of the animals, or it may become increasingly spiritual and
intelligent as one attains to knowledge of the character and will of God (Job 38:41;
Psa.147:9). "Fools...who cry unto Jehovah in their trouble" are satirized by the
Psalmist. Yet "He saveth them out of their distresses." How great is the
difference between the prayers that are wrung out of ignorant and foolish hearts and those
of one whose heart and flesh shout for joy to the living God! He was no occasional
worshiper who said, "My soul thirsts for God." He knew the joy of God's presence
in His house. He had habitually communed with Him there, so that when debarred from the
appointed meeting place with God He thirsts for Him as does the hind that is perishing for
want of water. So Christ lived upon God. So Paul soared up to God in prayers that were at
once a revelation and a holy rapture.
If "prayer is the Christian's vital breath," how lifeless are the prayerless!
Does this not explain why much proclamation of truth lacks unction and spiritual energy?
How much men lose by neglect of prayer only God knows. For He is still a Rewarder of those
who are seeking Him out. And how much does God miss the visits of His needy children who
try to get on without His special help! Does He not delight in the prayer of hearts that
are devoted to Him and seek access to His presence? For what other purpose has He given us
the spirit of sonship if not that we may pour out our hearts before Him?
Scripture is the best manual of prayer, familiarizing its readers with the men who
prayed, and recording prayers that are models. Men of prayer borrow the noble language of
inspiration because it expresses better than any other the needs, desires, aspirations,
and praises of the human heart when exercised about sin and the salvation of God. It
portrays Christ as the Man of prayer, and introduces to His school in which we may be
instructed in the divine art of which He was the Master. Paul is another pattern and
instructor in the school of prayer. We need such teachers because we pray so ignorantly.
We ask amiss when we should have learned to ask according to the divine will. We need to
learn what are the conditions requisite to intelligent praying, and we need to have the
disposition of heart and mind which is able to receive what God waits to bestow. We learn
by the practice of prayer. In all things we learn by the discovery and correction of
errors. God's Word not only teaches to pray, but it quickens the estranged and prayerless
so that they are impelled to speak to Him. It is doubtful if one can read Scripture
devotionally without being moved to worship and prayer.
The value of prayer may be known by the fact that the world, the flesh, and the devil
are so persistently opposed to it. Every difficulty that unbelief and rationalism can
conceive has been urged against its practice. Saints have been ensnared into argument when
they should have been praying. The sufficient and decisive answer to every objection is
that God bids men pray. They who pray much have no prayer difficulties because the way of
obedience leads to understanding. If when God tells us to pray, we try to philosophize
about it, we prove our folly. The babes who obey are enjoying God's bounty while those who
esteem themselves to be wise are groping in the maze of their own error. Reasoning is
never so vicious as when it is substituted for obedience. A general said to his
subordinates, "You have shown me seven ways in which this task cannot be done. Now go
and do it." To those who would argue God simply commands, and to those who obey He
verifies by experience the truth of His promise and the value of prayer.
It is a fact full of significance that nowhere does Scripture reply to the doubts or
objections which rationalism advances against the efficacy of prayer. Indeed, the facts
upon which these reasonings are based are revealed in the Word of God with greater
positiveness and clearness than in the writings of those who cavil. Where else do we find
such assurances of God's omniscience, of the freeness of His grace and His plenteous
mercy, of His care for the infinitely small even to numbering of the hairs of our heads,
and of His absolute sovereignty and independence of His creatures? And where else do we
find such encouragements to pray, such promises, both conditional and unconditional, made
to those who call upon God? The difference between rationalism and Scripture is in the
wrong inferences deduced from true premises derived from revelation. Scripture simply
ignores these erroneous inferences.
It is objected that prayer is superfluous because God knows more than we can tell Him;
that if He is gracious and merciful we need not persuade Him to act accordingly. Some say
that God is too great to be concerned with our petty interests. A complete answer is that
God invites us to ask of Him. We could say more, but it would be superfluous. Others say
that God's sovereignty makes human prayer futile, because God does what He will. A human
sovereign can grant more requests than any other in the realm just because he is a
sovereign. Such misconceive God's sovereignty as a fatalism that restricts God as well as
man, and robs Him of His free agency. Others say that answer to prayer is inconsistent
with the fixity of natural law. They seem to think that God is so bound by His own law
that He has not the power to respond to His child's cry that belongs to a human father.
They forget that prayer is one of His laws, and that He not only invites to prayer, but
inspires it. Indeed, all spiritual appeal to God originates with Him.
The silliest excuse is made by some dispensationists, happily very few in number, who
say that inasmuch as all things are ours, there is nothing left to pray for, while others
say that God is now dispensing only spiritual blessings. They ignore the fact that in the
prison epistles prayer is very prominent and the exhortations are more comprehensive than
elsewhere. One passage alone should destroy this folly. Philippians 4:6,7 shows that
whatever causes worry is to be made a matter of prayer. Economic conditions govern the
lives of men more than anything else. These come within the scope of Pauline prayer.
Books on prayer may be profitably read if one does not merely enjoy what he reads
without praying. There is no substitute for prayer. The reading of this article is a waste
of time if it does not incite to prayer.
The great hindrance to prayer is cherished sin. Bunyan voiced our experience when he
said, "Sin kills prayer, or prayer kills sin." One who cleaves to sin may make
an eloquent prayer in public, but he does not practice secret prayer. Prayer kills sin
because it exposes it to the light of God's presence. In that presence one must choose
between sin and God. Prayer pushes past all our idols and worships God instead of them.
The prayerless are idolatrous, even when they read God's Word. Men are apt to seek much in
the Bible without drawing nigh to God. The true end of all Scripture reading is that God
may be realized. The experience of many is well expressed in the words of Archbishop
Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in Thy presence will prevail to make,
What heavy burdens from our bosoms take,
What parched grounds refresh, as with a shower!
We kneel, and all around us seems to lower;
We rise, and all the distant and the near
Stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear;
We kneel, how weak! we rise, how full of power!
Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong,
Or others that we are not always strong,
That we should ever overborne with care,
That we should ever weak or heartless be,
Anxious or troubled, when with us is prayer,
And joy, and strength, and courage are with Thee.