Letter 12: Prayer

My Dear ______,

There remains only one other subject to bring before you in this present series of letters. In the last I directed you to the importance of the Word of God, and now I desire to speak of prayer and its connection with the spiritual life. These two--the Word of God and prayer--are ever conjoined. It was so in the blessed activities of the life of our Lord. After a long day of ministry we find such a record as this, "And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness, and prayed"; and again, "It came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke 5:16; 6: 12). So, too, when the difficulty arose in the Pentecostal church concerning the distribution of the offerings of the saints, the apostle said, "It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables. . . . We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6: 2-4). St. Paul likewise unites the two things in his description of the whole armour of God; for no sooner has he said, "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God," than he adds, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph. 6: 17, 18).

We have, moreover, direct exhortations to prayer; as for example, "Continuing instant in prayer"; "Pray without ceasing" (Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:17. See also Luke 18, etc.). And if you read the introductory parts of St. Paul's epistles you will see how he embodied his own exhortations. As you trace his path, as recorded for us in the Acts, you would think that he never did anything else than preach; but if you read these parts of the epistles you would almost think that he never did anything else than pray. Approximating to the example of our blessed Lord in his unwearied labours, he found, yea, he learnt, the need of constant waiting upon God. In like manner, prayer is a necessity for every child of God. For we are in ourselves weak and helpless, entirely dependent; and prayer is but the expression of our dependence on Him to whom we pray. Dependent upon God for everything, our very needs urge us into His presence; and having liberty of access through Christ, because of the place we occupy, and because of the relationship we enjoy, we "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4: 16).

1. Our Lord teaches what should be, so to speak, the manner of our prayers. Speaking to His disciples of the time when He should be absent from them, He says, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do," etc.; and again, "If ye shall ask any thing in My name, I will do it" (John 14: 13, 14). Two things are here involved. The name of Christ is our warrant to come before God, before the Father, reminding us that our title of approach is in Christ alone. And surely this gives us confidence. If we were to think only of ourselves, our failures and unworthiness, we should never venture into God's presence; but when our eyes are directed to Christ, what He is in Himself, what He is to God, and what He is to us, and remembering that we appear before God in all His infinite acceptability, we are made to understand that God delights in us--in our approach, in our cries and prayers. We thus are encouraged to draw near to God, and to pour out our hearts before Him in every time of trial or need.

But asking in the name of Christ is more than having a title through His name; it is, indeed, to appear before God with all the value and authority of that name. If, for example, I go to a bank and present a check, I ask for the value of the check in the name of him by whom it is drawn. So when I appear before God in the name of Christ, I present my supplications in all the value of that name to God. Hence it is that our Lord says, "If ye shall ask any thing in My name, I will do it," because, indeed, it is the joy of the heart of God to grant every request that is so preferred. The promise is absolute, without any limitation; for the simple reason that nothing could be asked in the name of Christ which was not in accordance with the will of God. For we could not use His name for any request which was not begotten in our hearts by His own Spirit.

2. In the next chapter our Lord gives us further teaching on the same subject. "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15: 7). We may connect with this another scripture: "And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us" (1 John 5: 14). Here it is according to the will of God, therby excluding everything which is not of this character. But our Lord says, "What ye will"; and this brings before us a very important aspect of prayer. In this case it is conditional: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you"; that is, abiding in Christ, ever remembering our dependence upon Him for everything, that without Him we can do nothing; and His words abiding in us, moulding us after His own mind, forming Himself in us, we of necessity express His own thoughts and His own desires, and consequently "what we will" must, in such a case, be "according to His will." It will be seen, at the same time, that the power of our prayers depends upon our spiritual condition. This is an unfailing principle. It is stated by St. John: "If our heart condemn us not, [then] have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3: 21, 22). St. James also tells us, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5: 16). This is of all importance; for neglecting our spiritual state, and thereby losing present communion with God, our prayers become cold and lifeless, degenerate into a repetition of known truths or old phrases, and thus, losing all significance, pass over into dead forms. The words are uttered to satisfy conscience; but expressing no heart-felt needs, and no outgoings of soul after God, they find no response, and bring down no blessing. Beware of such a state, which is often the commencement of the backslider's path, and which, unless checked by the grace of God, will land the soul in open shame and dishonor to the name of Christ.

3. The uses of prayer are manifold. In the first place, the Lord has associated us with Himself in all His own desires. Yea, our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3). God therefore counts upon our love to have fellowship with all that is dear to His own heart. He has made His interests ours; and consequently He would have us enter into and make these the object of our prayers. What a privilege! To be permitted to range through all His purposes as revealed to us in the Word; to watch with delight their unfoldings; to behold them all centering in, and radiating from, the person of His Christ, as well as bringing back a revenue of glory to His name! Truly if we are enabled to enter at all into this wondrous position, by the power of the Spirit, we shall lack neither subject for, nor motive to, prayer.

Then, too, we may express in prayer all the manifold needs of our own souls. "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4: 6, 7). This word is the more remarkable from the fact that it is found in the very chapter in which the apostle assures us, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (v. 19). Still, notwithstanding this blessed confidence, God would have us, with all the freedom of children, to make known to Him our requests; and though He does not promise to grant them in every case, He yet assures us that His peace shall guard our hearts. It is in this way, indeed, that confidence is established in our intercourse with God, that the priceless habit is formed of having no reserves with Him, and that intimacy of communion is cultivated. It is in accordance with this that the psalmist cries, "Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him" (Psalm 62: 8); and that St. Peter says, "Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you" (1 Peter 5: 7).

4. It should be added that the word of God lays great stress upon the connection of faith with prayer. Our Lord says, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11: 24). St. James also, after his exhortation to ask wisdom of God, says, "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering" (1: 6); and again, he tells us that "the prayer of faith shall save the sick" (5: 15). So too in the Hebrews we read, that "without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh" (i.e., draws near) "to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (11: 6). This is easy to understand; for surely God has a right to count upon our confidence in His love, our trust in His character, and our belief in His word, since He has so fully revealed Himself to us in the person of His Son. To doubt, therefore, as we approach Him, would be to dishonor His name. And just as He counts upon our confidence and faith, He would have us count upon His faithfulness and love. As our blessed Lord reminds His disciples, "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him" (Matt. 6: 8). And as St. Paul teaches us, "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8: 32). Thus the gift of His own Son, inasmuch as it was His greatest gift, and the most perfect pledge of His love, is the foundation on which we may rest in the full assurance that He not only will not withhold any good thing from us, but that He will delight to bless us according to His own heart, and according to His own knowledge of our need.

5. Once more, all true prayer must be in and by the Holy Spirit. ((See Rom. 8: 26, 27; Phil. 3: 3; Jude 20). Indeed, He is the power for prayer, as He is for every activity of the spiritual life. We are thus utterly dependent upon the Lord Jesus for access to God, upon the Holy Spirit for power to pray, and upon God for the blessings we seek. To His name be all the praise!

But I will not pursue the subject further. You will, however, permit me to urge upon you perseverance in prayer. Rules on such a subject--as to times and frequency--we have no right to make or impose. Still of one thing be very sure--you cannot be too much in prayer. And if you dwell in the presence of God, you will find both the heart and occasion for prayer. Our responsibility is to pray without ceasing, always maintaining uninterruptedly the consciousness of dependence, and our need of divine grace. Thus we shall be always cast upon God, always enjoy liberty of heart in His presence, and consequently be always finding, in the constant reception of mercies, grace and blessing, in answer to our cries, new themes for thanksgiving and praise.

Believe me, dear ______,

Yours affectionately in Christ,

E.D.