George Everard, 1866
Everywhere may prayer be offered up. As men are to pray at all times — so may they pray in all places. "I will that men pray everywhere."
Isaac in the field,
Eliezer by the well's mouth,
Hezekiah on his sick bed,
Nathanael under the fig tree,
Peter on the housetop —
these prayed, and their voice was heard above.
Could a pillar be erected in every spot where acceptable prayer had been offered, how many a place would be dotted over with these sacred memorials.
Far from his own native land, in the midst of a heathen city, a servant of Jehovah once bowed the knee before Him in devout supplication. Daniel was in Babylon; he was surrounded by enemies who were envious of his high position, and eagerly sought for some means of accomplishing his downfall. Yet for a while they seek in vain for some cause of accusation, "No error or fault was found in him, forasmuch as he was faithful." The only occasion they can hope to find against him, is the faithfulness with which he served his God. By their means a decree is made, that for the space of thirty days, no prayer shall be offered to God — except to the King. The penalty of disobedience is a cruel death.
The servant of God, however, abides steadfast in his allegiance. No danger shall make him swerve from the path of duty. He fears not man, for he sees Him who is Invisible. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before!" Daniel 6:10
This incident may guide our thoughts to a few PROFITABLE REFLECTIONS with reference to daily prayer.
It is possible to combine a devout spirit with the utmost diligence in a secular calling. Daniel had upon his hands, the affairs of a whole kingdom. He was no idler. In the due ordering of the realm over which he was set, so diligent and conscientious was he, that for his prudence and success he was highly commended by Darius.
Yet for all this, he was a thoroughly devout man. He walked with God. He retired again and again from the din and hurry of the world, and spoke words in the ear of his Father in Heaven.
With such an example before our eyes, it is in vain for any man to plead that in his particular station in life, to find time for prayer would be out of the question.
Not a few similar instances might be given.
Havelock was not a man to neglect duty, yet it is told us that he never left the camp in the morning without first securing time for prayer. Stonewall Jackson, so renowned for his bravery in the Confederate army, was marked often in the midst of the fight, his horse standing still, his eyes closed, his hand lifted up to Heaven. It was discovered that he was redeeming a moment for communion with God.
In the great Metropolis, a working man had to leave his home for the workshop every morning at six. He seldom failed to rise at four, that he might anticipate the trials and temptations of the day by a quiet season spent at the mercy-seat. It was the same with a Christian man, a gardener in a Suffolk village. Summer or winter, he would never commence his work, without an hour or two first given to the Word of God and prayer.
Does a man profess, "I would pray if I were less occupied — but I have no time!" Interpret this aright. It means, "I have no desire to pray, I have no heart for prayer." Consider honestly, whether this must not be a vain excuse, a mere screen to conceal the real feelings of the heart.
For indeed, what is the purpose for which life has been given? Why are days, and weeks, and months, and years allotted to us? Is it not that we may fear, and love, and serve, and worship Him who created, and then redeemed us? Has life any object worthy of it — if this is passed by? How then can men declare, that they have no time for that, on account of which God placed them in His vineyard? How can a man throw away these precious opportunities, and say, "I have no time to obey Him who gives me every moment I possess!"
Have not men time to sleep, to eat, to converse one with another, to enjoy many of the pleasant recreations of life, to plan for their own comfort and the welfare of their families, to fulfill the duties of their calling — and have they not time for that which is more important than all — to keep near to their Father and to enjoy His love? Let the reader be assured that all such pleadings are but the plain marks of a self-deceived soul. They only prove but too clearly, that those who make them, have never tasted that the Lord is gracious.
We observe also that prayer is a matter of very deep and solemn importance. In the face of a great and immediate danger, Daniel would not give up his usual habit of prayer. No doubt the flesh would shrink from the prospect that lay before him. The fierce monarch of the forest would be no pleasant companion. The den of lions would be no enviable resting place. Yet he dared all things, rather than forfeit the privilege of calling upon God. "He preferred a night with lions, to a day without prayer."
It was no false estimate which the Prophet made of its importance. Whichever way we regard it, we cannot fail to see that it is no light matter.
It is a test of the new-born soul. Whatever differences exist in the family of God, in language, in temperament, in the means of their conversion, in their rank and position — nevertheless, they are alike in this — that, without exception, prayer is as needful to them as the air they breathe. Go north or south, east or west, and where will you find a single one, taught of the Spirit, who does not continually bend the knee at the throne of grace? Since the days that men began to call upon the name of the Lord — since the time that Enoch walked with God, "the bending of the knee" has ever been a distinguishing characteristic of the household of faith.
Prayer is a mighty preservative from surrounding evil. Compassing us around on every side, are evil influences at work which may inflict deadly injury on our souls. Our necessary interactions with those who are not guided by Christian principle — books and publications teeming from the press, which cannot fail to give a wrong bias to the mind unless grace counteracts it — these and many similar perils are ever close at hand.
A humble, prayerful heart is our best defense. One earnest cry for help, casting ourselves upon the guardianship of the Most High God, will avail more than the strongest resolutions made in our own strength. It was thus that Daniel was safe in so ungodly a city as Babylon. It is thus that we too can be preserved.
A forcible illustration has been given of this. The steel workers in Sheffield are furnished with a mask, by which they are enabled to breathe, without taking in the particles of steel that are so dangerous to lungs. But where this needful precaution is neglected, the constitution is injured, and loss of life is frequently incurred.
As necessary to a Christian, is the spirit of constant prayer! The neglect of it imperils the life of the soul.
Walking through the crowded thoroughfares of London, a young mechanic would often tremble at the snares and temptations which were around. As he passed along, there would frequently arise from his heart the cry for help, "Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in Your way!" He was kept from falling, he journeyed safely along his heavenly course, and in later years would thankfully recall the mercy that upheld him. "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
Prayer is also the great balm of human woes. Go from house to house through a country village, or through a single street in a large town — and what a sad catalogue of sorrows may you reckon up! In one there is a dying parent, or a child fast sinking into the grave. In another there is distressing poverty or financial embarrassment. In a third, perhaps, there is a heart bleeding through some bitter disappointment, or the unfeeling conduct of one beloved. In a fourth there is some secret sorrow which may not be told. In every case, through prayer, relief may be found. By it the sorrowful, afflicted one comes near to a most pitiful Father, and His loving care becomes a sure rest to the weary spirit.
"Prayer is the unburdening of the soul,
The simple act whereby I roll
Each trial, trouble, cross, and care,
On shoulders able all to bear.
The aching heart — the heart oppressed,
Prayer places on a Father's breast,
However heavy be the load,
By prayer I roll it all on God."
The excellencies of prayer may be summed up in the words of John Chrysostom: "Prayer, in a spiritual sense, is . . .
a haven to the shipwrecked man,
an anchor to those who are sinking in the waves,
a staff to the limbs that totter,
a mine of jewels to the poor,
a healer of diseases, and a guardian of health.
Prayer at once secures the continuance of our blessings, and dissipates the cloud of our calamities. O blessed prayer! You are . . .
the unwearied conqueror of human woes,
the firm foundation of human happiness,
the source of ever-enduring joy,
the mother of all comfort.
The man who can pray truly, though languishing in extreme indigence, is richer than all beside. While the wretch who never bowed the knee, though proudly seated as monarch of all nations, is of all men most destitute!"
The CHARACTERISTICS of acceptable prayer are plainly manifested in the example before us.
A genuine lowliness and humility of spirit was evident in Daniel. "He knelt upon his knees." The posture of his body, denoted the feeling of his heart. In his pleading for Jerusalem, in the ninth chapter, we find him seeking the Lord "with fasting and sackcloth and ashes." He presents his supplication "not for his own righteousness, but for the great mercies" of the Lord. He takes shame to himself for his own sin, as well as for the sin of his people Israel.
There can be no acceptable approach to the mercy-seat without this humble spirit. Pride of all things, is most hateful to the Most High, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." We must sink low in our own eyes, if we would rise high in the favor of God. Abraham accounted himself but "dust and ashes." Jacob regarded himself "as unworthy of the least of God's mercies." The Canaanite woman was willing to be reckoned as "a dog," if she might but receive the crumbs from the Master's table. Paul, the chief of the Apostles, esteemed himself "less than the least of all saints," and "the chief of sinners."
The late Haldane Stewart, after more than fifty years of faithful service, was heard to say that of all the prayers in Scripture, none suited him so well as that of the contrite publican in the temple, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
Coupled with humility, in Daniel there was also earnest and hearty importunity. This stands out on the face of the history. No better example of earnestness can be found, except in the case of our Lord. Read over the ninth chapter of Daniel. See the earnestness of the prophet also in the fact that, not once or twice, but thrice each day he called upon God. We must likewise be real and earnest. True heartiness in our petitions is like the hot coal to the incense, which makes the sweet fragrance arise. A languid, half-hearted prayer, petitions for its own denial. Can we expect that God should be earnest in giving — if we are not earnest in desiring and asking?
And as we pray earnestly, so we must also pray constantly. "Pray without ceasing!" 1 Thessalonians 5:17. With Daniel it was thrice a day. With David it was so also, "Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray and cry aloud; and He shall hear my voice."
Give special heed to secure time for the morning prayer. As the streets in hot and dusty weather are watered before the traffic of the day begins, so should our hearts by true prayer drink in the dew and rain of Divine grace, that worldly thoughts, murmuring thoughts, unholy thoughts may be kept down.
The prayer of eventide is also to be watchfully remembered. During a single day how much is there that needs forgiveness. Whatever we have done, either in our calling or in the service of Christ, can profit nothing without the Divine blessing. Before the dawn of another day, our summons may come, or the voice of the archangel may announce that time shall be no more. In all this we have reason to seek, evening by evening, the help and grace that are ready to be given to us.
It is also very greatly for our welfare, that the morning and evening prayer should be linked together by many short intervals of prayer during the day. At midday if we can secure but five minutes to be alone with our Father, they will not be lost. And if we have opportunity but for one sentence — for a look — for a thought of prayer — the arrow will not be shot in vain. Nehemiah in the presence of Artaxerxes lifted up his eye to the everlasting hills, and his petition was heard.
Many are the short prayers of Scripture which are very precious to use for such a purpose:
"Remember me, O my God, for good."
"Keep me as the apple of Your eye."
"Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"
"Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me."
"Lord help me!"
The firm confidence, and joyful expectation of Daniel in prayer, are also worthy of our imitation. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." He lifted up his eye toward Him who dwells in Zion. He believed the promises of Jehovah to those who should worship toward His holy temple. His trust and hope were in Him who had there recorded His name.
Christian, let your face in prayer be toward the heavenly Jerusalem. Let your eye be fixed on your merciful Father, who has said, "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it!" Behold also your Advocate, the Righteous One, holding forth the golden censer, and placing therein the petition which you offer. Expect not to find in yourself or in your doings, one single plea on account of which your prayer can be received. Yet plead with sure confidence the Name, and Blood and Mediation of your Surety. He stands alone, as the one Great Priest of mankind. Depend on Him and you cannot fail. Expect confidently, for His sake, every possible spiritual blessing that you seek, and you shall not be disappointed. "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24
To offer prayer in a doubting, mistrustful spirit is to hinder its progress towards Heaven. If you cut the wings of a bird before you let it fly — it will be sure to fall back to the earth. Don't cut the wings of your prayer by unbelief; rather fledge it by holy reliance upon the faithfulness of the promise. "Let a man ask in faith, without wavering."
We notice also, that the prayer of Daniel was accompanied with thanksgiving. "He prayed and gave thanks before his God." The two are rightly joined together. They should ever go hand in hand. Whenever a new prayer is recorded in God's book, answers to former prayers, proofs of His past loving kindness, should be recalled to mind. "In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving — let your requests be made known unto God."
Praise is one of the most blessed parts of worship.
It is a joyful and a pleasant thing.
It unseals the lips.
It anticipates the joy of the redeemed above.
It banishes dark thoughts.
It puts the great enemy to flight.
It makes the Christian hopeful for the future.
It glorifies God.
A very large proportion of the Psalms consist of devout adoration and giving of thanks. The last five Psalms all begin and close with the same note: "Praise the Lord!" "O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."
None other than the Holy Spirit can teach us to pray as God would have us. All true humility, all hearty fervor, all filial confidence, all joyful praise — is the sole fruit of the Divine Spirit. "Praying in the Holy Spirit." "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." "The Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." This must be our reliance.
The mouth of the well may be stopped by some stone of earthliness or unbelief, but the Spirit can roll it away, as easily as the angel rolled away the stone from the sepulcher of Christ. The inner man may be as a bird within a cage — it would fly upwards, but yet can only chafe itself against the bars of its prison-house. The Spirit, however, can unfasten the door, and the soul can then mount upward to the throne. Though our desires are faint, though our faith is but as a grain of mustard-seed, still let us wait for the anointing of the Holy One, and pray on.
Though I fail, I weep,
Though I halt in pace,
Yet I creep
To Your throne of grace.
We cannot close our consideration of this incident in the life of Daniel without observing, how surely the voice of believing prayer reaches the Father's ear.
Plain was the answer given. A marvelous deliverance was granted to the Prophet. The mouth of the lions was shut — they had no power to harm him. The word of David was true in his case. "You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent!" Psalm 91:13
Equally distinct and immediate, was the answer to the prayer of the ninth chapter. Even "while speaking in prayer," the angel Gabriel was sent forth to him with a message of peace. Very beautifully was there thus fulfilled the promise uttered some two centuries and a half before: "And it shall be that before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear." Isaiah 65:24
A marvelous invention is at work, by which, with great rapidity, messages can be conveyed from city to city, and from country to country. Even beneath the waves of the wide ocean, the cable is laid down by which one continent is linked to another, and by which words, in a few minutes, can be spoken to a friend on a distant shore.
Just so, true prayer links together earth and Heaven, and is more speedy than any telegraph. One moment it arises from a believer's heart — the very same moment it reaches the ears of the Lord Almighty!
King Hezekiah receives from the lips of the prophet Isaiah, a warning that death is near. Immediately he turns his face to the wall, and prays that his life may yet be spared. Mark how quickly the petition has sped — how quickly the reply is dispatched. Before sufficient time has elapsed for the Prophet to leave the king's palace, "before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court," he was bidden to return to the king, and announce to him that his prayer was heard, and that fifteen years should be added to his life. (2 Kings 20.)
It is true waiting times are often appointed to praying souls. It is not however because the prayer is unheard — but the due time for the blessing has not yet arrived. The longer the delay — often the larger is the gift. It has been said, "Ships that make the longest voyages bring home the most valuable cargoes. So prayers, long unanswered, come home freighted with the richest treasures."
Whether sooner or later, God has pledged His faithful word, that no petition offered in Christ's name, and according to His will, shall fall to the ground. As a dying saint once expressed it, he could see "all his prayers as a cloud of blessing before the throne, there waiting to greet him."
Our part is faithfully, perseveringly to pray. It shall be God's part faithfully, abundantly to answer.
"Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us — unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end! Amen."
From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat;
'Tis found beneath the mercy-seat!
There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads —
A place than all beside more sweet;
It is the blood-bought mercy-seat.
Ah! where could we flee for aid,
When tempted, desolate, dismayed!
Or how each mighty foe defeat,
Had suffering saints no mercy-seat?