George Everard, 1880
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers." 1 Peter 4:7
Faithful, sincere, believing prayer is the secret of strength to every Christian. It is the power by which he overcomes the Tempter. It is the channel by which he receives daily help, wisdom, grace, and consolation from above. Few promises in Holy Scripture are more encouraging than that spoken by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount: "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:6
Hence the Adversary seeks by every means to hinder the Christian in this duty and privilege. Many are the devices which he uses for the purpose. Just as the commander of a besieging army might endeavor to cut off the water-supply, blocking up or destroying the conduit-pipes, thus hoping to take the city — so the enemy of God and man strives to hinder a Christian's prayers. If only he can prevent the child of God from seeking peace and help from above--he knows that, sooner or later, he shall be able to take the citadel of the heart. It is for this reason I write these introductory remarks. In putting forth a manual of private prayer, it may be well to name a few of the more common hindrances that are found to lie in the Christian's path. I will add also a few words as to the best means by which they may be overcome. I will briefly mention eight points on which it is of the utmost importance that you should be on your guard.
1. Any breach of the law of love, anything of strife, envy, ill-feeling, or separation in the home — is a great disturber of communion with God. For this reason Peter urges the husband and wife to live together "as heirs of the grace of life, that their prayers be not hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). It is only in the spirit of mutual forbearance, love, and unity — that prayer can thrive and grow. Only the still water can reflect the bright stars in the sky above. Only the heart at peace with others, can look up to Heaven and receive back the light which God is ever ready to bestow.
2. Worry is another enemy to be avoided. If you yield to perpetual anxieties and distractions about family matters, or business, or daily duties, or if you dwell continually upon troubles that you imagine are coming — you will seldom be able to pray with comfort. These burdens must be laid down at Christ's feet. Entrust them all to Him. Leave Him to undertake and manage for you, and He will do it far better than you can for yourself. If He laid down His life for you, if He has all power in Heaven and in earth, and if nothing is too small or unimportant for His eye to notice — then exercise more simple confidence in Him, and cast all your care on Him who cares for you.
3. The spirit of hurry is another of these dangers. Prayer need not be long, and in many cases it cannot be; but some time must be given to it in which you can quietly speak to your Father in Heaven. Had you to go into the presence oft our Queen, it would be very unsuitable that you should rush in with a hurried step, and, after a moment's conversation with Her Majesty, hastily leave the royal throne. But is it not far more so, when you go into the presence of the Great King? Take off your shoes from your feet, for the place is holy ground. Wait a few moments before the lip is opened, that you may consider the glory and holiness of Jehovah. God is in Heaven and you on earth, therefore let your words be few and sincere. Do not be content with muttering a short prayer after you have crept into bed. Lay aside all hasty speech, all thoughtless, hurried petitions, and worship Him "with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire."
4. A worldly spirit must be avoided if prayer is to be true and effectual. If the harp is out of tune, if the strings are loose or broken — then how can it give forth a delightful strain of pleasant melody? And if you come to the throne of grace with a mind preoccupied with a thousand eager, feverish worldly desires — then how can you offer such hearty spiritual worship as will be music in the ear of our Father in Heaven? If you would pray and praise aright — then watch continually that you are not conformed to the world.
Ever seek grace and power from above, that you may be renewed in heart and mind, to desire an increase of spiritual life above all things. Cherish heavenly thoughts throughout the day. Cultivate short prayers throughout the day. If possible, at noonday get a few minutes alone with God; and from morning to evening, again and again, let some short petition arise to your Father in Heaven. Even in your busiest hours you may steal a moment for silent prayer; and it will oil the wheels of everyday work, and form a link of connection between your morning and evening prayer. In this way you will find prayer more profitable and helpful to yourself, and more acceptable to your Father in Heaven.
5. Permitted sin is another deadly foe to effectual prayer.
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
"Dead flies spoil the precious ointment."
"He who turns away his ear from hearing the law, his prayer shall be an abomination."
If you allow yourself in any sin, or inconsistency, or neglect of duty — if you give the rein to the tongue or the temper — if worldly thoughts are allowed to lodge in the heart — if you set up any idol, money or pleasure or human praise or anything else, in the sanctuary which belongs to God — if you indulge yourself in that which is your own besetting snare — be sure that you will lose all comfort in prayer. Either prayer will conquer sin--or sin will take away all power in prayer.
6. Mere lip-service in prayer is no less fatal than
any of the other evils I have named.
It is the shell without the kernel.
It is the husk without the wheat.
It is the body without the soul.
It is the form without the power or reality.
You may repeat the most beautiful words by rote, you may utter the Lord's Prayer hundreds of times over — but if there is no earnest desire for the things you ask, then what does it profit? God looks at the heart, and He sees the emptiness and worthlessness of all such empty devotion. Beware of it as one of the greatest perils. It is in vain that you worship God and draw near to Him with your lips — while your heart is far from Him. He will never accept it at your hands. "In Spirit and in truth" is the one great requisite.
On this account, it is needful to exercise much caution in the use of a manual like this. It may prove a hindrance instead of a help. Never be content with using a prayer, however Scriptural and helpful in its way, unless your heart goes along with each petition. Only take this book to guide and assist you in coming to God, but do not rest in it as if you needed nothing further.
When you pray, think what you need, and what God has promised — and then plead both with your Father in Heaven. Think of your own special sins and temptations, and spread them out before the mercy-seat.
If you use the prayers of this book, speak also to God in your own words. A crutch is useful for one who is weak, but a strong man is able to walk without one. Therefore go forward, and seek to grow in the spiritual life. Ask of God a praying heart, and then His grace within you will stir you up to pray in words and desires which will be acceptable to Him. Never forget it. A sigh, a groan, a look, an inward longing of the soul has in it more of real, true prayer--than any number of words merely repeated from the memory, or read from a book, without the deep feeling of an humble, believing heart.
7. A wandering of the mind in prayer is another evil to be carefully avoided. I imagine there is no child of God but has continually to lament wandering thoughts — something coming in to divert the attention, and often carrying you miles away from the presence of the Lord. Even those who most grieve and regret this evil find that it often comes and disturbs them. It meets them in the sanctuary, it meets them in family worship, it meets them in their private devotions. It is a weed that is ever growing, and no remedy has yet been found that can completely root it out of the garden of the heart.
Yet some guidance may be given in the matter. Strive to be very definite in your prayers. Think of what you most need, and then put it very distinctly before the Lord. Endeavor always to speak as to a living person. If you could more fully realize and always recollect that when you pray, a living Redeemer and Friend bows down the ear to hear, that He is close by you, that you are not speaking into the air, or to the walls and ceiling of the room where you are, but that you speak your words to One who as truly sees you and hears you as if you saw Him with your very eyes before you--this would help you more than anything!
Believe, also, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy, and freely forgives these your infirmities. When conscience tells you that you have been wandering in thought, at once turn again to the Lord, trusting in the precious blood, and looking afresh for the present help and quickening of the Holy Spirit.
8. Unbelief is the last hindrance I will name. You must believe that God is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Many doubts are abroad in the world. Many question whether God hears prayer. But there is a living God, our Creator, our Father--and He does hear the cry of all who truly call upon Him. He makes use of the laws of nature, which He has appointed, to fulfill His own purposes of mercy in answering the prayers of His people. In the course of His wise providence, He disposes men's hearts, and turns about trials and sorrows, and all events, to work out His own wise designs. Give no heed to unbelieving fears. Unbelief dishonors God, keeps back the blessing you might receive, and robs you of all joy and comfort in prayer.
On one occasion we are told that Christ "could do no mighty works because of the unbelief" of the people. On the other hand He said, "According to your faith, be it done unto you." Therefore in prayer believe much, expect much, and hope against all delay and discouragement. Sooner or later, in the very best way, God will abundantly reward the prayers of all humble, true worshipers.
Look up to Heaven and behold a gracious Father standing with both hands full of precious gifts, and delighting to shower them down on such as wait upon Him.
Behold the merciful High Priest and Advocate pleading at the mercy-seat--full of sympathy and loving-kindness, presenting His own merits on your behalf, and thus securing every spiritual and temporal blessing for those who trust in His name.
Behold the Eternal, Ever-blessed Spirit, the Comforter--ready to aid you, ready to quicken you in prayer, and to make intercession within you in longings which no words can utter.
Behold unnumbered precious promises--like so many bright angels, beckoning you forward, and encouraging you to pray without ceasing.
Behold the example of God's saints in all ages, who witness to you of the faithfulness of God in hearing prayer.
Behold the joyful eternal rest that awaits all who love to pray, where weeping prayers shall be exchanged for joyful praises, and where your eyes shall see the King in His beauty.
Consider all this, and then rejoice to make use of this privilege of prayer.
Morning and evening and at noonday,
in the glare and heat of the world,
in the silent watches of the night,
in joy and in sorrow,
in youth and in old age,
in health and on a sick-bed,
in the full strength of life and in the solemn hour of death
— still pray on, pray always, pray hopefully, pray joyfully. And then through eternity you shall bless God for His everlasting mercy, and the countless and untold benefits He has granted in answer to your prayers.
"Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name. May Your kingdom come. May Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." Matthew 6:9-13