Is PRAYER Profitable?
by James Smith, 1860
Fallen man is a poor selfish being. Before the fall, God was his center to which he constantly tended, and the source from which he derived his choicest pleasures. Falling from God — he sunk into self, which is now his idol, and to which he continually offers sacrifices and incense. "What shall I get by this or by that?" is the question he constantly asks. And unless there is a prospect of getting gold, or grandeur, or pleasure, or fame — he generally declines acting.
Even religious services are performed from no better motives. Hence Malachi complains, "You have said, it is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances?" And in Paul's day, some supposed that gain was godliness, and no doubt professed religion with a view to gain. So Job complains of some as early as his times, who said, "What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" Job 21:15. Such a motive is wrong, it is base — and yet we cannot pray in vain, for while gain is not godliness — yet godliness with contentment is great gain.
Prayer honors God. He considers it an honor done to him, when we retire from the world, give up our time — and adore his perfections, seek his society, ask his blessing, and give thanks to his holy name.
Prayer pleases God. If the heart is honest, if the soul is sincere, if the life is upright, we read, "The prayer of the upright is his delight." It may be very imperfect. Its language may be very broken — yet he not only accepts it — but is pleased with it.
Prayer has power with God. Not from any excellency inherent in it — but from God's appointment and ordination. It is taking hold of him, wrestling with him, obtaining blessings from him, and in a sense overcoming him. Not that he is the least reluctant to bless, or confer favors — but he will have us earnest, fervent, and thoroughly hearty in our prayers.
As prayer honors God, pleases God, and has power with God, there is no ground to ask, "What profit should we have if we pray to him?" Yet we may perhaps profitably consider the question for a little time.
What do you need? Is it some temporal good? This you may get, or you may not. All may depend on the circumstances in which you are placed, what brought you into them, and the motive with which you ask for temporal good. We live under a spiritual dispensation, the promises that refer to spiritual blessings are absolute — but the promises of temporal things are conditional. If the honor of God, if the credit of religion, and your own real needs, require temporal things — you may ask for them with confidence, and expect to receive them, or something better in their stead. Thousands have obtained temporal blessings in answer to prayer — and so may you. Answers to prayer for temporal good, have been most striking and unquestionable, and if you are in circumstances to need them, you may receive them. But God will not give us temporal blessings — to feed our pride, gratify our lusts, or sanction our extravagance. He will only give us that which is good, and will do us good; but, no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Is it some spiritual blessing which you need? Then you may obtain it, for spiritual blessings are absolutely promised. "He will give grace." "He gives more grace." Is it something for yourself — as pardon? You may ask for this with the greatest confidence — if you confess the sin first, and plead the name of Jesus, you are sure to obtain it. God is ready to pardon. All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men. God, for Christ's sake, will forgive you all trespasses.
Is it peace which you need — peace of conscience — peace with God? You may obtain it. God will speak peace to you, in answer to prayer. The Holy Spirit will apply the blood of Jesus to you, and a peace passing all understanding will flow into your soul.
Is it deliverance from any foe, or the power of sin, or any other real evil? If so, ask and you shall receive. Nothing is more positively promised than this, "Call upon me in the day of trouble — and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
Is it holiness? You may have it. Not by effort, or any working of your own; for Jesus is made our sanctification, as well as our righteousness; and as his righteousness is placed to our account in God's book, so his holiness must be imparted to us, by his Spirit. Our sanctification is produced by our union to Christ, and communion with Christ.
Is it assurance — an assurance of your acceptance with God, and of your personal interest in Christ that you desire? This may be yours. Jesus says, "Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." Ask then, and he will send you the Spirit of adoption, crying, Abba, Father, and bearing witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God.
Is it usefulness? This does not depend on great abilities or gifts, or an elevated position in society — but rather on living near to Jesus, and receiving much from Jesus. If we wish to be useful, and seek grace to make us so, we shall receive it — grace to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
In a word, by simple, believing, earnest praying, flowing from faith in Christ — we may obtain eternal life, and all things that pertain to life and godliness.
Is it some blessing for others that you desire? Is it the conversion of some near relative, dear friend, or beloved acquaintance? This has often been granted in answer to prayer. Indeed some of the most striking conversions have been direct and unmistakable answers to prayer. Pray therefore, and pray in faith, for God encourages you, heaven sympathizes with you, and a reward awaits you: there is joy in heaven over every repenting sinner; and he who converts a sinner from the error of his way, saves a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins.
Is it for the restoration of someone who has backslidden, or turned aside from the right ways of the Lord? Pray, pray, and pray fervently, and you shall receive an answer of peace. The great Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine faithful ones, to go after that one that was lost. God thinks of his backsliding Ephraims — his affections yearn over them, he pleads with them, he longs to see them restored, he loves again to clasp them to his breast. Pray, O pray then, for the restoration of backsliders, and heaven and earth shall be filled with joy by their return.
Is it for the consolation, or comfort of some mourning one? Prayer is powerful here. The true good Samaritan will come where the wounded one is, and will pour in his oil and wine, and in answer to your prayer will comfort such as are cast down. Jesus will send the Comforter, and he will so reveal the Savior, so unfold the gospel, or so apply the promises — as to fill the comfortless spirit with joy and peace in believing.
Is it that the Holy Spirit may be poured out? This, even this blessing may be obtained. Look at America, in answer to simple prayer, the Spirit has been poured from on high. Look nearer home, at Ireland; poor wretched Ireland, in answer to prayer, the Spirit is wondrously working there. Look at Wales, and with similar power, in answer to prayer, the Spirit converts thousands there. Look at cool, calculating, encrusted Scotland, and the Spirit produces excitement, holiness, and a new creation there, all in answer to prayer. And, blessed be God, in some of the cities, towns and villages of dear Old England, the presence and power of the Spirit are felt and experienced, as a proof of the power and advantage of prayer.
Shall we pray? Who can ask such a question? Who that desires salvation, or holiness, or happiness, or heaven? But would we pray successfully? Surely this is our desire. Then let us keep God's glory in view, and prefer that, and desire that, before and beyond everything beside. Let us believe the promises made to prayer, for they are given, not to amuse us, interest us, or even to instruct us; but that we may believe them, and expect their fulfillment. Let us make use of the name of Jesus, for it is only as authorized by him, as depending on him, and as expecting through him — that we can succeed. It is not our name — but the name of Jesus; it is not our works — but the work of Jesus; it is not even our praying — but the worthiness of Jesus, which obtains for us the blessings.
Let us be importunate, God loves importunity, and the importunate are sure to succeed. We must not only ask — but seek; not only seek — but knock; not only knock — but continue knocking, until the Lord opens the windows of heaven, and pours out his blessing.
Shall we then — will anyone then, after this, ask, "What profit should we have if we pray to him?" Profit — all profit and no loss. If we would have the spirit softened, the mind enlightened, the heart eased, or the soul made happy — if we would be wise and holy, honorable and useful, blessed and made a blessing — then let us pray, pray always, pray without ceasing, pray everywhere! And let us pray in faith, with fervor — until we obtain!