"You answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul."—Psalm 138:3
Sufferers in Gethsemane are comforted by seeing, in this example, that prayer is answered when strength is imparted to suffer and do God's will. We are apt to think that our prayers are in vain when the very request is not granted. We pray to be spared such and such a trial—pain, sickness, poverty, bereavement. These continue. Though we ask to be spared the bitter cup, it is still presented. Can the promise be fulfilled, "All things whatever you shall ask in my Name shall be granted"? But what do we ask in Christ's Name beyond that which He himself asked, that the will of God may be done? If we ask anything irrespective of His will, it cannot be in the Name—that is, in the spirit—of Him who prayed in Gethsemane. In every request which is really Christian, we therefore pray, "Father, not my will, but Yours be done." If so, His will becomes our will, and our prayer is heard when we receive strength to do it or suffer it.
To continue to pray, even when there is no outward answer in the removal of the trial, is itself an answer; for it is a proof of strength bestowed, without which we should cease to pray. To persevere in duty, as did Christ; to be gentle towards failing friends; to be forgiving towards foes and traitors; to be willing to suffer rather than sin by evading duty; to refuse deliverance when within our power, if at the cost of conscience; to be in the furnace and not murmur; to toil up the rugged hill and not look back—surely this is the answer to our prayer, when our supreme desire is to be strengthened to do the will of God.
Faith conquers when we are resigned to trials we cannot escape; but it is "more than conqueror" when we wrestle with difficulties or endure agony which it is in our power to avoid, but which we gladly embrace as the will of God. "Christ's was the quiet surrender of what was His, because He could not both have it and yet do His work and save the world. We talk of the glory of resignation to the inevitable; but the true glory is resignation to the evitable. To stand unchained, with perfect power to go away, and so standing to let the fire creep up to the heart—that is the truer heroism. When Christ refused to call the angels to His help the strength which was implied in the support of the angels was surely entering into Him, and making Him ready for the battle which He was just about to fight." (Phillips Brooks)
Trials may obstruct our path, which we feel unable to surmount. We pray, "O Lord, remove the mountain. Have You not promised such an answer to the prayer of faith? Is anything impossible with You? But Your will be done." The mountain remains in all its threatening inaccessibility. But new strength is imparted to the body, new courage to the soul. An invisible Hand is stretched forth and grasps our own. Now we begin to climb with cheerful hope, higher and higher above the clouds of doubt and despondency, until we breathe the exhilarating air and revel in the glorious landscape of the summit. Then we go on our way with invigorated powers, happy memories, useful experiences, confirmed hopes. Is not this a true answer? Is not such strength to climb the mountain its practical removal? Is it not better? Its removal would be but one event and relief. Strength to climb it remains in permanent invigoration of character, and has results enduring as eternity.
When Moses was summoned to go and demand the liberation of captive Israel, he earnestly prayed for the removal of such a mountain. He pleaded his weakness—"Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?"—his lack of credentials and of eloquence, and at length presumed to say, "O Lord, send, I pray you, by the hand of him whom You will send." The work must be done by himself, and his prayer was heard in strength given—"Certainly I will be with you; I will put forth My hand; I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall speak." Thus the mountain was removed by strength to climb it. Was it not better for Moses that he should thus be the great Lawgiver and Deliverer of the chosen people of God, and a blessing to the world, than that he should have had his first wish, and spend his remaining years in feeding a few sheep in the wilderness?
Prayer in trial is often answered with a fuller blessing, by strength for trial, than by escape from trial. David's experience has been shared by multitudes—"In the day that I cried, You answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul." The answer to the cry was by strength to endure the cause. This answer came at once—on the same day—in the strength so to pray and so to endure. We cannot escape conflict; it is better to fight and conquer. "Without combat you can not attain patience. If unwilling to suffer you refuse to be crowned. Without labor there is no arriving at rest, nor without fighting can the victory be won." (Thomas a Kempis.) Our prayer is answered when we can say—"God is my strength; He teaches my hands to war. You have girded me with strength to the battle." We ask for peace, and He answers by grace to win it. "The Lord will give strength to His people; He will bless His people with peace;" with peace, by strength. When we have felt too weak to encounter the difficulty and bear the sorrow—He has put this new song into our mouth, "You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress;" and then, instead of hesitating in any perilous or painful path, we have exclaimed—"I will go in the strength of the Lord God."
Trial endured by help from God is better than trial shunned. It was better for Columbus to go forward in spite of Atlantic storms and a murmuring crew than to seek inglorious shelter in some tranquil harbor or royal palace. He who has fought many battles, which have left many scars, is a better soldier than another who has lived secure in the barracks. And the Christian who prays for the help of God is no loser when enabled to fight the good fight, however fierce, rather than being spared the struggle. If with severer trial more strength is bestowed, we may rather desire than shun that which brings the more abundant grace. If more than for ease a Christian prays to be "strengthened with all might by God's Spirit in the inner man," he should not lament the necessity which brings the supply. It was better for Abel to be strengthened to suffer martyrdom than to be spared the persecution; for such avoidance would have been fruitless in result, whereas by strength to endure it, "He, being dead, yet speaks."
Against the powers of darkness,
The disciples, left alone after the Ascension, might dread the hostility of those who had murdered their Lord, and pray to escape. But their request was better answered by the assurance, "You shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses"—Greek, martyrs. They were to bear testimony even unto death by strength bestowed, and then to become founders of the Church, teachers and examples for the world. Paul prayed to be relieved from his thorn in the flesh, but it was better that he still had to endure it when assured by Christ, "My strength is made perfect in weakness;" so that he said, "I glory in weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Thus Christian martyrs were rescued, not from slimy cell, galling chains, hungry lions, fiery faggots, but by strength to suffer, and so conquer—strength not merely to submit to force, but of their own free will to welcome the furnace, to kiss the cross. And the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church. So, ever since, the 'Gethsemane of conflict' has been the sure pathway to the 'Calvary of conquest' and the 'Olivet of glory'. All who, like their Lord, have "offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears" unto Him who was able to save them from sorrows and death, yet with supreme desire that the will of God might be done, "have been heard for their pious resignation;" and their true request has been granted in strength bestowed to do that will.
"Peace! doubting heart; my God's I am!