IT is a mark of great favor on the part of God that He desires the godly to approach Him in prayer in the spirit of familiar friendship. He gives us the disposition to pray, and likewise makes our prayers effectual. Great indeed is the power of prayer, which though it be offered upon the earth is effectual in heaven. The prayer of a righteous man is the key to the treasury of heaven; the request ascends to heaven, and the answer of pardon and peace descends from God. Prayer is as a shield of safety to the believer, quenching all the darts of the adversary (Eph. vi. 16). When Moses held up his hands Israel prevailed against the Amalekites (Ex. xvii. 11); and if thou hold up the hands toward heaven in prayer, Satan shall not prevail against thee. As a massive wall resists and opposes the advance of an enemy, so is the holy wrath of God averted by the prayers of His saints. Our Saviour Himself prayed, not for the supply of His own necessities, but to teach us the worth and dignity of prayer. Prayer is a mark of our subjection, because God bids us offer prayers to Him daily as a sort of spiritual tribute to Him. It is a ladder by which we ascend to heaven, for prayer is nothing else than a drawing near the mind to God. It is a shield of defence, because the soul that liveth daily in a spirit of prayer is secure from the insults of devils. Prayer is a faithful messenger we send to the throne of God to call Him to our aid in the time of need. This messenger is never frustrated in His embassy, for God always hears us when we pray, if not according to our desires, yet according to our profit and salvation. We may without doubt or peradventure hope for one of two things; either that God will give us just what we ask for, or that He will grant us that which He knows is more profitable for us. God, unasked, hath given us the most excellent gift He had to bestow, even His own Son; what then will He not give us when we supplicate His throne? We must not doubt either Godís readiness to hear our prayers, nor our Saviourís active intercession in our behalf. Under any circumstances whatever, thou mayest, with Moses, enter the tabernacle to take counsel with the Lord in prayer, and quickly wilt thou hear the divine response. When Christ prayed He was transfigured; and so prayer transforms and transfigures our souls; for prayer is as a light to the soul, which very frequently leaves him exulting with joy, whom it found cast down with despondency.
How canst thou look upon the sun unless thou hast first adored Him who gives thee its beneficent light? How canst thou enjoy the bounties of thy table unless thou hast first given thanks to Him who so abundantly supplies the good things of life? With what hope canst thou resign thyself to the slumbers of the night if thou hast not first fortified thyself with prayer? What fruit canst thou expect from thy labors if thou dost not first invoke the blessing of God upon them, without whom all labor must be fruitless? If, therefore, thou desirest spiritual or temporal gifts, ask, and thou shalt receive (Matt. vii. 7). If thou desirest Christ, seek Him in prayer and thou shalt find Him. If thou desirest the door of divine grace and eternal salvation opened, knock through prayer, and it shall be opened to thee. If in thy pilgrimage through this wilderness world thou art afflicted with spiritual thirst through temptation and a lack of spiritual blessings, come thou in thy devotions to the spiritual rock, that is, Christ, and strike it with the rod of prayer, and streams of divine grace shall flow forth to quench thy thirst and supply thy need. Dost thou wish to offer a pleasing sacrifice to God? Offer prayer. The Lord will perceive the sweet odor of thy sacrifice and His wrath shall abate. Wouldst thou hold constant intercourse with God? Take delight in prayer, for this is spiritual conversation between God and the devout soul. Wouldst thou taste and see the Lord is good (Ps. xxxiv. 9)? Then constrain the Lord by prayer to take up His abode in thy heart.
Prayer is pleasing to God, but only when offered in His appointed way. If, therefore, thou wouldst be heard in prayer, pray wisely, ardently, humbly, faithfully, perseveringly and confidently. Pray wisely, that is, for those things that may be for the glory of God and the salvation of thy fellow-men. God is almighty, do not strive therefore in thy prayer to limit or restrict His power; He is all-wise, do not then prescribe any set order in which thy prayer should be answered. Be not rash or presumptuous in thy prayers, but let them issue from a heart full of faith. Faith, however, hath due regard to the Divine Word. What God promises absolutely in His Word, that thou mayest pray for absolutely; what He promises conditionally, as, for example, temporal blessings, those likewise thou shouldst ask for conditionally; what He has in no way promised thou shouldst in no way pray for. Often God gives us in holy wrath what He denies us in mercy. Therefore follow the example of Christ, who fully yields His own will to God (Matt. xxvi. 39). Pray ardently; for how canst thou ask God to hear thee, when thou dost not hear thyself? Wouldst thou have God mindful of thee when thou art not mindful of thyself? When thou wouldst pray, enter thy closet and close the door (Matt. vi. 6). Thy heart is that closet, into which thou shouldst enter if thou wouldst rightly pray. Thou must close the door that the distracting thoughts of worldly affairs enter not in to disturb thee. There are no voices that will reach the ears of God but the deep emotions of the soul; the mind ought to be so stirred by the ardor of our meditations, that it will far exceed what the tongue expresses; this is to pray in spirit and in truth (John iv. 23) as our Lord requires. Christ prayed on a mountain (Luke vi. 12), and lifted up His eyes to heaven (John xvii. 1), and so ought we to turn our minds away from all creatures and direct them to God. Thou doest God an injury if thou prayest Him to have regard to thee when thou hast none to thyself. We can pray without ceasing (1 Thess. v. 17) if we pray in the spirit, so that at least our mind is always watchful towards God in holy desires. It is not needful that we should supplicate God with loud cries, because as He dwells in the hearts of the godly He hears the very sighs of our hearts. Nor need we multiply words in our prayers, for He knoweth our thoughts. Sometimes a single groan under the impulse of the Spirit of God and offered up in the power of that Spirit is more pleasing to God than a long and tedious repetition of prayers, where the tongue speaks but the heart is altogether silent.
Pray humbly, trusting not in thine own merit, but only in the grace of God. If our prayers are offered in reliance upon our own worthiness, they are condemned in Godís sight, although in the ardor of devotion our hearts might sweat blood. No one can do that which is pleasing to God except in Christ; and no one can pray acceptably but in the name of Christ and relying upon His merit. No sacrifices were acceptable to God but those offered on the altar of Godís appointed tabernacle alone (Deut. xii. 5); and no prayer can be offered acceptably to God but on that altar of His appointment, Christ Jesus. The Lord promised to hear the prayers of Israel if they prayed with their faces turned toward Jerusalem (1 Kings viii. 44). So in our prayers let us turn ourselves towards Christ, who is indeed the temple of the Godhead (John ii. 19, 21). When Christ prayed in Gethsemane He cast Himself down upon the ground (Mark xiv. 35); behold how that most holy soul humbles Himself in the presence of the divine majesty!
Pray faithfully, so that thou mayest rightly bear the deprivation of every joy, and patiently endure every chastisement; the sooner we pray the better for us; the more frequently we offer up our devotions the more profitable will it be; the more fervently we approach God the more acceptable shall our prayers be to Him.
Pray perseveringly; because when God delays the answer He is not always denying us, but simply commending His gifts; and those gifts that we have desired for a long time we relish more keenly when we obtain them. Pray confidently; asking truly in faith, nothing wavering.
O most merciful, indulgent God, who hast bidden us come to Thee in prayer, help us to pray acceptably unto Thee.