“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” [Mark 11:24]
This verse has something to do with the faith of miracles; but I think it has far more reference to the miracle of faith. We will, this morning, consider it in that light. I believe that this text applies not only to the apostles, but also to all those who walk in the faith of the apostles, believing in the promises of the Lord Jesus Christ. The advice which Christ gave to the twelve and to his immediate followers is repeated to us in God’s Word this morning. May we have the grace to constantly obey it. “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
There are so many persons who complain that they don’t enjoy prayer. They don’t neglect it, for they dare not; but they would neglect it if they could, because they don’t find any pleasure in praying. And don’t we all have to admit, that sometimes when we pray, that it is very difficult work and seems to be almost drudgery? We spend the allotted time, but we rise from our knees unrefreshed, like a man who has laid on his bed but has not slept so hasn’t really recovered his strength. When the time comes around again conscience drives us to our knees, but there is not sweet fellowship with God. There is no crying out of our needs to him with the firm conviction that he will supply them. After having gone again through a certain round of customary utterances, we rise from our knees perhaps more troubled in conscience and more distressed in mind than we were before. There are many Christians, I think, who complain of this—that they pray not so much because it is a blessed thing that allows them to draw near to God, but because they must pray, because it is their duty, because they feel that if they did not, they would lose one of the sure evidences of being Christians. Brothers and sisters, I don’t condemn you; but at the same time, if I may be the means of lifting you up this morning from so low a state of grace into a higher and healthier atmosphere, my soul will be extremely glad. If I can show you a more excellent way; if from this time forward you may come to look at prayer as your natural state, as one of the most delightful exercises of your life; if you will come to esteem it more than your necessary food, and to value it as one of heaven’s best luxuries, surely I will have answered a great end, and you will have to thank God for a great blessing.
Give me your attention while I beg you, first, to look at the text; secondly to look around you; and then, to look above you.
I. First, LOOK AT THE TEXT.
If you look at it carefully, I think you will perceive the essential qualities which are necessary for any great success and power in prayer. According to our Savior’s description of prayer, there should always be some definite objects for which we should plead. He speaks of definite request, “Whatever you ask for.” It seems then that he made the point that God’s children would go to him to pray when they had something to pray for. Another essential qualification of prayer is earnest desire; for the Master assumes that when we pray we have needs and desires, thus we are asking for something. Indeed it is not prayer, it may be something like prayer, the outward form or the bare skeleton, but it is not the living thing, the all-prevailing, almighty thing, called prayer, unless there is a complete and consuming desire. Observe, too, that faith is an essential quality of successful prayer—“believe that you have received it.” You cannot pray so as to be heard in heaven and answered to your soul’s satisfaction, unless you believe that God really hears and will answer you. One other qualification appears here upon the very surface, namely, that a real expectation should always accompany a firm faith— “believe that you have received it.” Not merely believe that “You will” but “You that you have” received it—count them as if they were received, believe it as if you had it already, and act as if you had it—act as if you were sure you would have it—believe that you received it, and you will have it.” Let us review these four qualifications, one by one.
1. To make prayer of any value, there should be definite objects for which to plead for.
My brothers and sisters, we often ramble in our prayers after this, that, and the other, and we get nothing because in each request we do not really desire anything. We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any one object. Don’t you sometimes fall on your knees without thinking beforehand what you plan to ask God for? You do so as a matter of habit, without any action of your heart. You are like a man who goes to a store and doesn’t know what he wants to buy. He may perhaps make a good purchase when he is there, but certainly it is not a wise plan to adopt. And so the Christian in prayer may afterwards attain to a real desire, and get what he asked for, but how much better would it be if having prepared his soul by consideration and self-examination of his true needs, he came to God with specific requests. If we requested a meeting with a king or a president, we should expect to be able to answer the obvious question, “What do you wish to see them about?” We would not be expected to go into the presence of royalty or a great leader, and then to think of some petition after we came there. It is the same with the child of God. They should be able to answer the great question, “What is your petition and what is your request, and it will be yours?”
Imagine an archer shooting with his bow, and not knowing where the target is! Would he be likely to have success? Conceive of a ship on a voyage of discovery, putting to sea without the captain having any idea of what he was looking for! Would you expect that he would come back heavily laden either with the discoveries of science, or with the treasures of gold? In everything else you have a plan. You don’t go to work without knowing that there is something that you plan to accomplish; how is it that you go to God without knowing what you intend to ask for? If you had some particular need you would never find prayer to be dull and heavy work; I am persuaded that you would long for it. You would say, “I have something that I want. Oh that I could draw near to my God, and ask him for it; I have a need, I want to have it satisfied, and I long till I can get alone, that I may pour out my heart before him, and ask him for this thing after which my soul so earnestly pants after.”
You will find it more helpful to your prayers if you have some objects at which you aim, and I think also if you have some persons whom you will mention. Do not merely plead with God for sinners in general, but always mention some by name. If you are a Sunday-school teacher, don’t simply ask that your class may be blessed, but pray for your children definitely by name before the Most High. And if there is a mercy in your household that you crave, don’t go in a round-about way, but be simple and direct in your pleadings with God. When you pray to him, tell him what you want. If you don’t have enough money, if you are in poverty, if you are in desperate need, state the case. Don’t be shy with God. Come at once to the point; speak honestly with him. He needs no beautiful phrases such as men will constantly use when they don’t like to say right out what they mean. If you need either an earthly or spiritual mercy, say so. Don’t rummage through the Bible to find words in which to express it. Express your needs in the words which naturally suggest themselves to you. They will be the best words, depend on it. Abraham’s words were the best for Abraham, and yours will be the best for you. You need not study all the texts in Scripture, to pray just like Jacob and Elijah did, using their expressions. If you do you will not truly imitate them. You may imitate them literally and in a forced way, but you lack the soul that suggested and animated their words. Pray in your own words. Speak plainly to God; immediately ask for what you want. Name persons, name things, and be direct with the objects of your supplications, and I am sure you will soon find that the weariness and dullness of which you often complain in your prayers, will disappear; or at least you won’t experience them very often like you did before.
“But,” someone says, “I don’t feel that I have any special things to pray about.” Ah! My dear friend, I don’t know who you are, or where you live, to not have any thing to pray about, for I find that every day brings either a need or trouble, and that I have every day something to ask of my God. But if we still insist that have no troubles, that we have attained to such a level of grace that we have nothing to ask for, then I ask, do we love Christ so much that we have no need to pray that we may love him more? Do we have so much faith that we have ceased to cry, “Lord increase my faith?” You will always, I am sure, by a little self-examination, soon discover that there is some legitimate object for which you may knock at Mercy’s door and cry, “Give me, Lord, the desire of my heart.” And if you haven’t any desire, you have only to ask the first struggling Christian you meet, and he will give you something to pray for. “Oh,” he will reply to you, “If you have nothing to ask for yourself, then please pray for me. Ask that a sick wife may be healed. Pray that the Lord will graciously help the person struggling with a discouraged heart; ask that the Lord would send help to some minister who has been laboring in vain, and spending his strength for nothing.” When you have done asking for yourself, plead for others; and if you can’t meet with someone who can suggest a theme, look on this huge, Sodom, this city like another Gomorrah lying before you; carry it constantly in your prayers before God and cry, “Oh that this city may live before you, that its sin may be stopped, that its righteousness may be exalted, that the God of the earth may draw to himself many people out of this city.”
2. It is equally necessary that with the definite object for prayer that there should also be an earnest desire for its attainment.
“Cold prayers,” says an old Christian, “ask for a denial.” When we come to the Lord with an attitude of indifference in our prayers then, we do as it were, stop his hand, and restrain him from giving us the very blessing we pretend that we are seeking. When you have your object in your heart, your soul must become so possessed with the value of that object, with your own excessive need for it, with the danger which you will be in unless that object would be granted, that you will be compelled to plead for it as a man pleads for his life.
There was a beautiful illustration of true prayer, prayer that was addressed to a man, in the conduct of two noble ladies, whose husbands were condemned to die and were about to be executed, when they came before King George and plead for their pardon. The king rudely and cruelly rejected them. King George the first! It was in his very nature to act the way he did. And they pleaded again, and again, and again, and they would not rise from their knees; they had to actually be dragged out of court, for they would not stop pleading until the king had granted their wish, and told them that their husbands would live. Sadly! they failed, but they were noble women for their perseverance in pleading for their husbands’ lives.
That is exactly the way for us to pray to God. We must have such a desire for the thing we want, that we will not stop praying until we have it—but always in submission to his divine will, nevertheless. Feeling that the thing we ask for cannot be wrong, and that he himself has promised it, we have resolved it must be given, and if not given, we will plead the promise, again, and again, until heaven’s gates will shake before our pleas will cease. No wonder that God has not blessed us much lately, because we are not fervent in prayer as we should be. Oh, those cold-hearted prayers that die upon the lips—those frozen supplications; they don’t move men’s hearts, how should they move God’s heart? They don’t come from our own souls, they don’t well up from the deep secret springs of our inmost heart, and therefore they cannot rise up to him who only hears the cry of the soul, before whom hypocrisy and formality are clearly seen. We must be earnest, otherwise we have no right to hope that the Lord will hear our prayer.
And surely, my brothers and sisters, we would stop all insincerity in prayer and be constantly serious in our requests, if we could comprehend the greatness of the Holy God before whom we plead. Will I come into your presence, my Lord, and mock you with cold-hearted words? Will I be content to babble through a form with no soul and no heart? Ah, my brothers and my sisters! We have no idea how many of our prayers are an abomination to the Lord. It would be an abomination to you and to me to hear men ask us in the streets, as if they did not want what they asked for. But haven’t we done the same to God? Haven’t we taken that which is heaven’s greatest blessing to us, and made it into a dry dead duty? It was said of John Bradford that he had a unusual way to pray, and when asked what his secret was, he said, “When I know what I want I always stop and continued to present that prayer until I feel that I have pleaded it with God, and until God and I have had dealings with each other upon it. I never go on to another petition until I have completely gone through the first.”
Sadly! for some men who begin “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name;” and before they have realized the adoring thought—“hallowed be your name,”—they have begun to repeat the next words—”Your kingdom come;” then perhaps something strikes their mind, “Do I really wish his kingdom to come? If it were to come now where would I be?” And while they are thinking of that, their voice is going on with, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven;” so they jumble up their prayers and run the sentences together. Oh! stop at each request until you have really prayed it. Don’t try to put two arrows on the bow at once, they will both miss. He that would load his gun with two charges cannot expect to be successful. Discharge one shot first, and then load again. Plead once with God and prevail, and then plead again. Get the first mercy, and then go again for the second. Don’t be satisfied with running the colors of your prayers together, until there is no picture to look at but just a huge glob, a smear of colors badly laid on. Look at the Lord’s Prayer itself. What clear sharp outlines there are in it. There are certain definite mercies, and they do not run into one another. There it stands, and as you look at the whole it is a magnificent picture; not confusion, but beautiful order. It should be the same with your prayers. Stay on one until you have prevailed with that, and then go on to the next. With definite objects and with fervent desires mixed together, there is the dawning of hope that you will prevail with God.
3. But again: these two things would not be powerful and effective unless they were mixed with a still more essential and divine quality, namely, a firm faith and belief in God.
Brothers and sisters, do you believe in prayer? I know you pray because you are God’s people; but do you believe in the power of prayer? There are a great many Christians that don’t, they think it is a good thing, and they believe that sometimes it does wonders; but they don’t think that prayer, real prayer, is always successful. They think that its effect depends upon many other things, but that it hasn’t any essential quality or power in itself. Now, my own soul’s conviction is, that prayer is the greatest power in the entire universe; that it has a more omnipotent force than electricity, gravity, or any other of those secret forces which men have called by names, but which they do not understand. Prayer has as obvious, as true, as sure, as invariable an influence over the entire universe as any of the laws of matter. When a person really prays, it is not a question whether God will hear them or not, he must hear them; not because there is any compulsion in the prayer, but there is a sweet and blessed compulsion in the promise. God has promised to hear prayer, and he will keep his promise. Since he is the most high and true God, he cannot deny himself. Oh! to think of this; that you a puny person may stand here and speak to God, and through God is controlling the entire universe. Yet when your prayer is heard, creation will not be disturbed; though the greatest prayer is answered, providence will not be disarranged for a single moment. Not a leaf will fall earlier from the tree, not a star will stray from its course, nor one drop of water trickle more slowly from its fount, all will go on the same, and yet your prayer will have effected everything. It will speak to the decrees and purposes of God, as they are being daily fulfilled; and they will all shout to your prayer, and cry, “You are our brother; we are decrees, and you a prayer; but you are yourself a decree, as old, as sure, as ancient as we are.”
Our prayers are God’s decrees in another shape. The prayers of God’s people are but God’s promises breathed out of living hearts, and those promises are the decrees, only put into another form and fashion. Don’t say, “How can my prayers affect the predetermined will and plan of God?” They cannot, except in so much that your prayers are decrees, and that as they come out, every prayer that is inspired of the Holy Spirit to your soul is as omnipotent and as eternal as that decree which said, “Let there be light, and there was light;” or as that decree which chose his people, and ordained their redemption by the precious blood of Christ. You have power in prayer, and you stand today among the most potent ministers in the universe that God has made. You have power over angels, they will fly at your command. You have power over fire, and water, and the elements of the earth. You have power to make your voice heard beyond the stars; where the thunders die out in silence, your voice will wake the echoes of eternity. The ear of God himself will listen and the hand of God himself will yield to your will. He commands you pray, “Your will be done,” and your will, will be done. When you can plead his promise then your will is his will.
Doesn’t it seem amazing my dear friends, an awesome thing to have such power in one’s hands as to be able to pray? You have heard sometimes of men who pretended to have a weird and mystic power, by which they could call up spirits from the dead, by which they could make showers of rain, or stop the sun. It was all a figment of their imagination, but even if it was true then the Christian would be a greater magician still. If he has but faith in God, there is nothing impossible to him. He will be delivered out of the deepest waters—he will be rescued out of the distressing troubles—in famine he will be fed—in times of great diseases he will go unscathed—in the middle of calamities he will walk firm and strong—in war he will always be protected—and in the day of battle he will lift up his head, if he can only believe the promise, and hold it up before God’s eyes and plead it with the confidence of unfaltering reliance. There is nothing, I repeat it, there is no force so tremendous, no energy so marvelous, as the energy with which God has endowed every man and woman, who like Jacob can wrestle, like Israel can prevail with him in prayer. But we must have faith in this; we must believe prayer to be what it is, or else it is not what it should be. Unless I believe my prayer to be effectual it will not be, for it will depend to a great extent on my faith. God may be merciful and grant my request even when I don’t have the faith; that will be his own sovereign grace, but he has not promised to do it. But when I have faith and can plead the promise with earnest desire, it is no longer a probability as to whether I will get the blessing, or whether my will, will be done. Unless the Eternal will swerve from his Word, unless the oath which he has given will be revoked, and he himself will cease to be what he is, “We know that we have what we asked of him” [1 John 5:15].
4. And now to mount one step higher, together with definite objects, fervent desires and strong faith in the efficacy of prayer there should be—and Oh may divine grace make it so with us!—there should be mingled a real expectation.
We should be able to count the answered prayers before we receive them, believing that they are on the road. Reading the other day in a sweet little book, which I would commend to the attention of all of you, written by an American author who seems to truly and completely know the power of prayer, and to whom I am indebted for many good things—a little book called The Still Hour, [Austin Phelps, 1820-1890].
In the little book, I noted a reference to a passage in the book of Daniel, the tenth chapter I think, where, as he says, the whole machinery of prayer seems to be exposed. Daniel is on his knees in prayer, and an angel comes to him. He talks with him and tells him that as soon as Daniel set his mind to gain understanding and to humble himself before God, his words were heard, and the Lord had sent him to Daniel. Then he tells him in the most business-like, “I would have been here sooner, but the Prince of Persian kingdom resisted me; nevertheless the prince of your nation [Michael the Archangel] helped me, and I am come to comfort and instruct you.”
Now I want you to see that God breathes the desire into our hearts, and as soon as the desire is there, before we call he begins to answer. Before the words make it half way up to heaven, while they are yet trembling on the lip—knowing the words we mean to speak—he begins to answer them, sends the angel; the angel comes and brings down the needed blessing. Why the thing is a revelation if you could see it with your eyes. Some people think that spiritual things are dreams, and that we are talking nonsense. No, I do believe there is as much reality in a Christian’s prayer as in a lightning flash; and the utility and excellency of the prayer of a Christian may be just as sensibly known as the power of the lightning flash when it strikes the tree, breaks off its branches, and splits it to the very root. Prayer is not an imagination of fiction; it is a real actual thing, coercing the universe, binding the laws of God themselves in chains, and constraining the High and Holy One to listen to the will of his poor but favored creature—man himself. We must always believe this. We need an absolute assurance in prayer. To count the answers before they are received! To be sure that they are coming! To act as if we have actually received them! When you have asked for your daily bread, then you are to no longer be concerned about it, but to believe that God has heard you, and will give it to you. When you have taken the case of your sick child before God and believe that the child will recover, or if they should not, that it will be a greater blessing to you and more glory to God, and so you leave it with him. To be able to say, “I now know that he has heard me; I will stand on my watchtower; I will look for my God and hear what he will say to my soul.” Have you ever been disappointed, Christian, when you prayed in faith and expected the answer? I bear my own testimony here this morning, that I have never yet trusted him and found him to fail me. I have trusted man and have been deceived, but my God has never once denied the request I have made to him, when I have backed up the request with belief in his willingness to hear, and in the assurance of his promise.
But I hear some one say, “Can we pray for earthly things?” Yes, you may. In everything make known your needs to God. It is not merely for spiritual, but for everyday concerns. Take your smallest trials before him. He is a God that hears prayer; he is your household God as well as the God of the Sanctuary. Always take all that you have before God. As one good man who was about to be united with this Church told me of his departed wife, “Oh,” he said, “she was a woman that I could never get to do anything until she made it a matter of prayer. Whatever it was, she used to say, ‘I must make it a matter of prayer;’” Oh for more of this sweet habit of spreading everything before the Lord, just as Hezekiah did with the threatening letter from the enemy, and there leaving it, saying, “Your will be done, I leave it with you!” Men say Mr. Muller of Bristol is a bit crazy and eccentric, because he will gather seven hundred children and believe that God will provide for them; though there is no money or food. He is only doing what ought to be the commonplace action of every Christian man and woman. He is acting in accordance to a decree of God, which the world will always scoff at, because they do not understand it, for it doesn’t make sense to them, because it is based on the uncommon faith in a faithful God. Oh that we had that uncommon faith to take God at his word! He cannot and he will not permit the person that trusts him to be ashamed or confused.
Now, I have, as best as I could, set forth before you what I conceive to be four essentials of prevailing prayer—“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
II. Having thus asked you to look at the text, I want you now to LOOK AROUND YOU.
Look around you at our prayer meetings, and look around you at your times of private prayer, and judge them both by the meaning of this text.
First, look around you at our prayer meetings.
I do honestly believe that the prayer-meetings which are usually held among us, have far less of the faults which I am about to indicate, than any others I have ever attended. But, still they have some of the faults, and I hope that what we will say will be taken to heart by every brother and sister who is in the habit of engaging publicly in prayer at the prayer-meetings.
Is it not a fact, that as soon as you enter the prayer-meeting, you feel, that many of the men who pray seem to have a good memory to remember a great many texts, which always have been quoted since the days of our grandfather’s grandfather, and they are able to repeat them in a regular order. The gift to do this lies, in some other churches, especially in village churches, in having strong lungs, so as to be able to hold out, without taking a breath for 25 minutes when you are brief, and 45 minutes when you are rather drawn out. The gift lies also in being able not to ask for anything in particular, but in passing through a range of everything, making the prayer, not an arrow with a point, but rather like a nondescript machine, that has no point whatever, and yet is meant to be all point, which is aimed at everything, and consequently strikes nothing. Those brethren are often the most frequently asked to pray, who have those unusual, and perhaps, excellent gifts, although I certainly must say that I cannot obey the apostle’s injunction in coveting very earnestly such gifts as these.
Now, if instead of this, some man is asked to pray, who has never prayed before in public; suppose he rises and says, “Oh Lord, I feel myself such a sinner that I can scarcely speak to you, Lord, help me to pray! O Lord, save my poor soul! O that you would save my old friends! Lord, bless our minister! Be pleased to give us a revival. O Lord, 1 can say no more; hear me for Jesus’ sake! Amen.” Well, then, you feel somehow, as if you had begun to pray yourself. You feel an interest in that man, partly from fear lest he should stop, and also because you are sure that what he did say, he meant. And if another should get up after that, and pray in the same spirit, you go out and say, “This is real prayer.” I would sooner have three minutes prayer like that, than thirty minutes of the other kind, because the one is praying, and the other is preaching.
Allow me to quote what an old preacher said on the subject of prayer, and give it to you as a little word of advice—he said, “Remember, the Lord will not hear you, because of the arithmetic of your prayers; he does not count their numbers. He will not hear you because of the rhetoric of your prayers; he does not care for the eloquent language in which they are conveyed. He will not listen to you because of the geometry of your prayers; he does not compute them by their length, or by their width. He will not regard you because of the music of your prayers; he does not care for sweet voices, nor for harmonious periods. Neither will he look at you because of the logic of your prayers; because they are well arranged and compartmentalized. But he will hear you, and he will measure the amount of the blessing he will give you, according to the divinity of your prayers. If you can plead the person of Christ, and if the Holy Spirit inspires you with zeal and earnestness, the blessings which you shall ask, will surely come to you.”
Brothers and sisters, I would like to burn the whole stock of old prayers that we have been using for the past fifty years. That “oil that goes from vessel to vessel,”—that “horse that rushes into the battle,”—that misquoted mangled text, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” [Matthew 18:20].—and all those other quotations which we have been manufactured, and dislocated, and copied from man to man. I wish we came to speak to God, just out of our own hearts. It would be a great thing for our prayer meetings; they would be better attended; and I am sure they would be more fruitful, if every man and woman would shake off that habit of formality, and talk to God as a child talks to his father; ask him for what we want and then sit down and be quiet. I say this with all Christian sincerity. Often, because I have not chosen to pray in any conventional form, people have said, “That man is not reverent!” My dear sir, you are not a judge of my reverence. To my own master, I stand or fall. I don’t think that Job quoted anybody. I don’t think that Jacob quoted his father Abraham. I don’t find Jesus Christ quoting Scripture in prayer. They did not pray in other people’s words, but they prayed in their own. God does not want you to go gathering up those excellent but very musty spices of the old sanctuary. He wants the new oil just distilled from the fresh olive of your own soul. He wants spices and frankincense, not of the old chests where they have been lying until they have lost their savor, but he wants fresh incense, and fresh myrrh, brought from your own soul’s experience. Make sure that you really pray, don’t learn the language of prayer, but seek the spirit of prayer, and may God Almighty bless you, and make you more mighty in your supplications.
I have said, “Look around you.” I want you to continue the work, and look around your own prayer closets.
Oh, brothers and sisters, there is no place that some of us need to be so much ashamed to look at as in our prayer closet. I cannot say the hinges are rusty; they do open and shut at their appointed times. I cannot say that the door is locked and cobwebbed. We do not neglect prayer itself; but those walls, what a tale might they tell! “Oh!” the wall might cry out, “I have heard you when you have been in such a hurry that you could scarcely spend two minutes with your God, and I have heard you, too, when you were neither asleep nor awake, and when you didn’t know what you were saying.” Then one wall might cry out, “I have heard you come and spend ten minutes and not ask for anything, at least your heart didn’t ask. The lips moved, but the heart did not ask. The lips moved, but the heart was silent.” How might another wall cry out—”Oh! I have heard you groan out your soul, but I have seen you go away distrustful, not believing your prayer was heard, quoting the promise, but not believing that God would fulfill it.” Surely the four walls of the closet might come together and fall down upon us in their anger, because we have so often insulted God with our unbelief and with our hurry, and with all kinds of sins. We have insulted him even at his mercy seat, on the spot where his condescension is most fully manifested. Isn’t this true with you? Must we not each confess that we are guilty? See to it then, Christian brothers and sisters, that a change is made, and God make you more mighty and more successful in your prayers than ever before.
III. But not to detain you, the last point is to look upward, LOOK ABOVE.
Look above Christian brothers and sisters, and let us weep. Oh God, you have given us a mighty weapon, and we have allowed it to rust. You have given us that which is as mighty as yourself, and we have let that power lie dormant. Wouldn’t it be a vile crime if a man had an eye given him which he would not open, or a hand that he would not lift up, or a foot that grew stiff because he would not use it. And what must we say of ourselves when God has given us power in prayer, and yet that power lies still. Oh, if the universe was as still as we are, where would we be? Oh God, you give light to the sun and it shines with it. You give light even to the stars and they twinkle. To the winds you give force and they blow. And to the air you give life and it moves, and men breathe it. But to your people you have given a gift that is better than force, and life, and light, and yet they permit it to lie still. Forgetful almost that they wield the power, seldom exercising it, though it would provide them with countless blessings. Weep, Christian. Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, saw that on the coins of the other Emperors, their images were in an erect posture—triumphing. However, he ordered that his image should be struck kneeling, for he said—“That is the way in which I have triumphed.”
We will never triumph till our image is struck kneeling. The reason why we have been defeated, and why our banners trail in the dust, is because we have not prayed. Go—go back to your God, with sorrow, confess before him, that you were armed, and carried bows, but turned your backs in the day of battle. Go to your God and tell him that if souls are not saved, it is not because he hasn’t the power to save, but because you have never anguished over perishing sinners. Your heart has not cried out, neither has your spirit been moved. Wake up, wake up, You people of Israel; be astonished, You careless ones; You who have neglected prayer; You sinners that have been at ease. Wake yourselves up; wrestle and strive with your God, and then the blessing will come—the early and the latter rain of his mercy, and the earth will bring forth abundantly, and all the nations will call him blessed. Look up then, and weep.
Once more look up and rejoice. Though you have sinned against him he loves you still.
You have not prayed to him nor sought his face, but behold he cries to you still—“Seek my face;” and he does not say to you, “You seek me in vain.” You may not have gone to the fountain, but it flows as freely as before. You have not drawn near to God, but he still waits to be gracious, and is ready to hear all your petitions. Behold, he says to you, “Enquire of me concerning things to come, and concerning my sons and daughters, command me.” What a blessed thing it is that the master in heaven is always ready to listen!
Augustine has a very beautiful thought on the parable of the man who knocked at his friend’s door at midnight, saying, “Friend, give me three loaves.” His paraphrase of it runs something like this—I knock at mercy’s door, and it is the dead of night. “Will not some of the servants of the house come and answer me?” No; I knock, but they are asleep. Oh! You apostles of God—You glorified martyrs—You are asleep; You rest in your beds; You cannot hear my prayer. But will not the children answer? Are there not children who are ready to come and open the door to their brother? No; they are asleep. My brethren that have departed—with whom I took sweet counsel, and who were the companions of my heart—You cannot answer me for you rest in Jesus; your works follow you, but you cannot work for me. But while the servants are asleep, and while the children cannot answer, the Master is awake—awake at midnight too. It may be midnight with my soul, but he hears me, and when I am saying “Give me three loaves,” he comes to the door and gives me as much as I need.
Christian, look up then and rejoice. There is always an open ear if you have an open mouth. There is always a ready hand if you have a ready heart. You only have to cry and the Lord hears; no, before you call he will answer, and while you are speaking he will hear. Oh! Don’t be backward then in prayer. Go to him when you reach your home; no, on the very way lift up you heart silently; and whatever your petition or request may be, ask it in Jesus’ name, and it will be done to you.
Yet, again, look up dear Christian, and make changes to your prayers from this time forward. Look on prayer no longer as a romantic fiction or as an strenuous duty; look at it as a real power, as a real pleasure. When philosophers discover some latent power, they seem to have a delight to put it in action. I believe there have been many great engineers, who have designed and constructed some of the most wonderful of human works, not because they would be paid a great sum of money, but simply from a love of showing their own power to accomplish wonders. To show the world what skill could do and what man could accomplish, they have tempted companies into speculations that could never repay them, so far as I could see, in order that they might have an opportunity of displaying their genius.
O Christian men and women, will a great Engineer attempt great works and display his power, and will you who have a mightier power than was ever wielded by any man apart from his God—will you let that power be hidden? No! think of some great object, strain the sinews of your supplications for it. Let every vein of your heart be full to the brim with the rich blood of desire, and struggle, and wrestle, and tug and strive with God for it, using the promises and pleading the attributes, and see if God does not give you your heart’s desire. I challenge you this day to exceed in prayer so much that my Master can’t meet your desires. I throw down the gauntlet to you. Believe him to be more than he is; open your mouth so wide that he cannot fill it; go to him now for more faith than the promise warrants; venture it, risk it, outdo the Eternal if it is possible; attempt it. Or as I would rather put it, take your petitions and needs and see if he does not honor you. Test him to see if he will fulfill the promise, and richly bless you with the anointing oil of his Spirit by which you will be strong in prayer.
I cannot refrain from adding just these few syllables as you go away. I know there are some of you that never prayed in your whole life. You have said a form of prayer, perhaps, many years, but have never prayed once. Ah! poor soul, you must be born again, and until you are born again you cannot pray as I have been directing the Christian to pray. But let me say this much to you. Does your heart long after salvation? Has the Spirit whispered, “Come to Jesus, sinner, he will hear you?” Believe that whisper, for he will hear you. The prayer of the awakened sinner is acceptable to God. He hears the brokenhearted and heals them. Take your troubles and your disappointments to God and he will answer you. “Ah,” but one says, “I have nothing to plead.” Well, just plead as David did—“Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” You have that plea—say it for his dear sake, who shed his blood, and you will prevail, sinner.
But don’t go to God, and ask for mercy with your sin in your hand. What would you think of the rebel, who appeared before the face of his sovereign and asked for pardon with the dagger sticking in his belt, and with the declaration of his rebellion on his breast? Would he deserve to he pardoned? He could not deserve it in any case, and surely he would deserve double his doom for having thus mocked his master while he pretended to be seeking mercy. If a wife had forsaken her husband do you think she would have the impudence, with brazen face, to come back and ask pardon while leaning on the arm of her new lover? No, she could not have such impudence, and yet it is so with you—perhaps asking for mercy and going on in sin—praying to be reconciled to God, and yet harboring and indulging your lust. Wake up! Wake up! and call upon your God, you sleeper. The boat is nearing the rock, perhaps tomorrow it may strike and be destroyed, and you will sink down into the unfathomable depths of everlasting woe. Call on your God, I say, and when you call upon him, cast away your sin or he cannot hear you. If you lift up your unholy hands with a lie in the right hand, a prayer is worthless on your lip. Oh, come to him, say to him, “Take away all iniquity, receive us graciously, love us freely,” and he will hear you, and you will yet pray as prevailing princes, and one day will stand as more than conquerors before the starry throne of him who ever reigns God over all, blessed forevermore. Amen. © Copyright 2004 by Tony Capoccia.