Key Thought: "But suppose, on the other hand, I believe God, and continue to wait. I lay the case again before Him. I tell Him of the inconvenience, but I declare my readiness to wait the Lord's leisure. He keeps me waiting, perhaps, a little while longer. He brings me into straits, as He did His people at the Red Sea, and as He does all His people at times, to try my faith in Him. He is honoured by my waiting. He gives me my heart's desire —my heart praises Him—my faith is strengthened."
What suggestions can be offered on our conduct after we have risen from our knees, to help in making prayer a great reality.
1. The first obvious suggestion is contained in the words of the Saviour, 'Believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them;' that is (if I may use the expression), let your practice prove your faith, and rather suffer temporary inconvenience than by an act of yours give occasion to the unbelief of your heart to boast that God does not hear and answer prayer. Let me give an instance. I am in want of a schoolmaster, I feel the importance of having a pious man at the post, I make it a special subject for prayer. I make inquiries, but I cannot meet with the man I have asked for. I begin to grow impatient. I am greatly inconvenienced, perhaps. I hear of a man suitable in every respect but in his want of true piety. I still feel the importance as much as ever, but I cannot wait longer. I engage the man, and my faith in God as a prayer-hearing God is shaken, or, at all events, my sense of the real practical character of prayer, if not lost, is grievously weakened.
But suppose, on the other hand, I believe God, and continue to wait. I lay the case again before Him. I tell Him of the inconvenience, but I declare my readiness to wait the Lord's leisure. He keeps me waiting, perhaps, a little while longer. He brings me into straits, as He did His people at the Red Sea, and as He does all His people at times, to try my faith in Him. He is honoured by my waiting. He gives me my heart's desire —my heart praises Him—my faith is strengthened.
And it will not do to say, 'Ah! but I cannot be sure that my prayer was according to His will.' Our unbelief and our impatience are too ready to shelter behind this, even in cases in which the heart is assured that the request cannot be contrary to His will. If Jacob had reasoned thus when the Angel said, 'Let me go, for the day breaketh,' it had never been said to his honour, 'As a prince hast thou power with God, and hath prevailed.' If the Syrophenician woman had argued thus— and well she might!—when Jesus answered her not a word, or only words of discouragement, her heart had never been gladdened to hear Him say, 'Oh woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.' If the two disciples had inferred this when Jesus made as though He would go further, they had not constrained Him to tarry with them, and they had missed the joy of recognizing their risen Lord. No, if we want prayer to be a reality, and a great reality to us, we must not give such constant occasion to God to say, ' I would have given it to you, but you would not wait.'
2. When prayer is answered we must not be forgetful or ashamed to acknowledge its efficacy.— If we want to feel it a reality ourselves, we must speak of it as a reality to others. 'Oh magnify the Lord with me,' cries David, ' and let us exalt His name together.' 'I sought the Lord and He heard me, and delivered me out of all my fears.' 'For this child I prayed,' said Hannah, 'and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him.' Such, under similar circumstances, must be our language. We must not, like cowards, hold our peace for fear of exciting the sneer of contempt at our fanaticism, or the smile of pity at our credulity; neither must we let our faith be intimidated into silence, by the caution of our own subtle and inbred unbelief.
Sir Fowell Buxton, writing to his daughter on the subject of a 'division' in the House of Commons, in the conflict for West India Emancipation, says, 'What led to that division? If ever there was a subject which occupied our prayers, it was this. Do you remember how we desired that God would give me His Spirit in that emergency? how we proved the promise, "He that lacketh wisdom, let him ask it of the Lord, and it shall be given him"? and how I kept open that passage in the Old Testament, in which it is said, "We have no might against this great company that cometh against us, neither know we what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee,"—the Spirit of the Lord replying, "Be not afraid nor dismayed, by reason of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's!" If you want to see the passage, open my Bible, it will turn of itself to the place. I sincerely believe that prayer was the cause of that division, and I am confirmed in this by knowing that we by no means calculated on the effect; the course we took appeared to be right, and we followed it blindly.'
I would only offer one more suggestion, and it is this—Is not prayer a great reality in proportion as life itself is felt to be a great reality? He who realizes day by day that he is himself preparing for eternity, and that he is surrounded by immortal beings who are likewise so preparing for an eternity of unspeakable bliss or woe, and that he is responsible, in a measure, for them as for himself, will not greatly need a stimulus to prayer. If, on the other hand, prayer becomes languid, formal, and unreal, there is much cause to examine ourselves whether we are not missing the main object of our lives.
It is written of David that before he slew the giant in the valley of Elah, he had met and slain the lion and the bear, upon the lone hills of Judah. So it must be with us. If we are to do successful battle with the giants of worldliness and selfishness—of pride and ambition—of unbelief and skepticism—of lust and appetite that stalk around us—we must meet and slay them first before God in our closets, in the secret recesses of our hearts. If we want to have more courage to face the world, and not by our lips only, but by our very presence, bear faithful witness always against its sins, we must learn, through the great reality of secret prayer, to say with Elijah, fresh from the presence-chamber of Jehovah, when he stood before an ungodly king, 'As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.'
We have need to recollect that it is not enough to do the work of Jesus, we must do it also in His spirit; and this can only be done by making up our minds to put ourselves often in the posture of Mary—sitting quietly, patiently, at the feet of Jesus, looking up into His face, and hearing His word.
Doubtless every one will find who proves it, that the best preparation for life, for death, for judgment, is through the great realities of secret prayer and the studied Word, to be able to say with one who sleeps in Him, 'I know Jesus better than any earthly friend.'