Key Thought: "There must generally be a preparation for prayer, if prayer is to be a great reality—there must be an awakening of the spiritual perceptions, which, through contact with things of sense, are so prone to slumber: there must be, in the emphatic language of Scripture, 'a stirring up of oneself to take hold of God'— according to the expression so frequent in the Books of the Chronicles, 'a preparation of the heart to seek God.'"
Well suppose that I have retired for secret prayer—I have entered into my closet, and shut to my door. Am I prepared, without a moment's consideration, to pour out my heart before God? Sometimes it may be so,—special circumstances may be stirring in my soul the lively emotions of hope or fear, or love, or desire, and I feel unspeakable relief and rest in unbosoming myself to my Father in heaven as I would to a friend. But, frequently, it is far different. Frequently, if I kneel without premeditation —without distinctly realizing what I am about to do—just because it is my duty or my habit to pray—my prayers degenerate into a mere mechanical exercise or a wandering reverie; and I rise from my knees not refreshed— not strengthened,—but with the miserable sense of a burden upon my heart, that finds expression in some such sigh as this, 'Oh my God, forgive me the mockery of this prayer!'
I know not how general such an experience as this may be; but that it is real, alas! I know too well. I need not say that this is making secret prayer the very reverse of a great reality.
This makes it plain, then, that there must generally be a preparation for prayer, if prayer is to be a great reality—there must be an awakening of the spiritual perceptions, which, through contact with things of sense, are so prone to slumber: there must be, in the emphatic language of Scripture, 'a stirring up of oneself to take hold of God'— according to the expression so frequent in the Books of the Chronicles, 'a preparation of the heart to seek God.'
The need of this preparation has been felt, and the duty insisted on, by the holiest men. 'Study your prayers,' says Robert M'Cheyne; 'a great part of my time is occupied in getting my heart into tune for prayer.'
‘Tis harder,’ says Gurnall, 'to get the great bell up than to ring it when raised, and so it is with our hearts—harder work we shall find it to prepare them for duty than to perform it when they are got into some order.'
Now what suggestions can be offered to prepare the heart aright-—to get it into tune, to get the great bell up, as Gurnall quaintly has it.
As a rule, I conceive no immediate preparation can supersede that of bringing the heart into contact with the spiritual realities of the Word of God. But, alas! to bring the eyes into contact is not necessarily to bring the heart. The regular reading of God's Word is as apt to become listless as prayer itself. What preparation can there be antecedent to this, to stir up the soul to listen to the voice of God as well as to commune with Him?
1. There must be a distinct apprehension of the existence of God. 'He that cometh to God must believe that He is.' Let not this suggestion be thought unnecessary for Christians. If it was, it would not appear as it does in Heb. xi. Without being Atheists, nay, though we may be members of God's own family, we may need to make an effort—to stir up ourselves—to realize God's existence; for it is an act of faith.
2. I must not doubt, but earnestly believe, that God is really ready to hear and willing to answer prayer. I must realize it as a fact, that 'the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry.' This can only be done by realizing God's parental love to me in Christ. 'No man,' says our Saviour, 'cometh to the Father but by Me.' No one with any true thoughts of God and of himself would try to come. But he that realizes the love of the Father manifested in Christ, the perfection of His atonement and satisfaction for sin, the glory of the everlasting righteousness brought in by Him for every believing sinner, together with His unfailing and eternal advocacy, has a strong ground of confidence indeed in drawing near to God. He can enter a little (and so far prayer must be a reality) into the unfathomable depth of the Redeemer's words to His Father and our Father, 'Thou hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me.'
3. I must exercise faith in the wondrous truth of the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost within me. I must appropriate to myself the promises of God, and say, 'The Spirit of God dwelleth in me.' 'My body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in me!’ 'The Spirit helpeth my infirmities, for I know not what I should pray for as I ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for me with groanings which cannot be uttered.'
4. I must distinctly realize that I need what I seek from God, and that I can get it from no one else. It has been said with truth, 'We never feel Christ to be a reality, until we feel Him to be a necessity.' The same may be said of prayer—to feel it a reality we must feel it a necessity.
5. I must firmly grasp the fact that prayer is ordained by God Himself as a power in real life. I must put far from me the secret misgiving, 'What profit shall I have if I pray unto Him?' No thoughts of the unchangeableness of God, or of the reactionary effect of the exercise of prayer upon my own spirit, must be allowed to interfere with my simple belief that prayer prevails with God. Here I must become as a little child, and really believe that prayer does 'move the hand which moves the world.' I must receive in simplicity God's own words, ' Every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.' I must believe, that just as God has ordained that in intercourse with my fellow-men I must express my wants if I want them to be satisfied, so has He also ordained in my intercourse with Himself, that although, as my covenant Father, He knows what I have need of before I ask Him, yet, for wise and loving reasons, He does not usually supply that need until I have myself made it known to Him; that is not therefore a figure of speech, but a matter of fact, that 'I receive not because I ask not.'