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Our Great Need
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OUR GREAT NEED
First and always
Jesus opened His public mission at His baptism with fervent prayer and this example makes plain the fact that prayer is necessary in order for us to lead a successful Christian life, and to keep us connected with heaven.
"Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened...."
After that He was constantly communicating with His Father through prayer thereby presenting to us the perfect pattern which we are to imitate if we would be flourishing Christians.
1 Peter 2:21
"For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps".
Christ appreciated the privilege of prayer more than any other and His work shows the result of such a communion. Examining the record of His life, we find that upon all important occasions He retired to the grove, or to the solitude of the mountains, and engaged in earnest, persevering prayer. He frequently devoted the entire night to prayer just before He was called upon to work some mighty miracle or important event.
"And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples: and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles..."
[Disciples are they who come to a master to learn (their choice) - apostles are they who are sent by a master to work (his choice).]
When He needed companionship His disciples and were asleep He said, "What, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation". Matthew 26:40-41. It is idle hands (and minds) that get into trouble!
When His disciples needed comfort and encouragement He asked for something to help them and was told of a special work He could do.
"And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea".
During these nightly seasons of prayer, after the labours of the day, He would often compassionately dismiss His disciples that they might return to their homes for rest and sleep, while with strong crying and tears He continued to pour forth earnest petitions to God in behalf of humanity.
But should we do less than He?
"As He [the Spirit] says also in another place, 'You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec'. Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered..."
Another time, through being overcome by sleep, the disciples did not hear what Christ and Moses and Elijah discussed. Jesus had warned them of a special event which was soon to happen.
"But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God".
"And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray, and as He prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elijah: who appeared in glory, and spoke of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem".
Through being overcome with sleep, the disciples heard little of what passed between Christ and the heavenly messengers. Failing to watch and pray, they had not received that which God desired to give them, - a knowledge of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. They lost the blessing that might have been theirs through sharing His self-sacrifice. Slow of heart to believe were these disciples, little appreciative of the treasure with which Heaven sought to enrich them.
Are we any better than they?
Yet they received great light. They were assured that all heaven knew of the sin of the Jewish nation in rejecting Christ. They were given a clearer insight into the work of the Redeemer. They saw with their eyes and heard with their ears things that are normally beyond the comprehension of men. They were "eyewitnesses of His majesty", and they realised that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, to whom patriarchs and prophets had witnessed, and that He was recognised as such by the inhabitants of the universe. 2 Peter 1:16.
A busy universe
The Bible shows us God in His high and holy place, not in a state of inactivity, not in silence and solitude, but surrounded by ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of holy intelligences, all waiting to do His will. Daniel 7:10. Through channels which we cannot discern He is in active communication with every part of His dominion. But it is in this speck of a world, in the souls that He gave His only-begotten Son to save, that His interest and the interest of all heaven is centered. God is bending from His throne to hear the cry of the oppressed. To every sincere prayer He answers, "Here am I", and He will send a fellow human to help, if He can find one! Job 33:23.
He uplifts the distressed and downtrodden. In all our afflictions He is afflicted. [Isaiah 53:4.] In every temptation and every trial the angel of His presence is near to deliver. 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Satan's anger against God leads him to hate every object of the Saviour's care. He seeks to mar the handiwork of God, and he delights in destroying even the dumb creatures. It is only through God's protecting care that any are preserved. But He does not forget even the sparrows and Jesus used this as a comfort for us. "Fear you not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows", He said. Matthew 10:31.
Witnesses for Christ
One day our LORD spoke to His disciples and said words like these:
"As you confess Me before men, so I will confess you before My God and the holy angels. You are to be My witnesses upon earth, channels through which My grace can be seen to be flowing. I will be your representative in heaven. Then our Father will not behold your faulty character, but see you as clothed in My perfection. I am the avenue through which Heaven's blessings shall come to you. And every one who confesses Me by sharing My sacrifice for the lost, shall be confessed by Me as a sharer in the glory and joy of the redeemed". See Matthew 10:32-33 and Romans 10:8-11.
It is "Christ within"
But if we would witness for Christ, we
must have Christ abiding in us, for we cannot communicate that
which we have not received. We may speak fluently on doctrines,
we may repeat the words of Christ Himself;
but unless we possess Christlike meekness and love, we are not confessing Him. A spirit contrary to the spirit of Christ denies Him, whatever the profession.
Imagine a Christian who, after reading a portion of Scripture and offering prayer, almost as soon as he has risen from his knees, begins to growl at his children. How could God answer the prayer he has offered? And if, another time, after scolding his children, a father offers prayer again, does that prayer benefit the children? No! Not unless it is a prayer of confession to God.
We may deny our Saviour by evil-speaking, by foolish talking, by words that are untruthful or unkind. We may deny Him by shunning life's burdens, by the pursuit of sinful pleasure. We may deny Him by conforming to the world, by uncourteous behaviour, by the love of our own opinions, by justifying self, by cherishing doubt, borrowing trouble, and dwelling in darkness. In all these ways we declare that Christ is not in us. And "whosoever shall deny Me before men", He says, "him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven". Matthew 10:33.
Problems at home
The Saviour then told His disciples not to hope that the world's enmity to the gospel would be overcome, and that after a time its opposition would cease. He said, "I came not to send peace, but a sword". Matthew 10:34. However, this creating of strife is not the effect of the gospel, but the result of opposition to it.
Of all persecution the hardest to bear is variance in the home, the estrangement of dearest earthly ties. Jesus Himself suffered under that. At first in heaven when Lucifer, His brother, rebelled against the rule of God and again on earth when His earthly relations would not support Him. But Jesus declares, "He that loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after Me, is not worthy of Me". Matthew 10:37-38. This shows that the mission of Christ's servants is a high honour, and a sacred trust. "He that receives you," He says, "receives Me, and he that receives Me receives Him that sent Me". Verse 40.
When the Saviour ended His instruction He paired off the chosen twelve and they went out as He had, "To preach the gospel to the poor ... to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord". Luke 4:18-19.
This is normal Christian behaviour.
WHAT IS PRAYER?
Prayer is part of "rest"
On returning from their missionary tour, the apostles, reported in.
"[They] gathered themselves together to Jesus, and told Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And He said to them, Come you yourselves apart into a desert [or lonely] place, and rest awhile: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat".
The disciples came to Jesus and told Him "all things". Their intimate relationship with Him encouraged them to lay before Him their favourable and unfavourable experiences, their joy at seeing results from their labours, and their sorrow at their failures, their faults, and their weaknesses. They had committed errors in their first work as evangelists and as they frankly told Christ of their experiences, He saw that they needed much instruction. He also saw that they had become weary in their labours and that they needed to rest. But where they then were they could not obtain the needed privacy; "For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat". The people were thronging after Christ, anxious to be healed and eager to listen to His words. Many felt drawn to Him for He seemed to them to be the fountain of all blessings.
Now Christ longed for a quiet place, that He might be alone with His disciples for He had much to say to them. On their journey they had passed through the test of conflict and had encountered opposition in various forms. Before this they had been able to consult Christ in everything, but while on their trips they had been alone, and occasionally they had been troubled to know what to do. They had found much encouragement in their public work, for Christ had not sent them away without His Spirit, and by faith in Him they worked many miracles, but they needed now to feed on the Bread of life for personal advancement. They needed to go to a place of retirement, where they could hold communion with Jesus, and receive further instruction for future work.
Not sacrifice, but mercy
Therefore "He said to them, Come you yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile". Christ is full of tenderness and compassion for all in His service. He would show His disciples that God does not require sacrifice, but mercy. Matthew 9:13. They had been putting all their energy into labour for the people, and this was exhausting their physical and mental strength. It was their duty to rest.
Also, as the disciples had seen the success of their labours, they were in danger of taking credit to themselves, in danger of cherishing spiritual pride, and thus falling under Satan's temptations. A great work was before them, and first of all they must learn that their strength was not in self, but in God. Like Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, like David among the hills of Judea, or Elijah by the brook Cherith, the disciples needed to come apart from the scenes of their busy activity to commune with Christ, with nature, and with their own hearts.
The resting place
Near Bethsaida, at the northern end of lake Galilee, was a lonely region, now beautiful with the fresh green of spring and this offered a welcome retreat to Jesus and His disciples. Accordingly, they set out, going in their boat across the water. Here they would be away from the thoroughfares of travel, and the bustle and agitation of the city. The scenes of nature were in themselves a rest, a change grateful to the senses. Here they could listen to the words of Christ without hearing the angry interruptions, the retorts and accusations of the scribes and Pharisees. Here they could enjoy a short season of precious fellowship in the society of their LORD.
Rest is re-creation
The rest which Christ and His disciples
took was not self-indulgent rest. The time they spent in
retirement was not devoted to pleasure-seeking. They talked (that
is, prayed) together regarding their work with God, and the
possibility of bringing greater efficiency to it. The disciples
had been working for some time with Christ and could readily
To them He need not talk in parables. He simply corrected their errors, and made plain to them the right way of approaching the people.
He opened more fully to them the precious treasures of divine truth in the Scriptures. They were vitalized by divine power, and inspired with hope and courage. This was literal, practical prayer.
Though Jesus could work miracles, and had also empowered His disciples to work them, He directed His worn servants to go apart into the country and rest. Matthew 10:1, 5-8. This ability was not to be used for oneself or one's group, no matter what the urgency. When He said that the harvest was great, and the labourers were few, He did not urge upon His disciples the necessity of ceaseless toil, or to pray for more strength. He said, "Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth [more] labourers [whom we may be able to recognise] into His harvest". Matthew 9:38. He would have us understand that the work does not depend solely on us. God has already appointed to every man or woman their work, according to their ability, and He would not have a few taking the responsibilities, while others appear to have no burden, no travail of soul.
"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ...
Wherefore He [the Spirit] says, 'When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men'. (Now that He ascended [or went up], what is it but that He also descended [or came down] first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ [the church]: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ".
He already has many that we do not see and this prayer will help us in this regard. He told Elijah, "Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal [the god of force], and every mouth which has not kissed him". 1 Kings 19:18. We may ask if we can help them in their work.
The following words of compassion spoken by Christ to His workers apply to-day just as surely as they were spoken to His disciples.
"Come you yourselves apart ... and rest awhile", He says to those of us who are worn and weary. It is not wise to be always under the strain of work and excitement, even in ministering to men's spiritual needs, for in this way personal piety is neglected, and the powers of mind and soul and body are overtaxed. Self-denial is required of the disciples of Christ, and sacrifices must be made, but care must also be exercised lest through our over-enthusiasm Satan take advantage of the weakness of humanity, and the work of God be marred.
We must always remember that the work is God's
and we are only His helpers.
In the estimation of the rabbis of ancient/ Israel, it was the sum of religion to be always in a bustle of activity, just as it is with many today. They depended upon some outward performance to show their superior piety. Thus they separated their souls from God, and built themselves up in self-sufficiency. The same danger still exists.
WHY SHOULD WE PRAY?
There are three main types of prayer:
1. To Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing.
2. To the Spirit for guidance and knowledge.
3. To the Father to say "Thank You".
We should pray because we need
forgiveness and cleansing and guidance.
We should pray because we need something for someone else.
We should pray because we need understanding for someone else.
We should pray because we need guidance to help someone else.
We should pray because we need comfort
for someone else.
We should then pray to say "Thank You".
It has been said that prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse.
Activity a saviour?
As our activity increases, and we become successful in doing any work for God, there is danger of trusting to human plans and methods. There is a tendency to pray less, and therefore to have less faith. Like the disciples, we are in danger of losing sight of our dependence on God, and seeking to make a saviour of our activity. We need to look constantly to Jesus, realizing that it is the power of His Spirit which does the work. "Seek you the LORD while He may be found ... for My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways" He says to us. Isaiah 55:8.
We must know what we are expected to do today, without worry about tomorrow. "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof". Matthew 6:34.
But we may also know what is to happen in the future for the benefit of others. "For there shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before". Matthew 24:25.
And Paul said, "Remember you not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" 2 Thessalonians 2:5.
While we are to labour earnestly for the education of the "lost sheep of the house of Israel", we must also take time for meditation, for prayer reporting, and for the study of the word of God that we may have something to give. Matthew 10:6. Only the work accomplished with much prayer and sanctified by the merit of Christ, will in the end prove to have been efficient for good.
Pray without ceasing
No other life was ever so crowded with labour and responsibility as was that of Jesus; yet how often He was found in prayer.
How constant was His communion with God!
Again and again in the history of His earthly life are found records such as these: "Rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed". Mark 1:35. "Great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness, and prayed". Luke 5:15-16. "And it came to pass in those days that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God". Luke 6:12.
In a life wholly devoted to the good of others, the Saviour found it necessary to withdraw often from the thoroughfares of travel and from the throng that followed Him day after day. He must turn aside from a life of ceaseless activity and contact with human needs, to seek retirement and unbroken communion with His Father. "In the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears ... though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered". Hebrews 5:7.
As one with us
As one with us, a sharer in our needs and weaknesses, He was wholly dependent upon His Father, and in the secret place of prayer He sought divine strength that He might go forth braced for duty and trial. In a world of sin, Jesus endured struggles and torture of soul. In communion with God He could unburden the sorrows that were crushing Him. Here He found comfort and joy. So may we.
WHAT SHOULD WE PRAY?
Jesus did not spend His time praying for others in the manner some do today. "Please God, help So and So over there!" He knew that His God was already doing all He could and did not try to bend His arm or to hurry Him up. He knew that what His Father wanted was human co-operation in the work that was already going on. Therefore He pleaded with His Father for ability to communicate personally and not at a distance, with those who would be helped by His action. His prayer was, "Father, what can I do to help?" It was through continual communion that He received life from God, that He might impart life to the world. He accepted His work of educating those around Him.
When left alone, Jesus "went up into a mountain apart to pray." For hours He continued pleading with God. Not for Himself but for men were those prayers. He prayed for power to reveal to men the divine character of His mission, that Satan might not blind their understanding and pervert their judgment. The Saviour knew that His days of personal ministry on earth were nearly ended, and that few would receive Him as their Redeemer. In travail and conflict of soul He prayed for His disciples. They were to be grievously tried. Their long-cherished hopes, based on a popular delusion, were to be disappointed in a most painful and humiliating manner. In the place of His exaltation to the throne of David they were to witness His crucifixion. This was to be indeed His true coronation. But they did not discern this, and in consequence strong temptations would come to them, which it would be difficult for them to recognize as temptations. Without the Holy Spirit to enlighten the mind and enlarge the comprehension the faith of the disciples would fail. It was painful to Jesus that their conceptions of His kingdom were, to so great a degree, limited to worldly aggrandizement and honor. For them the burden was heavy upon His heart, and He poured out His supplications with bitter agony and tears.
Therefore that night of the storm, in travail and conflict of soul He prayed particularly for His disciples. "How can I help them?" At that moment they were being grievously tried. Matthew 14:24. And He received an answer. "Walk on the sea to them!"
He asked His Father for "eyesalve" that He might see their need. Then He asked to be directed to the words He could speak or the actions He must perform. He pleaded to be shown the timetable that He must follow to be at the right place at the right time. He claimed the "three loaves". Luke 11:5. [See more on this below]. In Christ the cry of humanity reached the Father of infinite pity. As a man He supplicated the throne of God, not stopping until His humanity was charged with the heavenly current that connects humanity with divinity.
His disciples had long-cherished hopes, based on a popular delusion, which were soon to be disappointed in a most painful and humiliating manner. In the place of His exaltation to the throne of David they were to witness His crucifixion. This was to be indeed His true coronation but they did not discern this, and in consequence strong temptations would come to them which it would be difficult for them to recognise as temptations. Without the Holy Spirit to enlighten their minds and enlarge their comprehension their faith would fail. It was painful to Jesus that their conceptions of His kingdom were, to so great a degree, limited to worldly expansion and honour. For them the burden was heavy upon His heart and He poured out His supplications with bitter agony and tears.
His experience is to be ours.
"Come you yourselves apart in prayer", He bids us.
If we would give heed to His word, we should be stronger and more useful.
Ask a Friend
The disciples sought Jesus, and told Him all things and He encouraged and instructed them. If to-day we would take time to go to the Spirit of God and tell Him of our needs for others, we should not be disappointed. He would be at our right hand to guide us.
Jesus asked us,
"Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give you.
"I say to you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity [that is, his refusal to go until the traveller can be satisfied] he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
"And I say to you, Ask [in that way], and it shall be given you; seek [in that way], and you shall find; knock [in that way], and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asks [correctly] receives; and he that seeks [correctly] finds; and to him that knocks [correctly] it shall be opened.
"If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?"
What we need
But He may have to wait until we know what we need! "Our great need of the Holy Spirit".
We already need more simplicity, more trust and confidence in our Saviour and His Comforter. John 14:16. He whose name is called "The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace;" He of whom it is written, "The government shall be upon His shoulder", is still the Wonderful Counsellor. Isaiah 9:6. We are invited to ask wisdom of Him continually for He "gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not". James 1:5. We should claim all the general promises written in His word, laying them before Him to ensure that we have understood them correctly, for true prayer is based on the promises of God. And, under the guidance of the Spirit, we may ask for particular ones, as did Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in their great need. Isaiah 43:2.
HOW SHOULD WE PRAY?
How many tedious prayers are offered that are more like giving the LORD a lecture than presenting to Him a petition! It would be better if these supplicants confined themselves to reciting the prayer that Christ gave His disciples, rather than to pray in a tedious, ceremonious manner.
There are two kinds of prayer -
the prayer of form and the prayer of faith.
The repetition of set, customary phrases when our heart feels no urgent, anxious, need of God, is formal prayer. We should be extremely careful in all our prayers to speak the wants of our heart and to say only what we mean. All the flowery words at our command are not equivalent to one holy desire. The most eloquent prayers are but vain repetitions if they do not express the true sentiments of our heart. Matthew 6:7. Whereas the continual repeated cry from a troubled heart is not!
Don't give up
Perseverance in prayer has always been made a condition of receiving.
"And He spoke a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying,
"There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
"And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall not [the just] God avenge [or answer] His own elect, which cry day and night to Him, though He [seem to] bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them [as] speedily [as He is allowed to]". Luke 18:1-8.
We must pray continually if we would grow in faith and experience
IS NOT GOD WHO NEEDS TO BE CHANGED, BUT US.
We are to be "instant in prayer," to "continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving". Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2. Peter exhorts us to be "sober [or serious], and watch to prayer". 1 Peter 4:7. Paul directs, "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God". Philippians 4:6.
"But you, beloved," says Jude, "praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God". Jude 20-21. This means talking with the Holy Spirit while we pray. Elijah was told to ask for rain but at first it did not come. 1 Kings 18:42-43. He did not doubt God, but simply asked what was wrong with himself that his Friend was not able to supply that which He had promised. Seven times he searched his heart under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Seven times he responded to the directions. And at last our Father answered him "speedily".
Unceasing prayer is the unbroken union of the soul with God, so that life from God flows into our life. And from our life, purity and holiness flow back to God through others.
"If you abide in Me, and My
words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be
done to you [for it
will be in harmony with My will]".
John 15:7. When you pray, present this promise and you will receive that which you ask for.
We may pray silently. We may pray aloud.
We may pray ceremonially. We may pray in friendship.
Prayer is simply communication.
We may even pray with our actions as did the Old Testament believer when he went to the sanctuary and offered a sacrifice.
Our condition often controls the answer
There was a time when the faith of some of His disciples was sorely tried.
"And when He was come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And He said to them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting".
The words of Christ pointing to His death had brought sadness and doubt. And the selection of the three disciples to accompany Jesus to the mountain had excited the jealousy of the nine. Instead of strengthening their faith by prayer and meditation on the words of Christ, they had been dwelling on their discouragements and personal grievances. In this state of darkness they had undertaken the conflict with Satan.
In order to succeed in such a conflict they must come to the work in a different spirit. Their faith must be strengthened by fervent prayer and fasting, and humiliation of heart. They must be emptied of self, and be filled with the Spirit and power of God. Earnest, persevering supplication to God in faith - faith that leads to entire dependence upon God, and unreserved consecration to His work - can alone avail to bring men the Holy Spirit's aid in the battle against principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in high places.
We need to pray because of our "unbelief". Mark 9:24. This is believing, but not believing very deeply. It is lukewarmness. Revelation 3:16.
Jesus said to some of His disciples,
"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. Howbeit this kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting". Matthew 17:20-21.
Their unbelief had shut them out from deeper sympathy with Christ, and the carelessness with which they regarded the sacred work committed to them had caused their failure in the conflict with the prince of darkness.
Jesus tells us that to succeed in such a contest we must work in a different spirit.
Our faith must be strengthened by fervent (really meant) prayer,
by fasting (having nothing superfluous in our lives),
and by humiliation of heart (putting ourselves last).
We must be emptied of "self" and be filled with the Spirit and power of God. Earnest, persevering supplication to God in faith - faith that leads to entire dependence upon God and unreserved consecration to His work - can alone avail to bring us to the Holy Spirit's aid in the battle "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places". Ephesians 6:12.
"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed", said Jesus, "you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove". Though the grain of mustard seed is small, it contains the same mysterious life principle which produces growth in the loftiest tree. When the mustard seed is cast into the ground, the tiny life within it lays hold of every element that God has provided for its nourishment and it speedily develops a sturdy growth. If we have faith like this, we too will speedily lay hold of God's word, and upon all the helpful agencies He has appointed. Thus our faith will strengthen, and will bring to our aid the power of heaven. The obstacles that are piled by Satan across our path, although apparently as insurmountable as the eternal hills shall disappear before the use of faith. "Nothing shall be impossible to you".
WHEN SHOULD WE PRAY?
We can obtain forgiveness only as a gift, because the atoning sacrifice is all-powerful for justification.
But in the struggle for sanctification we have a part to act. We have the "works" of righteousness to perform.
Jesus particularly prayed at the start of each day (for the night is the beginning of the day, Genesis 1:5.), and then He was given His directions for the daylight hours to come. His normal pattern was to pray to receive His specific instructions, the details of His work. "The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakens [Me] morning by morning, He wakens My ear to hear as the learned". Isaiah 50:4.
Christ will help those who pray and then "watch to more prayer". Colossians 4:2. He calls upon us to use every weapon He has given us, including prayer, in the warfare against sin, both personal and public. When Daniel was Prime Minister of Babylon he found it necessary to pray publicly three times a day to keep up the contact with his God and the witness to his fellows. Daniel 6:10. We can never be saved in inactivity and idleness. We might as well look for a harvest from seed which we have not sown, and for knowledge where we have not studied, as to expect sanctification without making an effort. It is our privilege to come to Him with holy childlike boldness and as in sincerity we ask Him to shine His light upon us, He will hear and answer us. Hebrews 4:16. But we must live in harmony with our prayers.
In all who are under the training of God is to be revealed a life that is not in harmony with the world, its customs or its practises. Every one of us needs to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. We must individually hear Him speaking to our hearts through His word. When every other voice is hushed, external and internal, and in quietness we wait before Him, the silence of our mind makes more distinct the voice of God. He bids us, "Be still, and know that I am God". Psalm 46:10.
Here alone can true rest be found.
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as He said, 'As I have sworn in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest', although the works were finished from the foundation of the world".
And this is the effectual preparation for all labour for God.
Amid the hurrying throng, and the strain of life's intense activities, we who are thus refreshed will be surrounded with an atmosphere of light and peace. Matthew 10:13. Our life will breathe out fragrance and reveal a divine Power that will reach men's hearts. We will give evidence to others of the sincerity of our prayers by the earnestness of our endeavours to obey the counsel we receive in them. And as we practise to overcome the sins which strive for a place in our life and hinder our work so we ourselves may see the genuineness of our desire.
Labour to enter into rest
We may move intelligently, and at every step renounce evil habits and associations, believing that the LORD will renovate our heart by the power of His Spirit. But our prayers will be ineffectual unless we continually labour to correct that which is wrong and unlovely in our lives, for if we ask God to talk with us and then make no effort to conquer that which is revealed, our subsequent prayers will rise no higher than our heads. God can only help those who co-operate with Him.
Back your prayer by works (God's works)
Prayer is of no avail if we walk contrary to it. Imagine a son who promises his father to be obedient but is not! Then compare him with the son who at first refused but then went.
"But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, 'Son, go work to day in my vineyard'. He answered and said, 'I will not': but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir': and went not. Which of the two did the will of his father? They say unto Him, 'The first'. Jesus said to them, In like manner, we must do the will of God".
We may be free in Christ. We may be the
children of light, and not of darkness. God calls upon every man
and woman to renounce every evil habit, to be diligent in
business, fervent in spirit, serving the LORD.
2 Peter 3:14. Jesus will supply the strength, so that we need not remain in indolence, making no effort to correct our wrongs or improve our conduct.
The one thing essential for us in order
that we may receive and impart the forgiving love of God is to
know and believe the love that He has to us.
1 John 4:16. Satan is working by every deception he can command, in order that we may not discern that love. He will lead us to think that our mistakes and transgressions have been so grievous that the Lord will not have respect unto our prayers and will not bless and save us. In ourselves we can see nothing but weakness, nothing to recommend us to God, and Satan tells us that it is of no use; we cannot remedy our defects of character. When we try to come to God, the enemy will whisper, 'It is of no use for you to pray; did not you do that evil thing? Have you not sinned against God and violated your own conscience?'
But we may tell the enemy that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." 1 John 1:7. When we feel that we have sinned and cannot pray, it is then the time to pray. Ashamed we may be and deeply humbled, but we must pray and believe. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." 1 Timothy 1:15.
Forgiveness is a gift
Forgiveness, reconciliation with God, comes to us, not as a reward for our works, it is not bestowed because of the merit of sinful men, but it is a gift unto us, having in the spotless righteousness of Christ its foundation for bestowal.
We must not leave the Mercy Seat till we have the victory. We must not leave until we have the "three loaves".
Pray for others
Talk courage to others; lift them up to God in prayer in front of them. Tell them that when they feel that they have sinned, and cannot pray, it is then the time for them to pray. Many feel humiliated at their failures, that they have been overcome by the enemy in the place of overcoming. Worldliness, selfishness, and carnality have weakened them, and they think it is no use to approach unto God; but tell them that this thought is one of the enemy's suggestions. Ashamed they may be, and deeply humbled; but they must pray and believe, as you have learnt yourself.
Tell them that as they confess their sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive them their sins, and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9. Though their mind may wander in prayer, tell them not to be discouraged, but bring it back to the throne, and do not leave the mercy seat until they have the victory. Tell them what God has told you.
Not just emotion
Are you to think your victory will be testified to by strong emotion? - No; "this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith [or trust in Jesus]." 1 John 5:4.
The Lord knows your desire; by faith keep close to him, and expect to receive the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is to control all our spiritual exercises. The Father has given his Son for us that through the Son the Holy Spirit might come to us, and lead us unto the Father. Through divine agency, we have the spirit of intercession, whereby we may plead with God, as a man pleads with his friend.
WHERE SHOULD WE PRAY?
The places of prayer
We must daily take every step to keep open the communion between God and our own heart. We should pray privately and in the family circle, and above all we must not ignore public prayer. It is impossible for the Christian to flourish while any prayer is neglected, including the public duty. In solitude let our heart be laid open to the inspecting eye of God, for secret prayer is to be heard only by the prayer-hearing God. No curious ear is to receive the burden of such petitions. In secret prayer we are free from surrounding influences, free from excitement. By calm, simple faith, we may hold communion with God, and gather to ourselves rays of divine light to strengthen and sustain us in the conflict with Satan.
If we prayed more in private we would be able to pray more in public. Doubtful, hesitating prayers would cease. But private prayer alone is not sufficient. In family and in public prayer we can pass on this strength and also share with the angels who are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister", as we are. Hebrews 1:14.
We may pray like Solomon - on our knees and lifting our hands to heaven. 2 Chronicles 6:13. We may pray like Nehemiah with our eyes open standing before the king. Nehemiah 2:4. Or sitting down and crying. Nehemiah 1:4. We may pray at the request of God. Matthew 5:44. At someone else's request. 1 Kings 13:6. While we are walking, working or resting. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, it is always possible to "talk" with our Saviour for salvation or deliverance, with the Holy Spirit for comfort and guidance, and with our Father to give thanks for the present and for things to come.
The prayer that comes from an earnest heart, when our simple wants are expressed just as we would ask an earthly father for a favour based on his promise, expecting that it would be granted - this is the prayer of faith. The publican who went up to the temple to pray is a good example of a sincere, devoted worshipper. He felt that he was a sinner, and his great need led to an outburst of passionate desire, "God be merciful to me a sinner". Luke 18:13. Above all - be honest with God!
Jesus has given to us a prayer in which every expression is full of meaning, and which is to be studied and brought into our practical prayer life. The greatest intellect may be charmed with its comprehensiveness, and yet the humblest mind can understand its utterances. It is a prayer that expresses the essential subjects that we need to present to our Heavenly Father. It says, "Thank You, save me, tell me, guide me". We may gather from this gift that our precious Saviour so loves us that He does not leave us in ignorance as to how to pray, but gives us a model prayer which we may present to God at any time in simplicity and sincerity of heart. Christ will hear the prayer that He Himself has taught to us and re-present it to His Father mixed with His righteousness. Revelation 8:3-4. Many times a day we may go as suppliants to God and repeat this prayer with assurance that if we understand its meaning it will not fall to the ground.
What a contrast there is between the model prayer of Christ and the prayers formulated by human teachers! How brief, how expressive, how rich, how comprehensive! Praise and supplication are here mingled.
He said, "After this manner
therefore pray you":
1. My Father
2. Which are in heaven,
3. Hallowed be Your name.
4. Your kingdom come.
5. Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
6. Give me this day my daily bread.
7. And forgive me my debts, as I forgive my debtors.
8. And lead me not into temptation,
9. But deliver me from evil:
10. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, for ever. Amen. See Matthew 6:9-13.
1. I know who You are.
2. I know where You are.
3. I know Your character.
4. I know where I am.
5. Thank You for the ability to overcome.
6. I will share what You have given me.
7. As I give so shall I receive.
8. Teach me to see so that trials will not be needed.
9. I will be successful in Your strength.
10. Thank You for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The statement: ............................ The principle:
1. I have no other God. - Loyalty
2. I need no earthly pictures - Worship
3. I follow Your way. - Reverence
4. I rest in the Sabbath. - Obedience
5. I honour my parent. - Respect
6. I do not kill. - Love
7. I do not commit adultery. - Purity
8. I do not steal. - Honesty
9. I do not lie. - Truth
10. I do not covet. - Contentment
See Exodus 20:1-17.
This is but a brief explanation of this prayer for it is not the work of any mortal to seek to particularize and explain all that is comprehended in the LORD's prayer. The wisdom of the greatest Teacher the world ever knew is not to be darkened and mystified by words from mere man. This is the work of the Spirit of God. Christ has given the prayer, and we should individually study its meaning, and be careful not to pervert its childlike simplicity. In the LORD's example prayer, solidity, strength, and earnestness are united with meekness and reverence. It is an expression of the divine character of its Author.
The LORD Jesus says, "After this manner therefore pray you". But how few heed the words of Christ and pray "after this manner"! Is it not best for Christians to be doers of the words of Christ, and not hearers only?
Of course, we are not always to be confined only to the utterance of these exact words. The Holy Spirit frequently pours upon us a spirit of prayer and of earnest supplication, and directs our particular attention to emphasise things contained in certain parts of the prayer and we should respond to this. However, all the points are needed each time.
Go and pray! Without ceasing!
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