THE WICKET GATE
"As He was praying, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him. Lord teach us to Pray as John also taught His disciples." Luke, ch. 11, verse 1.
HOW John taught His disciples to pray we do not know, but we do know that when the disciples of Jesus saw prayer in action they realised they knew little indeed about praying and one at least longed to be taught. Praying is a skilled occupation. Nobody can become an expert in praying without careful study of the lessons and without continual exercise in the art itself. There are so many things about the Christian life that people assume can be taken for granted and prayer is one of them. "Prayer is the simplest form of speech, " says the hymn but the young Christian will be sadly misled if he thinks that is all there is to be said about praying. To help the young believer I propose to state some of the essential matters that must be understood by every disciple who wishes to prove prayer as a vital and vitalising experience in his life. The first consideration is what I will call
1)THE PERSONNEL IN PRAYING
You will not at first agree with me perhaps, but the Scriptures give a good deal of support to the view that nobody is heard of God until as a sinner the individual is crying out for mercy. Certainly the idea that one may be living one's life out of all conscious relationship to God and yet may send to Him much as we might send for the fire engine is quite erroneous. The first prayer that reaches heaven is the prayer for mercy. Seeking mercy and the Saviour, we are, as we have already noticed, sealed with the Spirit and thus brought into experimental relationship with the Triune God. We are now able with insight and understanding, together with the privilege of grace to call God " Father." He is the Father of spirits. Our spirits are now alive unto God and we therefore with justification, because we are in a new relationship, which we appreciate and accept by faith, can call Him Our Father. That we have heard so many professing Christians and worldlings repeat the Lord's prayer will not deceive us into supposing that this prayer, given to His disciples, is also for all who call Him by this Name yet live in rebellion against His will.
We are also in vital relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is specifically our Advocate in heaven. " If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous."
An ambassador at a foreign court has the right to be received by the Government to which he is accredited, and our Blessed Lord is the One Who can and does in heaven declare the needs of all those Who share His nature. For all the sin of the believer, the One who bore our sin pleads forgiveness and cleansing. It is a ministry of grace, mercy and strength, which the believer should never forget; for he needs it continually. Then there is the Holy Spirit who is God's Advocate in the heart of the believer. We do not know how to pray as we ought but as we learn more and more of the work of the Indwelling Spirit we shall know how He is given to help our infirmity, in that we do not know how to pray as we ought. Prayer, you see, is so important that we are to know our relationship in it to the Divine Trinity; and to exercise ourselves consciously and continually in this relationship. If the believer does not, the trend of his life will be to deadness, apathy and ritualism. When a professing Christian has surrendered in practice all his high standing in grace, counting the relationship of little value, he will always be an easy victim for the priest who professes to be able to do it for him. No priest can do it for him. The fact of the Advocate in heaven and the Advocate in the heart mean that praying is the privilege, duty, and exercise of each believer; a ministry God does not accept by deputy. Let us therefore understand clearly the personnel in our praying. Then there must be
2)THE PASSION IN PRAYER
Probably the first question we shall ask is how praying may be enjoyed? The answer is twofold. It is first of all a matter of persons and then a matter of practice. God is to be known, and the new convert will find that He wants knowing. The adjustment of relationships between persons is not always easy. There are some people we meet who mean little to us, others who perhaps create singular aversion and yet again those to whom we are increasingly drawn. In our family circles we get to know each other and, it is to be hoped, to love each other. Two members of a family can get on so well with each other as to be able to sit in a room without exchanging a word. We meet strangers and often find it difficult to "make conversation." Then there are two other considerations. We may have heard something about the stranger from another to his discredit, and this will create a barrier and make conversation more difficult. Or another may be there who speaks tactlessly and knowing us both introduces ideas and themes that are likely to make for division. Now all this happens in our relations to God. Because of our sinful nature, our previous ways of life, old prejudices that die hard, and the constant efforts of Satan to disturb the relationship between the believer and the Lord, fellowship is not easy.
Much will depend upon how we began our Christian life. If it were by the affirmation of some creed, or the decision to follow Jesus, or because we thought it the right thing to join the church, there will be little if any direct contact with God. But if there was an interview with Him as we made our confession as sinners, and our hearts were in it; then we shall have known the sweet consolation as He spoke the word of mercy and life and that will help us greatly. We shall have learned the infinite sweetness of His love and tender grace and it will help us as we seek again to draw near to Him.
It will require practice and patience because, like every other art, it is not easy, but every time we press in to His presence we shall know Him better, we shall learn more of the ways of heaven; our spiritual powers will be increased and gradually the passion will grow until the sweetest hours of life will be those we spend with Jesus ; and somehow a day without some conversation and fellowship with Him will leave the soul starved, irresolute, cold and apathetic. Then there is what I will call
3) PERSONALITY IN PRAYER
Life is ultimately what we ourselves are. Most young people think of life in terms of wealth, advancement, and fame, in getting and possessing and attaining. We cannot be altogether indifferent to some aspects of these things but we shall make a grievous mistake if we do not realise that ultimately life is in BEING more than POSSESSING. Our Lord showed a strange indifference to possessions. He never seemed to have much. He had to borrow a donkey on which to ride into Jerusalem. But who can look at His life at all without seeing that in Him BEING was everything. What we are is all important !
This then is the lesson the new disciple must learn. What we are, is our personality; and personality is never developed apart from praying. I know, of course, that there are great personalities in the world who seldom if ever pray, but they are great in the estimation of men. True greatness of personality with those wonderful qualities seen in the life of Jesus, the One Man with Whom God has been well pleased, is never achieved without prayer. You can see it plainly in the life of our Lord. Mark the place of prayer at His baptism, His transfiguration, Gethsemane, Calvary, and now in heaven where He ever liveth to make intercession for us. Remember true personality well pleasing to God will never grow and flourish unless we are as careful about our praying as Jesus was!
Most of our lives are very ordinary and much alike and we may easily overlook the fact that our characters are being formed very largely in ordinary days and ordinary circumstances. Speaking generally our characters are being determined by our circumstances. Who does not know that in certain circumstances we become fretful, fearful or careless and selfish? There is one circumstance, however, that can greatly influence all other circumstances and that circumstance is God. Hence the believer can cover all his circumstances in prayer and in simple faith may be able to see how he may be victorious over the worst circumstances. " We are more than conquerors, " exclaimed Paul, " through Him who loved us." While, therefore, physical issues and solutions are very much to the fore, we must remember that they are the substitutes, to some degree, if not entirely, for the blessing of a praying heart. The promises of God concerning prayer are scattered all over the Scriptures. They encourage us to be sure that the Christian who persists in taking all his circumstances to God in prayer will learn how to take the victory over them and so he will become more than a conqueror and that means personality! Then we must remember there is
4) THE PURPOSE IN PRAYER
Many difficulties arise in prayer because we may not be sure of the purpose involved. Dr. Horton tells the story of his own boyhood when he put a farthing in a drawer and then, went away praying earnestly that it might be turned into half a sovereign. To his intense disappointment, when he looked in the drawer the farthing was still there! But then, in different ways, we have all done that. We have wanted to use prayer for something pleasing to our own wills whereas that which pleases us in the asking may be for our undoing in the receiving. Two general principles may guide us. Let us remember that our Heavenly Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him, and that no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly. Hence what is withheld is not so good as we think! We are right in making known to God all our requests, and there is nothing in our common life that should be divorced from the mercy-seat, yet while we ask in faith let us also ask in trust, in His love, His true judgment, His unerring wisdom; most anxious not to have, if it be not His will, rather than to have and to regret our having. What appears to day to be the one thing needful may cause us endless, regret when it is ours.
That means that we must give the pre-eminence to His purpose. Why was I born? Why was I redeemed? Why has the Holy Spirit been given me? And the answer is that the purpose of God may be fulfilled in your life and mine. In the purpose of God, Jesus shed His blood to bring men and women into that same purpose. We have great privileges at the Throne of Grace but they are the privileges granted to enable us more completely, not to get our own way, but to do His will. If that desire is really in our hearts, it will exercise a great influence over all other desires, and so gradually purify them from all dross. As we seek His will and purpose other desires in our hearts will be moulded afresh, and the full beauty of a life of prayer will be achieved in all that we ask of God. Finally there must be
5) PATIENCE IN PRAYER
Probably patience is the most needed blessing. Patience has a great power. It is the patience of the farmer that brings him the harvest. We are all in too great a hurry and sometimes we are apt to assess our importance by our haste; but it is a delusion. Nothing helps a man or woman to be patient like prayer. We need patience to learn the ways of heaven. God's ways are neither our ways nor His thoughts our thoughts. It takes time, therefore, to bring our minds into conformity with the mind of God. We have to learn reverence and submission and these can be learned in no other way than in patience.
Then we need patience in waiting for the answers to our prayers. A prayer to be answered must be granted at the right time when it will be beneficial to us and also to all others.
We can never think of God granting a personal blessing to us at the expense of another. Our life with God is a life with persons Divine and human and sometimes the blessing we seek may be rightly asked and expected, but the Divine wisdom will determine its timing and for this we need patience.
In practice we shall find that prayer often irritates because we shall feel God is either indifferent or too slow. There is a simple remedy : whenever you feel impatient and irritated make it your business to wait quietly upon the Lord for the blessing of a contented spirit. Turn your irritations into intercessions. That applies also when others have irritated you. Turn the irritation into intercession. There are some Christians who are constantly being offended and they will be to the end of the chapter until they learn patiently to make those who irritate them, the subject of their prayers. Satan will soon change his device when he sees it sends us to our knees. So learn to be patient, covet a patient spirit with God. In that secret all else inheres.
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