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CHAPTER 2: ALMOST INCREDIBLE PROMISES
“WHEN we stand with Christ in glory, looking o’er life’s finished story,” the most amazing feature of that life as it is looked back upon will be its prayerlessness.
We shall be almost beside ourselves with astonishment that we spent so little time in real intercession. It will be our turn to “wonder.”
In our Lord’s last discourse to His loved ones, just before the most wonderful of all prayers, the Master again and again held out His kingly golden sceptre and said, as it were, “What is your request? It shall be granted unto you, even unto the whole of My kingdom!”
Do we believe this? We must do so if we believe our Bibles. Shall we just read over very quietly and thoughtfully one of our Lord’s promises, reiterated so many times? If we had never read them before, we should open our eyes in bewilderment, for these promises are almost incredible. From the lips of any mere man they would be quite unbelievable. But it is the Lord of heaven and earth Who speaks; and He is speaking at the most solemn moment of His life. It is the eve of His death and passion. It is a farewell message. Now listen!
“Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do: because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, that will I do” (John xiv. 13, 14). Now, could any words be plainer or clearer than these? Could any promise be greater or grander? Has anyone else, anywhere, at any time, ever offered so much?
How staggered those disciples must have been! Surely they could scarcely believe their own ears. But that promise is made also to you and to me.
And, lest there should be any mistake on their part, or on ours, our Lord repeats Himself a few moments afterwards. Yes, and the Holy Spirit bids St. John record those words again. “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bare much fruit; and so shall ye be My disciples” (John xv. 7, 8).
These words are of such grave importance, and so momentous, that the Savior of the world is not content even with a threefold utterance of them. He urges His disciples to obey His command “to ask.” In fact, He tells them that one sign of their being His “friends” will be the obedience to His commands in all things (verse 14). Then He once more repeats His wishes: “Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, in My name, He may give it you” (John xv. 16).
One would think that our Lord had now made it plain enough that He wanted them to pray; that He needed their prayers, and that without prayer they could accomplish nothing. But to our intense surprise He returns again to the same subject, saying very much the same words.
“In that day ye shall ask Me nothing”—i.e., “ask Me no question” (R.V., marg.)—“Verily, verily I say unto you, if ye ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in My name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled” (John xvi. 23, 24).
Never before had our Lord laid such stress on any promise or command—never! This truly marvelous promise is given us six times over. Six times, almost in the same breath, our Savior commands us to ask whatsoever we will. This is the greatest—the most wonderful—promise ever made to man. Yet most men—Christian men—practically ignore it! Is it not so?
The exceeding greatness of the promise seems to over-whelm us. Yet we know that He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. iii. 20).
So our blessed Master gives the final exhortation, before He is seized, and bound, and scourged, before His gracious lips are silenced on the cross, “Ye shall ask in My name . . . for the Father Himself loveth you” (John xvi. 26-27). We have often spent much time in reflecting upon our Lord’s seven words from the cross. And it is well we should do so. Have we ever spent one hour in meditating upon this, our Savior’s sevenfold invitation to pray?
Today He sits on the throne of His Majesty on high, and He holds out to us the sceptre of His power. Shall we touch it and tell Him our desires? He bids us take of His treasures. He yearns to grant us “according to the riches of His glory,” that we may “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” He tells us that our strength and our fruitfulness depend upon our prayers. He reminds us that our very joy depends upon answered prayer (John xvi. 24).
And yet we allow the devil to persuade us to neglect prayer! He makes us believe that we can do more by our own efforts than by our prayers—by our intercourse with men than by our intercession with God. It passes one’s comprehension that so little heed should be given to our Lord’s sevenfold invitation—command—promise! How dare we work for Christ without being much on our knees? Quite recently an earnest Christian “worker”—a Sunday-school teacher and communicant—wrote me, saying, “I have never had an answer to prayer in all my life.” But why? Is God a liar? Is not God trustworthy? Do His promises count for nought. Does He not mean what He says? And doubtless there are many reading these words who in their hearts are saying the same thing as that Christian worker. Payson is right—is Scriptural—when he says: “If we would do much for God, we must ask much of God: we must be men of prayer.” If our prayers are not answered—always answered, but not necessarily granted—the fault must be entirely in ourselves, and not in God. God delights to answer prayer; and He has given us His word that He will answer.
Fellow-laborers in His vineyard, it is quite evident that our Master desires us to ask, and to ask much. He tells us we glorify God by doing so! Nothing is beyond the scope of prayer which is not beyond the will of God—and we do not desire to go beyond His will.
We dare not say that our Lord’s words are not true. Yet somehow or other few Christians really seem to believe them. What holds us back? What seals our lips? What keeps us from making much of prayer? Do we doubt His love? Never! He gave His life for us and to us. Do we doubt the Father’s love? Nay. “The Father Himself loveth you,” said Christ when urging His disciples to pray.
Do we doubt His power? Not for a moment. Hath He not said, “All power hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye . . . and lo, I am with you alway . . .”? (Matt. xxviii. 18-20). Do we doubt His wisdom? Do we mistrust His choice for us? Not for a moment. And yet so very few of His followers consider prayer really worth while. Of course, they would deny this—but actions speak louder than words. Are we afraid to put God to the test? He has said we may do so. “Bring Me the whole tithe into the storehouse . . . and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. iii. 10). Whenever God makes us a promise, let us boldly say, as did St. Paul, I believe God (Acts xxvii. 25), and trust Him to keep His word.
Shall we begin today to be men of prayer, if we have never done so before? Let us not put it off till a more convenient season. God wants me to pray. The dear Savior wants me to pray. He needs my prayers. So much—in fact, everything—depends upon prayer. How dare we hold back? Let every one of us ask on our knees this question: “If no one on earth prayed for the salvation of sinners more fervently or more frequently than I do, how many of them would be converted to God through prayer?”
Do we spend ten minutes a day in prayer? Do we consider it important enough for that?
Ten minutes a day on our knees in prayer—when the Kingdom of Heaven can be had for the asking!
Ten minutes? It seems a very inadequate portion of our time to spend in taking hold of God (Isa. lxiv. 7)!
And is it prayer when we do “say” our prayers, or are we just repeating daily a few phrases which have become practically meaningless, whilst our thoughts are wandering hither and thither?
If God were to answer the words we repeated on our knees this morning should we know it? Should we recognize the answer? Do we even remember what we asked for? He does answer. He has given us His word for it. He always answers every real prayer of faith.
But we shall see what the Bible has to say on this point in a later chapter. We are now thinking of the amount of time we spend in prayer.
“How often do you pray?” was the question put to a Christian woman. “Three times a day, and all the day beside,” was the quick reply. But how many are there like that? Is prayer to me just a duty, or is it a privilege—a pleasure—a real joy—a necessity?
Let us get a fresh vision of Christ in all His glory, and a fresh glimpse of all the “riches of His glory” which He places at our disposal, and of all the mighty power given unto Him. Then let us get a fresh vision of the world and all its needs. (And the world was never so needy as it is today.)
Why, the wonder is not that we pray so little, but that we can ever get up from our knees if we realize our own need; the needs of our home and our loved ones; the needs of our pastor and the Church; the needs of our city—of our country—of the heathen and Mohammedan world! All these needs, can be met by the riches of God in Christ Jesus. St. Paul had no doubt about this—nor have we. Yes! “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory, in Christ Jesus” (Phil. iv. 19). But to share His riches we must pray, for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him (Rom. x. 12).
So great is the importance of prayer that God has taken care to anticipate all the excuses or objections we may be likely to make.
Men plead their weakness or infirmity—or they declare they do not know how to pray.
God foresaw this inability long ages ago. Did He not inspire St. Paul to say: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity, for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is in the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. viii. 26, 27).
Yes. Every provision is made for us. But only the Holy Spirit can “stir us up” to “take hold of God.” And if we will but yield ourselves to the Spirit’s promptings we shall most assuredly follow the example of the apostles of old, who “gave themselves to prayer,” and “continued steadfastly in prayer” (R.V., Acts vi. 4).
We may rest fully assured of this—a man’s influence in the world can be gauged not by his eloquence, or his zeal, or his orthodox, or his energy, but by his prayers. Yes, and we will go farther and maintain that no man can live aright who does not pray aright.
We may work for Christ from morn till night; we may spend much time in Bible study; we may be most earnest and faithful and “acceptable” in our preaching and in our individual dealing, but none of these things can be truly effective unless we are much in prayer. We shall only be full of good works; and not “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. i. 10). To be little with God in prayer is to be little for God in service. Much secret prayer means much public power. Yet is it not a fact that whilst our organizing is well nigh perfect, our agonizing in prayer is well nigh lost?
Men are wondering why the Revival delays its coming. There is only one thing that can delay it, and that is lack of prayer. All Revivals have been the outcome of prayer. One sometimes longs for the voice of an archangel, but what would that avail if the voice of Christ Himself does not stir us up to pray? It seems almost impertinence for any man to take up the cry when our Savior has put forth His “limitless” promises. Yet we feel that something should be done, and we believe that the Holy Spirit is prompting men to remind themselves and others of Christ’s words and power. No words of mine can impress men with the value of prayer, the need of prayer, and the omnipotence of prayer.
But these utterances go forth steeped in prayer that God the Holy Spirit will Himself convict Christian men and women of the sin of prayerlessness, and drive them to their knees, to call upon God day and night in burning, believing, prevailing intercession! The Lord Jesus, now in the heavenlies, beckons to us to fall upon our knees and claim the riches of His grace.
No man dare prescribe for another how long a time he ought to spend in prayer, nor do we suggest that men should make a vow to pray so many minutes or hours a day. Of course, the Bible command is to “Pray without ceasing.” This is evidently the “attitude of prayer”—the attitude of one’s life.
Here we are speaking of definite acts of prayer. Have you ever timed your prayers? We believe that most of our readers would be amazed and confounded if they did time themselves!
Some years ago the writer faced this prayer question. He felt that for himself at least one hour a day was the minimum time that he should spend in prayer. He carefully noted down every day a record of his prayer-life. As time went on he met a working-man who was being much used of God.
When asked to what he chiefly attributed his success, this man quietly replied, “Well, I could not get on without two hours a day of private prayer.”
Then there came across my path a Spirit-filled missionary from overseas, who told very humbly of the wonderful things God was doing through his ministry. (One could see all along that God was given all the praise and all the glory.) “I find it necessary, oftentimes, to spend four hours a day in prayer,” said this missionary.
And we remember how the Greatest Missionary of all used sometimes to spend whole nights in prayer. Why? Our blessed Lord did not pray simply as an example to us: He never did things merely as an example. He prayed because He needed to pray. As perfect Man, prayer to Him was a necessity. Then how much more is it necessary to you and me?
“Four hours a day in prayer!” exclaimed a man who is giving his whole life to Christian work as a medical missionary. “Four hours? Give me ten minutes and I’m done!” That was an honest and a brave confession—even if a sad one. Yet, if some of us were to speak out as honestly—?
Now, it was not by accident that these men crossed my path. God was speaking through them. It was just another “call to prayer” from the “God of patience,” who is also a “God of comfort” (Rom. xv. 5). and when their quiet message had sunk into my soul a book came into my hands, “by chance,” as people say. It told briefly and simply the story of John Hyde—“Praying Hyde,” as he came to be called. Just as God sent St. John the Baptist to prepare the way of our Lord at His first coming, so He sent in these last days St. John the Pray-er, to make straight paths for His coming again. “Praying Hyde”—what a name! As one read of this marvelous life of prayer, one began to ask, “Have I ever prayed?”
I found others were asking the same question. One lady, who is noted for her wonderful intercession, wrote me, saying, “When I laid down this book, I began to think I had never in all my life really prayed!”
But here we must leave the matter. Shall we get on our knees before God and allow His Holy Spirit to search us through and through? Are we sincere? Do we really desire to do God’s will? Do we really believe His promises? If so, will it not lead us to spend more time on our knees before God? Do not vow to pray “so much” a day. Resolve to pray much, but prayer, to be of value, must be spontaneous, and not from constraint.
But we must bear in mind that mere resolutions to take more time for prayer, and to conquer reluctance to pray, will not prove lastingly effective unless there is a wholehearted and absolute surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. If we have never taken this step, we must take it now if we desire to be men of prayer.
I am quite certain of this fact: God wants me to pray: wants you to pray. The question is, are we willing to pray?
Gracious Savior, pour out upon us the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that we may indeed become Kneeling Christians.
To God your every want
In instant prayer display.
Pray always; pray and never faint:
Pray! Without ceasing, pray.
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