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POWER IN PRAYER
There is an inexhaustible power and efficacy in prayer, known only to those who have faithfully practised it. The praying that is done in secret will materially affect the style of one's public prayer. But whatever the form may be, this is true: "Who rises from prayer a better man, his prayer is answered."
Spurgeon in one of his addresses to his students says that prayer should be marked by solemnity, humility, and reverence. He deprecates long prayers. Frequent repetition and hackneyed expressions are to be avoided. One should cultivate a heavenly attitude of mind in prayer. God is to be entreated, not commanded. The eyes should be closed, that the Lord alone may be the object of prayer. Sickening superabundance of endearing words, and rhetorical display, have no place in earnest and effective prayer.
Learning to pray is like learning to do anything else. It comes from diligent practise. The question is sometimes asked by divinity students to what extent public prayer should be prepared in advance. No general rule can be laid down for this, as so much depends upon circumstances. There should be, however, in every case, a preparation of the heart, in which actual words may not be committed to memory, but in which the general ideas of the prayer have been thought out and arranged in order in the mind.
Unseeming hesitation in public prayer, lack of appropriate words, and discursiveness, sometimes robs prayer of real effectiveness. Spontaneity, sincerity, tenderness, and Godwardness are some of the characteristics of devout and heartfelt prayer.
The great preachers of the world have recognized the supreme power of prayer. In speaking of Dr. Russell H. Conwell, the Baptist divine, of Philadelphia, a writer says: "He is a man of prayer and a man of work. Loving, greathearted, unselfish, cheery, practical, hard-working, he yet draws his greatest inspiration from that silent inner communion with the Master he serves with such single-hearted, unfaltering devotion.
This is Dr. Conwell's own tribute to prayer: "There is planted in every human heart this knowledge, namely, that there is a power beyond our reach, a mysterious potency shaping the forces of life, which if we would win we must have in our favor. There come to us all events over which we have no control by physical or mental power. Is there any hope of guiding those mysterious forces? Yes, friends, there is a way of securing them in our favor or preventing them from going against us. How? It is by prayer. When a man has done all he can do, still there is a mighty, mysterious agency over which he needs influence to secure success. The only way he can reach that is by prayer.'
Prayer must be earnest, a thing of the heart. It should not be a thing of the lip, of formality, of a wandering mind. It should be real, soaring, confident-prayer such as this is a great force in personal power.
Thomas Guthrie, in his touching sermon, "The Necessity and Power of Prayer," says: "Child of God! pray on. By prayer thy hand can touch the stars, thy arm stretch up
to heaven. Nor let thy holy boldness be dashed by the thought that prayer has no power to bend these skies, and bring down thy God. When I pull on the rope which fastens my frail and little boat to a distant and mighty ship, if my strength can not draw its vast bulk to me, I can draw myself to it-to ride in safety under the protection of its guns; to enjoy in want the fulness of its stores. And it equally serves my purpose, and supplies my needs, that prayer, altho it were powerless to move God to me, moves me to God. If He does not descend to earth, I—as it were -ascend to heaven."
Where can we find better advice upon the subject of prayer than in the Bible itself? Here we read:
"Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.' (Matt. vi., 6-13.)
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.” (Prov. XV., 1.)
"And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief:
for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matt. xvii., 20.)
"Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matt. v., 44.)
"Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." (Matt. xxvi., 41.)
"What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mark xi., 24.) "Take ye heed, watch and pray for ye know not when the time is." (Mark xiii., 33.)
"Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.' (Luke xviii., 1.)
"We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which can not be uttered." (Rom. viii., 26.)
"I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also." (I Cor. xiv., 15.)
"Pray without ceasing." (I Thess. v., 17.)
"I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." (I Tim. ii., 8.) "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray." (James v., 13.)
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." (Eph. vi., 18.)
"And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly." (Luke xxii., 44.)
"Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months." (James v., 17.)
"But we will now give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." (Acts vi., 4.) "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." (Phil. iv., 6.)
"And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven." (James v., 15.)
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James v., 16.) Prayer, then, should be founded upon faith and earnestness. We must avoid vain repetition or doubting, and with thanksgiving and confidence make our requests known unto God. We should pray often, not only for ourselves but for one another, fervently, believingly, both with the spirit and the understanding. Such prayers, especially from one that is righteous, will avail much, such prayers can not fail to be a source of real power.
The Rev. Louis Albert Banks, in his suggestive book, "Windows for Sermons," speaking of genuine prayer, says:
“One of the greatest secrets of effective prayer is that the attitude of the heart shall be right toward God. The heart that recognizes the divine wisdom and love and trusts to them will pray as simply as a child asking help from its mother. One of the most beautiful prayers I have ever read is that of Fénelon. 'O Lord! I know not what I should ask of Thee. Thou knowest only what I want; and Thou lovest me, if I am Thy friend, better than I can love myself. O Lord! give to me, Thy child, what is proper, whatsoever it may be. I dare not ask either crosses or comforts. I only present myself before Thee. I open my heart to Thee.