There is this vile and insulting notion that prayer is a very easy thing, a common business that may be done anyhow, without care or effort.
Some think that you just have to open a Book and read a certain number of very excellent words – then you have prayed and you may close the Book.
Others think that the use of a Book is superstitious and backwardness and that you should rather repeat certain sentences, sentences which come to your mind – repeat them with a rush, and when you have done so with little attention to what you have said, you have prayed.
None of these modes of prayer were adopted by the believers and servants of God of old. They appear to have thought a great deal more seriously about prayer than many do these days. Prayer seemed to have been a mighty business with them, a long practiced exercise, in which some of them attained great eminence, and were therefore very blessed.
They reaped great harvests in the field of prayer and found the mercy seat to be a mine of untold treasures.
Ancient believers, like Job, learnt to order their cause before God. They entered their prayer closets well prepared, having also learnt how they ought to behave themselves in the presence of the Great One, to whom they are appealing. It is good and advisable to enter the seat of the King of kings as much as possible with pre-meditation and preparation, knowing what we are about, where we are standing and what it is that we desire to obtain.
In times of trouble, afflictions and attacks we may fly to God just as we are, just as the bird enters the cleft of the rock, even though its plumes/feathers are ruffled – but in ordinary times we should not come with an unprepared spirit.
God forbids that our prayer should be a mere leaping out of bed, kneeling down and saying anything that comes first to mind. On the contrary, we must wait upon the LORD with holy fear and awe. Let Abraham and David be our example. See how David prayed when the LORD had blessed him. He went before the LORD. Observe that he did not stand outside at a distance, but he went in before the LORD and he sat down.
Sitting down is not a bad posture for prayer, should anyone speak against it – neither is standing. Sitting down quietly and calmly before the LORD, David then began to pray, but not until he first thought about the divine goodness of the LORD – and so entered to the spirit of prayer. Then by the assistance of the Holy Spirit he began to open his mouth. May the LORD help us to seek him in this manner.
Abraham also gives us another pattern. He rose up early – here was his willingness; he went three days journey – here was his resolve and zeal. He left his servants at the foot of the hill – here was his privacy. He carried the wood and the fire with him – here was his preparation; and lastly, he built the altar and laid the wood in order, and then he took the knife – here was the carefulness of his worship and obedience.
We should plough carefully and pray carefully. The better the work the more attention it deserves. To be zealous and anxious in your work and be lacking and thoughtless in prayer is like blasphemy – for that gives an insinuation that anything will do for God, but the world deserves our best.
If anyone is asking what order should be observed in prayer – then you are asking the wrong person. Some have drawn out the order, in which adoration, confession, petition, intercession and ascription are arranged in succession. I am not persuaded that any such order is of divine authority.
The true spiritual order of prayer to me seems to consist of something more than arrangement. When we pray, it is more fitting for us first to feel that we doing something real and that we are about to address ourselves to God, whom we cannot see, but who is really present – whom we can neither touch nor hear, nor by our senses can apprehend, but who, nevertheless, is as truly with us as though we were speaking to a friend of flesh and blood.
Feeling the reality of God’s presence, our mind will be led by divine grace into a humble state. Also we shall not deliver our prayer like boys repeating their lessons, as a mere routine. Neither shall we pray as if we are teachers instructing our students. We shall not have the mentality of a slave either, but that of a loving, teachable and obedient child – honouring his Father, and asking with submission to his Father’s will.
When I feel that I am now in the presence of God, and take my rightful position in that presence, the next important thing I shall want to recognise will be that I have no right to what I am asking, and cannot expect to obtain it except it be his will and as a gift of grace. I also must remember that God limits the channel through which he will grant me my request – he will give it to me through his son, Jesus. Then, I must put myself under my Redeemer. Yes, it must no longer be I that speak but Christ that speaks with me.
When praying it is important to consider what it is that you are to ask for. It is very proper in prayer, to aim distinctly at your request or supplication. There is a genuine reason to complain about some public prayers, that those who offer them do not really ask God for anything.
I have also prayed in like manner myself, and have heard many prayers of this kind – in which I did not feel anything was asked for from God, where a great deal of time was spent and a lot of excellent words uttered, but little real petition made.
I believe that prayer should be distinct, and the asking of something definite and distinct, because the mind has realised the distinct need of such a thing – and therefore must be sought for.
It is important not to beat around the bush in prayer, but to come directly to the point. I like that prayer of Abraham a lot, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” There is the name and the person being prayed for, and the blessing desired, all put in few words, - “Ishmael might live before you!” Many people would have used many roundabout expressions. Say “Ishmael” if you mean “Ishmael” - put it in plain words before the LORD.
Some people cannot even pray for others without using circular descriptives. Why not be distinct, and say what you mean as well as mean what you say? It is not necessary my friends, while praying to ask for every supposable good thing. It is not necessary to rehearse a list of every want you may have, have had, can have, or shall have.
Ask for what you need now, and as a rule, keep to the present need – ask for your daily bread, what you want now-ask for that. Ask for it plainly, as before God, who have no regard for your fine expressions, and to whom your eloquence is less than nothing and empty. You are before God, let your words be few, but let your heart be fervent.
You have not quite finished praying when you have asked for what you want through Jesus Christ. There should be a looking round the blessing which you desire, to see whether it is definitely a fitting thing to ask for – for some prayers would never be offered if people did think. A little reflection would show that some things which we desire were better left alone.
Also, we may have a motive at the bottom of our desire which is not Christ-like, a selfish motive which forgets God’s glory and caters only for our own case and comfort. Although we may ask for things which are for our benefit, we must never let that interfere in any way with the glory of God. Mixed with acceptable prayer, there must be the holy salt of submission to the divine will of God. When we are sure that what we ask for is for God’s glory, then like Jacob, we may wrestle with him and say, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” But we must be quite clear, before we come to such terms, that what we are seeking is really for the LORD’s honour.
If we have these things together: - the mind which recognises prayer as being real conversation with the invisible God, being distinct and specific in our prayer, asking for what we know we want – and with much faith and fervency, believing the things we ask for to be necessary, and therefore resolving to obtain them by prayer, and above all these complete submission – living it still with the Master’s will. A mixture of all these, then we have a clear idea of what it is to pray before the LORD.
Moreover, prayer itself is an art which only the Holy Spirit can teach us. He is the giver of all prayer. Pray for prayer. Pray until you can pray, pray to be helped to pray and do not give up praying because you cannot pray – it is when you think you cannot pray that you are most praying.