Believers may set their heart and affections on what they know to be in accord with the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. And, with a confiding dependence on the faithfulness of the Redeemer’s promises and the efficacy of the Redeemer’s intercession, they may make it the subject of earnest believing prayer. The answer to such a prayer, in whatever form it may be conveyed, will bring with it an extent of blessing which they could not anticipate. Though they did not well know what they should pray for as they ought, yet the Spirit having helped their infirmities, He who knows the mind of the Spirit will measure the return of blessing by His intercessions, and not by the feeble conceptions of His people. And they will find that it is no vain thing to pray, and no presumptuous thing to expect that “God will do exceeding abundantly above what [they] ask or think”.
If such then be the encouragements whereby we are moved to prayer, how shall we think, without humiliation and shame, of the disinclination which we may frequently have felt towards engaging in that holy exercise? And how shall we think of the formality with which we have too often observed it? How little does our estimate of the privilege correspond with its real value if we are satisfied with betaking ourselves to it at certain stated periods, in the way merely of a duty, even though at such seasons it should be gone about with some degree of solemnity and seriousness! It is agreeable to Scripture and to the practice of the pious and devout of all ages that there should be stated periods for prayer, when the soul may withdraw itself more entirely from worldly things and address itself unto God at more length and with greater intensity of thought and feeling than it can do in ordinary circumstances. Though different individuals may adopt different plans in this respect – I mean as to the time and the regularity of the observance – yet the practice itself will be found indispensable to all.
But if we really conceive of it as it has now been represented, it will be impossible for us to rest satisfied with such stated periods for prayer, however devoutly we may then engage in it. Till we are reconciled to God by the reception of the truth as it is in Jesus, we are chargeable, not only with individual acts of disobedience, but with being in a state of sin, inasmuch as the habitual forgetfulness of God is one continued act of rebellion against Him. And if we therefore have been reconciled and brought near to Him, must it not be our desire to live in a state of conscious nearness to Him so that we may not only do individual things that are well-pleasing to God, but that we may habitually recognise Him, just as formerly we habitually forgot Him? If such be our desire, we shall not lack innumerable opportunities of lifting up our souls to God, even when we cannot engage in the more lengthened exercises of devotion; for no man ever was, or ever can be, so immersed in the business of life as not to be able to breathe a petition for a Father’s blessing on every important step that he is about to take.
Nor will those who have learned to rank among their privileges this habit of mind – this preparedness to pray – cultivate it from a mere sense of duty alone. Prayer is in truth the protection, the safeguard, of the Christian, not only as preventing the inroads that might be made on his spiritual comfort, but as quickening the sensibility of conscience, thereby providing a faithful monitor to him should he venture on forbidden ground. There is no man who has ever attempted seriously to ask of God the pardon of his sins and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, but must know experimentally that he could not proceed with an easy conscience, after such an attempt, deliberately to do what he knew to be inconsistent with the divine law. And it will be found that multitudes have abandoned even the form of prayer because it laid an intolerable restraint on them in the pursuit of some favourite enjoyment. And how much more powerfully must it therefore operate on the believer who is so frequently engaged in offering up his desires to God that, at whatever moment temptation may present itself, he is instantly reminded that he has just come from the throne of grace, the immediate presence of his Maker. And how should this consideration excite everyone to cherish habitually the spirit of prayer!
Nor is it only in cases in which we are tempted to do what we know and believe to be sinful that prayer may come in to our aid. If we make conscience of seeking the divine direction in every plan that we form, and of supplicating the divine blessing on every undertaking that we enter upon, we should find in that exercise the decision of many a question in which inclination and conscience are found to take opposite sides; and where, without having recourse to prayer, the former will in all probability prevail. It has been said with great energy and, I am persuaded, with great truth that, any line of conduct “which conscience has pronounced to be wrong, but in which our inclination has afterwards so warped our judgement as to persuade us that it is right, if we attempt to ask the blessing of God upon it in our closet, we shall often find our attempts to be vain; our mouths will be stopped and our efforts to pray annihilated. In like manner, though some have had the hardihood professedly to defend practices which are expressly denounced by the law of God and which go directly to ruin the peace and well-being of their fellow-creatures, yet none had ever enough daring to supplicate the divine blessing on such an ungodly enterprise. An attempt like this would choke the utterance even of a profligate.”
If we in every case then fairly and honestly laid before God the purposes that we have formed, and gave ourselves seriously to ask His blessing on the execution of them, O how speedily would it demolish the plausible sophistry which had perverted our understanding and by which we had permitted ourselves to be led to the very confines of presumptuous sin! And how would every such discovery enhance in our estimation the value of prayer – the privilege of coming to the throne of grace that we may find mercy to pardon, and grace to help us in the time of need.
1. The conclusion of a discourse on Daniel 9:20-23, on the answer to Daniel’s prayer. It is reprinted, with slight editing, from Gordon’s Sermons. Information about the reprinting of the Gordon’s Christ in the Old Testament.