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Chapter 1 THE LACK OF PRAYER
Ye have not, because ye ask not "-James 4:2. "And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor "-Isaiah 59:16.
"There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee "-Isaiah 64:7.
The entire morning session of a convention I recently attended was devoted to prayer and intercession. Great blessing was found, both in listening to what the Word teaches of their need and power, and in joining in continued, united supplication. Many felt that we knew too little of persevering, importunate prayer, and that it is, indeed, one of the greatest needs of the Church. We pray too little! There is even a lack of hope for any great change, due to force of habit, and the pressured feeling that prayer is a duty. What I have heard lately regarding prayer has made a deep impression on me. What affected me the most was that God's servants should feel hopeless about the prospect of an entire change being made. I prayed God would give me words that might help to direct attention to the problem and to stir up faith, awakening the assurance that God, by His Spirit, will enable us to pray as we should. Real deliverance can be found from a failure, which hinders our own joy in God, and our power in His service. Let me begin, for the sake of those who have never had their attention directed to the matter, by giving some examples that prove how universal the sense of shortcoming in prayer is. Dr. Whyte, of Free St. George's, Edinburgh, made an address to ministers. In it, he said that, as a young minister, he had thought that he should spend as much of his free time as possible with his books in his study. This was because he wanted to feed his people with the very best he could prepare for them. But he had now learned that prayer was of more importance than study. He remembered that deacons were elected to take charge of the collections, so that the apostles could "give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word." At times, when the deacons of his congregation brought him his salary, he had to ask himself whether he had been as faithful in his responsibilities as they had been in theirs. He felt as if it were almost too late to regain what he had lost, and urged his brethren to pray more. What a solemn confession and warning from one of the high places: We pray too little! During a convention several years ago, I was discussing the subject of prayer in conversation with a well-known London minister. He maintained that if so much time must be given to prayer, it would involve the neglect of the responsibilities of his position. "There is the morning mail, before breakfast, with ten or twelve letters which must be answered. Then there are committee meetings waiting, with countless other engagements, more than enough to fill up the day. It is difficult to see how it can all be done." My answer was, in substance, that it was simply a question of whether the call of God for our time and attention was of more importance than that of man. If God was waiting to meet us, and to give us blessing and power from heaven for His work, it was a shortsighted policy to put other work in the place which God and waiting on Him should have. At one of our ministerial meetings, the superintendent of a large district put the case this way: "I rise in the morning and, before breakfast, have half an hour with God, in the Word and in prayer. I go out and am occupied all day with a multiplicity of engagements. I do not think many minutes elapse without my breathing a prayer for guidance or help. After my day's work, I return in my evening devotions and speak to God about the day's work. But of the intense, definite, importunate prayer of which Scripture speaks, I know little." What, he asked, must I think of such a life? Imagine the difference between a man whose profits are just enough to maintain his family and keep up his business, and another whose income enables him to extend the business and to help others. There can be an earnest Christian life in which there is prayer enough to keep us from backsliding, just maintaining the position we have, without much growth in spirituality or Christ-likeness. This prayer attitude is more defensive-see king to ward off temptation-than aggressive, reaching out after higher attainment. If we are to grow in strength, with some large experience of God's power to sanctify ourselves and to bring down real blessing on others, there must be more definite and persevering prayer. The Scripture, teaching about "crying day and night"; continuing steadfastly in prayer". "watching unto prayer"; "being heard for his importunity," must, in some degree, become our experience if we are really to be intercessors. Another example: A pastor of quite a large church who had many responsibilities once said to me, "I see the importance of much prayer, and yet my life hardly leaves room for it. Are we to submit? Or tell us how we can attain what we desire?" I admitted that the difficulty was universal. A most honored South African missionary, now gone to his rest, had the same complaint. I recalled his words: "In the morning at five, the sick people are at the door waiting for medicine. At six, the printers come, and I have to set them to work and teach them. At nine, the school calls me, and, till late at night, I am kept busy with a large correspondence." In my answer, I quoted a Dutch proverb: 'What is heaviest must weigh heaviest'-must have the first place." The law of God is unchangeable; as on earth, so in our traffic with heaven, we only get as we give. Unless we are willing to pay the price, and sacrifice time, attention, and what appear legitimate or necessary duties for the sake of the heavenly gifts, we need not look for a large experience of the power of the heavenly world in our work. The whole company present joined in the sad confession; it had been thought over, and mourned over, times without number. Yet, somehow, there they were, all these pressing claims, and all the ineffectual resolves to pray more, barring the way. I do not need to say to what further thoughts our conversation led; the substance of them will be found in some of the later chapters in this volume. (Continued)