Almost everyone prays. Many have been taught in childhood to kneel before God, and – with the first lispings of speech – to say, “Our Father.” And all Christians maintain the habit of prayer with more or less faithfulness.
What is prayer?
It is not merely making requests of God. This is part of it, for we should make known our requests to Him. We are to bring Him all our needs, small and large; and we are assured that although nothing is too great to lay upon God, nothing is too small to trouble Him with, either. The God Who cares for the birds, feeds the sparrows, and clothes the lilies of the field cares much more for His children, and supplies their needs. In our prayers, we are to make requests to God for the things we need.
But prayer is more than this. It includes confession of sins. We all sin against God, and every day we need to ask Him for forgiveness.
Then, too, part of all true prayer is thanksgiving – remembering our blessings and other answered prayers.
Prayer also includes communion with God. Our relationship with Him is that of a child to a father. Surely that child would be lacking in filial affection who would never care to talk to a father, except when he had some request to make of him, or some favor to ask. A large part of loving fellowship between child and father is fellowship – that is, conversation about things in which both are interested. So also, the Christian who cares to pray only when he has some request to make is lacking in a truly filial spirit.
Many times, when we come to God in prayer, we have no favor to ask; but we merely desire to be with Him, to commune with Him, to keep ourselves in His love, to tell Him of our love, to talk to Him of our plans, and to receive into our heart the blessings which He gives.
Are prayers answered?
Does God in Heaven hear His children when they kneel on earth and speak to Him? The Bible assures us that God is the hearer and the answerer of prayer. This does not mean that everything we ask for in prayer is given to us. Often the things we desire would not be the best things for us. Our judgment is imperfect, our vision is shortsighted, and we cannot tell whether the things we wish for would be good for us or not.
All true praying requires the humble submission of every request to the will and the wisdom of God. We are to trust Him more than we trust ourselves. If He sees fit to deny us the things we ask, we should be sure that His way is better than ours… If we understand that every desire we bring – however important it may be to us – we are to submit to God’s wisdom, and abide by His decision without murmuring or fear; we shall never find ourselves in perplexity because of what seems to us to be God’s failure to answer our prayers.
When God does not give us the things we definitely ask for, it is because He desires to give us something better instead. Paul asked for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh” – that is, some sore physical trouble. He asked earnestly, three times beseeching the Lord to grant his request. But the request was not granted. Instead, there came the promise of sufficient grace for the burden of pain and suffering which he was still to keep. Then he rejoiced in his infirmities because, through them, he received more of the strength of Christ!
Jesus Himself, in the garden, prayed that the bitter cup might pass from Him. It did not pass; but instead, Divine grace was given, and He was enabled to accept it without murmuring. His prayer was answered – not by the removal of the cup; but by the strengthening of his own heart, so that he could drink it with quiet submission.
The lesson is very clear. When God does not give us the things we plead for, He will give us grace to do without them; and if we accept His decision sweetly and trustingly, He will enable us to go on rejoicing. Surely it is a better answer to give us strength to continue bearing our load, than it would have been to take it away and leave us unstrengthened.
What may we bring to God in prayer?
We ought to bring everything in our life – not only our spiritual needs, and our sorrows and perplexities; but also our business affairs, our friendships, our frets and worries. Jesus wants us to be His close personal friends. He desires to enter into the most intimate relationships with each of us. He wants our confidence at every point. He is interested in everything we do in our daily work, in our plans and efforts, in the children’s play, and in our problems and pleasures and studies. We should train ourselves to talk to Christ of everything we are doing.
Anything we do not want to talk to him about, we had better not do. It is a sad day for any of us when we have done anything which we are not willing to talk to Jesus about. We had better ask His counsel concerning everything we are considering.
When should we pray?
Part of the pledge which people all over the world are making these days is that they will pray every day. We should pray at least twice every day. We should begin the morning at Christ’s feet – seeking blessing from Him, asking for guidance, putting our hand in His, and entrusting our life to His keeping. Then when we come to the close of the day, there should be prayer again – the bringing of the day’s work to God,
the confessing of its faults and sins and mistakes, the laying at our Master’s feet of all the work we have done, and the committing of ourselves to His keeping for the night.
But besides these formal seasons of prayer in the morning and evening, every Christian should be always in the spirit of prayer. We walk with God in our everyday life. Jesus is just as close to us when we are at our daily activities – in the field, in the kitchen, in the store, in the schoolroom, or out on the playground — as He is when we are kneeling at His feet in a formal act of prayer. Anywhere and at any time, we may whisper a request or speak a word of love in His ear, and He will hear us.
That is what Paul means by his exhortation that we be “instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). We should stay all the time so close to Christ that any moment, a word may be exchanged with Him.
In times of temptation, when the pressure is sore – almost more than we are able to endure – it is a great privilege to say, “Jesus, help me!”
In some moment of perplexity as to duty, we may ask our Guide to show us what He wishes us to do, and He will do it.
If we are in danger, we may run into the refuge of prayer – hiding ourselves close to Christ, as a frightened bird flies to its nest, or as an alarmed child runs to her mother.
Those who learn to pray in this way – communicating with Christ continually – are sure of rich blessings in their life. Prayer makes us stronger. It brings the Divine life down into our heart. It shelters us amidst temptation. It keeps us near the heart of Christ in time of sorrow or danger. It transforms us into the beauty of the Master.
Prayer brings heaven down close to us – into our heart. Prayer keeps us close to Christ. One who prays daily, and continues “instant in prayer,” will never drift far from Him. It is when we begin to omit prayer that we begin to stray from Christ.
In these modern days, many skeptical questions are asked concerning prayer; but a simple faith answers them all. If God is our Father, He surely knows His children and loves them. If this is true, there can be no doubt that He is interested in their life in this world, and that He is willing to communicate with them – and hear them when they speak to Him. Truly, prayer is one of the privileges of the sons and daughters of God!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this article! Feel free to leave your reflections and ask your questions below.
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for our King’s glory,
photo by Lehman | Lightstock.com
This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on my website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.