I am troubled with listlessness in prayer. When I kneel to pray, my mind wanders here and there out over the world -- to my business, or probably to some trifling thing that amounts to nothing. I feel chagrined and disappointed. Jesus is so loyal to me, so worthy of praise and prayer, that to feel thus in prayer is mortifying. I have confessed it, but have not obtained a satisfactory deliverance, nor a solution of the matter. Can you give me any help? It will be much appreciated if you can teach me how to feel unction in prayer, and how to pray the fervent prayer of the righteous. Oh, do help me! My heart longs, yea yearns, for that nearness to God in prayer that will draw out my soul in mighty petitions for others, especially for the suffering and the lost.
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We heard of the fruits of Canaan long before we arrived. There were grapes of Eschol, pomegranates, milk and honey, and the old corn and wine of the land. Back in the Wilderness we were told of fruits so wonderful that they made the pilgrims strong and valiant for Immanuel, and of course we were eager to pluck them for ourselves. But we found that every one must grow or gather his own fruit, and also that the finest food is obtained from the most unlikely places, on hard, stony soil, and in rather inaccessible spots.
For instance, the honey. Hardly any of this delightful food was obtainable except in the crags of Hard Trials Mountains. And the Wine of Prayer was pressed from grapes that grew best in the Valley of Sore Temptation.
Do you suppose Caleb could tell us how to obtain these fruits? We are specially interested in the Wine of Prayer, suppose we go and see Caleb today. He received us so graciously on our former visit, he probably would be glad to see us again. Let us go!
Yes, he is at home today. See, there he is now. Oh, he is on his knees! Dear old saint of Canaan! And what is that he is doing? Oh, see, he seems to be drawing something from a cask in the shades of his beautiful garden! Yes, indeed, that must be Wine of Prayer he is drawing! What a blessed favor to call upon Him on such an occasion. He does not see us. Let us wait here, apart from his sanctuary.
Caleb seems lost in earnest communion with Immanuel. Note the heavenly smile that lights up his weather-beaten old face! He seems animated by the draughts he takes from his wine-cask. When his devotions and communions are over, we shall greet him. See, he rises! What a glory emanates from his face! It causes me to feel eager to slake my thirst at the same holy place! My life seems so earthly, so lacking in heavenliness and saintliness!
"Pilgrim Caleb, do tell us what you were drinking and how we may obtain some of the same wine."
"Most gladly. First, I must tell you a secret. The grapes from which the best Wine of Prayer is made come from the Valley of Sore Temptation. That is not a pleasant place, by any means. Several bad giants rendezvous there. Old Giants Lust, Pride, Persecution, Worldliness, Covetousness, and others make it a sort of headquarters. They never bother the grape-vines; it is only the pilgrims that they annoy. The soil is rocky and hard to subdue and cultivate. I wanted the very best fruits the land had; so I, too, was obliged to take a plot of ground in the Valley of Sore Temptation and make a beginning.
"No sooner had I marked off my little plot than the giants haunted me. They buffeted me about rather rudely. Old Giant Pride tried to make me think I was one of the greatest men who ever came into Canaan. Old Giant Covetousness told me all about a silver-mine which Balaam opened and Demas worked in. I could easily get rich, he said, if I would abandon the cultivation of grapes and follow him to the mine. He certainly told a plausible story, and tried hard to influence me to go. Giant Lust pointed out ways and means to capture silly souls, and tried hard to attract my attention toward a valley that leads down into Egypt; I had had enough of Egypt, and resisted him with all my might. But no matter how hard I resisted or rebuked these giants, they stayed in that valley. No one, it seems, can rout them completely from it. Their presence there goes with the cultivation of grapes.
"Well, I grew a small crop the first season. Then I made a wine-press out of pieces of faith, patience, and obedience, and placed a heavy weight on top made of perseverance. I got a little wine, and, oh, it was delicious and refreshing! Since then I have learned more about raising the fruit and making wine. I can get more wine out of the grapes, too, than formerly, by getting a heavier weight and using larger pieces of material in the press.
"Nothing is so refreshing as the Wine of Prayer. The whole soul is caught up, invigorated, revitalized, inspired. It gives mighty strength. Giants tremble and quake and run for their lives when they see a pilgrim fresh from his wine-cask move upon them. Blessed be Immanuel! Glory, praise, and honor, hallelujah to His high name, forever and ever! Oh, He provides such power and unction and sweetness! Never rest, pilgrims, till you get your vineyard started. And may Immanuel bless you!"
Thanks to Caleb for his words!
Listlessness in prayer is the result of a lack of interest; no one is listless about things he is vitally interested in. The thing to do is, not work against listlessness, for listlessness is only a symptom, but work up a real interest in the object of prayer. Find something to pray for, and pray for it with all your might.
Mind-wandering during secret prayer can also be attributed to lack of interest in the right thing. If your mind wanders, it is no sin, but a sign that you have nothing very pressing to pray for. If you were wanting something which you needed very much -- if you were sorely and severely tempted, or were sick and suffering, or if you were persecuted and needed help -- you would pray earnestly enough. Or, if you had in mind a friend or relative who was in need of help, then you could pray earnestly.
The cure for listlessness and mind-wandering, therefore, is in feeling and knowing the need, either of ourselves or of others, for which we engage in prayer. There is too much need for any listlessness in prayer. To be sure, no one can always feel the same degree of fervor and unction in prayer; but there may always be enough to make prayer a really refreshing season to the soul.
Prayer is more than asking; it is praise, thanksgiving, communion. We are exhorted "to be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Philippians 4:6). Prayer, then, is partly thanksgiving.
Begin with thanksgiving. If the Lord has done anything for you, thank Him for it. Count your blessings as you kneel. Remember the pit of sin you were taken out of; consider how often you have been helped and protected. Exercising the soul in this way produces the most favorable state of mind for further prayer, for making requests.
Give God a chance to talk to you while you are in prayer. Ask for a conversation. Be still and listen for God's voice; expect Him to speak.
In making requests, be willing for God to have His way. Ask, and you shall receive; but not always as soon as you ask.
Importunity in prayer is needed as well as perseverance and patience.
It is a blessed thing, this life of trust, the life of prayer. In daily communion with Christ we may travel life's road and enjoy a fellowship too rich, too deep, too holy to describe adequately. Enter in and see and taste for yourself.