THE PROVINCE OF PRAYER
Definition. -- Prayer is the communion of man with God. It is not first of all the means of getting something from God, but the realization of Him in the soul. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). The glory of a man is in his uprightness of character, the purity of his spirit and his nearness and likeness to God. Man becomes like that which he thinks about the most often and with which he most frequently communes in the secret recesses of his heart. Prayer is not merely, then, a matter of stated times and seasons, although these should be observed, but a constant walking with God and a realization of His presence at all times and in all places (Luke 18:1; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The man who thus communes with God will lay before Him his plans and purposes and will ask for direction and guidance in them; he will expect help from God as a partner in all his enterprises; he will grasp the power unseen to work great things in the seen. There will be special needs and occasions when a man, in harmony with God (James 5:16), will require special help and for this aid from God he will make strong and earnest petitions to Him. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me" (Psalm 50:15; James 1:17; Psalm 19:14; Ephesians 3:20,21).
The Different Kinds of Prayer. -- They are adoration, thanksgiving, intercession, petition and praise (1 Timothy 2:1).
The Different Places of Prayer. -- 1. In the public assemblage (Psalm 122:1,2; Acts 3:1; Hebrews 10:25).2. In the social and family gathering (Matthew 18:19,20; Acts 1:14; 2:46; 12:12). 3. In private (Matthew 6:6; Mark 1:35; Psalm 55:17; Daniel 6:10).
The Approach of Man to God. -- "All men pray at some time or other, whether fitfully or constantly, in weakness or in strength, in sorrow or in joy. Some men pray because it is their chiefest delight to do so, and some pray because necessity drives them to it; but they all pray. Prayer is a constant element, and the impulse to pray is ever present to human nature." Man has been called "a religious and praying animal," because of this universal desire of men to come into some touch with the power over them. This tendency is shown in lands where the true spiritual knowledge of God is lacking and where men deify and adore objects of nature. The sun, the earth, the stars, trees, mountains, waters, winds and carved images have all been made divine objects of adoration and prayer, because of the desire of man to find or place the supernatural in them. Paul said to the men of Athens when he saw the altar to the "Unknown God": "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship Him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:23). All the research of natural science is to find out what is the Ultimate Power behind all the phenomena of nature. Man by his very nature seeks to approach God. He is driven by an inward impulse to come to Him. Hence, where men do not have the true light by which to approach God or reject it there are found all sorts and kinds of caricatures of religion.
What are the proper means of approach to God through prayer?
1. Right knowledge and faith. "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). "This is life eternal that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3). God is above all and in all. There are no other gods before Him. He is supreme, manifested as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We come at once here to the Great Personal Power, beyond whom there is no greater. We do not look upon Him as a cold abstraction or blind force, but as a loving, kind Father. He desires to do more for us than we can ask or think. No man prays to God in the right way who does not first of all have a proper conception of God.
2. Right attitude of the heart. "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). Again the prayerless prayer of the Pharisee began with "I" and the burning of incense before himself. No man, cherishing something in his heart which he knows to be contrary to the will of God or who only seeks to foster and advance his own selfish interests, will come, or desire to come, or can come into a very close communion with God. A wrong attitude of the heart keeps many men from the enjoyment of God's presence, and makes them choose to remain away from His sanctuary. No matter what the sin, however, if a man truly desires to get it out of his heart that man can come at once into close touch with God (Isaiah 1:15-19; Psalm 51; Revelation 7:14).
3. Right subjects of prayer. The advancement of the Kingdom of God and the spiritual interests of man come first. Too many prayers move in the narrow circles of self and purely physical wants; they take no wide sweep out over larger interests. God knows that we have physical needs that must be supplied (Matthew 6:26). Jesus said, "Is not the life more than meat and the body than raiment" (Matthew 6:25)? And by His urgency He would have our prayers rise higher than our physical wants into an infinitely larger sphere. Then God will more than bless us and take care of those things about which we are now so anxious (Matthew 6:26-34).
4. Persistency (Matthew 11:12). It is difficult to deny a persistent man who, when thwarted in one way, begins to plan and act for the object which he seeks in another way and who will not be put off. Christ commended the way of the persistent man to those who sought God in prayer. He gave examples of the widow who continually importuned an unjust judge until he listened to her plea and gave her justice (Luke 18:1-8), and of the man who would not take "no" for an answer when he wanted to borrow bread from a neighbour at midnight (Luke 11:5-8). He said, "Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Luke 11:9). Men who do not persist in their praying will fail to receive the higher blessings and the larger benefits which otherwise God would gladly bestow upon them. If men know how to give good gifts to their children when they ask for them, then much more God knows how to grant the best things to men when they ask Him. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).
The Approach of God to Man. -- How does God come near to man? Does He hear when men pray to Him? Can He and will He answer prayer?
These questions are all simply and plainly answered in the Scriptures. There is no doubt expressed here that God comes near to men and will hear and answer when they pray to Him. "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth" (Psalm 145:18; 139:7-12; Ephesians 3:20).
Christian experience answers these questions in the same affirmative way. Multitudes of Christians testify that God comes near to them and that He hears and answers their prayers; there are many recorded and remarkable answers to prayers.
It is only when the testimony of the Bible and the experience of Christians are set aside that difficulties appear which seem very formidable.
One of the chief objections urged against God hearing and answering prayer is the discovery of the widening sphere of what is called natural law in the ordering of the universe. Where God was formally looked upon as directly controlling in certain things, it is pointed out that we now can plainly state the causes and the working of the laws which produce certain results. According to one theory God is shut out of His universe; and according to another, He is shut up in His universe; on either hypothesis the direct control is out of His hands. Hence, "why pray?" when our prayers even if they reach God cannot be answered.
This objection from the domination of law annuls the freedom of God. It is like looking at a great piece of complicated machinery, and having it explained how part depends upon part and, because the dependence is plainly shown, being asked to believe that the maker and controller is under its power. We are asked to-day to concentrate our attention upon the levers, the springs and the pulleys and all the machinery of the universe rather than upon the first great Cause and Ruler of all.
It is assumed in this objection that much more is known of the laws and forces which govern the universe than really is. Prof. John Fiske says in his lecture on "Life Everlasting," I once heard Herbert Spencer say, "you cannot take up any problem in physics without being quickly led to some metaphysical problem which you can neither solve nor evade." Again he says, "The more things we try to explain, the better we realize that we live in a world of unexplained residua."
Widening knowledge is throwing back into the lumber room many much vaunted theories of origins. Many wrong conceptions of the order of nature have in recent years been radically changed. It is freely acknowledged to-day by the foremost men of science that no man fully understands the order of nature. Under the present limitations of human knowledge God cannot be shut up in or out of His universe. Further research may show that such shutting up to be impossible; for in the end we are to depend not upon our ignorance but upon our knowledge of the universe for God's free control of all things.
Already the light begins to dawn when it is seen that all the natural forces and matter itself are beginning to reveal their origin and control in one Great Master Force. But in this we but return to the biblical statement "In the beginning God" (Genesis 1:1).
We are perfectly justified in believing, in the intelligence of God when we see so many evidences of intelligence in the world, and the freedom and personality of God, when we note the freedom and personality of man; for however we may argue that man is not free or personal we believe that he is and act upon this belief in all the practical affairs of life. The created thing is not greater than its creator or the law greater than the lawgiver. God is greater than the universe or man. God as all powerful, and as intelligent and personal can be approached by man and comes near to him through his communion in prayer with Him.
It is perfectly possible for God, in His providential wisdom and power, to answer the prayers of His people. It is an every-day occurrence for man to deflect the beams of the sun and make nature's laws do what they would not have done if left to themselves. We know men to be personal and to be changed by petitions to their mercy and entreaties to use their power in certain directions. We believe that God, infinitely greater than man, can be entreated and will use His power for the benefit of the petitioner. It is not unreasonable for men to pray for material and spiritual blessings. While the sphere of prayer may be narrowed in certain directions by what we know of nature's processes, it has been greatly widened in other directions.
THE MODEL PRAYER
This is the Lord's Prayer which Christ gave His disciples when He preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13) and when one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord teach us to pray" (Luke 11:2-4). "It is the prayer of prayers. It is the best and most beautiful, the simplest and yet the deepest, the shortest and yet the most comprehensive of all forms of devotion. Only from the lips of the Son of God could such a perfect pattern proceed. It embraces all kinds of prayer -- petition, intercession and thanksgiving; all essential objects of prayer, spiritual and temporal, divine and human, in the most suitable and beautiful order."
It has been divided, and this is the natural division, into three parts, an address, six petitions and a doxology.
The Address. -- "Our Father who art in heaven" (Matthew 6:9). This phrase "Our Father" shows the paternal relation which the Almighty sustains to us in Christ and the filial relation which we bear to Him through faith in Christ. It also reminds us that since we have a common Father in God, we are all brothers in Christ. The phrase, "Who art in heaven" shows us our heavenly origin and that our home is in our Father's house. We use the word "our" before Father and by it mean to embrace in prayer all the children of God. In using the word, "Father" we at once say we believe in a personal good God at the heart of all things and controlling all, one who loves and cares for us supremely (Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:19; Psalm 103:13; Matthew 7:11; John 1:12,13; Romans 8:14,15).
The first three petitions refer to God.
First Petition. -- "Hallowed be Thy name" (Matthew 6:9). God's name stands also "for His word, His day and His commandments." God's name is hallowed when we think and speak of Him with reverence and love. Any man who speaks of God's name with contempt or takes it in vain at once shows his position in regard to God. The character of a man and of a community is shown by the respect or disrespect in which God's name is held. Hence in praying "Hallowed be Thy name" we pray not only that God may be rightly worshipped but for the upbuilding of the character of men and communities. "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6:3; John 17:3; Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Exodus 20:7).
Second Petition. -- "Thy Kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). "This is the spiritual kingdom of grace and glory." The supplication is here for the reign of righteousness in all hearts throughout the world; this includes the building up of the home church, and home and foreign missions. It expresses the desire for the conversion of all nations and bringing them under the dominion of our Lord (Revelation 11:15; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Matthew 9:37,38; 6:33; 13:31-33; Luke 17:21).
Third Petition. -- "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). The will of God concerning us is that we should be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11:44) that we should be perfect as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and that we may believe on His Son (John 6:40). In proportion as God's will is done on earth, evil, want, misery, oppression, hate, jealousy, vanity and evil speaking will disappear from the earth. We might then, when His will is done on earth as it is in heaven, shut up our jails, dismiss our police force, close our courts, and reduce taxes to a minimum. When we offer this petition we are asking for large things.
The last three petitions refer to man and his needs.
Fourth Petition. -- "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). This supplication calls our attention to the fact that we are dependent upon God for daily food and that we are to ask Him to supply our bodily wants. Daily bread includes food, raiment and shelter and all that belongs to our temporal necessities. The answer to this prayer may be in health, bodily and mental strength to procure daily bread, but nevertheless it comes from the hand of God and He should be thanked for it as well as asked for it (Deuteronomy 8:10; Psalm 145: 15,16; Proverbs 30:8).
Fifth Petition. -- "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). The word debts here means sins. In asking for forgiveness of sins, we acknowledge that we have sinned and are in need of forgiveness. We pray the Father to forgive us and seek in this way to be reconciled to Him. But it is through Jesus Christ that the Father forgives men their sins. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; 1 John 1:7-9; John 3:16-19; Ephesians 1:7). In repeating the latter clause of the petition, "as we forgive our debtors" we acknowledge that we have not only sinned against God but also against our fellow men and that they have sinned against us and caused us to cherish enmity in our hearts. If we desire God's forgiveness we must forgive our fellow men and be reconciled with them before we can expect to come to God and receive His full forgiveness for our transgressions. "Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:20,21). "If ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14,15; 18:21,22; Luke 17:3,4).
Sixth Petition. -- "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13). In this petition we acknowledge our weakness and proneness to go astray. We seek for God's strong power to guard us from and in all temptations of the flesh and spirit. We ask for final deliverance from the power and effects of all evil. We look forward to an abode with God where no evil can come to us. "The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18; Psalm 31:5; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 5:4; 2:15; Matthew 26:41; 2 Timothy 4:7,8).
The Doxology. -- "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen" (Matthew 6:13). This is an ascription of praise showing that in God is vested all power and glory, that there is no kingdom above His kingdom and that He is supreme over all. Before Him must come all things for judgment. He alone is to be worshipped, for in Him is all power and truth and goodness. "Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all" (1 Chronicles 29:11,12; Psalm 115:1; Ephesians 3:20,21).
ANSWERS TO PRAYER
Nothing could indicate more plainly that God cares for and loves men, and is not indifferent to their wants, than the great stream of prayer flowing through the Bible. He is not a God afar off, neither has He wound up the universe as a great machine and left it to its fate. He is in touch with His people. He hears them when they cry to Him. He is long-suffering, merciful and righteous. Happy is the man who loves God with all his heart and who seeks constantly to commune with Him.
Notable Instances of Prayer, and the response of God, are shown in the following passages of Scripture. Abraham (Genesis 20:17), Jacob (Genesis 32:24-31), Moses (Numbers 11:2), Samuel (1 Samuel 12:18), Elijah (1 Kings 18:37-46), Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:2-6), Ezra (9:5-15), Daniel (9:3-27), Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:6-15; John 17), The Apostles (Acts 1:14; 4:31), Peter (Acts 12:5-11), Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25-32), Prophets and teachers at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) and Paul and the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:36).
The province of prayer; give a definition of prayer. What are the different kinds and places of prayer? What can be said of the approach of man to God? What is right knowledge of God? Right attitude of heart to God? Right subjects of prayer? What has persistency to do in praying to God? What can be said of the approach of God to man? How does the Bible and Christian experience testify of this approach of God to man? What is the great outside difficulty urged against God's approach to man and what can be said of it? What is the model prayer? Give the divisions of the model prayer and explain them. What can be said of answers to prayer?