Discerning Prayer.


To recognize God's existence is to necessitate prayer to Him, by all intelligent creatures, or, a consciously living in sin and under condemnation of conscience, because they do not pray to Him. It would be horrible to admit the existence of a Supreme Being, with power and wisdom to create, and believe that the creatures he thought of consequence and importance enough to bring into existence, are not of enough consequence for him to pay any attention to in the troubles and trials consequent upon that existence.

Surely such a statement is an impeachment of both the wisdom and goodness of God.

It were far more sensible for those who deny the fitness and necessity of prayer to take the ground of the atheist and say plainly "We do not pray, for there is no God to pray to," for to deny prayer, is practical atheism.

So in the very constitution of man's being there is the highest reasonableness in prayer. And, if the position of man in his relation to the earth he inhabits is recognized and understood, there is no unreasonableness in a God-fearing man looking to God for help and deliverance under any and all circumstances, in all the vicissitudes of life. The earth was made for man. One has said "there is nothing great in the world but man; and there is nothing great in man but his soul." With this in view, how absurd to talk about "fixed laws" and "unchangeable order," in a way to keep man in his trouble from God. It is all the twaddle of the conceit of man setting himself up to judge and limit his maker. "To whom then will ye liken Me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One." The Creator is greater than his creation; the law giver is supreme over all law. He created the earth that it might be inhabited by man, and He governs the earth in subordination to the interests, the eternal and spiritual welfare of the race of immortal beings that are here being prepared for glory and immortality.

Laws, indeed, are fixed in their operation and results as subserving the highest good in the training and the disciplining of the race, giving them hope in their labor and sure expectation of fruit from their toil. But as set in operation for man's good, so, in an exigency that may make necessary their suspension, to secure his deliverance from peril and bring man back to the recognition of the personal God, as above, law, is it unreasonable to believe that God has power thus to suspend or overrule his own arrangements? A wise father will govern his children by rules as securing their best good. But he will retain in his power the suspending of those rules when special occasions arise, when the object for which they exist can be better secured by their suspension. Shall not the living God have the same right?

So much as to the reflections suggested by the dogmas of natural religion. They sustain in reason our faith in prayer. The basis, however, of our faith rests upon the unchanging and unchangeable revelation of God, and not upon man's philosophy. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, saying, "Our Father which art in Heaven." As Christians, this is our authority for prayer. In the words, "OUR FATHER," our Blessed Lord has given us the substance of all that can be said, as to the privilege of prayer, what to pray for, and how to pray. There can be no loftier exercise of soul ever given to created intelligence than to come into conscious contact with the living God, and be able to say "My Father."

And surely, as my Father, with a loving father's heart, it must be his desire that I should tell him all my needs, all my sorrows, all my desires. And, so his word commands, "Be careful for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." (Phil, iv., 6.) Under this verse there is positively no exception of any request that may not be made known unto God. So there is true faith and right Christian philosophy in the remark, "if a pin was needful to my happiness and I could not find one I would pray to God for it."

The mistake of Christians is in not praying over little things. "The hairs of your head are all numbered." Consult God about everything. Expect His counsel, His guidance, His care, His provision, His deliverance, His blessing, in everything. Does not the expression, "Our daily bread," mean just this? Can there be any true life of faith that does not include this? Whatever will serve to help God's children to a better understanding of the blessed privileges of prayer, and prove to them the reality of God's answering prayer in the cares, trials and troubles of daily life, will approve itself to all thoughtful minds as a blessing to them and an honor to God. It is the purpose of this volume to do this. We are more helped by testimony to facts than by theories and doctrines. When we have illustrations before our eyes of God's care for his children, and His response to their faith, even in the minutest things, we understand the meaning of His promises and the reality of His providences.

The writer had many thoughts in this line suggested to him by an incident, with which he was connected, in the life of George Muller. It was my happiness to cross the Atlantic in the company of this dear brother on the steamship Sardinian, from Quebec to Liverpool, in June, 1880.

I met Mr. Muller in the express office the morning of sailing, about half an hour before the tender was to take the passengers to the ship. He asked of the agent if a deck chair had arrived for him from New York. He was answered, No, and told that it could not possibly come in time for the steamer. I had with me a chair I had just purchased and told Mr. Muller of the place near by, where I had obtained it, and suggested that as but a few moments remained he had better buy one at once. His reply was, "No, my brother, Our Heavenly Father will send the chair from New York. It is one used by Mrs. Muller, as we came over, and left in New York when we landed. I wrote ten days ago to a brother who promised to see it forwarded here last week. He has not been prompt as I would have desired, but I am sure Our Heavenly Father will send the chair. Mrs. Muller is very sick upon the sea, and has particularly desired to have this same chair, and not finding it here yesterday when we arrived, as we expected, we have made special prayer that Our Heavenly Father would be pleased to provide it for us, and we will trust Him to do so." As this dear man of God went peacefully on board the tender, running the risk of Mrs. Muller making the voyage without a chair, when for a couple of dollars she could have been provided for, I confess I feared Mr. Muller was carrying his faith principles too far and not acting wisely.

I was kept at the express office ten minutes after Mr. Muller left. Just as I started to hurry to the wharf a team drove up the street, and on top of a load just arrived from New York, was Mr. Muller's chair! It was sent at once to the tender and placed in my hands to take to Mr. Muller (the Lord having a lesson for me) just as the boat was leaving the dock. I found Mr. and Mrs. Muller in a retired spot on one side of the tender and handed him the chair. He took it with the happy, pleased expression of a child who has just received a kindness deeply appreciated, and reverently removing his hat and folding his hands over it, he thanked his Heavenly Father for sending the chair. "In everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God." "Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you."

So the word of God teaches us as His children (inviting us to pray, commanding us to pray, and teaching us how to pray), that there is a divine reality in prayer. Experience abundantly corroborates the teaching.

Every truly converted man knows from this experience that God answers prayer. He has verified the promise. "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." (Jer. xxxiii., 8.) His life is a life of prayer, and grows more and more to be a life of almost unconscious dependence upon God, as he becomes fixed in the habit of prayer. This, and it is the purpose of God, is the result secured by prayer. With this in view, it will not be so much what we expect to get by praying, as a consciousness of coming into closer relations to God, the giver of all, in our prayers, that will give us true joy.

Often God's children are driven to the throne of grace by some desperate need of help and definite supply of an absolute want, and, as they cry to God and plead their case with tears before him, he so manifests his presence to them and so fills them with a consciousness of his love and power, that the burden is gone and without the want being supplied that drove them to God, they rejoice in God himself and care not for the deprivation. This was Paul's experience when he went thus to God about the thorn, and came away without the specific relief he had prayed for, but with such a blessing as a result of his drawing near to God, that he little cared whether the thorn remained or not -- or, rather, rejoiced that it was not removed; that it might be used to keep him near to God, whose love so filled his soul.

A widow once told the writer of the turning point in her Christian life, when God's love was so shed abroad in her heart that she had been enabled to go on through all her trials rejoicingly conscious of God's presence, and casting all her burdens upon Him. She was driven to seek God by great need. Her husband's death left her destitute, with little children to provide for, and few friends from whom to look for continuous aid. Winter drew on, and, one day, her little boy came in shivering with cold and asked if he could not have a fur cap, as his straw hat was very cold and none of the boys at school wore straw hats. She was without a cent in the world. She gave a hopeful answer to the boy and sent him out to play, and then went to her bedroom and knelt and wept in utter desolation of heart before God, praying most earnestly that God would give her a token that He was her God and was caring for her by sending her a cap for her boy. While she prayed the peace of God filled her soul. She was made to feel the presence of her Saviour in such a way that all doubts as to his love for her and his fulfillment of all his promises to care for her vanished away, and she went out of her room, rejoicing in the Lord and singing his praise. She had no burden about the cap, and was quite content for God to send it or not as it pleased Him; and, in the afternoon, when a neighbor called, occupied with the Lord and his wonderful love, the thought of the cap had gone from her mind. When the neighbor rose to depart, she said, "You know my little boy died last fall. Just before he died I bought him a fur cap: he only wore it two or three times. After his death I put away all his things and thought I could never part with any of them. But, this morning, as I went to the drawer to look them over, I felt that I should give you this cap for your little boy. Will you take it of me?" As she took the cap and told her neighbor of the morning trial, prayer and blessing, two souls were filled with the sense of the reality of prayer and the love of God for his children. "My little boy," said the widow, "wore that cap for three winters. And often, when sorely tried by my circumstances, has God lifted the burden from my heart, by my just looking at it, and remembering the blessing that came with it."

Experiences like this God gives to all his children, not for the purpose of leading them to look to Him for supplying their physical necessities, as an end, but to make Himself known to them, and to secure their confidence and love, for "this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." (Jno. xvii, 8.)

The use of prayer is to bring us into communion with God, for the growth of the spiritual life, that is ours by faith in Christ Jesus. To leave it upon any lower plane than this, is to rob it of its highest functions and to paralyze it of lasting power for good in any direction. The promises of God are conditioned upon our being in this state of heart toward God. "If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (Jno. xv., 7.) Abiding in Christ, our will will be His will, as to desiring that which will most advance the divine life and promote confidence in God, and all our desires for material blessings will be subordinated to this motive. Right here must come in a line of truth that will lead us from the spirit of dictation in our prayers to God in all matters pertaining to our worldly concerns. We cannot tell what is for our highest spiritual good. The saving of our property or the taking it away. The recovery from sickness or the continuance of it; the restoration of the health of our loved one, or his departing to be with Christ; the removing the thorn or the permitting it to remain. "In everything" it is indeed our blessed privilege to let our requests be make known unto God, but, praise his name, he has not passed over to us the awful responsibility of the assurance that in everything the requests we make known will be granted. He has reserved the decision, where we should rejoice to leave it, to his infinite wisdom and his infinite love.

There is a danger to be carefully guarded against in the reading of this book and in the consideration of the precious truth. The incidents it relates bring before the mind, of the unlimited resources and the unquenchable love of God, that are made available to believing prayer. That danger has been suggested by what has been said, that the highest use of prayer is to bring the soul nearer to God, and not the making of it a mere matter of convenience to escape physical ills or supply physical necessities.

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh" and continues flesh until the end. "Have no confidence in the flesh" is always a much needed exhortation. Now, unquestionably, the desires of the natural heart may and do deceive us, and often lead as to believe that our fervent earnest prayer for temporal blessing is led of the Spirit, when the mind of the Spirit is, that we will be made more humble, more Christ-like and more useful by being denied than by being granted. Again, we are in danger of disobeying the plain commands of God's word in allowing prayer ever to take the place of anything in our power to do, and that we are commanded to do as a means to secure needed good. He who has said "pray always," has also said, "Be ambitious to be quiet and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, even as we charged you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and may have need of nothing." (1 Thess., iv., 11, 12; R.V.)

How often the flesh has led men to read (Phil, iv., 19): "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus," in a spirit entirely opposed to this exhortation. They have ceased to labor with their hands, and, without warrant in the providences of God and the judgment of brethren, have turned from doing their own business, expecting the Lord to pay their debts and provide for their necessities. The quotations of Scripture made by our Lord to Satan, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord, thy God," is surely applicable in all such cases. The spirit of a "sound mind" (see 2 Tim. i., 7) will surely recognize this.

So in all things, that which God has given me intelligence and power to do, in avoiding evil or securing good, I am under direct command from him to do, always depending upon His blessing to secure the needed result. A true faith in God will be made manifest by careful obedience to known commands. An intelligent faith can never allow dependence upon means used to take the place of dependence upon the living God, who alone makes them efficacious.

It must result in presumptions faith, if obedience is neglected, and the results only promised to obedience are expected. That God can give blessing, without the use of the ordinary means, on man's part, there is no question. That he has done so is a matter of record. Yet we should remember that there were but two miraculous draughts of fishes, and only twice did our Lord make bread without the use of seed-time, harvest, grinding and baking. The rule of Christ in his earthly ministry was, most certainly, to receive the supply of his physical wants from His Heavenly Father, in the use of means to secure the results offered in the ordinary operation of the laws of God. He went into the corn-field at autumn and visited the olive tree for sustenance as did other men. And the question for his disciples is not what God can do, and not what he has done (that he may be known as God over all creation, blessed for evermore) in the suspension of natural laws, but what has he revealed to us as his will during the time of the present dispensation of the church on this earth, as to his children using means for the avoidance of evil and securing of good, or depending entirely upon miraculous interference in answer to the prayer of faith for all need without reference to use of means.

Does the prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," mean that we are to do nothing to secure our bread, lest we show no faith in God, and simply wait in idleness for God to repeat the miracle of sending it by a raven? or, does it mean that with thankful hearts to God for the ability he has given us to work, that we go forth diligently fulfilling our task in the use of all appropriate means to secure that which his loving bounty has made possible for us in the fruitful seasons of the earth, and return with devout recognition that He is the Creator, Upholder and Giver of all, bringing our sheaves with us. When seed-time and harvest fail and death is on the land, when corn fails in Egypt and there is no bread, when we have obeyed him and sought to toil with our hands and no man has given unto us, then we will expect his interposition and will have faith that he who has fed us by use of means, will supply us without means, and that He alone is the living God.

It is noticeable that the prophet Elisha, whose prayers God heard in the multiplication of the twenty loaves during the dearth at Gilgal, was made Elijah's successor when following his twelve yoke of oxen at the plough in the field, diligently using means to obtain bread, and undoubtedly communing with God all the while and recognizing the evidences of his love and power in every upturned daisy as he ploughed the sod, and in every seed that he dropped into the fertile earth, and thought it grand to be a fellow worker with God in the husbandry of the earth and not one to be fed in idleness, neglecting the toil appointed to man, and losing the blessing that is promised in the word of God, in the discipline and the knowledge of God in the operations of His laws, that comes in a greater or less degree to all of earth's honest toilers.

It is the opinion of many of God's children that as the present dispensation draws to its close, there will be among the spiritually minded and consecrated ones of the church, a reproduction of the gifts of Pentecost for a last testimony to the world before Christ comes in glory. There is much Scripture that might be quoted to sustain this opinion. God grant in His grace and mercy that it may be so. But neither the church or the world have any claim upon God for it. The church has abused grace and the world has despised mercy. All the promises as to miracles wrought for a testimony as to the truth of Christ's resurrection, have been fulfilled. If Christ were to come to-day, the world would be without excuse in having rejected him, and could not plead that signs and wonders had been abundantly wrought in His name in the establishing of His church upon the earth.

The question of our Lord in Luke xviii., 8, "When the son of man cometh shall he find faith on the earth?" suggests to many minds that there may not be vouchsafed during the time immediately preceding his manifestations, any marked interference by God in the way of miracles or signs among his children, but that their faith in Him as the unseen God, and their trust in the truth and verify of His word, will be brought forth to the praise and glory of God and their joy, by their being left to the word alone and the operations of the Holy Ghost by and through the word for their comfort and stability in the faith.

Coupled with this thought let it ever be borne in mind by the believer that the testimony of God's word as to miracles, signs and wonders wrought by Satanic agency in the church, during the last day, is clear and unmistakable, and warnings abound as to our danger from them.

"The Spirit saith expressly that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils." 1 Tim. iv., 1.

"But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come." "Evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." 2 Tim. iii., 1 and 13.

"Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers be transformed as the ministers of righteousness.2 Cor. xi., 14.

"And then shall that wicked be revealed. Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders; and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved." 2 Thess. ii., 8 to 10.

By these passages it is plain that a sign or a wonder does not establish a doctrine or endorse a man as certainly being from God. The doctrine and the man must be judged by the written word of God.

If there is ought in the doctrine that denies that Jesus is the Son of God, that derogates in the slightest degree from the merit of His atonement on the cross for our sins, or that takes the eye off from Him as the risen and coming Lord, the alone object of our faith and hope, or that dishonors in any way God's holy word, taking from or adding to it, then the more signs and wonders and manifestations of mysterious power that there may be connected with it, then the more certainly we may know that it is of Satan and not of God.

And if, in the man who exhibits signs and wonders, there is a spirit contrary to the spirit of Christ, in his seeking honor from man, and using his power to establish a claim to such honor, "speaking of himself as some great one," and not walking in humility as a sinner saved from hell and kept day by day by the power of God through faith in Christ, And if the purpose of his signs be to establish revelations he is receiving in any form apart from the written word, then, though his signs be as marvelous as those of the magicians in Egypt, or Simon Magnus in Samaria, he is, like them, a minister of Satan and not a minister of Jesus Christ.

The age abounds in doctrines and men of this kind. The life of faith lays the soul open to assaults of the Devil by their agency.

"Beloved try the spirits whether they be of God."

Let us not waver in our faith in God's overruling providence, and in the reality of His interposition in answer to prayer for the deliverance and help of his people under any and all circumstances. "In everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known unto God," but let our first request be that we be kept in a sound mind obedient to the word, and let all of our requests close with the utterance, from a sincere heart, of the words, "Thy will be done." If this be the attitude of our hearts our prayers shall be abundantly and graciously answered, and God shall guide us from the wiles of the Evil One for the sake of His dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord, through whose precious blood we have all grace and all blessing. Amen.

LAKE VIEW, July 24th, 1885.

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