Praise you the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.…
Have you ever noticed the general advance which is presented in the Book of Psalms from the confessions, prayers, and conflicts of the earlier parts of the book to the truly sublime outburst of praise which, in the 150th Psalm, crowns the whole, and leaves us purely praising the Lord in an endless hallelujah? This advance, checked and broken at times, going back and standing still, and then pressing forward again, is a reflection of all Christian life, and is specially to be observed in the life of prayer.
1. As a general rule it is likely that the life of prayer finds its earliest expression in asking God for earthly gifts, deliverances, and helps. But some never pass far beyond this stage. I am in pain; I cry to God to relieve me. I want greatly to succeed at an examination, and I pray about it. My father or mother is ill, and I go to my own room, and, perhaps in a flood of tears, implore Him to make my loved one well. I have, later on, difficulties about money: I pray God to help me in some unexpected way. Definite petition for tangible earthly good is the first step in this "Jacob's ladder" of prayer.
2. Time passes on, and brings the Strange experience of the soul's awaking. The thought of spiritual realities surrounding us is borne in with vivid freshness on the heart. I learn that I have sinned, and that God is holy. Judgment to come is a real thing. I must live for ever, and where shall that eternity be passed? "Out of the depths I cry unto the Lord," and I say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." I ask a direct gift, but it is now no earthly blessing that I crave, but life for my sinful soul: "I am a sinner; save me, O Lord; Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Psalm 32; Psalm 51; Psalm 130.). This is a prayer for every stage. Were it not so, our Lord's own Prayer would, after a time, in Christian experience, go out of date. Yet here, again, the fact is observed that, as we go forward, these petitions form a smaller proportion of our prayers. There are other things which, to a great extent, come to press more on the soul for utterance.
3. For, thirdly, comes the long period of conflict and of self-discipline, during which our greatest desire is for growth in grace; for the development, under the Holy Spirit's direction and help, of the life of holiness. This noontide, as it may be called, of the Christian's day is a time of self-cultivation, of imitation of Christ, of temptation, fall, and rising again; of Christian work; of growing knowledge and experience. "Teach me to do Thy will, O my God; show me the way in which I should walk." And here, again, the Book of Psalms is a very storehouse of petitions. In the greater part of this book you find an almost endless variety of states of religious life and feeling.
4. Up to this stage prayer for our own selves, our body, soul, and spirit, has filled up most of our interest. But now, as love and sympathy grow — direct results of the grace which has been given through those earlier stages of prayer — we begin to find a habit of intercession developing within us. The family is the limit of our first real intercession. But the circle soon widens. It widens when we come to love our Sunday scholars, our school companions, our near neighbours, our colleagues in work. It widens much when, with a glow of real interest, we first bear before God the names of our enemies. "Father, forgive them: this is intercession indeed. Nothing grows more rapidly than this habit of spiritual intercession; nothing brings us nearer to Christ.
5. And yet, even at this more advanced stage of the life of prayer, the Christian soul, as it rises, must not stand still. As the eternal kingdom is neared, there are heard faint echoes from the heavenly choir, and their song is all a song of praise. The course of prayer has been like the course of the Psalter, and the Psalter ends with hallelujah! "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!"
Parallel VersesKJV: Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.