Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving. I.
CONTINUE. Let not your intercessions be as the morning cloud. How prevalent we are in adversity; but what about prosperity?
1. The duty on the part of(1) convinced sinners. Pray on till the blessing comes.(2) Saints — not only for temporal blessings, but for more faith, holiness, usefulness. The more we pray the riper will be our graces.(3) Churches. Pentecost, as every great revival, was preceded by persevering prayer.
2. This duty need not interfere with others — our business, e.g. Prayer to the neglect of business was sternly condemned by Paul in the case of the Thessalonians. You may not always be in the exercise, but you may always be in the spirit of prayer. If not always shooting your arrows up to heaven, keep your bow well stringed.
3. Reasons for this duty.(1) God will answer. "Ask, and ye shall receive" — not always at once, but in God's time; pray till that comes.(2) The world will be blessed. Continue, then, to pray till Christ become the universal King.(3) Souls shall be saved.(4) Satan's castle shall be destroyed — not with one blow of the battering-ram, however. But batter away till it falls.
1. For you will be drowsy if you watch not. How many men and Churches are asleep in prayer because they do not watch.
2. For as soon as you begin to pray enemies will commence to attack. No one was ever in earnest without finding that the devil was in earnest too.
3. Watch while you pray for propitious events which may help you in the answer to your prayer. We cannot make the wind blow, but we can spread the sails; and when the Spirit comes we may be ready.
4. Watch for fresh arguments for prayer. Heaven's gate is not to be stormed by one weapon, but by many.
5. Watch for the answers. When you post a letter to your friend you watch for the answer.
III. GIVE THANKS. We should not go to God as mournful beings who plead piteously with a hard master who loves not to give. When you give a penny to a beggar you like to see him smile, and you give at the next application because of previous gratitude. So go to God with a thankful mind.
With the Scriptures as our guide we cannot question the obligation or value of prayer. The qualities here spoken of are —
I. STEADFASTNESS (RV.) (Acts 1:14; Acts 12:5). The word means earnest adherence and attention, whether to a person or a thing. How weary we grow of prayer! How glad some formal worshippers are when the benediction is pronounced. This is a word against —
1. Neglectors of God's worship.
2. Forgetters of private devotion.
II. WATCHFULNESS (Ephesians 6:18).
1. Against wandering thoughts.
2. Against unbelief.
3. Against dulness and heaviness.
III. THANKFULNESS. St. Paul's idea of this duty may be gathered from the fact that the word he here employs, although rare elsewhere, is found thirty-seven times in his writings, and is often joined to prayer. To be always asking and never thanking cannot be right. Whenever we pray we must utter thanks.
Anglers, though they have fished many hours and caught nothing, do not therefore break their rod and line, but draw out the hook and look at their bait, which, it may be, was fallen off or not well hung on, and mend it, and then throw it in again. So when thou hast been earnest in thy prayers, and yet received no answer, reflect upon them; consider whether something were not amiss either in thy preparation or thy manner or thy petition. It is possible thou mightest desire stones instead of bread, or forget to deliver thy petition to the only Master of requests, the Lord Jesus, that He might present them to the Father. No wonder, then, thou hast failed. Be diligent to find out the fault, amend it, and then fall to work again with confidence that thou wilt not labour in vain. The archer, if he shoot once, and again, and miss the mark, considereth whether he did not shoot too high or too low, or too much on the right or the left, and then taketh the same arrow again, only reformeth his former error, and winneth the wager.
In the black country of England you who have travelled will have observed fires which never in your recollection have been quenched. I believe there are some which have been kept burning for more than fifty years, both night and day, every day in the year. They are never allowed to go out, because we are informed that the manufacturers would find it amazingly expensive again to get the furnace to its needed red heat. Indeed, the blast furnace, I suppose, would all but ruin the proprietor if it were allowed to go out once every week; he would probably never get it up to its right heat until the time came for letting the fire out again. Now, as with these tremendous furnaces which must burn every day, or else they will be useless, they must be kept burning, or else it will be hard to get them up to the proper heat, so ought it to be in all the Churches of God; they should be as flaming fires both night and day; chaldron after chaldron of the coal of earnestness should be put to the furnace; all the fuel of earnestness which can be gathered from the hearts of men should be east upon the burning pile. The heavens should be always red with the glorious illumination, and then, then might you expect to see the Church prospering in her Divine business, and hard hearts melted before the fire of the Spirit.
There should run through all our lives the music of continual prayer, heard beneath all our varying occupations like some prolonged deep bass note, that bears up and gives dignity to the lighter melody that rises and falls and changes above it, like the spray on the crest of a great wave. Our lives will then be noble, and grave, and woven into a harmonious unity, when they are based upon continual communion with, continual desire after, and continual submission to, God. If they are not, they will be worth nothing, and will come to nothing.
Some time ago, on the coast of the Isle of Wight, a woman thought she heard, in the midst of the howling tempest, the voice of a man. She listened; it was repeated; she strained her ear again, and she caught, amid the crack of the blast and the thundering of the winds, another cry for help. She ran at once to the beachmen, who launched their boat, and some three poor mariners who were clinging to the mast were saved. Had that cry been but once, and not again, either she might have doubted as to whether she had heard it at all, or else she would have drawn the melancholy conclusion that they had been swept into the watery waste, and that help would have come too late. So when a man prays but once, either we may think that he cries not at all, or else that his desires are swallowed up in the wild waste of his sins, and he himself is sucked down into the vortex of destruction.
Watch thereunto; as a sentinel suspecting the approach of an enemy; as a watchman guarding the city during the darkness of the night; as a physician attending all the symptoms of a disease; as the keeper of a prison watching an insidious and treacherous criminal. Our hearts need all this care; spiritual enemies are near; the darkness of the soul exposes it to danger; the disease of sin requires a watchful treatment; and the unparalleled deceitfulness of the affections can never safely be trusted for a moment. No; we must watch before prayer in order to dismiss the world from our thoughts, to gather up our minds in God, and to implore the Holy Spirit's help. We must watch during prayer; to guard against distraction, against the incursions of evil thoughts, against wanderings of mind, and decay of fervour in our supplications. We must watch after prayer, in order that we may act consistently with what we have been imploring of Almighty God, wait His time for answering us, and not lose the visitations of grace; for with God are the moments of life, of mercy, of enlargement, and of gracious consolation.
In riding along the south coast of England you may have noticed the old Martello towers in constant succession very near to each other. They are the result of an old scheme of protecting our coast from our ancient enemies. It was supposed that as soon as ever a French ship was seen in the distance the beacon would be fired at the Martello tower, and then, across old England, wherever her sons dwelt, there would flash the fiery signal news that the enemy was at hand, and every man would seize the weapon that was next to him to dash the invader from the shore. Now, we need that the Church of Christ should be guarded with Martello towers of sacred watchers, who shall day and night look out for the attack of the enemy. For the enemy will come; if he come not when we are prayerless, he will surely come when we are prayerful. He will show the cloven hoof as soon as ever we show the bended knee. If our motto be "Prayer," his watchword will be "Fierce attack." Watch, then, while ye continue in prayer.
Every prayer should be blended with gratitude, without the perfume of which, the incense of devotion lacks one element of fragrance. The sense of need, or the consciousness of sin, may evoke "strong crying and tears," but the completest prayer rises confident from a grateful heart, which weaves memory into hope, and asks much because it has received much. A true recognition of the lovingkindness of the past has much to do with making our communion sweet, our desires believing, our submission cheerful. Thankfulness is the feather that wings the arrow of prayer — the height from which our souls rise most easily to the sky.
I have heard that in New England, after the Puritans had settled there a long while, they used to have very often a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, till they had so many days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, that at last a good senator proposed that they should change it for once, and have a day of thanksgiving. It is of little use to be always fasting; we ought sometimes to give thanks for mercies received.
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