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P R A Y E R .

MOST people believe prayer to be an imparting of information to the Almighty that the Almighty is guided by the petition of men, that God waits to hear what men would have him do before he does it. If this be what prayer is, then it must do away with the foreknowledge of God, and with his predestination, because if the Almighty is guided in what he does by what men petition him to do, he could not arrange the events of time beforehand, inasmuch as the sequence of things would hinge upon what men would desire to have done. The truth is, that such an idea of prayer as is generally held is exceedingly belittling to the dignity of God, and carries with it no idea of the true character of God and the exceeding greatness of his majestic power. The prayers of God’s people (for no others ever really pray) influence God not at all, nor are they of any benefit to God, but every prayer experienced by the child of God is for the welfare and comfort of the one who prays. But some will say, If God be all-powerful and has fixed unchangeably in his purpose and decree all things whatsoever come to pass before they do come to pass, then what is the use of prayer? It seems to the natural mind that predestination does away with the necessity of prayer. Instead of this, however, predestination is the very backbone of prayer, for it is not worth while for any poor, trembling sinner to pray to any but a predestinating God. Only that God who works all things after the counsel of his own will can be the resource of the tried and tempest-tossed soul. Prayer is not a matter that can be done or not done according to whether one feels like it or not. As to whether we shall or shall not pray is not left with us to decide, but prayer is the result of the Holy Spirit’s operation in the child of grace, and exercises that child to seek divine favor, so that prayer is not something that we can exercise at pleasure, but is that which exercises the subject of grace whenever and wherever God wills. Even the apostle Paul confessed that he could not pray, that he did not know what to pray for, except as the Spirit itself made intercession for him. Including himself with the church of Rome, and all believers, he says: “We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Thus, this matter of prayer is no easier for a believer, not even an apostle, to do of themselves any more than it is possible for the sinner unregenerate to do it of himself. Whenever one really prays he does so as the result of the Holy Spirit’s intercession within himself. Inasmuch as God has decreed all things that shall ever come to pass, it is therefore certain that no petition will be answered that asks aught but what God’s will has ordained shall be. Any prayer claiming to be prayer that asks for other than God’s will to be done is not prayer at all. Whenever we follow our own natural inclinations in this matter, and ask for those things we naturally crave, it is not prayer at all, but is asking amiss. Only that which the Spirit inspires one to ask is worthy of the name of prayer. It is a comfort to know that even the apostle Paul himself, able as he was in the exposition of the deep things of God, yet felt unable to pray for anything of himself, and realized the need of the Holy Spirit within him to lead him aright in this matter. Surely no one but the Spirit could be better or equally qualified to lead the saints aright in prayer, for, “He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Since the Spirit searches the hearts of men, the Spirit therefore knows the need of every child of God. Also, the Spirit searches even the deep things of God, so that the deep things of election and of God’s eternal purpose and will are all known to the Spirit. Since, therefore, the Spirit knows what is in God’s mind toward each of his chosen, and since that Spirit also searches the heart of that chosen one, what better than this Holy Spirit can cause the believer to ask in accord with what it is God’s will to bestow upon that one? The substance of all prayer in sincerity is, “Thy will be done.” It may not be just in those exact words, or it may be in no words at all, but the theme of all true praying is submission to the will of God, for prayer does not consist in words, but in Spirit. It is not the words one uses, or does not use, that constitute prayer, but the Spirit that prompts the desire counts for prayer; the desire itself is the prayer, and not the words which express that desire. Christ told his disciples that they were not heard for their much speaking, it was not their words that counted with God, but the Spirit which actuated them. Sometimes we hear good brethren lament because they are unable to talk, and thus express themselves as they would wish upon spiritual things, but better than all the talking in the world, better than all the gifts of language, is it to have in the soul that sincere longing and desire toward God and the things of God. This desire it is which is the exercise of the Spirit in the believer causing him to draw nigh the seat of mercy to petition there for those things which it is God’s will to bestow. All the blessings that all believers will ever enjoy here in time were treasured in Christ for them by the Almighty before the world began. All the prayers experienced by the people of God will never add one blessing to those already prepared for them; but, on the other hand, the Spirit causes the believer to ask for these very blessings which God has prepared from eternity for him and which God has predestinated him to enjoy. We have seen indulgent parents who lavished gifts on their children until they became satiated with them. A little child with several. handsome and expensive dolls does not enjoy them nearly so much as some little poor child with its one rag doll. The one child has never known the need nor deprivation of playthings, and therefore is not prepared by that need to appreciate her blessings as is that other child who clings so tenderly to its one mute playmate of rags. God does not satiate his people with his goodness and the bestowal of unnumbered blessings. He is too wise for that. Though he has innumerable good things treasured for them in Christ from eternity, yet not one single blessing does God ever bestow upon his children until they have been brought into such an experience of need as qualifies them to enjoy and appreciate the blessing when it comes. This need, or lack, felt in the soul of the believer is the Spirit’s preparation therein for the goodness of God, and this feeling of need, this desire for the goodness and salvation which God alone can give, is prayer. Thus it will be seen that prayer does not change God’s mind at all, for he is of one mind and none can turn him, neither does prayer ask for anything but what God has already determined to give. We would define prayer as that operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer through which he is brought into reconciliation with the divine will and made to desire those very things which God has decreed to bestow. Therefore, instead of prayer being something by which we bring God around to our way of thinking and to our point of view, it brings the believer into a godly attitude of mind, to think the. thoughts of God and to crave his works. No bounds can he set by us to this matter of prayer. We cannot set times and seasons for it. We cannot say that we will pray every day, or several times a day, or even that we will pray at all, as all this is entirely dependent upon God’s will and upon the leading and instruction of his Spirit within us. Whenever it is his pleasure to cause us to know our need of him, then we shall pray, and shall do so without ceasing. True, Paul did say, “Pray without ceasing,” but he did not mean that we” could do this of ourselves. In these words found in 1 Thess. v. 17, Paul is addressing the church as a body and not as individuals, and we do verily believe that the church as a body never ceases to pray. As individuals, there may be, and doubtless are, times when we each have not the spirit of prayer, and therefore do not pray, but it is sure that from the church somewhere there does at all times ascend unto the Father the incense of prayer perfectly and sincerely rendered. None but the praying of the righteous man avails anything. Jesus Christ is the only righteous man we have ever known. None others ever are or can be righteous, only as the righteousness of Christ is imputed unto them. The petitions of Christ avail with God, because they are effectual and fervent. They are effectual because they are the fruit of the Spirit’s inspiration, and are therefore in harmony with the decreed purposes of God. They are fervent, burning, because there is no halfway or lnkewarmness in this effectual prayer, but the whole substance of Christ is involved in it, so that when the believer prays he is made to feel that his whole soul and all his welfare is wrapped up in the petition, so that this makes it fervent, for his whole being burns within him as he earnestly petitions the throne of grace for that which the Spirit makes him feel he cannot do without. The posture of the body does not constitute prayer. Of what avail is it to put the body in an attitude of subjection when one’s inmost soul is standing up defiantly. No, prayer is not a matter of bodily attitude, but is a matter of heart. In prayer one’s soul is in humility before God, no matter where one’s body may be. Neither does a form of words, however sound, constitute prayer. The prayer may be a groan that cannot be expressed, that cannot find expression in human language. Somehow we have been so impressed with prayer as being a matter so real, so vital to the well-being of a child of God, that we have felt to write these few thoughts upon it, hoping it may comfort some one somewhere.   L.

Elder H. H. Lefferts

Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 11
June 1, 1916