"He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer (Psalm 102.17)."
We dare not presume on the Lord's mercies by considering ourselves to be one of the praying destitute mentioned in this text, although we confess having a precious hope that we are. If, though, there is one expression in all God's word that describes most of us who profess that sweet hope, especially as it regards prayer, it is the word destitute. To be destitute is to be poverty-stricken and impoverished; a bankrupt sinner before the Lord, much like the prodigal son in a far country. The prodigal was forced to think of home when he became destitute, but there was no indication he gave it a thought before. So, we believe, is our moments of prayer.
Could the creatures help or ease us,
Seldom should we think of prayer,
Few, if any, come to Jesus,
Till reduced to self-despair.
Long we either slight or doubt him,
But when all our means we try
Prove we cannot do without him,
Then at last to him we cry.
Probably few Bible subjects occupy the thoughts of the truly destitute as prayer does. There appears to be an inward urging that we want to pray, even when the gates of heaven seem sealed shut against us. However, honesty forces most of us to admit that we know precious little of such a sublime theme, notwithstanding our frequent consideration of it. And, despite the obvious need of prayer, it seems that too often it is not employed.
I seldom find a heart to pray,
So many things come in my way;
Thus filled with doubts, I ask to know--
Come, tell me, is it thus with you?
Often we hear the Lord's people complain that their prayers rise no higher than the ceiling, and no doubt they sincerely feel that way. A similar complaint by the destitute is that they feel God does not hear their prayer. But, is not prayer more than feeling? "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come (Psalm 65.2)." If it is true prayer, the Lord hears it though we may feel it not. If it is offered up amid our cold and barren feelings, God still hears it.
Cold as I feel this heart of mine,
Yet since I feel it so,
It yields some hope of life divine,
Within, however low.
I seem forsaken and alone,
I hear the lion roar,
And ev'ry door is shut but one,
And that is mercy's door.
There, till the dear Deliv'rer come,
I'll wait with humble prayer,
And when he call his exile home,
The Lord shall find me there.
Many are the times when the destitute attempt to pray, and confused distraction is their lot. Prayer is a jumble. Thoughts ramble, and their mind flies into a thousand dark crevices of the universe. What must the poor destitute sinner do? If blessed to receive the following text they will cast their cares upon the Lord: "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what to pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8.26)." Not only do they know not what to pray for, prayer is often unuttered groanings; meaning it is not in word form. Thus the Lord will not despise their prayer, for it is the very groanings of the Spirit.
We are admonished to pray without ceasing (I Thes. 5.17). "Would to God I could pray occasionally; continual prayer is as far from me as the sun in the sky" is the common response to this text. We are persuaded the answer to this matter, and all the exhortations found in I Thes. 5.11-17 is found in verse 24. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." This is a case very similar to that found in the Philippian epistle where believers were told to work out their own salvation. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2.13)." Those that have traveled any length as pilgrims and strangers are further persuaded that real prayer is an inward cry placed there by God himself.
"Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving, (Col.4.2)" is a simple exhortation similar to the one in I Thes. 5.17, and is reinforced by the following: "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith (I Thes. 3.10)." See also Romans 12.12, Acts 12.5. We might humbly say that the Scriptures set forth a clear message for believers to pray at all times, and in all circumstances. Even though believers discover a host of excuses to avoid prayer, the obvious message from the word of God is clear; prayer is as essential to the inward man as breathing is to the flesh.
Another text that causes considerable consternation in believers is Paul's instruction to the Hebrews. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4.16)." "I would come, but I feel so sinful." "I dare not be bold, for I am fearful of presuming." "I am afraid of offending God." These, and a thousand other excuses plague the Christian, and gives him a halting spirit. But, is not the solution to these complaints found in the previous verse? "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb.4.5)." "Therefore", says Paul, "come boldly!" "Do you mean Christ was tempted and plagued regarding prayer as I am?" Yes, he was. "And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt (Matt. 26.39)." And again: "He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done (Matt. 26.42)." See also Mark 14. 35-36, and Luke 22.42. Thus we see, though in a glass darkly, that even our Lord was sorely tried # when praying, even to asking the Father to remove the dreaded cup of indignation. So, when Paul says, "Come boldly unto the throne of grace" we have the blessed example of our Lord going on before. One other point to be regarded in this text is that Paul did not tell us to go to the throne, but come, for he was there in prayer as well.
It is not our purpose in this article to delineate the companion subjects of praise, thanksgiving, and supplications. Rather, we hope, by the mercies of God, to trace out a little further the groanings of the destitute saints as the Word of God gives us light. That the early disciples were troubled by the matter of prayer is clearly seen in the following: "And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples (Luke 11.1)."
"Lord, teach us to pray." This was not the cry of hypocrites or formalists; these were Jesus's chosen ones. This little band of the Lord's followers had seen Jesus often in prayer, and they were at least aware that John's disciples knew something of prayer. So they make their request of the Lord; "Teach us to pray." Our dear Saviour did not rail on them for their dullness, or for presumption either, for that matter, but He proceeded to tell them, "When ye pray...." Thus the Lord instructs them, not if you pray, but "When ye pray."
Among the most holy provisions contained in the Lord's instructions to the disciples are three requests they are to approach the Father with; first, give us (our daily bread); second, forgive us (our sins); and third, deliver us (from evil). We are satisfied the petitions outlined here are sufficient to fully cover the majority of our daily distresses, and equip us when we feel a burden to pray. The first of these petitions cover our necessities; the second our deficiency ~, before a holy God; and the third our desire to live to Him who is able to keep us from falling. Apart from those times they are led to pray for others, these three petitions are a solid foundation for the destitute to occupy when they approach the throne of grace.
"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward (Matt. 6.5)." The hypocrite finds personal joy and fleshly satisfaction in going through the motions of prayer to be seen, not of God, but by men. The destitute sinners described in the text at our heading, however, are most reluctant to have their companions discover what miserable wretches they appear to be. They know how halting and pitiful their prayers are. The destitute would much rather attempt their groaning efforts at prayer where no eye could see but the Lord.
The Lord continued His instructions for acceptable prayer. "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matt. 6.6,7)." More than anything else, prayer seems to be a private matter between the petitioner and his Father. A closet, a shut door, and secrecy all require that conclusion. The great marvel of this is that the Lord offered not a single word of correction to the hypocrites for reversing His directions regarding secluded prayer. In His majestic sovereignty He left them to their own devices and gently enjoined the disciples with wisdom from above. While verse six tells the positive aspects of prayer, which is to be carried out in solitude, verse seven warns them of heathenish repetitions which arise from vanity. The Lord willing, we shall return to that matter later, and for now continue to observe the Biblical manner of prayer.
"And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation (Luke 22.40)." Though the disciples knew it not, this was an historic moment in their lives. Congregated there in the garden that evening were the combined forces of evil on one hand, and Incarnate Righteousness on the other, with an attending angel from heaven. Such a scene would never again be seen. However, the dear agonizing Lord did not charge the disciples to pray only, but also to watch. Yes, he bid them "Pray that ye enter not into temptation" in this text in Luke, and we might conclude that was all there was to His instructions, but as we read the same in Matthew the context is fuller. "Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me (Matt. 26.38)." Thus, comparing Luke's account with that of Matthew, this was not a scene for their poor eyes to behold at this time unaided, prayer was their paramount need, lest viewing the awful scene they succumb to temptation. To further enforce the imperative of the moment, when Jesus returned and found the disciples asleep He said: "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26.41)."
We conclude then from this scene in the garden that the poor destitute believer needs the blessed privilege of prayer to avoid succumbing to manifold temptations. We may not have trials such as the disciples had in the garden, yet our trials are nonetheless fertile fields in which temptations may give way to overt sins. Consider the case of David the King.
While the armies of Israel were at war, David was home on the roof-top viewing the city. He had just risen from an afternoon nap. He sees the lovely Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. She was washing herself, and very lovely to look upon. (II Samuel 11.2,3) What followed was a dark blot on the character of the man after God's heart. David saw the woman; lust followed hard after his wanton gaze, and the foul deeds of adultery, murder, and cover-up consummated the temptation. In all this frenzy of sin there is no indication that David ever dreamed of prayer or praying. The Lord had left him to his evil devices.
What must we say then? We suggest that when left to ourselves; when there is no sense of our destitute condition, we will be no better than David. We will not pray nor plead for strength in our temptation, and down we must go. What a blessing then when we are led to cry, "Lord teach us to pray." What a blessing too, when the Lord bids us "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." Observe carefully also that the language is not, "that ye be not tempted," but that ye enter not into temptation. It appears that there is a real difference.
Looking back for a moment on the Lord's condemnation of lengthy prayer, we introduce the following for the destitute to consider: First, there are no inordinately long prayers in all the Bible. Even our Lord's magnificent prayer to the Father in John 17 can be read through in about two and one-half minutes. Several Old Testament prayers, much like the prayer of John 17, require but a few minutes to traverse. (See Nehemiah 9.5-38, I Kings 8.23-53, and 2 Chronicles 6.14-42)
When Hezekiah was given the Lord's death sentence upon him by Isaiah, his prayer contained only thirty words. (Isaiah 38.3) After certain of the disciples were threatened by the high priest and let go they went to their own company (the church), and their assembly lifted up their voice in one accord in prayer, touching on such sublime matters as the eternal decrees of God; yet their prayer was of such duration that it only occupies seven verses of scripture. (Acts 4.24-30) Stephen was shortly accosted, condemned in a heinously improper manner, and stoned. As he was being pummeled to death, heaven opened to him, and he forthwith prayed. Rather than pouring out invectives on his persecutors as many would, he called on his God. Twice he prayed, yet all he said was, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." and then, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." These exemplary, yet brief prayers are found in Acts 7.59, 60.
What of Elijah, as he confronted the hundreds of Baal's prophets, and wicked king Ahab on Carmel? He petitioned his God in only sixty-three words. Obviously, he did not consider long, repetitious prayer essential. There are, of course, many other examples we might give, but these should be sufficient. Like long prayers, redundant examples are not necessary.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, and the other a Publican (Luke 18.10)." This parable about prayer is highly revealing, and very well sums up all we have attempted to say in that regard. The Pharisee prayed with himself, and generally vilified everyone that failed his standard of righteousness. There is no evidence whatever that he regarded himself as destitute. He did, however, perceive the poor publican to be so. What of the publican, then? He was so convinced of his destitute condition that he stood afar off. He could not dare look up toward heaven he was so filled with self-loathing and condemnation. He smote himself on the breast, and said, "God be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18.13)." O, blessed moment of prayer. This pitiful sinner was so destitute he could but acknowledge his condition before the Lord and cry for mercy. The Pharisee no doubt despised this brief prayer of the destitute publican, but the Lord regarded it, for He says: "For I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other:" (Luke 18.14)
Hast thou not bid me seek thy face;
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace
Be deaf when I complain?
No, still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner's prayer
O may I ever find access
To breathe my sorrows there!
We are very aware of the importance the daughters of Babylon put on "praying through," and being "prayer warriors" for the Lord. We feel constrained to leave them to their delusions. As we journey on, poor and destitute so much of the time, may it be said of us, as it was of Paul when Ananias was sent to him by the Lord, "Behold, he prayeth." (Acts 9.11)
March - April 1992