“Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess. 5:17-18)
The privilege of praying to God, of holding communion with Him, is a great privilege and an evidence of His favor. God does not grant us this privilege, however, that He might be informed of our desires, for since we are imperfect our desires are not perfect, “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” (Rom. 8:26) He does for us better than we know how to ask or think. Nor does God permit us to pray to Him that we may inform Him regarding earthly matters, for He knows the end from the beginning as well as every intervening step. (Isa. 46:10) He has instead instituted prayer for our benefit, comfort, and instruction.
The object of prayer is to bring the heart and mind of the child of God, whether in joy or sorrow, into contact with the heart of God, that he may thus be enabled most fully to realize the fatherhood of God and His love, care and deep interest in every item of our welfare. When we are deeply afflicted, we may unburden our hearts to God and thus have forcibly brought to our attention His love and care and wisdom. This is for our encouragement, strengthening, and joy, not for His.
This opportunity is not for us to instruct God how to arrange matters for the best, but it is to cultivate in our hearts the realization that He is the center of wisdom and power; it is the opportunity to unburden our hearts, that we may be prepared to listen for His answer and advice through His Word. He whose knowledge of prayer is confined to the meagre information he has imparted to God with “much speaking” (Matt. 6:7), and who has never learned to listen for the answer to his prayer from the Word of God, has yet to appreciate the object of prayer.
Earnestness in God’s service will bring His children to Him frequently, leading them to realize His sympathy with them in the difficulties, discouragements and trials of life. It will lead them to ask for His guidance and overruling of every affair of life. It will lead them to heed His wisdom through His Word, enabling them to serve Him acceptably.
The province of prayer is to ask only for such things as God has already declared Himself well pleased to grant. While we may freely speak to Him as a Father and tell Him that we understand His Word and have confidence and trust in its ultimate fulfilment, we must avoid telling the Lord of our will and our plan, and what we would like. Not only must we avoid telling Him these things, we must also avoid and banish any such sentiments from our hearts, and must recognize and bring ourselves into full accord with His will and His plan of accomplishing it. If this thought were appreciated, it would cut short some of the “long prayers,” “much speaking,” and “vain repetitions” by which some endeavor to instruct the Lord in their wishes regarding every matter under heaven. (Matt. 6:7; Mark 12:40) It would send them speedily to the Word of God to search diligently the Plan of God that they might labor and pray in harmony with it.
While assuring us that the Father cares for us, and is well pleased to have us come to Him with sincere hearts, the Master informs us of the conditions upon which we may expect an answer. He says: “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)
“ABIDE IN ME”
The conditions of the above statement, or promise, are two; the first is, abiding in Christ. But what is it to abide in Christ? Only those who are in Christ, who have come into Him by faith, repentance and consecration, can abide in Christ. To abide in Him means that the faith will abide, the repentance for sin and the opposition to it will abide, and the consecration to the Lord and His service will abide, and it will be manifest that our will has been wholly consecrated – swallowed up in the will of Christ.
The other condition is also a weighty one: “If my words abide in you.” It is evident that our Lord meant to associate Himself and His Word, the Scriptures, in the minds, in the hearts, and in the lives of all who are truly His. They must search the Scriptures to know the will of the Lord; to know what He has promised and what He has not promised; to know what they may ask and what they may not ask. Ascertaining these things, one who is fully consecrated – one who is controlled entirely by the will of God – will not want to be, to have, or to do anything except that which will be pleasing to the Lord.
One who reaches this position where the will of Christ governs him and the words of Christ abide in him would be well informed with respect to the Divine promises and fully submissive to the Divine will. We can readily see that whatever things anyone in this position would ask would be things which the Father would be pleased to grant.
These requests would probably be as simple as the Master’s petition when He prayed, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) In such a condition prayers are always answered; but in such a condition the prayers would be very modest. Prayer under such circumstances would be more a thanksgiving for blessings, an expression of confidence and trust, and the committal of one’s way unto the Lord, confidently realizing the promise: “All things [even seeming disasters and troubles] work together for good to them that love God.” (Rom. 8:28) Hence whatever comes, one who prays thus could realize his prayer answered. He could rejoice evermore because in the path of service he is prepared to rejoice in tribulation as well as in prosperity. He has no will to oppose whatever God permits, knowing that it will work out for good.
Such among the Lord’s people could not pray that their own will be done; for they have no will except God’s. Those who abide in Christ, and in whom His Word abides, can pray for their enemies and those who despitefully use them and persecute them, though they cannot pray for God to open the blinded eyes of their enemies at once. Realizing from the indwelling Word of God’s promise that the blinded eyes shall all be in due time opened to the Truth, they can abide His time. Going to God in prayer, they may express their forgiveness of their persecutor, their interest in him, and their patient waiting for the day when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9), the day when His will is done on earth even as it is done in heaven. (Matt. 6:10)
DO NOT “ASK AMISS”
We cannot single out an ungodly friend and request God to work a miracle on him, though we may pray for wisdom to rightly divide the word of truth so that, if possible, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God might thus shine into the understanding of that friend. This would be in harmony with the Word. Jesus said, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) As the Apostle James instructed: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” (Jas. 1:5)
We may not ask for riches and honor; nor for fine material things. To seek or pray for these is contrary to the Spirit of the Master. But we may ask, “Give us this day our daily bread,” assured that the Father knows what kind is best, and what things are needful to us from His standpoint for our spiritual interests as well as temporal, future as well as present.
We may not pray for the increase in numbers of any of the many sects of today, well knowing that Jesus would not approve of thus fettering with human tradition those whom He calls to liberty. He would not approve, but would condemn the sects of today as He did those at His first advent: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” (Matt. 16:6) He would declare to them, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect [useless] by your tradition.” (Matt. 15:6) We can neither labor nor pray for the advancement and growth in power, wealth, influence and numbers of any of these sects, knowing their very existence to be contrary to God’s Word, and their advancement a hindrance to the light of Truth.
Nor can we today either labor or pray for the perpetuation of the governments of this world. If the Word of Christ abides in us, we are not in darkness and we know that “the times of the Gentiles” are about fulfilled, and the time for the establishment of God’s Kingdom is at hand. For that new Kingdom we may pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth,” patiently awaiting the fullness of God’s due time. As children of the light who are not left in darkness, that day will not come upon us unawares. We know the success of the heavenly Kingdom for which we pray means the destruction of these earthly kingdoms. (Dan. 2:44)
When we pray in harmony with Paul’s exhortation “for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1-2), our prayers will not be that those kings may be continued in power and control, for this would be in direct opposition to God’s expressed plan, which is to break in pieces and consume all these. Our prayer for kings, etc., must be merely that God overrule and direct by raising up or casting down among the nations, as would be most in harmony with His wise plans. Although God has given over the world to the rule of “the Prince of this world” and his faithful agents, at the full end of Gentile Times He shall come “whose right it is” to take the dominion, associating with Him His faithful followers according to His many promises. (Ezek. 21:27; Dan. 7:14,18,22)
God has not given present rulers unlimited power. He will suffer them to take their course only so far as it does not interfere with His plans – there it must stop. The “wrath of man” shall not work ruin to the plan of God, for God will cause the wrath of man to work to His praise; He will restrain all that does not. (Psa. 76:10) This is the thought conveyed by the Apostle: Pray for God’s guidance and direction over all affairs of life and over rulers to the end that the piety and sobriety and growth of the Church might be conserved, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Tim. 2:2)
Though we may labor toward it, we cannot expect and pray for the conversion of “all men, for “kings,” etc., well remembering the Master’s prayer, “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. . . . That they all may be one . . . that the world may believe [in due time] that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:9,21) In none of Jesus’ prayers did He ever pray for Caesar, or Pilate, or Herod; nor did He make any special effort to reach out to them with the gospel message. He instead recalled what was written by the Prophet: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek.” (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18) When He gave the disciples an example of prayer it contained no prayer for kings and rulers or for “all men,” except as implied in the expressions of forgiveness of debtors, and the prayer for the coming Kingdom which will bless all men.
We cannot pray to our Father to grant abundant harvests, send rains, prevent famines, droughts, wars and pestilences, for we find no example by the Master of such presumption. We realize from His words that God will permit these things until the reign of Christ is inaugurated. (Luke 21:9) Further, we are informed by the Master that the present day will be one of trouble caused by the new King binding the strong ruler of earth and spoiling his house. (Matt. 12:29) Hence we pray for none of these things, but with trust and peace look with patience to the future, praying for our Father’s Kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as in heaven. Even in the midst of the present necessary unrest and trouble we rejoice in confident hope, knowing that all things are so overruled as to work out the accomplishment of our Father’s grand designs, revealed to us in His Word.
Instructed by the abiding Word of Christ, we cannot ask release from pain and trouble and death, but with Jesus we can only ask that if it be possible, the cup of trouble, shame, and misrepresentation might pass, that we suffer not as evil doers; and yet with Him we must say: “Not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) “Father, glorify thy name!” (John 12:28)
We may pray for the healing of others, but not for ourselves. It was truly said of the Master, that He saved others, but He could not save Himself and be a sacrifice at the same time. Yet, in requests for the healing of others we must remember that the time for full restitution of life and health to the world has not yet fully come. Jesus did not heal all the blind and sick in Judea, and what healing He did was merely to show forth the power and blessing of His coming glorious reign which has not yet fully dawned. Hence our prayers for the sick should be with full confidence in God’s ability to heal, yet not demanding it, always letting the words of our Lord abide in us: “Thy will be done.”
To pray in other than this spirit is to “ask amiss,” to ask for things to be used for our own “lusts” (desires). (Jas. 4:3) Desires for ease, for earthly prosperity, for a sect and its growth and honor are all earthly “lusts” contrary to the Spirit and Word of Christ. Most prayers seemingly are of this sort, and therefore amiss.
How proper and how necessary is prayer to the true child of God. When properly considered, it is not merely a begging arrangement or an occasion for instructing the Lord as to our wills. It is to be considered as a time of union and communion of heart with our Father in which we may relieve our burdened or perplexed hearts by realizing Divine sympathy and care. It is a time to express our confidence in God’s many promises, bringing them close to our hearts, as though God now audibly utters them in our hearing. To break off this communion would be like stripping a tree of its leaves: it would stunt and hinder its development.
But to suppose that Christian life depends solely upon prayer without earnest study of God’s Word, is like supposing that a tree could flourish from its leaves only, without roots and soil. Both are needed: good soil and roots will produce leaves and fruitage, and, likewise, the promises of God’s Word absorbed by us will naturally lead to good works and to communion with God in prayer, without which our fruits would soon wither and disappear. No wonder, then, that Jesus both by precept and example said, “Watch and pray” (Matt. 26:41), uniting the two conditions needed for our development. Some pray and neglect to watch; others watch and neglect to pray. Both these errors are serious.
Although prayer is nowhere defined as a duty, it is stated to be a necessity. The Father desires those to worship Him as worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23) It would be contrary to this principle to define prayer as a duty, and stipulate a set time or place or formal manner.
“AFTER THIS MANNER PRAY YE”
No form of prayer is furnished in the Scriptures. Even the Master, when asked by the disciples for instruction on the subject, gave them, not a form to repeat, but merely an idea or example of how to arrange their prayers to God. He did not tell them to pray a specific prayer, but instead instructed them to pray “after this manner.” (Matt. 6:9-13) Our prayers should not be an assortment of extravagant demands, but the simple expression of the earnest heart, after this manner:
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” First we acknowledge and pay homage to God as our Father, the Almighty and Hallowed One. The term “Our Father” is one of special endearment. The affection of a true father for his child, being one of the most precious in the world, is used to illustrate the relationship of the Lord’s consecrated members to the Creator. Time spent in the School of Christ as disciples and learners is required before we are able properly to appreciate the meaning of this word “Father” as applied to God. The more we come to know of the love of God, which passes all understanding, and the more we are enabled to draw near to Him through faith and obedience, the more precious will this term Father become. In addressing our petition to the Lord our first thought is to be not a selfish one respecting ourselves or others precious to us, but God is to be first in all of our thoughts and aims and calculations. We are to pray for nothing that would not be in accord with the honor of our Heavenly Father’s name.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” As God and His glory and honor are to be first in the minds of His children, so their next thought should be for the coming glorious Kingdom, which He has promised will bless the world. We should express our expectation and trust that His Kingdom is coming according to promise, and our eagerness for it. This anchor of hope in the future Kingdom will enable us to pass with comparative safety and quiet through the trials, storms and difficulties of this present evil world.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” We are next to acknowledge our continual dependence upon the Lord, day by day, for the things needed – accepting for each day the Lord’s providential care and direction of our affairs. Daily bread should here be understood in the broad sense of necessary material things. The Lord’s people, who recognize Him as their Father, must trust Him as children, while using the various means and opportunities within their reach. They are responsible for providing for themselves necessary things, yet they recognize the Divine provision and care which has pre-arranged matters so as to make their present conditions and blessings attainable.
“Forgive us our debts.” Next we acknowledge that our ways are not perfect and that we rely upon His favor (granted through Christ Jesus) for forgiveness of our debts – our offenses, our sins. To petition the Lord for forgiveness of sins implies that we are at heart opposed to sin, and that sins we have committed have not been willful. We ask that the Lord forgive and accept the intentions of our hearts in place of actual, complete, perfect obedience to the Divine requirement in thoughts, words and actions.
“As we forgive our debtors.” Next we express our willingness to forgive. As we are imperfect and cannot keep the Divine Law, so likewise others are imperfect. As we realize that we need Divine compassion and mercy for our shortcomings, so the Lord teaches us that we must exercise similar benevolence toward our fellow men, both inside and outside of the Household of Faith. He lays down this rule very stringently: “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:15)
“Lead us not into temptation.” The thought is not that we fear God will tempt us, for as the Apostle James tells us, God tempts no man. (Jas. 1:13) Our prayer is an entreaty that He guide our steps in life so that no temptation, no trial, comes upon us that would be too severe for us to bear and escape. The Apostle Paul assures us that this is the Divine will and that such a prayer is in accordance with it. He says that God will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with every temptation provide also a way of escape. (1 Cor. 10:13) God is not responsible for the temptations caused by the Adversary, our own fallen natures and the weaknesses of others; However, He is able to guide the way of His people so that they will not be overwhelmed by them.
“Deliver us from [the] evil [one].” Never has there been a time when there was greater need of this petition than at the present. The Evil One is specially seeking to trap and ensnare the Lord’s people at the present time; and the Scriptures inform us that God is permitting this; and that thus He is sending strong delusions upon the world and upon the nominal church. (2 Thess. 2:11) He has promised, however, that those who are seeking to walk in His steps shall not stumble, shall never fall, but shall have an abundant entrance ministered unto them into the everlasting Kingdom. (Prov. 3:23)
The question, then, is one of loyalty of heart to the Lord. The trial of this day “shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” (1 Cor. 3:13) This trial will be so severe that if it were possible the “very elect” would be deceived (Matt. 24:24); but this will not be possible; for the Lord will specially care for them, staying the adverse forces so that His true people may put on the armor of God and be able to stand when the evil day comes. (Eph. 6:13)
“PRAY WITHOUT CEASING”
With Christian growth, the earnest child of God will come to understand the meaning of the Apostle’s words: “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks.” (1 Thess. 5:17-18) Communion with God and the feeling of continual trust in His goodness and care will become interwoven with all the affairs of life, so that unceasing prayer and continual thankfulness will become as natural as breathing. But this continual prayer and thanksgiving can never replace fellowship in the worship of God.
Though not specifically commanded, how appropriate that earthly families should blend their hearts and bow their knees in Divine worship, and in submission to the Divine will. How much this tends to unify those hearts and lives. If there are children, how blessed must such an example be to them. How appropriate that the little “olive branches” be trained to look to their Creator in the days of their youth, not with formal and long prayers, but with the evidence before them of parental trust in and love for God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, as expressed in a simple, earnest, trustful prayer after the manner illustrated by our Lord Jesus.
As children see their parents recognizing and bowing to the superior will and wisdom of their heavenly Father, they learn from the example the lesson of obedience and submission to parental authority while learning to know and reverence their Creator. As soon as children come to a reasoning age, prayer should be presented to them in the same way God presents it to us: not as a requirement but as something to be done from a willing mind and a thankful and loving heart.
What is true of our earthly families is no less true of God’s family, of which we are members – the Household of Faith. To bind us together in love, God has arranged to make the various members more or less dependent on each other for the blessings He is willing and ready to bestow. Thus He would unify the Household in His method of providing spiritual food, as the human body is dependent as a whole upon its various members for the natural “daily bread” which God supplies.
This being true, we should not neglect the assembling of ourselves with those of like precious faith, preferably in person but if that is not possible, through the printed word or other means of communication. When we are assembled, how refreshing and appropriate it is to ask our Father’s blessing upon the meeting. We ask His blessing that the spirit of love may move those assembled, that the Truth might be discerned by sincere and hungry souls, and that all might be built up in the most holy faith. As we draw near to God in prayer we bring our hearts into a condition of readiness to receive those blessings.
While the offered prayer is to God it should not be forgotten that the prayer influences all who join in it. Jesus and the Apostle Paul teach that it should be uttered in such a voice and manner as to enable those present to appreciate and intelligently join it. Jesus said, in connection with one of the few of His recorded sayings, “Father I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 11:41-42) Likewise, Paul exhorts those who lead the company in prayer to seek to do so in such a manner that all may be able to hear and acquiesce in it. (1 Cor. 14:14-17)
We have no sympathy, however, with the custom of some of pretending to pray to God, while really addressing those assembled. Although our prayers should be distinct and intelligible to the hearers so that all may profit, yet it should never be lost sight of that it is God who is addressed and not men.
“Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)
(Derived from Reprints 797 and 4983.)
A LITTLE ONE’S PRAYER
Dear Lord, as slumber comes
To close my weary eyes,
To your Throne of grace
My voice in prayer does rise.
For the blessings of this day
I give you thanks and praise,
And help me be as Jesus was,
Good in all my ways.
As I lay me down to sleep
Please an angel send,
To watch beside me all the night,
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.O. Box 2246, Kernersville, NC 27285-2246; firstname.lastname@example.org