GROWTH IN PRAYER
In a former article we attempted to describe the need for growth in prayer life. There is, we said, always the danger of falling into custom-praying and into formalism. Therefore we should ever be on our guard.
How now may we enrich our prayers and how may we bring about the necessary variation and how improve our choice and use of words? To that theme we devote this article.
Teach us to pray, said one of the disciples to Jesus, and Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer. Hence, prayer is also something in respect to which we have to be taught. None of us ought to imagine that he has attained perfection, rather every one of us daily feels how many imperfections cling to this holy endeavor. And therefore we should be interested in learning to approach perfection. Our ambition should be: how may I improve and enrich my praying?
Some people say: I can’t put my thoughts into words when I pray. We all feel the truth of that remark in our own prayer life. But this is not to be accounted as something which is simply there and can never be removed. I grant that certain people have greater ability to pray than others, and some people have very remarkable prayer-gifts. But instead of this discouraging us or making us feel inferior, it ought to inspire us to approach perfection. Let us not say: I cannot put my thoughts into words when I pray. Remember that children have difficulty to express themselves, but the more they observe and the more they practice what they observe the more proficient they become in this. And these people must realize that when it comes to doing business, buying, selling, etc., they have no difficulty whatever in expressing themselves in hundreds of ways. Have you ever asked yourself then why it is that in every other sphere of life you can express yourself very fluently, but when it comes to prayer you claim you are so handicapped? Can this possibly be due to the fact that you have exercised yourself in and practiced diligently at the one but have neglected the other? If you applied yourself half as diligently to your prayer life as to your business life would you still have to complain that you cannot pray because you lack words?
Learn and practice, practice and learn.
LEARN FROM SCRIPTURE.
If it is our desire to express ourselves more adequately in our prayers, how could we ever do it than by absorbing more and more of the Word of God. Scripture is replete with prayers which we may make our own. Scripture is full of promises, the fulfillment of which we may request for ourselves and others. Scripture abounds with exhortations, the obedience to which we may beseech God for His grace. All this will tend to enrich our prayers.
I do not believe ministers ought to preach their sermons in their prayers, but the congregational prayer may attach itself to the sermon and that will help to attain variation as well as enrichment in prayer.
A minister told me one time that in his congregational prayer he sometimes followed the Prayer Perfect, advancing from one petition to the other and broadening out on each petition as he proceeded. Have you ever tried that?
And have you ever read Calvin’s prayers? They are surely worth reading.
In our family praying I believe we can develop our praying if we give good heed to the Bible passage which we read at the family service, and then attach our prayer closely to what was read. This will also help us to acquire variation and will immensely enrich our family prayers. If, after a passage of the Bible has been read and discussed, there follows a prayers in connection with what was discussed, a wonderful and an effective service results. If e.g. at the table we read Proverbs, chapter 8, about wisdom crying at the gates and the entry of the city, how appropriately our prayer may center about our need for this Wisdom, the necessity of knowing Christ who is that wisdom, the importance of giving heed to the voice of wisdom as it lifts its voice in church and home, together with the request that the various members of the family may diligently seek this wisdom. This produces an effective unity and meanwhile enriches our prayers. Important therefore is that each reading of the Word of God leave an impression upon your soul. . . . then you will be able to pray, I assure you of that. And the more you read your Bible the more you grow in prayer.
LEARN FROM OTHERS.
Valuable it is also that we listen carefully to other saints when they pray, and thus learn from them. None of us is self-sufficient, none of us is beyond the need of having to learn, and it is good to learn from the saints. Follow them carefully when they pray, pray along with them. Observe the requests which they make, the petitions, the thanksgivings which they utter, and the more we do that the more we ourselves will copy their example and thus enrich our prayer life.
This is especially valuable in the home. Naturally it is incalculably valuable in church also, for the minister, unknowingly perhaps, is teaching the saints to pray also when he engages in the congregational prayer (that is, if the saint does not fall asleep during the prayer. . . . which has sometimes befallen you, I suppose) . But in the homes especially, Where the members of the family must be taught to pray, it is so valuable that the fathers teach them by himself praying in their midst.
I recall when I was a boy, staying at a certain home where the family was supposed to render what men were wont to call “silent prayer”. I recall how my thoughts drifted all over the world until I finally settled upon counting the tick-tocks of the clock, meanwhile keeping an ear open for the sigh which the head of the family uttered when the prayer was supposed to end. It stands to reason that such a home exercises no instruction in prayer. But in homes where there are high priest fathers the youths are in a position to learn the exercise of Christian prayer and soon enough can practice it for themselves.
We would say then: give good heed to the prayers which you hear from the saints and learn from them.
Psalm 1 speaks of the righteous as meditating upon the Word of God day and night. Psalm 111 speaks of the Lord’s works as being sought out of all that have pleasure therein. Psalm 139:17, “How precious are also thy thoughts unto me, If I should count them they are more than the sand”. Then, falling asleep in recounting God’s thoughts, lo, “When I awake I am still with Thee”. A soul that thus meditates upon God, upon His majesty, His works, His mercy, etc., will, I would say, spontaneously develop in prayer and enrich the contents of his prayers. For prayer is another form of meditation.
I remember how one of my Christian school teachers one time rendered his close of day prayer, and just at that time there was a heavy electrical shower, with the rolls of thunder vibrating the building in which we were. The teacher glorified God with the words of Psalm 29, “The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness, the voice of the Lord is powerful, it is full of majesty. . . .” This came from a soul that was meditating upon the mighty works of the Lord and the meditation of it flowed’ over his lips into an edifying and for me never to be forgotten prayer.
God’s people is a praying people.
May we grow in prayer until the day when our prayers shall be perfect, when we shall no more stammer as even the best of us do now, but when we shall pray in perfection. Meanwhile may we grow up onto Him who taught us to pray and sends forth His Spirit through whom we pray and ever, while we pray, Himself prays for us in the heavenlies.