THE CHRISTIAN'S LIFE A LIFE OF PRAYER. REV. T. T.
Pray without ceasing. — 1 Thes. v. 17. Many persons think this a hard command. Others saj it is not in the power of man to obey it. At first sight it does seem to be too much for us sinful creatures. We have so many other things, too, to keep our minds thinking and our hands going. We are all ready to ask, '' who has time to pray always?" I have heard not only worldly and wicked men talk so, but even some professors of religion, when they have heard or read the command, " Pray without ceasing." But, hard as it may seem to be, I wish to show you 1. That every Christian ought to try and obey this command. A number of ministers of the gospel were in the habit of meeting together to talk about the Bible and religion. One night their conversation turned on the duty of prayer. One of the ministers asked, " What do you understand by the command, ' pray without ceasing?'" They talked a long time about it, but could not give any very plain explanation of it. At last one of them said, " let us appoint (22)
UJJTY OF PKAYER. 23 brother G to write something of a sermon on the subject, to be read at the next meeting." This was agreed to, and their meeting was closed by prayer. These meetings were held regularly once a month. As they were all about leaving the room, a good old servant woman, who had listened to their talk, said to Mr. G , *" What, sir, will it take a whole month to tell what it is to 'pray without ceasing?' I always thought that one of the easiest texts in the Bible." " Well, well," said the old minister, '' tell us, Mary, what do you say about it ? How do you understand it ? Can you find time to pray always ?" " Oh ! yes, sir," said she. " What, when you have so much to do from day dawn until late at night ?" " Yes,
indeed, sir ; and the more I have to do, the more I can pray." " Why, how is that ?" asked the old minister. ''Do let us know how it is ; for most people think the other way." " Well, sir," said Mary, " when I first open my eyes in the morning, I pray Lord open the eyes of my understanding. As I am dressing, I pray that I may be clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness. When I have washed my face I ask God to wash my soul clean from sin in the blood of my Saviour. As I begin to work I pray that I may have strength to be faithful ; that, as my day is, so may my strength be. When I am kindling the fire, I pray that my heart may be warmed and revived by Christ's love. As I sweep out the house, I pray that God would send the Holy Ghost into my heart to cleanse it of all its sinfulness. While I am getting breakfast, or eating myself, I pray God to feed me with the heavenly manna, and the sincere milk of his word. And, as I am taking care of the children, I look up to God as my Father, and pray that he would make me indeed his child. This is
24 SERMON II. the way I do in all my duties. And so, the more I havo to do, the more I pray. Almost every thing I do gives me some thoughts to help me in prayer. And then I try to remember that God's eye is always on me, and his ear always open to my prayer." *' This is enough," said the old preacher. " Mary has told the true meaning of the command, 'pray without ceasing.' How true it is that these things are often hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes ! Go on, Mary ; that is the way to make religion your life. I see now what the blessed Saviour meant when he said, 'watch unto prayer.' And as for us, my brethren, let us bless God for the simple instruction Mary has given us. How happy must that life be which is spent in such close communion with God ! to find God in all we do ; to turn all our duties, trials, and pleasures, into prayer ! How blessed is the assurance that. it is not the rich, the learned, the great only, that God will teach, but the poor, and the needy, and the ignorant also. It is the meek that he will guide in judgment." This little explanation of Mary was thought enough. The idea of writing the sermon was given up, and the ministers went home, determined to follow Mary's example in praying without ceasing. My friends, you ought all to try and do as Mary did.
You cannot read or preach, as some other people. But you can all pray, as Mary did. To do this you need not be able to read a letter in a book. Your Saviour has set you the example of praying in this way. His whole life was a life of prayer. Sometimes he used to go into the mountains, and pray all night. Then, too, he has told you to come boldly to his throne of grace. He says, " Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find,
DUTY OF PRAYER. 25 knock, and it shall be opened unto you." " He spake this parable, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." Then he says, " I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions ; put me in remembrance; let us plead together." St. James tells us, that " the eiFectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." In a far distant country, there was once a good man of God, whose name was Elias. But the people of that country were very wicked. So Elias prayed that God would keep back his rains from them. And God heard his prayer, and it did not rain for three years and six months. The earth was dried and parched under the heat of the sun. Then, when the people were starving and perishing for food, Elias prayed again to God to send rain, and the heavens poured out their rains, and watered the earth. Elias did this to show the people that there ia a great God who rules in the heavens. Was not this a great answer to prayer ? There was once a great city called Sodom. The people were all very wicked. But there was one good man there, whose name was Lot. Lot was the nephew of good old father Abraham. God spake out of heaven to Abraham, and told him that he would destroy the city of Sodom with a tempest of fire and brimstone. But Abraham prayed to God to spare it. God heard his prayer, and told him that, if fifty good people could be found in Sodom, he would not destroy it. Abraham then asked the Lord, If there be forty-five, wilt thou spare it ? And God told him, If I find forty-five there, I will not destroy it. Again Abraham prayed. If there 1)6 forty, wilt thou spare it ? And God said. If there be forty, I will not destroy it. Still Abraham prayed. If there be thirty, wilt thou spare it ? And then again. If there be twenty ? And last, If there be ten, wilt thou not spare 3
26 SERMON II. the city ? And God still listened patiently to his prayer, and said, If ten righteous people can be found in Sodom, I will not destroy it. Here Abraham stopped praying, and seemed to tremble at his own prayers, as if he was going too far, and asking too much of God. The Lord patiently heard and answered all his prayers, so long as he continued to pray. Nor did he cease to answer him until Abraham showed by his conduct that he would ask no more. Gen. xviii. 23—33. Once, as the people of Israel were journeying through the wilderness, they turned away from the worship of God, and went to worshipping idols. Then God said to his servant Moses, *'I will destroy this people." But Moses prayed with great earnestness for them. He went alcne up into the mountain to pray for them. But Gad commanded him to come down ; as if he did not wish him to pray to him. Then God told him he would make him a great and mighty nation. Yet Moses went on praying for the people. At last, when the Lord saw that his mind and heart could not be turned from the prayer, God said to him, "Let me alone, that I may destroy them." Just as if he could not destroy them, so long as Moses continued to pray for them. Ex. xxxii. 10. What great answers to prayer were these ! The blessed Saviour never shut his ear against any sincere prayer. A poor woman once came to him and prayed to him to heal her daughter, who was greatly troubled with a devil. At first, he did not seem to notice her. She fell down at his feet and looked up to him. But he turned away. His disciples begged him for her. But he said to them, " I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Still the poor woman cried to him, "Lord, help
DUTY OF PRAYER. 27 me." He answered and said, " It is not meet (or right) to take the children's bread and give it unto dogs." But she still prayed, and said, '' Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master's table." Then Jesus answered her prayer. He said, " Oh, woman ! great is thy faith ; be it unto thee even as thou wilt." I might tell you of many other cases when God heard and answered
prayer. His ear is always open to the sincere prayer of the poorest and humblest person. Oh ! if you could, at all times, think of God as a Father, how much happier you would be. Think how many troubles meet you in the world. Every day you have something to try your heart. Now what do you do under these trials ? Do you go to God in earnest prayer for his grace and blessing? Do you not rather trust to your own strength, and try by your own wisdom, to get out of them*? Then you get into a bad temper ; you look sour, and complain of your hard trials, and seem to be angry with every one around you. This is very sinful. God has said, " Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." If, instead of getting into a bad humour,, you would go to God in earnest prayer, he would either help you out of your trouble, or he would make it work good to you in some way. He has said that " all things shall work together for good to them that love him J' The Psalmist says of Christians, " they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distress." Yes, God will hear you when you cry to him. In every trial that meets you, whether at home, or far away ; a poor beggar, or rolling in wealth ; whether in bondage, or at liberty ; in sickness, or in death ; whether resting at night on your bed, or in the field at work, you will find the Lord always ready to hear your earnest prayer. Then do not
28 SERMON II. let any earthly trials keep you away from prayer. No ; nor the many sins that daily beset you in the way. The more you are troubled and tempted, the more you have need of earnest prayer. Go, then, to God in prayer. Confess your guilt before him ; mourn over your many sins, and beg God, in all earnestness, to have mercy on you for Jesus Christ's sake. 2. God can hear and answer your prayer at once. God does not answer the prayers of many persons, because they do not pray aright. He tells us, " ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss." A man in great trouble of mind went to a friend to tell his sorrows, and to ask his advice. The answer he received was, " My friend, I am afraid you do not pray." But he said, "Yes, I do; if it be possible, I pray too much. I can hardly tell how many times I bow my knee in prayer a day. I often leave my pressing duties to pray. "But," said his friend, "you
mistake my meaning. I do not mean that you don't bow the knee often enough. To bow the knee, or to go into your closet, is not always to pray. I mean you do not pray with the heart. This is the part that must pray. To pray this way you need not neglect your business. In all your busy duties you may lift up your thoughts to God in prayer." This is the way that good old aunt Mary prayed. He who will pray as she did will generally be happy. And God is always more ready to hear and answer such prayers at once, than we are to ask. Did you ever see the telegraph wires ? I will tell you what they are. They are long wires, about the size of a wheat strawy stretched on the end of long poles set up in the earth. They reach from one end of the country to the other. There is a little machine at the ends which I cannot
DUTY OF PRAYER. 29 explain to yon. Now, suppose one end of this wire to be in New York, and the other in New Orleans. A man in New York will send a message to one in New Orleans, and get an answer back in a few minutes. A little boy once went with his father to see this wonderful thing. He had an uncle in one of the far-off cities, and he asked his father to send him some message by the wires. But so many persons were sending messages, and receiving answers, that the little boy had to wait some little time. Just as he would go up to send his message, some one else would step up before him. At last the little boy got quite out of patience, as many people will do when their wants are not at once gratified. But, after a while, his turn came, and he sent off the message to his uncle. After waiting about half an hour, the answer came. It was, " I will come to see you at Christmas, and bring you some pretty toys." The little boy thought this very wonderful, indeed. As they walked homewards he could talk of nothing else but the telegraph wires. "Father," said he, "did you ever hear of a message being sent so far, and an answer returned in so short a time ?" " Oh ! yes, my son ; I know a way by which messages are sent, and answers brought back, in a much less time than by the telegraph wires." " Do tell me," said the little boy, "what it is, and how it can be quicker and better than that ?" The father then said to him, "you remember that it was some time before you could could get a chance to send your message. You had to wait until others were attended to. But in the way I speak of,
you are not hindered by others. Thousands can send their messages at the same moment, and answers can be sent back to them all. Then there are the wires, and the machinery, and the electricity, and the man who works it. 3*
30 SERMON II. These must all be kept in good order ; and they take a good deal of care and attention. Besides, there are only certain hours in the day when your messages can be sent. Now, by the plan I tell you of, you need none of these things. You need no man to tell the message to, no wires to carry it, no machine to keep in order, and you can send your message at midnight, or at daydawn, or any moment you please." "What, father," said the little boy, "and get an answer to your message as soon as by the telegraph?" "Yes, and a great deal sooner," said the father, " even before you tell with yom- lips what you want, the answer may come back. Besides, the office of the telegraph is always in some town or city, and you must go to it before you can send your message. But the way I speak of does not require this. You may be in your chamber, or lying on your bed, or hunting in the woods, or in the fields, or at school, or any where else, and you can send your message, and get an answer immediately. Then you always have to write down your message by the telegraph. But the other way you need not write it down at all. The little boy who has not learned his letters, and the poor servant who cannot read, can send their messages as well, and get the answers as soon, as the wisest and greatest men in the world. However simple and ignorant, they may be attended to just as soon and as kindly as the king on his throne." "Well, well," said the little boy, "that is, indeed, a wonderful thing. W^hy have I never heard of that before ? Do tell me where I shall find an account of it." "I will," said the father. "You will find the fullest and best account of it in the Bible." By this time they had reached home, and the little boy ran and brought the Bible. The father told him where to open, and he read the follow-
DUTY OF PKAYER. 3l ing passages. "And it shall come to pass that before they
call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." Isa. Ixv. 24. " Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am." Isa. Iviii. 9. "And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sins, and the sins of my people Israel, and presenting my supplications before the Lord my God ; yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, Oh Daniel ! I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee.'' "Oh! yes," said the little boy; "I see now what you mean. You have been talking about prayer to God, and how soon he can hear and answer prayer. And, indeed, father, this is a greater thing than the telegraph. For we need not tell with our lips what we want. God looks at the heart and will answer as soon as he sees a sincere desire there. Then the hymn in the Prayer Book says, * Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed ; The motion of a hidden fire That trembles in the breast/ " No man ever yet led a holy life without prayer. No man ever was a sincere Christian without the habit of prayer. You had as well try to live without air to breathe, as to grow in religion and be prepared for heaven without prayer. " Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, The Christian's native air."
32 SERMOX ir. A bird can as well fly without v.ings as you can rise up towards heaven without prayer. Do be persuaded, then, to make your life a life of prayer. I do not mean that you must be always on your knees I mean that you must watch against temptation, and sin, and pray that God would help you to overcome them. You should never let the sun rise on you at morning without praying to God to help you to honour him through the day ; to govern your
temper and your tongue ; to be faithful to your duty ; to keep yourselves unspotted from the world ; to keep your " hands from picking and stealing, and yom- tongues from evil speaking, lying, and slandering ;" to enable you to love all men, and to do your " duty in that state of life in which it hath pleased God to call you.*' As you know not what may happen to you through the day, how proper is it for you to pray to God for his guidance and help. As each day that you spend can never be brought back, and places you nearer to the judgement bar of God, how proper is it for you to pray to him to make you better Christians, and prepare you to meet him. Then, when you lie down to sleep at night, you know not what may happen to you. As the sun that has set for that day may be the last you will ever see, how proper is it that you should ask God to pardon all your sins, and take care of you through the night. Do not forget, my Christian friends, who it is that has commanded you to pray. He is none other than the great God, to whom you must, at last, give in your account. Jesus, your Saviour, invites you to pray. He says that they who pray to him in secret he will reward openly ; and that whatsoever you shall ask in his name, he will give it. " If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." Look at that precious Saviour. See him, by faith, sitting
DUTY OF PRAYER. 83 at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you. Behold him bending his listening ear to your feeble and stammering prayers, then turning to the Father and pleading for you. Your prayers may be very imperfect, but this kind Saviour takes them up, and, as your friend, presents them to the Father. And, when he presents them, the Father remembers all his dying love for you, and, for his sake, looks graciously upon you. Do not forget, then, in all your prayers, to fix your thoughts and your heart on this gracious Saviour. Offer them all up to God in his name and through his merits. So will God hear your prayer and answer you according to his mercy in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I often say my prayers, But do I ever pray ?
Or do the wishes of my heart Suggest the words I say ? 'Tis useless to implore, Unless I feel my need : Unless 'tis from a sense of want That all my prayers proceed. I may as well kneel dowio And worship gods of stone, As offer to the living God A prayer of words alone. For words without the heart The Lord will never hear ; Nor will he ever those regard Whose prayers are insincere. Lord ! teach me what I want, And teach me how to pray ;
34 SERMON II. Nor let me e'er implore thy grace, Not feeling what I say. Questions. — 1. What is it to pray always ? 2. Tell the way the old woman prayed without ceasing. 3. Can all of us do the same? 4. Who has set us the greatest example of prayer ? 5. What about Elias praying ? 6. What about Abraham praying ? 7. What about the poor woman? 8. Can God hear and answer prayer at once? 9. Do men always pray when they kneel before God ? 10. Can a man live a holy life without piayer ? 11. In whose name must you pray?