Sermon 1192. Hindrances to Prayer
A SERMON DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 13, 1874,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"That your prayers be not hindered." 1 Peter 3:7.
TO many persons this discourse will have but little reference because they do not pray. I fear, also, there are some otherswhose prayers are so worthless that if they were hindered it would be of no very material consequence. It is even possiblethat their being forced to omit them might arouse them out of a self-righteous lethargy. Merely to bow the knee in formality,to go through a form of devotion in a careless or half-hearted manner is rather to mock God than to worship Him. It wouldbe a terrible theme for contemplation to consider how much of vain repetition and heartless praying the Lord is wearied withfrom day to day. I would, however, most solemnly remind those who do not truly pray that the wrath of God abides on them!He who never seeks for mercy has certainly never found it. Conscience acknowledges it to be a righteous thing with God thatHe should not give to those who will not ask.
It is the smallest thing that can be expected of us that we should humbly ask for the favors we need and if we refuse to doso, it is but right that the door of Divine Grace should be closed so long as men refuse to knock. Prayer is no hard requirement-itis the natural duty of a creature to its Creator-the simplest homage which human need can pay to Divine liberality. Thosewho refuse to render it may well expect that one of these days, when in dire extremity they begin to bemoan their folly, theywill hear a voice from their insulted God, saying, "I called and you refused; I stretched out My hands and no man regarded;therefore I, also, will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear comes."
The old story tells of a monarch who gave to a favorite courtier a ring which he might send to her in case he should be underher displeasure, promising that at the sight thereof he should be restored to favor. Later, when the courtier was implicatedin treason, the Queen anxiously awaited the ring, but that ring was never shown, though long waited for, and it was littlewonder that, concluding the offender to be stubbornly rebellious, a sentence of execution was carried out. If a sinner willnot plead the name of Jesus to which the promise of forgiveness is appended-if he will not bend his knee in penitential prayerand ask for pardon at the hand of God, none will wonder that he perishes for his folly. None will be able to accuse the Lordof too great a severity when He casts away forever all prayerless souls! O you who never pray, I tremble for you! Would toGod you would tremble for yourselves, for there is cause enough for it!
To those who pray, prayer is a most precious thing, for it is the channel by which priceless blessings come to them, the windowthrough which their needs are supplied by a gracious God. To Believers, prayer is the great means of soul enrichment-it isthe vessel which trades with Heaven and comes home from the celestial country laden with treasures of far greater worth thanever Spanish galleon brought from the land of gold. Indeed, to true Believers, prayer is so invaluable that the danger ofhindering it is used by Peter as a motive why, in their marriage relationships and household concerns, they should behavethemselves with great wisdom. He bids the husband "dwell" with his wife "according to knowledge," and render loving honorto her, lest their united prayers should be hindered! Anything which hinders prayer must be wrong. If any management of thefamily, or lack of management, is injuring our power in prayer, there is an urgent demand for an alteration. Husband and wifeshould pray together, as joint-heirs of Divine Grace, and any temper or habit which hinders this is evil.
The text would be most appropriately used to stimulate Christians to diligence in family prayer, and though I shall not souse it on this occasion, it is not because I undervalue the institution, for I esteem it so highly that no language of minecan adequately express my sense of its value. The house in which there is no family altar can scarcely expect a Divine blessing.If the Lord does not cover our habitation with His wings, our family is like a house without a roof. If we do not seek theLord's guidance, our household is a ship without a pilot. And unless guarded by devotion, our family will be a field withouta hedge. The mournful behavior of many of the children of professing parents is mainly due to the neglect
or the coldness of family worship-and many a judgment has, I doubt not-fallen upon households because the Lord is not dulyhonored therein.
Eli's sin still brings with it the visitations of a jealous God. That word of Jeremiah bears hard upon prayerless families,"Pour out Your fury upon the households that call not upon Your name." His mercy visits every house where night and morningvows are paid, but where these are neglected, sin is incurred. In the good old Puritan times it was said that if you had walkeddown Cheapside you would have heard in every house the voice of a Psalm at a certain hour of the morning and evening, forthere was no house, then, of professed Christians without family prayer! I believe that the bulwark of Protestantism againstPopery is family worship. Take that away-and the instruction of children in the fear of God-and you lay this country open,again, to the theory that prayer is most acceptable in the parish Church.
And then you get into the sacredness ofplaces. Then, taking away the priesthood from the father of the family-who ought tobe the priest in his own house-you make an opening for a superstitious priesthood and, leaving the teaching with these pretenders,mischief innumerable are introduced! If neglect of family prayer should become general throughout our Churches it will bea dark day for England! Children who observe that their parents are practically prayerless in the household will grow up indifferentto religion-and in many cases will be utter worldlings-if not altogether atheists. This is a matter about which the Churchcannot make any inquisitorial inquiry-it must be left to the good sense and the Christian spirit of the heads of households!I therefore speak all the more strongly and pray you to order things at home that family prayer is not hindered.
At this time, however, I shall use the text for another purpose, and apply it to the hindrances which beset private prayer.Our prayers may be hindered thus-first, we may be hindered from prayer. Secondly, we may be hindered in prayer. And, thirdly,we may be hindered from our prayers being effective with God.
I. First, there is such a thing as being HINDERED FROM PRAYER-and that may be done by falling into a generally lax, lukewarmcondition in reference to the things of God. When a man becomes cold, indifferent and careless, one of the first things thatwill suffer will be his devotion. When a sick man is in a decline his lungs suffer, and his voice-and so when a Christianis in a spiritual decline the breath of prayer is affected-and the cry of supplication becomes weak. Prayer is the true gaugeof spiritual power. To hold back prayer is dangerous and of deadly tendency. You may depend upon it that, take it for allin all, what you are upon your knees you are really before your God.
What the Pharisee and the Publican were in prayer was the true criterion of their spiritual state. You may maintain a decentreputation among men, but it is a small matter to be judged of man's judgment-men see only the surface-while the Lord's eyespry into the recesses of the soul. If He sees that you are prayerless, He makes small account of your attendance at religiousmeetings, or your loud professions of conversion. If you are a man of earnest prayer and especially if the spirit of prayeris in you, so that in addition to certain seasons of supplication your heart habitually talks with God, things are right withyou. But if this is not the case and your prayers are "hindered," there is something in your spiritual system which needsto be ejected, or something lacking which ought to be taken care of at once. "Keep your heart with all diligence, for outof it are the issues of life," and living prayers are among those issues.
Prayers may be hindered, next, by having too much to do. In this age this is a very common occurrence. We men have too muchbusiness for ourselves. The quiet days of our contented forefathers are gone and men allot to themselves an increasing drudgery.Not content to earn as much as is necessary for themselves and families, they must have much more than they can possibly enjoyfor themselves, or profitably use for others. Wisdom seems to say that one staff is enough for a man to walk with, but ambitioncannot be contented unless it carries a load of staves upon its back. "Enough is as good as a feast," said the old proverb,but nowadays neither enough nor a feast will satisfy men! They must accumulate more than would feast thousands of familiesbefore they can be content-no, they are not even content then!
Many a man who might have been of great service to the Church of God becomes useless because he must branch out in some newdirection in business which takes up all his spare time. Instead of feeling that his first care should be, "How can I bestglorify God?" his all-absorbing objective is to "stretch his arms like seas and grasp in all the shore." Thousands, hundredsof thousands and even millions of pounds cannot silence the greedy horseleech which men have swallowed, which continuallycries, "Give, give!" Many add house to house and field to field, as though they meant to be left alone in the land! Alas,that Christians should be infected with the same fever! The rich man in the parable had no time for prayer, for he was busyin planning new barns in which to bestow his goods-but he had to find time for dying
when the Lord said, "This night shall your soul be required of you." Beware, I pray you, of "the desire of other things,"the canker of riches, the insatiable greed which drives men into the snare of the devil, for if it works you no other ill,it will do you mischief, enough, if your prayers are hindered.
We may even have too much to do in God's house, and so hinder our prayers by being like Martha, numbered with much serving.I never heard of anyone who was hindered with too much praying. The more we do, the more we should pray, and prayer shouldbalance our service, or rather, it should be the lifeblood of every action and saturate our entire life, as the dew of Heavenfilled Gideon's fleece. We cannot labor too much if prayer is proportionate, but I fear that some of us would do far moreif we attempted less and prayed more about it. I even fear that some allow public religious engagements to override privatecommunion with God-they attend too many sermons, too many conferences, too many Bible readings, too many committees-yes, andtoo many Prayer Meetings! They are all good in their way, but all acting injuriously when they cramp our secret, or privateprayer.
Mrs. Row said that if the Apostles were preaching at her time of private communion with God she would not forsake her closetto go and hear them. It must be better to be with God than with Peter or Paul1 Praying is the end of preaching, and woe tothe man who, prizing the means more than the end, allows any other form of service to push his prayers into a corner. Therecan be no doubt, also, that prayer is hindered by having too little to do. If you want a thing well done, you must go to theman who has a great deal to do, for he is the man to do it for you! People who have nothing to do generally do it with a greatdeal of fuss. From morning to night they waste other people's time-they are the callers, the interviewers, the people whowrite catching paragraphs about public men-very frequently invented in their own silly brains.
These are the propagators of slander, who in very wantonness spit upon good men's characters. Having nothing to do, they arehired by Satan to hinder and injure others. If such people ever do pray, I am sure their indolence must very much hinder them.The man who has to teach in the Ragged School finds he must cry for help to master those wild young natures. The young ladywho has, around her, a dozen girls whom she longs to bring to the Savior, feels it imperative upon her to pray for Jane andEllen, that they may be converted to God. The minister, whose hands are full of holy toil and whose eyes fail with sacredwatching, finds he cannot do without drawing near unto his God! If these servants of Jesus had less to do they would prayless, but holy industry is the nurse of devotion!
I said we might do too much and I could not balance that truth unless I added that a very large proportion of Christians dotoo little. God has given them enough wealth to be able to retire from business. They have time upon their hands and theyhave even to invent ways of spending that time-and yet the ignorant require instructing, the sick need visiting, the poorneed helping-should they not lay out their abundant leisure in the service of God? Would they not, then, be quickened in prayer?I wish that all could say with one of the Lord's saints, "Prayer is my business and praise is my pleasure"-but I am sure theynever will till the zeal of the Lord's house shall more fully consume them. Some people hinder their prayers, again, by alack of order. They get up a little too late and they have to chase their work all the day and never overtake it. They arealways in a flurry, one duty tripping up the heels of another.
They have no appointed time for retirement, to little space hedged about for communion with God and, consequently, somethingor other happens and prayer is forgotten-no, I hope not quite forgotten, but so slurred and hurried over that it amounts tolittle and brings them no blessing. I wish you would each keep a diary of how you pray next week, and see how much, or ratherhow little time you spend with God out of the 24 hours. Much time goes at the table, how much at the Mercy Seat? Many hoursare spent with men, how many with your Maker? You are somewhat with your friends on earth, how many minutes are you with yourFriend in Heaven? You allow yourself space for recreation, what do you set apart for those exercises which in very truth re-createthe soul?
"A place for everything, and everything in its place," is a good rule for schools and houses of business, and it will be equallyuseful in spiritual matters. Other duties should be done, but prayer must not be left undone-it must have its own place andsufficient time for it. Care must be taken that our "prayers be not hindered," so that we omit or abridge them. But time compelsme to leave this wide subject and proceed.
II. Secondly, we must watch that we are not HINDERED IN PRAYER, when we are really engaged in that holy work. Here I mightgo over the same ground as before and remark that some are hindered while in their prayers by being lax and lukewarm-a greathindrance. Others by having too much or too little to do, and another class by being in that
hurried condition of heart which results from a lack of order. But I need not repeat myself when you are so eagerly drinkingin my words! Let us note that some are hindered in prayer by selecting an unfit time and place. There are times when you mayexpect a knock at your own door, do not just then knock at God's door! There are hours when your letters arrive, when customerscall, when trades people need attention, when workmen need orders-it would be foolish to be going into your closet just then!
If you are employed by others, you must not present to God those hours which belong to your employer. You will be honoringthe Lord better by diligence in your calling. There are times that are demanded of you by the necessities of the householdand your lawful calling-these are already the Lord's in another way-let them be used for their own purpose. Never defile oneduty with the blood of another. Give to God and prayer those suitable times in which you can reasonably expect to be alone.Of course you can pray at your work in ejaculations and silent groans-and you ought to be in the spirit of supplication allday long-but I am alluding, now, to times specially devoted to supplication-and I say choose a season and a place where youcan be free from interruption.
A pious lad who had no place at home to pray, went to the stable and climbed up into the hayloft. But very soon someone cameup the ladder and interrupted him. The next time he took care to pull the ladder up after him-a very useful hint for us. Itwould be well, indeed, if we could so completely pull the ladder up that neither the devil nor the world could invade oursacred privacy. "You, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which isin secret. And your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly." Select, then, the fittest time and place that yourprayers are not hindered.
Worldly cares are frequent and most mischievous hindrances to prayer. A Christian man should be the most careful man in theworld and, yet, without carefulness. Do you understand that paradox? He should be careful not to sin, but as for other matters,he should cast his care on "Him who cares for him." To take everything from God's hands and to trust everything in God's hands,is a happy way of living and very helpful to prayer. Has not your Master told you of the ravens and the lilies? Your heavenlyFather feeds and clothes them-will He not clothe you? "Seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Faith givespeace and peace leaves the soul clear for prayer-but when care comes in, it confuses the mind and puts the heart away frompleading. A heart clogged with care is like a man trying to swim with heavy clothes upon him-he must get them off if he hopesto swim to shore. Many a sailor has cut his clothes to pieces because he felt he should sink if he did not get them off.
I could wish that many Christians would tear themselves away from their excessive worldly engagements, for they have sucha mass of care upon them that they scarcely keep their heads above water! Oh, for more Grace and less worry! More prayingand less hoarding! More intercession and less speculating! As it is, prayers are sadly hindered. Earthly pleasures, especiallyof a dubious kind, are the worst of hindrances. Some professors indulge in amusements which I am sure are not consistent withprayer. They resemble flies which plunge into the honey until the sweet sticks to their wings and legs and they cannot fly.I once remember reading, "A prayer to be said by a Christian man after coming home from a theater," "A collect for a sainton returning from the races," and, "A prayer for a Christian lady on returning from a ball." Of course they were written sarcasticallyand were, indeed, a broad farce.
How can you come home from frivolity and sin and then look into the face of Jesus? How can the fashions of the world be followedand communion with God be maintained? You cannot roll in the mire and then approach with clean garments to the Mercy Seat!How can you come before the Throne of God with petitions when you have just been dishonoring the name of the Most High? OChristians, keep yourselves from everything about which you have any doubt as to its rightness or even its expediency-whateveris not of faith is sin and will hinder your prayers! Further, prayers may be hindered equally much by worldly sorrow. Somegive way to sorrow so extremely that they cannot pray. The tears of rebellious repining dampen the powder of prayer so thata Christian man cannot send his desires heavenward as he should. The sorrow which prevents a man's praying is flat rebellionagainst the will of God!
Our Lord was "exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death," but then He prayed-no-"therefore He prayed." It is right to be sorrowful,for God intends that affliction should be grievous and not joyous. But when sorrow is right it will drive us to prayer-notdrive us from it. And when we find our grief at the loss of some dear child, or at the decay of our property hinders our prayers,I think we should say to ourselves, "Now I must pray, for it must be wrong for me to be so rebellious against my Father asto refuse to ask anything at His hands." You would think your child in a very mean
temper if, because he could not have his own way, he would refuse to ask anything of you and went about the house pouting.Yet many mourners act in this fashion. We would deeply sympathize with their sorrow, but we may not excuse their repining-forthe "sorrow of the world works death"-and is unfitting in a child of God. With all your grief, bowed into the very dust byaffliction, still, like your Lord and Master, cry, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will," and then your prayers willbe helped and not hindered.
There are cases in which prayer is very greatly hindered by a bad temper. I do not know where this may apply, but, whereverit does, I trust that it will go home. You cannot habitually speak sharp to servants and children. You cannot join in a grandrow or in small squabbles and then go and pray with power. I cannot be effective in prayer if I feel anger in my heart andI do not believe that you can, either. Get up and go and settle the matter before you try to talk with God, for the prayerof angry men makes God angry. You cannot wrestle with the Angel while you are under the power of the devil. I appeal to yourown consciences-you, yourselves, shall be judges-is it not so? That was good advice on our Lord's part-"Leave there your giftbefore the altar, and first go and be reconciled to your brother." If that is not done, the sacrifice cannot be accepted,nor do I see how you can dare offer it!
I have heard of two good men who had a sharp difference with each other in business. I do not know which was to blame-perhapsneither of them-they might have misunderstood each other. One of them, as he walked home very much ruffled, saw the sun goingdown, and the passage occurred to him, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." He thought, "I will go back and offer anapology, for I believe I have spoken much too strongly." He went back towards his friend's office and half way there he metthe other coming to him on the same errand. Happy Christians to be both so mindful of the Holy Spirit's teaching and so likethe Lord Jesus! It must be that offenses come, but blessed are those who are foremost in removing them! Alas, men of a certainmold cannot do this, but will keep a grudge till it rots and fills their whole nature with its vile odors. Surely they cannotexpect to be heard in prayer while their unburied enmities pollute their souls! Endeavor, dear Christian Friends, as muchas you can, whenever you are angry, not to sin. It is possible, for it is written, "Be you angry and sin not."
A man who has no anger in him is scarcely a man and certainly not a good man, for he who is not angry at sin is not in lovewith virtue! They say of some that they are as easy as an old shoe-and they are generally worth no more than that article.Anger against injustice is right, but that anger against the person which degenerates into wishing him hurt is sinful andeffectually blows out the fires of prayer. We cannot pray for forgiveness unless we forgive the trespasses of others againstus.
Prayer can be hindered-very terribly hindered-in three ways. If we dishonor the Father to whom we pray, or the Son throughwhom we pray, or the Holy Spirit by whom we pray. I say we can dishonor the Father. This can be done by inconsistency of life-ifchildren of God are not obedient to the Father's will, they must not wonder if they find it difficult to pray. Something willrise in their throat that will choke their pleading. You cannot pour out your heart acceptably unless you believe in yourheavenly Father. If you have harsh thoughts of God. If you have a cold heart towards Him and a lack of reverence for His name.If you do not believe in that great willing heart which is waiting to bless you, your lack of love, faith and reverence willstrangle your prayers. Oh, when a man is fully at one with the great Father! When "Abba, Father," is the very spirit of hissoul! When he speaks to God as One in whom he places implicit trust and to whose will he yields himself up perfectly! WhenGod's glory is his soul's delight-then he is on a vantage ground in prayer-he will win what he wills of God. If he is notso with God, his prayers will limp most painfully.
And, Brothers and Sisters, if we are wrong with Jesus, through whom we pray. If we are in any measure self-righteous. If wedelight in self and forget our Beloved. If we fancy that we can do without the Savior and if, therefore, we pray like complacentPharisees, our prayers will be hindered! If we are not like the Savior. If we do not make Him our Example. If we have noneof His loving spirit. If, above all, we crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame-and if we are ungrateful for the blessingswe have already received-our prayers will be hindered. You cannot plead in the court if you have quarreled with your Advocate.If your prayers are not taken in hand by the great Intercessor and offered by Him on your behalf, you will have no heart forthe sacred exercise.
So, again, with the Holy Spirit. There is never a prayer that God accepts but the Spirit first writes it in our hearts. Trueprayer is not so much our intercession as the Spirit of God making intercession in us. Now, if we grieve the Spirit, He willnot help us to pray. And if we attempt to pray for something that is contrary to the Spirit's holy, gracious,
loving Nature, we cannot expect Him to enable us to pray in contradiction to the mind of God. Take care that you vex not theSpirit of God in any way, especially by shutting your ears to His gentle warnings, His loving calls, His earnest entreaties,His tender monitions-for if you are deaf to the Divine Comforter, He will be speechless to you. He will not help you to prayif you will not yield to Him in other matters.
So then, dear Friends, I have stated to you in a hurried manner some of the ways in which prayer may be hindered. May Godgrant that none of us may be overcome by them, but we may be delivered from everything which could mar our petitions!
III. I shall now want your earnest attention to the most important part of all, upon which I shall endeavor to be brief. Wemay be HINDERED IN THE EFFECTIVENESS OF OUR PRAYERS. We may pray, but yet the prayer may not be heard. And here let me interposea remark. The Lord will hear any man's prayer who asks for mercy through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ. He neverdespises the cry of the contrite. He is a God ready to hear all those who seek reconciliation. But concerning other mattersit is true that God does not hear sinners-that is, while they remain sinners He will not grant them their wishes-indeed, todo so would encourage them in their sins! If they will repent and cry for mercy through Jesus Christ, He will hear their cryand will save them. But if they are not, first, reconciled to Him, their prayers are empty wind.
A man will grant his child's request, but he does not listen to strangers. He will listen to his friends, but not to enemies.It is not right that the golden key which opens the caskets of Heaven should be hung at a rebel's belt. Yet more, God doesnot hear all His children, alike, or alike at all times. It is not every Believer who is mighty in prayer. Read the 96th Psalm,and, if I remember rightly, you will find words like these-"Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them thatcall upon His name; they called upon the Lord and He answered them. They kept His testimonies, and the ordinances that Hegave them." Yes, he answered them-Moses, Aaron, Samuel-He answered them, for they kept His testimonies. When children of Godfind that their prayers do not succeed, they should search-and they would soon discover a reason why their prayers are hindered.
First, there must be holy living in a Believer if his prayers are to succeed greatly with God. Listen-"The effectual ferventprayer of a righteous man avails much." Note that point of a righteous man. Listen to our Savior (John 15:7)- "If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." There is anif there! If you do not do Christ's will, He will not do your will. This is not legal! It has nothing to do with the Law,but is the Gospel rule of Christ's house that obedience should have for its reward power in prayer! Just as you do with yourchildren-you have a discipline over them-you do not turn them out of doors or give them over to the policeman because theydo amiss. But you have ways of chastening the willful and rewarding the obedient. You are in no hurry to grant the requestsof yonder fractious boy-in fact you deny him his request. But that other dear, gentle, loving child has only to ask and have!
This is correct discipline and such as God exercises among us. He does not cast off His children for sin and utterly disownthem, but He chastens them in love. And one of His chastisements lies in shutting out their prayers. If we compare prayerto shooting with a bow, you must have clean hands or you cannot shoot, for this bow refuses to bend to hands polluted withunrepented sin. If a sinner prays for mercy for Jesus' sake he shall be heard, but for general blessings it is written, "Thedesire of the righteous shall be granted"-not the desire of the wicked. First wash in the Fountain of atoning Grace and haveyour heart cleansed by the Holy Spirit, or else you cannot succeed in prayer. If anyone should tell me of a man whom God greatlyanswered in prayer and then inform me that he lived in gross sin, I would not believe it! It is impossible for God to patronizea guilty professor of religion by giving him success in prayer! The blind man whom Jesus healed most truly said, "If any mandoes His will, him He hears."
In addition to obedience there must be faith. "He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder ofthem that diligently seek Him." "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavers is like a wave of the sea, drivenwith the wind and tossed: let not that man expect that he shall receive anything of the Lord." Faith "obtains promises, unbeliefgoes empty-handed." The Lord may give a blessing to a doubter, but that is more than the promise, and the doubter has no rightto expect it. The prayer which avails most with God is the prayer of one who believes that God will hear him and who, therefore,asks with confidence. In a word, faith is the bow of prayer. You must lay hold on the bow or you cannot shoot-and the strongerthat bow the further you can send the arrow-and the more
execution you can do with it. Without faith it is impossible to please God in prayer or in anything else. Faith is the verybackbone, sinew and muscle of intercession.
Thirdly, there must be holy desires, or else prayer will be a failure. And those desires must be founded on a promise. Ifyou cannot find that God has promised a blessing, you have no right to ask for it and no reason to expect it. There is nouse in asking money of a banker without a check-at the counter they do not know you-they do know the promise to pay from acheck and if you present that, you will get the amount. You must bring God's own promises to the Mercy Seat, which is thecounter of the Divine bank, and you will obtain what you need, but only in that way. Observe, then, that faith is the bowand strong desire fits to the string the arrow which is to be sent upward. No arrow may be shot towards Heaven but that whichcame down from Heaven. Christians take their arrows from God's quiver and when they shoot them they shoot them with this ontheir lips, "Do as You have said. Remember Your Word unto Your servant upon which You have caused me to hope." So the successfulprayer is the desire of a holy heart, sanctioned by the promise. True prayers are like those carrier pigeons which find theirway so well-they cannot fail to go to Heaven, for it is from Heaven that they came-they are only going home!
Furthermore, if prayer is to be effective, there must be fervor and importunity. It is written, "The effectual fervent prayerof the righteous man avails much." Not the dead-and-alive prayer of the mere professor-not the prayer of one who does notcare whether he is answered or not. There must be eagerness, intensity, the pouring out of the heart before God! The arrowmust be put on the bow string and the bow must be drawn with all our might. The best bow is of no use until you draw it. Andif you draw the bow of faith and shoot at the target up there in Heaven, you will get what you will-only you must resolveto have it with only this boundary-"the will of the Lord be done"-and you will succeed.
There must be, next, a desire for God's Glory-for that is the white of the target-and if we do not shoot towards that, thearrow will avail nothing. We must earnestly desire what we ask because we believe it will glorify God to give it to us. Ifwe are wholly living unto God, our prayers will run side by side with His purposes and none of them will fall to the ground."Delight yourself, also, in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." We must also have holy expectancy orwe shall hinder prayer. The man who shoots must look to see where his arrow goes. We must direct our prayer unto God and lookup! Eyeing the Lord Jesus in all, we must look to succeed through the merits of the Redeemer. "If we believe that He hearsus, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."
Presumption in prayer shoots with the bow of self-confidence, not for God's Glory, but for the gratification of itself, andtherefore it fails. Some have the idea that ask what they like of God, they are sure to have it. But I would ask them, first,"Who are you?" Secondly, "What is it you are going to seek?" And, thirdly, "What right have you to expect it?" These inquiriesmust be clearly answered, otherwise prayer may be an insult to God. I wish some Christians who pray about temporal thingswould be a little careful as to how they act. When they get into scrapes and messes by extravagance, do they expect God toget them out?
I remember hearing of a remark of good Mr. Muller, of Bristol. At a Prayer Meeting he read a letter from a Brother who thankedhim for a gift of some 20 pounds which had arrived very Providentially, for he owed half a year's rent. Mr. Muller remarked,"Yes, our Brother should be very thankful. But I intend to write to him and tell him he ought not to owe half a year's rentwithout being prepared to pay. And he is acting unwisely and unjustly by not laying by in store to meet the claim. When Itook a house I said, 'This is another person's house. I am bound to pay his rent,' and therefore week by week, as I used thehouse, I put by a portion to pay what was due. I did not spend the money and at the end of the quarter expect the heavenlyFather to send me more."
This was sound morality and common sense, and I pray you attend to it. Pray by all means, but "owe no man anything." Dailybread is to be prayed for, but speculations which may involve you in ruin, or make your fortune, are not to be mentioned.If you take to gambling, you may as well give up praying! Straightforward transactions you may pray about, but do not getthe Lord mixed up with your finances! I have been requested to pray for a young man who has lost his job, through an embezzlement,that he may get another place of employment. But instead of doing so I have suggested that he should, himself, pray to bemade honest. Another who is deeply in debt wants me to pray that he may obtain help, but I suggest that he should let hiscreditors have a dividend while there is anything left. I shall not ask of my God what I would not ask of man!
The approach to the Mercy Seat is holy ground and not to be trifled with, or made to minister to sin. "You ask and receivenot because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts." If we walk contrary to the Lord, He will walk contraryto us. And I say to every man and woman here who is in trouble and is a Christian, take the straight path out of it-do theright thing-and if it brings you trouble, bear it like a man, and then go to God, and say, "Lord, I have, by Your Grace, chosena plain, honest path, now help me," and He will. God grant us Grace, as Christians, to walk with God in the power of His Spirit,resting alone on Jesus-and may He make each one of us mighty in prayer! A man whom God has taught to pray mightily is onewith God's mind and is God's hand moving among the sons of men! When he acts, God acts in him. He must, however, be carefuland watchful, for the Lord is a jealous God-and most jealous where He loves most.
God grant you, Brothers and Sisters, to walk humbly with God and to live near to Him, "that your prayers be not hindered."Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Malachi 3. HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK" 434 (SONG III), 1001, 994.