The Blessedness of Prayer
Why are there so few who are often and long in secret prayer? It seems there can be but one answer. It is because so few have a relish for such prayer and find enjoyment in it. Men usually engage in that which they enjoy. When Christians get into the secrets of private prayer — they find in it the highest joy of which the human soul is capable. Then no other place is so dear to them — as their place of retirement; and no other comfort is so sweet — as that which they there receive. Alas! secret prayer is a dull irksome duty to more than a few. It need not be so. Out of the fullness of our heart, we can sing that old familiar hymn:
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By your return, sweet hour of prayer.
God designed the place of secret communion with him to be the nearest approach that a mortal could make to Heaven. It is the place where souls take on the image of God; the place where the smile of the Lord leaves its imprint on the heart. It is the place where shadows pass away, and beams of light from the glory world peacefully steal over the soul. A few moments spent in prayer — make us more like God.
Is it not true, that too few of God’s children find sensible enjoyment in the hour of prayer? The world can sit for hours and tell of their pleasures and enjoyments — but how much have Christians to tell of the pleasures they find in a life of prayer? They can say that they find happiness in God — but can they tell the time when and the place where they found such blessedness in prayer? Can they talk of it, relating incident after incident of pleasurable communion with the Lord? Alas! toofew can talk about the joy they find in their private devotions. They have but little to tell of their friendship with Jesus and very little in their life to indicate that they find delights in companionship with God. Many hearts find more struggle, more dullness, more weariness, more difficulties, and less enjoyment in secret prayer — than in all their religious life beside. But it should be the place of freedom, of rest, of repose, of joy!
That disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom says, “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write unto you — that your joy may be full.” Fellowship is companionship, such as the loving heart of the little child, and the loving heart of the father have as the little one lies upon his parent’s bosom. Fellowship is familiar fellowship, such as congenial friends may enjoy. Fellowship is communion. When we have fellowship with God — then it is that we have fullness of joy. It is not animation or personal enthusiasm or human sensibility — but a thrill of heavenly joy as the living soul comes in touch with the living God!
The soul is as capable of experiencing delight, as the human nature. The inexpressible happiness that the young wife feels in the husband’s embrace, is analogous to that bliss which thrills the soul in the embrace of its Beloved. Joy belongs to the Christian life; joy is a fruit of the Spirit. There cannot be Christian life, without joy. It is one of the constituents of heavenly life. In secret prayer, this joy reaches its flood-tide. The act of faith that makes Jesus our personal Savior, our close friend, our bosom companion — causes us to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
The blessedness of prayer cannot be told in words. When the soul is upborne on the wings of prayer — it has a sweet abstraction from the concerns of the world and is filled with a sense of being at home with God. Satan will try to keep us back from a full abandonment to the will of God, and an entrance into a close and deep intimacy with him — the enemy suggesting that at some future time we may have a wish that God will not be willing to grant, or that we may want to follow some pleasing way — but shall be forbidden. But if we would have the fullness of joy and the deepest union with God — there must be a blindfolding to all the future, and a perfect yielding of all into his hands for all time to come, with a passionate desire for his will to be done.
Do not fear; do not shrink; his way is best. We need to become reckless, so to speak — and cast ourselves adrift on the will of God.
In speaking of those who had joined themselves to the Lord to serve him and love his name, the prophet says, “Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.” It is one thing to talk about the blessedness of prayer — but quite another to experience that blessedness. With too many, secret prayer is a dull irksome duty. Such people find it difficult to engage the heart in fervent, earnest communion with God. Doubtless seasons of dullness come to all — but these seasons should not, and need not, be of long continuance. There should often be seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Keep your will in harmony with the divine will, walk with God in all his ways — and you will receive copious refreshing showers — showers that will make your heart like a watered garden.
What benefit did you receive from your secret prayer this morning? Did you talk with Jesus face to face, and feel his love warming your heart? Did you hear his voice, and have a vision of his loveliness? Too many get no more from their prayers, than the satisfying of the convictions of conscience. They think that they must pray — but, oh, how dull, irksome, and uninviting! I do not mean to chide you — but I long to help you.
Prayer has many sides. It has a side of privilege, a side of duty, a side of necessity. You should understand fully that prayer is an absolute necessity. You should pray because it is necessary — not simply because you enjoy prayer. You cannot live a Christian life without praying; therefore it is a duty to pray. But it is such a duty as can be of fullest, purest joy. God has so designed.
The prayer of the upright is God’s delight, and it is also the Christian’s delight. When you find no enjoyment in eating — you know that something is wrong. Should this continue but a few meals, you become concerned and search for the cause and the remedy.
Just so, there is a cause for lack of enjoyment in prayer. One cause, and I believe the principal one, is because there is so little praying. To enjoy prayer, one must pray much. A person can neglect prayer, until he gets into a low spiritual state, and then he will have no appetite for it and will find no enjoyment in it. What shall such a one do? Go to praying regularly, and taking time for prayer. He will find his appetite for prayer and enjoyment in it increasing each day.
But when he decides to do more praying, he will find all manner of difficulties in the way. The devil will try in every way to hinder him. We would not find it nearly so difficult to pray — if there were no devil. He does not want God and his children to find enjoyment in association, for he knows that in enjoyment there is power. The joy of the Lord, is the Christian’s strength. When God’s children begin to find a blessedness in prayer, Satan knows that his kingdom is in danger. He will cast a feeling of indifference over you; he will call your attention to the many duties of life, and tell you that amid these duties, you have no time for prayer. He will make it appear most reasonable and make you feel that way. He will present subjects of thought, very pleasant subjects, and so innocent, so attractive, so fascinating. It is very hard to dismiss them — but very agreeable to entertain them. You find, however, that they savor a little of the flesh, of the world — and wean the affections from God.
To overcome this obstacle, faith in God is needed. This is the victory that overcomes the world, and also the devil — even our faith. A bold, undaunted and yet childlike faith in God, will bring a hope to the soul, and that hope will give to the duty of prayer a vital principle that will make it a power and a joy.
What is to be gained by prayer? “Ask, and you shall receive.” “What things soever you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them.” We can have all that we need — through prayer. We can have eternal life. We can have Heaven. Since so much can be gained by prayer — surely if we have faith, prayer will be an important factor in life and will be a joy. A man who has his heart set upon gaining a home for himself and family, will toil and endure hardships and difficulties — and do so hopefully and joyfully. His desire for the object to be gained, and his love for his family — make a duty a privilege. Likewise our hope of gaining Heaven, and the love we have for Jesus — will surely give joy to the duty of prayer.
Prayer becomes an instinct of the soul at conversion — but as we grow in spiritual knowledge, we may in a measure lose that instinct (the more intelligent creatures are — the less instinct they have) and come to regard prayer as a duty — such an important one, however, that it becomes a business full of activity, power, and enjoyment.
Have faith in God when you pray. Make him real to you. Know when you kneel to pray, that your feeble voice is going to be heard in Heaven, and is going to have power with God, and bring you that for which you need and ask for. Faith will make prayer hopeful and joyful. As we bow upon our knees and by faith see God in his great love and care for us and readiness to hear our supplication — the affections of our heart are aroused, causing us to love him with an intensity that makes the hour of communion with him, both sacred and delightful.
“My God, is any hour so sweet,
From blush of morn to evening star,
As that which calls me to your feet —
The hour of prayer?
Blessed is the tranquil hour of morn
And blessed that hour of solemn eve
When on the wings of prayer upborne,
The world I leave.
Then is my strength, by you renewed,
Buoyancy to my hopes is given;
Then do you cheer my solitude
With light from Heaven.
No words can tell what sweet relief
There for my every need I find,
What strength for warfare, balm for grief,
What peace of mind.
Hushed is each doubt, gone every fear;
My spirit seems in Heaven to stay.
It is the hour when every tear
Is wiped away.
Lord, until I reach that blissful shore,
No privilege so dear shall be
As thus my inmost soul to pour
In prayer to thee!”