DEAR FRIENDS,—I think that many of these Monday evening meetings for prayer will never be forgotten by us who have been privileged to be present at them. Perhaps, even throughout eternity, we shall gratefully recall the hallowed hours that we have spent here around the throne of grace. I know that, very often, as I have gone home, I have felt that the spirit of prayer has been so manifestly poured out in our midst that we have been carried right up to the gates of Heaven on the wings of believing supplication, and the sacred anointing which we have received from the Holy Spirit’s gracious influences has left a blessed perfume and holy savour upon us long after we have left the assembly.
If we are to receive such a blessing tonight, and whenever we meet together in the Name of Jesus, for prayer and praise, we must sincerely desire it, confidently expect it, and go straight to God and ask for it. There is no need for us to go beating about the bush, and not telling the Lord distinctly what it is that we crave at His hands. Nor will it be seemly for us to make any attempts to use fine language; but let us ask God, in the simplest and most direct manner, for just the things that we want for ourselves, or for others, or for His cause and Kingdom. Then let us remember our Lord’s words, “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them;” and, at the close of the meeting, let us go on our way rejoicing, and thankful for what we have received.
I believe in business prayers,—I mean, prayers in which you take to God one of the many precious promises which He has given us in His Word, and expect it to be fulfilled as certainly as we look for the money to be given to us when we go to the bank to cash a cheque or a note. We should not think of going there, lolling over the counter, chatting with the clerks upon every conceivable subject except the one thing for which we had gone to the bank, and then coming away without the coin we needed; but we should lay before the clerk the promise to pay the bearer a certain sum, tell him in what form we wished to take the amount, count the cash after him, and then go our way to attend to other business.
That is just an illustration of the method in which we should draw supplies from the Bank of Heaven. We should seek out the promise which applies to that particular case, plead it before the Lord in faith, expect to have the blessing to which it relates; and then, having received it, let us proceed to the next duty devolving upon us.
There are many requests, which have been sent to us for presentation this evening. Among them is one from a venerable clergyman, who has often entreated us to remember him in prayer, and who still suffers from such deep depression of spirit that he is unable satisfactorily to discharge the duties of his sacred office. Then there are letters from friends who are in various stages of spiritual sickness, and who desire us to bring their cases before the Lord in believing and sympathetic supplication.
We will pray that the mental affliction of this dear servant of Christ may be removed in God’s own time, and that the soul maladies of these other tried ones may also be cured by the great Physician. Verily, there is a God that heareth prayer. Do any of you doubt it? If so, you will not receive answers to your petitions, “for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
I must, however, by way of warning, just mention that I have known some persons who, with altogether wrong motives, have tried to use for very improper purposes the fact that God hears prayer. They have set their hearts on something which they fancy that they want; and although they cannot reasonably expect that God will do what they ask, because there is no real need that it should be done, they keep on praying, and are sorely disappointed because they are not heard. If you were to say to your child, “I will give you anything you like to ask for,” you certainly would not be so unkind as to let him have a dose of prussic acid for breakfast, or a razor to cut his throat with, however earnestly he might plead for such things. In your promise, there is always implied the natural reservation that, if your boy asks foolishly, you will refuse to give him what he asks.
If God had ever given to me absolute power in prayer, He would practically have put the reins of the universe into my hands; and I should very soon want to kneel down, and cry, “O Lord, wilt Thou not take away from me such a dangerous weapon? If it is left in my hands, I fear that I shall be very likely to use it for that which is directly opposed to my own best interests and to Thy glory.” We are not to take the place of God, or to make a god of ourselves. God will attend to the cry of His children, but He will be their Father, and will only comply with their petitions if He sees that they are right and proper.
When you tell your child that you will give him anything he asks for, it is clearly understood that his requests must be reasonable if they are to be granted. You do not mean that your boy is to be master of the family, and that his will is to rule the whole household; but you mean that you will give him anything that a loving and obedient child ought to ask for, and that his prayer must be rational, and the right kind of petition to come from the mouth of your son.
God has never given an absolutely unconditional promise to hear every prayer that may be presented to Him; but, side by side with the promise, He has put other things which qualify and explain it. For instance, in one of our Lord’s last addresses to His disciples, He said, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered;” and He teaches us how to pray, and what to pray for.
David knew enough of the will of God to be able to say, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Do not imagine that the Lord will give you the desires of your heart unless first you delight in Him. If a man really, in his inmost soul, does delight in the Lord, his mind and God’s mind will be in harmony, and he will ask in prayer what God will be able and willing to grant. If his delight is in God Himself, and not merely in God’s gifts, he will say, “Bless His dear Name, let Him do what He will with me, I will still be satisfied, and will praise Him both for what He bestows and what He withholds.”
If you delight more in God’s gifts than in God Himself, you are practically setting up another god above Him, and this you must never do.
Even when a man truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ, there may be within Him something which is very like idolatry. There is even a danger of loving some things which are associated with Christ as much as we love Christ Himself; and we must be on the watch against such a feeling as that.
Love Him, dear friends, even when you do not realize His presence; love Him even when you do not feel His love; if you cannot walk in the light of His countenance, hide beneath the shadow of His wings; and, under all circumstances, let it be your joy still to say, “He is worthy to be praised, He is ever to be blessed, whatever He does with me.” Ask your Lord so to teach you by His gracious Spirit that no prayer shall come from your lips, and that no desire shall be formed in your heart, except that which is in accordance with His holy will.
It would be wise for you to pray in this fashion, “Lord, do not take the least notice of any petition of mine if I ask for anything that is not for Thy glory and for my own and others’ good!”
The very best of us are often only like sick people, and you know how they get strange notions into their heads, and talk all manner of nonsense, and have a lot of curious and foolish whims and fancies. I would like to say to you now that, if I have you for my nurse in any illness that may come upon me, and I then make strange and unreasonable requests, “Be so good as to thwart me when I want that which would do me harm. Be so kind as to be cruel to me sometimes. Understand that this proviso of mine shall override all the petitions that I may put up when I am suffering from fever. Do not mind what I say then; do not give heed to me when I talk nonsense; but let me have only what I ask for when I am in my right senses, when I am my inmost, truest, healthiest self. Ask my physician what you should do, and believe that my wish is for you to do with me and for me exactly as he directs.”
It seems to me that such prayers as these which we are asked to present tonight may be offered. I cannot say as much as that for all the requests that I receive, for some of them are foolish, if not worse than that. When a person, who is in want of money, prays to God that I may give him a hundred pounds, I can assure him that I shall not do anything of the kind. If God tells me to give him a hundred pounds, that will be another matter. I should long ago have been in the bankruptcy court if I had granted half the demands of that sort which have been made upon me; and some other requests which I have received have not been much more reasonable.
A young man comes to me, and wants to preach in the Tabernacle, because he says that the Lord has told him that he is to take my place one Lord’s-day morning. My reply is, “Yes, of course I will let you preach when the Lord tells me to do so; but it is a lop-sided revelation as it now stands, for the Lord has not revealed to me my share in the transaction;” and the young man goes his way disappointed because his prayer is not answered! Do not any of you pray that which is manifestly nonsense; pray for something reasonable and sensible, and then you may have your prayers answered if they are according to the will of God.
I feel all the more free to speak thus to you, dear friends, because you are about as sensible a lot of people as I can ever hope to find; yet, every now and then, some poor crooked, cranky soul gets in amongst us, who sadly misreads or misapplies God’s Word, and then begins to doubt God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promise. He makes the Lord seem to say what He never said, and never meant to say. Let no one act so foolishly, but let us exercise common sense concerning our prayers, and in all things submit our will to the wise will of our Heavenly Father.
C. H. Spurgeon, Only a Prayer Meeting: Forty Addresses at Metropolitan Tabernacle and Other Prayer-Meetings