01 What is prayer?

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

To pray is to let Jesus come into our hearts. This teaches us, in the first place, that it is not our prayer which moves the Lord Jesus. It is Jesus who moves us to pray. He knocks, and thereby makes known His desire to come in to us. Our prayers are always a result of Jesus’ knocking at our hearts’ door.

This throws new light upon the old prophetic passage:  And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear (Isaiah 65:24). yes, indeed, before we call, He graciously makes known to us what gift He has just decided to impart to us. He knocks in order to move us by prayer to open the door and accept the gift which He has already appointed for us.

From time immemorial, prayer has been spoken of as the breath of the soul, and the figure is an excellent one indeed. The air which our body requires envelopes us on every hand. The air itself seeks to enter our bodies and, for this reason, exerts pressure upon us. It is well known that it is more difficult to hold one’s breath than it is to breathe. We need but to exercise our organs of respiration, and air will enter forthwith into our lungs and preform its life-giving function to the entire body.

The air which our souls need also envelops all of us at all times and on all sides. God is round about us on every hand, with His many-sided and all sufficient grace. All we need to do is to open our hearts. Prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts. He says if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him. Notice carefully every word here. It is not our prayer which draws Jesus into our hearts, nor is it our prayer which moves Jesus to come into us. All He needs is access. He enters in of His own accord, because He desires to come in. And He enters in everywhere He is not denied admittance. The air enters in quietly when we breathe, and does its normal work in our lungs, so Jesus enters quietly into our hearts, and does His blessed work there.

He calls it to “sup” with us. In biblical language the common meal is symbolical of intimate and joyous fellowship. This affords a new glimpse into the nature of prayer, showing us that God has designed prayer as a means of intimate and joyous fellowship between God and man.

To pray is nothing more than to lift the eye of the prayer unto the Saviour who stands and knocks, yea knocks through our very need, in order to gain access to our distress, sup with us, and glorify His name.

Let us think of patients who are ill with tuberculosis. The physicians in the older days put them out in the sunlight and fresh air, both in summer and in winter (today they give them drugs and in rare occasions operate on them). There they would lie until a cure was gradually effected by the rays of the sun. The recovery of these patients is not dependent upon their thinking, in the sense of understanding the effects of the sun’s rays or how these work (or how the drugs work for that matter). Neither does their recovery depend upon the feelings they experience during the rest cure. Nor does it depend upon their wills in the sense of exerting themselves to become well. On the contrary, the treatment is most successful if the patients lie very quietly and are passive, exerting neither their intellects nor their wills.

Prayer is just as simple. We are all saturated with the pernicious virus of sin; every one of us is a tubercular patient doomed to die! But “the Sun of righteousness” has arisen “with healing in His wings”. All that is required of us, if we desire to be healed both for time and for eternity, is to let the Sun of righteousness reach us, and then to abide in the sunlight of His righteousness.

To pray is nothing more than to lie in the sunshine of His grace, to expose our distress of body and soul to those healing rays which can in a wonderful way counteract and render ineffective the bacteria of sin. To be a Christian is in truth to have gained a place in the sun.

Prayer is something deeper than words. It is present in the soul before it has been formulated in words, and it abides in the soul after the last words of prayer have passed our lips. Prayer is an attitude of our hearts, an attitude of the mind. Prayer is a definite attitude which He in heaven immediately recognizes as prayer, as an appeal to His heart. Whether it takes the form of words or not does not mean anything to God, only to ourselves.

What is the spiritual condition? What is the attitude that God recognizes as prayer? I will give two answers here:

1. Helplessness

This is unquestionably the first and surest indication of a praying heart. As far as we can see, prayer has been ordained only for the helpless. It is the last resort of the helpless; indeed, the very last way out. We try everything before we finally resort to prayer.

Listen to this,you who are often so helpless that you do not know what to do. At times you do not even know how to pray. Your mind seems full of sin and impurity. Your mind is preoccupied with what the Bible calls the world. God and eternal things seem so distant and foreign that you add sin to to sin by desiring to approach God in such a state of mind.

Listen, my friend! Your helplessness is your best prayer. It calls to the heart of God with greater effect than all your uttered pleas. He hears it from the very moment that you are seized with helplessness, and He becomes actively engaged at once in hearing and answering the prayer of helplessness. He hears today as He heard the helpless and wordless prayer of the sick man of the palsy (Mark 2).

If you are a mother, you will understand very readily this aspect of prayer. Your infant child cannot formulate in words a single petition to you. Yet the little one prays the best way he knows how. All he can do is cry, but you understand very well his pleading cry. Moreover, the little one need not even cry. All you need to do is to see him in all his helpless dependence upon you, and a prayer touches your mother-heart, a prayer which is stronger than the loudest cry.

2. Faith

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

I come now to another aspect of that attitude which constitutes the essence of prayer, that condition of the heart which God recognizes as prayer rising to Him from earth, whether it is uttered or not. Without faith there can be no prayer, no matter how great our helplessness may be. Helplessness united with faith produces prayer. Without faith our helplessness will only be a cry of distress in the night.

I need but mention faith, and every man  and woman of prayer will know that we are touching upon one of the aspects of prayer life about which we are the most sensitive. The Bible contains many pointed passages about praying in faith if we expect to be heard.

My doubting friend, your case is not as bad as you might think it is. You have more faith than you think you have. You have faith enough to pray; you have faith enough to believe that you will be heard. Faith is a strange thing; it often conceals itself in such a way that we can neither see nor find it. Nevertheless, it is there; and it manifests itself by definite and unmistakable signs.

Thew essence of faith is to come to Christ. This is the first and the last and the surest indication that faith is alive. A sinner has nothing but sin and distress. The Spirit of God has made that clear to him. And faith manifests itself clearly and plainly when a sinner, instead of fleeing from God and his own responsibility, as he did before, comes into the presence of Christ with all his sin and distress. The sinner who does this believes.

It is written him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37), and  we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

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