10 The school of prayer

And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

Now, do you dare to pray “Lord, teach me to pray“? Be honest.You are afraid of trials and afflictions; and I believe that both you and I are willing to admit that we are also afraid of God. Pure instinct seems to tell us that God is going to deal harshly with us, and the same instinct seems to tell us that we can rely on ourselves, and that we understand what is good and what is not.

But remember one thing; neither you nor nor I will be happy till we yield ourselves to His pierced hands and say to Him:

“Send me e’en where death defies me,

Send me where oppression tries me,

Through dark storms upon life’s sea.

As Thou wilt, beloved Saviour,

If Thou wilt but show Thy favour,

Constantly my staff to be.”

By so doing you will be enrolling voluntarily in that school of prayer which the Spirit has established for such as do not know how to pray.

So few of us become skilled petitioners because we do not continue in the school of prayer. The course is not an easy one, and the difficulties do consist alone in the temporal and spiritual trials mentioned before. There is something about this school which tries our patience sorely. Jesus Himself talks about it indirectly on several occasions, especially in Luke 18:1-8 where He says “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint”. We become faint very easily. How many times have we not earnestly resolved in our minds to pray for certain people and for certain causes, only to find ourselves growing faint? We were not willing to expend the effort, and little by little we ceased to intercede for others.

It is the Spirit of prayer who superintends the instruction in the school of prayer. He does not offer a variety of subjects, but concentrates purposely on a few central things. It is not necessary to master a large variety of subjcts in order to become skilled in prayer. I would mention briefly only the following:

In the first place, the Spirit must be given opportunity to reveal Christ to us every day. This is absolutely essential. Christ is such that we need only to “see” Him, and prayer will rise from our hearts, voluntary prayer, confident prayer. We know that Christ can answer prayer. We know that it gives Him joy to do so. Prayer and intercession have become a delightful and fascinating means of co-operation between Christ and the praying soul.

In the second place, the instruction which the Spirit imparts aims at making us earnestly concerned. Intercessory prayer is like an ellipse which rotates about two definite points; Christ and our need. The work of the Spirit in connection with prayer is to show us both not merely theoretically but practically, making them vital to us from day to day. Comfort yourself with the thought that it is the Spirit who is working these things in your heart every day. It is not necessary for you to strive in your own strength to keep your eyes open to Christ and the needs of the world. No, all you need to do is to listen to the Spirit as He speaks to you every day in the Word and through prayer about Christ and your need, and you will soon notice yourself making progress in prayer and intersession.

In the third place, the Spirit teaches us the necessity of self-denial in connection with prayer. There is something about prayer and intersession which calls for more self-denial than other work to which the Spirit calls us. The greater part of the work of intersession is, of course, done in secret; and work of this kind requires the payment of greater effort than work which can be seen of men. It is astonishing to see how much it means to us to have others see what we do. It is not only that we all have a great weakness for the praise of others, but the fact that our work is appreciated and valued is a remarkable stimulant to us. Furthermore, we all love to see results from our labours. But the work of prayer is of such a nature that it is impossible for us to know definitely whether what happens is a fruit of our own intercessions or that of others.

You may have prayed for some unconverted people in your neighbourhood, perhaps for many years. Then a revival starts in your neighbourhood, and the first ones to be converted are the ones for whom you have been praying so faithfully. No-one besides yourself, however, knows anything about that. You have kept it, as is right and proper, a secret between yourself and God. Consequently, no-one talks about what you have been doing. But the name of the preacher who has spoken at the meeting, on the other hand, is on everybody’s lips. All are loud in their praises of him and say “My, what a great evangelist!” My friend, when you begin to grow tired of the quiet, unnoticed work of praying, then remember that He who sees in secret shall reward you openly. He has heard your prayers, and He knows exactly what you have accomplished by means of them, for the salvation of souls. If not before, then on the Great Day, you will come bringing in the sheaves, the fruit of your labours.

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