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meant to displease his family, the leaders of his nation, the venerable fathers of his people's faith; it meant desertion by his friends and calumny from his enemies; it meant that he would be thought crazy by his household, a traitor by his nation, and a heretic by his church.
This great battle of the Master was waged in prayer, before ever its results were seen in public. In many a secret conflict the engagement was fought out, until in Gethsemane he "offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Heb. 5:7). That sort of praying is a real battle, not a dress parade. Jeremy Taylor may call prayer "the peace of our spirits, the stillness of our thoughts”; but when David Brainerd, colonial missionary to the Indians, comes out from one of his Gethsemanes, saying, "My joints were loosed; the sweat ran down my face and body as if it would dissolve,” it is clear that Taylor's definition is inadequate. Prayer is a fight for the power to see and the courage to do the will of God. No man's life can altogether lack that struggle, if he is to achieve dependable integrity that cannot be bought or scared. The best guaranty of a character that is not for sale is this battlefield of prayer, where day by day the issue is settled that we shall live "not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts” (I Thess. 2:4).
To the great pray-ers the practice of prayer has meant this vital struggle of which we have been speaking. On that secret battlefield faith and confidence have been reconquered. right desires have been confirmed, and men have gone from it to live “in the sight of God.” When men say that they have no time for praying, they can hardly have seen the truth that prayer is this innermost, decisive business of life. The time involved in the deliberate practice of prayer may indeed be brief or long. Whitefield, the great companion of the Wesleys, used to lie all day prostrate in prayer, and Luther, in the crisis of his life, said, “I am so busy now that if I did not spend two or three hours each day in prayer I could not get through the day.” But Spurgeon, quite as good a Christian, when speaking of prolonged prayer said, “I could not do it even if my eternity depended upon it. Besides,
if I go to the bank with a check, what do I wait loafing around the premises for when I have got my money!” The length of time is not the decisive matter in prayer. “We may pray most when we say least,” as St. Augustine remarked; "and we may pray least when we say most.” With many of us time must be divided, as is the land of the United States. The little District given to congress for the Federal Government, would on any quantitative basis be most ill-proportioned. Texas is 4,430 times as large as the District of Columbia, and even Rhode Island would contain it twenty times and over. So one, regarding the brief time that a Christian spends in deliberate prayer, might cry out against such ill proportion, seeing how business and recreation of necessity preoccupy so many hours. But is not the answer clear? In quantity the little District is small, but it is preeminently powerful. The government is there. Nothing goes on in all these states utterly out of the control and influence of that District. Its mandates are over the commerce and legislation of all the states; and every mooted question, not elsewhere resolvable, is taken before its Supreme Court for ultimate decision.
Granted then, that our spiritual District of Columbia must be smaller in area than our State of Texas, have we done with that inward District what our fathers did in the nation? Have we solemnly chosen it and set it sacredly aside? Have we located there the central government, so that all power issues thence and all questions come back to it for settlement? Is it apparent to those who know us best that we would rather any other place in our lives should be taken by the enemy than this Capital of our Country, the place of prayer?
SUGGESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
What determines whether a man's good intentions will issue
Why do good intentions fail?
What are the enemies that oppose a man's dominant desires ? Upon what does their strength depend?
What happens to the man whose good intentions habitually fail to result in action ?
What is the relative importance of time for preparation and
execution in a successful achievement?
To what extent is a victory in a great public battle of life dependent upon previous victory in an unseen battle?
How far are right decisions in times of crisis dependent upon the controlling purpose of life? Where is this purpose determined ?
What is the relation of secret prayer to public action?
What was the relation of the Master's habit of prayer to the controlling purpose of his life? What suggestions are given in the record of the temptations?
What place did Jesus give to time for prayer in the critical periods of his life?
What has been the relation of the prayers of praying men to their public action?
What great issues of life must be fought out in secret prayer?
Why does time for secret prayer give assurance of victory? What constitutes complete personal victory for a man in his life struggles? How far is it dependent on securing one's ends?
In these "prayers of preparation" what is the nature of the answer expected of God?
How far is it true that the longer the time spent in secret
prayer the greater the victories in practical life?
Unselfishness in Prayer
First Day, Tenth Week
And straightway he constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side, till he should send the multitudes away. And after he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into the mountain apart to pray: and when even was come, he was there alone.—Matt. 14:22, 23.
We are surely right in saying that the dominant motive of the Master's life was service. Yet we find him here sending away multitudes, some of whom he might never have another chance to address, and retiring into the solitude of the hills to pray.
Was this selfish? Must we not suppose that he sent away the people, sought solitude, and gave himself to prayer, because he believed that by so doing he was rendering the largest service to others. Make real in your thought the truth of this; consider he increased power for usefulness that came to the Master in his prayer, the recovery from spiritual exhaustion and the fresh sense of God's companionship that he there secured. Are we not often shallow in our service and superficial in our influence, just because we do not escape the multitude long enough for the ministry of unselfish praying alone ?
O Merciful Lord, who hast made of one Blood and redeemed by one Ransome all Nations of Men, let me never harden my heart against any that partake of the same Nature and Redemption with me, but grant me an Universal Charity towards all Men. Give me, O Thou Father of Compassions,
such a tenderness and meltingness of Heart that I may be deeply affected with all the Miseries and Calamities outward or inward of my Brethren, and diligently keep them in Love: Grant that I may not only seek my own things, but also the things of others. O that this mind may be in us all, which was in the Lord Jesus, that we may love as Brethren, be Pitiful and Courteous, and endeavour heartily and vigorously to keep the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace, and the God of Grace, Mercy and Peace be with us all. Amen.-Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471).
Second Day, Tenth Week
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him: and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee? I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth.—Luke 11:5-8.
Notice the suggestive situation which the Master here describes. The one who prays is asking for bread, not for his own sake, but for his friend's. The need of another has made him feel the poverty of his own life; “I have nothing to set before him.” How much such praying ought to be done !-by parents who feel their insufficiency in meeting their children's deepest needs, by friends who take seriously the fine possibilities of mutual service, by every teacher or minister or physician who deals intimately with human lives, by all in responsible positions in the social or political life of a community. Many of us, like the man in the parable, do not see how empty our cupboards are until a friend "comes to us from a journey," and then our barren uselessness, our ill-equipped spirits, our meager souls shame
Such persistent importunity as this belongs rightfully to a man who is praying unselfishly—whose cry is motived by desire to have plenty to set before his friend.
Grant unto us, O Lord God, that we may love one another