True praying is born of vital oneness with Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and it springs from the deep, overflowing fountains of tender compassion for man’s eternal good–and a consuming zeal for the glory of God. Prayer as a mere habit, as a performance gone through by routine or in a professional way, is a dead and rotten thing. Such praying has no connection with the praying for which we plead.
Prayer is humbling work. It abases intellect and pride, crucifies vainglory and signs our spiritual bankruptcy. All this is hard for flesh and blood to bear. It is easier not to pray than to bear it. So we come to one of the crying evils, maybe of all time: little or no praying. Of these two evils, perhaps little praying is worse than no praying. Little praying is a kind of make-believe, a salve for the conscience, a farce and a delusion. The little value we put on prayer is evident from the little time we give to it. How feeble, vain and little is such praying compared with the time and energy devoted to praying by holy people in and out of the Bible!
Those Who Prayed
To those who think praying their main business and devote time to it according to this high estimate of its importance, God commits the keys of His Kingdom, and by them He works His spiritual wonders in this world.
Jacob’s victory of faith could not have been gained without that all-night wrestling. God’s acquaintance is not made by quick visits. Much time with God alone is the secret of knowing Him and of influence with Him. He yields to the persistency of a faith that knows Him. He bestows His richest gifts on those who declare their desire for and appreciation of those gifts by the constancy as well as the earnestness of their importunity.
Paul prayed day and night. It took time from very important interests for Daniel to pray three times a day. David’s morning, noon and night praying were doubtless on many occasions very protracted. While we have no specific account of the time these Bible saints spent in prayer, the indications are that they consumed much time in prayer.
We would not have anyone think that the value of prayer is to be measured by the clock, but our purpose is to impress on our minds the necessity of being much alone with God; and that if this feature has not been produced by our faith, then our faith is of a feeble and surface type.
People who have most fully illustrated Christ in their character–and who have most powerfully affected the world for Him–have been those who spent so much time with God as to make it a notable feature of their lives. [John] Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer and began at 4 in the morning. One who knew him well wrote: “He thought prayer to be more his business than anything else, and I have seen him come out of his closet with a serenity of face next to shining.” [Methodist leader] John Fletcher “stained the walls of his room by the breath of his prayers.” Sometimes he would pray all night–always, frequently and with great earnestness. His whole life was a life of prayer. “I would not rise from my seat,” he said, “without lifting my heart to God.” His greeting to a friend was always: “Do I meet you praying?” Martin Luther said: “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” He had a motto: “He that has prayed well has studied well.”
Bishop [Thomas] Ken was so much with God that his soul was said to be God-enamored. He was with God before the clock struck 3 every morning. Bishop [Francis] Asbury said: “I propose to rise at 4 o’clock as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation.” [Scottish minister] Samuel Rutherford, the fragrance of whose piety is still rich, rose at 3 in the morning to meet God in prayer. [Puritan] Joseph Alleine arose at 4 o’clock for his business of praying until 8. If he heard other tradesmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim: “O how this shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?”
Prayer in the Morning
The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. Morning listlessness is the index to a listless heart. It is not simply the getting up that puts us to the front and makes us captain generals in God’s hosts, but it is the ardent desire which stirs and breaks all self-indulgent chains. Getting up gives vent, increase and strength to the desire. If they had lain in bed and indulged themselves, the desire would have been quenched. The desire aroused them and put them on the stretch for God, and this heeding and acting on the call gave their faith its grasp on God and gave their hearts the sweetest and fullest revelation of God.
Time With God
Public prayers, as a rule, ought to be short and condensed; yet in our private communions with God, time is a feature essential to its value. Prayer that is felt as a mighty force is the immediate product of much time spent with God. Our short prayers owe their point and efficiency to the long ones that have preceded them. The short prevailing prayer cannot be prayed by one who has not prevailed with God in a mightier struggle of long continuance.
Calmness, grasp and strength are never the companions of hurry. Short devotions deplete spiritual vigor, arrest spiritual progress, sap spiritual foundations, and blight the root and bloom of spiritual life.
Spiritual work is taxing work, and we are loath to do it. Praying–true praying–costs an outlay of serious attention and of time, which flesh and blood do not relish. We can habituate ourselves to our beggarly praying until it looks well to us–at least it keeps up a decent form and quiets conscience. We can slight our praying and not realize the peril until the foundations are gone. To be little with God is to be little for God. It takes good time for the full flow of God into the spirit. Short devotions cut the pipe of God’s full flow. It takes time in the secret places to get the full revelation of God.
More time and early hours for prayer would revive and invigorate many a decayed spiritual life. More time and early hours for prayer would be manifest in holy living. A holy life would not be so rare or so difficult a thing if our devotions were not so short and hurried. We live shabbily because we pray meanly. Plenty of time to feast in our closets will bring marrow and fatness to our lives.
Our ability to stay with God in our closet measures our ability to stay with God out of the closet. Tarrying in the closet instructs and wins. We are taught by it, and the greatest victories are often the results of great waiting–waiting until works and plans are exhausted. Silent and patient waiting gains the crown.
To pray is the greatest thing we can do, and to do it well there must be calmness, time and deliberation. True praying has the largest results for good; poor praying, the least. We cannot do too much real praying. We must learn anew the worth of prayer, enter anew the school of prayer. Nothing takes more time to learn. And if we would learn the wondrous art, we must not give a fragment here and there–we must demand and hold with iron grasp the best hours of the day for God and prayer.