Deep in our hearts all of us know that prayer is vital for our spiritual development; without it there can be no true fellowship with God, power for effective witness or holiness of character. The more we pray, the opposition of the flesh becomes weaker, communion with God becomes sweeter and the presence of the Lord sheds its radiance throughout our lives. Why is it although we all recognize the vital role of prayer that we neglect very often to pray as much as we ought? The reasons are not far to seek. The first is a natural sluggishness against which we all have to contend. Naturally we are unspiritual; to the flesh prayer seems unpractical and tedious. Another major detriment to regular prayer nowadays is the pitch and tempo of modern life. For many of us the day is a non-stop ‘doing the next thing’ to some particular deadline.
Before our prayers can really be effective, there must be absolute and thorough sincerity in the seeking of God’s guidance in our lives. Under the guise of seeking to know God’s will, very often what we want is God’s corroboration of our own! I draw your attention to a glaring instance recorded in Scripture for our learning; it is found in Jeremiah, chapters 42 to 44.
After repeated forewarnings from God’s faithful prophet, Jerusalem had at last fallen to the desolator; the city had been reduced to a tangled heap. The royal princes of Judah had been slain; the captured Judean King had been blinded and dragged in chains to Babylon. The bulk of the people too had been carried captive into exile. Only a poverty stricken few had been left in the land of Judah, among whom was Jeremiah. Under the leadership of Johannan, some purposed to flee into Egypt to escape the expected reprisal of King Nebuchadnezzar. Before going, however, they thought it best to inquire for guidance of the LORD, so they came to Jeremiah:
And said unto Jeremiah the prophet, Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the LORD thy God, even for all this remnant; (for we are left but a few of many, as thine eyes do behold us:)
That the LORD thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do. (Jeremiah 42:2-3)
This seemed sincere enough; and they certainly needed guidance in their predicament. Jeremiah responds to their request:
Then Jeremiah the prophet said unto them, I have heard you; behold, I will pray unto the LORD your God according to your words; and it shall come to pass, that whatsoever thing the LORD shall answer you, I will declare it unto you; I will keep nothing back from you. (Jeremiah 42:4)
To this the enquiring remnant responded:
Then they said to Jeremiah, The LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the LORD thy God shall send thee to us. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the LORD our God. (Jeremiah 42:5-6)
Could any appeal to Divine guidance have seemed more sincere? Yet when Jeremiah brought them the Lord’s answer that they should not go to Egypt but remain in Judea, this is what they said:
As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth…….. (Jeremiah 44:16)
The fact is, that these people were not genuinely seeking the Divine will at all, but a corroboration of their own. Deep down they wanted their own way and they were even angry when God disagreed! There is surely a powerful lesson for us all in this incident.
In the Scriptures there seems to be four levels of prayer indicated; a necessity, a duty, a privilege and a delight.
Prayer is a necessity; without it godliness withers and the spiritual life atrophies. Bible knowledge becomes stale and lifeless apart from prayer, just as a well fed body ails and dies without fresh air.
Prayer is a duty:
- As an expression of worship it is our duty to God.
- As a means of intercession it is our duty to others.
- As a means of sanctification it is a duty to ourselves.
- And because prayer is a duty, prayerlessness is sin, (1 Samuel 12:23).
Prayer is a transcendant privilege. It gives access to the highest throne through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our access never varies with our own fluctuating condition; it remains constant because it is based on a finished atonement and an immutable covenant.
The highest level of prayer is when prayer becomes our delight, opening up to us a heart to heart communion with God. When prayer becomes this dear delight of communion, its influence upon the human mind is wonderfully healing and exhilarating. It releases the nervous system from tensions, relieves the mind from pressures and restores a true sense of values in life. It is then that we shall hear in our deepest consciousness, such promises as to be found for example in Isaiah:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)
And again in the Psalms:
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)
There is for all of us the need for desire and resolution, for where resolution persists, prayer will become the most natural and continuous occupation of the heart.