A Closed Mouth and Silent Heart
My heart was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned. Then I spoke with my tongue.— Psalm 39:3
Prayer among evangelical Christians is always in danger of degenerating into a glorified gold rush. Almost every book on prayer deals with the “get” element mainly. How to get things we want from God occupies most of the space. Now, we gladly admit that we may ask for and receive specific gifts and benefits in answer to prayer, but we must never forget that the highest kind of prayer is never the making of requests. Prayer at its holiest moment is the entering into God to a place of such blessed union as makes miracles seem tame and remarkable answers to prayer appear something very far short of wonderful by comparison.
Holy men of soberer and quieter times than ours knew well the power of silence. David said, “I was dumb with silence. I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me; while I was musing the fire burned; then spake I with my tongue.” There is a tip here for God’s modern prophets. The heart seldom gets hot while the mouth is open. A closed mouth before God and silent heart are indispensable for the reception of certain kinds of truth. No man is qualified to speak who has not first listened. (Set Of The Sail: Directions for Your Spiritual Journey, pp. 14-15)
At Home in the Prayer Chamber
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. — Daniel 6:10
Thomas a’ Kempis wrote that the man of God ought to be more at home in his prayer chamber than before the public....
No man should stand before an audience who has not first stood before God. Many hours of communion should precede one hour in the pulpit. The prayer chamber should be more familiar than the public platform. Prayer should be continuous, preaching but intermittent.
It is significant that the schools teach everything about preaching except the important part, praying. For this weakness the schools are not to be blamed, for the reason that prayer cannot be taught; it can only be done. The best any school or any book (or any article) can do is to recommend prayer and exhort to its practice. Praying itself must be the work of the individual. That it is the one religious work which gets done with the least enthusiasm cannot but be one of the tragedies of our times. (God Tells The Man Who Cares: God Speaks to Those Who Take Time to Listen, 70-71)
Not Asking for Anything
I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live. — Psalm 116:1-2
I think that some of the greatest prayer is prayer where you don’t say one single word or ask for anything. Now God does answer and He does give us what we ask for. That’s plain; nobody can deny that unless he denies the Scriptures. But that’s only one aspect of prayer, and it’s not even the important aspect. Sometimes I go to God and say, “God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already.” God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me.
We go to God as we send a boy to a grocery store with a long written list, “God, give me this, give me this, and give me this,” and our gracious God often does give us what we want. But I think God is disappointed because we make Him to be no more than a source of what we want. Even our Lord Jesus is presented too often much as “Someone who will meet your need.” That’s the throbbing heart of modern evangelism. You’re in need and Jesus will meet your need. He’s the Need-meeter. Well, He is that indeed; but, ah, He’s infinitely more than that. (Worship: The Missing Jewel, 24-25)
Our First Responsibility
I rise before the dawning of the morning, and cry for help; I hope in Your word. My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word. — Psalm 119:147-148
Briefly, the way to escape religion as a front is to make it a fount. See to it that we pray more than we preach and we will never preach ourselves out. Stay with God in the secret place longer than we are with men in the public place and the fountain of our wisdom will never dry up. Keep our hearts open to the inflowing Spirit and we will not become exhausted by the outflow. Cultivate the acquaintance of God more than the friendship of men and we will always have abundance of bread to give to the hungry.
Our first responsibility is not to the public but to God and our own souls. (God Tells The Man Who Cares: God Speaks to Those Who Take Time to Listen, 115-116)
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. — Matthew 6:6
Among the enemies to devotion none is so harmful as distractions.
Whatever excites the curiosity, scatters the thoughts, disquiets the heart, absorbs the interests or shifts our life focus from the kingdom of God within us to the world around us—that is a distraction; and the world is full of them. Our science-based civilization has given us many benefits but it has multiplied our distractions and so taken away far more than it has given....
The remedy for distractions is the same now as it was in earlier and simpler times, viz., prayer, meditation and the cultivation of the inner life. The psalmist said “Be still, and know,” and Christ told us to enter into our closet, shut the door and pray unto the Father.
It still works....
Distractions must be conquered or they will conquer us. So let us cultivate simplicity; let us want fewer things; let us walk in the Spirit; let us fill our minds with the Word of God and our hearts with praise. In that way we can live in peace even in such a distraught world as this. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” (Set Of The Sail: Directions for Your Spiritual Journey, pp. 129-132)
Prayer Changes the Man
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. — John 14:13-14
In all our praying, however, it is important that we keep in mind that God will not alter His eternal purposes at the word of a man.
We do not pray in order to persuade God to change His mind. Prayer is not an assault upon the reluctance of God, nor an effort to secure a suspension of His will for us or for those for whom we pray. Prayer is not intended to overcome God and “move His arm.”
God will never be other than Himself, no matter how many people pray, nor how long nor how earnestly.
God’s love desires the best for all of us, and He desires to give us the best at any cost. He will open rivers in desert places, still turbulent waves, quiet the wind, bring water from the rock, send an angel to release an apostle from prison, feed an orphanage, open a land long closed to the gospel. All these things and a thousand others He has done and will do in answer to prayer, but only because it had been His will to do it from the beginning.
No one persuades Him.
What the praying man does is to bring his will into line with the will of God so God can do what He has all along been willing to do. Thus prayer changes the man and enables God to change things in answer to man’s prayer. (Price Of Neglect: and Other Essays, pp. 51-52)
Take Time to Listen
The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. — Psalm 119:130-131
The Quakers had many fine ideas about life, and there is a story from them that illustrates the point I am trying to make. It concerns a conversation between Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a Quaker woman he had met. Maybe Coleridge was boasting a bit, but he told the woman how he had arranged the use of time so he would have no wasted hours. He said he memorized Greek while dressing and during breakfast. He went on with his list of other mental activities—making notes, reading, writing, formulating thoughts and ideas—until bedtime.
The Quaker listened unimpressed. When Coleridge was finished with his explanation, she asked him a simple, searching question: “My friend, when dost thee think?”
God is having a difficult time getting through to us because we are a fast-paced generation. We seem to have no time for contemplation. We have no time to answer God when He calls. (Jesus - Author of Our Faith, 46)
Teach Me to Listen
Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.” — 1 Samuel 3:10
Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking voice. Amen. (The Pursuit of God, 82-83)
The First Lesson to Learn
Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. —Matthew 26:41
To pray successfully is the first lesson the preacher must learn if he is to preach fruitfully; yet prayer is the hardest thing he will ever be called upon to do and, being human, it is the one act he will be tempted to do less frequently than any other. He must set his heart to conquer by prayer, and that will mean that he must first conquer his own flesh, for it is the flesh that hinders prayer always.
Almost anything associated with the ministry may be learned with an average amount of intelligent application. It is not hard to preach or manage church affairs or pay a social call; weddings and funerals may be conducted smoothly with a little help from Emily Post and the Minister’s Manual. Sermon making can be learned as easily as shoemaking—introduction, conclusion and all. And so with the whole work of the ministry as it is carried on in the average church today.
But prayer—that is another matter. There Mrs. Post is helpless and the Minister’s Manual can offer no assistance. There the lonely man of God must wrestle it out alone, sometimes in fasting and tears and weariness untold. There every man must be an original, for true prayer cannot be imitated nor can it be learned from someone else. (God Tells The Man Who Cares: God Speaks to Those Who Take Time to Listen, 69)