‘But I give myself unto prayer.’ Psalm 109: 4.
I shall not here expatiate upon prayer, as it will be considered more fully in the Lord’s prayer. It is one thing to pray, and another thing to be given to prayer: he who prays frequently, is said to be given to prayer; as he who often distributes alms, is said to be given to charity. Prayer is a glorious ordinance. God comes down to us by his Spirit, and we go up to him by prayer.
What is prayer?
It is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ.
‘Prayer is offering up our desires;’ and therefore called making known our requests. Phil 4: 6. In prayer we come as humble petitioners, begging to have our suit granted. It is ‘offering up our desires to God.’ Prayer is not to be made to any but God. The Papists pray to saints and angels, who know not our grievances. ‘Abraham be ignorant of us.’ Isa 63: 16. All angel-worship is forbidden. Col 2: 18, 19. We must not pray to any but whom we may believe in. ‘How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?’ Rom 10: 14. We cannot believe in an angel, therefore we must not pray to him.
Why must prayer be made to God only?
Because he only hears prayer. ‘Oh thou that hearest prayer.’ Psa 65: 2. Hereby God is known to be the true God, in that he hears prayer. ‘Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God.’ I Kings 18: 37.
Because God only can help. If we are in outward distress, God must send from heaven and save; if we are in inward agonies, he only can pour in the oil of joy; therefore prayer is to be made to him only.
We are to pray ‘for things agreeable to his will.’ When we pray for outward things, for riches or children, perhaps God sees these things not to be good for us; and our prayers should comport with his will. We may pray absolutely for grace; ‘For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.’ I Thess 4: 3.
We are to pray ‘in the name of Christ.’ To pray in the name of Christ, is not only to mention Christ’s name in prayer, but to pray in the hope and confidence of his merits. We must carry the lamb Christ in prayer. When Uzziah would offer incense without a priest, God was angry, and struck him with leprosy. 2 Chron 26: 16. When we do not pray in Christ’s name, in the hope of his mediation, we offer up incense without a priest; and what can we expect but to meet with rebukes, and to have God answer us by terrible things?
What are the several parts of prayer?
There is the confessors part, which is the acknowledgement of sin.
The supplicatory part, when we either deprecate and pray against some evil, or request the obtaining of some good.
The congratulatory part, when we give thanks for mercies received, which is the most excellent part of prayer.
What are the several sorts of prayer?
There is mental prayer, in the mind. I Sam 1: 13.
Vocal. Psa 77: 1.
Ejaculatory, which is a sudden and short elevation of the heart to God. ‘So I prayed to the God of heaven.’ Neh 2: 4.
The Spirit helps us with sighs and groans. Rom 8: 26. Both the expressions of the tongue, and the impressions of the heart, so far as they are right, are from the Spirit.
Private prayer; when we pray by ourselves. ‘Enter into thy closet.’ Matt 6: 6.
That prayer is most likely to prevail with God which is rightly qualified. That is a good medicine which has the right ingredients; and that prayer is good, and most likely to prevail with God, which has these ingredients in it:
It must be mixed with faith. ‘But let him ask in faith.’ James 1: 6.
It must be a melting prayer. ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.’ Psa 51: 17. The incense was to be beaten to typify the breaking of the heart in prayer. Oh! says a Christian, I cannot pray with such gifts and elocution as others; as Moses said, ‘I am not eloquent;’ but can’t thou weep? Does thy heart melt in prayer? Weeping prayer prevails. Tears drop as pearls from the eye. Jacob wept and made supplication; and ‘had power over the angel.’ Hosea 12: 4.
Prayer must be fired with zeal and fervency. ‘Effectual fervent prayer availeth much.’ James 5: 16. Cold prayer, like cold suitors, never speed. Prayer without fervency, is like a sacrifice without a fire. Prayer is called a ‘pouring out of the soul,’ to signify vehemence. I Sam 1: 15. Formality starves prayer. Prayer is compared to incense. ‘Let my prayer be set forth as incense.’ Psa 141: 2. Hot coals were to be put to the incense, to make it odoriferous and fragrant; so fervency of affection is like coals to the incense; it makes prayer ascend as a sweet perfume. Christ prayed with strong cries. Heb 5: 7.
To cause holy fervour and ardour of soul in prayer, consider,
Prayer without fervency is no prayer; it is speaking, not praying. Lifeless prayer is no more prayer than the picture of a man is a man.
Consider in what need we stand of those things which we ask in prayer. We come to ask the favour of God; and if we have not his love all we enjoy is cursed to us. We pray that our souls may be washed in Christ’s blood; if he wash us not we have no part in him. John 13: 8. When will we be in earnest, if not when we are praying for the life of our souls?
Prayer must be sincere. Sincerity is the silver thread which must run through the whole duties of religion. Sincerity in prayer is when we have gracious holy ends; when our prayer is not so much for temporal mercies as for spiritual. We send out prayer as our merchant ship, that we may have large returns of spiritual blessings. Our aim in it is, that our hearts may be more holy, that we may have more communion with God and that we may increase our stock of grace. The prayer which wants a good aim, wants a good issue.
The prayer that will prevail with God must have a fixedness of mind. ‘My heart is fixed, O God.’ Psa 57: 7. Since the fall the mind is like quicksilver, which will not fix; it has [a principle of restlessness, not of peace]. The thoughts will be roving and dancing up and down in prayer, just as if a man who is travelling to a certain place should run out of the road, and wander he knows not whither. In prayer we are travelling to the throne of grace, but how often do we, by vain cogitations, turn out of the road! This is rather wandering than praying.
How shall we cure these vain impertinent thoughts, which distract us in prayer, and, we fear, hinder its acceptance?
Be very apprehensive in prayer of the infiniteness of God’s majesty and purity. His eye is upon us in prayer, and we may say as David, ‘Thou tellest my wanderings.’ Psa 56: 8. If a man were to deliver a petition to an earthly prince, would he at the same time be playing with a feather? Set yourselves, when you pray, as in God’s presence. Could you but look through the keyhole of heaven, and see how devout and intent the angels are in their worshipping God, surely you would be ready to blush at your vain thoughts and vile impertinences in prayer.
If you would keep your mind fixed in prayer, keep your eye fixed. ‘Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.’ Psa 123: 1. Much vanity comes in at the eye. When the eye wanders in prayer, the heart wanders. To think to keep the heart fixed in prayer, and yet let the eye gaze, is as if one should think to keep his house safe, and yet let the windows be open.
If you would have your thoughts fixed in prayer, get more love to God. Love is a great fixer of the thoughts. He who is in love cannot keep his thoughts off the object. He who loves the world has his thoughts upon the world. Did we love God more, our minds would be more intent upon him in prayer. Were there more delight in duty, there would be less distraction.