If we want to learn the habits of an animal, we must see it in its native freedom, and not only after it has been trained and domesticated. The instinct of prayer, however, does not lack the second property, universality; we find it both in the highest and lowest states of civilization, in places and races widely sundered both in position and circumstance.
If we examine the practices of barbarous nations; if we turn to the ancient religions of the East; if we look at Greece and Rome in the plenitude of their intellectual power, we find that in some form or shape the necessity of prayer and homage to a superior Power is admitted, and in no nation is the instinct entirely obliterated. In the root of human nature there is a sense of dependency, and a sense of guilt; natural religion is based on these two, the correlatives of which are prayer and atonement — the actions respectively proper to the frail, and to the sinful.
It is useless to speak of the instinct of prayer as of something imported into our nature: that which is simply imported does not make its home so fixed and sure, that no lapse of time or change of circumstances has the power to dislodge it. I have dwelt at some length on the instinctive character of prayer, because on it I first ground its obligation; we ought to pray out of deference to an instinct with which God has endowed us, for by our higher intuitions and instincts He expresses His will, and to neglect to act in accordance with them, is to disobey His voice within us.
Moreover, this instinct of prayer is an imperious one; it is one which will assert itself, even when it has been set aside, and its presence denied. There are moments in life when men are superior to their own principles, and human systems fail to silence the deep cry of the heart; when men pray who have denied the power of prayer.
Prayer meets us with a two-fold claim in the domain of revealed religion; it is necessary as a means of grace, it is necessary also as a fulfilment of an express command of God; these are two sides, the one objective, the other subjective, of the same truth. It will be observed, that the necessity of prayer viewed in this connection is derived from the prior necessity of grace. Grace is to that life what the water is to the life of the fish, or the air to our natural life — something absolutely indispensable.
Thus grace is, from first to last, the invisible nourishment of the soul's life, and prayer is the means in man's own power of gaining grace; it is through prayer that the different effects of grace are wrought in us. We ask God for spiritual healing — "Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee. Again, in order to advance in the spiritual life, in the development of virtues, prayer is a necessity — the apostles prayed, "Lord, increase our faith. A continual supply of grace is needed for the increase of each virtue, and therefore prayer is needed, not only in general, but also with definite reference to the support of the virtue which we have to exercise, or in which we are most conscious of defect.
He says "prayer and grace are of the same necessity; grace is necessary for salvation, hence it ought to follow that prayer also is necessary; but why should prayer be ordained in relation to eternity, unless it he for the sake of obtaining grace? Prayer is itself dependent on grace in the spiritual life, and an act of prayer for grace is a correspondence with a grace which has been already given. Paul says, "also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.
Again, prayer as a means of grace must not take the place of Sacraments. And the writer of the epistle of the Hebrews states that specifically. He prayed to a personal God. He did not pray as Alfred North Whitehead, the famous philosopher, to quote the principle of concretion.
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He did not pray as Paul Tillich, one of our outstanding recent contemporary theologians, to the ground of our being. He did not talk to the life essence as some have suggested that we define God; or the power not ourselves that makes for righteousness, as someone else has defined God. They undoubtedly were unusual men and very gifted men intellectually. But when it comes to the prayer life of our Lord and the prayer life of a simple Christian, it just does not help us to say that we should define God as the ground of our being.
Now the third thing that Jesus assumed is that the universe is both faithful and flexible. He assumed that we could count on things in this universe.
Free eBook: "The Necessity of Prayer," by EM Bounds
Let me read you a paragraph which I found very good. It is a paragraph — I hesitate to say who it is because this man is not a member of what I would call the evangelical wing of the Christian church or at least only broadly so — but he is an outstanding man, a well known man and in this book, at least, has said a number of very good things.
Buttrick has said that the universe is faithful both for a man and God, we would quickly agree. Invariably, the sun rises in the east. Invariably, spring follows winter. This inflexibility is at once the postulate and native air of the scientific quest. The botanist assumes that an oak tree will not overnight change its identity to become a potato. The astronomer assumes that Saturn will not break out with an attack of the zig zags but will keep its orbit.
The chemist assumes that two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen will not suddenly become the formula for sulfuric acid but will continue to be the constituent parts of water.
Knowledge would be impossible in an eccentric world. Nay, self-consciousness itself requires a certain constancy in nature and in human nature. If John Smith were one moment Jim Jones and the next moment Bob Clark, life would be much more fantastic than a hall of mirrors. We have sometime failed to see that our freedom and our very prayers can only breath in a faithful scheme. Now I think in the prayer life of our Lord there is an assumption that the universe is both favorable and flexible.
That is, it is possible for a God who controls the affairs of this earth to intervene in ways that we do not completely understand. This is one of the assumptions of our Lord. That may be true but I discovered this that the coincidences came much more frequently when I prayed [laughter] and so I continued to pray. Now these are the assumptions of our Lord in prayer. I just want you to notice that they are assumptions of our Lord. He assumes that God existed.
He assumed that God is personal. He assumed that the universe is faithful and flexible. Now, his practices, capital B. First of all, his prayers were reverent. Now in the garden of Gethsemane, he not only got down upon his knees but he actually after he had been on his knees for some time, he fell upon his face in the most total, the most abject picture of dependence upon God. His prayers were reverent so he kneeled. He not only prayed Father.
He prayed Holy Father. And then he prayed righteous Father. All of these are expressions designed to stress the fact that God is the supreme and controlling force in his life, God the Father. Now this I think has impressed me a great deal.
The Necessity of Prayer in the Christian Life
I am interested in several things. And July the first is the deadline. And the phrases and clauses of the word of God should be so common to him that he is able to sight them as the Holy Spirit leads, and as his memory holds up. Now he did not read that prayer. There was no one inside the belly of that great fish to stand by his side and hold the lamp while he read the prayer. So he did not use the prayer book when he prayed.
Those were phrases that were common to him. He knew them. He had studied the Scriptures that he had. And apparently had studied them fairly widely, for those phrases come from several sections from the word of God. And I do think this — I have noticed from experience in dealing with souls of men in my twenty years of pastoral experience — that when Christians are in trouble, when they are disturbed, when the are in perplexity, when they are in the midst of tragedy, they do not appeal to the songs of our hymnody.
Do it. But when they are in difficulty, it is the word of God to which they appeal and which strengthens them and which encourages then. And when a man gets down upon his face before God and he has none of the phrases of the word of God, well then his language is lacking for the life of prayer. Hallowed be thy name.
Now if you will go through that short simple prayer and if you will look at the phrases of that prayer and the clauses of that prayer and compare them in your concordance. In your concordance with other phrases in the Bible, you will discover even that prayer is largely a prayer composed from truths of holy Scripture, phrases of holy Scripture. An amazing thing. And when our Lord prayed, think of his prayers when he died. Almost all of those petitions that he uttered, all those statements that he made are statements from Scripture.
He made Holy Scripture the food, the daily food, the daily meditation of his life. His prayers were scriptural. Arthur T. Study your Bibles. Chapter 22, verse 39 of the Gospel of Luke, he went into the garden of Gethsemane, as he was accustomed to. In John chapter 18, verse 2, John says that our Lord oft times resorted to the garden of Gethsemane.
His prayer was regular. And the only thing you could think about is those additional dollars there in your bank account and how wonderful your portfolio is at this point, you men. Well, there may be a day in which you can get by without God. When I look at the word of God, the impression I get is that the apostles, our Lord, the prophets and others did daily look to the Lord.
We do have injunctions. Pray without ceasing. Now it means at frequent intervals, of course. Maybe that means you could miss a day. That his prayer life is of tremendous interest to us. Fourth, his prayers were fervent. He prayed, we read in the garden of Gethsemane in the most vivid illustration of the earnestness of his prayer, in an agony. His prayers were fervent. Now it seems to me again if a man is a man of God, his prayers should be fervent and not perfunctory.
And there are several types of ecclesiastical persuasion, which almost without exceptions have ministers who simply, perfunctorily go through the motions of prayer. It is possible to read with a great deal more earnestness than some — I hear — reciting a prayer. Now our prayers should be in earnest. They should be fervored, his word. Fifth, his prayers were definite. I do not think our Lord got together with the Lord and just prayed, as we often pray, of course. I think God likes, just as our Lord prayed definitely, he likes to hear us pray definitely.
Jesus prayed regarding the cup. Now there was no question in the garden of Gethsemane what the cup was. The cup was that cross death. That was a specific prayer. Now our prayers ought to be specific too. His were specific. His prayers were also both public and private. No I ascend to my Father and your Father and our God. No, and my God and your God. Now while our Lord prayed privately, he told us to enter into our closets and pray. That can be a little suffocating. Have you ever noticed what Jesus did when he came into the cities where he was? He said that when Jesus came into town the first thing he did was to ask where the nearest mountain was.
Just as you and I might ask where the nearest motel is. It was so much a part of his life, the prayer life. I did that about ten years ago but I kept them because it looked so sweet. Now let me say just a few words about the purpose of these prayers of our Lord. First of all, our Lord prayed for the proclamation of the word of God. The others I think we can slip by without too much reference to the word itself for the sake of time.
Free eBook: "The Necessity of Prayer," by EM Bounds
Let us again recall that according to our Savior, the Kingdom of God and everything pertaining to it is attained by force. So, it is indispensable for a Christian to firmly accept in his heart that he must pray no matter what, regardless of his desire or lack of desire. If you have a good desire to pray, thank God from Whom everything good comes, and do not lose the chance to pray from the soul.
If you do not have this desire, and the time for prayer arrives, then it is necessary to force yourself, encouraging your lethargic and lazy spirit by reminding it that prayer like every good deed is all the more precious in God's eyes when it is given with difficulty. The Lord does not disdain any prayer if one prays sincerely, as best he knows how, even though he has not developed the habit of praying fully and with unweakening fervor.
One who lives even a partial spiritual Christian life, will always find something about which to pray to Him, because for such a person, God is a loving Father, a Mighty Protector and an unending Spring of help and strength. The Christian hurries to Him in need and in woe, as a child to its parent. It must be fulfilled in spirit and truth, and in praying, a Christian must gather all his spiritual strengths into one deep, concentrated effort in himself, in his soul and contemplate the words of the prayer.
Obviously, when one has such a correct view of prayer one understands that it is impossible to give the name "prayer" to the act of merely being present at prayer, or reading it with the tongue while one's thoughts are far from it. John Chrysostom says of such "prayers," "Your body is inside the church, but your thoughts have flown to who knows where. The lips pronounce prayers, but the mind counts income, crops, real estate and friends You do not hear your own prayers - how do you expect that God will hear them?
He prays in "spirit and truth. He prays in truth - not hypocritically, but in a sincere frame of mind, in true supplication to the Incarnate Truth - to Christ the Savior. Of course, this does not in spite of Protestant error abrogate the necessity of external prayer, but only requires its union with internal prayer. Man is not an angel; his soul does not live without the body, just as the body does not live without the soul.
Apostle Paul says, "Glorify God in your bodies also, and in your souls, which are God's. They tightly unite with each other: both inner experience, man's supplication to God, and outer activity - prostrations, standing at prayer, crossing oneself and various acts in the Divine Services. Ordinarily, there are three distinctive types of prayer: petitioning, glorifying and thanksgiving.