The School of Prayer

 
Illustrating the Laws of Abiding*, of the Use of Jesus' Name, of Skill, and of Confidence-Persistence
 
THE whole purpose of prayer is to change things that need changing. Prayer does us good. There is a subjective side to prayer, without doubt; tremendous, quite beyond calculation. And prayer has an objective value also, which means simply that it changes things outside that need changing in other lives, and would not be changed otherwise.
 
Now for a simple bit of homely talk about how to pray so as to change things that need changing, how to make sure that they will be changed, and changed every time. There need be no bill of exceptions in this court of prayer.
 
I want to give you four suggestions about how to pray so as to change things that need changing; and then three simple conditions of making sure without exception that prayer will change things every time, even to the stubbornest thing there is in existence, even the thing that is hardest to change in all human life and that cannot be changed, and ought not to be changed, except from the inside, that is, a man's will. The great battle of life is in a man's will, God's battle and ours.
 
Four suggestions, then, very homely. First, prayer needs time, daily time, quiet time, time when you are not tired. You say, "When's that?" Well, when you are not too tired. Because a tired mind cannot take in. And the big part in praying is taking in, being yielded, being susceptible to Somebody you cannot see; and then the going out, and changing things outside.
 
We must not make rules for others. Every life is its own battlefield. And every man must make his own rules and fight his own fight. But if you can manage the fighting line so as to get the morning-hour quiet, with the door shut, yourself off alone, so much alone that you are not alone, that is victory. If you stumble there, it will be a tale more or less of defeat and discipline all along the time. Prayer needs time.
 
Then prayer needs a place. Oh, you can pray anywhere, on the train, in the trolley, nursing a baby, sweeping the floor, chopping a typewriter, measuring calico, dictating a letter - you can pray anywhere. But you are not likely to. You are very unlikely to, unless you have been off in the quiet place alone with Jesus. Jesus said, "Enter into your inner chamber."
 
And, humanly, Jesus was an Oriental, and the Orient has no privacy, characteristically. Yet He said, "Enter into your inner chamber." We western-hemisphere folk seem to be turning Parisian - we are living out on the boulevards, on the crowded streets of life. All the privacy appears to be gone out of our lives - aye, and all the fragrance and all the power, too. If Jesus, humanly an Oriental, could say
inner chamber," we can get it. Although it is a fight to get it, I know.
What or where the place is, does not matter a [bit]. With some of us it must change frequently. With me it changes continually. It may be the corner of a cathedral or the corner of a kitchen. The kitchen may be just as good for this purpose as the cathedral. Indeed some kitchens I have known better than some cathedrals I have been in.
 
The thing is this: His presence, the presence of the Unseen but real Jesus. When you are alone, you are not alone. The more alone we are so far as men are concerned, the less alone we are as far as He is concerned. I wonder if that is the reason some folks cannot stand being alone? There is a tug of Somebody that they want to get away from, because they are not fitting into the Law of Abiding.
 
But when you are alone He is there. And the great thing of the daily quiet place, in the quiet time, is not that you read, though you do read. The Book is as open as the door is shut. It is not that you pray in words, though you will, and you will pray wordlessly. Some of the best prayer is wordless; you cannot get your heart out at your lips.
 
But the big thing is that He is there, Jesus, by His Holy Spirit, His other self. The Holy Spirit is Jesus' other self; He is inside of every one who opens the door to Jesus. And you sit in His presence, and sing Him a bit of song when you don't want to ask Him for anything, and you thank Him for His presence. Ah, that is the fragrance, that is the power of the quiet time and the quiet place. Prayer needs a place.
 
Then give the Book its place in prayer. Prayer is not talking to God simply; it is listening - listening first, then talking. Bible reading is the listening side of prayer. Some of us are a little old-fashioned about this Book of God. Some of us like old-fashioned things, bread and butter, and salt, and water, and sleep at night, and - Jesus, and the Blood that cleanses, and the power within, and the old Book of God!
 
They used to burn the Book up. We are more refined now. We would not burn it. No; now we cut it up, with rarely-skilled fingers, and freshly-razored knife-edges. But whether burned or cut the old Book itself remains, without the smell of smoke on its pages, or the mark of the knife on its leaves.
Now the third bit is this: When you go off alone in your quiet time, and your quiet place - listen. God talks. He talked in the Book. He still talks in it. It is a book like any other book, yet it is more than a book. There is a Living Presence in it. Listen to God. Give Him your ear. It is pathetic what a hard time God has getting people's ears. The traffic bothers our ears, and the shuffling of men's shoes.
 
What a giant he is who will take his ears away from the crowd, and listen to God! The ear controls the tongue. If God may have our ears the tongue-part will work all right. If the ear-side of prayer is right, the tongue-side will be right. Give the Book its place. What God says to us through it will absolutely control what we say to Him. Learn to listen with patience.
 
The fourth suggestion is this: Let the Teacher teach you. There is a special Teacher of prayer, One who makes a specialty of teaching how to pray. He is the Holy Spirit, Jesus' Other Self. Where is the Holy Spirit? I carry Him around inside of me. It hushes my heart as I say it. And so do you, if He is given His way. It is not because we are good, but because He is faithful. He comes in through the open door; for it is Jesus' Spirit in us that makes us what we call Christians.
 
When you go off alone in your quiet time, say, "Lord, teach me." And He will. You may be a bit stupid - most of us are. But He is very patient. You will find your prayer changing. You may be used to making a very nice, proper little speech. I am not criticizing it. But now you will find that you pray more simply, you will pray like a child talking with mother, or friend with friend, or partner with partner, where things are understood. Let the Teacher teach you.
 
And now the three conditions of making sure that every prayer will work out a bigger result than you are thinking about: And these are simple but really radical. The first is this: the controlling purpose of the life to please Jesus. That may sound very simple. But if you have not done so, take that as a kind of touchstone, testing stone, just for a day, in personal habits, home life, dress, in all things and in a simple, sane, wholesome way.
 
The thing that controls in everything is to please Jesus. Not to ask, "Is it wrong?" and put it out. "Is it right?" and put it in. That is rather a low level. There are many things that are not wrong, but they are not best. Not that, but this: Will it please Jesus?
 
And, then, if you have the stuff in you to hew to the line of that - ah, there will be a tug - then you will climb the ladder. And you will enter into the secret place where the Law of Abiding controls. And the answer will be bigger than you are expecting. The controlling purpose to please Him.
There is a very striking turn of a word in the end of the second chapter of John. It says a great many believed on Jesus as they listened to Him, but He did not commit Himself to them because He knew all men. If you dig underneath, the word "believe" and the word commit" are the same. You might read it this way: "A great many trusted Jesus, but He did not trust them because He knew them."
 
Now, I have no doubt all of us are trusting Him. May I ask you, softly, quietly - Can He trust you? And your eye drops, a tone of humility comes into your voice, and you say: "I fear not." That sounds very nice. But should you say that? If I know a wife well enough to ask such a question, and say, "Can your husband trust you?" she will never answer, "I fear not." If things are as they ought to be, with a hush in her voice and in her eye, she will say quietly, "He knows he has the devotion of my life."
 
And that sweeps all the decks here. Jesus will give us all the power in prayer He can trust us with to use for His glory. The controlling purpose in everything must be to please Him. If you can stand the tug of that, you will have no bother about the prayer. But it is a tug, and it is a tug that does not stop.
 
The second condition is very old-fashioned. Your prayer must be in Jesus' Name. You and I have no standing at yonder bar, to plead of ourselves. We are debarred, disbarred by sin. We have cut ourselves off. Sin is suicidal. That is rather ugly, but the bother is that it is true, whether you like it or not.
 
But when we come in Jesus' Name - in the Name of the Man who died on Calvary - it is as though Jesus prayed. It is like this and I want to put it in a very homely way because that helps most: It is as though Jesus said, "Father, here is a friend of Mine from Ohio. We have had an understanding, he and I. We have things fixed up, our law of abiding, and all the ends of the threads are knotted up tight. Please give him anything he asks, for My sake."
 
And the Father leans over and says: "What will you have? Name it. Anything you choose to name, when My Son talks like this." That is the meaning of using Jesus' Name. We ought to use that Name very thoughtfully, very reverently, very humbly. It cost Him so much pain that we might repeat His name, pain beyond conception. He suffered that we might come and say, "In Jesus' Name."
 
But we ought to use the name boldly, for He gives us the right to, when we are in touch with Him. There are many prayers in our day, in church services and prayer-meetings, by men who must be good men, prayers that talk about God, about the Father, but ignore the Name of Jesus. The second condition is that prayer must be in Jesus' Name.
 
The third condition of prayer, again, is very simple, and yet is sometimes not understood. It may sound hackneyed when I say that prayer must be in faith. But faith is not believing that God can, it is believing that He will - a universe of difference.
 
Here is what faith is not. You kneel, you make your bit of prayer, you say, "In Jesus' Name, Amen." And then you get up from your knees, and say - the thing says itself inside maybe - " I wonder if that will come - I wonder if that will come - I do hope it will." You may have heard your neighbor thinking out loud that way. That is desire, it is intensity, it is yearning, it may be passion; but there is no faith there, of course.
 
Here is what faith is, in connection with simple prayer: You kneel, you make your bit of prayer, you say: "In Jesus' Name;" and then, when you have got the prayer fixed up, before you tack the "Amen" on, you say, "I thank You that You art listening, Jesus; I thank You that You wilt do what I ask, that You art doing it; the thing is fixed, although there is a fight ahead - Amen." That is faith.
 
"Amen" means not "so may it be"; but, "so it certainly shall be." For "Amen" is not a prayer, it is an affirmation of positive faith. The thing is coming. Then you go off from your knees, around the house, and say to yourself, That thing is settled. He is coming, it is coming, that is coming." And if you knew that some things you are praying for were coming, would you sing? I think the service of song, in the major key, would flood the house, and threaten the integrity of the roof sometimes. That is faith.
 
And some dear old saint, or some dear younger saint, will say, "Now, Mr. Gordon, you are getting the music keyed up too high; we cannot sing up. in that scale. Bring the thing down where we live. Can we all have faith like that?"
 
Well, we all won't have. That is putting it blunt and honest. We all may have, but we all won't have. Because the faith that believes that God will is not born in a hurry. It is not born in the dust and din and crowd of the street, with the honking of the horns in your ears, and the shuffling of men's shoes.
 
It never does find a birthplace in some folks' hearts because they won't - they can, but they won't, and they don't - go off alone in the quiet corner with the door shut, and the Book open, and the Somebody there their physical eyes cannot see.
 
But I will tell you where that faith will be born, and grow big and lusty - in the heart of every one who goes off quietly every day into the quiet place with the Book, and the bent knee and the bent will. Into that heart there will come the quiet assurance that what you are asking he is doing.
 
Now I think I can tuck in the four characteristics of the faith that believes that God will. The first characteristic of faith is intelligence. It finds out what God's will is. It has listened. When the Holy Spirit has sway the mind is alert. It is not essential to be stupid to be religious. You may have thought it was, from some folks you rub elbows with. When the Holy Spirit has sway there is not simply a new spiritual birth, but a new mental birth. Faith finds out what God's will is. The Book and the indwelling Spirit make His will clear. The will of God sweeps the whole gamut of human life and need.
 
The second trait of the faith that knows that God will is obedience. The tug of war is here. You keep whipping back here on this bit of truth all the time. Obedience means this. You may find as you are reading the Old Book, and that quiet Spirit is talking to you, you are very apt to find that your life is down here on this lower level, and the Book is up here on the higher level. There are two different levels.
 
And then the temptation is, by nice religious talk, to pull the Book down to where you want to live. And then all the power goes out of your life. Obedience means this - that by your own set will, and by God's grace, you pull your life up to the level of the Book, in a simple, sane, wholesome way. Nobody is so sane as the man swayed by the Holy Spirit. If you will pull the habit of your life up to the level of the Holy Spirit's voice in the Book, and in your heart, you will have no bother about the rest.
 
The third trait of faith is expectancy. Faith is not blind. It sees the difficulties, but it sees Jesus greater. It goes to the top of Carmel, and pitches its tent, if need be, and it looks and looks and looks again, for that man to come, for that money to loosen, for that health to come. The faith that believes that God will is expectant.
 
And faith is persistent. That is the Law of Confidence-Persistence. Prayer is a conflict, a great spirit fight. And there may be a time of waiting. But you know that Jesus is Victor and so you go again, seven times, and seventy times seven, and use another multiple of seven if need be; and then you quit counting, and just hang on. And the result comes because Jesus is Victor. The hard heart softens, the stubborn will bends, the hard way straightens, and no thing is restrained.
 
A little boy of about six came to his mother one day in a Christian home, with Christian training. He said, "Mother, what does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus?" And the mother quickly recognized that her little boy was beginning to think for himself about the meaning of words that he heard in the home.
 
And so with a bit of prayer in her heart she said very simply, "Why, you know, my son, it means thinking about Jesus, and thanking Him that He died for you, and loving Him, and telling Him that you will try to please Him in everything you do." And the boy listened, but she could not tell whether he had taken it in.
 
About an hour later things were suspiciously quiet in the boy's corner of the house; It was not usually so quiet where that boy was. So the mother called, "Charles, where are you? what are you doing?" And as she spoke she was moving over toward the room where he had his toys and books.
 
And as she came within range of the door, partly open, she saw the boy sitting quietly, with his hands folded on his knees, and his head bent. And the boy, not knowing that his mother was there, called out quietly: "I am believing on the Lord Jesus." He was thinking about Him, loving Him, thanking Him that He died, telling Him he would try to please Him.
 
Let us believe on the Lord Jesus.

"abide \A*bide"\, v. t. 1. To wait for; to be prepared for; to await; to watch for; as, I abide my time. ``I will abide the coming of my lord.'' --Tennyson." dictionary.com

S.D.Gordon, an address given at the School of Foreign Missions, Metholdist Episcopal Church at Lakeside, Ohio. Printed in Five Laws that Govern Prayer. Published by Fleming H. Revell Co. Copyright 1925. This text is presented for religious and educational purposes only. No other use is intended or permitted.

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