Prayer and the Prayer Meeting: Part 1

John 15:7; Hebrews 13:18  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In considering the deeply important subject of prayer, two things claim our attention; first, the moral basis of prayer; secondly, its moral conditions.
1. The basis of prayer is set forth in such words as the following: " If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (John 15:77If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (John 15:7).) Again, " Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." (1 John 3:21, 2221Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (1 John 3:21‑22).) So also, when the blessed apostle seeks an interest in the prayers of the saints, he sets forth the moral basis of his appeal: " Pray for us; for we trust toe have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." Heb. 13:1818Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. (Hebrews 13:18).
From these passages and many more of like import, we learn that in order to effectual prayer, there must be an obedient heart, an upright mind, a good conscience. If the soul be not in communion with God—if it be not abiding in Christ—if it be not ruled by His holy commandments—if the eye be not single, how could we possibly look for answers to our prayers? We should, as the apostle James says, be "asking amiss, that we may consume it upon our lusts." How could God, as a Holy Father, grant such petitions? Impossible.
How very needful, therefore, it is to give earnest heed to the moral basis on which our prayers are presented. How could the apostle have asked the brethren to pray for him, if he had not a good conscience, a single eye, an upright mind—the moral persuasion that in all things he really wished to live honestly? We may safely assert, he could do no such thing.
But may we not often detect ourselves in the habit of lightly and formally asking others to pray for us? It is a very common formulary amongst us, " Remember me in your prayers;" and, most surely, nothing can be more blessed or precious than to be borne upon the hearts of God's dear people, in their approaches to the mercy-seat. But do we sufficiently attend to the moral basis? When we say, " Brethren, pray for us," can we add, as in the presence of the Searcher of hearts, " For we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly?" And when we ourselves bow before the throne of grace, is it with an uncondemning heart—an upright mind—a single eye—a soul really abiding in Christ, and keeping His commandments?
These, beloved reader, are searching questions. They go right to the very center of the heart—down to the very roots and moral springs of our being. But it is well to be thoroughly searched—searched in reference to everything, but specially in reference to prayer. There is a terrible amount of unreality in our prayers—a sad lack of the moral basis—a vast amount of "asking amiss."
Hence, the want of power and efficacy in our prayers—hence, the formality—the routine—yea, the positive hypocrisy. The psalmist says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." How solemn this is! Our God will have reality. He desireth truth in the inward parts. He, blessed be His name, is real with us, and He will have us real with Him. He will have us coming before Him, as we really are, and with what we really want.
How often, alas! it is otherwise, both in private and in public! How often are our prayers more like orations than petitions—more like statements of doctrine than utterances of need! It seems, at times, as though we meant to explain principles to God, and give Him a large amount of information.
These are the things which cast a withering influence over our prayer meetings, robbing them of their freshness, their interest, and their value. Those who really know what prayer is, who feel its value, and are conscious of their need of it, attend the prayer meeting in order to pray, not to hear orations, lectures, and expositions from men on their knees. If they want lectures they can attend at the lecture hall, or the preaching room; but when they go to the prayer meeting it is to pray. To them the prayer meeting is the place of expressed need, and expected blessing—the place of expressed weakness, and expected power. Such is their idea of "the place where prayer is wont to be made;" and therefore when they flock thither they are not disposed or prepared to listen to long preaching prayers which would be deemed barely tolerable, if delivered from the desk, but which are absolutely in-suffer able in the shape of prayer.
We write plainly, because we feel the need of great plainness of speech. We deeply feel our want of reality, sincerity and truth in our prayers and prayer meetings. Not infrequently it happens that what we call prayer is not prayer at all, but the fluent utterance of certain known and acknowledged truths and principles to which one has listened so often that the reiteration becomes tiresome in the extreme. What can be more painful than to hear a man on his knees explaining principles and unfolding doctrines? The question forces itself upon us, "Is the man speaking to God or to us?" If to God, surely nothing can be more irreverent or profane than to attempt to explain things to Him. But if to us, then it is not prayer at all, and the sooner we rise from the attitude of prayer the better, inasmuch as the speaker will do better on his legs, and we in our seats.
And, having referred to the subject of attitude, we would very lovingly call attention to a matter which, in our judgment, demands a little serious consideration. We allude to the habit of sitting during the holy and solemn exercise of prayer. We are fully aware, of course, that the grand question in prayer is to have the heart in a right attitude. And further, we know and would ever bear in mind that many who attend our prayer meetings are aged, infirm and delicate people, who could not possibly kneel for any length of time—perhaps not at all. Then again, it often happens that, even where there is not physical weakness, and where there would be real desire to kneel down, as feeling it to be the proper attitude, yet, from actual want of space, it is impossible to change one's position.
All these things must be taken into account. But, allowing as broad a margin as possible in which to insert these modifying clauses, we must still hold to it that there is a very deplorable lack of reverence in many of our public reunions for prayer. We frequently observe young men, who can neither plead physical weakness nor want of space, sitting through an entire prayer meeting. This, we confess, is offensive; and we cannot but believe it grieves the Spirit of the Lord. We ought to kneel down when we can. It expresses reverence and prostration. The blessed Master "kneeled down and prayed." (Luke 22:4141And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, (Luke 22:41).) His apostle did the same, as we read in Acts 20:3636And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. (Acts 20:36), "When he had thus spoken, he kneeled down and prayed with them all."
And is it not comely and right so to do? Assuredly it is. And can aught be more unseemly than to see a number of people sitting, lolling, lounging and gaping about, while prayer is being offered? We consider it perfectly shocking; and we do here most earnestly beseech all the Lord's people to give this matter their solemn consideration, and to endeavor, in every possible way, both by precept and example, to promote the godly habit of kneeling at our prayer meetings. No doubt those who take part in the meeting would greatly aid in this matter by short and fervent prayers; but of this more hereafter.
(To be continued, if God permit.)