Simple Papers on the Church of God: Part 17, Prayer and Prayer Meetings

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BY the ministry of the Word souls receive life, light, and understanding. As recipients of life there are desires formed within them which need an outgate, either by prayer or by worship. By the former, dependence upon God is confessed and expressed; by the latter, relief is afforded to the heart, in the enjoyment of God's love, through the pouring itself out before Him. If the sense of need is uppermost within us, whether for ourselves, for others, or for the work of God upon earth, prayer in one or more of its forms is the suited way in which to express it. If it be the exceeding riches of God's grace upon which the soul is dwelling, worship will be found to give it proper and satisfying relief. Thus graciously does God afford His people an outlet for their hearts, His ear being open to hear whatever they have to say to Him. To a consideration of prayer let us now address ourselves.
Man's proper place is one of dependence upon God, and this the Lord, though God as well as man, frequently manifested in His own life on earth. He prayed; He spent a whole night in prayer; He prayed earnestly; He prayed in secret; He prayed openly. In the wilderness, on the mount, on Jordan's brink, and in the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus Christ poured out His soul in prayer to God.
Prayer too, public and private, characterized the early Christians. Of the first converts we read: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:4242And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)) Their enjoyment of the grace of God did not lead to forgetfulness of their dependence upon God; nor in the hour of God's interposition on their behalf did they fail to remember how all their resources were in Him. For when Peter and John, who had been taken before the council, were restored to their own company, the hostility of the ecclesiastical rulers to the spread of the truth having now become manifest, the whole company, to whom the two apostles reported all that the chief priests and rulers had said to them, lifted up their voice with one accord to God for the continued successful prosecution of the work. (Acts 4:2424And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: (Acts 4:24)) Again, when Peter was in prison, arrested by the political power which at that time had sway at Jerusalem, and his martyrdom was determined upon for the morrow, fervent prayer was made on his behalf, and a prayer meeting was held for that purpose in the house of Mary the mother of John, surnamed Mark. (Acts 12) And that meeting had not broken up, though it was past the hour of midnight, when Peter in person announced to them how their prayer had been heard, and his release had been effected. Nor was it only in Jerusalem that meetings for prayer were held; for when the Holy Ghost had marked out Barnabas and Paul at Antioch for the work to which. He had called them, many prophets and teachers there assembled laid their hands on them, after fasting and prayer, recommending them to the grace of God for the work they had been called on to undertake. (Acts 13:3;14. 26) On another occasion, at Tire, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem for his last visit there of which we have any record, the whole assembly, including the wives and children, knelt down in prayer outside the city, on the sea-shore, with those of Paul's company. (Acts 21:55And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. (Acts 21:5)) A refreshment, doubtless, this must have been to the apostle's heart -a service, too, well-pleasing to God.
Besides these instances of common prayer, in which the whole company took part, we learn from Scripture how repeatedly saints were wont to resort to it. The twelve, when exercising their apostolic powers in appointing the seven deacons, engaged in prayer before they laid their hands upon them. (Acts 6:66Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:6)) Similarly, Paul and Barnabas, when appointing elders in every city, prayed with fasting, and commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed. (Acts 14:2323And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)) And Peter and John, in Samaria, prayed that the converts might receive the Holy Ghost previous to the laying on of their hands to bestow it. (Acts 8:1515Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (Acts 8:15)) Peter, too, when raising up Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:4040But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. (Acts 9:40)), and Paul, when about to heal the father of Publius (Acts 28:88And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. (Acts 28:8)), alike confessed their entire dependence upon God for the exercise of such powers on man's behalf. Of Stephen we read that his latest utterance was one of intercession for his murderers. (Acts 7:6060And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60)) Of Paul we learn that, though the character of his future work was told him at his conversion, ere he rose up from the ground (Acts 26:17,18)1, yet it was when engaged in prayer in the temple at Jerusalem, that he received his directions to depart to the Gentiles. (Acts 22:17, 1817And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; 18And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. (Acts 22:17‑18)) In the house which was left desolate to the Jews, for the presence of the Lord was not there, the divine command to depart to the Gentiles was communicated directly to the vessel fitted for the service. On another occasion, in a place and under circumstances very different from the last, Paul and Silas, in the prison at Philippi, with their feet made fast in the stocks, at midnight prayed, and sang praises to God. Their bodies were subjected to the power and malice of man. Their spirits were free, and unfettered. They prayed, and they sang praises to God (Acts 16:2525And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. (Acts 16:25)), and an answer came. God acted in power and in grace. An earthquake shook the prison, opened its doors, and set the prisoners free; and the word of God, by Paul and Silas, converted the jailer and his household. Again, at Miletus, the apostle did not bring to a close his farewell interview with the Ephesian elders, until he had prayed with them. (Acts 20) How prayer characterized him his epistles demonstrate. (Rom. 1: 9, 10; Eph. 1:16; 3:1416Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; (Ephesians 1:16)
14For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, (Ephesians 3:14)
; Phil. 1:44Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, (Philippians 1:4); Col. 1:33We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, (Colossians 1:3); 1 Thess. 1:22We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; (1 Thessalonians 1:2); 2 Tim. 1:33I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; (2 Timothy 1:3); Phil. 4) How he valued the prayers of others, and counted on them, his epistles also teach us. (Rom. 15:3030Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; (Romans 15:30); Eph. 6:1919And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, (Ephesians 6:19); Phil. 1:77Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. (Philippians 1:7);* Col. 4:33Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: (Colossians 4:3); 1 Thess. 5:2525Brethren, pray for us. (1 Thessalonians 5:25); 2 Thess. 3:11Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: (2 Thessalonians 3:1); Phil. 22; Heb. 13:1818Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. (Hebrews 13:18)) But he seems not to have asked the prayers of any who were walking in ways that he had to reprove. To the Galatians he made no request for their fellowship with him in prayer, though we cannot doubt from the tone of his letter that he prayed for them. (Gal. 4:1919My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, (Galatians 4:19)) Nor did he solicit the prayers of the Corinthians till Titus had assured him of their godly sorrow. A silence of this kind on the part of the apostle has surely a voice for us. To ask for the prayers of others should never be a matter of form on our part.
Prayer for one's self (James 5:1313Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. (James 5:13)); prayer for others, for saints (Eph. 6:1818Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18)), and for all men (1 Tim. 2:11I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; (1 Timothy 2:1)); prayer too for the work of God upon earth (Col. 4:3, 43Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: 4That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:3‑4))-with such requests are we permitted to approach God. Nor is this anything new; for saints in Old Testament times addressed Him, and in accordance with the revelation of their day drew nigh to God as the Almighty (Job 8:55If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty; (Job 8:5)), or as Jehovah God of Israel (1 Kings 8:2323And he said, Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart: (1 Kings 8:23)), who dwelleth between the cherubim. (2 Kings 19:1515And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. (2 Kings 19:15)) As seated on His earthly throne, Israel addressed to Him their supplications. Christians, however, are privileged to call on God as their Father who is in the heavens, and, to pray likewise to the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:88For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. (2 Corinthians 12:8)); but nowhere are they authorized in Scripture to pray to the Holy Ghost. Praying in the Holy Ghost (Jude 2020But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, (Jude 20); Eph. 6:1818Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18)) is what Christians are exhorted to do; but never are they told to pray to Him. Praying in the Holy Ghost we shall express the desires which the Spirit of God has formed in our hearts, and as the Spirit would lead us to present them; and, as having access to the heavenly sanctuary, we pray to Him who is in the heavens. Prayer then should ever be in accordance with the revelation vouchsafed to God's saints. What was suited to Solomon and Hezekiah would not be fitting for us. We should not address God as the God of Israel, nor speak to Him as dwelling between the cherubim. Similarly, since the Holy Ghost is with us, making intercession too for us according to God (Rom. 8:2727And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)), and with the bride asks the Lord Jesus to come (Rev. 22:1717And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17)), addresses to Him, whether invoking His presence on earth, or asking Him to help us, receive no countenance from the divine word, and indicate a lack of spiritual understanding in those who resort to them.
Prayer to God as the Father was first taught by the Son, who reveals Him. (Matt. 11:2727All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)) Taught by Him about the Father, the disciples asked the Lord how they were to pray; for clearly the old forms of prayer did not meet the position into which they were brought by this revelation on the part of the Son. To their desire He responded, and gave them what is commonly called the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-139After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9‑13)), but without the doxology, which did not really form part of it. Now this act on the Lord's part is full of instruction for us. John the Baptist, who had ministered truth for his day, taught his disciples how to pray. The Lord Jesus, who revealed the Father, taught also His disciples, some of whom certainly had been disciples of John, how they were to pray. The old Jewish forms of prayer clearly no longer suited the disciples of Christ. The prayer, or prayers, John taught his disciples ceased to be the proper expression of their heart, when they had learned from the Son about the Father. It is plain, then, that prayer should always be in harmony with, and based upon, the revelation of God which has been vouchsafed us. Souls in those days felt that. The Lord then endorsed the thought as correct, and afterward abundantly confirmed it; for just before His departure, on the night previous to His crucifixion, unasked by the eleven, He discoursed in a marked way on this important subject. Of the power of prayer, when offered up in faith, He had taught them only a few days before. (Matt. 21:21,2221Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. 22And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. (Matthew 21:21‑22); Mark 11:22-2422And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (Mark 11:22‑24)) Now, in the immediate prospect of His departure, He teaches them a good deal more. He was about to leave them to go to the Father, henceforth to be hidden from their sight. They should, however, have a clear proof that He was, where He had told them that He was going; for they should do greater works than He had done, and whatsoever they should ask in His name, that He would do, that the Father might be glorified in the Son, adding, " If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it." (John 14:12-1412Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12‑14)) The world, the Jews, might taunt them with trusting to a crucified man; but as answers came to prayers offered up in His name, they would have abundant proof, both that He was with the Father, accepted on high, though rejected on earth, and also that He was caring for His own.
Now here for the first time do we read of prayer to be offered up in His name. When He gave the disciples the prayer of Matt. 6 He did not tell them to present their petitions in His name; and in John 16:2424Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24) we distinctly learn from His own lips that this was something quite new. " Hitherto," He said, " have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." The prayer of Matt. 6 was prayer to the Father, the pouring out of the heart to God from one that knew himself to be His child; but, till the atonement by the blood of Christ was accomplished, prayer in His name was unknown. As soon as that was effected, and known by those who believed on Him, prayer was to be offered up in His name. His name would henceforth have a meaning for them as well as for God; for it expresses all that He is in the eyes of God the Father. The answer would come from God; but the Son it would be who would fulfill the desires of their hearts. "I will do it " assured them of this, and of His unabated interest in all that concerned them.
C. E. S.