Gilbert Beebe on Prayer 1

Few subjects, perhaps, have occasioned greater concern in the minds of the children of God than that of prayer; and it is indeed, when rightly understood, a comforting thought that the living children of God are more seriously tried upon this subject than any other people. Indeed, we do not know that any other people have any trouble at all in regard to prayer. The Pharisee who stood and prayed with himself, and paraded before the Lord what he evidently regarded as his own good works and self-esteem, had not a single petition to ask of God, and being full of self-righteousness, betrayed no doubt or fear that his prayer was meritorious in the sight of God. The parable of the Pharisee and Publican was spoken by our Lord unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others, {Luke xviii. 9-14,} and it is applicable to all self-righteous Pharisees, whether of ancient or modern times.

The ease and fluency in which all self-righteous persons can read or recite what they call their prayers, is very observable. They profess to regard it as a duty to do a certain amount of praying; and when they have read or repeated their task, they can say, with the strange woman described in Proverbs vii. 14, “I have peace offerings with me; this day have I paid my vows.” Of this class of will-worshipers, not a few are like their ancient brethren, fond of being heard in their devotions; they choose the corners of streets, or market places, or places where they may be heard of men, that all may see how devout and righteous they are. They think, as we are told, that they shall be heard for their much speaking, and therefore make long prayers, and use vain repetitious; but our Lord has said of them, “this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me; but in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” {Matt. xv. 8,9} — It is not then the fluency of speech, the eloquence of language, nor readiness to engage in public or in private prayer, that God will accept as worship. Nor is it a periodical appropriation of times in which to go through the form of prayer, for the spirit of grace and supplication are not at our command. In his sermon on the mount, our Savior forbid his disciples praying as the hypocrites do, or using vain repetitions, as the heathen do. “Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

Even the repetition of the form of prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, {Matt. vi. 9-13,} becomes with us vain and forbidden repetition when we are not led by the Spirit to pray with the spirit and with the understanding. How many of us have been taught from our infancy to commit to memory what is called the Lord’s prayer, and to repeat it, as though by so doing we could secure the mercy and protection of the Lord. It is used as a kind of charm, to keep evil from us when we lie down to sleep, and we have felt as though we have secured the favor of the Lord; when not a word has been felt in or uttered from our heart. Even the saints of God, including the apostles of the Lamb, have asked in prayer of God and received not, because they have asked amiss. We may rest assured that we have asked amiss, if God withholds from us that which we ask for; and this is a great mercy to us, that he does withhold those things which his Spirit has not made intercession for. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and 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.” {Rom. viii. 26,27} Our Savior said to the woman of Samaria, “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” {John iv. 24}.

The experience of the saints is in harmony with the last two references, especially when they feel their heart drawn out in prayer to God. When they remember that God is a Spirit, infinite and eternal, the inquiry from their heart arises, “wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God?” {Micah vi. 6} They know they cannot approach him with a price in their hand, or with any offerings they can bring. How often in their heart, the unuttered and unutterable desire is hidden, “O that I knew where I might find him!” They may bend their knees to the ground, but their lips are sealed; they perhaps cannot utter a word, a syllable, and they sometimes even fear that they have offended God by their very attempt to pray. How sensibly do they now feel their weakness, and in deep humility they groan in spirit, in inexpressible breathings of desire. This is prayer, and this prayer enters the ears of the God of Sabaoth. And this prayer God has promised to hear, for he has said, “when the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” {Isa. xli. 17} This is truly helping their infirmity. Their tongue has failed; it can utter no sound, it cannot express the deeply hidden groaning for the water of life which is felt within. No created ear can hear the silent emotions that rend their broken hearts; the deep contrition that overwhelms them in unspeakable anguish can be heard only by their gracious prayer hearing God. “I the Lord will hear them.” What heavenly consolation is found in these gracious words. The heavens had seemed to them like brass, and the earth as dust, and their prayers had seemed utterly unavailing, and shut out from the ear of Sovereign Mercy. A consciousness not only of infirmity, but also a sense of guilt and unworthiness had paralyzed their tongue; but their inability to articulate with their tongue cannot prevent him, who searches the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men, from hearing the prayer which his own Spirit has indited in the heart, and no other prayer than that which his Spirit indites will be accepted, though uttered in thunder-tones.

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