Prayer Method

Written by S. D. Gordon in 1904 - Truth is timeless

Quiet Talks On Prayer Part Nine

How To Pray: The "How" Of Method

Touching The Hidden Keys

One of the most remarkable illustrations in recent times of the power of prayer, may be found in the experience of Mr. Moody. It explains his unparalleled career of world-wide soul winning. One marvels that more has not been said of it. Its stimulus to faith is great. I suppose the man most concerned did not speak of it much because of his fine modesty. The last year of his life he referred to it more frequently as though impelled to.

The last time I heard Mr. Moody was in his own church in Chicago. It was, I think, in the fall of the last year of his life. One morning in the old church made famous by his early work, in a quiet conversational way he told the story. It was back in the early seventies, when Chicago had been laid in ashes. "This building was not yet up far enough to do much in," he said; "so I thought I would slip across the water, and learn what I could from preachers there, so as to do better work here. I had gone over to London, and was running around after men there." Then he told of going one evening to hear Mr. Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle; and understanding that he was to speak a second time that evening to dedicate a chapel, Mr. Moody had slipped out of the building and had run along the street after Mr. Spurgeon's carriage a mile or so, so as to hear him the second time. Then he smiled, and said quietly, "I was running around after men like that."

He had not been speaking anywhere, he said, but listening to others. One day, Saturday, at noon, he had gone into the meeting in Exeter Hall on the Strand; felt impelled to speak a little when the meeting was thrown open, and did so. At the close among others who greeted him, one man, a minister, asked him to come and preach for him the next day morning and night, and he said he would. Mr. Moody said, "I went to the morning service and found a large church full of people. And when the time came I began to speak to them. But it seemed the hardest talking ever I did. There was no response in their faces. They seemed as though carved out of stone or ice. And I was having a hard time: and wished I wasn't there; and wished I hadn't promised to speak again at night. But I had promised, and so I went.

"At night it was the same thing: house full, people outwardly respectful, but no interest, no response. And I was having a hard time again. When about half-way through my talk there came a change. It seemed as though the windows of heaven had opened and a bit of breath blew down. The atmosphere of the building seemed to change. The people's faces changed. It impressed me so that when I finished speaking I gave the invitation for those who wanted to be Christians to rise. I thought there might be a few. And to my immense surprise the people got up in groups, pew-fulls. I turned to the minister and said, 'What does this mean?' He said, 'I don't know, I'm sure.' Well," Mr. Moody said, "they misunderstood me. I'll explain what I meant." So he announced an after-meeting in the room below, explaining who were invited: only those who wanted to be Christians; and putting pretty clearly what he understood that to mean, and dismissed the service.

They went to the lower room. And the people came crowding, jamming in below, filling all available space, seats, aisles and standing room. Mr. Moody talked again a few minutes, and then asked those who would be Christians to rise. This time he knew he had made his meaning clear. They got up in clumps, in groups, by fifties! Mr. Moody said, "I turned and said to the minister, 'What does this mean?' He said, 'I'm sure I don't know.'" Then the minister said to Mr. Moody, "What'll I do with these people? I don't know what to do with them; this is something new." And he said, "Well. I'd announce a meeting for to-morrow night, and Tuesday night, and see what comes of it; I'm going across the channel to Dublin." And he went, but he had barely stepped off the boat when a cablegram was handed him from the minister saying, "Come back at once. Church packed." So he went back, and stayed ten days. And the result of that ten days, as I recall Mr. Moody's words, was that four hundred were added to that church, and that every church near by felt the impulse of those ten days. Then Mr. Moody dropped his head, as though thinking back, and said: "I had no plans beyond this church. I supposed my life work was here. But the result with me was that I was given a roving commission and have been working under it ever since."

Now what was the explanation of that marvellous Sunday and days following? It was not Mr. Moody's doing, though he was a leader whom God could and did mightily use. It was not the minister's doing; for he was as greatly surprised as the leader. There was some secret hidden beneath the surface of those ten days. With his usual keenness Mr. Moody set himself to ferret it out.

By and by this incident came to him. A member of the church, a woman, had been taken sick some time before. Then she grew worse. Then the physician told her that she would not recover. That is, she would not die at once, so far as he could judge, but she would be shut in her home for years. And she lay there trying to think what that meant: to be shut in for years. And she thought of her life, and said, "How little I've done for God: practically nothing: and now what can I do shut in here on my back." And she said, "I can pray."

May I put this word in here as a parenthesis in the story--that God oftentimes allows us to be shut in--He does not shut us in--He does not need to--simply take His hand off partly--there is enough disobedience to His law of our bodies all the time to shut us aside--no trouble on that side of the problem--with pain to Himself, against His own first will for us, He allows us to be shut in, because only so can He get our attention from other things to what He wants done; get us to see things, and think things His way. I am compelled to think it is so.

She said, "I will pray." And she was led to pray for her church. Her sister, also a member of the church, lived with her, and was her link with the outer world. Sundays, after church service, the sick woman would ask, "Any special interest in church to-day?" "No," was the constant reply. Wednesday nights, after prayer-meetings, "Any special interest in the service to-night? there must have been." "No; nothing new; same old deacons made the same old prayers."

But one Sunday noon the sister came in from service and asked, "Who do you think preached to-day?" "I don't know, who?" "Why, a stranger from America, a man called Moody, I think was the name." And the sick woman's face turned a bit whiter, and her eye looked half scared, and her lip trembled a bit, and she quietly said: "I know what that means. There's something coming to the old church. Don't bring me any dinner. I must spend this afternoon in prayer." And so she did. And that night in the service that startling change came.

Then to Mr. Moody himself, as he sought her out in her sick room, she told how nearly two years before there came into her hands a copy of a paper published in Chicago called the Watchman that contained a talk by Mr. Moody in one of the Chicago meetings, Farwell Hall meetings, I think. All she knew was that talk that made her heart burn, and there was the name M-o-o-d-y. And she was led to pray that God would send that man into their church in London. As simple a prayer as that.

And the months went by, and a year, and over; still she prayed. Nobody knew of it but herself and God. No change seemed to come. Still she prayed. And of course her prayer wrought its purpose. Every Spirit-suggested prayer does. And that is the touchstone of true prayer. And the Spirit of God moved that man of God over to the seaboard, and across the water and into London, and into their church. Then a bit of special siege-prayer, a sort of last charge up the steep hill, and that night the victory came.

Do you not believe--I believe without a doubt, that some day when the night is gone and the morning light comes up, and we know as we are known, that we shall find that the largest single factor, in that ten days' work, and in the changing of tens of thousands of lives under Moody's leadership is that woman in her praying. Not the only factor, mind you. Moody a man of rare leadership, and consecration, and hundreds of faithful ministers and others rallying to his support. But behind and beneath Moody and the others, and to be reckoned with as first this woman's praying.

Yet I do not know her name. I know Mr. Moody's name. I could name scores of faithful men associated with him in his campaigns, but the name of this one in whom humanly is the secret of it all I do not know. Ah! It is a secret service. We do not know who the great ones are. They tell me she is living yet in the north end of London, and still praying. Shall we pray! Shall we not pray! If something else must slip out, something important, shall we not see to it that intercession has first place!

Making God's Purpose Our Prayer

With that thought in mind let me this evening suggest a bit of how to pray. As simple a subject as that: how to pray: the how of method.

The first thing in prayer is to find God's purpose, the trend, the swing of it; the second thing to make that purpose our prayer. We want to find out what God is thinking, and then to claim that that shall be done. God is seated up yonder on the throne. Jesus Christ is sitting by His side glorified. Everywhere in the universe God's will is being done except in this corner, called the earth, and its atmosphere, and that bit of the heavens above it where Satan's headquarters are.

It has been done down here by one person--Jesus. He came here to this prodigal planet and did God's will perfectly. He went away. And He has sought and seeks to have men down upon the earth so fully in touch with Himself that He may do in them and through them just what He will. That He may reproduce Himself in these men, and have God's will done again down on the earth. Now prayer is this: finding out God's purpose for our lives, and for the earth and insisting that that shall be done here. The great thing then is to find out and insist upon God's will. And the "how" of method in prayer is concerned with that.

Many a time I have met with a group of persons for prayer. Various special matters for prayer are brought up. Here is this man, needing prayer, and this particular matter, and this one, and this. Then we kneel and pray. And I have many a time thought--not critically in a bad sense--as I have listened to their prayers, as though this is the prayer I must offer:--"Blessed Holy Spirit, Thou knowest this man, and what the lacking thing is in him. There is trouble there. Thou knowest this sick woman, and what the difficulty is there. This problem, and what the hindrance is in it. Blessed Spirit, pray in me the prayer Thou art praying for this man, and this thing, and this one. The prayer Thou art praying, I pray that, in Jesus' name. Thy will be done here under these circumstances."

Sometimes I feel clear as to the particular prayer to offer, but many a time I am puzzled to know. I put this fact with this, but I may not know all the facts. I know this man who evidently needs praying for, a Christian man perhaps, his mental characteristics, his conceptions of things, the kind of a will he has, but there may be some fact in there that I do not know, that seriously affects the whole difficulty. And I am compelled to fall back on this: I don't know how to pray as I ought. But the Spirit within me will make intercession for this man as I allow Him to have free swing in me as the medium of His prayer. And He who is listening above as He hears His will for this man being repeated down on the battle-field will recognize His own purpose, of course. And so that thing will be working out because of Jesus' victory over the evil one.

But I may become so sensitive to the Spirit's thoughts and presence, that I shall know more keenly and quickly what to pray for. In so far as I do I become a more skillful partner of His on the earth in getting God's will done.

The Trysting Place

There are six suggestions here on how to pray. First--we need time for prayer, unhurried time, daily time, time enough to forget about how much time it is. I do not mean now: rising in the morning at the very last moment, and dressing, it may be hurriedly, and then kneeling a few moments so as to feel easier in mind: not that. I do not mean the last thing at night when you are jaded and worn out, and almost between the sheets, and then remember and look up a verse and kneel a few moments: not that. That is good so far as it goes. I am not criticising that. Better sweeten and sandwich the day with all of that sort you can get in. But just now I mean this: taking time when the mind is fresh and keen, and the spirit sensitive, to thoughtfully pray. We haven't time. Life is so crowded. It must be taken from something else, something important, but still less important than this.

Sacrifice is the continual law of life. The important thing must be sacrificed to the more important. One needs to cultivate a mature judgment, or his strength will be frizzled away in the less important details, and the greater thing go undone, or be done poorly with the worn-ends of strength. If we would become skilled intercessors, and know how to pray simply enough, we must take quiet time daily to get off alone.

The second suggestion: we need a place for prayer. Oh! you can pray anywhere, on the street, in the store, travelling, measuring dry goods, hands in dishwater,--where not. But you are not likely to unless you have been off in some quiet place shut in alone with God. The Master said: "Enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door": that door is important. It shuts out, and it shuts in. "Pray to thy Father who is in secret." God is here in this shut-in spot. One must get alone to find out that he never is alone. The more alone we are as far as men are concerned the least alone we are so far as God is concerned.

The quiet place and time are needful to train the ears for keen hearing. A mother will hear the faintest cry of her babe just awaking. It is up-stairs perhaps; the tiniest bit of a sound comes; nobody else hears; but quick as a flash the mother's hands are held quiet, the head alert, then she is off. Her ears are trained beyond anybody's else; love's training. We need trained ears. A quiet place shuts out the outer sounds, and gives the inner ear a chance to learn other sounds.

A man was standing in a telephone booth trying to talk, but could not make out the message. He kept saying, "I can't hear, I can't hear." The other man by and by said sharply, "If you'll shut that door you can hear." His door was shut and he could hear not only the man's voice but the street and store noises too. Some folks have gotten their hearing badly confused because their doors have not been shut enough. Man's voice and God's voice get mixed in their ears. They cannot tell between them. The bother is partly with the door. If you'll shut that door you can hear.

The third suggestion needs much emphasis to-day: give the Book of God its place in prayer. Prayer is not talking to God--simply. It is listening first, then talking. Prayer needs three organs of the head, an ear, a tongue and an eye. First an ear to hear what God says, then a tongue to speak, then an eye to look out for the result. Bible study is the listening side of prayer. The purpose of God comes in through the ear, passes through the heart taking on the tinge of your personality, and goes out at the tongue as prayer. It is pathetic what a time God has getting a hearing down here. He is ever speaking but even where there may be some inclination to hear the sounds of earth are choking in our ears the sound of His voice. God speaks in His Word. The most we know of God comes to us here. This Book is God in print. It was inspired, and it is inspired. God Himself speaks in this Book. That puts it in a list by itself, quite apart from all others. Studying it keenly, intelligently, reverently will reveal God's great will. What He says will utterly change what you will say.

Our Prayer Teacher

The fourth suggestion is this: Let the Spirit teach you how to pray. The more you pray the more you will find yourself saying to yourself, "I don't know how to pray." Well God understands that. Paul knew that out of his own experience before he wrote it down. And God has a plan to cover our need there. There is One who is a master intercessor. He understands praying perfectly. He is the Spirit of prayer. God has sent Him down to live inside you and me, partly for this, to teach us the fine art of prayer. The suggestion is this: let Him teach you.

When you go alone in the quiet time and place with the Book quietly pray: "blessed Prayer-Spirit, Master-Spirit, teach me how to pray," and He will. Do not be nervous, or agitated, wondering if you will understand. Study to be quiet; mind quiet, body quiet. Be still and listen. Remember Luther's version of David's words, [Ps. 37:7] "Be silent to God, and let Him mould thee."

You will find your praying changing. You will talk more simply, like a man transacting business or a child asking, though of course with a reverence and a deepness of feeling not in those things. You will quit asking for some things. Some of the old forms of prayer will drop from your lips likely enough. You will use fewer words, maybe, but they will be spoken with a quiet absolute faith that this thing you are asking is being worked out.

This thing of letting the Spirit teach must come first in one's praying, and remain to the last, and continue all along as the leading dominant factor. He is a Spirit of prayer peculiarly. The highest law of the Christian life is obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. There needs to be a cultivated judgment in reading His leading, and not mistaking our haphazard thoughts as His voice. He should be allowed to teach us how to pray and more, to dominate our praying. The whole range and intensity of the spirit conflict is under His eye. He is God's General on the field of action. There come crises in the battle when the turn of the tide wavers. He knows when a bit of special praying is needed to turn the tide and bring victory. So there needs to be special seasons of persistent prayer, a continuing until victory is assured. Obey His promptings. Sometimes there comes an impulse to pray, or to ask another to pray. And we think, "Why, I have just been praying," or, "he does pray about this anyway. It is not necessary to pray again. I do not just like to suggest it." Better obey the impulse quietly, with fewest words of explanation to the other one concerned, or no words beyond simply the request.

Let Him, this wondrous Holy Spirit teach you how to pray. It will take time. You may be a bit set in your way, but if you will just yield and patiently wait, He will teach what to pray, suggest definite things, and often the very language of prayer.

You will notice that the chief purpose of these four suggestions is to learn God's will. The quiet place, the quiet time, the Book, the Spirit--this is the schoolroom as Andrew Murray would finely put it. Here we learn His will. Learning that makes one eager to have it done, and breathes anew the longing prayer that it may be done.

There is a fine word much used in the Psalms, and in Isaiah for this sort of thing--waiting. Over and over again that is the word used for that contact with God which reveals to us His will, and imparts to us anew His desires. It is a word full of richest and deepest meaning. Waiting is not an occasional nor a hurried thing. It means steadfastness, that is holding on; patience, that is holding back; expectancy, that is holding the face up to see; obedience, that is holding one's self in readiness to go or do; it means listening, that is holding quiet and still so as to hear.

The Power Of A Name

The fifth suggestion has already been referred to, but should be repeated here. Prayer must be in Jesus' name. The relationship of prayer is through Jesus. And the prayer itself must be offered in His name, because the whole strength of the case lies in Jesus. I recall distinctly a certain section of this country where I was for awhile, and very rarely did I hear Jesus' name used in prayer. I heard men, that I knew must be good men, praying in church, in prayer-meeting and elsewhere with no mention of Jesus. Let us distinctly bear in mind that we have no standing with God except through Jesus.

If the keenest lawyer of London, who knew more of American law, and of Illinois statute and of Chicago ordinance--suppose such a case--were to come here, could he plead a case in your court-house? you know he could not. He would have no legal standing here. Now you and I have no standing at yonder bar. We are disbarred through sin. Only as we come through one who has recognized standing there can we come.

But turn that fact around. As we do come in Jesus' name, it is the same as though Jesus prayed. It is the same as though--let me be saying it very softly so it may seem very reverent--as though Jesus put His arm in yours and took you up to the Father, and said, "Father, here is a friend of mine; we're on good terms. Please give him anything he asks, for My sake." And the Father would quickly bend over and graciously say, "What'll you have? You may have anything you ask when My Son asks for it." That is the practical effect of asking in Jesus' name.

But I am very, very clear of this, and I keep swinging back to it that in the ultimate analysis the force of using Jesus' name is that He is the victor over the traitor prince. Prayer is repeating the Victor's name into the ears of Satan and insisting upon his retreat. As one prays persistently in Jesus' name, the evil one must go. Reluctantly, angrily, he must loosen his clutches, and go back.

The Birthplace Of Faith

The sixth suggestion is a familiar one, and yet one much misunderstood. Prayer must be in faith. But please note that faith here is not believing that God can, but that He will. It is kneeling and making the prayer, and then saying, "Father, I thank Thee for this; that it will be so, I thank Thee." Then rising and going about your duties, saying, "that thing is settled." Going again and again, and repeating the prayer with the thanks, and then saying as you go off, "that matter is assured." Not going repeatedly to persuade God. But because prayer is the deciding factor in a spirit conflict and each prayer is like a fresh blow between the eyes of the enemy, a fresh broadside from your fleet upon the fort.

"Well," some one will say, "now you are getting that keyed up rather high. Can we all have faith like that? Can a man make himself believe?" There should be no unnatural mechanical insisting that you do believe. Some earnest people make a mistake there. And we will not all have faith like that. That is quite true, and I can easily tell you why. The faith that believes that God will do what you ask is not born in a hurry; it is not born in the dust of the street, and the noise of the crowd. But I can tell where that faith will have a birthplace and keep growing stronger: in every heart that takes quiet time off habitually with God, and listens to His voice in His word. Into that heart will come a simple strong faith that the thing it is led to ask shall be accomplished.

That faith has four simple characteristics. It is intelligent. It finds out what God's will is. Faith is never contrary to reason. Sometimes it is a bit higher up; the reasoning process has not yet reached up to it. Second, it is obedient. It fits its life into God's will. There is apt to be a stiff rub here all the time. Then it is expectant. It looks out for the result. It bows down upon the earth, but sends a man to keep an eye on the sea. And then it is persistent. It hangs on. It says, "Go again seven times; seventy times seven." It reasons that having learned God's will, and knowing that He does not change, the delay must be caused by the third person, the enemy, and that stubborn persistence in the Victor's name routs him, and leaves a clear field.

Continued in Part Ten: How To Pray: The Listening Side Of Prayer on the bottom of Christian Life.

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