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The purpose of prayer is to get God's will done. What a stranger God is in His own world! Nobody is so much slandered as He. He comes to His own, and they keep Him standing outside the door, like a pilgrim of the night, staff in hand, while they peer suspiciously at Him through the crack of the hinges.
Some of us shrink back from making a full surrender of life to God. And if the real reason were known it would be found to be that we are afraid of God. We fear He will put something bitter in the cup, or some rough thing in the road. And without doubt the reason we are afraid of God is because we do not know God. The great prayer of Jesus' heart that night with the eleven was, "that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou didst send."
To understand God's will we must understand something of His character, Himself. There are five common every-day words I want to bring you to suggest something of who God is. They are familiar words, in constant use. The first is the word father. "Father" stands for strength, loving strength. A father plans, and provides for, and protects his loved ones. All fathers are not good. How man can extract the meaning out of a fine word, and use the word without its meaning. If you will think of the finest father ever you knew that anybody ever had; think of him now. Then remember this, God is a father, only He is so much finer a father than the finest father you ever knew of. And His will for your life--I am not talking about heaven, and our souls just now, that is in it too--His will for your life down here these days is a father's will for the one most dearly loved.
The second word is a finer word. Because woman is finer than man, and was made, and meant to be, this second word is finer than the first. I mean the word mother. If father stands for strength, mother stands for love,--great, patient, tender, fine-fibred, enduring love. What would she not do for her loved one! Why, not unlikely she went down into the valley of the shadow that that life might come; and did it gladly with the love-light shining out of her eyes. Yes, and would do it again, that the life may remain if need be. That is a mother. You think of the finest mother ever you knew. And the suggestion brings the most hallowed memories to my own heart. Then remember this: God is a mother, only He is so much finer a mother than the finest mother you ever knew.
The references in scripture to God as a mother are numerous. "Under His wings" is a mother figure. The mother-bird gathers her brood up under her wings to feel the heat of her body, and for protection. The word mother is not used for God in the Bible. I think it is because with God "father" includes "mother." It takes more of the human to tell the story than of the divine. With God, all the strength of the father and all the fine love of the mother are combined in that word "father." And His will for us is a mother's will, a wise loving mother's will for the darling of her heart.
The third word is friend. I do not mean to use it in the cheaper meaning. There is a certain kindliness of speech in which all acquaintances are called friends. Tupper says, we call all men friends who are not known to be enemies. But I mean to use the word in its finer meaning. Here, a friend is one who loves you for your sake only and steadfastly loves without regard to any return, even a return-love. The English have a saying that you may fill a church with your acquaintances, and not fill the pulpit seats with your friends. If you may have in your life one or two real friends you are very wealthy. If you will think for a moment of the very best friend you ever knew anybody to have. Then remember this: God is a friend. Only He is ever so much better a friend than the best friend you ever knew of. And the plan He has thought out for your life is such a one as that word would suggest.
The fourth word, I almost hesitate to use, yet I am sure I need not here. The hesitancy is because the word and its relationship are spoken of lightly, frivolously, so much, even in good circles. I mean that rare fine word lover. Where two have met, and acquaintance has deepened into friendship, and that in turn into the holiest emotion, the highest friendship. What would he not do for her! She becomes the new human centre of his life. In a good sense he worships the ground she treads upon. And she--she will leave wealth for poverty if only so she may be with him in the coming days. She will leave home and friends, and go to the ends of the earth if his service calls him there. You think of the finest lover, man or woman, you ever knew anybody to have. Then remember this, and let me say it in soft, reverent tones, God is a lover--shall I say in yet more reverent voice, a sweetheart-lover. Only He is so much finer a lover than the finest lover you ever knew of. And His will, His plan for your life and mine--it hushes my heart to say it--is a lover's plan for his only loved one.
The fifth word is this fourth word a degree finer spun, a stage farther on, and higher up, the word husband. This is the word on the man side for the most hallowed relationship of earth. This is the lover relationship in its perfection stage. With men husband is not always a finer word than lover. The more's the pity. How man does cheapen God's plan of things; leaves out the kernel, and keeps only an empty shell sometimes. In God's thought a husband is a lover plus. He is all that the finest lover is, and more; more tender, more eager, more thoughtful. Two lives are joined, and begin living one life. Two wills, yet one. Two persons, yet one purpose. Duality in unity. Will you call to mind for a moment the best husband you ever knew any woman to have. Then remember this that God is a husband; only He is an infinitely more thoughtful husband than any you ever knew. And His will for your life is a husband's will for his life's friend and companion.
Now, please, do not you take one of these words, and say, "I like that"; and you another and say, "That conception of God appeals to me," and you another. How we do whittle God down to our narrow conceptions! You must take all five words, and think the finest meaning into each, and then put them all together, to get a close up idea of God. He is all that, and more.
You see God is so much that it takes a number of earth's relationships put together to get a good suggestion of what He is. He is a father, a mother, a friend, a lover, a husband. I have not brought book, and chapter, and verse. But you know I could spend a long time with you reading over the numerous passages giving these conceptions of God.
And God's will for us is the plan of such a God as that. It includes the body, health and strength; the family and home matters; money and business matters; friendships, including the choice of life's chief friend; it includes service, what service and where; and constant guidance; it includes the whole life, and the world of lives. All this He has thought into, lovingly, carefully. Does a wise mother think of her child's needs into the details, the necessities and the loving extras? That is God.
Now, the whole thought in prayer is to get the will of a God like that done in our lives and upon this old earth. The greatest prayer any one can offer is, "Thy will be done." It will be offered in a thousand different forms, with a thousand details, as needs arise daily. But every true prayer comes under those four words. There is not a good desirable thing that you have thought of that He has not thought of first, and probably with an added touch not in your thought. Not to grit your teeth and lock your jaw and pray for grace to say, "Thy will be endured: it is bitter, but I must be resigned; that is a Christian grace; Thy will be endured." Not that, please. Do not slander God like that. There is a superficial idea among men that charges God with many misfortunes and ills for which He is not at all responsible. He is continually doing the very best that can be done under the circumstances for the best results. He has a bad mixture of stubborn warped human wills to deal with. With infinite patience and skill and diplomacy and success too He is ever working at the tangled skein of human life, through the human will.
It may help us here to remember that God has a first and a second will for us: a first choice and a second. He always prefers that His first will shall be accomplished in us. But where we will not be wooed up to that height, He comes down to the highest level we will come up to, and works with us there. For instance, God's first choice for Israel was that He Himself should be their king. There was to be no human, visible king, as with the surrounding nations. He was to be their king. They were to be peculiar in this. But to Samuel's sorrow and yet more to God's, they insisted upon a king. And so God gave them a king. And David the great shepherd-psalmist-king was a man after God's own heart, and the world's Saviour came of the Davidic line. God did His best upon the level they chose and a great best it was. Yet the human king and line of kings was not God's first will, but a second will yielded to because the first would not be accepted. God is ever doing the best for human lives that can be done through the human will.
His first will for our bodies, without doubt, is that there should be a strong healthy body for each of us. But there is a far higher thing being aimed at in us than that. And with keen pain to His own heart, He oft times permits bodily weakness and suffering because in the conditions of our wills only so can these higher and highest things be gotten at. And where the human will comes into intelligent touch with Himself, and the higher can so be reached, with great gladness and eagerness the bodily difficulty is removed by Him.
There are two things, at least, that modify God's first will for us. First of all the degree of our intelligent willingness that He shall have His full sway. And second, the circumstances of one's life. Each of us is the centre of a circle of people, an ever changing circle. If we be in touch with Him God is speaking through each of us to his circle. Our experiences with God: His dealings with us, under the varying circumstances are a part of His message to that circle. God is trying to win men. It takes marvelous diplomacy on His part. And God is a wondrous tactician. But--very reverently--He is a needy God. He needs us to help Him, each in his circle. We must be perfectly willing to have His will done; and more, we must trust Him to know what is best to do in us and with us in the circle of our circumstances. God is a great economist. He wastes no forces. Every bit is being conserved towards the great end in view.
There may be a false submission to His supposed will in some affliction; a not reaching out after all that He has for us. And at the other swing of the pendulum there may be a sort of logical praying for some desirable thing because a friend tells us we should claim it. By logical praying I mean the studying of a statement of God's word, and possibly some one's explanation of it, and hearing or knowing how somebody else has claimed a certain thing through that statement and then concluding that therefore we should so claim. The trouble with that is that it stops too soon. Praying in the Spirit as opposed to logical praying is doing this logical thinking: then quietly taking all to God, to learn what His will is for you, under your circumstances, and in the circle of people whom He touches through you.
There is a remarkable passage in Paul's Roman letter about prayer and God's will.[Rom. 8:26-28] "And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, that He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."
Please notice: these words connect back with the verses ending with verse seventeen. Verses eighteen to twenty-five are a parenthesis. As the Spirit within breathes out the "Father" cry of a child, which is the prayer-cry, so He helps us in praying. It is our infirmity that we do not know how to pray as we ought. There is willingness and eagerness too. No bother there. But a lack of knowledge. We don't know how. But the Spirit knows how. He is the Master-prayer. He knows God's will perfectly. He knows what best to be praying under all circumstances. And He is within you and me. He is there as a prayer-spirit. He prompts us to pray. He calls us away to the quiet room to our knees. He inclines to prayer wherever we are. He is thinking thoughts that find no response in us. They cannot be expressed in our lips for they are not in our thinking. He prays with an intensity quite beyond the possibility of language to express. And the heart-searcher--God listening above--knows fully what this praying Spirit is thinking within me, and wordlessly praying, for they are one. He recognizes His own purposes and plans being repeated in this man down on the earth by His own Spirit.
And the great truth is that the Spirit within us prays God's will. He teaches us God's will. He teaches us how to pray God's will. And He Himself prays God's will in us. And further that He seeks to pray God's will--that is to pray for the thing God has planned--in us before we have yet reached up to where we know ourselves what that will is.
We should be ambitious to cultivate a healthy sensitiveness to this indwelling Spirit. And when there comes that quick inner wooing away to pray let us faithfully obey. Even though we be not clear what the particular petition is to be let us remain in prayer while He uses us as the medium of His praying.
Oftentimes the best prayer to offer about some friend, or some particular thing, after perhaps stating the case the best we can is this: "Holy Spirit, be praying in me the thing the Father wants done. Father, what the Spirit within me is praying, that is my prayer in Jesus' name. Thy will, what Thou art wishing and thinking, may that be fully done here."
We should make a study of God's will. We ought to seek to become skilled in knowing His will. The more we know Him the better shall we be able to read intelligently His will.
It may be said that God has two wills for each of us, or, better, there are two parts to His will. There is His will of grace, and His will of government. His will of grace is plainly revealed in His Word. It is that we shall be saved, and made holy, and pure, and by and by glorified in his own presence. His will of government is His particular plan for my life. God has every life planned. The highest possible ambition for a life is to reach God's plan. He reveals that to us bit by bit as we need to know. If the life is to be one of special service He will make that plain, what service, and where, and when. Then each next step He will make plain.
Learning His will here hinges upon three things, simple enough but essential. I must keep in touch with Him so He has an open ear to talk into. I must delight to do His will, because it is His. The third thing needs special emphasis. Many who are right on the first two stumble here, and sometimes measure their length on the ground. His Word must be allowed to discipline my judgment as to Himself and His will. Many of us stumble on number one and on number two. And very many willing earnest men sprawl badly when it comes to number three. The bother with these is the lack of a disciplined judgment about God and His will. If we would prayerfully absorb the Book, there would come a better poised judgment. We need to get a broad sweep of God's thought, to breathe Him in as He reveals Himself in this Book. The meek man--that is the man willing to yield his will to a higher will--will He guide in his judgment, that is, in his mental processes. [Psalm 25:9]
This is John's standpoint in that famous passage in his first epistle. [1 John 5:14-15] "And this is the boldness that we have towards Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him." These words dovetail with great nicety into those already quoted from Paul in the eighth of Romans. The whole supposition here is that we have learned His will about the particular matter in hand. Having gotten that footing, we go to prayer with great boldness. For if He wants a thing and I want it and we join--that combination cannot be broken.
Continued in Part Twelve: How To Pray: May we Pray With Assurance for the Conversion of Our Loved Ones on the bottom of Christian Life.