Prayer: Language of the soul
Among the many disciplines of the Christian life, we will find the privilege of prayer. We use the word privilege because that is what it is, a special privilege extended from a loving Father to His children. Had we been invited into the presence of an earthy president or king, we would have felt privileged. But to have the invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” with the promise attached, “and I will give you rest”, from the creator of heaven and earth is a royal privilege indeed!
We must be careful when we use the word discipline. We would not want to sound like the many religions of the world that demand worship from their converts or else suffer the harsh condemnation of a capricious god. We use the word to usher in a sense of responsibility for the good of our own soul, to promote a filial and loving relationship between a loving Father and a helpless child. No one must whip us to make us eat. Yet, we must have some discipline as to how many times a day we will eat and what we put into our mouths. It is so with prayer. The fact that our thoughts ascend to worlds on high is wonderful evidence of a healthy soul, just as hunger is to the natural body. Yet, some form of structure will promote a healthy balance in our daily activities….we must take time to pray.
Daniel prayed three times a day and gave thanks before his God. It is apparent that this Godly man had some form of structure for his daily intercession, so structured that his enemies knew his habit well enough to condemn him for it. Lydia was found of Paul on the sabbath where prayer was “wont to be made”. The word “wont” carries the thought of a habit or structure. There were apparently people in the city who knew enough about their spiritual endeavors that they could direct Paul and his comrades to the very time and place of their intercessions. My, what blessings unfolded in each of their lives for their faithfulness in prayer!
It is possible to turn prayer into something legalistic. We remember visiting a small congregation when we were in London a few years ago. As we entered the building, a tall, thin man, dressed in a dark overcoat, was standing over a microphone praying. Our first thought was that of thankfulness for the fact that that there were praying people to be found in the midst of a city of ungodliness. But as the prayer went on for an hour or more, we remembered Spurgeon’s words: “When you pray in public, keep it short.” Everything the man said was good and right. But we felt that most of what he had said could have been said in his closet at home. It was the Pharisees who were noted for their long, pretentious prayers. We have wondered if those who pray for lengthy periods in public do so when they are alone.
When we speak of legalistic prayers, we know of nothing more so than prayers read from a page or a book. Praying is like singing: God looks upon the heart. The spirit intercedes for heartfelt groanings, not the proper verbiage. There is more genuine prayer found in a heavy heart that can only say:“Lord have mercy on me a sinner”, than the eloquent language of the Pharisee’s printed or memorized script. In his most excellent book, “The Return of Prayers”, Thomas Goodwin makes this point: “Now prayers move God, not as an orator moves his hearers, but as a child moves his father: two words of a child humbled, and crying at his father’s feet, will prevail more than penned orations.” Were this not so, would not the learned and educated gain more favor with God than the humble child? If it is not from the heart, it must be for show.
This brings us to our next thought and that is how we can make prayer complicated. While the Bible does encourage some structure, some special times during the day that we have set apart to pray, we can get to the place that we loose the simplicity of prayer. Let us always remember that we do not have to wait for a special time to communicate with our heavenly Father. His ears are always open to the cries of His elect. He invites us to come to Him. Nothing pleases Him more than to hear from His child. When Paul used the expression, “Pray without ceasing”, this was his thought: our hearts should always be in the attitude of prayer. Notice the little tyke walking hand in hand with his father down the path. Though he may not be speaking every moment, he is cognizant of his father’s presence. From moment to moment, he looks upward into his father’s loving face to tell his heart; to share all that he sees; all that he experiences; all that he wonders about; even his every need. To us, this is the true nature of prayer, just sharing our day with our Father as we stroll along the pathway of life. There is nothing complicated about that.
We remember a story of several preachers that had bowed together before a large congregation to pray. As one of them attempted to pray, he struggled with his words. Finally, he whispered to his comrades who were bowed beside him, “I don’t know what to say or how to say it.” To which, one of his brethren replied, “Tell the Master so.” My, how simple is that! Just tell our Lord our hearts in the same way we would tell our friend.
Before we conclude our remarks we must remind our readers that prayer is worship in and of itself. No praise team is needed. No soft, gentle music must accompany our words. We do not need a crowd or even a building. Notice Job, after he had been informed of his severe losses he “arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” A simple prayer from a heart crushed with grief ascended upon high as a worthy offering of a sweet smell unto Job’s God. Job worshipped the Lord in prayer after his loss.
Though there is the time for public worship, God’s people are not confined to buildings and the many trappings of religion. They can enter into solemn worship with their Lord when and where they please. Wherever the soul enters in to communion with God it is Holy ground indeed.
Prayer has been defined as the highest activity of the soul. It is truly the language of the soul. We are sure there is no better way to begin a new day than to lift our voices on high and praise our God. Before the military enters in to warfare they say to their soldiers: “Lock and load.” They are about to engage the enemy and they take the time to prepare. So we must do my fellow soldiers. “Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray?”