Praying in the Spirit

Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.'

An important work of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to pray, to instruct us what to pray for, and to inspire us to pray earnestly, without ceasing and in faith, for the things we desire and the things that are dear to the heart of the Lord.

In a familiar verse, the poet Montgomery says:

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near.

And no doubt he is right. Prayer is exceedingly simple. The faintest cry for help, a whisper for mercy, is prayer. But when the Holy Spirit comes and fills the soul with His blessed presence, prayer becomes more than a cry; it ceases to be a feeble request, and often becomes a strife (Rom. xv. 30; Col. iv. 12) for greater things, a conflict, an invincible argument, a wrestling with God, and through it men enter into the divine councils and rise into a blessed and responsible fellowship in some important sense with the Father and the Son in the moral government of the world.

It was in this spirit and fellowship that Abraham prayed for Sodom (Gen. xviii. 23-32); that Moses interceded for Israel, and stood between them and God's hot displeasure (Exod. xxxii. 7-14); and that Elijah prevailed to shut up the heavens for three years and six months, and then again prevailed in his prayer for rain (Jas. v. 17, 18).

God would have us come to Him not only as a foolish and ignorant child comes, but as an ambassador to his home government; as a full-grown son who has become of age and entered into partnership with his father; as a bride who is one in all interests and affections with the bridegroom.

He would have us 'come boldly unto the throne of grace ' with a wellreasoned and scriptural understanding of what we desire, and with a purpose to ' ask', ' seek ' and 'knock ' till we get the thing we wish, being assured that it is according to His will; and this boldness is not inconsistent with the profoundest humility and a sense of utter dependence; indeed, it is always accompanied by self-distrust and humble reliance upon the merits of Jesus, else it is but presumption and unsanctified conceit. This union of assurance and humility, of boldness and dependence, can be secured only by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and only so can one be prepared and fitted for such prayer.

Three great obstacles hinder mighty prayer: selfishness, unbelief, and the darkness of ignorance and foolishness. The baptism with the Spirit sweeps away these obstacles and brings in the three great essentials to prayer: faith, love (divine love), and the light of heavenly knowledge and wisdom.

I. Selfishness must be cast out by the incoming of love. The ambassador must not be seeking personal ends, but the interests of his government and the people he represents; the son must not be seeking private gain, but the common prosperity of the partnership in which he will fully and lawfully share; the bride must not forget him to whom she belongs, and seek separate ends, but in all ways identify herself with her husband and his interests. So the child of God must come in prayer, unselfishly.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our co-operation and glad consent, to search and destroy selfishness out of our hearts, and fill them with pure love to God and man. And when this is done we shall not then be asking for things amiss to consume them upon our lusts, to gratify our appetites, pride, ambition, ease or vainglory. We shall seek only the glory of our Lord and the common good of our fellowmen, in which, as co-workers and partners , we shall have a common share. If we ask for success, it is not that we may be exalted, but that God may be glorified; that Jesus may secure the purchase of His Blood; that men may be saved, and the Kingdom of Heaven be established upon earth.

If we ask for daily bread, it is not that we may be full, but that we may be fitted for daily duty. If we ask for health, it is not alone that we may be free from pain and filled with physical comfort, but that we may be spent 'in publishing the sinner's Friend', in fulfilling the work for which God has placed us here.

2. Unbelief must be destroyed. Doubt paralyses prayer. Unbelief quenches the spirit of intercession. Only as the eye of faith sees our Father God upon the throne guaranteeing to us rights and privileges by the Blood of His Son, and inviting us to come without fear and make our wants known, does prayer rise from the commonplace to the sublime; does it cease to be a feeble, timid cry, and become a mighty spiritual force, moving God Himself in the interests which it seeks.

Men, wise with the wisdom of this world, but poor and naked and blind and foolish in matters of faith, ask: 'Will God change His plans at the request of man?' And we answer, 'Yes,' since many of God's plans are made contingent upon the prayers of His people, and He has ordered that prayer offered in faith, according to His will, revealed in His word, shall be one of the controlling factors in His government of men.

Is it God's will that the tides of the Atlantic and Pacific should sweep across the Isthmus of Panama? That men should run under the Alps? That thoughts and words should be winged across the ocean without any visible or tangible medium? Yes; it is His will, if men will it, and work to these ends in harmony with His great physical laws. So in the spiritual world there are wonders wrought by prayer, and God wills the will of His people when they come to Him in faith and love.

What else is meant by such promises and assurances as these: 'Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them ' (Mark xi. 24); ' The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working. Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again; and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit' (Jas. v. 16- 18. R. V.).

The Holy Spirit dwelling within the heart helps us to understand the things we may pray for' and the heart that is full of love and loyalty to God only wants what is lawful. This is mystery to people who are under the dominion of selfishness and the darkness of unbelief, but it is a soul-thrilling fact to those who are filled with the Holy Ghost.

'What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? ' asked Jesus of the blind man (Luke xviii. 41). He had respect to the will of the blind man, and granted his request, seeing he had faith. And Jesus still has respect to the vigorous sanctified will of His people-the will that has been subdued by consecration and faith into loving union with His will.

The Lord answered Abraham on behalf of Sodom till he ceased to ask.

' The Lord has had His way so long with Hudson Taylor,' said a friend , ' that now Hudson Taylor can have his way with the Lord.'

Adoniram Judson lay sick with a fatal illness in faraway Burma. His wife read to him an account of the conversion of a number of Jews in Constantinople through some of his writings. For a while the sick man was silent, and then he spoke with awe, telling his wife that for years he had prayed that he might be used in some way to bless the Jews, yet never having Seen any evidence that his prayers were answered; but now, after many years and from far away, the evidence of answer had come. Then, after further silence, he spoke with deep emotion, saying that he had never prayed a prayer for the glory of God and the good of men but that, sooner or later, even though for the time being he had forgotten, he found that God had not forgotten, but had remembered and patiently worked to answer his prayer.

Oh, the faithfulness of God! He means it when He makes promises and exhorts and urges and commands us to pray. It is not His purpose to mock us, but to answer and ' to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think' (Eph. iii. 20). Bless His holy name!

3. Knowledge and wisdom must take the place of foolish ignorance. Paul says, 'We know not what we should pray for as we ought'; and then adds, ' but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered' (Rom. viii. 26). If my little child asks for a glittering razor, I refuse its request; but when my full-grown son asks for one I grant it. So God cannot wisely answer some prayers, for they are foolish or untimely. Hence, we need not love and faith only, but wisdom and knowledge, that we may ask according to the will of God.

It is this that Paul has in mind when he says that he will not only pray with the Spirit, but ' I will pray with the understanding also' (I Cor. xiv. 15)- Men should think before they pray, and study that they may pray wisely.

Now, when the Holy Spirit comes there pours into the soul not only a tide of love and simple faith, but a flood of light as well, and prayer becomes not only earnest, but intelligent also. And this intelligence increases as, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the word of God is studied, and its heavenly truths and principles are grasped and assimilated.

It is thus men come to know God and become His friends, whose prayers He will assist and will not deny.

Such men talk with God as friend with Friend, and the Holy Spirit helps their infirmities; encourages them to urge their prayer in faith; teaches them to reason with God; enables them to come boldly in the name of Jesus, when oppressed with a sense of their own insignificance and unworthiness; and, when words fail them and they scarcely know how to voice their desires, He intercedes within them with unutterable groanings, according to the will of God (Rom. viii. 26, 27).

A young man felt called to mission work in China, but his mother offered strong opposition to his going. An agent of the mission, knowing the need of the work and vexed with the mother, one day laid the case before Hudson Taylor.

'Mr. Taylor', said he,' listened patiently and lovingly to all I had to say, and then gently suggested our praying about it. Such a prayer I have never heard before! It seemed to me more like a conversation with a trusted friend whose advice he was seeking. He talked the matter over with the Friend from every point of view-from the side of the young man, from the side of China's needs, from the side of the mother, and her natural feelings, and also from my side. It was a revelation to me. I saw that prayer did not mean merely asking for things, much less asking for things to be carried out by God according to our ideas; but that it means communion, fellowship, partnership, with our heavenly Father. And when our will is really blended with His, what liberty we may have in asking for what we want!


My soul, ask what thou wilt,
Thou canst not be too bold;
Since His own Blood for thee He spilt,
What else can He withhold?


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