You are coming to a King, Large petitions with you bring:
For His power and grace are such, You can never ask too much.
Prayer is a puzzle to unbelievers, but a sweet privilege to us. A stranger will hesitate to approach a king, but the king's child will climb on the king's knee, and whisper in the king's ear, and ask all sorts of favors of the king; and get them, too, because he is his child. Now that is the secret of prayer.
When we have repented of sin, and given ourselves to God, and been born again, we are His dear children, and we have a right to come to Him in prayer. The devil will try to hinder us, and if our faith is weak, we may doubt and hesitate; but God invites, He wants us to come, to come with all our wishes, cares, burdens, sorrows, perplexities, everything. Nothing that is of interest to us is too small to interest Him. Many people do not believe this, but it is true. They think God is interested only in big things; but the same God that made the flaming suns and mighty worlds, made the tiny insect, and fashioned the lenses of its little eye, and painted with brightest colors its dainty wing. He is interested in the little quite as much as in the great. Therefore we may bring everything to Him in prayer.
I once heard a very intelligent old saint, past fourscore years of age, say, 'I moved into a flat by myself, so that I could be alone with Jesus. He and I keep house together; and when I lose anything, I ask Him to help me to find it, and He does.' She was right, and people who think God does not want His children to be so familiar as that are wrong, and have much yet to learn.
We should be definite and pray for what we want. A Christian told me the other day that she could come to God for a clean heart, but not for a new dress. She was wrong. If she seeks 'first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,' she has just as much right to lay before the Lord her need of a new dress, as of a spiritual blessing. Of course, spiritual blessings are far the most important, and should be sought first; but Jesus wants us to talk to Him about everything, and bring to Him all our wants. Let this sink deep into your heart, if you would be holy, and happy, and useful.
For many days there had been no rain in Ohio, the fields were parched and brown, and everything cried out for water. The people were anxious, and knew not what to do. One Sunday, before his sermon, Mr. Finney prayed for rain. One who heard that prayer reported it after twenty-three years, and said it was as fresh in his mind as though he had heard it but yesterday. Finney told the Lord all about their great need, and among other things said, 'We do not presume to dictate to Thee what is best for us, yet Thou dost invite us to come to Thee as children to a father, and tell Thee what we want. We want rain. Our pastures are dry. The cattle are lowing and wandering about in search of water. Even the little squirrels in the woods are suffering for the want of it. Unless Thou dost give us rain our cattle must die, for we shall have no hay for them for winter; and our harvests will come to nought. O Lord, send us rain, and send it now! Although to us there is no sign of it, it is an easy thing for Thee to do. Send it now, Lord, for Christ's sake!' And the Lord sent it. Before the service was half over the rain came in such torrents that the preacher's voice could not be heard; so with tears of wonder and joy and thanksgiving, they sang,
When all Thy mercies, O my God, My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I'm lost In wonder, love and praise.
Finney took God at His word, and dared to ask for what he wanted. He used to say, 'Lord, I hope Thou dost not see that I can be denied.'
Many people pray for things they want; but James tells us that they do not get them because they ask amiss, to consume them upon their lusts. They want things for worldly pleasure or profit, or for sinful, selfish purposes. (James iv. 3.)
The secret of prevailing prayer is this; that we are so in love with Jesus, so at one with Him, that we do not want anything to use or spend in any way that 'would grieve Him. I want a new suit of clothes. What for? That I may strut around in pride, or to show myself off to the people I know? No, no, but that I may be suitably clothed for my work for God. I want food. What for? To strengthen me for sinful, selfish pleasures, and labors? No, no, but to glorify God. I want a clean heart What for? That I may be happy, and get to heaven? No, no, not that alone, but that I may honor God, and help Him to win others to love and trust and obey Him. When I want things in that spirit, then the Lord can trust me with anything for which I ask Him, for I will not ask Him for anything that is not for His glory. If I am in doubt about anything being for His glory, then I will ask Him to give it to me only if He sees it is best to do so.
Again, we must pray in faith. It is sad, it is heartbreaking, the way people doubt God, the cold, lifeless prayers they utter before Him! You would not want a friend to come to you for anything you had promised to give, with such faithless asking, would you? God is much more willing to give good things to us than we are to give good gifts to our children. And we should come with lively faith that will not be denied. The promise is, 'What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.' Bless the Lord!
Do you ask, 'How can I get faith?' I answer, through God's Word. Hunt up His promises, and go to God with them, and say with David, 'Remember the word unto Thy servant upon which Thou has caused me to hope.' That is what Finney did. He wanted rain, and he went to God with the promise, '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?
But again, we must persevere in prayer. We must hold on to God, and not let go till the answer comes, or until God shows us why it does not come. Sometimes the answer to prayer comes at once. The first person I remember praying with after God sanctified me, got the blessing at once.
One morning I prayed for a suit of clothes which I very much needed. A great peace came into my heart, and I got off my knees laughing, knowing that God had heard and answered my little request. How and when the suit was to come I did not know. After breakfast I went out, and when I returned a man was waiting for me to go to the tailor's, and be measured for the best suit in his shop. I knew absolutely nothing about this when I prayed, but God did.
But sometimes the answer is delayed. At such times we must not fold our hands and idly conclude that it is not God's will, but instead, search our hearts to make sure the hindrance is not in us, and still continue to plead with God, and in due time the answer will come.
Hold on to God for the salvation and sanctification of your loved ones, and God will hear and answer you. Wrestle with Him, give Him no rest, remind Him every day of His promise and your burning desire, and He must hear and answer you.
A young man prayed for a friend for thirteen months, and finally died without seeing him saved. But God was faithful and remembered the prayers of His child, and in due time that friend was converted, and became a martyr for Christ in Africa.
Finally, we should mingle thanks with our prayers, even before we see the answer. 'In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.' wrote Paul. (Phil. iv. 6.) A mother got gloriously sanctified at an Army penitent-form, and then began to pray in faith for the conversion of her daughter. For some time she prayed, but one day she said, 'Lord, I am not going to pray for this any longer, but I am going to thank Thee for the salvation of my child.' Within a week the girl was saved, 'and is now an Officer.
Holy people are in vital union and partnership with God, and their prayers inspired by the Holy Spirit move all Heaven in their behalf. Then the only reason why they accomplish so little is because they ask so little, and with such feeble faith 'Men ought always to pray, and not to faint,' said Jesus. Will you, my Comrade, give yourself up to a life of glad, persevering, believing prayer? If so, you shall be one of God's princes on earth.
Behold the throne of grace! The promise calls me near;
There Jesus shows a smiling face, And waits to answer prayer.
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?
Holiness And Self-Denial
One day John Wesley was to dine with a rich man. One of his preachers, who was present, said, 'Oh, sir, what a sumptuous dinner! Things are very different to what they were formerly. There is but little self-denial now among the Methodists.' Wesley pointed to the table and quietly remarked, 'My brother, there is a fine opportunity for self-denial.'
Denial that is not self-imposed is not self-denial. It might have been self-denial on the part of the host to present a less sumptuous table, but there would then have been no self-denial on the part of the guest. Adverse circumstances or selfish people may deprive us of the luxuries and even of the necessities of life. But our deprivation would not be self-denial. We deny ourselves only when we voluntarily give up that which we like, and which we might lawfully keep. And I have no doubt that God often allows us luxuries and abundance, not that we may consume them upon ourselves, but rather that we may deny ourselves joyfully for His dear sake, and the sake of the needy ones about us.
Often when urging upon well-to-do people the importance of denying themselves in dress and furniture and equipage and the luxuries of life, I have had them turn to me and say, 'If God did not mean me to have these things and enjoy them, why did He give me the means to get them?' And, poor things! they thought they had crushed me with their logic.
But the answer is simple. God meant them to be stewards, but they considered themselves owners. God meant them to have the greater blessedness of giving, for 'it is more blessed to give than to receive' (Acts xx. 35), but they contented themselves with what they considered the blessedness of receiving. God meant them to pass on His bounty to the multitudes of needy ones about them, but they dammed up and diverted the streams of God's mercy and reveled in what they considered God's special favor and license to unlimited self-indulgence, while the multitudes for whom God really intended these blessings perished of want. They show unmistakably by their conduct that they have not the Spirit of Jesus, Who, 'though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich' (2 Cor. viii. 9), and on the Judgment Day they will surely be found wanting, and woeful will be their condemnation.
Why does God give a woman wealth? That she may spend it on feathers and flowers, and silks and satins, and luxurious apartments? Nay, but that she may spend it upon those who are hungry and cold and dying of bitter want.
Why does God give a mother brilliant, manly sons and lovely daughters? That she may enjoy their presence and train them for society and a career before the world? Nay, but that she may train them to be martyrs, slum angels, missionaries to the heathen and to the barefooted, debauched, neglected, devil-ridden children of the saloons and brothels. Oh, as I have looked at my sweet baby boy and girl and realized the almost infinite difference between their training and that of millions of little ones who have the same rights in Jesus Christ that my children have; as I have realized the tender care with which they are unceasingly watched and sheltered and trained for God and righteousness, my heart has poured itself out to God in unutterable longings. Not that they might be great, but that they might be good; not that they might fill the earth with their fame, but that they might utterly sacrifice themselves for those who have never known the love and instruction of a sainted mother and a Christian home.
Why does God give a man power and influence and fame? That he may be great in the eyes of men and lord it over his fellows and clothe himself in purple and fine linen and live luxuriously? Nay; but that he may throw every jot and tittle of his power and influence into the scale for righteousness of conduct and holiness of character and hasten the utter establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth.
Self-denial almost ceases to be self-denial when practiced from such a high and holy motive. It is the denial of the lower, base, earthly self; and the gratification of the higher and Heavenly self. It is a turning from earth to Heaven; from that which is fleeting and temporal to that which is eternal. It enlightens the mind, ennobles the character, perfects the heart and brings us into fellowship with Jesus. Bless God! Hallelujah!
'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself; and take up his cross daily, and follow Me' (Luke ix. 23).
I once read an illustration of Chas. Finney's that has had a marked influence on my life. In substance, it was this: 'Suppose a man were traveling in a foreign land, and, being waylaid and captured by brigands, he were sold into slavery, and a great ransom demanded for his release. At last, word reaches his anxious wife, informing her of his sad state, and the only condition upon which he could possibly be restored to her. His bondage is cruel, and is fast wearing his life away, but there is no way of escape except the ransom be paid.
'All the love and affection and pity and sympathy of the wife's heart are aroused to the uttermost. She fears for her loved one's life, she can feel the galling chain, she can see the cruel lash of the slave-driver, she can realize the heart-loneliness and bitter bondage of her darling, and she wishes she could fly to his side and share his burden and his sorrow, and no sacrifice seems too great to gain his liberty. She sells all her property, she lays her case before her friends and neighbors and they assist her, and yet she falls far below the amount of the ransom demanded. She labors and toils early and late, and hastens to earn what money she can to add to what she already has; she denies herself every luxury, and almost begrudges every necessity of life. She thinks of the hard fare of her husband, the coarse, scanty food, the miserable hovel, the hard, filthy bed, the heavy, unremitting labour; and the thought of selfish gratification is painful to her.
At last, a stranger hears her sad story, visits her, and gives her twenty pounds. She does not for an instant think: "Now I shall be able to get me a new dress and bonnet in the latest fashion, or get a nice piece of furniture for my rooms, or furnish my table better than in the past." No, no. She burst into tears. She thanks the giver, and she cries: "Now I shall be able to ransom my love, and soon I shall have him in my arms again."'
Now, when the Christian whose heart throbs with love for the Saviour, realizes that Jesus puts Himself in the place of the prisoner in his lonely, dark cell; the slave toiling without recompense under the lash, with the galling, clanking chain; the sick one on the bed of sleeplessness and pain; the heathen, in his blindness and ignorance and superstition and fear; the helpless orphan and the poor widow, and the outcast sinner, and says, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me' (Matt. xxv. 40), he must deny himself.
When he sees Jesus, lonely and full of toil and sorrow, again, in the person of these suffering ones, he finds it easier to deny himself than to indulge himself; and self-sacrifice becomes a joy, while self-indulgence becomes a grief and a moral impossibility.
It is for this reason that I deny myself. It is for Jesus, and the souls for whom He died. For years I lived for myself. All my hopes and ambitions centered in myself; even my desire to go to Heaven was more a desire to escape from the pains of Hell than to enjoy the society of Jesus and redeemed souls, and to do good and be holy. But at last all this was changed! My sins became a burden. I loathed myself. The righteous indignation and wrath of God against evil-doers took hold upon me, and I feared I should be lost for ever. But I found deliverance through Jesus; through Him I found forgiveness of sins and freedom from the bondage of selfishness. He did not upbraid me, but loved me freely, and won my heart, and filled me with a confidence and love toward Him that were unutterable.
With that love to Him came a love for the whole world of saints and sinners. At first I groped about somewhat blindly to know how to express that love, but true love will always finally express itself in uttermost self-sacrifice for its object, and in so doing adds fuel to its flame. Since then, I have found it easier to give than to withhold. I began by giving one-tenth of my income, but I could not stop there. Any case of need, any appeal for help, wrung my heart with an anguish of desire to give, until if it were not for the foresight of a prudent wife, who gets me to lay up money with her for a needed suit, I should frequently be without suitable clothes to wear.
This is not natural. It is spiritual-supernatural. In the old days when I had plenty of money, I can remember that it was rather grudgingly that I subscribed two dollars a year to the support of the Gospel! I should be decidedly ashamed to tell this, but for the fact that I am now 'a new creature,' and an honest confession is good for the soul.
How can I indulge myself while others suffer? How can I hoard up wealth and this world's goods while others perish of want? Why can I not trust Him to supply my wants, who feeds the sparrows with unfailing supply? Why did He speak so, if it was not to encourage one to cast abroad with an open, liberal hand and trust Him for daily bread?
I want the 'full strength of trust to prove,' and how can I have such trust if I never once in my life give away all I have, and boldly trust Him to supply my need and confound a taunting devil? I have done it; glory to God! and He has not failed me. Instead of finding my feet on quicksands, I found them on granite, and instead of starvation, I found plenty. Bless God for ever! Oh, there is a divine philosophy in self-denial that the wise folks of this world never dream of!