Learning To Pray
Sermon delivered at the Moody Tabernacle by W.H. Griffith Thomas, D.D. on February 1, 1922.
When we were little and went to school for the first time we were expected to learn more and more each week and each term, until at last our school days were over, but although school days are over and people sometimes talk about finishing their education, as a matter of fact education is never finished. We always are learning something.
In the same way, when we commence the Christian life we are like little children, and the Lord who is our Saviour becomes our Teacher, and we are expected to learn more and more from Him and about Him as the days go on, and certainly in the Christian life we never finish our education. We shall be learning something more even through all eternity, because the Lord will always have something to teach us.
There is one lesson in particular that we need to learn in our Christian life, and that lesson is one that I want to mention tonight. I refer to the familiar, very vital and important lesson of prayer.
When Saul of Tarsus was converted, the manner by which Annanias was to know him was this: “Behold, he prayeth!” From the moment of the commencement of our Christian life prayer is one of the best fruits that we bring to Christ. Prayer is one of those things about which we learn more and more as the days go on. I do not suppose the man who is converted today has any idea of the wonderful power and blessing of prayer, compared with what will be his in a month or a year or five years from now.
I remember tonight two books doubtless known to many here. One of them is by Dr. Andrew Murray, “With Christ in the School of Prayer.” Those who have read that book know what helpful lessons Dr. Murray draws from the thought of our being with Christ in His school as He taught about prayer.
The other book is by the late Dr. Pierson, “Lessons in the School of Prayer,” and he points out what I want to imply tonight.
When the disciples first began to be with Jesus Christ they were taught some elementary lessons about prayer, but as time went on, the Lord led them farther and deeper into prayer.
Two Prayer Fundamentals
I want to call to your attention two things about prayer which seem to be at the very heart of our subject. Whether we are concerned with private prayer or public prayer, these two thoughts about prayer should be before our minds and hearts if we are to learn what Jesus Christ Himself would teach.
The two thoughts are in two little phrases used by our Lord Jesus in those wonderful discourses in John 14, 15, and 16, delivered on the night before His death. I will mention two phrases first and then I will try to ask what they mean in connection with prayer.
The first is: “In My Name.”
The second is: “In That Day.”
I believe when we thoroughly understand what those two statements mean then we are beginning to learn how to pray. That is why we are gathered together tonight. The address is a very small part, and is intended only to help us to think once again about our great privilege and the wonderful power of prayer. The Lord Jesus Christ says in John 16:24, “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name,” so then whatever this means it was a new lesson that they had never before learned.
What did our Lord mean? If you and I can get hold of this thought, I believe it will bless and enrich our prayer life.
The Authority of Christ
IN MY NAME. The name always means the character. What we know of a person, and the name of God is not like our names,—a title. But it means God nature, the God character. Today I suppose, names count for very little. In the family, one is called John or Richard or James. The name means very little aside from a help to distinguish one person from another. But in the Bible, the name of God means a great deal. If you ever get half an hour to spare, go through the Psalms and pick out every passage where the word “name” is found and you will be surprised at how much you learn.
“I come unto thee,” said David, “in the name of the Lord of hosts.” That does not mean using his name or my name, but it means that he goes to this man in His authority.
In Psalm 118 we read: “In the name of the Lord will I destroy them.” That means in the power of God I will have the victory over them. In the book of Proverbs, the name of the Lord is a “strong tower.” It means God’s character is a strong tower from evil. When the Lord says, “Ask in my name,” He means, “to ask in union with what you know about Me.”
Your prayers and mine will be in exact proportion to our knowledge of God. If I were in great need tonight and just outside on North Avenue, I saw standing together a perfect stranger to me and a friend, of course in my need, I would go to the friend rather than the stranger. Even supposing I knew the stranger was a wealthy man and my friend was also able to help me, I would still go to my friend because of my knowledge of him. So those that really pray are those that know God—those that are in fellowship with God. In proportion as you and I know God, our prayers will be powerful and will be blessed.
You can only know God through His Word and if you give your attention to His Word and try to find out all about God, it will have such an effect upon your prayer life that it will be just like asking a friend. You will know from that friend’s character that he will give and you will know from God’s character what God will do.
The Way to Knowledge
Many of you remember that great and good man, George Mueller, of Bristol, England. He tells us that in his earlier days he always used to commence his quiet time with prayer, and then afterwards he would read his Bible, but he said he found it was much more profitable to read his Bible because the Bible suggested topics for prayer. Suggested things that led him to pray. Prayer is speaking to God, but first of all there must be the Bible—God speaking to us. Therefore, “In Thy Name” means in union with what you know of Me.
I want to plead with you tonight and ask you to remember that our prayers will only be powerful in proportion as we give our special attention to this book and find out all that we can about God and His attitude of grace to us. This will mean therefore that you and I are to do very much more with the Bible than we have done heretofore. If I am speaking to any one who is conscious that his prayer life is not what it ought to be, I would not be surprised to find that the secret of this is neglect of the Bible. I am certain from what I have read of Christian biographies that men of prayer have been first of all men of the Bible. That is the meaning of asking “In My Name.” You will see at once how marvelously it extends our prayers and how it also limits our prayers. If you and I dwell upon the Bible and learn more and more about God there will be wonderful power in prayer.
Some years ago there were a number of women talking about their minister. These women were in the northern part of England—Lancashire. In that place they have a peculiar way of talking,—I mean dialect. They have still another dialect in Yorkshire. These women were, in the Lancashire fashion, discussing their minister, and they were trying to find out the secret of his power. One said he was a good speaker. Another said he had a good style about him. At last one said, I will tell you what it is that gives him power. The young man is getting thick with the Almighty. When I read those words I have thought again and again, that is the secret of prayer,—if I may say it with reverence—being thick with the Almighty; knowing what He is as He is revealed in His Word.
An Up-to-Date Minister
I remember a young minister going to a place soon after the death of an older minister, and like many young men, I suppose he had the idea that this old minster was rather what we would call “a back number.” He was rather surprised to find the people should have thought so much about him, for all he could learn suggested that the minister was narrow,—not up-to-date.
This young minister thought he would find out if he could find the secret, so he went to a lady and asked: “What was there about Mr. S. that made him of so much value? Was he a good preacher, or what was it?” She replied: “I never took much notice of his preaching, but I don’t know how I could get on without his prayers.” That was the secret. He was a man of power because he was a man of prayer, and he was a man of power because he knew God.
The other phrase to which I wish to refer is, “In That Day.” You will find several times in these three chapters of John this expression, and it refers to the time in which you and I are now living. From the day of Pentecost to the day of the Holy Spirit, and it means that our prayers must be in the fullness of the divine spirit. Praying with power because we are living in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit.
A few years ago, a book was published on prayer, and a Y.M.C.A. secretary said to me, “Mr. Thomas, what do you think of that book?” “Well,” I said, “There are many good things in that book singularly fresh in my mind, but from beginning to end there is no reference to the Holy Spirit in reference to prayer.” No book can be complete about prayer that does not show the connection of the Holy Spirit and prayer. That, to my mind, is the fatal flaw in an otherwise helpful book.
Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”
Jude 20 says, “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.”
Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.”
The Holy Spirit and Power
What does the Holy Spirit do in connection with our prayers? First, he gives us liberty. If you and I know anything about prayer to God it is because the Holy Spirit is dwelling in our hearts and giving us liberty to say, “Our Father.” The spirit of liberty.
The Holy Spirit is the spirit of helpfulness. In the eighth chapter of Romans, we are told the Spirit helpeth our infirmities. I wonder whether I can make myself clear. That word “helpeth” is a very striking word in the original. There is a thought there if we can get hold of that will be of value to us. The Spirit helpeth our infirmities against—against what or against whom? It suggests to us conflict against an enemy trying to keep us from prayer.
The Apostle Paul said to the people of Colosse, I want you to know what a conflict I have for you. Why did Paul speak of prayer as a struggle? Because there was an enemy trying to keep him from prayer. You and I have the same enemy to face. It is literally true when we read those old words, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.”
If the devil can keep you and me free from praying he knows he will have accomplished one of the greatest of his tasks. The Holy Spirit will so possess our souls that He will assist us against the enemy and enable us to pray as we should. It is the Holy Spirit of helpfulness that I would like to emphasize tonight.
Sphere and Atmosphere
There is just one thought more about the Holy Spirit. He is the sphere and atmosphere of our prayer—prayer in the Holy Spirit. Don’t you see, therefore, that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are the two great secrets of effectual prayer? The Word of God will give us such a revelation of God’s character that we will be bold to ask because we know Him, and the Spirit will give us liberty, and we may be able to ask according to the will of God, since the Holy Spirit is filling our hearts.
The thoughts I have been presenting to you are: “In My Name,” “In That Day.” The WORD and the SPIRIT are the two secrets of prayer. They will always bring blessing, and whether we have to do with our own personal private prayer, or whether we are gathered together as tonight for public prayer, let us always honor the Word and let us always honor the Spirit, and then our prayers will be effective and effectual because they will be according to the will of God.
If there is any one here tonight who has never learned to pray, there is one prayer they can offer, and that is the familiar one. “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” When that prayer is prayed, God says He will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities He will remember no more, and from that time forward the words, “Behold, he prayeth!” will be true, and then all of our lives we will be learning more and more about prayer. The Lord will keep us in His school and teach us precious lessons every day that we live.