The next element in prayer that I notice is Petition. How often we go to prayer-meetings without really asking for anything! Our prayers go all round the world, without anything definite being asked for. We do not expect anything. Many people would be greatly surprised if God did answer their prayers. I remember hearing of a very eloquent man who was leading a meeting in prayer. There was not a single definite petition in the whole. A poor, earnest woman shouted out: "Ask Him summat, man." How often you hear what is called prayer without any asking! "Ask, and ye shall receive."
I believe if we put all the stumbling-blocks out of the way, God will answer our petitions. If we put away sin and come into His presence with pure hands, as He has commanded us to come, our prayers will have power with Him. In Luke's Gospel we have as a grand supplement to the "Disciples' Prayer, '* Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking. The only way to trouble God is not to come at all. He encourages us to come to Him repeatedly, and press our claims.
I believe you will find three kinds of Christians in the church to-day. The first are those who ask; the second those who seek; and the third those who knock.
"Teacher," said a bright, earnest-faced boy, "why is it that so many prayers are unanswered? I do not understand . The Bible says, 'Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you;' but it seems to me a great many knock and are not admitted."
"Did you never sit by your cheerful parlor fire," said the teacher, "on some dark evening, and hear a loud knocking at the door? Going to answer the summons, have you not sometimes looked out into the darkness, seeing nothing, but hearing tho pattering feet of some mischievous boy, who knocked but did not wish to enter, and therefore ran away? Thus is it often with us. We ask for blessings, but do not really expect them; we knock, but do not mean to enter; we fear that Jesus will not hear us, will not fulfil His promises, will not admit us; and so we go away."
"Ah, I see," said the earnest-faced boy, his eyes shining with the new light dawning in his soul: "Jesus cannot be expected answer runaway knocks. He has never promised it. I mean to keep knocking, knocking, until He cannot help opening the door."
Too often we knock at mercy's door, and then run away, instead of waiting for an entrance and an answer. Thus we act as if we were afraid of having our prayers answered.
A great many people pray in that way; they do not wait for the answer. Our Lord teaches us here that we are not only to ask, but we are to wait for the answer; if it does not come, we must seek to find out the reason. I believe that we get a good many blessings just by asking; others we do not get, because there may be something in our life that needs to be brought to light. When Daniel began to pray in Babylon for the deliverance of of his people, he sought to find out what the trouble was, and why God had turned away His face from them. So there may be something in our life that is keeping back the blessing; if there is, we want to find it out. Some one, speaking on this subject, has said: "We are to ask with a beggar's humility, to seek with a servant's carefulness, and to knock with the confidence of a friend."
How often people become discouraged, and say they do not know whether or not God does answer prayer! In the parable of the importunate widow, Christ teaches us how we are not only to pray and seek, but to find. If the unjust judge heard the petition of the poor woman who pushed her claims, how much more will our Heavenly Father hear our cry! A good many years ago an Irishman in the State of New Jersey was condemned to be hung. Every possible influence was brought to bear upon the Governor to have the man reprieved; but he stood firm, and refused to alter the sentence. One morning the wife of the condemned man, with her ten children, went to see the Governor. When he came to his office, they all fell on their faces before him, and besought him to have mercy on the husband—the father. The Governor's heart was moved; and he at once wrote out a reprieve. The importunity of the wife and children saved the life of the man, just C.d the woman in the parable, who, pressing her claims, induced the unjust judge to grant her request.
It was this that brought the answer to the prayer of blind Bartimeus. The people, and even the disciples, tried to hush him into silence; but he only cried out the louder, "Thou Son of David, have morcy on me!"
Prayer it hardly ever mentioned in the Bible alone; it is prayer and earnestness; prayor and watchfulness; prayer and thanksgiving. It is an instructive fact that throughout Scripture prayer is always linked with something else. Bartimeus was in earnest, and the Lord heard his cry.
Then the highest type of Christian is the one who has got clear beyond asking and seeking, and keeps knocking till the answer comes. If we knock, God has promised to open the door and grant our request. It may be years before the answer comes; He may keep us knocking; but He has promised that the answer will come.
I will tell you what I think it means to knock. A number of years ago, when we were having meetings in a certain city, it came to a point where there seemed to be very little power. We called together all the mothers, and asked them to meet and pray for their children. About fifteen hundred mothers came together, and poured out their hearts to God in prayer. One mother said: "I wish you would pray for my two boys. They have gone off on a drunken spree; and it seems as if my heart would break." She was a widowed mother. A few mothers gathered together, and said: "Let us have a prayer-meeting for these boys." They cried to God for these two wandering boys; and now see how God answered their prayer.
That day these two brothers had planned to meet at the corner of the street where our meetings were being held. They were going to spend the night in debauchery and sin. About seven o'clock the first one came to the appointed place; he saw the people going into the meeting. As it was a stormy night, he thought he would go in for a little while. The word of God reached him, and he went into the inquiry-room, where he gave his heart to the Savior.
The other brother waited at the corner until the meeting broke up, expecting his brother to come; he did not know that he had been in the meeting. There was a young men's meeting in the church near by, and this brother thought he would like to see what was going on; so he followed the crowd into the meeting. He also was impressed with what he heard, and was the first one to go into the inquiry-room, where he found peace. While this was happening, the first one had gone home to cheer his mother's heart with the good news. He found her on her knees. She had been knocking at the mercy-seat. While she was doing so, her boy came in and told her that her prayers had been answered; his soul was saved. It was not long before the other brother came in and told his story— how he, too, had been blessed.
On the following Monday night, the first to get up at the young converts' meeting was one of these brothers, who told the story of their conversion. No sooner had he taken his seat, than the other jumped up and said: "All that my brother has told you is true, for I am his brother. The Lord has indeed met us and blessed us."
I heard of a wife in England who had an unconverted husband . She resolved that she would pray every day for twelve months for his conversion. Every day at twelve o'clock she went to her room alone and cried to God. Her husband would not allow her to speak to him on the subject; but she could speak to God on his behalf. It may be that you have a friend who does not wish to be spoken with about his salvation; you can do as this woman did—go and pray to God about it. The twelve months passed away, and there was no sign of his yielding. She resolved to pray for six months longer; so every day she went alone and prayed for the conversion of her husband. The six months passed, and still there was no sign, no answer. The question arose in her mind, could she give him up? "No," she said; "I will pray for him as long as God gives me breath." That very day, when he came home to dinner, instead of going into the dining-room he went upstairs. She waited, and waited, and waited; but he did not come down to dinner. Finally she went to his room, and found him on his knees crying to God to have mercy upon him. God convicted him of sin; he not only became a Christian, but the Word of God had free course, and was glorified in him. God used him mightily. That was God answering the prayers of this Christian wife; she knocked, and knocked, till the answer came.
I heard something the other day that cheered me greatly. Prayer had been made for a man for about forty years, but there was no sign of any answer. It seemed as though he was going down to his grave one of the most self-righteous men on the face of the earth. Conviction came in one night . In the morning he sent for the members of his family, and said to his daughter: "I want you to pray for me. Pray that God would forgive my sins; my whole life has been nothing but sin— sin." And all this conviction came in one night. What we want is to press our case right up to the throne of God. I have often known cases of men who came to our meetings, and although they could not hear a word that was said, it seemed as though some unseen power laid hold of them, so that they were convicted and converted then and there.
I remember at one place where we were holding meetings, a wife came to the first meeting and asked me to talk with her husband. "He is not interested," she said, "but I am in hopes he will become so." I talked with him, and I think I hardly ever spoke to a man who seemed to be so self-righteous. It looked as though I might as well have talked to an iron post, he seemed to be so encased in self-righteousness. I said to his wife that he was not at all interested. She said, "I told you that, but I am interested for him." All the thirty days we were there that wife never gave him up. I must confess she had ten times more faith for him than I had. I had spoken to him several times, but I could see no ray of hope. The last night but two the man came to me and said: "Would you see me in another room?" I went aside with him, and asked him what was the trouble. He said, "I am the greatest sinner in the State of Vermont." "How is that?" I said. "Is there any particular sin you have been guilty of?" I must confess I thought he had committed some awful crime, which he was covering up, and that he now wanted to make confession. "My whole life," he said, "has been nothing but sin. God has shown it to me to-day." He asked the Lord to have mercy on him, and he went home rejoicing in the assurance of sins forgiven. There was a man convicted and converted in answer to prayer. So if you are anxious about the conversion of some relative, or some friend, make up your mind that you will give God no rest, day or night, till He grants your petition. He can reach them, wherever they are—at their places of business, in their homes, or anywhere—and bring them to His feet.
Dr. Austin Phelps, in his "Still Hour," says: "The prospect of gaining an object will always affect thus the expression of intense desire. The feeling which will become spontanteous with a Christian under the influence of such a trust is this: 'I come to my devotions this morning on an errand of real life. This is no romance, and no farce. I do not come here to go through a form of words; I have no hopeless desires toexpress. I have an object to gain; I have an end to accomplish. This is a business in which I am about to engage. An astronomer does not turn his telescope to the skies with a more reasonable hope of penetrating these distant heavens, than I have of reaching the mind of God by lifting up my heart at the throne-of grace. This is the privilege of my calling of God in Christ Jesus. Even my faltering voice is now to be heard in heaven; and it is to put forth a new power there, the results of which only God can know, and only eternity can develop. Therefore, 0 Lord, Thy servant findeth it in his heart to pray this prayer unto Thee!'"
Jeremy Taylor says: "Easiness of desire is a great enemy to the success of a good man's prayer. It must be an intent, zealous, busy, operative prayer; for consider what a huge indecency it is that a man should speak to God for a thing that he values not! Our prayers upbraid our spirits when we beg tamely for those things for which we ought to die, which are more precious than imperial sceptres, richer than the spoils of the sea, or the treasures of Indian hills."
Dr. Patton, in his work on "Remarkable Answers to Prayer," says: "Jesus bids us seek Imagine a mother seeking a lost child. She looks through the house, and along the streets, then searches the fields and woods, and examines the river-banks. A wise neighbor meets her and says: 'Seek on, look everywhere; search every accessible place. You will not find, indeed; but then seeking is a good thing. It puts the mind on the stretch; it fixes the attention; it aids observation; it makes the idea of the child very real. And then, after a while, you will cease to want your child.' The words of Christ are, 'Knock, and it shall be opened unto you' Imagine a man knocking at the door of a house, long and and loud. After he has done this for an hour, a window opens, and the occupant of the house puts out his head and says: 'That is right, my friend; I shall not open the door, but keep on knocking—it is excellent exercise, and you will be the healthier for it. Knock away till sundown; and then come again, and knock all to-morrow. After some days thus spent you will attain to a state of mind in which you will no longer care to come in.' Is this what Jesus intended us to understand, when He said—' Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you?' No doubt one would thus soon cease to ask, to seek, and to knock; but would it not be from disgust?"
Nothing is more pleasing to our Father in heaven than direct, importunate, and persevering prayer. Two Christian ladies, whose husbands were unconverted, feeling their great danger, agreed to spend one hour each day in united prayer for their salvation. This was continued for seven years, when they debated whether they should pray longer, so useless did their prayers appear. They decided to persevere till death, and, if their husbands went to destruction, it should be laden with prayers. In renewed strength, they prayed three years longer, when one of them was awakened in the night by her husband, who was in great distress for sin. As soon as the day dawned, she hastened, with joy, to tell her praying companion that God was about to answer their prayers. What was her surprise to meet her friend coming to her on the same errand! Thus ten years of united and persevering prayer was crowned with the conversion of both husbands on the same day.
We cannot be too frequent in our requests; God will not weary of His children's prayers. Sir Walter Raleigh asked a favor of Queen Elizabeth, to which she replied, "Raleigh, when will you leave off begging?" "When your Majesty leaves off giving," he replied. So long must we continue praying.
Mr. George Muller, in a recent address given by him in Calcutta, said that in 1844 five individuals were laid on his heart, and he began to pray for them. Eighteen months passed away before one of them was converted. He prayed on for five years more, and another was converted. At the end of twelve years and a half, a third was converted. And now for forty years he had been praying for the other two, without missing one single day on any account whatever; but they were not yet converted. He felt encouraged, however, to continue in prayer; and he was sure of receiving an answer in relation to the two who were still resisting the Spirit.
"Sweet is the precious gift of prayer,
To bow before a throne of grace;
To leave our every burden there,
And gain new strength to run our race;
To gird our heavenly armor on,
Depending on the Lord alone.
"And sweet the whisper of His love,
When conscience sinks beneath its load, That bids our guilty fears remove,
And points to Christ's atoning blood;
Oh, then 'tis sweet indeed to know
God can be just and gracious too.
"But oh, to see our Savior's face!
From sin and sorrow to be freed!
To dwell in His divine embrace—
This will be sweeter far indeed!
The fairest form of earthly bliss
Is less than nought, compared with this."