Another element is Faith, It is as important for us to know how to pray as it is to know how to work. We are not told that Jesus ever taught His disciples how to preach, but He taught them how to pray. He wanted them to have power with God; then He knew they would have power with man. In James we read: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God . . . and it shall be given him; but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." So faith is the golden key that unlocks the treasures of heaven. It was the shield that David took when he met Goliath on the field; he believed that God was going to deliver the Philistine into his hands. Some one has said that faith could lead Christ about anywhere; wherever He found it He honored it. Unbelief sees something in God's hand, and says, "I cannot get it." Faith sees it, and says, "I will have it."
The new life begins with faith; then we have only ot go on building on that foundation. "I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." But bear in mind, we must be in earnest when we go to God.
I do not know of a more vivid illustration of the cry of distress for help going up to God, in all the earnestness of deeply realized need, than the following stoiy supplies:
Carl Steinman, who visited Mount Hecla, Iceland, just before the great eruption, in 1845, after a repose of eighty years, narrowly escaped death by venturing into the smoking crater against the earnest entreaty of his guide. On the brink of »he yawning gulf he was prostrated by a convulsion of the summit, and held there by blocks of lava upon his feet. He graphically writes:
"Oh, the horrors of that awful realization! There, over the mouth of a black and heated abyss, I was held suspended, a helpless and conscious prisoner, to be hurled downward by the next great throe of trembling Nature!
"' Help! help! help!—for the love of God, help!' I shrieked, in the very agony of my despair.
"I had nothing to rely upon but the mercy of heaven; and I prayed to God as I had never prayed before, for the forgiveness of my sins, that they might not follow me to judgment.
"All at once I heard a shout, and, looking around, I beheld, with feelings that cannot be described, my faithful guide hastening down the sides of the crater to my relief.
"' I warned you!' said he.
"' You did!' cried I, 'but forgive me, and save me, for I am perishing!'
"' I will save you, or perish with you!'
"The earth trembled, and the rocks parted—one of them rolling down the chasm with a dull, booming sound. I sprang forward; I seized a hand of the guide, and the next moment we had both fallen, locked in each other's arms, upon the solid earth above. I was free, but still upon the verge of the pit."
Bishop Hall, in a well-known extract, thus puts the point of earnestness in its relation to the prayer of faith.
"An arrow, if it be drawn up but a little way, goes not far; but, if it be pulled up to the head, flies swiftly and pierces deep. Thus prayer, if it be only dribbled forth from careless lips, falls at our feet. It is the strength of ejaculation and strong desire which sends it to heaven, and makes it pierce the clouds. It is not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they are; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how eloquent they be; nor the geometry of our prayers, how long they be; nor the music of our prayers, how sweet our voice may be; nor the logic of our prayers, how argumentative they may be; nor the method of pur prayers, how orderly they may be; nor even the divinity of our prayers, how good the doctrine may be;—which God cares for. He looks not for the horny knees which James is said to have had through the assiduity of prayer. We might be like Bartholomew, who is said to have had a hundred prayers for the morning, and as many for the evening, and all might be of no avail. Fervency of spirit is that which availeth much."
Archbishop Leighton says: "It is not the gilded paper and good writing of a petition that prevails with a king, but the moving sense of it. And to that King who discerns the heart, heart-sense is the sense of all, and that which He only regards. He listens to hear what that speaks, and takes all as nothing where that is silent. All other excellence in prayer is but the outside and fashion of it. This is the life of it."
Brooks says: "As a painted fire is no fire, a dead man no man, so a cold prayer is no prayer. In a painted fire there is no heat, in a dead man there is no life; so in a cold prayer there is no omnipotency, no devotion, no blessing. Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings; they pierce not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers do always freeze before they get to heaven. Oh that Christians would chide themselves out of their cold prayers, and chide themselves into a better and warmer frame of spirit, when they make their supplications to the Lord!"
Take the case of the Syrophenician woman. When she called to the Master, it seemed for a time as if He were deaf to her request. The disciples wanted her to be sent away. Although they were with Christ for three years, and sat at His feet, yet they did not know how full of grace His heart was. Think of Christ sending away a poor sinner who had come to Him for mercy! Can you conceive such a thing? Never once did it occur. This poor woman put herself in the place of her child. "Lord, help me!" she said. I think when we get so far as that in the earnest desire to have our friends blessed—when we put ourselves in their place—God will soon hear our prayer.
I remember, a number of years ago at a meeting, I asked all those who wished to be prayed for to come forward and kneel or take seats in front . Among those who came was a woman. I thought by her looks that she must be a Christian, but she knelt down with the others. I said: "You are a Christian, are you not?" She said she had been one for so many years. "Did you understand the invitation? I asked those only who wanted to become Christians." I shall never forget the look on her face as she replied, "I have a son who has gone far away; I thought I would take his place to-day, and see if God would not bless him." Thank God for such a mother as that!
The Syrophenician woman did the same thing— "Lord help meP It was a short prayer, but it went right to the heart of the Son of God . He tried her faith, however. He said: "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs." She replied: "Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." "O woman, great is thy faith!" "What a eulogy He paid to her! Her story will never be forgotten as long as the church is on the earth. He honored her faith, and gave her all she asked for. Every one can say, "Lord, help me!" We all need help. As Christians, we need more grace, more love, more purity of life, more righteousness? Then let us make this prayer to-day. I want God to help me to preach better and to live better, to be more like the Son of God. The golden chains of faith link us right to the throne of God, and the grace of heaven flows down into our souls.
I do not know but that woman was a great sinner; still, the Lord heard her cry. It may be that up to this hour you have been living in sin; but if you will cry, "Lord help me!" He will answer your prayer, if it is an honest one. Very often when we cry to God we do not really mean anything. You mothers understand that . Your ehildren have two voices. When they ask you for anything, you can soon tell if the cry is a makebelieve one or not . If it is, you do not give any heed to it; but if it is a real cry for help, how quickly you respond! The cry of distress always brings relief. Your child is playing around, and it says, '' Mamma, I want Bome bread;" but it goes on playing. You know that it is not very hungry; so you let it alone. But, by and by, the child drops the toys, and comes tugging at your dress. "Mamma, I am so hungry!" Then you know that the cry is a real one; you soon go to the pantry, and get some bread. "When we are in earnest for the bread of heaven, we will get it. This woman was terribly in earnest; therefore her petition was answered.
I remember hearing of a boy brought up in an English almshouse. He had never learned to read or write, except that he could read the letters of the alphabet . One day a man of God came there, and told the children that if they prayed to God in their trouble, He would send them help. After a time, this boy was apprenticed to a farmer. One day he was sent out into the fields to look after some sheep. He was having rather a hard time; so he remembered what the preacher had said, and he thought he would pray to God about it. Some one going by the field heard a voice behind the hedge. They looked to see whose it was, and saw the little fellow on his knees, saying, "A, B, C, D," and so on. The man said, "My boy, what are you doing?" He looked up, and said he was praying. "Why, that is not praying; it is only saying the alphabet." He said he did not know just how to pray, but a man once came to the poor-house, who told them that if they called upon God, He would help them. So he thought that i£ he named over the letters of the alphabet, God would take them and put together into a prayer, and give him what he wanted. The little fellow was really praying. Sometimes, when your child talks, your friends cannot understand what he says; but the mother understands very well . So if our prayer comes right from the heart, God understands our language. It is a delusion of the devil to think we cannot pray; we can, if we really want anything. It is not the most beautiful or the most eloquent language that brings down the answer; it is the cry that goes up from a burdened heart . When this poor Gentile woman cried out, "Lord, help me!" the cry flashed over the divine wires and the blessing came. So you can pray if you will; it is the desire, the wish of the heart, that God delights to hear and to answer.
Then we must expect to receive a blessing. When the centurion wanted Christ to heal his servant, he thought he was not worthy to go and ask the Lord himself, so he sent his friends to make the petition. He sent out messengers to meet the Master, and say, "Do not trouble yourself to come; all you have to do is to speak the word, and the disease will go." Jesus said to the Jews, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." He marvelled at the faith of this centurion; it pleased Him, so that he healed the servant then and there. Faith brought the answer.
In John we read of a nobleman whose child was sick. The father fell on his knees before the Master, and said, " Come down, ere my child die." Here you have both earnestness and faith; and the Lord answered the prayer at once. The nobleman's son began to amend that very hour. Christ honored the man's faith.
In his case there was nothing to rest upon but the bare word of Christ, but this was enough. It is well to bear always in mind, that the object of faith is not the creature, but the Creator; not the instrument, but the Hand that wields it .
Richard Sibbes puts it for us thus: "The object in believing is God, and Christ as Mediator. We must have both to found our faith upon. We cannot believe in God, except we believe in Christ . For God must be satisfied by God; and by Him that is God must that satisfaction be applied—the Spirit of God—by working faith in the heart, and for raising it up when it is dejected. All is supernatural in faith. The things we believe are above nature; the promises are above nature; the worker of it, the Holy Ghost, is above nature; and everything in faith is above nature. There must be a God in whom we believe, and a God through whom we may know that Christ is God—not only by that which Christ hath done, the miracles, which none could do but God, but also by what is done to Him. And two things are done to Him, which show that He is God— that is, faith and prayer. We must believe only in God, and pray only to God; but Christ is the object of both these. Here He is set forth as the object of faith, and of prayer in that of Saint Stephen, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' And, therefore, He is God; for that is done unto Him which is proper and peculiar only to God. Oh, what a strong foundation, what bottom and basis our faith hath! There is God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and Christ the Mediator. That our faith may be supported, we have Him to believe on who supports heaven and earth.
"There is nothing that can lie in the way of the accomplishment of any of God's promises, but it is conquerable by faith."
As Samuel Rutherford says, commenting on the case of the Syrophenician woman: "See the sweet use of faith under a sad temptation; faith trafficketh with Christ and heaven in the dark, upon plain trust and credit, without seeing any surety of dawn: Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And the reason is because faith is sinewed and boned with spiritual courage; so as to keep a barred city against hell, yea, and to stand under impossibilities; and here is a weak woman, though not as a woman, yet as a believer, standing out against Him who is 'the Mighty God, the Father of Ages, the Prince of Peace.' Faith only standeth out, and overcometh the sword, the world, and all afflictions. This is our victory, whereby one man overcometh the great and vast world."
Bishop Ryle has said of Christ's intercession as the ground and sureness of our faith: "The bank-note without a signature at the bottom is nothing but a worthless piece of paper. The stroke of a pen confers on it all its value. The prayer of a poor child of Adam is a feeble thing in itself, but once indorsed by the hand of the Lord Jesus, it availeth much. There was an officer In the city of Rome who was appointed to have his doors always open, in order to receive any Roman citizen who applied to him for help. Just so the ear of the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who want mercy and grace. It is'His office to help them. Their prayer is His delight. Header, think of this. Is not this encouragement?
Let us close this chapter by referring to some of our Lord's own words concerning faith in its relation to prayer:
•' And when He saw a fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it: Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig-tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig-tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig-tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
So again our Lord says: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and groater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it." And further: "If ye abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." "Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
"Have faith in God, for He who reigns on high Hath borne thy grief, and hears the suppliant's sigh; Still to His arms, thine only refuge, fly,
Have faith in God!
"Fear not to call on Him, O soul distressed!
Thy sorrow's whisper woos thee to His breast;
He who is oftenest there is oftenest blest.
Have faith in God!
•' Lean not on Egypt's reeds; slake not thy thirst
At earthly cisterns. Seek the Kingdom first.
Though man and Satan fright thee with their worst,
Have faith in God!
"Go, tell Him all! The sigh thy bosom heaves
Is heard in heaven. Strength and peace He gives,
Who gave Himself for thee. Our Jesus lives;
Have faith in God!"