A Christian cannot have a powerful prayer life unless he takes advantage of the equipment for prayer the Lord offers to him. In The Hidden Life of Prayer David McIntyre says this equipment “is simple, if not always easily secured. It consists particularly of a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart.” Let me quote what he says about each of these:
A Quiet Place. “With regard to many of us, the first of these, a quiet place, is well within our reach. But there are tens of thousands of our fellow-believers who find it generally impossible to withdraw into the desired seculstion of the secret place. A house-mother in a crowded tenement, an apprentice in city lodgings, a ploughman in his living quarters, a soldier in barracks, a boy living at school, these and many more may not be able always to command quiet and solitude. But, ‘your Father knoweth.’” McIntrye goes on to show that Jesus himself grew up in a home with what may have been no less than nine people, and yet commanded private “closet” prayer.
A Quiet Hour. “For most of us it may be harder to find a quiet hour. I do not mean an ‘hour’ of exactly sixty minutes, but a portion of time withdrawn from the engagements of the day, fenced round from the encroachments of business or pleasure, and dedicated to God. The ‘world’s gray fathers’ might linger in the fields in meditation on the covenant-name until darkness wrapt them round. But we who live with the clang of machinery and the roar of traffic always in our ears, whose crowding obligations jostle against each other as the hours fly on, are often tempted to withdraw to other uses those moments which we ought to hold sacred to communion with heaven. … Certainly, if we are to have a quiet hour set down in the midst of a hurry of duties, and kept sacred, we must exercise both forethought and self-denial. We must be prepared to forgo many things that are pleasant, and some things that are profitable. We shall have to redeem time, it may be from recreation, or from social interaction, or from study, or from works of benevolence, if we are to find leisure daily to enter into our closet, and having shut the door, to pray to our Father who is in secret.”
A Quiet Heart. “For most of us, perhaps, it is still harder to secure the quiet heart. … Stephen Gurnall acknowledges that it is far more difficult to hang up the big bell than it is to ring it when it has been hung. Mc’Cheyne used to say that very much of his prayer time was spent in preparing to pray. A new England Puritan writes: ‘While I was at the Word, I saw I had a wild heart, which was as hard to stand and abide before the presence of God in an ordinance, as a bird before any man.’ And Bunyan remarks from his own deep experience: ‘O ! the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how many bye-ways the heart hath and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God.’”
To quiet the heart, McIntyre recommends three habits:
- recognize our acceptance before God through the dying of the Lord Jesus.
- confess and receive the enabling grace of the Divine Spirit, without whom nothing is holy, nothing good.
- open the sacred volume and read it as in the presence of God, until there shall come to us out from the printed page a word from the Eternal.
Let me close with a particularly affecting quote. Proceeding from the greater to the lesser, McIntyre discusses Jesus’ prayer life and then asks, “If Jesus needed to pray, how much more do we?”
Crowds were thronging and pressing Him; great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities; and He had no leisure so much as to eat. But He found time to pray. And this one who sought retirement with so much solitude was the Son of God, having no sin to confess, no shortcoming to deplore, no unbelief to subdue, no languor of love to overcome. Nor are we to imagine that His prayers were merely peaceful meditations, or rapturous acts of communion. They were strenuous and warlike, from that hour in the wilderness when angels came to minister to the prostrate Man of Sorrows, on to that awful “agony” in which His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood. His prayers were sacrifices, offered up with strong crying and tears.
Now, if it was part of the sacred discipline of the Incarnate Son that He should observe frequent seasons of retirement, how much more is it incumbent on us, broken as we are and disabled by manifold sin, to be diligent in the exercise of private prayer!
This has been my reflection on this week’s reading selection from the Reading Classics Together program.
For next Thursday please read (or listen to) chapter three.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.