BY J.H. JOWETT
Men ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1).
THAT WORD was spoken when the Master’s noontide was already past. The shadows were lengthening upon the way, and some of the Lord’s sayings breathed the air of coming night. The road was heavy with deepening gloom, and now and again in the windings one caught the glimpse of a cross. The disciples were startled into confusion. The happenings ran against all their expectations. The things which the Master was speaking about were a brutal defiance of their fondest hopes. They had been looking for a golden harvest, and now the snow was falling. They had been eagerly anticipating the gaily colored dignities of dominion, and their eyes were now turned upon the black trappings of defeat. They had been stepping forward to a kingdom and to the shared sovereignties of a throne, and now a scaffold begins to loom at the end of the road. And so their minds were torn with uncertainties and distracted with doubt. Fear, too, came into their hearts with chilling menace, and some of them were tempted to retreat. Others became weary and heavy in their goings. Others again began to faint.
In our scriptural passage, we have a specific teaching of the Lord to be used against the assault of circumstances and the threat of impending doom. What is this specific teaching which makes one master
of the changing way? “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” The guiding word may mean that men are always to pray and never to faint in prayer. Or it may mean that men ought always to pray and as a result, never faint even when antagonisms rear themselves like awful mountain ranges between them and their goal. It is probable that both interpretations are equally true and that both are included in the
Master’s mind and purpose. For the cardinal matter is the heavy emphasis which Jesus Christ puts upon the ministry of prayer as a predominant means of grace. “Men ought always to pray.” The fellowship
is to run through all the changing seasons of life, through spring and summer, and autumn and winter. We are “always to pray!” in the springtime of life when the blossoms are forming, in the winter when the snow is falling and the trees are bare! When we are sauntering through green pastures or toiling across the wilderness! Pray! In the playfield or in the battlefield! In the winsome dawn which sheds its light upon the marriage altar or in the empty darkness which gathers about the tomb. “Men ought always to pray.” Such is the fervent pressure of the Master’s word. And what He urged others to do He was always doing Himself. He prayed always. He prayed in the brilliant sunshine when the multitude would have taken Him by force and made Him a king. He prayed in the night in which He was betrayed-when all others had fled. He prayed in the open fields when He was feeding a famished crowd. He prayed by the grave of Lazarus. He prayed in the midst of the pestilence that walketh in darkness; He prayed in the midst of the destruction which wasteth at noon day. Most surely He exemplified the counsel which He gave to His disciples when He said that “Men ought always to pray.”
Now let us consider one or two primary matters concerning this mighty business of prayer. And let us say first of all that the ministry of prayer is not entirely one with the exercise of petition. Prayer and petition are not synonyms, two names for the same thing. If the realm of prayer finds its symbol in some noble estate, then petition is like one field on the landscape. And there are seasons of prayer when we need not be in that particular field at all. Our spirit may be wandering in other parts of the wide domain. I am not disparaging the mighty prerogative of petition, but I am saying that it is only a part of our spiritual inheritance.
Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring.
Yes, I know it, and there are seasons when I would come to the King, burdened with intercessions, and I would spread the world of my necessities before the favor of His grace. I am coming to a King, but I am coming to more than a King. I am coming to a Father, and Fatherhood is larger than Kingship, just as home is larger than a throne. A king may have gifts at his disposal and may have honors and benefits and
offices to confer upon his subjects, but fatherhood moves in a circle of intimacies and shared secrets, even in the matchless commerce of truth and grace and love. When prayer turns into this marvelous realm
it is not so much a suppliant, laden with petition, as a wondering child walking in the revealing companionship of the Father in heaven. Prayer is not always like Lazarus, clothed in rags and bowing in
suppliancy at the rich man’s gate; it is sometimes like Lazarus in the Father’s bosom, resting in the secret place of the Most High, and walking and talking in the shadow of the Almighty.
I may be pardoned for dwelling upon this distinction, as I think we are not always conscious of the range of the inheritance of the saints in light, and we only occupy a corner in our Father’s house. I was once present at a prayer meeting, and one led us in prayer who was very evidently a disciplined traveler in the realms of grace. He left the field of petition, and he went wonderingly and wonderingly along among the unsearchable riches of Christ as though he were straying among the amazing glories of matchless woods. And the leader of the meeting bore with the traveler for some time and then broke out impatiently,
“Brother, ask God for something! Ask God for something!” But the brother did not seem to have anything to ask for just then; it was quite enough to be walking with his Father in the boundless realms of grace. “Ask God for something!” No, prayer is not always petition, sometimes it is just communion. It is the exquisite ministry of friendship. It is the delicate passage of intimacies; it is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Now let me state a second primary matter concerning this mighty business of prayer. If it is not always in the form of petition neither need it be always in the form of words. I want to try to say something which is very real to me, but which almost refuses the clumsy ministry of expression. There is a very vital part of prayer which can do without the vehicle of words. We can escape from the burden of the limitation of words. Who has not felt the bondage of speech, the cumbersomeness of words when he has sought to pray? And who has not experienced the peril of living words becoming dead forms? For me, there are times in prayer when I long to escape from the ministries of words, and to have wordless fellowship in the presence of God.
This is what I mean. First of all, we quietly and reverently put ourselves into the presence of God, we collect our scattered consciousness in the sense that God is near, and we come before His presence. How is the presence revealed? Who can say? Are there any means or methods which men and women have practiced in the realization of the presence of the unseen Friend? Yes, there are, but I suppose we must say that there are almost as many ways as there are people who have practiced them. Some call in the aid of a devout imagination, and in the secret place they realize a face, even the face which was unveiled to us in the Nazarene. To others the sacred Presence assumes no form, because there is no image which their consecrated imagination can frame which seems worthy of their unutterable devotion. Horace
Bushnell led his spirit into a certain bright luminousness in which the presence of the Lord was veiled, and he communed with Him in the light. That is also the way of a very dear friend of mine who is greatly
learned in the things of grace. His spirit withdraws in the presence of a shining splendor, and there he holds his fellowship. Others have nothing of this kind at all. They just recall themselves into God’s
presence, and without any image of form or any sense of light they know and feel that God is near. But these differences do not really matter, and it is well for everyone just to take the way which gives them the
most intimate assurance of the presence of God.
Vital Interests Cared For
But I think it is not necessary for us to emphasize anyone’s particular way as being the way for others. Never mind another’s way, seek your own. Recall your spirit into the silence. You may not necessarily be in
solitude; it may even be in the midst of a crowded train. Withdraw into the secret depths of your own spirit. Quietly say to yourself that the Eternal God, who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ our Lord, is near. You may be perfectly sure that you will become more expert in this sense of discernment as you continue in its practice. You will realize that you are in the presence of God. And now, as you realize it, introduce into that presence anything which concerns you and in which you have a vital interest. Let your imagination rest on that thing and quietly bring it to the sacred silence where you are closeted with God. See it clearly, and then, with great deliberateness, introduce it almost visibly into the sacred presence. That is to say you are now intelligently and imaginatively bringing some interests into the heavenly places, and you are setting it in the light of God. That is to say, you are thinking of something while your mind is suffused with the
sense of God. You are bringing the two into fellowship and setting them face to face. You need not utter a word, but can escape from the crude bondage of your own ignorance and from the narrow limitations of
speech. You offer no verbal petition, but you set your human concern in the mighty and pervasive influence of the Spirit of God. There must be no irreverent haste. There must be no frivolous tramping of the holy
courts. It must all be done with patient deliberateness as you steadily hold the interest, whatever it might be, in the holy light of God. And no words are needful.
Suppose the vital interest be your own child. Well, then, set yourself in the sacred silence with a sense that you are near your Lord, and then, with alert imagination, bring your child into the holy place. See him there, hold him there. And what are you doing? You are establishing vital currencies between him and the divine presence, and you can do it without the ministry of words. Of course, you may speak if you will,
but I think your words will be few. For in setting him there in the silence, you are praying, and you are presenting him to the grace and wisdom of God, and your dedicated homage is providing channels for the
river of the water of life.
Or it may be some personal habit which constitutes your vital concern. Or it may be some particular piece of business. It may be some loss which you have suffered, or some great gain which you have made. It may
be a bride. It may be a widow. It may be an orphan. It may be a people, a race or a tribe. It may be one of ten thousand things. I am urging you to practice this means of grace, in thus introducing your interests
to the sacred presence of the Almighty. See them there, and hold them there, and whether it be with words or without words, whether in verbal devotion or in attitude and act, you are carrying out something of the
Master’s counsel when He said, “Men ought always”-in everything and everywhere–to pray and not to faint.”
Our Battles Won
Well now, it is in the field of prayer that life’s critical battles are lost or won. We must conquer all our circumstances there. We must first of all bring them there. We must survey them there. We must master them there. In prayer we bring our spiritual enemies into the Presence of God and we fight them there. Have you tried that? Or have you been satisfied to meet and fight your foes in the open spaces of the world?
If I am like Bunyan’s pilgrim and encounter Apollyon on the exposed road and begin my warfare there, I shall be sadly beaten, and he will leave me bruised and broken by the way. My resource is to get him
immediately into the field of prayer and engage him there.
I am, therefore, trying to say in the spiritual realm what Lord Fisher once said in the realm of material warfare. He said, “Compel your enemy to fight you on your own drill ground.” Yes, indeed, and when we fight the world and the flesh and the devil on the drill ground of prayer, we have a certain victory. Let us bring our evil thoughts to the field of prayer. Let us drag our mean judgments to the field of prayer. Let us
drive our ignoble purpose and our insane prejudices and our malicious practices and our tyrannical passions to the same field. Let us fight them on our own drill ground and slay them there. Men ought always to bring their evil antagonisms and difficulties into the presence of God. Force them into God’s holy place and there fight and slay. Men ought always to pray, and they will not faint in the heaviest day.
And on the same field of prayer we must bring our troubles, for we overcome them in the holy place. It very frequently happens that many of our troubles lose their fictitious stature when we bring them into
the presence of the eternal God. They shrink when we set them in a large place. It is almost amusing how little things appear when they are set in confined and narrow spaces. Put them in a bigger field and they lose their alarming size. And there are many anxieties that look gigantic until we set them in the holy field of prayer in the presence of the Lord. Yes, and there are other things which seem enormous and overwhelming until we set them in infinite relations. Sometimes a grave seems so big that it appears to fill the world. There is nothing in the world but the grave. When we see it on the fields of communion and in the glory of the light of the risen Lord, captivity is led captive as death itself is buried in the eternal life of God. It is not our father’s purpose that we should see our dead in cemeteries, but rather in the heavenly fields of the infinite love; and it is there that death loses its cold and cruel servitude. It is when we compel death to go with us on to the fields of divine communion that the grave is seen to be only a vestibule of the life indeed. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
And even when some of our troubles remain, as indeed they will, it is on the fields of prayer that we get above them and assume and assert our sovereignty in the power of the risen Lord. We have a very familiar
phrase which, I think, is very suggestive. We say, “Under the circumstances!” But why should we be under them? Why should we not be regnant above them? Why slaves and not masters? Why under and not
above? It is on the field of prayer that we get our circumstances beneath our feet. “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet” (Psalm 91:13).
“Ye shall have power to tread on serpents” (Luke 10:19). “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27). That is the purposed sovereignty which is ours in Christ. And we daily assume the sovereignty and we ride our enemies on the wonder-working fields of prayer. Said Lord Fisher, “Fight your enemy on your own drill ground.” Very well, then, lead your troubles to those holy fields, and get above them in the emancipating grace of the Lord.
But prayer has larger relationships than any of these. I cannot only bring my spiritual enemies onto the battlefield of prayer and slay them there. And I cannot only bring my troubles into the expansive realm of
prayer and ride them as the Creator rides the storm. I can bring the burdens and necessities of humanity into the sacred presence, and in my own life I can become a point of vital contact between God and the
human race. For I am not a unit of mankind, isolated and independent, a being of separated interests, self-centered and self-contained. I am just a fraction, a single member, a limb, a mere fragment of humanity,
and I am indissolubly connected with it. The solidarity of the human race is inclusive of me, and I am a vital and indivisible part. The moral and spiritual blood of the race runs through me, and through me
it circulates throughout humanity.
When, therefore, I commune with God in prayer I become a point of contact, an inlet through which the divine life flows into the veins and arteries of humanity. That is no idle figure of speech. Every man
is an inlet through which clean or unclean energies pour into the general life-pool of the human race. We cannot help it. My points of contact determine the character of my contributions, and if my supreme
contact is with God in the communion of prayer, I become an open channel through which the blessed influences flow into human fellowship for its eternal good. And so the prayer-ground is the common ground of racial enrichment. The hands that make contact with the battery direct the electrical dynamic to every fiber and tissue of the body. And hands that are uplifted in prayer are conductors of the divine dynamic to the general brotherhood of humanity. And therefore our Master counsels us to retire into the secret place.
In conclusion, create a sensitive quietness about your spirit. Realize the sacred presence. And then slowly and deliberately, in the holy place, present your helpmeets and your antagonisms, your privileges and
your necessities, your banes and your pains, your laughter and your tears. And in your life the ancient miracle of grace shall again be wrought, for the Son of Righteousness shall arise upon you with healing
in His wings.
John Henry Jowett (1864-1923) was known as “the greatest preacher in the English-speaking world.” Born in Yorkshire, England, he was ordained into the Congregational ministry. His second pastorale was at
the famous Carr’s Lane Church, Birmingham, where he followed the eminent Dr. Robert W. Dale. From 1911-18, he pastored the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City; and from 1918-23, he ministered at Westminster Chapel, London, succeeding G. Campbell Morgan. He wrote many books of devotional messages and sermons. This message comes from God – Our Contemporary, published by Fleming H. Revell.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM CLASSIC SERMONS ON PRAYER, PAGES 50-59. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.