By S.D. Gordon
We shall perhaps understand better some of the remaining prayer incidents if we remember that Jesus is now in the last year of His ministry, the acute state of His experiences with the national leaders preceding the final break. The awful shadow of the cross grows deeper and darker across His path. The hatred of the opposition leader gets constantly intenser. The conditions of discipleship are more sharply put. The inability of the crowds, of the disciples, and others to understand Him grows more marked. Many followers go back. He seeks to get more time for intercourse with the twelve. He makes frequent trips to distant points on the border of the outside, non-Jewish world. The coming scenes and experiences--the scene on the little hillock outside the Jerusalem wall--seem never absent from His thoughts. The sixth mention is made by Luke, chapter nine. They are up north in the neighbourhood of the Roman city of CÊsarea Philippi. "And it came to pass as He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him." Alone, so far as the multitudes are concerned, but seeming to be drawing these twelve nearer to His inner life. Some of these later incidents seem to suggest that he was trying to woo them into something of the same love for the fascination of secret prayer that He had. How much they would need to pray in the coming years when He was gone. Possibly, too, He yearned for a closer fellowship with them. He loved human fellowship, as Peter and James and John, and Mary and Martha and many other gentle women well knew. And there is no fellowship among men to be compared with fellowship in prayer.
"There is a place where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with friend,
A place than all beside more sweet,
It is the blood-bought mercy-seat."
The seventh mention is in this same ninth chapter of Luke, and records a third night of prayer. Matthew and Mark also tell of the transfiguration scene, but it is Luke who explains that He went up into the mountain to pray, and that it was as He was praying that the fashion of His countenance was altered. Without stopping to study the purpose of this marvellous manifestation of His divine glory to the chosen three at a time when desertion and hatred were so marked, it is enough now to note the significant fact that it was while He was praying that the wondrous change came. Transfigured while praying! And by His side stood one who centuries before on the earth had spent so much time alone with God that the glory-light of that presence transfigured his face, though he was unconscious of it. A shining face caused by contact with God! Shall not we, to whom the Master has said, "follow Me," get alone with Him and His blessed Word, so habitually, with open or uncovered face, that is, with eyesight unhindered by prejudice or self-seeking, that mirroring the glory of His face we shall more and more come to bear His very likeness upon our faces?
"And the face shines bright
With a glow of light
From His presence sent
Whom she loves to meet.
"Yes, the face beams bright
With an inner light
As by day so by night,
In shade as in shine,
With a beauty fine,
That she wist not of,
From some source within.
"Still the face shines bright
With the glory-light
From the mountain height.
Where the resplendent sight
Of His face
Fills her view
And illumines in turn
First the few,
Then the wide race."
The eighth mention is in the tenth chapter of Luke. He had organized a band of men, sending them out in two's into the places he expected to visit. They had returned with a joyful report of the power attending their work; and standing in their midst, His own heart overflowing with joy, He looked up and, as though the Father's face was visible, spake out to Him the gladness of His heart. He seemed to be always conscious of His Father's presence, and the most natural thing was to speak to Him. They were always within speaking distance of each other, and always on speaking terms.
The ninth mention is in the eleventh chapter of Luke, very similar to the sixth mention, "It came to pass as He was praying in a certain place that when He ceased one of His disciples said unto Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray.'" Without doubt these disciples were praying men. He had already talked to them a great deal about prayer. But as they noticed how large a place prayer had in His life, and some of the marvellous results, the fact came home to them with great force that there must be some fascination, some power, some secret in prayer, of which they were ignorant. This Man was a master in the fine art of prayer. They really did not know how to pray, they thought. How their request must have delighted Him! At last they were being aroused concerning the great secret of power. May it be that this simple recital of His habits of prayer may move every one of us to get alone with Him and make the same earnest request. For the first step in learning to pray is to pray,--"Lord, teach me to pray." And who can teach like Him?
The tenth mention is found in John, chapter eleven, and is the second of the four instances of ejaculatory prayer. A large company is gathered outside the village of Bethany, around a tomb in which four days before the body of a young man had been laid away. There is Mary, still weeping, and Martha, always keenly alive to the proprieties, trying to be more composed, and their personal friends, and the villagers, and the company of acquaintances and others from Jerusalem. At His word, after some hesitation, the stone at the mouth of the tomb is rolled aside. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me; and I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it that they may believe that Thou didst send Me!" Clearly before coming to the tomb He had been praying in secret about the raising of Lazarus, and what followed was in answer to His prayer. How plain it becomes that all the marvellous power displayed in His brief earthly career came through prayer. What inseparable intimacy between His life of activity at which the multitude then and ever since has marvelled, and His hidden closet-life of which only these passing glimpses are obtained. Surely the greatest power entrusted to man is prayer-power. But how many of us are untrue to the trust, while this strangely omnipotent power put into our hands lies so largely unused.
Note also the certainty of His faith in the Hearer of prayer: "I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me." There was nothing that could be seen to warrant such faith. There lay the dead body. But He trusted as seeing Him who is invisible. Faith is blind, except upward. It is blind to impossibilities and deaf to doubt. It listens only to God and sees only His power and acts accordingly. Faith is not believing that He can but that He will. But such faith comes only of close continuous contact with God. Its birthplace is in the secret closet; and time and the open Word, and an awakened ear and a reverent quiet heart are necessary to its growth.
The eleventh mention is found in the twelfth chapter of John. Two or three days before the fated Friday some Greek visitors to the Jewish feast of Passover sought an interview with Him. The request seemed to bring to His mind a vision of the great outside world, after which His heart yearned, coming to Him so hungry for what only He could give. And instantly athwart that vision like an ink-black shadow came the other vision, never absent now from His waking thoughts, of the cross so awfully near. Shrinking in horror from the second vision, yet knowing that only through its realization could be realized the first,--seemingly forgetful for the moment of the by-standers, as though soliloquizing, He speaks--"now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Shall I say, Father save Me from this hour? But for this cause came I unto this hour: this is what I will say (and the intense conflict of soul merges into the complete victory of a wholly surrendered will) Father, glorify Thy name." Quick as the prayer was uttered, came the audible voice out of heaven answering, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again." How near heaven must be! How quickly the Father hears! He must be bending over, intently listening, eager to catch even faintly whispered prayer. Their ears, full of earth-sounds, unaccustomed to listening to a heavenly voice, could hear nothing intelligible. He had a trained ear. Isaiah 50:4 revised (a passage plainly prophetic of Him), suggests how it was that He could understand this voice so easily and quickly. "He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught." A taught ear is as necessary to prayer as a taught tongue, and the daily morning appointment with God seems essential to both.