By J.R. Miller
"My voice shall you hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto you--and will look up."
"In the morning will I direct my prayer unto you--and will look up." That is, he would watch to see the answer coming. One interesting illustration of this watching for the answer to prayer--is in the case of Elijah's prayer for rain. The prophet bowed himself on the ground, and began to pray. Then he sent his servant up to the crest of the mountain to look out toward the sea, to keep watch, and tell him what he saw. The servant came back and said he saw nothing. Seven times did Elijah pray, each time bidding the servant to go to the mountain-top to look. At length the servant reported that he saw a little cloud as small as a man's hand coming up out of the sea. The prayer was answered. The prophet believed that rain would come when he prayed, and he looked up and watched for the rising of the cloud, until it appeared. That is the way we should always pray. "In the morning will I order my prayer unto you--and I will keep watch."
Must we not confess that ofttimes when we pray--we never think again of our requests, and would be greatly surprised if what we asked for, would come to us? But if we really desire the things we ask for, we will expect them and will eagerly watch for their coming. Our prayers should be part of our life. They should rule and influence all our living. Always when we pray--we should look up, expecting to receive what we have asked for.
There are some of our prayers which if answered, will work deep and radical changes in our lives. If we tried seriously to live up to them, we would be rising every day into higher spiritual altitudes. We pray to be made unselfish. Do we mean it! Do we really want to become unselfish? If we put ourselves under discipline, to grow into unselfishness, we would constantly find a restraining hand upon our desires and dispositions, upon our conduct and acts, and would feel in our hearts evermore an impulse toward love and all serving of others. "Love seeks not its own." It lives for others. It forgets self. "As I have loved you, that you also love one another," is the Master's statement of the law of Christian life.
We pray to be made unselfish. Dare we let the prayer be answered? It would change many things in our conduct, in our treatment of others. It would set us in new relations to all about us. It would check in us the crafty desire, so common in dealing with men, to get the better of the other man in all transactions, to have the best place. What would happen in our lives--if these prayers would he answered?
We pray to be made patient. If we are sincere, and then begin to live up to our prayer, what will the effect be? We shall find our tongues checked and restrained again and again, on the very edge of angry outbursts, when about to speak unadvisedly. We shall have our harsh and bitter feelings softened continually, by an irresistible influence toward quietness and gentleness. If our prayer to be made patient were to be answered at once, by one mighty access of grace in our hearts, what a change it would make in us!
There is no prayer that most Christians breathe out to God oftener than that they be made like Christ. But if we really wish to be transformed into Christ's likeness, the desire will burn like a fire in us, cleansing and purifying us, and the new life will become so overmastering in us--that it will possess us body and soul, until Christ shall indeed live in us! If while we pray to be made like our Master--we live up to our prayer, old things in us will pass away and all things will become new.
The prayer will affect every phase of our behavior and conduct. It will hold before us continually the image of Christ and will keep ever full and clear in our vision--a new standard of thought, of feeling, of desire, of act and word. It will keep us asking all the while such questions as these: "How would Jesus answer this question about duty? How would Jesus treat this man who has been so unkind to me? What would Jesus do if He were here today, just where I am?" When we pray to be made like our Master, are we truly willing to have all in us that is unlike Him, taken out; and all His beauty now lacking in us, wrought in us!
Our Lord has given us some specific and very definite instructions concerning praying and living. For example, He teaches us that if we would have our own sins forgiven, we must forgive those who have sinned against us. The prayer runs, "Forgive us our sins--as we forgive those who sin against us." There is no mistaking the meaning of this petition. Each time we sin and make confession, asking God to forgive us--it commits us to an act toward others, which we ask God to perform toward us. We solemnly pledge ourselves to show the same mercy to our fellow men, which we beseech God to show to us. Yesterday someone wronged us, injured us, treated us unkindly, did something which stung us, hurt us. Last night we looked back over our day and it was blotted and stained. We prayed God to forgive us all these wrong things. He is very merciful and loves to forgive His children. But after our prayer--we still kept in our hearts the bitter feelings toward the man who wronged us yesterday--the resentment, the unforgiveness.
Jesus tells us very plainly what we should do when praying, if we discover a wrong feeling in our heart, or if in the bright light we remember something we have done that was not right. He is exhorting against anger in any form, telling us in words that should startle us if we are indulging in any harsh feelings against any other--that hatred, bitterness, and contempt of others are violations of the commandment, "You shall not kill." Then He illustrates His meaning by an example: "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you; leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
When we approach God's altar a glorious light shines upon us, the light of the divine Presence. If in this intense brightness we remember that today or yesterday we did something to another that was not right, that we were unjust to him, that we wronged or injured him, we should seek to get right with our brother before we go any farther with our worship. In order to do this--it may sometimes be necessary for us even to interrupt our devotion and go away and confess what we have done and obtain forgiveness, before we can finish our worship.
An old Psalm writer says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart--the Lord will not hear." So we really cannot go on with our prayer if there are bitter feelings in our heart. We must get these out--before we can find an open way to God for ourselves. We must get right with God--before we can be right with men. "First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." This might stop the easy flow of our words sometimes, while we go out to get something right which we see in God's presence to be wrong. But it would save us from some of the mockeries of prayer which now mar our worship.
Take another phase of the subject. "In the morning will I order my prayer unto you, and will keep watch." There are prayers which we cannot finish on our knees. They can be ended only in some field of duty. When the Hebrews were leaving Egypt, they seemed to have been caught in a trap beside the Red Sea. Moses was lying on his face, crying to God for deliverance. The Lord called to him, "Why are you crying unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward." Clearly, duty, for Moses, that moment, was not to stay on his knees, crying to God for deliverance. He must rise and lead the people forward.
There are many illustrations. Your neighbor is in some trouble. You hear of it, and being a believer in prayer, you go to your place of devotion and plead that God would send him the help he needs. But almost certainly, prayer is not the duty of the hour. Rather, it is to rise from your knees and go to your neighbor and with your own hands do for him what he needs to have done. If a friend of yours is taken suddenly ill, or is injured in an accident, your duty probably is not to go to your closet and spend a season in prayer for him--but to hasten for a physician.
It is our duty to pray always, to take everything to God. But usually prayer is not all our duty. Ofttimes, we must go out to answer our own prayers. There is too much selfish praying--praying only for ourselves. Such prayers are not heard. The Lord's Prayer teaches us that we must include all men in our supplications. Love never ends with ourselves, nor does prayer. We must pray for others, and if we pray for our neighbors, we must go forth to answer their cries for help. While we pray for those in distress, we must open our hand toward those who need.
It is the weakness of many people's prayers--that they end with their utterance. We may think we are keeping watch for the answers--but we are only idly waiting for God to do--what He is waiting for us to do! We ask God to give bread to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, not remembering that the Master will say, "For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in; I was naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not take care of Me." Prayer for the relief of others in distress--must be followed at once by personal ministries of love. We are to pray and then to hasten out, filled with the Spirit, to do the work that needs to be done.
Take another phase of the lesson. All praying has for its highest reach, its divinest attainment, perfect submission to the will of God. Every true prayer we make must end with "not my will--but Yours, be done." Many prayers therefore never become prayers, because they never become acquiescent in God's will. Before we can look up and see the answers coming, we must learn the great lesson of self-surrender. We know not what to pray for as we ought. We do not know what is best for ourselves. Only when we are ready to commit all things that concern us into the hands of God, and let Him order our ways--are we sure that they will be well-ordered. When we are ready to pray thus, we are ready to look up and watch for the answer which God will give.
Such consecration of the will is the supremest reach of faith and life. When we have come to this point we can always look up and know that the answer will come. Some things we hoped for may not come--but if not, then something better will come instead.