PRAYER is the suited expression of the heart of the saint, in a fallen world, where men by nature have lost all confidence in God. It is the combination of two principles—dependence and confidence. The heart is expressing its dependence on God, else why does it pray? It’s also expressing its confidence in Him, otherwise, wherein would be the use of supplicating Him? It is expressing its dependence on Him, and at the same time assuring itself that it has got confidence in God--that it has got a good opinion of Him; and, in the measure it expresses this, the lie of the Serpent has been uprooted in the heart. The absence of these two principles, or either of them, makes prayer defective.
Now, this is the very opposite of the state and principle in which man is found by nature; which is, distrust of God, and distance from Him. This is the order that the evil state in which he is, took possession of man at the first. Satan instilled the principle of distrust into Adam's heart, by saying as it were, "you think God is a benefactor, and yet He is withholding the very thing that He knows will do you good, and make you like Himself. Do you suppose that is the way to give you confidence in Him?" The consequence was that Adam learned to distrust Him and to substitute his own will for God's, and, under the seduction of Satan, He helped himself to that which God was withholding from him. His conscience, which he thus obtained, told him that there was a distance thus created between him and God, and He went to hide himself as soon as he heard the voice of the Lord God in the garden. Distrust and distance were thus brought in, of which every man is conscious to this hour.
Now, prayer is the very opposite of this. It is the heart which has got confidence; and finding itself dependent on Him, it expresses both its dependence and its confidence in prayer. God recognizes this, too, as the evidence and first breathings of the change of heart in the renewed man—"Behold he prayeth," is His word to Ananias of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9).
In the Lord Jesus, we see this fully expressed: He was always the praying--the dependent, and confident--Man. We see Him continuing "all night in prayer to God" (Luke 6)—"Rising up a great while before day; He went out, and departed into a solitary place and there prayed" (Mark 1). We hear often the breathing forth of His heart in prayer in the presence of need--and for His people. "I know that Thou hearest Me always," expresses the confidence of a heart in God which was limitless and unbounded.
Under the Law, there were but two prayers provided--because man under the Law was taken on the ground of having strength in himself; while surely it brought out that he had none. These were, the prayer of innocence, as we may call it, in Deut. 2l, and the prayer of obedience, in Deut. 26. The former was the declaration of guiltlessness of a crime--the latter of having been obedient to all the precepts of the law.
When we find the soul, as in Hannah (1 Sam. 1), expressing itself to God in prayer, it was something so much outside all that was recognized, that the high priest charged her with being drunken with wine. Prayer under the legal dispensation was the fruit of the heart's dependence and confidence in God, outside of what the Law recognized ; or when all established relationships are broken--Daniel in Babylon, Nehemiah in the Court of Artaxerxes, are examples of this.
When we come to John Baptist's time, we find that he taught his disciples to pray (see Luke 5 and 11). Now this was clearly in advance of what went before, while not to the level in which we now pray in the name of Jesus, i.e., as in His place on earth; because prayer, when true, properly expresses the relation in which the soul stands at the time with God. Doubtless, it was in conformity of thought to what he preached—i.e., the kingdom of heaven which was at hand--the moral unfitness in those whom he addressed to enter it as they were; consequently repentance for the remission of sins; while looking for a Messiah to come, whom he announced, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Again in the Lord's lifetime, we find Him teaching His disciples, at their request, a prayer which suited itself to their spiritual state at the moment (see Luke 11), adding the parable of the man whose friend came to him at midnight, and ceased not to importune till He got what he wanted; in this we find the Lord establishing their faith in God alone. It is the prayer of importunity, and is to establish the heart in thorough dependence and confidence in God only. I have a want and I know He can relieve me, and I look to no other. Like the man who knew his friend had the loaves and his own friend needed them--he came at the unseasonable hour of midnight, and ceased not asking, till he got what he wanted. He does not get what he desired on the ground of his friendship, but on the ground of his importunity--his pertinacity, which would have no refusal. "I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth" (Luke 11: 8). This is to establish faith in Him only, that the soul may look to no other.
In Philippians 4:6-7, we find a most precious character of prayer. It is not the prayer of importunity of Luke 11, nor yet the prayer of confidence of having what we ask of 1 John 5. It is this unburdening of the heart to God--the making known of our requests to Him. Is the heart burdened with many a care, so that it knows not what to desire, or if its desires should be in accordance with His will? In the multiplicity of cares, He says "Be careful for nothing." "Nothing!" you reply. "Be careful for nothing," is the answer! Not that the heart is to be careless about anything--"But in everything, let your requests be made known to God." Unburden your heart, tell all your cares to Him—for this does not suppose sin in any wise. You have a request, make it known; not that you will move Him from His purpose; but make it known to Him, commit it to Him who knows the end from the beginning, sees it all as you cannot see it. "With thanksgiving." You have an ear attentive to your story. He is not merely always thinking of us, but He is always attentive to us; and the positive result is that, "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Now, all this does not suppose I have come with a desire on my heart and asked Him to fulfill it--to give me what I want. The moment I ask God to fulfill a certain desire, or answer a certain request of mine, I limit Him! I limit His answer, even supposing He was about to give me the very thing I did desire. No: rather, I unburden my heart—I make known my request, and He assures my heart that He will answer in His own way, far more wonderfully and blessedly than if I had limited Him to the exact fulfillment of my desire.
Suppose He was even to grant me all my requests—suppose when I had made known my requests to Him, that He gave me all my requests, do you suppose my heart and mind would be filled with the peace of God? Not at all! He permits me to unburden my heart, and in the most superlative way, He comes in and, instead of granting all my requests (this He may do all the while—I limit Him not in any of them), He fills my heart and mind with the peace of God, which passes all understanding.
What is the "peace of God?" It is not "peace with God," as needed by the sinner. It is the calm, unruffled, unchanging peace, in which He dwells; without a disturbing element, without a ripple, on the shoreless ocean of eternity.--ordering all things with an unerring hand, knowing all things from the beginning to the end. His own peace keeps the heart and mind! Never speak of having prayed to Him, and unburdened your heart, unless you have this peace of God. It is the result of having made known all to Him. When it is not so, go again to your knees; for you have not yet prayed the prayer of Phil. 4:6!
In John 5:14-15, we find the prayer of entire confidence in Him—confidence so full that we know when we ask that we have the petitions we desired of Him, as according to His will. This is neither the prayer of importunity of Luke 11, nor the making known of requests of Phil. 4. It supposes entire community of thought—fellowship with the Father and the Son—the issues of that eternal life possessed in the Son of God—"now true in Him and in you." I do not, would not, desire anything then that is not in accordance with His will—and He is always attentive—unlike man, who has other engagements, is perhaps thinking of himself, so that he cannot listen; or he is careless about my requests—He hears me always; and knowing this, I am then conscious of having the petitions which I desired of Him.
The Lord give His beloved people to know their deep privileges; and the reality of "continuing in prayer, and watching in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 2). Amen.