EVERY SACRIFICE OFFERED WAS IN REALITY a prayer to God for help. It might be, as in the case of sin and trespass offering, a prayer for forgiveness. Or it might be a prayer of thanksgiving and praise as in the peace offering. Again it might be a prayer of consecration and dedication as in the burnt offering, or of communion as in the meal offering. It might be a prayer of thanksgiving for a special deliverance, or a prayer for a thing much desired as in the vow and freewill offering. Or it might be that God had healed of a sickness, or a woman had been brought safely through childbirth, or some great deliverance had been wrought. All such occasions called for special thanksgiving and praise and an appropriate offering.
In its highest exercise, prayer is communion. This needs to be emphasised, for to many Christians prayer is merely a means of getting something from God. They feel their lack in certain respects. What easier way is there than to ask God for that which they need? Has not God promised to supply that which we lack? As a result of this way of thinking, many prayers consist mostly of asking for things, some of them good, some not so good, some positively harmful, some impossible of fulfilment. To such people God is the source of supply, the great giver, the inexhaustible fountain of gifts. All they need to do is ask, and God will do the rest. They measure their Christianity by the answers they receive to their petitions, and feel that their prayers are not effective when the request is denied. Their prayers mostly take the form of petition. They are continually asking for something, and they believe that God does or should answer their petition. As the prodigal son, they pray, "Father, give me." Luke 15:12.
It cannot be denied that prayers of petition -- asking for things -- are a legitimate form of prayer. We shall always need to ask God for the things we desire. But it is to be emphasised that prayers of petition must not become the prevailing form of prayer. Prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and adoration must always have the preeminence. Submissiveness to the will of God, complete dedication to Him, and thorough consecration would indicate the form prayers should take. When our prayers are changed from an effort to get God to do what we want into an intense desire to find out what God wants, our prayers will not so often take the form of asking merely for things, and demanding that God forth-with answer our prayers in the specific way we desire.
It would indeed be better for most of us to cease asking for things for a while and concentrate our entire efforts on what God wants us to have or to be. When we find this out we are on sure ground. Then we can ask of God, confident that His will is to be done. The great problem confronting us is to find out God's will, and then search our hearts to make sure that we really want God's will to be ours.
Some one has said that prayers are an effort on the part of the petitioner to have God change His mind. Many are making no effort to find out what God wants, although they are very clear themselves on what they want. Their prayer is really, "Thy will be changed," not, "Thy will be done." They are struggling with God. They are agonising in prayer. They are demanding of God that which they believe should be done. It does not occur to them that the first thing to find out is, Does God really want me to have the thing that I so much desire? Is it for my good? Is it God's will? Has the time come for it to be done? Is there something I must do first? Am I really willing to submit everything to God, so that if He does not give me what I desire, I will be satisfied and thank Him for what He does give; or am I really more intent on getting what I want than I am on ascertaining God's will?
It may be well to enumerate some things that prayer is not. It is not a substitute for work. A Christian confronted with a hard problem has a right to ask God's help and to expect that He will respond. But this does not excuse him from hard, taxing labour. God will strengthen the intellect, He will invigorate the mind; but He will not accept prayer as a substitute for mental effort or give to those who are merely slothful. Such as are capable of learning the multiplication table and have the opportunity to do so, must not shun the effort necessary, trusting that God through prayer will do for them that which will make unnecessary any mental exertion. In most cases, work and prayer go together. Neither one is sufficient in itself.
The aim of prayer is not merely to get God to do something we want. Some apply worldly methods and have a worldly philosophy in their approach to prayer. They have learned that as far as the world is concerned, to get anything they must "go for it," and so they take for granted that to get anything out of God they must "go for it." They act as though God were not willing to grant their petition without a great deal of coaxing, and seem to believe that by persistency and wheedling they can get out of God that which He would not otherwise give them. They take the importunate widow as their example, not seeming to realise that this parable is given to show what God is not. No one can get out of God that which he desires, merely by continually annoying Him. It needs to be emphasised that God is not like the unjust judge. He is a father, more willing to give good gifts to His children than they are to receive them. Wheedling, coaxing, cajoling, teasing, annoying, mere persistency, does not avail with God.
The impression must not prevail, however, that there is no such thing as wrestling in prayer, or that we need only mention to God once and for all what we want and it will be forthcoming. Prayer is not quite as simple as that. No, there is need of agonising, prevailing prayer, prayer that goes to the heart of things, and is not satisfied till lives and things are changed. Jesus prayed all night; Jacob wrestled with the angel; Daniel sought the Lord with prayer and fasting; Paul besought the Lord again and again. We need not less prayers, but more. And we need to learn to pray in faith. This perhaps is the vital point.
Prayer is not monologue. It may be audible, or it may be the unspoken desire of the soul. In either case, ideal prayer is communion. Some pray at length, informing God of things of which he is already aware. They call His attention to many matters that need correction. They seem to believe that God is in danger of forgetting certain things that need to be done, and their prayers take the form of reminding God of what He should do. Having called God's attention to the need of the world as they see it, they feel they have done their duty. They have "said their prayers" and informed God of their own needs and those of others, and with an "Amen" their "conversation" stops. It has been a monologue entirely. They hope that God will use judiciously the information which they have conveyed to Him, and that He will do something about the matters concerning which they have prayed.
Many consider prayer a one-way communication, man speaking to God. Yet this is not the highest form of prayer; for as stated above, ideal prayer is communion. In true prayer God speaks to the soul as well as man to God. True friendship will not last long where one does all the speaking. In our prayers we too often do all the talking and expect God to do all the listening. And yet, may it not be possible that God would like to communicate with us as well as we with Him? This he often does by bringing certain scriptures to our remembrance. Is it too much to believe that after we have offered an earnest prayer which we believe God in heaven has heard, He might wish to say a word to us? Is it possible that after we have said "Amen," God is just ready to communicate with us, but we get up from our knees and do not give God a chance to speak? We hang up the receiver, as it were. We "ring off." Can it be conceived that the true Christian is forever speaking to God and God has no message for him? It must be painful to God to be shut out just at the moment when He is ready to communicate with us. It would seem that after this has happened several times, God can come to no other conclusion than that we are not very anxious to have communion with Him. We merely "say" our prayers, and when we are done, we walk away. Such prayer surely cannot be all that God means by "communion."
Let us repeat, prayer is communion. It is more than conversation; it is intimate fellowship. It is an exchange of views and ideas. It presupposes sympathetic understanding and confidence. It need not always be accompanied by words. Silence may be more eloquent than torrents of oratory. It is rather a kind of friendship grounded in quiet confidence and assurance, unaccompanied by spectacular demonstrations or outbursts.
Meditation is a vital ingredient of prayer. It may almost be said to be its better part. And yet it is mostly neglected. We appear before God, present our petition, and depart. Next time, we do the same. We keep God informed in regard to our status, tell Him of some things that need attention, and having thus delivered our souls, we close the interview. This is repeated day after day, but it cannot be said to be a very satisfactory experience. Is there nothing better? There must be.
The psalms, especially those of David, sound the depths of Christian feeling. David passed through some soul-harrowing experiences. Once he was fleeing from Saul into the wilderness. There he penned the sixty-third psalm. It is the cry of a soul longing for God, for a deeper knowledge of and acquaintance with God, especially in prayer. David was evidently not satisfied with his prayer experience. God seemed far away. He did not answer. David experienced the feeling of seeming to address nobody, in an empty room. Yet he longed for God. His soul thirsted for the living God. Was there no way in which he could get into real communion with Him?
Then David found the way. He found satisfaction. He learned the real meaning and method of prayer. Of this he speaks in Psalms 63:5,6, "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches." Note the wording: "My soul shall be satisfied...when I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate." David had prayed before. Now to prayer he adds meditation, and says that when he does this his "soul shall be satisfied." To him it is as "marrow and fatness," and he praises God "with joyful lips." At last his soul is satisfied.
This record is of great value. Many souls, like David, cry out for the living God. They are not satisfied. They believe that there must be something better than they are experiencing. They pray and pray and pray, and yet God seems far off. He does not reveal himself. Once in a while they have a fleeting glimpse of Him, and then He is gone. Is there anything better in store or is this all that Christianity and prayer hold for them? There must be something better. And David found it. "My soul shall be satisfied." How wonderful to have the soul hunger satisfied! And this possibility may become a reality! David points the way when he says that it may be obtained through remembering God and through meditation. Most Christians remember God. They pray. In fact it may be said, and rightly, that no one can be a child of God and not pray. But not many are practised in the art of meditation. They pray, but do not meditate. Yet one is as important as the other. It was when David added meditation to prayer that he at last could say that his soul was satisfied. It may be that we shall have the same experience.
Few Christians meditate. They are too busy. Their work makes too many demands upon them. They rush from one thing to another and have little time to counsel with their own souls or with God. There is so much to be done. Unless they strain every nerve and are busy every moment, they are certain souls will be lost. They have no time to sit at the feet of the Master while the world is perishing. They must be up and doing. Activity is their watchword. Withal they are honest and conscientious.
Yet how much is lost to themselves and to the world because of lack of meditation! No soul can rush into the presence of God and out again and expect to enjoy communion with Him. The peace that passes understanding does not dwell in a restless heart. "Take time to be holy," is more than a mere sentiment. It takes time to commune with God, time to be holy. "Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah!" Ps. 4:4. The last statement needs special emphasis. "Be still." We are too restless. We need to learn quietness with God. We need to be still.
"My soul, wait thou in silence for God only." Ps. 62:5, A.R.V. Let these words sink deep into each consciousness. "My soul." This is addressed to every Christian. This is a command and also a promise. Wait in silence. Wait in silence for God. Wait thou in silence for God. Wait thou in silence for God only. And the one who waits in silence for God only, at His invitation, will not be disappointed. He will be satisfied.
What a wonderful invitation this statement is! You have prayed, you have poured out your soul to Him who alone understands. Do not say "Amen" and walk off. Give God an opportunity. Wait for him. Wait in silence. Wait for Him only. And in the silence of the soul God may speak. He has invited you to wait. Let your whole soul be intent upon Him. Wait for him only. It may be that God through the still small voice will make Himself known. Wait in silence upon God.
To some Christians this is no new doctrine. They know what it is to commune with God. They have had precious seasons alone with Him. They have learned to wait in silence. And precious have been the revelations which have come to them.
To others, however, this may be a new experience. They have learned to pray, but they have not learned to wait in silence upon God. Meditation as a part of prayer has not been important to them. They have conceived of prayer as a certain form of words reverently addressed to the Father in heaven. With their "Amen" the communion is at an end. And so indeed it may be, though God does not intend it thus. Amen may mean the end of man's speaking, but it should not be the end of the interview. God invites us to wait in silence. He may wish to speak, or He may not. In any event, we are to wait. And as we wait, God may see fit at once to bring conviction to our minds.
Many are inclined to speak too much. We have all had experience with persons who come ostensibly to seek counsel, but who in reality come only to present their own views. They seem anxious for the interview, yet hardly an opportunity is afforded for any counsel, for they occupy the time themselves and seem satisfied when they have presented their story. When some measure of agreement with their view is elicited, they are content. The impression is distinct that they did not come for counsel, but to impart information.
So, too often, with prayer. The most important part is not our speaking to God, but God's speaking to us. True, God loves to have us pray. Our prayers are music to Him. We cannot tire Him. And yet, would it not be well to give God an opportunity to communicate with us? Would it not be well for us to have a listening attitude? Would it not be well for us to do exactly what we are counselled to do, wait in silence for God only? Surely God will not let us wait in vain. Who has not felt the tremendous power of the few moments of silence after the benediction? Who has not felt the presence of God in the stillness of the sanctuary? It would be well for us to explore the power of the realm of silence. God is there.
There is always danger of going to extremes. There are those who reject or think lightly of the instruction given in the Bible and depend almost wholly on impressions. Such are in great danger. We believe that God will lead those who are willing to be led, but we believe also that such leading will always be in harmony with God's revealed will, and will not in any way contradict the written word. Wonderful as is the privilege of communing with God, and wonderful as is the privilege of meditation, there is danger of their misuse. Especially should the younger Christians be on their guard. Only long experience in the things of God, backed by a life of obedience to God's will, enables one to judge the processes of the mind. Satan is ever near to suggest his own thoughts, and spiritual discernment is needed to know the voice speaking. This, however, should not cause even young Christians to omit meditation. Far from it. God is ever near, to help and guide, and we may believe that the quiet hour spent with God will yield large results for the kingdom. We are only issuing a warning to such as would be led by a voice speaking to the soul and neglect the voice speaking through the Word.
In the sanctuary of old, sacrifice and prayer were combined. Sacrifice stood for sorrow for sin, repentance, confession, restitution. When the lamb was placed on the altar, the repentant sinner in type laid himself and his all on the altar. It signified his acceptance of the justice of the law that demanded a life, it signified his consecration to God. Without this attitude, the sacrifice of a lamb was only a mockery. So our prayers may be only a mockery unless we from a sincere heart abstain from sin and dedicate ourselves entirely to God. Prayer must have sincerity as a foundation and background. It must be grounded in repentance and godly sorrow for sin. It must be evidenced by confession and restitution. A prayer thus conditioned will not remain unanswered. God is true to His word.