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The secret of prayer is found in the three words: in the Spirit. When we come into the presence of God in prayer, we should look up to Him to send His Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray. We must wait for the Holy Spirit, and surrender ourselves to the Spirit, and then we shall pray aright. It is the prayer that God the Holy Spirit inspires, that God the Father answers.
The Holy Spirit guides the thoughts and instigates the desires. He helps the infirmities of believers when they pray. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities (Romans 8:26). It is our infirmity that we do not know how to pray as we ought. We may be willing and eager to pray, and yet not know how to pray or what God wants us to pray for.
But the Holy Spirit knows. He is the Master Pray-er. It is He who prompts us to pray. It is He who urges us to get away to the quiet room to have a time of prayer. He inclines us to pray, and when He does so, He prays through us with an intensity quite beyond the possibility of language that we could express. God the Father, listening above, knows when the Holy Spirit in us is praying and He answers the Spirit-breathed prayer.
An infirmity of the saints is the disposition to ask wrong things. We know not what to pray for as we ought. The blessings for which it is most natural to pray are those which we least need--the temporal ones. We often pray with an urgency and importunity for these, strangely disproportionate to the earnestness with which we beg for the better gifts. Believers do not always covet more earnestly the best gifts.
It was good for Peter and James and John, to be on the holy mount, and they prayed to tarry there. But it was good for the world, and eventually good for themselves, that they were obliged to come down. It is natural for believers to covet rapture and elevation more intensely than hard work for Jesus, but the Holy Spirit knows the state of each.
He knows what spiritual blessings the suppliant really needs, and if it be a dangerous temporal thing He can wean the soul from the vehement desire of it. Then again, He can so reveal to the soul its actual necessities, that praying time will not be expended in imploring undesired mercies, or confessing unfelt deficiency. He knows the things which accord with the will of God, and teaches the petitioner to ask those blessings which are safe to ask.
Yet another infirmity is that, even when asking right things, we do not always ask in a manner agreeable to such a sacred task. Some are haunted by worldly and frivolous thoughts in prayer. All the vanities of the week come crowding into the mind, when we are sometimes engaged in prayer. While petitions for the most stupendous blessings are ascending, a swarm of vagrant thoughts will suddenly arrive.
Or perhaps, although the mind may be more composed and wandering thoughts have been overcome, yet we find that we have little or no real longing for the blessing we are seeking. The suppliant begs it, not so much because he appreciates or desires it intensely, but because he thinks it dutiful to make mention of it. After a formal enumeration of various matters, he goes his way without having actually lodged one prevailing request.
The Spirits Remedy
For all these distractions in sacred duties, the remedy lies with the Spirit Himself. We can shut the door, but He can shut the heart, and lock out the world with all its distractions. He can intercede within us with those yearnings and groanings which cannot be uttered, so that hours and minutes shall not be counted, and the untiring soul shall continue instant in prayer.
If the Holy Spirit makes intercession within us, we shall feel a strong hatred for sin, together with an increasing measure of grace and holiness. As the Holy Spirit interprets the will of God, He makes the soul profoundly discontented with everything that is contrary thereto. The Holy Spirit teaches the believer to be humble in prayer, and fills his mind with a holy shame for sin. He influences us to make a sincere and unreserved renunciation of all idols. If we approach God with a divided heart, we shall be found faulty (Hosea 10:2).
It is the Spirit of God who makes all the difference to our praying. It is an interesting study to see the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus. Right from His earliest childhood, the Holy Spirit had control of Jesus. His teaching and ministry were in the power of the same Spirit. He offered Himself to God through the Eternal Spirit, and it was the Spirit that raised up Christ from the dead.
The Holy Spirit also longs to exert His ministry in the life of every believer. It is He, and He alone, who creates the conditions of prayer. But the Holy Spirit needs the heart of the believer as a temple in which to offer these intercessions. Let us keep the temple spotless and undefiled, the instrument in constant tune, the soul in such sacred accord and affinity with heaven that the intercessions of the Spirit can blend into it like light into the finest clouds.
If we are frivolous, shallow-hearted, selfish, unspiritual, the Holy Ghost cannot touch us closely and deeply. For with the advent of the Comforter, Christs own presence is also pledged: I will not leave you comfortless: [desolate] I will come unto you (John 14:18). Therefore, pray for the Holy Spirit. Pray that you may be filled and baptized with the Holy Spirit, for in no other way will your prayer life be successful.
The Holy Spirit is the Author of true prayer. We shall not stutter and stammer out a timid prayer when the Holy Spirit takes hold of us. All we have to do is to yield ourselves to His gracious impulses; be borne along the stream of supplication by the Spirits influence. Learn to let the Holy Spirit move you to pray, and when He moves you, then give Him full scope. Let Him pray through you. He will succeed where you will fail.
There is no need to fear that you may pray for the wrong thing when He has control. He whose soul is permeated by the presence and teaching of the Spirit will be kept from asking those things which are at variance with the counsel of the Most High. There is a constant temptation to faint when we are engaged in protracted seasons of prayer (Luke 18:1) but the Holy Spirit will give you the energy to carry on. God will listen to you when your voice in prayer is in reality the Voice of the Holy Spirit.
The Power That Works in Us
The crying need of our day is another great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But the outpouring of the Holy Spirit will always be in proportion to the power of the Holy Spirit praying through us. Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us (Ephesians 3:20). What is this power working in us? It is the Holy Spirit making intercessions through the saints with groanings that cannot be uttered.
Gods activity among the unsaved, in conviction and salvation, will never exceed the power that worketh in us. The Scripture says: As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children (Isaiah 66:8). There must be travail before there will be spiritual birth.
Before there has ever fallen a great benediction of Gods blessing upon a Church or upon a district, it has always been preceded by prayer. The Israelites sighed and groaned to God before He raised up Moses as their deliverer. Doubtless many a heartrending appeal was made to God by the mothers when their children were torn from them and thrown into the river. The whole nation cried: O God, visit us! This travail brought its result.
In Davids day there was a time of religious revival. But what spiritual throes and pangs did David go through. What yearning he had! How he thirsted after the living God! Even when he confessed his own sins, he could not finish his prayer without entreating the Lord to build the walls of Jerusalem (Psalm 51).
Remember also the case of King Josiah. The book of the law was found neglected in the temple, and when the young king heard of it he rent his clothes, for he saw that the nation had revolted and that wrath would come upon them. He had a tender heart and feared God, and when he heard the news his heart was ready to break with anguish to think of the misery that their sins now exposed them to. Then there came a glorious reformation, which purged the land of idols. Travail of heart produced this amazing change.
Even Christ went not forth to preach until He spent nights in intercessory prayer, and uttered strong cryings and tears for His hearers. The secret of success lies in all-consuming zeal, all-subduing travail for souls. Do you want your children to be saved? Then you shall have them when you agonize for them, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit.