CHAPTER 3: "ASK OF ME AND I WILL GIVE"
GOD wants me to pray, to be much in prayer -- because all success in spiritual work is dependent on prayer.
A preacher who prays little may see some results of his labors, but if he does it will be because someone, somewhere is praying for him. The "fruit" is the pray-er's -- not the preacher's. How surprised some of us preachers will be one day, when the Lord shall "reward every man according to his works." "Lord! Those were my converts! It was I who conducted that mission at which so many were brought into the fold." Ah, yes -- I did the preaching, the pleading, the persuading; but was it "I" who did the praying?
Every convert is the result of the Holy Spirit's pleading in answer to the prayers of some believer.
O God, grant that such surprise may not be ours. O Lord, teach us to pray!
We have had a vision of a God pleadingly calling for prayer from His children. How am I treating that call? Can I say, with St. Paul, ."I am 'not disobedient to the heavenly vision' " ? Again we repeat, if there are any regrets in heaven, the greatest will be that we spent so little time in real intercession whilst we were on earth.
Think of the wide sweep of prayer! "Ask of Me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (Psalm ii. 8). Yet many people do not trouble to bring even the little details of their own lives to God in prayer, and nine out of ten Christian people never think of praying for the heathen!
One is staggered at the unwillingness of Christians to pray. Perhaps it is because they have never experienced, or even heard of, convincing answers to prayer.
In this chapter we are setting out to do the "impossible." What is that? We long to bring home to the heart and conscience of every reader the power of prayer. We venture to describe this as "impossible." For if men will not believe, and act upon, our Lord's promises and commands, how can we expect them to be persuaded by any mere human exhortations?
But do you remember that our Lord, when speaking to His disciples, asked them to believe that He was in the Father and the Father in Him? Then he added: "If you cannot believe My bare word about this, believe Me for the very works' sake" (John xiv. 11). It was as if He said, "If My Person, My sanctified life, and My wonderful words do not elicit belief in Me, then look at My works: surely they are sufficient to compel belief? Believe Me because of what I do."
Then He went on to promise that if they would believe, they should do greater works than these. It was after this utterance that He gave the first of those six wonderful promises in regard to prayer. The inference surely is that those "greater works" are to be done only as the outcome of prayer.
May the disciple therefore follow the Master's method? Fellow-worker, if you fail to grasp, fail to trust our Lord's astounding promises regarding prayer, will you not believe them "for the very works' sake"? That is, because of those "greater works" which men and women are performing today -- or, rather, the works which the Lord Jesus is doing, through their prayerful co-operation?
What are we "out for"? What is our real aim in life? Surely we desire most of all to be abundantly fruitful in the Master's service. We seek not position, or prominence, or power. But we do long to be fruitful servants. Then we must be much in prayer. God can do more through our prayers than through our preaching. A. J. Gordon once said, "You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed." If only we would believe this!
A lady in India was cast down through the failure of her life and work. She was a devoted missionary, but somehow or other conversions never resulted from her ministry.
The Holy Spirit seemed to say to her, "Pray more." But she resisted the promptings of the Spirit for some time. "At length," said she, "I set apart much of my time for prayer. I did it in fear and trembling lest my fellow-workers should complain that I was shirking my work. After a few weeks I began to see men and women accepting Christ as their Savior. Moreover, the whole district was soon awakened, and the work of all the other missionaries was blessed as never before. God did more in six months than I had succeeded in doing in six years. And," she added, "no one ever accused me of shirking my duty." Another lady missionary in India felt the same call to pray. She began to give much time to prayer. No opposition came from without, but it did come from within. But she persisted, and in two years the baptized converts increased sixfold!
God promised that He would "pour out the Spirit of grace and supplication upon all flesh" (Joel ii. 28). How much of that Spirit of "supplication" is ours? Surely we must get that Spirit at all costs? Yet if we are not willing to spend time in "supplication," God must perforce withhold His Spirit, and we become numbered amongst those who are "resisting the Spirit," and possibly "quenching" the Spirit. Has not our Lord promised the Holy Spirit to them that ask? (Luke xi. 13).
Are not the very converts from heathendom putting some of us to shame?
A few years ago, when in India, I had the great joy of seeing something of Pandita Ramabai's work. She had a boarding-school of 1,500 Hindu girls. One day some of these girls came with their Bibles and asked a lady missionary what St. Luke xii. 49 meant -- "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I, if it is already kindled?" The missionary tried to put them off with an evasive answer, not being very sure herself what those words meant. But they were not satisfied, so they determined to pray for this fire. And as they prayed -- and because they prayed -- the very fire of heaven came into their souls. A very Pentecost from above was granted them. No wonder they continued to pray!
A party of these girls upon whom God had poured the "Spirit of supplication" came to a mission house where I spent some weeks. "May we stay here in your town and pray for your work?" they asked. The missionary did not entertain the idea with any great enthusiasm. He felt that they ought to be at school, and not "gadding about" the country. But they only asked for a hall or barn where they could pray; and we all value prayers on our behalf. So their request was granted, and the good man sat down to his evening meal, thinking. As the evening wore on, a native pastor came round. He broke down completely. He explained, with tears running down his face, that God's Holy Spirit had convicted him of sin, and that he felt compelled to come and openly confess his wrongdoing. He was quickly followed by one Christian after another, all under deep conviction of sin.
There was a remarkable time of blessing. Back-sliders were restored, believers were sanctified, and heathen brought into the fold -- all because a few mere children were praying.
God is no respecter of persons. If anyone is willing to conform to His conditions, He for His part will assuredly fulfill His promises. Does not our heart burn within us, as we hear of God's wonderful power? And that power is ours for the asking. I know there are "conditions." But you and I can fulfill them all through Christ. And those of us who cannot have the privilege of serving God in India or any other overseas mission, may yet take our part in bringing down a like blessing. When the Revival in Wales was at its height, a Welsh missionary wrote home begging the people to pray that India might be moved in like manner. So the coal-miners met daily at the pit-mouth half an hour before dawn to pray for their comrade overseas. In a few weeks' time the welcome message was sent home: "The blessing has come."
Isn't it just splendid to know that by our prayers we can bring down showers of blessing upon India, or Africa, or China, just as readily as we can get the few drops needed for our own little plot?
Many of us will recall the wonderful things which God did for Korea a few years ago, entirely in answer to prayer. A few missionaries decided to meet together to pray daily at noon. At the end of the month one brother proposed that, "as nothing had happened," the prayer-meeting should be discontinued. "Let us each pray at home as we find it convenient," said he. The others, however, protested that they ought rather to spend even more time in prayer each day. So they continued the daily prayer-meeting for four months. Then suddenly the blessing began to be poured out. Church services here and there were broken up by weeping and confessing of sins. At length a mighty revival broke out. At one place during a Sunday evening service the leading man in the church stood up and confessed that he had stolen one hundred dollars in administering a widow's legacy. Immediately conviction of sin swept the audience. That service did not end till 2 o'clock on Monday morning. God's wondrous power was felt as never before. And when the Church was purified, many sinners found salvation.
Multitudes flocked to the churches out of curiosity. Some came to mock, but fear laid hold of them, and they stayed to pray. Amongst the "curious" was a brigand chief, the leader of a robber band. He was convicted and converted. He went straight off to the magistrate and gave himself up. "You have no accuser," said the astonished official, "yet you accuse yourself! We have no law in Korea to meet your case." So he dismissed him.
One of the missionaries declared, "It paid well to have spent several months in prayer, for when God gave the Holy Spirit, He accomplished more in half a day than all the missionaries together could have accomplished in half a year." In less than two months, more than 2,000 heathen were converted. The burning zeal of those converts has become a byword. Some of them gave all they had to build a church, and wept because they could not give more. Needless to say, they realized the power of prayer. Those converts were themselves baptized with the "Spirit of supplication." In one church it was announced that a daily prayer-meeting would be held at 4:30 every morning. The very first day 400 people arrived long before the stated hour -- eager to pray! The number rapidly increased to 600 as days went on. At Seoul, 1,100 is the average attendance at the weekly prayer-meeting.
Heathen people came -- to see what was happening. They exclaimed in astonishment, "The living God is among you." Those poor heathen saw what many Christians fail to see. Did not Christ say, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them"? (Matt. xviii. 20). What is possible in Korea is possible here. God is "no respecter" of nations. He is longing to bless us, longing to pour His Spirit upon us.
Now, if we -- here in this so-called Christian country -- really believed in prayer, i.e., in our Lord's own gracious promises, should we avoid prayer-meetings? If we had any genuine concern for the lost condition of thousands in our own land and tens of thousands in heathen lands, should we withhold our prayers? Surely we do not think, or we should pray more. "Ask of Me -- I will give," says an almighty, all-loving God, and we scarcely heed His words!
Verily, converts from heathendom put us to shame. In my journeyings I came to Rawal Pindi, in N.W. India. What do you think happened there? Some of Pandita Ramabai's girls went there to camp. But a little while before this, Pandita Ramabai had said to her girls, "If there is any blessing in India, we may have it. Let us ask God to tell us what we must do in order to have the blessing."
As she read her Bible she paused over the verse, "Wait for the promise of the Father . . . ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you" (Acts i. 4-8). "'Wait'! Why, we have never done this," she cried. "We have prayed, but we have never expected any greater blessing today than we had yesterday!" Oh, how they prayed! One prayer-meeting lasted six hours. And what a marvelous blessing God poured out in answer to their prayers.
Whilst some of these girls were at Rawal Pindi, a lady missionary, looking out of her tent towards midnight, was surprised to see a light burning in one of the girls' tents -- a thing quite contrary to rules. She went to expostulate, but found the youngest of those ten girls -- a child of fifteen -- kneeling in the farthest corner of the tent, holding a little tallow candle in one hand and a list of names for intercession in the other. She had 500 names on her list -- 500 out of the 1,500 girls in Pandita Ramabai's school. Hour after hour she was naming them before God. No wonder God's blessing fell wherever those girls went, and upon whomsoever those girls prayed for.
Pastor Ding Li Mei, of China, has the names of 1,100 students on his prayer-list. Many hundreds have been won to Christ through his prayers. And so out-and-out are his converts that many scores of them have entered the Christian ministry.
It would be an easy matter to add to these amazing and inspiring stories of blessing through prayer. But there is no need to do so. I know that God wants me to pray. I know that God wants you to pray.
"If there is any blessing in England we may have it." Nay, more -- if there is any blessing in Christ we may have it. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. i. 3). God's great storehouse is full of blessings. Only prayer can unlock that storehouse. Prayer is the key, and faith both turns the key and opens the door, and claims the blessing. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. And to see Him is to pray aright.
Listen! We have come -- you and I -- once more to the parting of the ways. All our past failure, all our past inefficiency and insufficiency, all our past unfruitfulness in service, can be banished now, once and for all, if we will only give prayer its proper place. Do it today. Do not wait for a more convenient time.
Everything worth having depends upon the decision we make. Truly God is a wonderful God! And one of the most wonderful things about Him is that He puts His all at the disposal of the prayer of faith. Believing prayer from a wholly-cleansed heart never fails. God has given us His word for it. Yet vastly more wonderful is the amazing fact that Christian men and women should either not believe God's word, or should fail to put it to the test.
When Christ is "all in all" -- when He is Savior and Lord and King of our whole being, then it is really He Who prays our prayers. We can then truthfully alter one word of a well-known verse and say that the Lord Jesus ever liveth to make intercession in us. Oh, that we might make the Lord Jesus "marvel" not at our unbelief but at our faith! When our Lord shall again "marvel," and say of us, "Verily . . . I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matt. viii. 10), then indeed shall "palsy" -- paralysis -- be transformed into power.
Has not our Lord come to "cast fire" upon us? Are we "already kindled"? Can He not use us as much as he used those mere children of Khedgaon? God is no respecter of persons. If we can humbly and truthfully say, "To me to live is Christ" (Phil. i. 21), will He not manifest forth His mighty power in us?
Some of us have been reading about Praying Hyde. Truly, his intercession changed things. Men tell us that they were thrilled when John Hyde prayed. They were stirred to their inmost being when he just pleaded the name "Jesus! -- Jesus! -- Jesus!" and a baptism of love and power came upon them.
But it was not John Hyde, it was the Holy Spirit of God whom one consecrated man, filled with that Spirit, brought down upon all around him. May we not all become "Praying Hydes"? Do you say "No! He had a special gift of prayer"? Very well -- how did he get it? He was once just an ordinary Christian man -- just like any of us.
Have you noticed that, humanly speaking, he owed his prayer-life to the prayers of his father's friend? Now get hold of this point. It is one of greatest importance, and one which may profoundly affect your whole life. Perhaps I may be allowed to tell the story fully, for so much depends upon it. Shall we quote John Hyde himself? He was on board a ship sailing for India, whither he was going as a missionary. He says, "My father had a friend who greatly desired to be a foreign missionary, but was not permitted to go. This friend wrote me a letter directed in care of the ship. I received it a few hours out of New York harbor. The words were not many, but the purport of them was this: 'I shall not cease praying for you, dear John, until you are filled with the Holy Spirit.' When I had read the letter I crumpled it up in anger and threw it on the deck. Did this friend think I had not received the baptism of the Spirit, or that I would think of going to India without this equipment? I was angry. But by and by better judgment prevailed, and I picked up the letter, and read it again. Possibly I did need something which I had not yet received. I paced up and down the deck, a battle raging within. I felt uncomfortable: I loved the writer; I knew the holy life he lived, and down in my heart there was a conviction that he was right, and that I was not fit to be a missionary. . . . This went on for two, or three days, until I felt perfectly miserable. . . . At last, in a kind of despair, I asked the Lord to fill me with the Holy Spirit; and the moment I did this . . . I began to see myself, and what a selfish ambition I had."
But he did not yet receive the blessing sought. He landed in India and went with a fellow-missionary to an open-air service. "The missionary spoke," said John Hyde, "and I was told that he was speaking about Jesus Christ as the real Savior from sin. When he had finished his address, a respectable-looking man, speaking good English, asked the missionary whether he himself had been thus saved? The question went home to my heart; for if it had been asked me, I would have had to confess that Christ had not fully saved me, because I knew there was a sin in my life which had not been taken away. I realized what a dishonor it would be on the name of Christ to have to confess that I was preaching a Christ that had not delivered me from sin, though I was proclaiming to others that He was a perfect Savior. I went back to my room and shut myself in, and told the Lord that it must be one of two things: either He must give me victory over all my sins, and especially over the sin that so easily beset me, or I must return to America and seek there for some other work. I said I could not stand up to preach the Gospel until I could testify of its power in my own life. I . . . realized how reasonable this was, and the Lord assured me that He was able and willing to deliver me from all sin. He did deliver me, and I have not had a doubt of this since."
It was then, and then only, that John Hyde became Praying Hyde. And it is only by such a full surrender and such a definite claiming to be delivered from the power of sin in our lives that you and I can be men of prevailing prayer. The point we wish to emphasize, however, is the one already mentioned. A comparatively unknown man prays for John Hyde, who was then unknown to the world, and by his prayers brings down such a blessing upon him that everyone knows of him now as "Praying Hyde." Did you say in your heart, dear reader, a little while ago, that you could not hope to be a Praying Hyde? Of course we cannot all give so much time to prayer. For physical or other reasons we may be hindered from long-continued praying. But we may all have his spirit of prayer. And may we not all do for others what the unnamed friend did for John Hyde?
Can we not pray the blessing down upon others -- upon your vicar or pastor? Upon your friend? Upon your family? What a ministry is ours, if we will but enter it! But to do so, we must make the full surrender which John Hyde made. Have we done it? Failure in prayer is due to fault in the heart. Only the "pure in heart" can see God. And only those who "call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (II Tim. ii. 22) can confidently claim answers to their prayers.
What a revival would break out, what a mighty blessing would come down if only everyone who read these words would claim the fullness of the Holy Spirit now!
Do you not see why it is that God wants us to pray? Do you now see why everything worth having depends upon prayer? There are several reasons, but one stands out very clearly and vividly before us after reading this chapter. It is just this: if we ask and God does not give, then the fault is with us. Every unanswered prayer is a clarion call to search the heart to see what is wrong there; for the promise is unmistakable in its clearness: "If ye shall ask anything in My name, that will I do" (John xiv. 14).
Truly he who prays puts, not God, but his own spiritual life to the test!
Let me come closer to Thee, Jesus,
Oh, closer every day;
Let me lean harder on Thee, Jesus,
Yes, harder all the way.