Wednesday, 16 November 2011

How to pray

Here Moody Stuart speaks about importunity in prayer. It is based on the parable of the friend at midnight asking for three loaves (Luke 11:8).

‘Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life; this spiritual bread is the most abundant of all things (John 10:10), the freest of all things (Isa. 55:1), but the rarest of all things in actual possession, and the reason is, “We have not, because we ask not” (Jas. 4:2). Jesus tells us to ask, but he teaches us also how we should ask, and loves to place the petitioner in the most unfavourable circumstances, that others may be assured likewise that they shall obtain if they ask.

‘The first thing in prayer is a sense of need: a need which is entire and ascertained. The suppliant must first know that he has nothing, but is poor and needy. He must be sure of this, and make it a settled point, and not merely suspect it. There is a great difference between suspected and ascertained want. Many say they have little if anything good, but they don’t want to be sure of it and so never cry for the bread of life. The suppliant’s need must be urgent, requiring immediate assistance whether for himself or for others. Christ puts a case in which the man requiring bread could not wait till tomorrow. The need must be felt to be irremediable otherwise. Neither shop nor market was open at midnight, and the man had nothing to set before his guests, and he was shut up to go to his friend as his only resource.

‘Next, the suppliant must have confidence in Christ as being willing to grant his request. This is supposed to be a very common belief, but if this belief were to come athwart you it would be a new thing to you. It has run current among you that Jesus Christ has bread to give, but is it a reality to you? Sometimes men are ready to say, “Christ can give, but he has no will.” Oh, what blasphemy! How amazing that God hath endured his people when they have brought up such an evil report against him! Oh, dear brethren, it is this that hinders prayer, and success in prayer, when we say, “He has no mind to give us what we ask.”

‘Next, perseverance in asking is needful. The first knock has obtained nothing; it seems to have produced no result, but the man continues knocking. Many knocks have produced no effect, but these knocks have troubled the possessor of the bread, and have brought out the secret, not that he has no bread, or objects to bestow it, but that he is not willing to be troubled at present. The petitioner is unwilling to trouble his friend, but he is still more unwilling to go home and tell his guest that he must starve; so he determines that he must knock, for he cannot do without it, and for his importunity he gets it. Even so with our Father in heaven. We begin to be ashamed of asking the same thing over and over again; but then there is the great want; and the feeling, “I cannot go without it,” leads to perseverance, and this obtains it in the end. The difficulty becomes the greater, the longer we continue knocking; for if we are not to go without it, we must make louder and more continual knocking. I must either go away, and give it up, or seek with such vehemence as must obtain it, as if a greater effort than ever were needed and must be made. And it must be so with us, seeing how dreadful it is to perish. I cannot perish! or in interceding for others, “How can I bear to see the destruction of my people? Therefore let me seek until I find.”

‘Jesus says, “Every one that asketh receiveth.” Never was there a case to the contrary. Thousands of cases there have been when men have knocked and got nothing and gone away; but there never was a case of a man who sought to the end and did not get. Then, the bread is supplied, and in great abundance. He gives “as many as he needeth”. This importunate petitioner never lessens his request because of the denial, and it is great wisdom in spiritual things not to lessen our requests because of the delay. We should not diminish the request, but increase the importunity. There will be no counting of the loaves. There is bread enough in our Father’s house and to spare; and, oh, there is want enough! Though God tarry, have large desires and expectations, but these come to nothing unless there be large faith and large requests. Let us, dear friends, ask much of our God, and keep asking much, because when he arises he will give an abundance.’

Moody Stuart and pulpit prayer

In a conference address to fellow-ministers, Moody Stuart reflected on ‘the duty of prayerfulness on the part of ministers, and its relation to the effective conducting of public prayer in the sanctuary.’ This is what he said:

‘The impressibleness of our people on the Sabbath depends much on prayer through the week; and their praying for us and for themselves depends much on our praying for them.

‘And then on the Sabbath how much hangs, not merely on the words that are spoken, but on the spirit in which we preach and pray. Especially in extemporary prayer, we are in constant danger of sinking into a formality perhaps more lifeless than if we were using a form; a formality which we must all have detected in ourselves, by falling into the groove of the same words for want of fresh life within. Or if in such a state we make an effort at the moment toward real prayer, the prayer is constrained and laboured, instead of the spontaneous utterance of our thoughts.

‘When the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart, out of spiritual desire, spiritual sorrow, or spiritual joy, what conciseness, what tenderness, what power is in the supplication, taking the people along with us in all our petitions, or else making them to feel their own lack of the spirit of grace.

‘This one ordinance in our Church of public prayer without a form of words, shuts us all up to a very peculiar necessity of becoming and continuing to be men of prayer; shuts us up under the pressure of a severe penalty, resting on ourselves and on our people week by week, as the sure consequence of our failure.’

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Moody Stuart and the range of his prayers

Moody Stuart prayed about virtually everything that came his way. Here are three examples, taken from his biography.

‘On one occasion at Rait, he writes in his diary (1895): “There has been a long continuance of drought which has been becoming serious, withering the pastures and injuring the crops. This forenoon the heat was greater than ever, under a cloudless sky. I had a sense of guilt in not having prayed more earnestly for rain, and now it seemed further off than ever. This set me to seek “the effectual fervent prayer that availeth much,” and I pleaded with much earnestness, remembering that even for temporal blessings there is only good in intense supplication if it is with childlike submission to the will of God, and if we resign not only the object prayed for but likewise the prayer itself to the will of our heavenly Father. I quite hoped that in due time, it might be after a day or two, and more prayer, there might be an answer, but to my surprise and thanksgiving, since four in the afternoon there has come a copious rain with a magnificent thunderstorm, the God of glory thundering and His voice upon the waters. The thunder has not yet ceased, and the rain has come in such an uncommon downpour, mingled with very large hailstones, that already it must have brought a great refreshing to the dry earth. O for another such shower on the souls of many, and the God of heaven Who sendeth rain upon the earth desireth much more to pour out His Spirit upon us, and is “waiting to be gracious” till He is entreated by us.’”

‘The clerk of the Kilspindie School Board recollects that once during Dr. Moody Stuart’s chairmanship he was engaged with him after their meeting in adjusting the minutes, when they found it very difficult to choose the proper terms to express exactly the understanding the meeting had come to. After working at it for some time the chairman said, “We had better pray for direction.” After he had done so, the proper words at once suggested themselves, and fell into order without any more trouble. It was his regular habit thus to take every perplexity to the Lord in prayer, whether it was small or great.’

Moody Stuart’s son writes: ‘Mrs. Kalley mentions that Dr. Kalley [a Scottish missionary in Madeira] was restored from a critical illness in Madeira, after my father and others had met to pray that the physician might be guided aright, the next remedy that he tried proving successful.’

Monday, 14 November 2011

Meeting with God in prayer

Some time ago, I noticed that a friend was interested in the prayer life of Alexander Moody Stuart, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh during the second half of the nineteenth century. I was aware that several people had commented on his prayer life; for example, David McIntyre in his book The Hidden Life of Prayer quotes Moody Stuart’s three rules for prayer: (1) Pray until you pray; (2) Pray until you are conscious of being heard; (3) Pray until you receive an answer. I assume that he affirmed these rules because he had experienced them. So I decided to have a closer look at what we know of his prayer life since answered prayer is part of normal Christian living.

One feature of his prayer life was his delight to meet with others to pray. During his ministry on an island in the north of England he met weekly with a Christian ploughman for prayer. He records what happened on one occasion.

The ploughman ‘was in the prime of youthful manhood; his fine countenance stamped with the double impression of meditation and intelligence, yet blooming with the glow of ruddy health, the fruit of constant outdoor labour. One summer evening, the moment the hour allotted to prayer was ended, he went home without uttering a word. He appeared unwell, his face had sunk, the bright hue of his cheek was pallid; he looked as a strong man ready to faint, but bearing up against some physical distress that all but overmastered him. Partly from his haste, and partly from his obvious aversion to speak, we parted without exchanging words.

‘The second day following, I hailed him at some distance in the fields to inquire for his health. “You seemed unwell when we parted the night before last; were you sick?” “Oh, no.” “Were you in distress of mind?” “No.” “What then?” Slowly and reluctantly he replied: “When we were on our knees I was so filled with a sense of the love of God, that the joy was too much for me; it was all that I was able to bear, and it was with a struggle that I did not sink under it.”

‘The fact itself was obvious, although to me it had not excited the least suspicion of the cause. The joy of this Divine love had remained with him all the night, and, though less intensely, throughout the next day and the night following. For myself, it was singularly refreshing to witness the presence and power of the Holy Ghost manifested in a manner so remarkable; and not under any moving address, but while two of us were quietly engaged in reading the word of God and in prayer. It was a gracious out-flowing of the love of the Lord Jesus making His servant “sick of love”.’