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[Here we continue a series on Prayer. This continues a study by the great intellect of Stephen Charnock. In the study, he digs deep into Phil. 4:6.]—Ed.
Pray for Everything, pt. 2
by Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)
But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. (Phil. 4:6, AV).
The third particular propounded is: how we must pray. Take an account of this in these severals.
1. Pray much and often. This we are enjoined when he bids us to pray “in everything”. We must pray whenever we have occasion, and everything gives us occasion for some request. We have occasion to pray from what concerns our eternal state, our spiritual state, and our outward conditions. Thus, we have occasions to pray from everything. We have either wants or fears, which respect every state; and therefore frequent constant occasions to pray, and so we should be much and often in this duty. It is called for in like expressions, such as in Eph. 6:18: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance, and supplication for all saints.” What is here implied, is there expressed; praying always whenever opportunity or occasion is offered; this is offered frequently. And so we are enjoined to continue in prayer: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with Thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). “Pray continually without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). The meaning of these expressions is not that we should do nothing but pray, that this should take up all our time, and we should be every moment in its employment; but that we should be much and often in it. We should always keep a praying temper. We should always be disposed to it, always ready for it when the occasion is offered. No employment should wear off this temper, or indispose us to this duty. As when the apostle says, “I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart” (Rom.9:2). Not that the acts and expressions of this sorrow were never discontinued. We know he was often rejoicing upon other occasions, but their sad condition had made a lasting impression of grief upon his heart, which he was ready and disposed to express when occasion was offered. Though the act of prayer be intermitted, and discontinued through other employments, yet the disposedness to it should last; the heart should be ready for it whenever there is occasion and opportunity. Such a continual disposition, and readiness to pray is, as we call, an habitual praying. And in this respect we may be said to rejoice always evermore.
But that is not all. As we must be always ready to pray, so we must frequently show this readiness, this habitual frame: We must be praying actually. It must be our daily employment, our daily sacrifice. As the priests might be said always to sacrifice, because they constantly offered sacrifice evening and morning; or as Mephibosheth is said to eat meat with David continually (see 2 Sam. 9:7), because he did eat with him at his set meals; so we, that we may answer those commands which require us to pray continually, must have our times for prayer everyday, as they had for their sacrifice, and we have and they had for their daily meals.
But this is not all either; we have many times repasts and refreshments besides our set meals. And they had many other sacrifices, besides those offered evening and morning: Some extraordinary, and some upon particular occasions. So should we, besides our ordinary and daily addresses to God, make our requests known in an extraordinary manner, when we have extraordinary occasion, public or personal. We should apply ourselves to Him at any time (besides those seasons which we daily observe) when we have more particular and special occasion. We must take all occasions to offer our requests, which the providence of God offers us; both those that are continued and in course, and those that are emergent and bring special reason for it. In everything, both of this and that nature, our requests must be made known; and so much and often, such a frequency, as may be called a continuance in prayer.
2. Pray carefully: instead of being careful about other things, be careful in this. Pray carefully; take care how you perform this duty, and show this care about prayer in everything you pray for. Not that you should pray with anxiousness, solicitousness, perplexity; but that you should pray carefully. This care in praying is expressed by watching, frequently joined to this duty in scripture. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance” (Eph. 6:18). “Be sober, and watch unto prayer” (I Pet. 4:7). There must be diligence and care in praying. We must be watchful about it, as that which requires our care. We are careful about that which keeps us waking and watchful. Watchfulness denotes the importance of that which we watch, and some danger in it, and the sense of both. It is of things of consequence that we think ourselves concerned to be watchful about. We should go about this duty, as a matter of great importance. We should be sensible who it is with whom we have to do; of what importance it is to make an address to the great God; and of what importance our necessities are, which we spread before Him. If we pray with sleepy, drowsy, listless hearts, we slight the great God, and slight our own necessities, our own interest; and slight a duty, wherein both the Lord and ourselves are so much concerned. If we go about this duty with a sleepy soul, we offer to God a dream instead of a real supplication; we affront Him and show a wretched disregard of our own concernments. And therefore, we should awake ourselves when we come before God, as Deborah. “Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song” (Judges 5:12). And David: “Awake psalter and harp, I myself will awake early; Awake up my Glory, …” etc. (Ps. 57:8). We should stir up ourselves to lay hold on Him: we should rouse mind and heart, graces, and affections, that all may be stirring and active, and not shut up in a careless, drowsy, listlessness. This is to watch unto prayer; this is to be vigilent and careful about it.
Watchfulness denotes a sense of danger. When we are watchful we apprehend some danger, and this is signified when watchfulness in prayer is called for, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” (Mark 26:41). “Take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33). “What ye therefore and pray always” (Luke 21:36). There is danger, for there is temptation which attends our prayers. There is danger; lest our minds and hearts should wander from God, when they should be set on Him. There is danger, lest such distempers seize on, and cleave to our souls in praying, as may turn our prayers into sin. So there is danger lest our prayers should miscarry. We should be apprehensive of the danger, and so watchful to prevent it, to avoid it. Careful and vigilant that we enter not into the temptation, to which we are subject when we pray; watchful to expect it that we not be surprised; to resist it that we be not overcome; that though it attacks us, it may not carry us along with it, we may not enter into it. Vigilant to prevent wanderings and distractions; those loose vagaries of our vain minds and hearts, into which they are apt to run, when they should be most fixed, and have that before them which should wholly take them up; as Abraham watched his sacrifice. Vigilant and careful to discern and shake off inward distempers, which are wont to mix themselves with our prayers, and spoil them.
3. Pray earnestly. It is the property of the Hebrew tongue to express vehemency by joining diverse words of the same signification together. The apostle being a Hebrew of Hebrews, usually follows that style, and that may be one thing intended here, by adding diverse words of the like signification to express prayer. He would have us to pray with some vehemence and earnestness, as Elijah did; his vehemence in praying is so expressed (see James 5:17) as greatly, earnestly, vehemently desired. Our hearts and affections in prayer, should not only be roused, but extended, drawn out in some earnestness; not only awakened, but warmed. There should be a spiritual heat and fervor in them. We should be fervent in spirit, when we are thus serving the Lord. Pray as the church for Peter (see Acts 12:5), where fervent prayer is made (the same word is also found in I Peter 4:8). And so it is said, “The tribes served God in fervency” (Acts 26:7); or which is all one in effect, with souls stretched to Him. Prayer is the ascent of the soul to God; and therein the soul should stretch forth itself to the utmost, to get heard unto God. To pray lazily, slothfully, is to pray as though we prayed not; and that will not have answerable returns from Him; will not provoke Him to hear, as though He did not hear; to regard our requests, as though He regarded them not. He that begs coldly, bespeaks a denial. He may be used like an idle beggar, too lazy, not only to work, but to seek relief. The Lord, if He love you, will whip you out of such intolerable sloth.
This earnestness the Lord expects in prayer, such as is expressed in scripture, by crying out of the depths (see Ps. 130:1), by mighty cries (see Jonah 3:8), strong cries (see Heb. 5:7), such as those of a woman in travail (see Isa. 26). The soul should cry, as pained with its spiritual wants, inward distempers and corruption, as one in anguish until delivered.
By striving: “Strive together with me in your prayers to God for us” (Rom. 15:30); such as wrestlers use, when they put forth all their strength, use all their might and prevail.
By wrestling: So Jacob wrestled with God (see Gen 32:26). And herein his wrestling consisted (see Hos. 12:4): he wept and made supplications; he prayed earnestly, affectionately; his heart melted and ran out in his supplications.
If we would take care to pray thus, the other carefulness, wherewith we trouble ourselves, would be needless. This would do our work, both for the things of time and eternity. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man, avails much” (James 5:16).
(This study will continue in the next issue, D.V.)