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Pray for Everything, pt. 5
by Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)
[Here we continue a series on Prayer. This article concludes a study by the great intellect of Stephen Charnock. In the study, he digs deep into Phil. 4:6. In the previous study, he began to describe two motives for carrying out Paul’s command to “pray in everything”. The first, which was covered in the previous issue, it that to do so is “honorable to God”. The second, which he covers here, is that to do so is “advantageous to us”.]—Ed.
But in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. (Phil. 4:6, AV).
2. It is most advantageous to us, for these reasons:
A. It is a universal expedient that will avail us in everything; the Lord would not direct us to use it in everything, but that there is nothing in which it will not stand us in stead. The advantage of other things is particular; one is good for this, another for that purpose, but prayer is good for all. The efficacy and advantage of it reaches as far as the Lord lets forth His omnipotency. Prayer can prevail for anything that the Lord will employ His power about. This can prevail for the supply of all wants, redress of all grievances, security from all fears, deliverance from all troubles, the satisfying of all our desires. It can prevail with that great God, who can do whatever He will in heaven and earth; who has all creatures, all things at His beck. “By his strength he had power with God; yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed” (Hos 12:3-4). That which can prevail with Him who can do all, can do all at the second hand. This can prevail, not for small things only, but the greatest; not only for earth, but heaven: “If thou seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him, if thou seek Him with all thine heart, and all thy soul” (Deut. 4:29). For Christ, see Prov. 8:6. For the Spirit, see Luke 11:13. “How much more shall the Father give the Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Rom. 8:32). It can prevail not only for easy things, but the hardest, that which is most difficult; and bring relief in cases that seem most desperate, can do more than the whole power of nature. Prayer has wrought miracles, and if it do not so still, that is not because it is less powerful, but because the Lord thinks not fit they should be done: “Then spoke Joshua to the Lord, in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the Children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon.’ And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed” etc. (Joshua 10:12-13). Peter was in prison, the king resolved to have his life; he is secured by armed men, by iron gates, by chains and bolts. His case seems desperate, his escape hopeless, to sense or reason impossible. But prayer is made for him, and this brings him out, in despite of all, and conveys him out of danger, through a train of miracles (see Acts 12:4-5). It is the readiest expedient always at hand, the easiest and shortest way, and the surest, never fails, is never in vain.
B. It is a ready way, always at hand; you need never be required to seek for this, as you may be for other means of supply and relief. All others may be out of your power, above your reach; but you need not be at a loss for this, which will stand you instead of all else. In a destitute condition, you may pray; when you are without riches, without liberty, without strength, without health, without friends; when you can neither help yourselves, nor others can help you; yet then you may pray, and so engage the Lord to help you. When you are in the depths, sunk below the reach of other relief, then you may pray. “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord” (Ps. 130:1). When you are environed with calamities, so strictly besieged by them, as no supply, no relief can get in to you; then you may relieve yourselves by prayer, as David did in such a case, “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord: O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul” (Ps. 116:3-4). Or if you were in as forlorn a condition, as Jonah in the whale’s belly, where neither he nor any creature else could afford any help; yet then you might pray, as he did (see Jonah 2:1,2,7,10). He that can pray, needs never be at a loss, however the world goes.
He has the key in his hand, which can open all the treasures of heaven, and let him in to all the riches of the goodness of an all-sufficient God. The violence of men may take estates from you, but they cannot take away the Spirit of grace and supplication; they may shut out friends from you, but they cannot shut you out from access to God by prayer. They may bereave you of liberty, but not of liberty to pray. They may cast you into prison, but there you may be as much enlarged as anywhere. They may take from you public opportunities, but you may pray in private, in secret. They may watch your mouths, but your hearts may pray. You may be too weak to work, to follow your callings, but scarce too weak to pray. Not able to go abroad for help, but then you may go to God with your requests. You may be too weak to speak, to move your lips, but then your hearts may move, and therein lies the heart and soul of prayer (see II Kings 20:1-2; Isa 38). Prayer is an expedient ready at all times, on all occasions, to bring you in what supply and relief your need.
C. It is a short and easy way; no more but ask and have, seek and find (see Matt. 7:7). There may be difficulty and trouble in other ways of relief, but what show of either in this? Could your hearts desire an easier way to compass what you desire, than by making your requests known? Jehoshaphat’s enemies were like to prove too hard for him, he could not levy an army sufficient to deal with them; but he could lift up his eyes to God and pray, and that did his work; a few words prevailed against a huge army: “O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? For we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do; but our eyes are upon Thee” (II Chron. 20:12). When you know not what to do, when you can do nothing, do but pray, which you may easily do, and the rest shall be done to your hand. So it was to Jehoshaphat (see II Chron. 20:17, 23). The poor woman in the Gospel, that had taken a costly and tedious way for relief (see Mark 5:25,26): She applies but herself to Christ, and without further trouble or expense, her grievance is removed (see Mark 5:29; see also Matt: 17:15-21). That which nothing else can effect, may be thus done with ease. When Naaman liked not the prophets’ way for his relief, what did his servants say to him? “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, wash and be clean?” (II Kings 5:13). If the Lord had bid us do something difficult and troublesome to get our wants supplied, our fears scattered, our grievances redressed, would we not have done it? How much more when He bids us but make our requests known. You have not many at command, you can make no friends, you can get no interest in great persons, you can raise no armies; these are too hard for you. O, but can you pray? Is that too hard for you? Why, this that you may so easily do, will do more for you than all the others can do. This can do all for you, that you need desire; and may not this be done with ease? The Lord does not require you should consume your bodies, or waste your strength in praying; rather put up your petitions, let but your hearts go along with it; you need not trouble yourselves to write it, no nor to express it in words, when your weakness will not afford expressions. The Lord hears the language of the heart, and knows our meaning when we cannot utter it. “He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:27). O what an easy way has the Lord opened unto us, for a universal supply and relief to us in all cases! How inexcusable shall we be, if we walk not in it!
D. It is a sure way, an expedient that never fails; of such efficacy, that it was never used in vain: “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain” (Isa. 45:9). “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain” (Ps. 22:4,5). “Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee” (Ps. 9:10). He has never been wanting to them that seek Him; He will never disappoint them, never suffer them to seek Him in vain. Your labor and paths may be in vain; your designs and projects, your care and thoughtfulness, your endeavors for yourselves and others for you may be in vain. But your prayers, if prayers indeed, will never be in vain. O where will you meet with an expedient that will never fail? Such an admirable engine is prayer, never used in vain. The disciples fished all night, and caught nothing (see John 21:3). But they never prayed at night, or an hour, and caught nothing. This net is never spread in vain, we may be confident of it (see I John 5:14-15). We have all the assurance of it that can be desired, the very best security that heaven and earth can afford: the word of the true and faithful God; His truth and faithfulness engaged for it, who is truth and faithfulness itself; and that in many great and precious promises. Martha says to Jesus: “Whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, He will give it thee” (John 11:22). He has vouchsafed to give us the like confidence, as to whatever we shall ask: “If ye abide in me, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7; see also John 16:23; Matt. 7:7). Prayer will either be answered or rewarded; it will either procure the thing we desire, or something as good, or something better. If it be not returned on those you pray for, it will be returned with a blessing upon yourselves (see Ps. 35:13).