by Thomas Boston
We are to pray for things agreeable to God's revealed will, and for such things only, 1 John 5:14. "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." We may not present unto God unlawful desires, nor petitions, in favour of our lust, Jam. 4:3. These must needs be an abomination, and a daring affront to a holy God. And indeed wicked things are so much the more wicked, as they are brought into our addresses to a holy God.
The matter of our prayers must be regulated by the word of God, wherein he has shown what is pleasing to him, and what is not so. The signification of God's will and good pleasure as to the good to be bestowed on men. and our prayers, are to be of equal extent. Wherefore, let us see that whatever we pray for be within the compass of the command or the promise.
Such are all things tending to the glory of God, Matt. 6:9. 'After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;' or to the welfare of the church, Psal. 122:6. 'Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee;' to our own good, temporal, spiritual, or eternal, Matt. 7:11. "If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him or that of others, Psal. 125: 4, ' Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts.
But how are we to pray, if we would pray rightly and acceptably?
1. Understandingly; understanding what we say, I Cor. 14:15. Therefore they must be in a known tongue. And to repeat words before God, while we know not what they mean, can never be prayer indeed.
2. Reverently, Eccl. 5:1. " Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.' We must maintain an outward reverence in expression, voice, and gesture; since in prayer we are before the great God : an inward reference especially, having an awful apprehension of the majesty of God before whom we appear, Psal. 89:7.' God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.' Heb. 12:28. 'Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.' Fear and trembling become a creature, much more a guilty creature, before ;A holy God. And fearless presumptuous addresses to God are the produce of a hard heart.
3. Humbly Psal.10:17 'Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble thou wilt cause thine ear to hear;' with a deep sense of our own unworthiness and sinfulness on our spirits. In prayer we come to beg, not to buy or demand our right, and therefore should be sensible of unworthiness, Gen. 32:10. 'I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands;' and the more grace, the more unworthy will we be in our own eyes, Gen. 18:27. 'And Abraham answered and said, Behold, now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.' And going to God, we must turn our eyes inward, with the Publican, Luke 18:14.; on our own evils of heart and life.
4. Feelingly; being deeply affected with a sense of our needs, like the prodigal, Luke 15:17, 18, 19. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger ! I will arise, and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and Before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son ; make me as one of thy hired servants.' Alas ! what does it avail to go to God with an insensible heart; to sit down at His table without spiritual hunger; to come to his door rich and increased with goods. In our own conceit ! Such are sent empty away. Therefore it is a piece of very necessary preparation for prayer, to look over our wants, ere we go to prayer.
5. Believingly, Matt. 21:22. ' All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. He who prays acceptably must be endued with saving faith, Heb. 11:6. An unbeliever cannot pray acceptably, Rom. 10:14. ' How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard ? and how shall they hear without a preacher ?' Hence the prayers of the unrenewed man are all lost in respect of gracious acceptance. Moreover, the believer must be in the exercise of faith in prayer, which must be mixed with faith.
One must have a faith of particular confidence in prayer, as to the things prayed for, Mark 11:24. 'What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall receive them. For where that is altogether wanting, the prayer can never be accepted, Jam. 1:6. ' Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.' Since it must needs be highly dishonoring to God, to come to him to ask, without any expectation from, or trust in him, as to what is asked.
Quest. How may one have that faith? Ans. By applying the promises, and believing them. If the things be absolutely necessary, the promise makes these very things sure to them who come to God through Christ for them, as peace, pardon, &c. If they be not, then the promise secures God's doing the best, that either he will give the very thing desired, or what is as good. And we are to believe accordingly.
6. Sincerely, Psal.145:18. 'The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.' Hypocrisy and dissimulation in prayer, when the heart goes not along with the lips, mars the acceptance of prayers. There are feigned lips, Psal. 17:1. when the affections do not keep pace with the words in prayer: when sin is confessed, but the heart not humbled under it; petitions are put up, but no serious desire of the things asked, Jer. 29:13. 'And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.'
7. Fervently, Jam. 5:16. ' Confess your faults one to another, an pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.' Cold, lifeless, and formal prayers, are not of the right stamp. We should, as in a most weighty matter, be boiling hot, Rom. 12: II. Importunity in prayer is most pleasing to God. It consists not in a multitude of words, Matt. 6:7; but in a holy earnestness of heart to be heard, Psal. 143:7; and pleading with the Lord, by allowable arguments, as one who is in deep earnest, job 23:4. A heart warmed by a live-coal from God's altar will produce this.
8. Watchfully; watching unto prayer, as in the text; taking heed to our spirits, that they do not wander. Wandering thoughts in prayer mar many prayers. They come on like the fowls on the, carcase, and will devour it, if not driven away. A carnal frame of heart is the mother of them, and rash indeliberate approaches to God help them forward. In that case one should be like the builders of the wall, having the trowel in the one hand, and the sword in the other, resolutely to resist vain thoughts, and refuse to harbour them. Nay, turn the cannon on the enemy, consider them as affording new matter of humiliation, and a clamant occasion of plying the throne of grace more closely. If they be striven against, they will not mar your acceptance; but if not they will.
9. Perseveringly; watching thereunto with all perseverance as in the text. When we have tabled our suit before the throne, we must not let it fall, but insist upon it, Luke 18:I. Hold on, with one petition, one prayer, on the back of another, till it be granted, Isa. 62:1. ' In due time ye shall reap, if ye faint not.'
Lastly, Dependingly; waiting upon the Lord with humble submission to his holy will, and looking for an answer, Micah 8:7.' Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation : my God will hear me.' We must come away in a waiting depending frame. No wonder those prayers be not regarded which we never look after, and are not concerned for the answer of.
But are all such prayers accepted, heard, and answered ?
1. An unrenewed man cannot thus pray, neither are such a one`s prayers at any time accepted, Prov. 15:8. 'The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,' John 9:31. 'God heareth not sinners.
2. God's own people do not always thus pray, neither are all their prayers accepted. For, says the Psalmist, Psal. 66:18.' If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.'
3. But all such prayers, being the produce of God's Spirit in the saints, are presented by the Mediator; and are accepted, heard, and answered by the Father, though not presently answered, Psal. 22:2. yet they shall be answered in due time, either by granting the very thing desired, 1 John 5:15.' And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him;' or something as good, Gen.17:18, 19. ' And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee ! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed ; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him;' 2 Cor. 12:8, 9. 'For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee ; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.' "