Thoughts on Prayer from Charles Spurgeon
C. H. Spurgeon was a great preacher, and also a man of prayer. Someone once asked D. L. Moody if he had heard Spurgeon preach. 'Yes,' replied Moody, 'but better, I heard him pray.' When a man such as Spurgeon preached upon the subject of prayer, then we can be assured that his thoughts were not only biblical but also that they had been tested in the crucible of personal communication with his God.
The Power of Prayer
Spurgeon stated that prayer was 'the grandest power in the entire universe, that it is more omnipotent than electricity, attraction, gravitation or any such secret forces ... Prayer has as palpable, as true, as sure, as invariable an influence over the entire universe as any of the laws of matter.' He went on in the same vein, 'Prayer is not fancy of fiction; it is a real actual thing coercing the universe, binding the laws of God themselves in fetters, and constraining the High and Holy One to listen to the will of His poor but favoured creature, man.'
We know that Spurgeon was a believer in, and both a proclaimer and a defender of, the doctrines of Sovereign Grace. Not for one moment should we assume from the words quoted above that Spurgeon believed prayer could 'over-ride' God's sovereignty. On the contrary, we must see that, for instance, in a message given in Exeter Hall one Sunday morning in 1860, Spurgeon clearly linked prayer to the omnipotence of God. Hence prayer prayed in Christ's Name, to our Father, is, in the sense of the foregoing, 'the grandest power in the entire universe'. Spurgeon believed and practised what he preached.
But Spurgeon did not fall into the danger of seeing prayer as a mere force, something that Christians could 'tap into' for their own ends, however 'omnipotent' he believed prayer to be.
Communion with God
First and foremost, Spurgeon saw prayer as 'that sweet converse which man holds with God, that state of nearness to God, in which our mutual secrets are revealed – our hearts open to Him, His heart being manifest to us'.
Thus Spurgeon emphasized what the state of our hearts must be when we pray. 'You must draw near to God ... either in a lowly sense of His majesty, or in a delightful consciousness of His goodness, or in a ravishing sense of your own relationship to Him, or else your prayer is as worthless as chaff…'
Prayer, in Spurgeon's experience, was the intertwining of his life with that of his heavenly Father in humility and in the certainty of his relationship with Him through the Son. Prayer was not only 'power' and 'sweet converse' with God, but it was also the means whereby daily needs are brought to the Throne of Grace.
Definite Objects in Prayer
Spurgeon warned that we should not come to God in prayer without some certain idea of what we desire. 'It is essential,' he preached, that we should have 'some definite objects for which we should plead'.
Under that heading, Spurgeon suggested that we should daily pray for ourselves. 'For so broad are your wants, so deep are your necessities, that until you are in heaven you will always find room for prayer ... Pray that you may be holy, humble, zealous, and patient ... that you may be an example to others, and that you may honour God here.'
We should pray for our families. If our children are saved, pray 'that their piety may be real'. If our children are unsaved, 'you have a whole fountain of arguments for prayer', noted Spurgeon.
He went on to mention prayer for the household servants. For most of us that would be prayer for anyone with whom we are connected, either at our place of employment or within our neighbourhood.
The church local held a large place in Spurgeon's prayers. In particular Spurgeon emphasized the need the pastor has that his people should pray for him.
'Let the minister have a place in your heart', pleaded Spurgeon. 'Do you know the cares of a minister? Do you know the trouble he has in his own church – how erring ones grieve him, how even the right ones vex his spirit by their infirmities...?'
The burdens of a pastor are at times overwhelming, and it is to our great shame in this day and age that Spurgeon's words have fallen on so many deaf ears. The only place the pastor has in the hearts of some believers – if one is to judge by their conversation – is the place of criticism, rather than that of encouragement, a place of bitterness instead of one of love and warm intercession!
Throughout his ministry Spurgeon sought the prayers of his people. He ever gave credit to God and to his praying church members for the great success of his many and varied ministries. Frequently Spurgeon claimed that he had a 'band of valiant men who besieged God's Throne on my behalf'. Not until glory will we know how many men's ministries have been helped or hindered, either by our prayer or by our lack of it!
Along with prayer for the pastor Spurgeon, of course, suggested prayer for each member of the church local and for the work and ministry of the church worldwide.
Fervency in Prayer
Another essential Spurgeon advocated was earnest desire. Prayer 'is not the living thing, the all prevailing, almighty thing ... unless there be fullness and overflowing of desires.' Spurgeon quoted an 'old divine' who said, 'Cold prayers ask for a denial.' Spurgeon went on, 'We must have such a desire for the thing we want, that we will not rise until we have it...'
This might come very close to presumption and a petulant demand on our part, but he 'softened' the harshness of the statement by adding the caveat, 'but in submission to His divine will'. Spurgeon was ever mindful, in the boldness of his own prayer life, of our Lord's words in the garden, 'Not my will, but Thine.' There must not be a 'lack of faith', but rather an earnest desire to have only that which God has prepared for us. We have no desire to 'vomit' his answer out of our nostrils (Num. 11:20)!
Faith in Prayer
Hand-in-hand with definite objects, and earnestness of desire, must go faith. Faith is the true handmaiden of prayer. Hebrews 11:6 states,
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Spurgeon remarked that our petitions cannot be 'heard in heaven and answered to your soul's satisfaction, unless you believe that God really hears you.' As one young Christian was heard to remark, 'We ought to be 'pregnant with expectancy' when we pray!'
'Pregnant with expectancy'! Many of us are frequently 'deflated by doubt' rather than filled with an expectant and sure hope that God will hear and answer our prayers. Perhaps the reason that so many of our prayers seem to remain unanswered is that we try, in Spurgeon's words, to 'put two arrows on the string at once', with the result, of course, that 'both miss'!
The picture here is ludicrous! An archer attempting to shoot two arrows at once! What was Spurgeon trying to teach by that illustration? He answered that question for us by a quote from John Bradford:
When I know what I want I always stop on that prayer until I feel that I have pleaded it with God, and until God and I have had dealings with each other upon it. I never go on to another petition till I have gone through the first.
How frequently do you and I fire off a fusillade of arrows toward the throne of grace and thus see so many of them fall far, far short of the target! One arrow and one only should be notched to the bow string.
That kind of prayer cannot be rushed; it cannot be galloped through. 'One arrow on the string' of necessity demands concentration, thought and time. I think I would not be too far wrong if I suggested that in the light of John Bradford's statement much of what passes for prayer among believers today just does not make the grade!
Many earnest Christians burden themselves down with so many prayer points from so many sources that prayer becomes an exercise in futility and frustration. Skimming through their 'prayer packets' and 'prayer lists', such Christians gallop from one 'prayer point' to the next, never taking time to think, to determine exactly what they want, desire, or expect, mentally 'ticking off' people, places, and things; yet at the end feeling uncomfortably as if they had never prayed! How unlike Spurgeon's own prayer life! This man lived a life in constant prayer; his preaching and his ministries were sustained through God's grace – by his own and his people's prayers.
If we desire to see God move in our own lives, in our churches, and in the world, as he did in the life of C. H. Spurgeon, then perhaps we need to discard our bulging 'prayer packets', seriously winnow our prayer lists, and follow Bradford's method!
I leave the last word to Spurgeon:
Get the first mercy, and then go again for the second ... Stay on one until you have prevailed with that, and then go on to the next. With definite objects and with fervent desires mixed together, there is the drawing of hope that you will prevail with God.