How to Pray—”God heard their voice in those days, and He will hear our cries if made them in the right spirit. One reason why so many prayers go unanswered is that they are not in accordance with the will of God, or because we have not been sufficiently cleansed from our sins. Some secret sin may be clustering around our hearts which He wants removed first. John in his gospel tells us that it is the comfort that if we ask anything according to His will it will be received. But some will say, “Well, how am I to know what is the will of God?”
Just turn to Romans viii., 6: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” This leads us into Luke xi., i: “And it came to pass that one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us how to pray as John also taught his disciples.” I have no doubt many persons here have said, “Lord, teach me how to pray.” I’d rather be able to pray like Daniel than to preach like David. The world knows little of the works wrought by prayer. But our words at the best seem empty and cold. Christ replied to the disciple, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” Later he says. “Ask and it shall be given you.”
In this ninth verse we find three classes of Christians mentioned—the asking, the seeking, and the knocking Christians.
There are a good many in the first class. They are continually asking but do not seek. If you will allow me the expression, they run away from the mercyseat before God has had time to answer them. Then there are the seeking Christians, who are a step in advance. They always try to find out what God wants them to do, and where the trouble lies within themselves. There is not a Christian on the face of the earth who, if he enters upon this self-examination, but will find that when his prayers are not answered there is something in his own heart which he cherishes but should give up.
Lastly we have the knocking Christians. This is the class we want here. If you knock “it shall be opened,” and keep knocking until it is. When the Holy Ghost is upon us, how every one longs to speak and to work for God! Let us ask for great things—that God may fill us with the Holy Spirit, and we may learn to do His will.
We don’t know how to pray.
Unless the Spirit of God be with us, we cannot expect that our prayers will be answered. Many are asking for what would be an injury to them should God grant it. God knows what we want better than we. He knows when anything would injure us, should we have it, and it is because He loves us that many prayers are unanswered. We sometimes fail to see why God withholds certain gifts, but later in life we will understand it.
I well remember how I wanted many things some years ago, and can plainly see that they might have been a positive injury to me. It is well for us to make all our requests. Children ask many things of their parents, but the parent does not always grant their requests. We love them too well to give what would harm them. So it is with God and our prayers. I want to call your attention to the third chapter of Deuteronomy, where prayers were uttered which were not answered. Moses wanted to cross the Jordan. He was praying for himself. It was no sign God did not love him because He did not answer that prayer. He loved Moses as he did no other man of that time.
He took him up to a mountain, let him die as it were on His breast and then buried him. After fifteen hundred years that prayer was answered. He was over Jordan on the mountain with Elias. And there was Elijah, who prayed that he might die. He was the only man living, I guess, who ever prayed for death. But wasn’t it better for Elijah to go to heaven in that chariot of fire? Yes. God loved him too much to let him die. It is a good deal better to let God choose than to choose ourselves.”—D.L. Moody; Glad Tidings. 1876. ◊ “Our Lord’s teaching regarding prayer.” (a PDF download) ◊ The Doctrine of the Trinity.