The Gift of Prayer Part 2: The Wordy Counterfeit

Ecclesiastes 5:2
      Let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.

E. J. POOLE-CONNOR (1872-1962): I was born twelve years after the Revival of 1860, because although it commenced in ’58, and ran through ’59, it was perhaps at its peak in the year 1860. Twelve years after that I was born into a Christian family, and while the tide was rapidly receding, I was still conscious as I became old enough to think about these things that there was a Power still in the Christian Churches and in Christian homes, that has long since disappeared. My father was a man of peculiar sanctity of character, who all his life walked with God. He never spoke in public, except in the exercise of his great gift of prayer. He would generally pray at length in the church prayer-meeting—they all did in those days, sometimes taking as long as twenty or twenty-five minutes—but when my father was so engaged time to me seemed to stand still. I can remember that occasionally when I thought he was about to close, I would say under my breath, “Go on, father dear! Don’t leave off yet.”

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): There are, doubtless, seasons when the Lord is pleased to favour those who pray with a peculiar liberty: they speak because they feel; they have a wrestling spirit and hardly know how to leave off. When this is case, those who join with them are seldom wearied, though the prayer should be protracted something beyond the usual limits. But I believe it happens, both in praying and preaching, that we are apt to spin out our time to the greatest length, when we have in reality the least to say. Long prayers should, in general, be avoided.

C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): Long prayers are often wearisome; indeed, in many cases, they are a positive infliction!

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): A brother would fix himself against the table pew, and pray for twenty minutes or half-an-hour, and then conclude by asking forgiveness for his shortcomings—a petition which was hardly sanctioned by those who had undergone the penance of endeavouring to join in his long-winded discourse.

C. H. MACKINTOSH: There is a terrible amount of unreality in our prayers…Hence, the want of power and efficacy in our prayers—hence, the formality—the routine—our God will have reality…He, blessed be His name, is real with us, and He would have us real with Him. He will have us coming before Him as we really are, and with what we really want. How often, alas! It is otherwise, both in private and public!

J. C. PHILPOT (1802-1869): How few we hear at a prayer-meeting whose prayers drop into our conscience!

C. H. SPURGEON: When a man goes to his business to make money, he goes there with all his wits about him; but, frequently, when men come to prayer and Christian service, they leave their minds behind, and do not act as if they were transacting real business with God…Some prayers lend a colour of support to the theory of Dr. William Hammond, that the brain is not absolutely essential to life.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): One [common fault] is a form of speech that looks as if we were attempting to give information to the Almighty, and so to spend time as if we were addressing an ignorant being. Some seem to feel the impropriety of such speech, and to save themselves they say, “Thou knowest.”

C. H. SPURGEON: The friends who were reputed to be “gifted” indulged themselves in public prayer with a review of their own experience, a recapitulation of their creed, an occasional running commentary upon a chapter or Psalm, or even a criticism of the Pastor and his sermons. It was too often quite forgotten that the brother was addressing the Divine Majesty, before whose wisdom a display of our knowledge is impertinence, and before whose glory an attempt at swelling words and pompous periods is little short of profanity; the harangue was evidently intended for man rather than God, and on some occasions did not contain a single petition from beginning to end.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER: Nor should prayers be tedious…Some prayers, not very long, are tedious, because there is little or no variety in them, or because they often create the impression that they are drawing to a close; but he who is offering them has some new view, and branches out, as it were, in all directions.

C. H. MACKINTOSH: Some of us seem to think it necessary to make one long prayer about all sorts of things—many of them very right and very good, no doubt—but the mind gets bewildered by the multiplicity of subjects.

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): How many prayers have we heard that were so incoherent and aimless, so lacking in point and unity, that when the amen was reached we could scarcely remember one thing for which thanks had been given or request had been made, only a blurred impression remaining on the mind.

C. H. SPURGEON: This fault, which is the ruin of all fervency, ought to be extirpated by all means, even at the expense of the feelings of the offender.

A. P. GIBBS (1890-1967): D. L. Moody once brought a long winded prayer to an abrupt conclusion by announcing: “While our brother is continuing and concluding his prayer, let us sing hymn number so and so.”

R. C. CHAPMAN (1803-1902): The soul persuaded that “God is,” cannot be wordy.


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