Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord of hosts.
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): I have come to learn certain things about private prayer. You cannot pray to order. You can get on your knees to order; but how to pray?
A. W. PINK (1886-1952): One cannot “pray to order.” Real prayer is in-breathed by the Holy Spirit, laying a burden on the heart. I have no sympathy with this modern method of keeping a “prayer list,” nor have I ever attempted to pray by the clock!*
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Prayer is not easy; prayer, because we are what we are, is difficult and we need instruction. If we have never felt what our Lord’s disciples felt when they turned to Him one afternoon and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” it is probably because we have never really prayed at all.
WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): “An easy thing to pray!” Who that has made the trial, and is concerned for the result of it, but exclaims with Elihu, “Teach us what we shall say unto Him; for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness,” or, with the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray!”
A. W. PINK: I have often been struck with how often preachers and others misquote, “Lord, teach us to pray,” by inserting “teach us how to pray.” Man is occupied with “how,” but God with the “pray”—which is often an inarticulated groan!
WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): What is prayer, but the breathing forth of that grace which is breathed into the soul by the Holy Spirit?
JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): Prayer is the breath of the Spirit, Romans 8:26; Jude 20. And prayer without the Spirit, is but an empty ring, a tinkling cymbal.
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Now, perhaps, you may know a friend of yours who thinks himself a poet. He can make poetry at any time, all the year round. Just pull him by the sleeve, and he will make you very soon a verse or two at the spur of the moment to show the readiness of his wit and the versatility of his talent. Yet I dare say you think that he is about as far off from being a poet as a sparrow is from being an eagle. You know that if he were a poet, he would not be able to command the glow of imagination at one time, and at another time, he would hardly be able to control it. He would sometimes have divine afflatus upon him, as some call it, and then noble thoughts in appropriate words would flow from his pen. Otherwise he would be just as dull and insipid as ordinary mortals. He would tell you indignantly that he could not write verses to order like those who scribble rhymes to advertise a tailor’s wares. Without the inspiration come upon me, he would say, I cannot compose a line.
In like manner a man cannot always pray, and the man who pretends he can doth only utter jargon. He never prays at all, as the other never make poetry at all. Prayer is a divine art. It is a thing which needs the inspiration not of the muses, but of the Spirit of God Himself, and it is when the Spirit comes upon us with divine force, and makes our soul like the chariots of Ammi-nadib that we can pray; and at other times when that Spirit is not with us, we cannot pray as we did before. Every living child of God knows this. We must measure our prayers by the state of the soul that we were in.
JOHN CLAYTON (1754-1843): Extempore prayer is a test to myself of my spiritual state.**
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Let me give you another characteristic of the Spirit, and that is the element of freedom in prayer, the element of liberty, which again is a most thorough test. How much do we know about this? Do you know the difference between forcing yourself to pray, struggling to find words and thoughts, desires, and expressions, and, on the other hand, being carried along, as it were, on the crest of a wave while you are more of less a spectator?
C. H. SPURGEON: Take another illustration from the painter. One who thinks himself a painter can paint any day you like anything you ask—a mountain, a river, a horse, an insect, or a flower—it is all the same to him. He takes a brush and soon produces something, which ordinary people might think to be a picture; but send that daub of his to the Royal Academy, and they will tell you that it may do for a tea tray, but not for the walls of a gallery.
But the man that can paint, how does he mix his colours? The great painter mixes his brains with his colours; and when he takes his brush and dips it into the paint, he lays it on with his soul. In a great picture, such as sometimes we have seen by a Titian or a Raphael, it is not the colour but the man’s heart that he has got out on the canvas. Somehow he has managed to drop his brush into his soul. That is real painting.
And so it is with prayer. The humblest man that prays to God with his soul understands the fine art of prayer; but the man who chants a pompous liturgy, or repeats an extemporaneous effusion, has not prayed. He has dashed off what he thinks to be a picture, but it is not a picture, it is not a prayer. Had it been a prayer it would have had a palpable inspiration in it of light and shade. A painting may consist of few lines, but you will see the painter’s hand in it; and a prayer may consist of only half a dozen words, but you can see the hand of God in it. The formality repels you in the one case; the vitality attracts you in the other.
MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): We must pray “in the Spirit”—our spirits must be employed in the duty and we must do it by the grace of God’s good Spirit.
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Therefore it is necessary for our prayers not only to be made with our mouth, but also to come from the bottom of our heart. And now since we do not have that by our own power, it is necessary for the Holy Spirit to work in us.
RICHARD SIBBES (1577-1635): It is a business more of the heart than of the tongue, more of groans, than of words, which groans and sighs the Spirit will always stir up, even in the worst condition.
C. H. SPURGEON: The Spirit makes an atmosphere around every living prayer, and within that circle prayer lives and prevails; outside of it prayer is a dead formality…If you could pray the best prayer in the world without the Holy Spirit, God would have nothing to do with it.
*Editor’s Note: While we recognize the point made by A. W. Pink regarding “prayer lists,” we do not disapprove of the practice of keeping a prayer list as a personal reminder.
**Editor’s Note: Extempore prayer is prayer made with little or no prior preparation or forethought; it is not the reading a formal written prayer, nor the reciting of a routine habitual prayer.