The Secret of the Sacred Simplicity of Prayer
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41
These words were spoken in the supreme moment of our Lord’s agony; we are immensely flippant if we forget that. No words our Lord ever spoke ought to weigh with us more than these words. We are dealing with the sacred simplicity of prayer. If prayer is not easy, we are wrong; if prayer is an effort, we are out of it. There is only one kind of person who can really pray, and that is the childlike saint, the simple, stupid, supernatural child of God; I do mean “stupid.” Immediately you try to explain why God answers prayer on the ground of reason, it is nonsense; God answers prayer on the ground of Redemption and on no other ground. Let us never forget that our prayers are heard, not because we are in earnest, not because we suffer, but because Jesus suffered. It is because our Lord Jesus Christ went through the depths of agony to the last ebb in the Garden of Gethsemane, because He went through Calvary, that we have ”boldness to enter into the holy place.”
Let us take ourselves across Kedron to the Garden of Gethsemane. We can never fathom the agony in Gethsemane, but at least we need not mis-understand. This is not the agony of a man: this is the distress of God in Man, or rather the distress of God as Man. It is not human in any phase, it is fathomless to a human mind, but we have got several lines to go on so as not to mis-understand. Always beware of the tendency to think of our Lord as an extraordinary human being; He was not, He was God Incarnate.
The Line of the Undiscerned Word of Our Lord
Watch and pray . . .
”Tarry ye here, and watch with Me.”Is my idea of prayer based on the keen watching that Jesus Christ asked of His disciples? He did not say, “pray for anything,” or, “ask God for anything”; the whole of His attitude toward them was wrapped up in the words, ”watch with Me.” Our Lord did not say sentimental things or pious things about prayer He said practical and intensely real things, and this is one of them. This is a line of things that opens up nothing to us until it does, because we bring in our own ideas of prayer and do not take into account the Mastership of our Lord. Probably that is our biggest difficulty—that our Lord is not really Master. We use the phrase “Master,” but we use it in a more or less pious way, we do not intend to make Him Master practically; we are much more familiar with the idea that Jesus is our Saviour, our Sanctifier, anything that puts Him in the relationship of a supernatural Comrade. We advocate anything that Jesus does, but we do not advocate Him.
(a) The Appropriate Place of Our Lord’s Arranging
”Sit ye here, while I go yonder and pray . . .”It is customary, and in one sense quite right, to take our Lord as an example of how to pray, but in the fundamental sense He is not. The relationship we have to God is not the same as Jesus Christ’s relationship to His Father—especially on this occasion; His is not a relationship: it is a Redemption. So until you are sure about our Lord’s Redemption—”sit here, wait.” People say, “Why do you waste your time in a Bible Training College? Fancy spending all your time studying the Bible! Think of the people who need to be looked after; think of the thousand and one things there are to do!” Well, they have to be done, but that is not the point. The point is, are we prepared for our Lord to say to us, ”Sit ye here, while I go yonder”? Are we prepared to give due weight to the fact that we are not our own masters? Are we devotees to a cause or disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ? He said to the disciples, ”Sit ye here”; if they had been like some of us they would have said, “No, it is absurd, we must go and do something.”
The more we get into the atmosphere of the New Testament the more we discover the unfathomable and unhasting leisure of our Lord’s life, no matter what His agony. The difficulty is that when we do what God wants us to do, our friends say, “It is all very well, but suppose we all did that!” Our Lord did not tell all the disciples to sit there while He prayed; He told only three of them. The point is that we must take the discerning of the haphazard arrangements of our lives from God. If once we accept the Lord Jesus Christ and the domination of His Lordship, then nothing happens by chance, because we know that God is ordering and engineering circumstances; the fuss has gone, the amateur providence has gone, the amateur disposer has gone, and we know that ”all things work together for good to them that love God.” If Jesus says, ”Sit ye here, while I go yonder and pray,” the only appropriate thing we can do is to sit there.
(b) The Appointed Place of Our Lord’s Associates
”And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee . . .”Our Lord opened His sorrow to these three, as far as human beings could appreciate it. Peter may stand well for the phase of the first temptation that betook our Lord—the sensible, material side of things, for help and assistance. James may stand for the second temptation that betook our Lord—the intensely ritualistic; and John may stand for the last temptation—the temptation to compromise with everything in order to win, a great loving monopoly. These three men were taken and appointed by our Lord for one purpose—to see His agony. ”Tarry ye here, and watch with Me.” He did not put them there to go to sleep; He put them there to wait and watch. Remember, the twelve disciples were all He had; He knew one had gone to betray Him, and that Peter would shortly deny Him with oaths and curses, and that all of them would forsake Him and flee; but He took these three with Him to see the unveiling of His heart—and they slept for their own sorrow.
(c) The Autobiographic Place of Our Lord’s Agony
”. . . and began to be sorrowful and sore troubled.”Our Lord said to these disciples what He never said to the others; in John 12:27, He said in soliloquy something similar (“Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say?”), but here He really said to these three, ”My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Have we for one second watched Jesus pray? Have we ever understood why the Holy Ghost and our Lord Himself were so exceptionally careful about the recording of the agony in Gethsemane? This is not the agony of a man or a martyr; this is the agony of God as Man. It is God, as Man, going through the last lap of the supreme, supernatural Redemption of the human race. We ought to give much more time than we do—a great deal more time than we do—to brooding on the fundamental truths on which the Spirit of God works the simplicity of our Christian experience. The fundamental truths are—Redemption and the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, and these two are focused in one mighty Personality, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank God for the emphasis laid by the Pentecostal League of Prayer on the efficacy of the Holy Ghost to make experimentally real the Redemption of Jesus Christ in individual lives.
Remember, what makes prayer easy is not our wits or our understanding, but the tremendous agony of God in Redemption. A thing is worth just what it costs. Prayer is not what it costs us, but what it cost God to enable us to pray. It cost God so much that a little child can pray. It cost God Almighty so much that anyone can pray. But it is time those of us who name His Name knew the secret of the cost, and the secret is here, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” These words open the door to the autobiography of our Lord’s agony. We find the real key to Gethsemane in Matthew 4, which records the temptations of our Lord. Here they come again in a deeper and more appalling manner than ever before. We are not looking here (as we do when we deal with the temptations) at the type of temptation we have to go through; we are dealing here with the grappling of God as Man in the last reaches of historic Redemption.
“But these truths are so big.” Why shouldn’t they be? Have we to be fed with spooned meat all the time? Is it not time we paid more attention to what it cost God to make it possible for us to live a holy life? We talk about the difficulty of living a holy life; there is the absolute simple ease of Almighty God in living a holy life because it cost Him so much to make it possible. Beware of placing the emphasis on what prayer costs us; it cost God everything to make it possible for us to pray, Jesus did not say to these men, “agonise”; He said, ”Watch with Me.” Our Lord tried to lift the veil from before these disciples that they might see what He was going through. Think Who He was—the Son of God: “My soul”—the reasoning Mind of the Lord Jesus Christ—”is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me.”
The Lure of Wrong Roads to the Kingdom
that ye enter not into temptation . . .
Whenever Jesus talked about His kingdom the disciples misinterpreted what He said to mean a material kingdom to be established on this earth; but Jesus said, ”My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” And again He said, ”The kingdom of God cometh not with observation . . . for lo! the kingdom of God is within you.” The only way in which we can be saved from the lure of the wrong roads to the kingdom is by doing what our Master tells us, viz., ”Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” If we do not watch and pray we shall be led into temptation before we know where we are. ”Howbeit when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” said Jesus. He will find faith in individual men and women, but the general organised form of the Christian Church has slipped almost wholesale on to wrong roads to the kingdom.
(a) The Material Road of Deliverance (Matthew 4:1-4)
“If Thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3). This temptation is profoundly human. If we could only find some means of curing everybody of disease, of feeding them and putting them on a good social basis what a marvellous thing it would be. That is the way we are being told that the kingdom of God is to be established on this earth. “We do not need any more of this talk about the Atonement, and the shedding of blood; what is needed to-day is to spend ourselves for others.” That is the lure of the wrong road to the kingdom, and we cannot keep out of it if we forget to watch and pray. ”Watch with Me,” said Jesus; “mine is the only road to the kingdom.” We have to continue with Him in His temptations. ”Command that these stones become bread”—”satisfy Your own needs and the needs of men and You will get the kingship of men.” Was Satan right? Read John 6:15, “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force to make Him a king . . .” Why? He had just fed five thousand of them! yes, but we read that Jesus ”departed again into a mountain Himself alone”; He would not be king at that price.
(b) The Mysterious Road of Devotion (Matthew 4:5-7)
Remember, we are dealing with our Lord’s presentation of His own temptation; in the most sacred matters rely only on the Holy Ghost, trust no one else.
This temptation presents a wild reach of possibility—”You are the Son of God, do something supernatural that will stagger men, and the world will be at your feet.” Was Satan right? Absolutely. Is there not a lure along that road springing up to-day more than ever? There are miraculous dealings which lure to destruction, the tongues movement, the seeking for signs and wonders. Almost without exception the people who are lured on this wrong road are those who have been told to fast and concentrate for something for themselves whereby the Lord may show how marvellous He is. It does look right to human reason when it is just touched on the first outer fringe by the Holy Ghost, but it contradicts emphatically what our Lord teaches, viz., that importunity in intercession is never for ourselves but for others.
”The kingdom of God cometh not with observation”: it is at work now; the manifestation of the kingdom of God externally is another thing. The disciples had still got their own ideas of the kingdom, they were blind to what Jesus Christ’s kingdom meant, and they were so totally depressed that they slept for their own sorrow. ”Watch with Me.” How could they? They had no idea what He was after.
(c) The Mental Road of Dominion (Matthew 4:8-10)
This is the temptation to compromise—”Evil is in the world, compromise with it, work with it judiciously.” ”All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.” This temptation is the most subtle of all. “Don’t be so strait-laced; we have passed the day when we believe in a personal devil.” May God forgive us, I am afraid we are past that stage. Will the Church that bows down and compromises succeed? Of course it will. It is the very thing that the natural man wants, but it is the lure of a wrong road to the kingdom. Beware of putting anything sweet and winsome in front of the One Who suffered in Gethsemane.
The Light of Undisciplined Vision
. . . the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
It is so easy when we see things in vision to start out and do them. We are caught up into the seventh heaven, far above all the grubby things of earth and it is magnificent for a time, but we have got to come down. After the Mount of Transfiguration comes the place where we have to live, viz., the demon-possessed valley. The test of reality is our life in the valley, not that we fly up among the golden peaks of the early morning.
(a) The Triumphant Minute
“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona” (Matthew 16:17; cf. John 21:15-19). Peter had his triumphant minute, but he had to go through the mill after it; he went through a tremendous heart-break before he was fit to hear Jesus say, ”Feed My sheep.” Peter would have done anything for his Lord, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. We make allowances for the flesh, but we have no business to; we have to make manifest in the flesh the visions of the spirit. Thank God we are going to Heaven when we die, but thank God we are not going before we die. We get glimpses of Heaven, then we are brought down instantly into actual circumstances. Do not go too long in the light of undisciplined vision. Thank God for the triumphant minute, but we have to walk on earth according to what we saw in vision.
(b) The Transfiguration Moment
“And He was transfigured before them” (Matthew 17:2). Put alongside that moment on the Mount, Jesus standing after the Resurrection on the sea-shore in the early morning with ”a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.” Thank God for seeing Jesus transfigured, and for the almightiness of the visions He does give, but remember that the vision is to be made real in actual circumstances; the glory is to be manifested in earthen vessels. It has to be exhibited through finger-tips, through eyes and hands and feet; everywhere where Jesus exhibited it. We are so like Peter on the Mount and say, “O Lord, let me stay here.”
(c) The Transcendent Moment
“Even if I must die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee” (Matthew 26:35). Peter meant it every bit, it was a transcendent moment to him, he would have done anything for Jesus Christ; and yet he denied with oaths and cursesthat he ever knew Him. Peter was no hypocrite, but he did not watch and pray. Peter based his declaration on the keen generosity of his own heart, but he did not understand that he needed to be on another basis altogether, the basis of Redemption.
Thank God for the heroic moments of life! It is comparatively easy to live in the heroic moments. We can all have haloes at times; if we stand in the right place, with stained-glass windows behind us, and have the right kind of dress on, it is not at all difficult to look remarkably fine; but there is nothing in it, not only is there nothing in it, but excessive dangers arise out of it. Beware of the transcendent moment that is a pose. A humorous sense of criticism is wholesome. Some people get to a transcendent moment and someone tells them they look remarkably fine, and everlastingly afterwards they try to live in that transcendent moment. We have to get down to the level where the reality works out, and the whole counsel comes back to this, ”Watch and pray”—the secret of the sacred simplicity of prayer. Prayer imparts the power to walk and not faint, and the lasting remembrance of our lives is of the Lord, not of us.
O Lord, unto Thee do I come that I might find grace to praise and worship Thee aright. Lord lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us; send power and majestic grace.
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O Lord, how good it is for me to know Thee; how essentially necessary it is for me to draw nigh to Thee. How can I falter when Thou art my Life!
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Lord, our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom Jesus is the very image, I look to Thee and make my prayer. Bless me this hour with the feeling of Thy presence and the glow of Thy nearness, for I do trust Thee and hope only in Thee.
Lecture: Bible Training College, May 7, 1915