17. Like Christ: In His Praying.
"And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed."óMark 1:35.
"And He saith unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile."óMark 6:31.
In His life of secret prayer, too, my Saviour is my example. He could not maintain the heavenly life in His soul without continually separating Himself from man, and communing with His Father. With the heavenly life in me it is no otherwise: it has the same need of entire separation from man, the need not only of single moments, but of time enough for intercourse with the Fountain of Life, the Father in Heaven.
It was at the commencement of His public ministry that the event happened which so attracted the attention of His disciples that they wrote it down. After a day full of wonders and of work at Capernaum (vers. 21Ė32), the press in the evening became still greater. The whole town is before the door; sick are healed, and devils are cast out. It is late before they get to sleep: in the throng there is little time for quiet or for secret prayer. And lo, as they rise early in the morning, they find Him gone. In the silence of the night He has gone out to seek a place of solitude in the wilderness; when they find Him there, He is still praying.
And why did my Saviour need these hours of prayer? Did He not know the blessedness of silently lifting up His soul to God in the midst of the most pressing business? Did not the Father dwell in Him? and did He not in the depth of His heart enjoy unbroken communion with Him? Yes, that hidden life was indeed His portion. But that life, as subject to the law of humanity, had need of continual refreshing and renewing from the fountain. It was a life of dependence; just because it was strong and true, it could not bear the loss of direct and constant intercourse with the Father, with whom and in whom it had its being and its blessedness.
What a lesson for every Christian! Much intercourse with man is dissipating and dangerous to our spiritual life: it brings us under the influence of the visible and temporal. Nothing can atone for the loss of secret and direct intercourse with God. Even work in the service of God and of love is exhausting: we cannot bless others without power going out from us; this must be renewed from above. The law of the manna, that what is heavenly cannot remain good long upon earth, but must day by day be renewed afresh from heaven, still holds good. Jesus Christ teaches it us: I need every day time to have communion with my Father in secret. My life is like His a life hid in heaven, in God; it needs time day by day to be fed from heaven. It is from heaven alone that the power to lead a heavenly life on earth can come.
And what may have been the prayers that occupied our Lord there so long? If I could hear Him pray, how I might learn how I too must pray! God be praised! of His prayers we have more than one recorded, that in them too we might learn to follow His holy example. In the high-priestly prayer (John 17.) we hear Him speak, as in the deep calm of heaven, to His Father: in His Gethsemane prayer, a few hours later, we see Him call out of the depths of trouble and darkness unto God. In these two prayers we have all: the highest and the deepest that there is to be found in the communion of prayer between Father and Son.
In both these prayers we see how He addresses God. Each time it is Father! O my Father! In that word lies the secret of all prayer. The Lord knew that He was a Son, and that the Father loved Him: with that word He placed Himself in the full light of the Fatherís countenance. This was to Him the greatest need and greatest blessing of prayer, to enter into the full enjoyment of the Fatherís love. Let it be thus with me too. Let the principal part of my prayer be, the holy silence and adoration of faith, in which I wait upon God, until He reveals Himself to me, and gives me, through His Spirit, the loving assurance that He looks down upon me as a Father, that I am well-pleasing to Him. He who in prayer has not time in quietness of soul, and in full consciousness of its meaning, to say Abba Father, has missed the best part of prayer. It is in prayer that the witness of the Spirit, that we are children of God, and that the Father draws nigh and delights in us, must be exercised and strengthened. "If our heart condemn us not, we have confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we obey His commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in His sight."
In both these prayers I also see what He desired: that the Faaer may be glorified. He speaks: "I have glorified Thee; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee." That will assuredly have been the spirit of every prayer; the entire surrender of Himself only to live for the Fatherís will and glory. All that He asked had but one object, "That God might be glorified." In this too He is my example. I must seek to have the spirit of each prayer I offer: Father! bless Thy child, and glorify Thy grace in me, only that Thy child may glorify Thee. Everything in the universe must show forth Godís glory. The Christian who is inspired with this thought, and avails himself of prayer to express it, until he is thoroughly imbued with it, will have power in prayer. Even of His work in heaven our Lord says: "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." O my soul, learn from thy Saviour, ere ever thou pourest out thy desires in prayer, first to yield thyself as a whole burnt-offering, with the one object that God may be glorified in thee.
Then thou hast sure ground on which to pray. Thou wilt feel the strong desire, as well as the full liberty, to ask the Father that in each part of Christís example, in each feature of Christís image, thou mayest be made like Him, that so God may be glorified. Thou wilt understand how, only in continually renewed prayer, the soul can surrender itself to wait that God may from heaven work in it what will be to His glory. Because Jesus surrendered Himself so entirely to the glory of His Father, He was worthy to be our Mediator, and could in His high-priestly prayer ask such great blessings for His people. Learn like Jesus only to seek Godís glory in prayer, and thou shalt become a true intercessor, who can not only approach the throne of grace with his own needs, but can also pray for others the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man that availeth much. The words which the Saviour put into our mouth in the Lordís Prayer: "Thy will be done," because He was made like unto His brethren in all things, He took from our lips again and made His own in Gethsemane, that from Him we might receive them back again, in the power of His atonement and intercession and so be able to pray them even as He had done. Thou too shalt become Christ-like in that priestly intercession, on which the unity and prosperity of the Church and the salvation of sinners so much depend.
And he who in every prayer makes Godís glory the chief object will also, if God calls him to it, have strength for the prayer of Gethsemane. Every prayer of Christ was intercession, because He had given Himself for us; all He asked and received was in our interest: every prayer He prayed was in the spirit of self-sacrifice. Give thyself too wholly to God for man, and as with Jesus so with us, the entire sacrifice of ourselves to God in every prayer of daily life is the only preparation for those single hours of soul-struggle in which we may be called to some special act of the surrender of the will that costs us tears and anguish., But he who has learnt the former will surely receive strength for the latter.
O my brother! if thou and I would be like Jesus, we must especially contemplate Jesus praying alone in the wilderness. There is the secret of His wonderful life. What He did and spoke to man, was first Spoken and lived through with the Father. In communion with Him, the anointing with the Holy Spirit was each day renewed. He who would be like Him in his walk and conversation, must simply begin here, that he follows Jesus into solitude. Even though it cost the sacrifice of night rest, of business, of intercourse with friends, the time must be found to be alone with the Father. Besides the ordinary hour of prayer, he will feel at times irresistibly drawn to enter into the holy place, and not to come thence until it has anew been revealed to him that God is his portion. In his secret chamber, with closed door, or in the solitude of the wilderness, God must be found every day, and our fellowship with Him renewed. If Christ needed it, how much more we I What it was to Him it will be for us.
What it was to Him is apparent from what is written of His baptism: "It came to pass that, Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him: and a voice came from heaven which said, Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased." Yes, this will be to us the blessing of prayer: the opened heaven, the baptism of the Spirit, the Fatherís voice, the blessed assurance of His love and good pleasure. As with Jesus, so with us; from above, from above, must it all come in anwer to prayer.
Christ-like praying in secret will be the secret of Christ-like living in public. O let us rise and avail ourselves of our wonderful privilegeóthe Christ-like boldness of access into the Fatherís presence, the Christ-like liberty with God in prayer.
O my blessed Lord, Thou hast called me, and I have followed Thee, that I may bear Thy image in all things. Daily would I seek Thy footsteps, that I may be led of Thee whithersoever Thou goest. This day I have found them, wet with the dew of night, leading to the wilderness. There I have seen Thee kneeling for hours before the Father. There I have heard Thee, too, in prayer. Thou givest up all to the Fatherís glory, and from the Father dost ask, and expect, and receive all Impress, I beseech Thee, this wonderful vision deep in my soul: my Saviour rising up a great while before day to seek communion with His Father, and to ask and obtain in prayer all that He needed for His life and work.
O my Lord! who am I that I may thus listen to Thee? Yea, who am I that Thou dost call me to pray, even as Thou hast done? Precious Saviour, from the depths of my heart I beseech Thee, awaken in me the same strong need of secret prayer. Convince me more deeply that, as with Thee so with me, the Divine life cannot attain its full growth without much secret communion with my heavenly Father, so that my soul may indeed dwell in the light of His countenance. Let this conviction awaken in me such burning desire that I may not rest until each day afresh my soul has been baptized in the streams of heavenly love. O Thou, who art my Example and Intercessor! teach me to pray like Thee. Amen.