Why We Have Not – James 4:2 – Only A Prayer Meeting
“Ye have not, because ye ask not.” – James iv. 2
The Holy Ghost, by the mouth of His servant James, has said, “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” I would not willingly be censorious, but crying evils demand open rebuke. Do you not think that this text applies to the case of many of our churches? They have no prosperity, their numbers do not increase, and the congregations are small; and, as the main cause of it all, they have scarcely a prayer-meeting. I hear perpetually of prayer-meetings abandoned, or, what is much the same thing, blended with the weekly lecture.
From various sources I gather that, in many instances, the meeting for prayer is so small that it is difficult to spin out the hour; and as the same few persons come from time to time, variety is out of the question; indeed, in some places, the prayer-meeting only exists to reveal the nakedness of the land. Now, if there be no conversions, and no additions to such churches, what is the reason? Is it not found here, “Ye have not, because ye ask not”? A lack of interest exists in many places, so that the assembly for prayer is despised, and put down as a second-rate affair: “only a prayer-meeting.” Is this a right view of the throne of grace? Will this bring a bessing?
In certain churches, there is no union, and consequently no agreement in prayer: “their heart is divided; now shall they be found wanting;” and wanting they are in their assemblies for prayer. In such a case, a feeble prayer-meeting is an effect as well as a cause of disunion; and till this is altered, we may expect to see more and more of “the divisions of Reuben.” Prayer is a grand cement; and lack of prayer is like withdrawing the force of gravitation from a mass of matter, and scattering it into so many separate atoms. Some churches are feeble all round; the members are a race of invalids, a body of infirm pensioners who can hardly hobble about in the ways of godliness. They have no life, no energy, or enterprise for Christ; and do you wonder at it when their meetings for prayer are so scantily attended? In some places where there are good praying people, the prayer-meetings are badly attended, because certain long-winded brethren spoil them.
I know a church which is endowed with an excellent deacon, a real godly man, but he will pray without ceasing at every meeting, and I fear he will pray the prayer-meeting down to nothing unless he is soon taken home. The other night, when he had talked for full twenty minutes, he intimated, both to Heaven and earth, that all he had said was merely a preface, a drawing near as he called it, and that he was then going to begin. None of his friends were pleased to receive that information, for they had begun to cherish the hope that he would soon have done. They were all too sadly aware that now he would pray for “our own beloved country,” “from the Queen upon the throne to the peasant in the cottage,” then for Australia and all the Colonies, and then for China and India, starting off afresh with kindly expressions for the young and for the old, for the sick, for sailors, and for the Jews.
As a rule, nothing was really asked for by this most estimable brother, but he uttered several pious remarks on all these subjects, and many more. It is a great pity when highly-esteemed brethren fall into the notion that they must deliver themselves of long harangues; the better the men, the worse the evil, for then we are forced to tolerate them. I am sorry when a good man gets the idea that praying means telling out his experience, or giving his theological opinions. I am told that our Salvation Army friends strike up a tune whenever a friend becomes long and prosy, and I have great sympathy with the practice. It removes the responsibility of stopping the man from the minister to the people, and by dividing the action among many it operates like a round robin for the screening of any one.
When prayer is an earnest asking, it may occasionally be lengthned to advantage; but the less of mere holy gossip, the better. If prayer-meetings degenerate into gospel gossip, we cannot wonder if no blessing comes. In such cases, the word is true, “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” If any believer should chance to live where the prayer-meeting is neglected, let him now resolve to revive it. Let us make a solemn league and covenant that the churches shall pray, or that it shall not be our fault if they do not. To strengthen a prayer-meeting, is as good a work as to preach a sermon. I would have you vow that the prayer-meeting shall never be given up while you live. Be like the good woman who, when it was decided to close the prayer-meeting in a certain village, declared that it should not be, for she would be there if no one else was.
She was true to her word; and when, the next morning, someone said to her rather jestingly, “Did you have a prayer-meeting last night?” “Ah, that we did!” she replied. “How many were present?” “Four,” she said. “Why,” said he, “I heard that you were there all alone.” “No,” she said, “I was the only one visible, but the Father was there, and the Son was there, and the Holy Spirit was there, and we were agreed in prayer.” Before long, others took shame to themselves at the earnest perseverance of a poor old woman, and soon there was a revived prayer-meeting and a prospering church. I have heard of a negro, who was found sitting out the time of service all alone when his coloured brethren had grown cold and prayerless; in his case also, the rest were shamed into fresh energy. I beg you, then, to maintain this holy ordinance even if the attendance should have dwindled down to two or three.
Surely a church, if it be a Church of Christ at all, must feel the rebuke which would be given by your perseverance. Oh, never let us leave off praying unitedly for a blessing! Solemnly settle it in your hearts that the fire upon the altar shall never go out. As for me and my church, we will serve the Lord by maintaining this sacred exercise in full vigour; and I beseech all other believers to come to the same resolve; or, if not, there will be dreary days for the Church of Christ. But now let us apply this passage to ourselves as individuals: “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” I wonder whether there is brother here, who has been tugging and toiling, and struggling for years after a certain thing which seems farther off than ever; and does the reason of his failure lie in the fact that he has never prayed about it? Do you wonder, dear brother, that you have not when you do not ask? With one hundredth part of your present trouble, you may obtain the desired boon if you seek it at the Lord’s hands.
I mean, even as to temporal things, it is our duty to work for our daily bread, and to earn what is necessary for this life; but do recollect that everything about a Christian should be a matter of prayer, because everything about a child that ought to be the child’s business is his Father’s business. If a child should have a perfect father, that father would be interested to hear about the child’s play as well as about the child’s suffering. He would take an interest in his boy’s lesson-books at school, and cheer him in reference to the little trials of his play-hours, for that which may be very little to a stranger, may be great to a father who measures things by his love to his child. Though a matter might be little to the father, considering him as a man alone, yet since it is great to the child, and the father puts himself into the child’s place, his sympathy makes insignificance important.
I have heard of a great king who was one day waited upon by an ambassador, who found him upon all-fours upon the floor, making himself into a horse for his little son. He said to the ambassador, “Sir, are you a father?” “Yes, your majesty, I am.” “Then,” said he, “I will finish my game with my boy, for you will understand me.” So he went on round and round the room till the little one had enjoyed his full share of romp, and then his majesty turned to the ambassador, and said, “Now I am ready to attend to the affairs of state.” I honour the king for thus showing that he was a man who had a father’s heart. So our Heavenly Father takes an interest in the trifles which concern His children, if they are such as ought to concern them; and therefore you need never fear to tell everything to your God. Little things are often more troublesome than great things. If a tiny splinter of wood gets into your finger, it may be more serious than a heavy blow, and even so a minor sorrow may work us grievous ill.
Take your daily troubles, wants, longings, aspirations, and endeavours to the Lord; for if they are such as are right and true, they should be laid at His feet. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Do you not think that many desires of your heart and many domestic troubles may continue – the desires to be unfulfilled, and the troubles to be unremoved, – because they have not been made the subject of prayer? “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” May not that be the case with many a merchant, student, mother, or worker? Success in life, comfort, employment, health, friends may, in some cases, be found by asking, and missed by neglect of prayer. Certainly, with regard to spiritual things, this must often be so.
A brother has heard of the high joys of God’s saints, and of the lofty places to which they have attained, so that they pass through life as if their feet trod lightly on the mountain-tops. He sighs, “I wish I had their faith.” How many times has that brother said the same! Let me speak to him. Have you ever sought this faith of the Lord? If you had once prayed for it, it might have been better than wishing for it a thousand times; peradventure, strength of faith and elasticity of step have been denied you because you have not yet asked for them. May there not be a hundred other boons, which you have missed because you have never asked for them? You have envied others who had them, you have picked holes in their characters in consequence, and you have complained of the Lord for withholding them; yet, all the while, the secret of your spiritual poverty has been this fact, “Ye have not, because ye ask not.”
Sometimes you will not ask because the thing is too little, sometimes because it is too great, and oftener still because it does not occur to you to ask for it. Is there anything about which a Christian ought not to pray? Then be sure of this, it is a matter with which he should have nothing to do. Mr. Rowland Hill, in his Village Dialogues, proposes the composition of a form of prayer to be offered by a young lady before going to the theatre, and another to be said when she returns from a dance. “There,” cries one, “I call that mere hypocrisy. Who ever heard of praying in connection with such matters? It is preposterous.” Just so, and thus it is clear that these things are not for Christians, for they must do nothing which they cannot pray about, and it was to exhibit the incongruity of such actions that Mr. Hill wrote as he did. A beloved brother said, the other night, and I heartily agree with him, that we ought not to pray anything that we could not suppose our Lord Jesus Christ praying.
He allows us to ask in His Name, and thus to use His authority in prayer. Now, what right has anybody to use my name in favour of that which he knows I should not approve of? This may test your prayers. If there is anything that Jesus would not pray for, do not dream of praying for it; but humble yourself for being guilty of a desire which would be contrary to His pure and holy mind. This rule will be an excellent guide to you, for as you may only ask for that which Jesus would endorse, so you may only seek in your daily life that which Jesus would support you in seeking. Pray over everything; and that which you dare not pray over, do not touch. You are proposing a new course in business; well, go and pray over it. Are you going to issue bills announcing “an alarming sacrifice” of your goods? Can you pray over them? You say that you will sell off “under cost price.” Is it true that you hope to get a profit on all that you sell?
Then how can you ask the God of truth to prosper your sales? This simple rule, if fully followed, would work a revolution in trade; and, truly, it should be followed by all who call themselves Christians. Even in commerce, men have not, because they ask not; they think cheating to be a surer way of profit than praying. Hence evil practices arise, and at length become so usual that they lose their efficacy, and everybody allows discount for them. Should not godly men, in every case, set their faces against dishonest customs? “Yes,” says one, “but they would be great losers.” That might be, and yet the Lord is able to make it up to them in a thousand ways if they tried the power of prayer. In questions of business complication, where there is a will to do right, there is sure to be a way; and if you have not found out such a way, I must again quote the text, “Ye have not, because ye ask not.”
It may be that many a spiritual thing, for which you may pray without doubt, has never become yours simply because you have never asked for it. Is not that a pity? What! Nothing to pay; the priceless treasure a free grant, and yet I have it not because I do not ask for it! This is such a folly as we do not see in common life. Few people miss an alms for want of asking. Our poor neighbours are generally fast enough in begging. Poor frozen-out gardeners are out in the streets pouring out their complaint long before the ponds will bear a mouse. Few need to be encouraged to apply for charity; and yet, while spiritual gifts are to be had for the asking, many have not, because they ask not. Open your mouth wide, brother, and ask for a great deal. Begin asking in real earnest, and never let it be said that your spiritual poverty is your own fault. If it is ever true of us, “ye have not, because ye ask not,” what does it mean?
It means that there are needful spiritual blessings which you do not desire with all your heart. In what a wrong condition your heart must be! When a person has no appetite for wholesome food, it is a sign of disease; and if you have no appetite for Divine grace, you must be sick in soul. Healthy children have large appetites; and God’s children, when they are healthy, hunger and thirst after righteousness. Why is it we do not desire these precious things? Very often, it is because we do not feel our need of them; and what a proud ignorance that is which does not know its need! If you were to look at yourself, brother, though you think yourself rich, and increased with goods, and needing nothing, you would see that you are naked, and poor, and miserable. What a sad thing it is that you should miss priceless blessings because you fondly fancy that you already possess them!
Or, possibly, you know your need, and are anxious to be supplied, and yet you do not ask because you have no faith in God upon the matter. How long have you known the Lord? Have you known Him a year? Is not this long enough to have gained confidence in Him? There are many persons whom you would rely upon at once, and hundreds whom you could trust with untold gold after having known them for a few hours. Cannot you thus trust God? How is it that you dare to doubt Him? What a sin it must be to distrust One so faithful and true! Or else it may be that you do not doubt either God’s ability or willingness to help you, but you have grown rusty in the knee; I mean, out of order as to prayer. It is a very great evil when this is the case. When I have pains in my wrist, or in my foot, I have some hope of speedy recovery, but I am always despondent when the weakness is in the knee; then it is a very serious business.
O brethren, well doth the Scripture say, “Confirm the feeble knees.” If we are not at home in prayer, everything is out of order. He who goes often to a room knows how to gain admittance, but a stranger loses himself in the passages. Familiarity with the mercy-seat is a great point in the education of a child of God; be sure that you gain it. There are two or three matters for which I desire to ask your earnest prayers just now. Do pray for a very large blessing on the congregation here. In the early summer weeks, I thought that this house was not so full as usual, and I was greatly troubled about it; but the fact was, that the major part of our friends had taken their holidays early. Of late, the crowds have exceeded those of past years, and we are all amazed at the attendance at the prayer-meeting and the lecture. The sickness of the minister, no doubt, tended to make the public fearful of not hearing him, and his continued health reassured them, so that now our great building will not hold all who come. We have the people, to our heart’s content; do you wonder that I tremble lest the opportunity should be lost in any measure? Do pray that I may preach with power. Plead with the Holy Ghost to convert these eager thousands.
Persons of all nations, ranks, ages, and religions come hither. I beseech you, agonize in prayer that they may be saved. Let it not be true, in their case, that we have not, because we ask not. Greatly do I need your prayer for the work and Ministry of this huge church. What a load rests upon me for there are about 5,500 of you; and with all the help I have, I find I have enough upon me to crush me unless Heaven sustains me. My brother and the elders do for me what the elders in the wilderness church did for Moses, else should I utterly faint; but the more difficult cases, and the general leadership, make up a burden which none can carry unless the Lord gives strength. I loathe to speak thus about myself; and yet I must, for there is need. Beside all this, there cometh upon me the care of many another church, and of all sorts of works for our Lord. There, you do not know all, but you may guess; if you love me, if you love my Master, I implore you, pray for me. A good old man prayed, before I came to London, that I might always be delivered from the bleating of the sheep.
I did not understand what he meant; but I know now, when hour by hour all sorts of petitions, complaints, bemoanings, and hard questions come to me. The bleating of the sheep is not the most helpful sound in the world, especially when I am trying to get the food ready for the thousands here, there, and everywhere, who look for it to come to them regularly, week by week. Sometimes, I become so perplexed that I sink in heart, and dream that it were better for me never to have been born than to have been called to bear all this multitude upon my heart. Especially do I feel this when I cannot help the people who come to me, and yet they expect that I should do impossibilities. Moreover, it is not easy to give wise advice in such complicated affairs as those which come before me, and I hope I shall never be content without using my best judgment at all times. Frequently, I can do nothing but bring the cases before God in prayer, and bear them as a burden on my heart.
These burdens are apt to press very heavily on a sympathizing heart, and cause a wear and tear which tell upon a man. I only say this because I want more and more the sympathy of God’s people, and perhaps I may not have even this if I ask not for it. If you put me in so difficult a position, you must uphold me by your prayers. If I have been useful to you in any measure, pray for me; it is the greatest kindness you can do me. If the word as spoken by these lips has been a means of grace to your children, plead for me that others of the young may be brought to Jesus by my teaching. If you would find my ministry more profitable to your souls, pray for me still more; and let it not be said of your minister that you do not profit by his preaching, and that you have not, because you ask not.
Beloved, let us wrestle in prayer; for untold blessings are to be had for the asking. As a church, we have been specially favoured; but we have not exhausted the possibilities of prosperity, or the resources of heavenly power. There is a future for us, if we pray. Greater things than these lie behind that curtain; no hand can unveil them but the hand of prayer. The singular blessings which have rested upon us in the past call upon us to pray; the marked prosperity and unity of the present invite us to pray; and the hopes of the future encourage us to pray. Behold, the Lord says to you, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” Brothers, sisters, slack not your asking; but, for the love of souls, multiply your petitions, and increase your importunity.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Excerpt From Only A Prayer Meeting By C.H Spurgeon
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