Notes of 5 Addresses at Catford 1983
1. Daniel’s Prayer Life 2
2. The Prayer of Hannah 9
3. Jabez’s Prayer 17
4. Paul’s Prayers for the Ephesians (chapter 1) 25
5. Paul’s Prayers for the Ephesians (chapter 3) 30
The matter of prayer is perhaps one of the things in the Christian experience that we neglect most. If we have prayed in the morning, given thanks for food and prayed in the evening, thanking God for His kindness and goodness to us throughout the day, then perhaps we feel that we have done all that is necessary. However, I feel that as we examine the exercise of Daniel and his prayer life, we will see that much more is required in the Christian life.
Prayer is the outcome of real concern. Whether it be for one’s own spiritual progress, or for the glory of Christ, or for the prosperity of God’s interests upon earth, it must always flow from one’s own personal concern. If we are not motivated by these things then our prayers will be of a very shallow nature, but if these things are continually in our mind and cause us concern, then we will find that our prayers will take on a different character, there will be a fullness to them, there will be an urgency about them, there will be a continuity of them, and such prayers are extremely appreciated in heaven. Daniel was a man greatly beloved (9:23, 10:11, 10:19), not only because of his personal behaviour, but because of the exercises that he carried day by day in Babylon whilst in captivity; and great results flowed from them for the glory of God. So this is what we want to consider, not simply to impart knowledge (encouraging as that may be), but to stimulate in each one of our hearts a desire to pray more for the prosperity of the interests of the Lord in our localities, in this favoured country and throughout the world.
I think we would all admit that things could be a lot better than they are, individually, in the homes of the saints, and in the gatherings of the saints. There could be more substance, more life, more energy and exercise, and more evidence of progress instead of declension. The continual cry is heard, ‘How can the situation be altered? How can we see more energy? How can we see more faithfulness? How can we see more glory for the Lord?’, and the more we plan and scheme, the more we see how fruitless it is. I suggest to you, dear brethren, that if a company like this was stimulated into greater concern in prayer, then we would see things changing, God would come in in His power and in His wisdom, and give us the necessary direction, so that our lives might be more fruitful for Him who has blessed us in such a wonderful way.
The Continual, Settled, Individual Prayer Life of Daniel
“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.” (Dan. 6:10)
I have chosen this passage in chapter 6 to show a little of the private prayer life of Daniel before we consider the two other portions. Here we find the real secret of this man’s greatness. Daniel was a captive in Babylon and yet in this instance he was not subject to the laws of the king, he was not subject to the directions that were imposed upon him, he was really concerned about doing the will of God. He knew God’s will, and whatever the circumstance or occasion, he was governed by that will in spite of the danger and opposition that this aroused. He was a true and faithful man. In this chapter God reveals to us the secret of his power and of his faithfulness, it was his private life in prayer that was never hindered. Upon hearing the king’s command he “prayed and gave thanks before his God as he did aforetime”. It was not a sudden burst of energy in prayer because the circumstances were difficult and his life was in danger, it was his continual practice. It was not something that was forced upon him, it was his joy. My dear friends, what a wonderful way to view prayer life, to see the settled disposition of Daniel, praying three times a day. I am perfectly sure that Daniel allowed nothing to interfere with the moments when he bowed his knees in prayer before his God. He was a great man, he had great responsibilities in administration and yet he could find time, three times a day, in settled portions to pray. We do not know how long, but he did it, it was his settled life, praying, praying, praying. We will consider later the substance of his prayers.
It says also that he prayed “to his God”. I like that. It was not a God who was far off as far as Daniel was concerned, it was his personal God, One whom he knew in personal communion. God was a reality to him. God was not an abstract conception of the mind, but He was a living, glorious God to whom he could turn at all times and in all situations and find an answer, and who was also day by day in communion, his joy, his delight and his life. Is this your experience in prayer? Is this my experience in prayer? Is God near to us, or is He far off? Oh, what a challenge! In these last days of difficulty we need brothers and sisters with a knowledge of God in this way, because God does listen to the prayers of His people and God delights to answer those prayers when they are in accord with His revealed will.
The righteousness of the man was a living witness to the reality of His connection with God. In Ezekiel 14 Daniel is linked with two other men, Noah and Job, and God said ‘Suppose these three men come with their righteousness it would not alter the situation in Israel, it is so bad’. But by the very mention of this, God is drawing attention to the righteousness of these three. Daniel was a righteous man, that is, he lived his life recognising the rights of God and obeyed those rights whatever the cost, and for this reason his prayers had power. James tells that “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (5:16), but Proverbs tells us that the prayers of evil men are an abomination to God (28:9). We also read in 1 John “if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us” (5:14). This is the great secret of prayers that really work, they are in accord with the will of God.
It is evident that Daniel was fully in the knowledge of God’s will. This is indicated by him opening his window towards Jerusalem. When the Temple was dedicated, Solomon prayed to God saying, ‘If the time ever should come when the nation is so unfaithful that it is taken into captivity, if there are those who would pray towards this Temple then hear them, maintain their right, and grant them compassion on the part of those that hold them captives’ (2 Chr. 6:36-39). Here we find a man in full possession of that knowledge. He has not forgotten God’s word, he has not forgotten that prayer, for God gratified the prayer of Solomon, ‘Yes,’ He says, ‘my ear will be towards the Temple, and not only my ear by my eye, and my heart continually’ (2 Chr. 7:12-16). God’s interests were centred in that place. Unfaithfulness in the nation had taken them away from that centre, but that never altered the fact the God was deeply concerned about His centre and His name that was placed there. And we find a man in captivity remembering that word and, in the full knowledge of that, praying accordingly that God would listen to his prayer; and He did. In the den of lions, and in all circumstances, God came to the help of His servant. His God was able to deliver him as He delivered the three young men (Dan. 3). Oh, what a wonderful God Daniel proved Him to be! and while the king spent a sleepless night Daniel was perfectly complacent in the midst of the wild animals, God having closed their mouths, exerting creatorial power on the behalf of His servant. What a God!
Daniel was concerned about the interests of God, for his window was open towards Jerusalem. I am sure he was not always praying for personal help and encouragement, he was throwing out his heart’s desire that the people of God would no longer be bound in captivity, but be led out of captivity to God’s centre, to enjoy God’s thoughts as He had purposed for His people. That would be the main burden of Daniel’s prayers as he bowed his knees in the presence of God, for God to come in in this way.
And God maintained the rights of His servant. When other kings died, Daniel continued and prospered (5:31, 6:1-3). The change of the ruling dynasty made no difference at all to Daniel’s life, he went on smoothly continuing to do the things that pleased God. What a man he was! This again was the result of his prayer life, the righteousness that was in his life and his desire for the furthering of the interests of God. These were the things that sustained him and they came to evidence in a remarkable way.
Another point is that Daniel kneeled when he prayed. Oh, if we have time, kneel. Let us bend our knees in the presence of the supreme majesty of God, and indicate our reverence towards Him. However great the blessings He has given to us, we are still creatures, and failing ones at that. Oh, what a privilege to physically bow our knees, indicating that we recognise the supremacy, the greatness, and the glory of God. Recently I had the privilege of being in Germany and Holland and what a sight it was to see 900 brothers and sisters bowing their knees when it was time for prayer. It touched my heart. Oh, that this reverence might mark us. Here it is individual, but there is no reason it should not be collective when the situation is suitable. C.H Mackintosh felt that not bowing the knee was an indication of irreverence when there was opportunity to do so, that it was showing a casual attitude in the presence of the great and glorious God, who is infinitely beyond us.1 This kneeling in prayer is a physical action that indicates a recognition of the supremacy and greatness of the eternal God. Have you ever felt compelled to bow the knee? I do not mean compelled by power, but compelled because you feel it is the right thing to do to bow the knee. It may be a casual attitude to begin with, but the Lord says, ‘No. There must be nothing casual in my presence. Bow down in the acknowledgement of my supremacy’. And we have good examples, supremely, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, as we see Him kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane. Bowed down with the weight of the approaching cross and all that that meant, He kneeled and He prayed (Luke 22:41). Paul (Acts 20:36), Solomon (2 Chr. 6:13), Ezra (Ezra 9:5) and many others bowed their knees in the presence of God or of Christ.
Finally, “he kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks”. Daniel was a captive, having no liberty. He may have had a good position, yet he was not privileged to go back to his country and his people and share in all that that country stood for, yet still he prayed and gave thanks, acknowledging the situation that was upon him and his people as the just judgment of a holy God, thankful that he could still enjoy this happy communion with his God. Oh, my dear friends, this is a tremendous lesson, this private attitude of prayer on the part of Daniel. I ask myself, as I will ask you, do we spend sufficient time in prayer? Oh, that Daniel’s example may stimulate us privately, and in our homes, and in the prayer meeting. Here is Daniel praying privately, but we may extend this attitude to our prayers in our homes and in the meetings. It was a joy this morning to bow my knees with the couple I am staying with and to cover many interests in prayer. Thank God for homes where husband and wife (and children too, if possible) bow down together in this family attitude of prayer, being a settled matter that nothing puts aside (unless something extraordinary happens with which the Lord would appreciate and have sympathy with). And when the young are brought up in the attitude of prayer, as they get older it is a simple thing to continue. Collectively, prayer is the power of our assemblies, specific prayers for specific needs, and not only in connection with the company, but in international matters too.
I want to go over very briefly the things that mark Daniel in his prayer as he opened his window towards Jerusalem. First of all, he would be occupied with the land, depopulated because of the unfaithfulness of the nation. It was a good land, a land that flowed with milk and honey, but there was something greater than that, it was God’s land, “The land is mine” (Lev. 25:23), and in sovereign goodness He gave it to the nation of Israel, not because they were greater and better than any other nation (indeed they were smaller than the other nations—Deut. 7:7), but He gave it to them as a gift. It was the inheritance, and all God’s thoughts were centred in that land, and Daniel would pray for it. Then, specifically Daniel would pray for Jerusalem because God’s name and all God’s interests were placed there. Then, even more specifically still, for the house that was built where His name was (2 Chr. 6:12). And finally, Daniel would pray for the name of Jehovah Himself. Think of these things, the land, the city, the house and the name. These things would characterise the prayers of Daniel.
But then you say, ‘That is all historical. What does it mean for us today?’ It means a lot. We sang together and we prayed together at the start of the meeting about the salvation of precious souls, never let us forget this in our prayers. How much we need it, but there is something that is greater than that, and that is the rights of God according to His revealed will in His word. God has indicated how Christians should gather together to the name of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 18:20), without any human organisation, without anything to direct them in the sense of authority as far as man is concerned. God has given precise instructions regarding these things. Today the church is His ‘land’ and His people brought to Him through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ is where His interests are centred. There is an administration of love in the Headship of Christ and in the power and service of the Holy Spirit, and there precisely is where Christ is to found “where two or three are gathered together in [His] name” (Matt. 18:20). This is what the land, the city, the house and the name represent for us today. These are the things that have been attacked by the power of the enemy, but in Christ all these things are secure and can never be overthrown. What we want to see in these last days is an increase of interest in relation to gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, without any human organisation whatsoever, because it is not necessary where the Headship of Christ is in operation, where every member of the body is subject to the direction of the Head, where the Holy Spirit has free direction to move amongst His people to guide them, to direct them and to inspire them and where we are all governed by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; everything is done and said in consistency with that great and glorious name. Is that too much to hope for in these last days? Not if we are obedient, not if we accept the word of God as our guide, not if we are prepared to subject our own wills to the will of God as revealed in His precious word. It is not only an ideal, it is a glorious possibility, and what a wonder it would be if it did come to pass, that in the last days before the church period closes there might be a revival of interests and enthusiasm in these wonderful truths so that when the Lord does come He will find those who are faithful to His word.
Well, the wicked men came to Daniel and found him praying. Their actions in banning prayer to anyone other than king Darius did not interrupt Daniel in his prayers, he kept on praying to God. The time then came when they arrested him and put him into the den of lions, and we know the rest of the story, God looked after his servant.
The Collective Prayer Life of Daniel
“Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would show the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret: that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: he revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter.” (Dan. 2:16-23)
Some years earlier, when king Nebuchadnezzar had a remarkable dream, he wanted it interpreted. He refused to give the astrologers, the soothsayers and the wise men any encouragement, ‘No,’ he said, ‘you tell me the dream and the interpretation too’. That was a very hard thing to do, and when there was no interpretation forthcoming or no telling forth of the dream, the king ordered the execution of all the wise men, and that included Daniel and his three companions. So they came together in fellowship in prayer. It was not now a private matter, this was a matter of fellowship. Daniel made the situation known to the three young men. The names of these men had been changed, they had been given Babylonish names by the Babylonians who connected them with heathen gods, but the Spirit of God recorded for us here their Jewish names that indicated their connection with the living God. These men got together and prayed about the matter, they had fellowship in prayer, and the dream was made known to Daniel. It is a wonderful note of praise and worship that Daniel then gave to this great God, because He was the God who could do things. Oh, that we might get this into our souls, that God can change things, God can bring about a better condition, God can give wisdom, understanding and power, provided that we acknowledge and obey Him, provided that we are prepared to say, ‘Our lives are yours’, whether individually or collectively.
I remember passing by a church and a poster was displayed outside, and it struck me very much, it said, ‘Do not let God be the spare wheel’. A spare wheel is only used in an emergency. This is not the kind of God we want, we want a God who is in the driving seat, the One who takes control, the One who directs, to whom we are subject. So Daniel and his three companions prayed together and God gave the answer, revealing to Daniel the dream that the king had, and also the interpretation of it.
I want you to notice the kind of answer that Daniel gave to God for this revelation. “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his”. This was virtually Daniel saying to God, ‘This is a simple matter for you’. The dream was revealed and the interpretation given. What an instant answer this was to the prayer.
Then he went on to say, “He changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings”. Kings may be powerful, mighty and strong, boasting in their strength, their armies and their wealth, but God can remove a king overnight and replace him with another as he did in Daniel 5:30-31. Oh, how small man is in the presence of God! What power He has! We see in the Bible and in history how boastful man is, setting himself up in all his arrogance and pride saying he will do this and that, but God changes it overnight. This is the kind of God that we believe in.
“He revealeth the deep and secret things”. If we just apply this in connection with our own lives and in our companies, are we resigned to the fact that there can be no improvement? Are we resigned to the fact that in our individual lives there is no possibility of getting more power, or more spiritual progress? Do we acquiesce in the weakness and failure that is there or do we trust in the living God, because He can change things? He can change things for us individually, and he can change the conditions in localities. This is the kind of God that Daniel had. Are we prepared to pay the price in prayer, giving up more time to pray, and when God reveals His will to us, are we ready to obey?
Daniel’s Prayer of Confession
“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land … And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved; therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.” (Dan. 9:1-6, 20-23)
Very often when we are praying we are quite unaware of what is going on. At the same time as Daniel was praying, God was working on the spirit of Cyrus. Cyrus was giving instructions as to the return from Babylon of a section of the people who were held in bondage. The king was giving a decree that the people could move out from captivity and go back to Jerusalem. Daniel did not know this, but one thing he did know was that God had said precisely that after 70 years of captivity, there would be a remnant returning. Daniel knew this from the book of Jeremiah (25:11). This indicates to us that that book was in circulation then, Daniel read it and he knew God’s mind.
There is a principle for us immediately. Do we know God’s mind? How are we going to get it? From the philosophers of this world? It is not there. There is one source where we can find it, that is in God’s word, not the law as it pertains to Israel, not even the history of Israel and the lessons that we learn there, but in the New Testament, where it specifically speaks of the Christian’s position in this world, the privileges and the responsibilities. This is where we learn God’s mind, and as we learn it and seek grace to obey it then the blessing of God comes. So immediately Daniel knew that the time had arrived. He had always been in accord with the mind of God, but now he knew that a specific moment had arrived, and so he set his face with earnest diligence to pray to God about this specific matter.
And it is beautiful that he started his prayer with wholehearted confession. He did not exclude himself, he did not specifically blame others, but he took an overall view of the picture, the absolute failure and weakness, and he freely acknowledged to God that this was the case. Along with that he knew that God was a merciful God, a forgiving God, a God who had not deviated from His covenant with Israel, a God who was ready to bless, ready to forgive, ready to hear. We have not time to enter into the specific details of the prayer, I commend the study to you, but the thread that is running through is ‘We have sinned, we have done wickedly, we have failed, we have been unfaithful’.
I want to ask this company, individually, would any of us dare to stand up and say that we have not failed? I do not think so. And I can assure you I would immediately take my place along with you if you stand up and say that you have failed. I have failed. I regret that. Every failure of ours, morally, ecclesiastically, or any other way adversely affects the Christian testimony. Do not let us think that we can sin or fail in any way whatsoever with impunity. It is a definite truth that our failure affects the Christian witness in this world. This is very solemn. We might think, ‘Well, I do not do this, and I do not do that’, and we might pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Well, I have not failed’ (I am talking individually), but oh, my dear friends, let us examine ourselves in the light of God’s presence. This is the measuring stick, just to be in God’s presence. Let us tell Him that we have not failed, and see what He says to us. Oh, what a solemn thing it is to be in the presence of God! So when we consider the weakness of the Christian position do not let us blame others. Daniel said, ‘I confess my sin’. And having confessed our sin, let us look for understanding to follow the right way and to follow the word of God, that there might be better conditions. Oh, what a prayer it was, and God answered by addressing Daniel as “Oh, man, greatly beloved”. Daniel was a man whose heart was yearning for the prosperity of God’s interests first.
Notice that Daniel said, “the kings have failed”. Who are the kings? (I am now referring to the Christian company). They are the persons who are leaders, the persons who should tell forth the mind of God without any partiality; the kings are to enforce the word of God. I do not use the word enforcing in the sense that there are leaders who say, ‘You must do this or you must do that’, I mean enforcing by presenting the word of God to the people of God, and what it means to do the will of God in our day. Daniel said, ‘Our kings have failed’. Is this true of the Christian profession as we know it? I think it is. Then consider the princes, the influential men amongst the people of God, the men who occupy places given to them by God. We often read in the book of Numbers of princes brought forward as persons who are given direction by God to accomplish things for Him. The princes have failed. Not only have the princes and rulers failed, but the people have also—individually, every one of us. Peter was certainly a king. He failed, he led the saints astray, so that even Barnabas was carried away by assimilation (Gal. 2:11-14). When we view the history of the revival over 150 years ago, and we see the break-up by continual divisions and sorrows amongst them, we must bow our heads in shame. We say, ‘How well it could have been if the truth had been preserved.’ And all must bear responsibility for the failure.
The failure in Daniel’s day did not happen just at the time that Daniel was at Babylon, and the declension that we are facing today just did not happen overnight, and the reason is very simple, the word of God has been neglected. ‘We have not listened to the prophets’ said Daniel. ‘When the word of God was proclaimed in clearness and in power nobody paid any attention, they were so occupied with their own affairs instead of listening to the word of God’. Covetousness was seen in Achan as they entered into the land (Josh. 7), a desire for materialism, and also, at the beginning of the church period, in Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5), and then a complete ignoring of the word of God as to gathering together and following the principles connected with it. We cannot wonder that God’s chastising hand is upon us. So, let us confess, let us take this attitude of humiliation upon us. If we can, then this meeting will not have been in vain. It is not a case of looking over our shoulder at someone else, but of taking it home to our own consciences, our own hearts, and working it out in humility before God.
I want to tell you a story by way of encouragement, to show how we can make things better. When I was in Germany I was introduced to a young man and he was described to me as a brilliant student. I was told the different things he was interested in, and he had been breaking bread for about a year amongst the brethren. His parents were practising agnostics. I asked how it was that he found his way amongst brethren, and I was told a story that touched my heart, and that is why I am passing it on to you. When he was at college he noticed a young woman who was different. He watched her carefully and he had to acknowledge she was different, different in appearance and different in her habits. So at last his curiosity got the better of him and he asked her ‘Why is it that you are different? I notice that your hair is different from the others, and I notice too that your clothes are different from the others.’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘I am a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Are you compelled then to do this?’
‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘I do it because I love the Lord Jesus.’
And that was the means of his conversion. Conversion can not only come about by campaigns (thank God for them), but salvation can come about in a person’s life by faithfulness to the Lord. That young lad is going on, he is making advances in his spiritual life, he has seen faithfulness, it was the means of his conversion and it is governing him in his life. Dear brethren, young and old, oh that the Lord might help us to be faithful! We will influence those who are beside us and we will influence them in the right direction. May the Lord help us then to be more and more exercised in this tremendous matter of prayer. The right attitude, the right desire, and the kind of life that gives power to our prayers, as we wait for the Lord to see Him face to face.
The Importance of Prayer
The story of Hannah is a very interesting one, and is full of encouragement. It has a prophetical bearing looking on to the time when Christ will be supreme, and it also has an application for us as Christians. So we can view the incident of the prayer in three ways, first of all as an actual occurrence to see how the Lord wrought with His servant; then prophetical, looking on to that wonderful day when God’s anointed, God’s King, Christ, the Son of God will have supremacy in this world and all the enemies of God overthrown; and thirdly, its application to us today. This third application is what we are particularly concerned about here, that we might get some encouragement in this matter of prayer.
I think, individually and collectively, we are all concerned about spiritual progress. We continually hear of decline in one way or another. Praise God, there are spots where the Lord seems to be blessing, but in the general run of things it seems to be the other way, and we desire to see a change, and how are we going to do this? Prayer is one of the best things that we can be occupied with. In order to make things better there are three things that we can do.
Firstly, and most importantly, we can pray.
Secondly, we can talk about the truth and encourage each other in it (maybe we have to adjust our thinking), but if we talk about the truth in humility and in love towards each other then I am sure the Lord helps us.
Thirdly, when we know the truth then we can be an example of it. This is always a means of making things better.
“Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: and he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there. And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: but unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion: for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb. And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:1-8)
Now, we want to view this in the context that we find it, a woman beset by adversaries, a woman sorrowing bitter in her soul because she had not received what she desired. We know from the book of Daniel that the Jewish women desired to give birth to a son, and that son they hoped would prove to be the Messiah, the long promised One to Israel. Every Jewish mother longed for this, that she might be the one who God would use to bring into being the Messiah. So for a Jewish woman to be barren was a great reproach to her. Here we find that it was God who had closed up her womb, to test her faith and to cause her to pray in the way she did in order that she might be an example for us of prayer and perseverance and answer and response to God. Oh, what a wonderful story it is. Hannah was persecuted and ridiculed and how deeply she felt it. She might have gone to her husband and complained of the treatment, but in verse 10 she prayed unto the Lord and she wept sore. I have to ask myself, as I ask you, when was the last time you shed tears in relation to the testimony? When did you feel your spiritual condition so low, or the condition of the Christian testimony so low that it produced real tears and sorrow? We think of a man like Paul who spoke about reminding the saints night and day for three years with tears. We read about this constantly in the life of this devoted man, and we have to ask ourselves, do we ever feel like this? How callous and how cold our hearts can be! Yet the Lord would stir us up that our hearts might be malleable, softened, to be concerned deeply about the prosperity of His interests. Here it was a very personal matter with Hannah, and she prayed and she wept. As the Lord looked down on this dear woman, no doubt on bended knee in His presence, in privacy, and crying out her heart, how He would have appreciated such a condition. It was not just a read prayer, something that was repeated verbally again and again and again, a reiteration of the same phrases, I do not think it would be that kind of prayer, it would be a prayer from her heart, real genuine concern, a crying to the Lord to reverse the situation she was in for her own blessing, and as we shall see, for the interests of the Lord, and so she prayed and she wept.
Hannah’s First Prayer and Vow
“So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” (1 Sam. 1:9-11)
She did a remarkable thing, she made a specific request. It was not a general prayer, it was a specific request. She said, ‘Lord, I want a man child, and if I get him I will give him back to you, he will be yours forever’. She was prepared to receive what her heart yearned for and then to give it back to the Lord. What a remarkable woman! What earnestness of desire! What insight to see what would please the Lord, and she made this definite decision, which means, as far as we are concerned, that our prayers are not self-centred; we are praying for the Lord’s interests. What a man Samuel was! He was the product of prayer; he was the product of care on the part of his mother, and no doubt by his father, and what a man he became, a man of God, the prophet in Israel, the last of the judges, instrumental in presenting God’s king to Israel, David, the son of Jesse. That dear woman did not know what she was praying for in the full sense when she prayed for a man child. God gave her her desire, and it might be the same with us if we are really concerned about the Lord’s interests, to pray for them in the spirit of self-sacrifice, in the spirit of desire to do something for the Lord that will stand the test of time and promote His interests in a deeper and fuller way. If we analysed our prayers, and if it were possible for them to be played back to us on a recorder, we would be astounded to see how often we ourselves are the centre of our prayers, our interests, our desires, and so small a portion of them centred on the interests of our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Oh, how we need to get orientated into the desires of God, the interests of God and pray earnestly in relation to them!
How wonderful that not only would she, if she had a man child, return him to the One who gave him to her, but she would bring him up in such a way that he would be thoroughly and absolutely devoted to the Lord; she would bring him up as a Nazarite. I wonder how many parents have received children from the Lord and perhaps made a reservation that they would bring them up in the fear of Him and then, in the course of time, that desire perhaps had faded away and perhaps the teaching was not given as it should have been? But Hannah was true to her vow, and she brought up Samuel so that when he was presented to the Lord he was a fit instrument for His hand, he was a true Nazarite indeed. Here was a woman who was thoroughly devoted to the interests of the Lord and the thing that was nearest to her heart, this man child that she longed for so much, would willingly be given back to Him, and not in a haphazard way, but a fit present to give to Him, brought up as a Nazarite and brought up to serve Him. Is it not one of the saddest things in the history of the testimony as we know it, what God has given to us to defend, the truth of the assembly, the free action of the Headship of Christ and the Holy Spirit and all the truths connected with this, how few of the children of the saints continue in this pathway? Theoretically it should be the reservoir that should be drawn upon to fill up the ranks. I cannot make any accusation against any of the parents as to why this should be so, I can only observe the fact and see that it is so. Oh, what a sad thing it is. I can only grieve with the parents over this kind of thing.
The Lord answers Hannah’s Prayer
“And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad. And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife: and the Lord remembered her. Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.” (1 Sam. 1:12-20)
So this dear woman after having made this vow, continued praying before the Lord. She continued praying; not like a prayer that can be put in the files and can be drawn out at some convenient moment, but a continuance in prayer, with active desire of the heart. Prayer, prayer, prayer. I do not know how long she prayed, but she continued in prayer, and having made the desire, having expressed her vow, having expressed her determination to do this, she continued in it until the time came when she got peace and assurance. The bitterness passed away. The priest said to her, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel will grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him”. How easy it is to be mistaken. Eli was a priest of the Lord, and he thought she was drunk because her lips were moving but he did not hear any sound! She was acting in a way that indicated she was intoxicated, but he was absolutely wrong. She was praying earnestly to the Lord, and she expressed this to him, and then he saw that here was a woman with real desires and he gave her the blessing of the Lord, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition”. Look at the change—“So the woman went her way and did eat and her countenance was no more sad”. There are times when we pray about matters—I can humbly say that I have known this in my experience—and we know that our prayer has been heard and it is going to be answered. All that we have to do is to wait in patience until the Lord’s time comes. I often say there are three answers to our prayers—yes, no and wait. It is the waiting that is the testing time. But she continued on in her praying and then she received this confirmation from the servant of the Lord, ‘Yes, your prayer will be answered’, and her countenance was changed, no more sad, and she ate (it would seem that she had been fasting) and she went on her way rejoicing.
Look at the result—“They rose up in the morning early and worshipped before the Lord and returned to their house in Ramah and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife and the Lord remembered her”. The first thing is husband and wife worship together. That is a happy thing when the home life is of such a character, where husband and wife are devoted to the Lord’s interests and they can worship together, pray together, consider the Lord’s interests together. What a happy home that kind of home is! The Lord’s blessing is there, there is a response to the Lord, the Lord’s interests are cared for there, and that is the kind of home that the Lord is welcome in. At Bethany, in the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, the Lord was welcome and they made Him a supper, and I am sure they knew something about worship and prayer as He was in their midst. So it was with Elkanah and his wife Hannah, they “worshipped the Lord and the Lord remembered Hannah”. This is a great thing. Think of a God who hears our prayers, takes account of the motives, and the desires. In the epistle of James, he says, “Ye ask, and receive not” (4:3). How often we have to say that is true of our prayers—we ask and receive not. Why? Says James, “because ye ask amiss that ye might consume it in your lusts”. I do not suppose that any of us are praying for any great things in this world, but the motive might be wrong, somewhere in the prayer there is that little worm of self. I do not think the Lord countenances these prayers. So James says we have to ask in faith. It is this purpose, this motive, that is behind the prayer, the desire for the Lord’s glory and for the Lord’s interests. This is why we find this statement in connection with Hannah “the Lord remembered Hannah”, and now the wheels began to move so that Hannah’s prayer could be answered. We find that the child is born and he is given a name, Samuel. That would be a continual reminder that Hannah’s prayer had been answered, she asked him of the Lord and the Lord gave him to her. There was the continual reminder that Hannah had prevailed in prayer and the Lord had remembered her and had blessed her. This is a very wonderful thing and I am sure very many Christians have experienced this blessing. They have received what they have prayed for in relation to the Lord’s interests. The Christian testimony is borne up in power by the prayers of many who are praying in their homes, elderly people perhaps who are never reaching the public eye, but volumes of prayer ascend to God and God listens to them. We remember revivals in the islands in the north of Scotland that were the result of prayer, some few saints gathering together and crying to the Lord to bring revival. When I was in America last year I went to a very large meeting in New York consisting mainly of black people, and I was told that at one point there was one brother and fifteen sisters, so when it was prayer meeting night they had one prayer. Well, said the sisters to the brother, you go home and we will have a prayer meeting, which meant fifteen prayers, there are over 150 in fellowship in that meeting today. It is wonderful what the Lord can do when there is definite exercise. So this is the kind of thing that we find here in this chapter, the Lord remembered Hannah. The prayer was real, it was a proper motive, the Lord honoured it and there was a visible witness that her prayer had been answered—her son Samuel, meaning “asked of the Lord”.
Hannah’s Faithfulness in Relation to her Vow
“And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and his vow. But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever. And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou hast weaned him; only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young. And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.” (1 Sam. 1:21-28)
Well, Elkanah went up to worship but Hannah remained to home to wean the child. It would have been very easy for her to give the child immediately. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I will wean the child’. Mothers know that there is a long process involved before the child is weaned, and the child gets entwined in the affections, the child becomes bonded to the mother, the more so as the mother cares for the child before this time of weaning comes. This indicates the extent of the sacrifice that Hannah made. She handed him over to the Lord thoroughly weaned. Oh, how she loved him, and how she cared for him, as we see in the succeeding chapters when she prepared a garment for him year by year as he grew. He was given to the Lord and to the Lord’s servant, and what a man he became!
When she had weaned him, she took him up with her with three bullocks and an ephah of flour and a bottle of wine and brought him unto the house of the Lord at Shiloh. This indicates to us that there was a very definite response to God. God had done his part, now says Hannah, we will do our part, and the bullocks would be burnt offerings, the flour indicates the meal offering and the wine indicates the drink offering, and the drink offering is always associated with joy. The Lord has His part, the offerer has his part, a mutual matter of joy. Having received this blessing from the Lord, Hannah and her husband responded unto the Lord with worship and thanksgiving.
Then she gave testimony to Eli, “For this child I prayed and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of him, therefore have I also leant him to the Lord; as long as he liveth shall he be leant to the Lord”, and note what it says, “and he (that is Eli) worshipped there”. Here is worship, fellowship in worship. Hannah and her husband worshipped, Eli as he saw the result of the prayer worshipped. What a wonderful thing prayer is. What wonderful things it produces, a response to God, response in worship and praise, all involved in it, those who receive the blessing, the priest of the Lord, so happy in his soul that he saw this answer to prayer and he worshipped too.
Hannah’s Second Prayer
“And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed …” (1 Sam. 2:1-3)
I want to divide this prayer up very simply. Verses 1 to 3 refer specifically to the greatness of God; verses 4 to 8 indicates the God who can change things; and then from verses 9 to 10 we find a prophetic reference to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But first of all these opening verses 1 to 3, “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord. Mine horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies because I rejoice in thy salvation”. It was indeed salvation; a very practical result of prayer, very definite evidence that God would save this woman from bitterness and from the reproach of her enemy and He changed things in such a remarkable way that she prayed and praised. This prayer was all about the Lord—her strength was in the Lord, her exaltation was in the Lord, He was the One who had brought about salvation. There is no mention of what she had done in prayer, it is rather what God had done as a result of her prayer. She gave God the glory. Is not this true of the prayer the Lord taught the disciples to pray—God first; this is always right in prayer, God’s interests first and then the interests of others, and then our own personal interests, and so here Hannah, intuitively knowing what was right, glorified the God who had done so much for her. We find this in the Old Testament, we find it in the New Testament, praise God, we find it in our own experience. It is one of the ways to warm our hearts when we bend our knees in prayer, not immediately to embark upon our requests for help or support or guidance, but just for a few moments to be engaged with the greatness of God Himself. Let something of the greatness of the One to whom we are speaking, whether it is the Lord personally, or whether it is to God our Father, enter into our souls. We are exhorted to pray in the Spirit and this is addressing God the Father, by addressing God the Son, in His power and service, so that we say the things that are consistent with Their glory and greatness. This is the way that warms our hearts when first of all we recognise Their greatness and glory and supremacy. So small and puny as we are, yet we are privileged to speak to Them in freedom and in liberty, with some intelligence in our souls as to Their greatness. Who are we that can speak to them? And yet this is the wonder of the salvation that God has secured for us, that we can speak as if there was someone in our presence, some friend of ours, speaking to them face to face. This is the wonder of the communion today, God is not a God who is far off, He is a God who is near, who hears our petitions, and is glad to have us in His presence, glad to listen to what we have to say, and pre-eminently, to hear us say how great and wonderful He is, possessed of illimitable power. Our desires are so small in one sense compared to the greatness of the operations that He has in hand, and so very often the things that loom so great in our vision are so small when we bring them to God. When David went into the presence of God, he said “Who am I that should be in the presence of this great God? What is my house that I should ask for it in the way I am asking?” But he said, “Thy condescending gentleness hath made me great” (2 Sam. 22:36). What a wonderful statement to make in the presence of God. It is this that really brings warmth into our heart as for a few moments we recognise the greatness of God before we begin to ask Him for things that are near our hearts.
So Hannah went on to say, “there is none holy as the Lord, for there is none beside thee, neither is there any rock like our God”. If I have iniquity in my heart Scripture says, God will not hear me. Read through the book of Proverbs and you will find again and again statements to that effect that the prayers of the unrighteous are an abomination to God. Moral condition is a tremendous necessity in this matter of prayer. God is holy and He would have His servants holy. We are told to lift up clean hands in the sanctuary. We are told to come before God in purity, with a contrite heart. We cannot go into God’s presence and pray for His interests with thoughts of revenge or anger against our fellow believers. All these things must be eliminated from our minds and consciences. God is holy and He would have us to be holy when we approach Him in prayer or in worship. That subdues us when we go into His presence, when we remember that He is holy. There cannot be any levity in His presence, there cannot be anything that speaks of man and his glory in His presence. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31), and so Hannah recognised the holiness of God and what was necessary for His company.
Then she said, “neither is there any rock like our God”. I commend for your interest Deuteronomy 32 and see how often God is spoken of in that chapter as a Rock, and think of the other rocks, the rocks of the heathens, their idols, their support and think of the tremendous contrast between God and them, and this was what Hannah was saying, ‘Oh’, she said, ‘there is no rock like our God.’ This indicated some sense of relationship in her soul. She thought of the stability, the permanency of God. Nobody or nothing could overthrow God, He is able in His power to bring into effect what He desires.
And then, “Talk no more so exceeding proudly, let not arrogancy come out of thy mouth for the Lord is a God of knowledge and by him actions are weighed”. There are many portions in the word of God that tell us that God is a heart-knowing God. We might be before Him with very correct expressions, but it may not be true of our hearts. God knows the heart and by Him actions are weighed. The parable, or rather, the incident that the Lord told in Luke 18 speaks of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray. One said, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are” (v. 11) and went on to say he was a very good man, (and by our standards he was a very good man, albeit, a proud and arrogant one). But the other man could not lift up his face to heaven but smote upon his breast and declared what he was in reality in the presence of God, and God heard him and answered his prayer because He is a heart-knowing God.
You remember also that one man was to be chosen of the two candidates to fill up the place of Judas. The disciples felt that they could not make the decision, and so they prayed to the Lord and said, “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men” (Acts 1:24). Outwardly those two men were just the same, they had been with the Lord, they knew all that He did from the baptism of John right up to the time He ascended to glory. They were conversant about the Lord and the things of the Lord. Now, said the disciples, ‘Thou art the heart knowing God, tell us which of the two is to take the place of Judas?’ And the lot fell on Matthias, and he was chosen to fill up the place. Here we find this in Hannah’s prayer, God is a God of knowledge, by Him actions are weighed. You remember what is said of Belshazzar, “thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting”. God, who knows our motives, our desires and everything about us, who can look right into our hearts and judge accurately why we say or do things and why we pray about things, weighs our actions. And there was not any question about Hannah, that her heart was as transparent as possible, there was not a single thought about self, it was all about God and about His interests, and she was so real and genuine about it that God answered her prayer. The supremacy of God was very much in Hannah’s heart.
“The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble. The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them.” (1 Sam. 2:4-8)
God reverses situations. The adversary had been very prominent prior to Hannah praying and poor Hannah had a very difficult time indeed, but now we see in all the things that she said the position was reversed, instead of being persecuted she was in a place of peace, of blessing, instead of being barren she had a son whom she could give to the Lord, instead of being the enemy she was now in a place of nearness to God under His favour and kindness. We could go over all these sentences and we would find that this is the God who changes things. Oh, I need to get that into my soul and I am sure you do too. There is no need to acquiesce in a situation personally, or in our homes, or in our meetings, it is not right to acquiesce and say, ‘There is nothing I can do about it, I must accept it’. We can do something, we can pray to God to change things. This has been done again and again and again in lives, in homes, in meetings, in the Christian testimony. There is a God who hears prayers, good prayers, genuine prayers coming from the heart and conscience, and God can change things. If you forget all else, oh please remember this, that we have a God who can change things! He is so powerful, He is so great that He can deal with any situation, whatever it might be, and can bring in blessing into seemingly impossible situations. Now if we have not this faith in God it seems to me we will not make very much progress. Paul roars it triumphantly from Romans 8, “If God be for us who can be against us?” There is a note of triumph, and we can all take that home to our souls this evening—a God who changes things.
“He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth: and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Sam. 2:9-10)
We have all experienced this, I am sure, that He keeps our feet in a straight path when it might be so easy to turn aside and wander. I say this often to my own soul, that as we look back over our lives, we say, ‘However did we get through? How was it that we kept going?’ We can remember times when it would have been so easy to slip away. We can only say, ‘Well, God kept our feet in the pathway for His glory because He had something for us to do and He wanted some response from or hearts’. We praise God in the uncertain days that lie ahead, days that we do not know, days of darkness perhaps, days of difficulty. We can have this confidence, He will keep the feet of His saints. There is one verse that is often a joy to my spirit, and it is 2 Timothy 4, while Paul, the servant of the Lord, was in prison and facing great difficulty. It was not a pleasant experience for him, but he uttered the words so triumphantly to Timothy when he said, “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). There was a man with the faith in his soul that God would keep his feet; and we need to remember this, dear brethren, in days of great opposition and difficulty, we have a God who keeps us. The Lord Jesus said to His Father in John 17, ‘None of them is lost, I have guarded them, I have kept them’. Oh, how wonderful it is today that the Lord keeps us and as we just quietly give our lives into His keeping, how able He is to do it and to lead us along step by step for His pleasure and glory. Hannah knew this, she had experienced this, she knew the joy of victory through prayer and she was able to respond to the God who had done it all.
Verse 10 could only be said through divine inspiration. At that time there was no king in Israel, there was no suggestion of a king, and yet here was Hannah speaking about a king, speaking about the Lord’s anointed. Again I say, this could only be through divine inspiration; and though it was fulfilled partially in David, the son of Jesse, it will be finally and completely fulfilled in Jesus, the Son of God, God’s king, God’s anointed, when every adversary will be overthrown and destroyed, and a permanent change for the better will be brought in for a thousand years when God’s king will reign. You see, Hannah was a living example of this, she had overcome, her adversaries had been defeated and she was in the joy of victory. So it will be with the Lord’s anointed, He will overcome, He will bring in different conditions and He will create praise and worship to God for that wonderful period when He shall be supreme.
The Results of Hannah’s Prayer
“And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest.” (1 Sam. 2:11)
We live in days when so often a great deal of segregation goes on, the young Christians want to be with themselves, they do not want to have the older saints with them. Here we find a young boy and he was with an old man and in the old man’s company he was going to learn something, as we learn from a later chapter, something that he could not discern Himself, he was not of sufficient age or maturity to discern the Lord’s voice when He spoke to him, but He learnt it through Eli the priest. The young and the old walked together. I would say to the young brethren, keep in the company of those who know more than yourself, by that you will learn. This is the way we have all learned, to be in the company of older brothers, mature brothers and from them we learned by their knowledge, by their experience, and we made progress. All through the Scriptures this is the true principle, the true pattern, and would to God it were followed more today, so that the young and the old move together for the pleasure of God. What a delightful scene it is to see this young boy handed over to the Lord and in the presence of this aged servant, learning what is pleasing to the Lord. So Hannah’s prayer bore wonderful fruit, and is an encouragement I am sure to each one of us to continue earnestly in prayer and to make sure that our prayers are God-centred, Christ-centred, and to mention our own problems and difficulties too. The Lord delights to hear them and He delights to answer them. May we be encouraged for His name’s sake.
“And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested” (1 Chr. 4:9-10)
Last night we were speaking about Hannah, a woman with a bitter spirit who was so anxious to have her prayers answered that she continued praying until God answered her. Tonight, we want to speak about a man who prayed, and who received an answer to his prayer. We do not read about Jabez anywhere else in the Bible, just in this short reference in the book of Chronicles, but it is an extremely full prayer, there are many interesting things in it and it provides for us a good illustration of the prayers that we could ask, and also the kind of qualities in the person that could well be in us so that God grants our requests.
It might seem from a casual reading of the prayer that Jabez was very self-centred, he was not praying for other people, he was asking God specifically for things for himself. In Christianity there are situations when you must be very self-centred, not that you are only thinking of your own self-aggrandisement, not that kind of self-centredness, but your own personal relations with God. We find this continually in Paul’s epistles, particularly in writing to Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine … for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). This is a situation where we need to be self-centred in the sense of building up our souls in divine knowledge and with experience and communion with God and with our Lord Jesus Christ. We will never be any help for anyone unless we have personal links with the Lord. So do not think for one moment that here Jabez was out of line when he kept on praying for himself and for things for himself. If we prayed in this way and got the answer that he got we would be of some use for other people. Now let us look at the contents of this prayer.
The Necessity of our Moral State Before we Pray
“And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren …”
The first thing it tells us of Jabez is that he was an honourable man. We were saying last night how important it is to lift up holy hands in the sanctuary, God delights to answer the prayers of those who are faithful to Him. It was so pre-eminently in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ. I do not think any mortal man could say what He said, “I know that thou hearest me always” (John 11:42). There never was a moment when the prayers of the Lord Jesus were never answered, those prayers were heard and answered, there was constant communion with His God and Father, He was constantly aware of God’s will and purpose. The Father heard and answered His prayers and we are in the present enjoyment of those prayers, never let us forget it. In John 17 He said “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (v. 20), and after nearly two thousand years, here we are, those who have listened to the testimony of the apostles, as we find it especially in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s Epistles, and we have benefited from the teaching that they had from Christ. The Lord’s prayers are answered today in us, those of us who have believed on Him through the word of those who went before. Is not that wonderful?
There are a few passages in Scripture to indicate to us what an honourable man is. In 1 Samuel Saul’s servant said of Samuel, “he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass” (1 Sam. 9:6). This is one thing that I want to draw attention to, the reliability of the words of Samuel, this was what constituted him an honourable man in the sight of God and in the sight of the people of Israel; His words could be relied upon, his words came from God and through him He was able to communicate them to the people. Now if we apply this to ourselves today, are our words reliable? Are we honourable in this sense? Do we say one thing to one person and the opposite to another person just for partiality or for popularity or for any other reason? Can people rest upon what we say? Are our words reliable? Samuel was a man whose word could be relied upon, and this constituted him honourable. If he gave his word it was his bond. There were no side issues to what he said, no double meanings to what he said, he was perfectly straightforward, giving the mind of God as a true prophet should.
Then we find at the time of David’s flight from Saul that Ahimelech the priest fed David and his followers, and the priest spoke up on David’s behalf, and said to Saul, “And who is so faithful among all thy servants as David, which is the king’s son-in-law, and goeth at thy bidding, and is honourable in thine house?” (1 Sam. 22:14). It seems to me that in David faithfulness was a mark that showed that he was honourable. David was faithful to Saul, Saul could not point a finger at him as to any misdemeanour in his life, any failure in responsibility, he had always done all that was required of him, it was Saul’s enmity and envy that had chased him from the court. So David’s friend spoke up for him and said, ‘He is a faithful man’. Yes, that is what it means to be honourable, to be faithful to God, to be faithful to the saints in relation to the truth, to be faithful to what you know.
Then we come to the New Testament, and we find there was a company of people in Berea, of whom Scripture says were “more noble (or ‘honourable’) than those of Thessalonica” (Acts 17:11). When they heard the message from Paul they accepted it without question, they accepted it as the word of God, and knowing that it was the word of God they searched the Scriptures daily for confirmation, not for rejection—they knew it was the word of God and they searched the Old Testament scriptures to prove that what they had heard was correct. What an honourable thing to do. It seems to me that this is honourable in the sight of God, and is the great test of all ministry. It is not what brother so-and-so says, or what he writes (however important those things might be), it is a question of, ‘What does the word of God say?’, and all ministry, whether past or present, should be tested on the basis of the word of God without any juggling with the scriptures to prove one’s point of view, rather the pure truth of God is to have its weight upon our conscience and accepted as such, that, we believe, constitutes honourable persons.
If we have these qualities our prayers are going to have some power. We are not going to pray for ourselves just for some simple aggrandisement or even some great aggrandisement, if we are honourable people we will pray in an honourable way and we will think about God’s interests, we will think about the interests of the saints, we will think about our own interests in an upright straightforward way with no ulterior motive whatsoever, having a clear conscience, a transparent view of matters and as we shall find, with earnestness. Jabez was an honourable man; and honourable men and women are precious in the sight of heaven and are an asset in any company of believers. What tremendous power can flow from persons who are honourable.
The Necessity of our Knowing our God Before we Pray
“And Jabez called on the God of Israel …”
This might seem a simple statement, but what a tremendous amount is involved in this. I do not know when Jabez lived, I have a feeling that it was some time in the time of Joshua, and if that is so, it means that Jabez was in full possession of the history of his nation from the time that God went into Egypt and took the people out, carried them through the desert, brought them over the Jordan and planted them in the land flowing with milk and honey. Jabez prayed to a God who was well-known, a God who had done the most wonderful things for His people, taking them out of the hands of a powerful enemy in Egypt, Pharaoh with all his might, providing for them day by day for forty years in the wilderness, the manna never ceasing, food and water supplied for them, their shoes and clothing never wearing, their enemies defeated. The care of God was displayed at every step of the way, and then He took them over the Jordan and put them into the land flowing with milk and honey. What a God He proved to be! Now a man who possessed this knowledge in his soul, in his heart, rather than in his head, knowing not so much a collection of historical facts, great though they were, but being a man who had the knowledge of God in his soul, he was going to pray with tremendous energy. It was a known God that he called upon, a God who was possessed with illimitable power, with tremendous wisdom, grace, kindness and care; that was the kind of God that Jabez called upon. I am sure that God heard that prayer sympathetically. ‘Here is one person’, God could say, ‘who knows Me, who is calling upon Me, who knows that I can do what he is asking and so he is asking Me in this simple way’. He called upon the God of Israel.
My dear Christian friends, surely this is the attitude for us when we pray. How often have we prayed for certain things and lurking at the back of our minds is the thought, ‘It will never be answered. It is too difficult’. The doubt is in our minds instead of faith. We doubt the ability of God to do the thing that we are asking. It really is an insult to God. If we pray to God we should pray to a known God competent to do far exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. If God is God, these matters are very, very small for Him to accomplish. Why, He has done the most wonderful things—creation is the evidence of His extreme wisdom, power, strength, measurement, balance and all the things we like to think of. Creation stands as a standing witness to the greatness and majesty of God. The whole history of the Bible is one succeeding revelation of the greatness of God upon another, and the way He answers prayers. Yet we bow our knees with simple matters that worry us and we never seem to get clear of the worry and we pray to the God who can do these wonderful things thinking, ‘No, He cannot do such things for me, it is too complicated, too difficult’! Is it not a shame? We all feel like this at times, that we rise up from our knees and we still carry our cares with us. The Bible tells us to, “Cast all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Think of the mighty God and all His care and His concern for us that we might make progress in the knowledge of His love and the knowledge of His things. This is the kind of God that Jabez called upon, the God of Israel.
All through the Old Testament we find men and women calling upon God. We considered this last night, when we looked at Hannah. She could not do anything about the matter, it was beyond her naturally, but God could deal with it and He did (1 Sam. 1). Jehoshaphat had a small pitiable army in Jerusalem with a huge army surrounding the city, what was he going to do? He went into the presence of God and cried aloud to the God who was able to do things that he could not do (2 Chr. 20), and God delivered the nation. Hezekiah was in the same position (2 Chr. 32) and he bowed before the God “who sitteth between the cherubim, the Same” (2 Ki. 19:15), that is, the Almighty, the Unchanging One, and what was that army all around Israel compared to the God of Israel? Why in one night it vanished away under the power of the destroying angel. Again I say to you, as I say to myself, how pitiful our faith. The Lord chided the disciples again and again, “Oh ye of little faith” (Matt. 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8). But Jabez was not this kind of man. He called on the God of Israel as a known God, a God who could do things, who could change things, a God who could answer his prayer.
Jabez’s Prayer: 1. The Earnestness of the Prayer
“… saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed …”
I want to refer to this little word ‘Oh’. It speaks volumes to my soul, we find it often in Scripture, it seem to me to indicate the zeal, the energy and the earnestness that marked this man when he prayed. It was not a callous, calculated prayer, it was not something that he read from a prayer book or had written down, it came straight out from his heart, right out from his inmost being. ‘Oh,’ he says to God, ‘that thou wouldest bless me!’ It is not so apparent in the Authorised Version, but read Mr. Darby’s version when the Lord Jesus told the story of the two who went up to Jerusalem to pray (Luke 18:9-14), first the Pharisee who stood in a very cold and aloof manner saying, “God …”. What a way for the creature to address God! “God, I thank thee that I am not as the rest of men …” and so he went on to extol his virtues. Then we find the sinner, “O God, have compassion on me, the sinner”. There was an outpouring of the heart in tremendous earnestness before God, he knew his need and he expressed it in such a way that indicated how real his prayer was, his earnest desire to find forgiveness, to find peace with God. We find this in many instances in Scripture, the earnestness of faith that cries aloud to God for help in certain situations.
Mr Darby has another peculiar expression in James 5:17 when he refers to Elijah praying. The Authorised version says, “he prayed earnestly”, but Mr Darby renders it, “he prayed with prayer”—a peculiar expression, it seems to me to add emphasis to Elijah’s prayer in relation to his call for rain after the long period of drought. “He prayed with prayer”, or, “he prayed earnestly”. There again we see this kind of prayer, it was not a cold, calculated, technical kind of prayer, the right things said, the right words used, the right technical expressions, but as cold as ice and as dry as a bone. No, that was not the kind of a prayer that Elijah had, it was not the kind of prayer that Jabez had. You could imagine Elijah pouring out his soul to God, crying earnestly that He would send rain to end this terrible drought that was affecting everyone. This is the kind of prayer that Jabez prayed. Do we pray like this? Do we cry aloud to God with earnestness, or do we feel that if we have spent a few moments on our knees we have appeased our conscience, we have done what is right? Let us have this earnestness, this real desire to pray earnestly in relation to the things we desire.
We have a man mentioned in the Epistle to the Colossians, Epaphras, and he laboured earnestly for the Colossians in prayer (4:12). Here was a man who spent time in prayer in relation to the need of the believers. This is a very wonderful thing when a brother or a sister can commit themselves to a service of this kind. Oh, how important! Some brothers are gifted to preach the gospel, some are gifted to expound the word of God, others are gifted in other ways in relation to the Christian company, but what a service to render to the saints, to labour earnestly for them in prayer. You can think of Epaphras naming all the Colossian believers one by one and remembering the new convert Onesimus, the runaway slave who had been converted through Paul while in prison, but mentioning each one and knowing each one intimately, praying for the things that they required, praying for help for them in every way, perhaps material, perhaps physical, but above all, spiritual, that they might grow in the knowledge of God. What a service! Nobody pats on the back those who labour earnestly in prayer for the spiritual well-being of the saints. They are not generally seen publicly, their knees are worn with bending down before God, their tears are not seen and their groans are not heard. I am sure that many elderly saints render this service for the saints of God, and what a reward will be theirs when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ. My dear friend, what examples for us. This word ‘Oh’ that Jabez uttered indicates this earnestness that was in his heart in relation to his personal need.
Then lastly, and the greatest of all, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when we see Him in the garden of Gethsemane. In Luke’s Gospel it says “he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (22:44). What earnestness! What agony of spirit! Oh, what it meant to Him personally as He prayed in that way. In the Gospel by Matthew we have this same expression “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt” (26:3). There is a supreme example for us of earnestness in relation to prayer and it goes without saying the Lord anticipated the cross that was before Him. Oh, the need for prayer in such a situation! My dear friends, if this was the way the Lord of glory took, if this was the way the Master prayed, oh how we too should be marked by this earnest spirit. It may be that those who observe the prayers in heaven that ascend from the saints, might often say to themselves, ‘What callous prayers, what cold prayers. Do they really come from their hearts? Do they really deserve to be answered? Is there any indication that there is real earnest desire on their part when they pray in this way? What a small amount of time they spend in prayer!’ Perhaps this is one reason why so few of our prayers are answered. There was no question at all of an answer coming to Jabez, he was so sincere, so earnest, it was a pleasure for God to answer a prayer of this kind. The man was real, earnest, he was asking for what he wanted and what he wanted was worthwhile God giving to him. I am sure that God desires and delights to bless such people.
I wonder how much we really desire blessing and for what reason we desire it. We find a man like Jacob when he was alone with God and wrestling with the angel, and in answer to the angel who said it was time to go, Jacob said, ‘No, I will not let you go until you bless me. I want this blessing’ (Gen. 32:26). He craved the blessing and he got it. His name was changed to indicate that he was a prince with God, and although he limped the rest of his life, the power of nature was broken in Jacob, he carried with him that dignified name, and Jabez was here praying to that God, “the God of Israel”, the God who had looked after Jacob, the God who had changed his name and made him a ‘prince with God’, this was the God to whom Jabez prayed, and this was the kind of blessing he desired. In the same way that Jacob strove mightily with the angel until he acquired the blessing so Jabez prayed earnestly that he too might be blessed, and we know the kind of blessing he wanted, he wanted to be enlarged.
Jabez’s Prayer: 2. The Desire to Possess and Enjoy our Possessions
“… and enlarge my coast …”
There is a very interesting story in the book of Joshua when Caleb’s nephew Othniel went to war and captured a city and acquired a wife, Achsah. She asked her father for a blessing, and she asked it in no uncertain terms, she said, ‘You have given me the south land, oh, give me a blessing, give me the upper springs and the nether springs. What good is land if we have not water? We need the water for the land, and for refreshment’ (15:16-19), and so she asked him and she got what she asked. There is a great deal of encouragement in this. In the book of Joshua we find the nation moving into the land in power, God was with them, their enemies were overcome, they did not possess all the land because of their failure, but it was a royal day in their history, a day of power and glory. Then the scene changed, and we come to the book of Judges, a decedent day, a weak day, a time of failure and departure, and right at the start of that book we find the story of Achsah and Othniel again (1:11-15). It seems to me that the Spirit of God has deliberately inspired this at the beginning of this book of failure to indicate that there will always be blessing for those who desire it, and for those who are prepared to pay the price that is involved in acquiring it. Just as Othniel fought and overcame the city and Achsah desired a blessing, even in weak and failing days if enemies are overcome and we desire the blessing it is there for the taking. This is a tremendous encouragement at the beginning of the book of Judges. These people were deeply concerned about acquiring blessing. I wonder if we are anxious to acquire blessing.
Every Christian soul should desire to expand in the knowledge of God’s will, to know more of it, to be blessed indeed and to walk in the enjoyment of that blessing. Objectively we have every blessing that is obtainable in our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). There are people who make a great claim today about having a ‘second blessing’. Well, you can say humbly to them they are making progress if they have had a second blessing, because God has blessed us with every blessing, so every believer in Christ can claim that they have every blessing in Christ Jesus, not just one or two, but every blessing that is obtainable is in Christ Jesus for them. Whether they or we have it experimentally, or whether they or we have the enjoyment of it, is another matter, but God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, that is what He has done sovereignly, but then there are other blessings which we acquire through exercise, through faithfulness, through applying ourselves to the things of God when these things that are ours in possession are really enjoyed, really known and really acted upon.
This is where the prayer of Jabez comes in, that not only do we know that these things are available for us, but we acquire them and we hold on to them and we enjoy them. “Oh, that thou wouldest bless me indeed!”, would that that was our prayer continually all the time, desiring to receive blessing from God. Why? Just for our own personal aggrandisement? No, firstly for our encouragement and strengthening so that we can then be of help to others, because if we have blessing in our souls it will be bound to flow out to others. See for example the well of water that springs up unto eternal life and the well of water that flows out in blessing to others (John 4 and 7). This is always the way. The love and the life that came down from God and met us in our need flows out towards man in blessing. That is the kind of blessing that we desire in the power of the Spirit, to consequently be made available for others.
Jabez desired the enlargement of his coast. Again, this is connected with the book of Joshua because that was the time of taking possession, that was the time of enlargement. It was one thing to enter into the land, it was another thing to possess it. God told Joshua to take courage (1:6-7, 9) and to go in and to possess the land, and that “every place that the sole of your feet tread upon, that have I given unto you” (1:3). It was their land, God had given it to them, but enemies had to be overcome and destroyed, and then the land would be theirs to enjoy for themselves—but there was something behind that, they were to tithe, there was to be a return for God. The first fruits were to be offered to God in response to Him. So you see in the possession of the land God was not only thinking on the blessing of Israel, although that was true, He was also thinking of a return from them for Himself, a return that indicated they had really possessed the land and were glad. So we find in Deuteronomy 26 the man comes with his basket of first fruits and he is a worshipper, bowing before God with the evidence in his basket that he had possessed, had tilled and had obtained the fruits of the land and he acknowledged that God was the Giver of it all and he returned it to Him in response. This is what Jabez was asking for, ‘Enlarge my coasts, increase my dominions, fill me with Thy blessing’, and I am perfectly sure after that was acquired then there was a response to God.
This matter of possession is a very real thing. Caleb was given a certain piece of the land and God said he would possess it because he had wholly followed Him (Num. 14:24). He was a man who never deviated, never stopped for one moment in his faith, and kept going on for God. Think what it meant to that devoted man, a man who had the faith, the strength and the courage to enter into the land and to possess it and yet he had to turn away from the promised land and for forty years march through the wilderness with a faithless generation until they were all destroyed and a new generation grew up who were to enter into the land with him. But think of the sorrow in the heart of that dear man, but he never deviated, he kept going on and then came the time when he said “I am as strong this day as I was [forty years ago]” (14:11). What a test for us as we grow older. If it is service that dominates our lives there will come a time when we will be unable to serve because of increasing age, and we will be disappointed because we cannot do the thing that is nearest to our hearts, but if God is the One who fills our hearts whether we are serving or not, He is the One who will support us and sustain us. So it was with Caleb. He marched through the wilderness, marched with the truth of God in his soul and the conscious sense that he was supported by Him, and when the moment came to take possession he said, ‘I am just as able to do it today as I was forty years ago’. What a man of faith! but he took possession in his courage, in his faith, he was enlarged because he wholly followed the Lord.
Moses in that record of blessing in Deuteronomy 33 says of Naphtali, “possess thou the west and the south” (v. 23). Naphtali’s name means ‘exercise’ or ‘struggling’, he was a man who was always in the forefront of Israel’s battles, he was a man who was noted for his courage and strength, the tribe was always seen in this way. Here was a man who was going to take possession of the territory that belonged to him, and he was going to do it on the basis of exercise. You hear that word ‘exercise’ over and over again when you attend the meetings, in the New Testament this word ‘exercise’ is derived from a Greek word from which we get our English word ‘gymnasium’ or ‘gymnast’, and that indicates the physical kind of exercise that is involved in those spheres, so a person who is exercised according to New Testament language is not one who is only using his limbs or his body in movement, he is exercising his affections, he is exercising his mind, he is exercising his soul and his conscience, and they are all in action to acquire the things of God and to maintain the things of God as He wants them to be maintained. Naphtali was such a person, a struggler, an exercised person, a person who was concerned about possessing. Well, that was Jabez’s desire, to possess, to be enlarged, to be increased.
In Acts 9 there is one verse which is very, very full, “the assemblies … had peace, being edified and walking in the fear of the Lord, and were increased through the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (v. 31 N.Tr.). They increased, they did not decrease. We read on three occasions in the Acts of the Apostles that the word of God increased (6:7, 12:24, 19:20). It seems to me that where there are companies of believers in which the word of God is followed and obeyed there will be increase. Where the word of God has its way individually and collectively then there is bound to follow increase. So that verse is often a challenge to me, why is there not increase? Why should it be decrease? The fault cannot be on God’s side (that would be blasphemy), the fault is not on the truths that we have learnt because these truths have been well hammered out on the anvil of concern and inquiry. The truths are correct, we have no doubt at all about that. Well, then, the difficulty must be on our side. That must be the reason why the increase is being held back. The fear of the Lord perhaps is not being practised, and perhaps the comfort or exercise of the Holy Spirit is not taking place through us because of our folly, and so we have to examine ourselves about this matter of spiritual increase, both individually and collectively. This need not necessarily be numerically, although we would like to see that, that is not always a sign that there is increase according to the mind of the Lord, but it would be a healthy sign if we did see an increase in souls being saved and being added to our companies as directed by the Lord according to the truth. I am sure that every soul here is deeply concerned about that. Let us pray earnestly like Jabez, that we might be increased individually and that our companies might be increased spiritually, and only as we are increased individually will we be increased collectively. I am sure that is being done, but let us stimulate it a little further with a little more earnest desire and prayer for increase spiritually, not to acquiesce in the weak conditions, not to acquiesce in the declension, but to desire earnestly that there might be increase according to God.
Jabez’s Prayer: 3. The Desire for God to be with Him
“… and that thine hand might be with me …”
There are many references to the hand of God in Scripture. We read for instance in the book of Ezra of “the good hand of his God upon him” (7:9), keeping at bay the enemies, giving direction to the Lord’s servants, helping, controlling and guiding them. That seems to me to indicate that things were never allowed to get out of control. The hand of God was there in all its power and directing influence. We find in Isaiah that wonderful portion where God speaks of “upholding them by the right hand of his righteousness” (41:10). That tremendous hand of power is available for His people at all times, and I am sure we have all experienced that in one way or another, the hand of God in power that keeps us in spite of all the evil that is against us. We could not do better than quote John 10, where we have the hand of the shepherd (v. 28) and the hand of the Father (v. 29) and the believer is safe there, nothing can pluck him from the hand of the Shepherd or from the hand of the Father—almighty and illimitable power is there, and the sheep are perfectly safe in that double security. Then we think of that wonderful statement in Revelation 1 when John sees a vision of the Lord in His judicial character amongst the saints and it terrifies him when he sees the Lord in this way. He is not this time leaning in the bosom of the Son as we find in John’s Gospel (13:23), he is in the presence of the Lord as the One who walks in the midst of the assemblies and with His scrutinising gaze He can detect and point out what is wrong and encourage what is good. But when John sees this vision of the Lord he is terrified and he falls as one dead but the Lord lays His right hand upon him and says, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore” (vv. 17-18). Everything is in His hands. He will deal with the evil at the right time. It is impossible that it can overcome or succeed, He will deal with it. What comfort to John to find that hand that he knew so well placed upon him and raising him up. And how often that hand encourages us too in moments of weakness and failure and depression (and we all feel these things at one time or another). The Lord comes in His own inimitable way by which He can encourage our hearts and raise up our spirits and give us fresh courage to go on—this is seen in the right hand of power and encouragement.
Jabez’s Prayer: 4. The Desire to be Occupied Solely with God
“… and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!”
We find many men in Scripture who were grieved about evil. Nehemiah was tremendously upset when he found that a priest was using a compartment in the Temple for the benefit of his relative, and his relative was an ungodly person who had no right to be there. This grieved Nehemiah, that after all God had done in the way of blessing this unfaithfulness should be among the people (Neh. 13:4-9). And it was not long before he took steps to eradicate the evil. The same with Ezra, after all that God had done for them in bringing them out of Babylon, some came to him with the news, ‘Why, the very priests, the persons who should have known better, have made unlawful marriages!’ And so Ezra bowed down and cried and wept; this sin grieved him to his heart (Ezra 9:1-4). This is a very real experience. Jabez did not want to be grieved because of sin.
Now we come to Psalm 51 and we find David grieved not because of somebody else’s sin, but because of his own. This is where the test comes. How easy it is to point the finger at somebody else and be grieved because they have said or done something wrong, and to forget about our own failures. Are we grieved when we sin, when we fail? It is an indication of a tender conscience, a good conscience before God, a conscience enlightened by the truth that the moment there is any deviation from the will of God it causes grief and concern. Jabez said, “I do not want to be grieved by sin. Keep me, O Lord, from sin. Enable me to avoid sin”. And praise God for that preserving power.
God’s Answer to Jabez’s Prayer
“And God granted him that which he requested.”
May the Lord help us then to follow this kind of prayer, to have the same sentiments, the same desires, the same motive, that we too might get our requests granted and specially in relation to blessing and specially in relation to being kept free from the things that grieve God, grieve us and grieve the Holy Spirit. May it be so for His name’s sake.
“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph. 1:15-23)
Tonight, and tomorrow night, we want to spend some time looking at the two prayers of the apostle Paul in the Ephesian epistle. These have been spoken on many times for they are so full of instruction and glorious truth that stabilise the believer and encourage his soul. We must pray for the Spirit’s help as we consider them together.
Something must first be said about the man who uttered these prayers, the man who was Saul of Tarsus, a hater of Christ and of those who bore His name. Yet stopped on his mad career the Lord Jesus saved his precious soul; he was a chosen vessel from the day of his birth (Acts 9:15). God had His eye upon him and allowed him to go through certain forms of education and experience all necessary for the forming of His servant in view of his service for Christ. Then the time came when he was brought low and he humbly bowed to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and became His honoured servant. Quickly he learnt the value of prayer. No doubt as a godly Jew he would have prayed prescribed prayers that were available at that time. But just after his conversion we find him praying and the Lord Jesus sending His servant Ananias to contact His servant and to take him into the city where he was taught many things. What a wonderful beginning to the man who would become such an honoured servant of the Lord – “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). One of the sources of Paul’s strength and of his value in service for the Lord was that he was accustomed to pray at the very outset of His Christian life and paying all through that life. What a man he was! When you read his epistles invariably at the beginning he speaks about the prayers that he made for the saints, the thanksgiving that he offered to God for their spiritual welfare. But here in the epistle to the Ephesians we find two sublime prayers that make much of God, that make much of God’s glorious Son, that makes much of the Holy Spirit and bring before the saints a vast vista of blessing that was their now and will be theirs in a much fuller sense in the world to come and throughout all eternity. It has often been said and is worth saying again that Paul is not here praying for creature comforts, for encouragement along the wilderness pathway and the many things that we continually pray for in our day by day need, Paul is praying different kinds of prayers, they are prayers that engage the believer with the highest thoughts of God, and in the second prayer take us right into the eternal state where there will be eternal glory for God in the church through Christ Jesus.
When we go to prayer meetings and a brother tells God all about His council and purposes it can become tedious. It is like telling God all the great things that He is going to do as if God did not know that already. The prayer meetings is rather the place for the unburdening of the soul in connection with local exercises, exercises that are known and exercises of an international character, but it is comely when in the course of those prayers we do have references to God’s eternal purpose, and that it might be known and enjoyed and in some measure govern the life. There is room for such as that in the prayer meeting.
But here is Paul speaking this marvellous prayer. From Ephesians 1:1-14 Paul covers the purpose of God that will involve blessings for the saints in eternity and also for the world to come, and also present blessing that they enjoyed at that time. The section ends with the statement that they were sealed with the “Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory”. This is equivalent to saying, ‘Look, dear brethren, God has the most marvellous blessings for you, and the fact that He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit of promise is the guarantee that every thought of God that involves your blessing will be fulfilled.’ This is the meaning of the seal of the Spirit being mentioned here. Then the prayer that follows is the desire that the saints might be in the present enjoyment of these things through the knowledge of them and through the position that Christ occupies as Head to the assembly. In the opening out of this prayer we find many wonderful things
“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; …” (v. 15-16)
This is a good beginning. He is taking account of people who have a centre and a circumference. The centre is Christ, the circumference all the people of God. There is nothing sectarian in this thought of Paul’s. In the early days of the church, just as it should be today, Christ was at the centre, he says ‘Your faith in the Lord Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints (which is a characteristic statement by Paul in this epistle, four times he mentions different truths connected with “all the saints”2). Indeed, in Paul’s concept of Christian teaching it requires all the saints, not just a part of them, because the purpose of God involves every true believer in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is good to remember that in these days of brokenness, however much the testimony is broken up and incomplete, so far as God’s mind is concerned, God’s purpose involves every true believer and eventually will be secured in Christ. So Paul gave thanks, and we too have every reason to give thanks when we hear of people trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and coming into a saving knowledge of God in Christ because every soul saved becomes a member of the body of Christ, becomes a partaker of the testimony upon earth and will one day shine in the glory of God throughout never-ending ages. That is why we should always rejoice when we hear of the salvation of a precious soul.
“… that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, …” (v. 17a)
This name of God, “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” has to be taken account of. In the second prayer in Ephesians Paul prays to the Father, “the Father of every family” (3:14-15), but here it is “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Now in dealing with the Godhead we have often been exhorted, and rightly so, that we cannot divide the Persons one from another, they are one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but we can distinguish them in Their actings as They are revealed to us in for faith in the present economy. So here God is for us the God who we know as Father, but He is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it emphasises the Manhood of His glorious Son and the way He referred to Him as His God.
Now if we consider the various passages that deal with this we will find that in Psalm 22, no doubt a prophetic utterance but indicating this attitude of the Son to His Father – I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother’s belly” (v. 22). This is the first reference where Christ refers to God as “my God”. I know it is a prophetic utterance, but it indicates how in the incarnation God was His God. It was necessary for Him – I say it reverently – that in His pathway He should draw all His resource from Him because we now thinking of the Son in subject Manhood, in the place He now takes in obedience to His Father but in this character of His calling Him “my God”. This is the way Paul opens this wonderful prayer. When we come to the Father in the second prayer it is rather the term of relationship that the Son had with His Father, but here Paul is referring to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then on the cross how precious are the words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). They are so holy and sacred, who is competent to enter into that expression and tell what it means?
Then again we find in Revelation 2 and 3 references to “my God”. When addressing Sardis the Lord said “I have not found thy works complete before my God” (Rev. 3:2, JND). Then follows the marvellous promise and reward held out to the overcomer in Philadelphia, “He that overcomes, him will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more at all out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven, from my God, and my new name” (v. 12, JND).
So we find that it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son in Manhood who always speaks to His God in this way, “my God”. And this is the way the prayer is addressed, “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him”. We cannot pass by this glorious name, “the Father of glory”, every thought of glory finds its origin in the Father. This is true in the general teaching of the New Testament, that the Father is the One who originates, who plans and councils, the Son is the One by whom it is brought into being and the Spirit is the power by which it is brought through to its final completion. Generally speaking, this is how we find divine things mentioned in the New Testament. So here is this tremendous Person through whom Paul is addressing His prayer for the believers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ who supplied His Son with all that was necessary in His Manhood. The Father of glory who was the originator of every thought of glory would also give to the saints all that was necessary for them in the understanding of these things. Remember how Abraham received a call from the God of glory – the God of glory called Abraham out from Ur of the Chaldees (Acts 7:2). F.B.Hole made a very apt remark when he said that the glory of God outshone all the shine that was in Shinar, and this indicated that His dear servant was attracted by the tremendous glory that was in the God of glory. This enabled him to turn his back upon all the culture and all the wealth that belonged to Ur of the Chaldees.
So I believe is the thrust of “the Father of glory”. What could He not give His people? The glory of this poor world passes away. How true are the words of Thomas Gray in his ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’,
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
This is man’s world; but not the Father of glory, for what He plans and originates, what He councils will come to its final conclusion, and what an outshining of glory that will be! Think of the prayer of the Lord in John 17 and all the references there He makes to His Father and the glory the Father gave to Him and the glory given to the believers and the glory that they will see, the glory that they will see but will not share, the glory that they will both see and share. All is in that glorious Person. The Father of glory is the originator of them all.
“… may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: …” (v. 17b)
I do not believe this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, because we have already said that in verse 13 that they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, so they already had the Holy Spirit. Paul was not praying here that they might receive the Holy Spirit, but that they might receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. There are two passages that we can refer to that will help us to understand this. Firstly in Exodus ?? Bezaleel was given the spirit of wisdom and understanding that he might accomplish the tremendous task that he had to form all the pieces of furniture for the Tabernacle, to oversee the work and see that it was done correctly according to the divine plan. The spirit of wisdom and knowledge and understanding that God gave to him made him competent to do that work. Then in Daniel ?? after Daniel had received an answer to his prayer his heart went up to God in a burst of praise and he spoke about the God who gave wisdom and revelation because they belong to God; and Daniel receiving that helped him to understand the mind of God. This is what Paul was praying for on their behalf that they might receive it.
Why is it sometimes that we read the Bible often and yet fail to understand passages that we have read over and over again, they are so deep and involved and complicated? Perhaps we are lacking in this spirit of wisdom and understanding and revelation in the knowledge of God and of Christ and of the Spirit. Perhaps if we enquired more, if we bent our knees more often and asked God to show us the truth of these things, perhaps then they would become clearer. This is what Paul was saying, that if we pray and ask the Lord to help us then He will grant us this insight into the understanding of this truth. I am convinced of this, dear friends, that if we had a deep insight into the truth of God, what He is doing what He will yet do, and what He will do finally, it will set us free from the poor sad things that are in this world. We would not be wasting our time in the politics of this world, God has a plan, and He will fulfil that plan in Christ. The world is going on to judgment, there is no hope for it in the hands of man, not even the best of men, however well-intentioned they are. When we see the plan of God we wait humbly and quietly until we see its fulfilment. We accept the ordering of God, we have to suffer because of the politicians, some of the things they do and say, we have to accept that as God’s chastisement, our votes and endeavours will never change the course of this world, it is going on to judgment until the time that it is ruled by Christ. I think the understanding of the truth of God sets us free from these worldly ideas and helps us wait patiently and quietly for the time of God’s will. So an insight into the things of God help us in that way but it also encourages us, makes us conscious of what God is doing. In Balaam’s parables one of the expressions was “what has God wrought!” (); not what man has wrought but what God has wrought. We can look back and say that He has done tremendous things in the past and we believe that He will do tremendous things in the future because it is part of His plan and purpose. An insight into the plans of God makes us superior to all the sad things that this world puts forward as better conditions. We sympathise sincerely with those that are at the head of affairs, theirs is not an easy task, and we are exhorted to pray for them, not to elect them but to pray for them, that they might have proper wisdom and guidance and help in the awful conditions that apply in modern times. How right it is that we should pray for them that they might rule correctly under the will of God. Romans 13 is a passage that would help us in these things.
“… the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, …” (v. 18)
“… and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, …” (v. 19)
“… which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, …” (v. 20)
“… far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: …” (v. 21)
“… and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, …” (v. 22)
“… which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (v. 23)
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (3:14-21)
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, …” (3:14)
“… of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, …” (3:15)
“… that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; …” (3:16)
“… that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, …” (3:17)
“… may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; …” (3:18)
“… and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (3:19)
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, …” (3:20)
“… unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (3:21)
1Prayer and the Prayer Meeting, by C. H. Mackintosh. Available from Chapter Two, Fountain House, 1a Conduit Road, Woolwich, London, SE18 7AJ, UK.
2 Ephesians 1:18; 3:8; 3:17; 6:18.