The Prayer Battle

By D. M. Panton

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


The soul that gets its prayers answered is the soul that has power. Leanness in results often merely betrays leanness in our own souls. A dock laborer in the North said recently: We chaps know precious little about religion; we take no particular stock in it as a whole; but there is one woman whom our whole gang believe in, and she can say anything she likes to us.” “Why?” asked a bystander. “Because,” he replied, “she gets her prayers answered; and we often send messages to her, saying, Tell Ted’s mother to pray’.”

As much as our prayer is, so much is our faith; and as much our faith, so is God’s response; intense faith in prayer cannot co-exist with little prayer. How much do we pray? Not public prayer, nor family prayer, but closet prayer: “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray” (Matt. 6:6). In a conference (Matt. 6:6). In a conference of ministers in New York, the Chairman asked all who spent half an hour in. the. twenty-four in prayer to hold up their hands. Only one hand was held up. He then asked for a response from those who spent fifteen minutes in prayer. Not half present responded. Asked for five minutes, all were able to respond, though one was afterwards doubtful. If this represents the closet prayer in the modern church, the marvel is that we get what we do.

Is the bed-chamber of Elisha we have a lovely little parable of prayer, full of designed and suggestive instruction, There are three men in the room—God, the Prophet, and the King, God is always in the bed-chamber; our Prophet is there to guide the prayer-battle; and we are kings unto God (Rev. 1:6). The Prophet says to the King, “Take bows and arrows” for it is “THE LORD'S ARROW OF SALVATION” (IL Kings 13:15). The Lord’s salvation will be measured by the battle with the bow; victory in the field is to turn our success in the bed-chamber. Observe: (1) It is to be a sharp struggle. Prepare for war; prepare for aggressive warfare; prepare for arduous labor of a long campaign. A strenuous prayer-life is a succession of pitched battles; yesterday's victory will not win today’s. "Take bows and arrows”—more than one, for laboring together in prayer calls for a fully stocked quiver. (2) It is an aggressive weapon. “No devil,” says Erksine, “is worse than no Devil’;” prayer is a wrestle with Satan, and we must know our foe. “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the world-rulers of this darknes, against the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up (for defense) the whole armour of God, * * * with (as the offensive weapon) all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:12). Breastplate and shield and helmet and sword repel; prayer storms the citadel of the enemy. “This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer” (Mark 9:29); for prayer dislodges, and dislodges the most powerful demon. It is the weapon which, as Son of Man, our Lord uses in the heavenlies, “conquering, and to conquer” (Rev. 6:2). Michael combats Satan by invoking God (Jude 9). As Mr. 8. D. Gordon says, “The intense fact is this: Satan has the power to hold the answer back, for a whiles to delay the result, for a time. He has not the power to hold it back finally, if some one understands and prays with quiet, steady perseverance. The real pitch of prayer, therefore, is Satanward.” “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you"” (Jas. 4:7). We rout the Devil by drawing nigh to God.

A triple command is now given by the dying prophet. PUT THINE HAND UPON THE BOW. OPEN THE WINDOWS EASTWARD: SHOOT. (1) Be master of your weapon. The word is literally, Let thy hand ride upon the bow; stir up thyself to take hold of God; let prayer be a weapon over which you have perfect control. We must not wait to be kindled for prayer; we must pray until we are kindled, Then (2) point the weapon where it is needed. The Syrians had conquered the eastern coasts of Israel II Kings 10:33) ; the window is to be opened where the enemy lies massed. Be definite in prayer; the arrow shot anywhere and everywhere hits nothing; mark the masses of the enemy and shoot at his heart, as a dying prophet, or a desperate king, whose only hope is an arrow rightly shot. (3) Do it; shoot! Don't talk about prayer, pray: don’t finger the bow; pull it. The Syrians will care little how much we believe in the bow, if only arrows are never launched. Most beautifully (4) the Prophet covers the whole triple command with blessing. He lays his hands upon the King’s hands. The arrow that is not shot with the strength of God will never reach the heart of God for intercession, or the heart of the enemy for destruction, The trembling hands of a dying prophet are more powerful than the hands that hold a sceptre; for God's hands are upon the hands of is Christ; and though we pull the bow, it is the Lord's arrow of salvation. “Apart from Me ye can do nothing” (Jno. 15:5); therefore, “Te teacheth my hands to war; so that my arms do bend a bow of brass” (Ps. 18:34).

God now measures the depth of the prayer. “You hold,” says the Prophet, “the arrows of God’s salvation; strike with them as if you were smiting a _ prostrate foe.” He smote thrice and stayed. And the man of God was wreth with him, and said, “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed — it; whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.” Facts of the gravest importance stand here revealed. (1) The battle is lost or won in the bed-chamber. Queen Mary used to say that she feared the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of Europe; the battle with God must be won before the battle with Hell, or both will be lost. In the Australian revivals of 1902, two hundred souls were saved in one church in a day. Why? Two hundred believers had prayed for it all night. In 1741, when Jonathan Edwards preached at Enfield, a thoughtless, vain, irreligious assembly became suddenly so overwhelmed with sobs and cries—some clutching the pews as though already sliding into hell—that a minister seized the preacher by his dress, exclaiming, “Mr. Edwards! Mr. Edwards! is not God a God of mercy?” Hundreds of Christians had been prostrate before God the whole night, pleading for His mercy on the assembly. In the Scotch revival of 1630, five hundred’ conversions took place under a single sermon by John Livingston. A Vast assembly had spent all night in prayer and praise. So as Abraham drew nearer God, Sodom drew nearer to safety; on the plains’ of Mamre, not in the streets of Gomorrah, the tremendous issues are decided of a city’s doom. Every drop of the hands of Moses meant the stab of an Israelite upon the plains. “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then thou hadst smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it.

Another momentous fact emerges. (2) The measure of the battle in the bed-chamber is the limit of the victory in the field. How much do we pray? Joash was desperate enough to come to the Prophet; he was not desperate enough to cast his whole soul into the battle. “Satan,” says Muller, does not mind how a Christian prays, if he can only get him to stop praying.” Martin Luther used to pray three and four hours a day. John Welsh, a Scotch minister to whom fell a great harvest of souls, thought a day ill spent in which less than seven or eight hours had been given to prayer. Our Lord spent the whole night alone with God; and he who spends the night in prayer will not be neglectful of. prayer during the day. The world will spend all night at a ball; how rarely will the church spend all night with her Lord. “At night,” says Whitefield, “my heart was so full I could only pour it out in awful silence. Oh, the happiness of communion with God!” Bishop Phillips Brooks, when found once in his cabin prostrate upon his face, was overheard saying, “O Lord Jesus, Thou hast filled my life with peace and gladness. To look into Thy face is earth’s most exquisite joy.” But it is also a battle. “The spirit of prayer,” in the Indian Revival, “is, indeed, a possession,” which. leads to very remarkable physical manifestations: It is sore travail indeed, and one. can only look on with a. feeling of awe * * * The school seems to be filled with a mass of little figures in intense joy or in an agony of prayer. Intercession became with some an awful anguish, too deep for words, except a name mentioned now and again, and then: agonizing sobs and loud cries for a time, and this for hours together.” Joash smote three times, and stayed: “three times did Joash smite (Benhadad), and recovered the cities of Israel” (II Kings 13:25).

An even graver and more unexpected issue is here revealed. (3) Our withdrawal from prayer modifies the promises of God: prayer is the channel of the promise. What was the promise? “Thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them.” How is it modified by the King’s action? Now thou shalt smite but thrice.” You have valued victory so little that it has become little; God will consume Syria, but not through you. What is our promise? “BEHOLD I HAVE GIVEN YOU AUTHORITY TO TREAD UPON SERPENTS AND SCORPIONS, AND OVER ALL THE POWER OF THE ENEMY” (Luke 10:19). A church's destiny is moulded by the closest prayers of its people; the ground on which’ the arrows are no longer smitten will grow barren, withered, and dead. A brother once rose at a prayer meeting, and said: “Brethren, I have long been in the habit of praying every Saturday night till after midnight. And now, brethren”—here he began to weep—“I confess that I have neglected it for two or three weeks.” But the promise is inviolable if the prayer be unfaltering; God will not retreat by a syllable if we do not retreat by a single petition (I John 3:22). Muller was asked in his old age, “Have you always found the Lord faithful to His promises?” “Nearly nine thousand five hundred orphans,” he replied, “have never wanted a meal. Hundreds of times we have commenced the day without a penny in hand, but our Heavenly Father has sent supplies by the moment they were required. One million four hundred thousand pounds have been sent to me in answer to prayer. For nearly seventy years every need has been supplied.” “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; THEN THOU HADST SMITTEN SYRIA TILL THOU HADST CONSUMED IT.”

The King’s arrested archery is an epitome of the history of God's church in all ages: a thousand secret motives paralyze the hand upon the bow: Why did Joash smite but thrice? Prayer may cease through pride. Personal dignity can be so inflated as to slight the dignity of God. God cannot work through hearts too dignified for broken prayer. “The sacrifices of God"—the sacrifices which God accepts—“are a broken spirit: A BROKEN AND A CONTRITE HEART, O GOD, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Prayer may cease through weakness. The god of Syria was doubtless at the King’s elbow, whispering, “Stay your hand”; a hand-to-hand battle was raging in his soul; and in a wrestle so desperate with the hosts of darkness— who know the awful issues that hang upon our prayer as only the other world can—every plucking of the bow may well have cost the King life-blood. “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Jacob's withering thigh in the midnight wrestle ; Moses’ drooping hands on Horeb; our Lord’s sweat of blood in Gethsemane :— prayer that is power is exceeding costly ; nevertheless “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity” (Rom. 8:26). Prayer may case through fainting. Perpetual prayer is God's safe-guard against the fainting-fit. On the other hand, we lose the power of prayer if we neglect its practice. Fainting and prayerlessness act and react until the soul falls into a dead swoon. “How often,” a famous pianist was asked, “do you practice?” “Something like eight hours a day,” he replied. Is that necessary for one who has reached your eminence?” “If 1 stopped practicing for one day,” was the reply, “I myself would know it; if for two days, my friends would know it; if 1 stopped practicing for three days, the whole world would know it.” Power with God and power for God rest on perpetual prayer; therefore disciples “ought always to pray and not to faint” (Lake 18:1). Prayer may cease through doubt. Doubt with its mask of wisdom whispers, “Extravagant demands may endanger the whole promise; ask a little that you may get something.” But gifts which are extravagant to accept, it is extravagant of God to offer; and if God's promises are extravagant, His honor, His character and His truth are gone. God is most honored by the magnitude of our prayers: “All things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). Prayer may cease through indifference. Indifference is the dry rot of the soul. Where is there a more appalling proof of innate depravity than this, that millions of souls are pouring past us into hell, and we do not weep? A Congregational minister in Yorkshire was once preaching on the power of prayer. Suddenly he passed his hands slowly over his head, saying, in dazed tones, “I do not know, my friends, whether you ever tried praying; for my part, I gave it up long ago as a bad job”; and he never preached again. Once—twice—thrice—, and the King’s hands stayed; the golden opportunity of his eternity was gone; the glory of Jehovah was lowered amid Syrian sneers; and God’s Prophet died in righteous anger and heartbroken sorrow. Beloved avoid the dreadful peril. STIR UP THYSELF TO TAKE HOLD OF GOD. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING.

Coleridge said on his death-bed, “O, to pray, to pray as God would have us; this is the last, the greatest achievement of the Christian's warfare on earth.” Elisha died as he had lived, His dissolving energies, as his living strength, he gave to intercession for the people of God. Take bows and arrows; put thine hand upon the bow; open the window eastward; shoot. IT IS THE LORD'S ARROW OF SALVATION. The years are laying snowy hands upon many of our heads; all of us are rapidly hastening to that bourne from which no traveler returns. Little children, it is the last hour; let us give ourselves to prayer. Dr. Bachus, a former president of Hamilton College, in America, was told, on his death-bed, that he had but half an hour to live. “Is that so?” he replied, “then take me out of my bed, and put me on my knees, and let me spend it calling on God for the salvation of the world.” And so they did. He died upon his knees. “With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).