By Charles J. Fowler
A TWO-FOLD LIFE
The writer has had a pointed, not to say painful, experience of this matter. He is and has been engaged in the varied work of the holiness minister whose parish is the world. In common with any earnest preacher, his life is a two-fold one -- i. e., it has its own (that related to himself) and that related and devoted to others. These might be called personal and professional. The work for others is not as likely to suffer from a lack of prayer, as is this other responsibility -- this care of himself. What can one do in the field without God, and how can God be had save as He is waited upon for his cooperation? So it is that we pray over our messages and over all our work, and that with earnestness and continuousness.
When in the field, how assured we are of the Divine presence and blessing; if not all we want of blessing attend our labors, it is certain that God is with all faithful workers and at least some results are realized, if not all one craves. Paul sought to save "some" -- he would save all but did not expect it.
But when, for a time, the labor for others is laid by (as it is with most evangelists and should be with all), so far as being afield is concerned, and one retires into the place of change and rest for a season, a peculiar peril confronts him. He does not now need to be before God as when on the firing line, and the danger is that he will be before God but little for this reason, as well as for other reasons that will put in an appearance.
Wherever such a work is, if he be true, his time is mortgaged like to circumstances beyond his control. When in the field, the time belongs to the work of the field, and when at home to the legitimate interests there. Things to do or have done have been saved up for his coming. There is a sled to fix, a cart to mend, a pane of glass to set, some wood to split, a few calls to make, or a little visit among friends with the family; oh, a "thousand and one" things to do that are as much a duty and as truly a privilege as to blow the trumpet for God away from home.
A young man said to the writer, in the midst of a gracious meeting, where a multitude were getting blest, and none more than we workers: "This is great; no trouble in gaining ground here for one's self and getting happy, but what afflicts me is, I do not stand up well when at home." Why not? We think we have been stating the great reason -- this lack of private prayer.
In a really proper analysis of the situation, it will be discovered that we are professional, and that we seek to take on strength when engaged in outward service to do it for the service, and neglect our own soul's upbuilding.
The times we set apart for private prayer when at home we found were not seldom interrupted by that which had claims on us and seemed to have right to those moments; at last in our desperation of soul we determined to protect our faith at all hazards -- to look after the upbuilding of our own experience and faith without regard to the preparation of sermons for the field, or actual labor in it.
But how should this be done? This was a vital and practical question with us, and, if we mistake not, will be with a good many who read these lines. We had no desire or right to demand no interference with these times set for our personal devotion; for it often became necessary then to go on an errand for a hurried woman who needed then a spool of thread from down town, or the telephone demanded an answer to its call, or a child having stuck a sliver under its finger nail had to have attention, or a friend had come around to take us to ride; so it came to pass that we were interrupted, and [that,] in spite of ourselves.
But the demand of our soul-life found a way. It was to do as, at times, our Lord did -- have the prayer hour, as to set and prolonged time, before the day begins -- before the household was awake, and before the duties of strenuous life were upon us. We bought a reliable alarm clock and set it how and where it would disturb not more than one, and that but for a moment, but would get us awake and out for a good hour alone with God. So, our own personal prayer time is in the early morning, when none wants us around save Him who needs no sleep.
In our own happiness of soul; in our conscious strength against temptation; in our opportunity to cover a wide field in prayer to God; in our increased interest in those who have rights in our prayers and have asked for them; in a constantly growing conviction that we are getting ahead in all that engages us; in a widening vision of what God can and is going to do; in a deeper sense of the privilege of communion with the Father of our spirits; in being advantaged every way, have we something to show for our method as to secret prayer.
We are not stating the duty of another as to when the stated prayer time shall be, but we do mean to declare its necessity; we do fear its scarcity; we do emphasize again and again that the failure so apparent and confessed has its secret here, more than elsewhere.
The flesh is too weak. We demand discipline over it. The cry of an untrained nature (if not of a sinful one) is for ease and a rest not needed. If our Lord were to speak to us as He did to certain ones, "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" Might he not find occasion to chide and rebuke? To be exacting of ourselves will prove to be exceedingly beneficial. Is an hour out of twenty-four too much for the soul's exercise? And we mean just this literally -- sixty minutes. Jesus spoke of time, and so did Paul.
"Oh, I would not be so mathematical in religion!" Well, would we be spiritual in religion? and would we come to something, for ourselves and for others? Then it may become us to take note of this suggested method as a secret of having what could properly be termed private prayer.
This prolonged prayer season will be found to enhance the value of our briefer moments with God; it will give unction to the exercise at the family altar; it will make our fragmentary and ejaculatory prayers more frequent and more fragrant; it will cause an open heaven and an unclouded vision into it; in a word, it will emphasize character -- what we are -- and because of this secure to us a conquest when in labor for others [that is] otherwise impossible.
The brilliant scholar and teacher, Austin Phelps, in a little book entitled "The Still Hour," likens this kind of prayer to the great abutments and piers of a bridge, which make the traffic of the railroad or highway possible; so this stated prayer gives value to our exercises which are more miscellaneous and brief.