Posted by: jmark | January 28, 2005

Ever find it hard to … Pray?

Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter once shared his own pastoral diary with a group of pastors who asked just this question. He began by telling how in 1928 he entered the ministry determined that he would be the “most Methodist-Baptist” of pastors, a real man of prayer. However, it was not long until his increasing pastoral responsibilities, administrative duties,and the subtle subterfuges of pastoral life began to crowd prayer out. He began to get used to it, making excuses for himself.

Then one morning a crisis came as he stood over his work-strewn desk and looked at his watch. The voice of the Spirit was calling him to pray. At the same time another velvety voice told him to be practical and get his letters answered – he ought to face up to the fact that he was not of the spiritual sort, that only a few people could be like that. That did it!

“That last remark,” said Baxter, “hurt like a dagger blade. I could not bear to think it was true.” He was horrified by his ability to rationalize away the very ground of his ministerial vitality and power. That morning Sidlow Baxter took a good look into his heart, and he found there was a part of him that did not want to pray and a part that did. The part that didn’t was his emotions, and the part that did was his intellect and will. This analysis paved the way to victory. In Dr. Baxter’s own inimitable words:

“As never before, my will and I stood face to face. I asked my will the straight question, “Will, are you ready for an hour of prayer?” Will answered, “Here I am, and I’m quite ready, if you are”. So Will and I linked arms, and turned to go for our time of prayer. At once all the emotions began pulling the other way and protesting, “We’re not coming”. I saw Will stagger just a bit, so I asked, “Can you stick it out, Will?” and Will replied, “Yes, if you can”. So Will went, and we got down to prayer, dragging those wriggling, obstreperous emotions with us. It was a struggle all the way through. At one point, when Will and I were in the middle of an earnest intercession, I suddenly found one of those traitorous emotions had snared my imagination and had run off to the golf course; and it was all I could do to drag the wicked rascal back. A bit later I found another of the emotions had sneaked away with some off-guard thoughts and was in the pulpit, two days ahead of schedule, preaching a sermon that I had not yet finished preparing!

At the end of that hour, if you had asked me, “Have you had a good time?” I would have had to reply, “No, it has been a wearying wrestle with contrary emotions and a truant imagination from beginning to end”. What is more, that battle with the emotions continued for between two and three weeks, and if you had asked me at the end of that period, “Have you had a ‘good time’ in your daily praying?” I would have had to confess, “No, at times it has seemed as though the heavens were brass, and God too distant to hear, and the Lord Jesus strangely aloof, and prayer accomplishing nothing.”

Yet something was happening. For one thing, Will and I really taught the emotions that we were completely independent of them. Also, one morning, about two weeks after the contest began, just when Will and I were going for another time of prayer, I overheard one of the emotions whisper to the other, “Come on, you guys, it’s no use wasting any more time resisting: they’ll go just the same.” That morning, for the first time, even though the emotions were still suddenly uncooperative, they were at least quiescent, which allowed Will and me to get on with prayer undistractedly.

Then, another couple of weeks later, what do you think happened? During one of our prayer times, when Will and I were no more thinking of the emotions than of the man in the moon, one of the most vigorous of the emotions unexpectedly sprang up and shouted, “Hallelujah!” at which all the other emotions exclaimed, “Amen!” And for the first time the whole of my being-intellect, will, and emotions-was united in one coordinated prayer-operation. All at once, God was real, Heaven was open, the Lord Jesus was luminously present, the Holy Spirit was indeed moving through my longings, and prayer was surprisingly vital. Moreover, in that instant there came a sudden realization that Heaven had been watching and listening all the way through those days of struggle against chilling moods and mutinous emotions; also that I had been undergoing necessary tutoring by my heavenly Teacher.”

(Taken from ‘Mark – Jesus, Servant and Saviour’, vol 2, p170, by R. Kent Hughes)

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