"Therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee."2 Samuel 7:27.
It is a very blessed thing for a child of God to be anxious to glorify his Heavenly Father, whether his wish is realized or not. The strong desire to magnify God is acceptable to him, and is an indication of spiritual health. It is certain, in the long run, to bring blessing to our own souls; and I have frequently noticed that, when we earnestly desire to do something special for the Lord, he generally does something for us very much of the same kind. David wished to build a house for God. "No," says Jehovah, "thou hast been a man of war, and I will not employ a warrior in spiritual business; but I will build thee a house." So, although David may not build a house for God, it is well that the plan of it is in his heart; and God, in return, builds up his house, and sets his son, and his son's son, upon the throne after him. But, my dear friend, if thou shouldst not find an opportunity to do all that is in thine heart, yet, nevertheless, it is well that it is there. Carry out the project if thou canst; but if thou canst not, it may be that, as thou hast desired to deal with the Lord, so will he really deal with thee. If you have sown sparingly, you shall reap sparingly. If you have sown liberally, you shall reap largely; for, often and often, the Lord's dealings with his own people are a sort of echo to their hearts of their dealings with him.
Sometimes it happens that God will not let his servants do what they would most of all like to do. David had long been storing up gold and silver in great quantities that he might build that house for the Lord. It had been the great project of his life that he might make a fit sanctuary for the ark of the covenant. "I dwell," said he, "in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains." The dream of his life was that he might build a magnificent temple, which should be supremely gorgeous for architecture, and rich in all the treasures of the ends of the earth, that there the ark of his God might be appropriately housed. But the Lord would not have it so. David might pray about it, and think about it, and plan about it, and save his money for it; but the Lord would not have it so. It was not in that particular way that David was to serve his God. And I have known some good Christian young men who felt that they must be preachers. They had not the proper gifts and qualifications for the ministry, but they felt that they must preach; so they have striven very hard, but at all points they have met with rebuffs. People, who have heard them once, have been quite satisfied, and have not desired to hear them again. Doors have been shut against them, no conversions have followed their efforts, and thus God has said to each one of them, "Not so, my son; not in that way shalt thou serve me." And there are others who have had other plans in their heads,brethren and sisters, who have arranged wonderful schemes and plans, which they have dreamed over, and said, "Thus and thus will we serve God." Yet, hitherto, my brother, you have had to keep to the workman's bench; and you, my sister, have had to keep to nursing those little children. Up till now, you have not been very successful in any special path of usefulness, or that which is commonly thought to be the path of usefulness. But God knows best, and he has uses for all the vessels in his house, and it is not right for any one vessel to say, "I will be used here, or there, or not at all;" but it is for God to use us as he pleases.
Every private soldier would like to be an officer, but it is only a very few who ever will be; and if every private soldier could be an officer, what sort of an army would it be where all were officers, and none were men in the ranks? So we would, perhaps, each of us, like to do something more remarkable than we have hitherto done; but it is for our great Commander to say to this man, "Stand here," or to that man, "Go there;" and it ought to be equally a matter of contentment. So us whether God permits us to serve him here or there. I think it was good Mr. Jay who used to say that, if there were two angels in heaven, and God wanted one of them to go and be the ruler of a kingdom, and the other to sweep a crossing, the two angels would not have the slightest choice which post they would have provided that they knew they had the Lord's command to occupy either position. Brother, if ever the Lord should rebuff thee, and seem to refuse that which thou desirest to offer to him, do not sulk; do not get into a bad spirit, as some have done in similar circumstances; but know that the very essence of Christian service is to be willing not to serve in that particular way if, by not serving, God would be the more glorified. Be willing, O vessel in the house of the Lord, to be hung up on a nail in the wall, be willing to be laid aside in a corner, if so God would be glorified, for thus was it with David. God would not let him erect the temple which he wished to build, but he gave him great blessings in return for his desires; and then David, instead of sulking, and saying, "Well, then, as I cannot have my own will, I will do nothing at all," went in, and sat before the Lord, and blessed and praised him, and never uttered one grumbling or surly word, but blessed the name of the Lord from the beginning of his meditation even to its close. Oh, to have a heart moulded after the like fashion!
In the midst of David's memorable address to God, we meet with this suggestive expression: "Thy servant hath found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee." I am going to speak upon that subject in this way. First, concerning David's prayer, how did he come by it? Secondly, how came this prayer to be in his heart? And, thirdly how may we get into such a condition that we shall find prayers in our hearts?
I. First, then, HOW DID DAVID COME BY HIS PRAYER? He tells us that he found it in his heart: "Thy servant hath found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee."
Then it is pretty clear that he looked for it in his heart. How many men seem to begin to pray without really thinking about prayer! They rush, without preparation or thought, into this presence of God. Now, no loyal subject, would seek an audience of his sovereign, to present a petition, without having first carefully prepared it; but many seem to think there is no need to look for a prayer, or to find one, when they approach the mercy-seat. They appear to imagine that they have only just to repeat certain words, and to stand or kneel in a certain attitude, and that is prayer. But David did not make that mistake; he found his prayer in his heart. David and his heart were well acquainted; he had long been accustomed to talk with himself. There are some men, who know a thousand other people, but who do not know their own selves; the greatest stranger to them, in the whole world, is their own heart. They have never looked into it, never talked with it, never examined it, never questioned it. They follow its evil devices, but they scarcely know that they have a heart, they so seldom look into it. But David, when he wanted to pray, went and looked in his heart to see what he could find there, and he found in his heart to pray this prayer to God.
This leads me to say, dear friends, that the best place in which to find a prayer is to find it in your heart. Some would have fetched down a book, and they would have said, "Let us see; what is the day of the month,how many Sundays after Advent? This is the proper prayer for to-day." But David did not go to a book for his prayer, he turned to his heart to see what he could find there that he might pray unto God. Others of us would, perhaps, have been content to find a prayer in our heads. We have been accustomed to extemporize in prayer, and so, perhaps, bowing the knee, we should have felt that the stream of supplication would flow because we are so habituated to speaking with God in prayer. Ah, dear friend, it is no worse to find a prayer in a book than to find it in your head! It is very much the same thing whether the prayer be printed or be extemporized; unless it comes from the heart, it is equally dead in either case.
How many, too, have found a prayer upon their lips! It is a very common thing with those who pray in prayer-meetings, and those of us who pray in public, for our lips to run much faster than our hearts move, and it is one of the things we need to cry to God to keep us from, lest we should be run away with by our own tongues, as men are, sometimes, run away with by their horses, which they cannot restrain; and you know, the horse never goes faster than when he has very little to carry. And, sometimes, words will come at a very rapid rate when there is very little real prayer conveyed by them. This is not as it ought to be with us, and we must look into our hearts for the desire to pray, and if we do not find it in our hearts to pray a prayer, let us rest assured that we shall not be accepted before the throne of God.
How was it that David found this prayer in his heart? I think it was because his heart had been renewed by divine grace. Prayer is a living thing; you cannot find a living prayer in a dead heart. Why seek ye the living among the dead, or search the sepulcher to find the signs and tokens of life? No, sir, if you have not been made alive by the grace of God, you cannot pray. The dead cannot pray, and the spiritually dead cannot pray; but the moment you begin to pray, it is a sign that life has been given to you. Ananias knew that Saul was a living soul when God said to him, "Behold, he prayeth." "It is all right," said Ananias; "for the Lord must have quickened his heart." David found this prayer in his heart because his was a living heart.
And he found it there, also, because his was a believing heart. How can a man pray if he does not believe in God, or if he merely thinks that there may be a supernatural Being, somewhere or other in the universe, but that he is not within hail,and cannot be made to hear,or is not a living personality, or, if he is, he is too great to care about us, or to listen to the words of a man. But, when the Lord has taught you the truth about his own existence, and his real character, when he has come so near to you that you know that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him, then, in that believing heart of yours prayer will spring up as the corn springs up in the furrows of the field. The Lord, who has sown in your heart the seed of faith, will make that seed to spring up in the green blade of prayer. It must be so; but, until you do believe in God, you cannot pray. It would be useless for me to say to some men, "You should pray," when I recollect that Christ has said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth;" and that is what these men cannot do. How can they, therefore, pray acceptably? "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Where there is that true faith in God, there is fervent prayer in the heart, but nowhere else.
David's was also a serious heart. Some men's hearts are flippant, trifling, full of levity. God forbid that we should condemn holy cheerfulness! As oil to the wheels of a machine, so is cheerfulness to a man's conversation; but there is a frothiness, a superficiality, a frivolity, which is far too common. Some men do not seem to think seriously about anything. They have no settled principles; they are "everything by starts, and nothing long." "The Vicar of Bray" is their first cousin. Perhaps they have scarcely as much principle as he had, for they do not so steadily seek their own interests, and scarcely seek any interest at all but that of the transient pleasure of the hour. If that is your case, I do not wonder that you cannot pray. A man says, "I cannot find prayer in my heart." No, how should you? Yours is a heart full of chaff, full of dust, full of rubbish,a heart tangled and overgrown with weeds,a sluggard's heart, where grow the nettles of evil desire and unholy passion,where live the docks and thistles of idleness and neglect. Oh, may God grant us the grace to have serious hearts,hearts that are in solemn earnest,hearts that are intense,hearts that can really give due heed to things according to their merits, and that give to eternal things their chief concern, because eternal things deserve them best. David's heart was a serious heart; and, therefore, he found this prayer in it.
And, once again, David's was a humble heart, for a man who is proud will not pray. A man who is self-righteous will not pray, except it be in the fashion of the Pharisee, and that was no prayer at all. But a man, humbly conscious of his soul's needs, and realizing the guilt of his sins,that is the man to pour out his heart in prayer before the living God. I pray the Lord graciously to break your hearts; for, unless our hearts are broken in penitence, we shall never find in them a real prayer unto God.
There are some of you who have got on wonderfully since your Lord called you by his grace. You were wretched enough when he looked at you, cast out in the open field, covered with blood and filthiness; and he washed you, and clothed you, and nourished you, and now he has even begun to use you in his service, and you are already beginning to be rather proud that he has given you some success. I charge you, brothers and sisters, not to pilfer any of the glory that belongs to God alone. Never begin to throw up your caps, and to cry, "Well done!" It is all up with us if we do that. Keep down low, my brother; keep down low, my sister. The lower we keep, and the more we fear and tremble,not through unbelief, mark you, (that kind of fear I denounce with all my heart,) but with that really believing trembling and believing fear that grows out of genuine love to Christ, and is not inconsistent with that love,the more we have of that sort of fear, the more securely shall we walk, and the more will it be safe for God to trust us with his goodness. When your ship floats very high upon the water, I hope that you will not have much sail spread, or else the vessel will almost certainly go over; but when it floats low almost down to the Plimsoll line, you may crowd on as much sail as you like. If you carry but little ballast, and you have huge sails up aloft, the first gust of wind will topple you over; but if you are well ballasted,that is to say, if you are weighed down with a sense of your own unworthiness, you will weather any gale that may come upon you, God the Holy Ghost being in the vessel with you, and holding the helm.
I pause here a moment just to ask each one,Do you pray? Do you present to God prayers that come from your heart? I do not ask whether you use a form of prayer, or not; but does your heart really go with the prayer you offer? I think I hear someone say, "I always say my prayers." Ah, my dear friend, there is as great a difference between saying prayers and really praying as there was between the dead child and the living one that were brought before Solomon! Saying prayers is not praying. Why, you might as well say your prayers backward as forward unless your heart goes with them! It is quite extraordinary how some people can use a form of prayer without any thought whatever as to its meaning. Some time ago, a man, seventy years of age, was asked if he prayed; he replied that he always had prayed, and he would tell the enquirer the prayer he used. It turned out that he still persisted in repeating what his mother taught him when he was a child, "Pray, God, bless father and mother, and make me a good boy." He had got those words so deeply engraved upon his memory that he still kept to them at his advanced age. Naturally, you smile at the story; yet it is very pitiful. It may be an extreme instance, but still it is a clear instance of what I mean,that there is a way of merely saying prayers which is rather a mockery of God than a real approach to him such as he desires.
"Well," saith one, "I never pray." I question the truth of that assertion; but if it is true, there is another thing that I do know, and that is this, the time will come when you will want to pray. Let me explain what I mean when I say that I question your assertion about never praying. I have heard men pray who would have thought themselves insulted if they had been told that they did. What awful prayers they have presented to God when they have imprecated upon their souls, and bodies, and eyes, and limbs, and children, and everything else, the most terrible curses from God! There are some men who will do this at the least provocation. O sirs, mind that God does not grant you your wicked requests! I am afraid that, when an ungodly man prays in that shameless way, he does find his prayer in his heart; and I am also afraid that his heart must be full of damnation, or he would not find so many oaths in it; for that which comes out of a man is what is in him, and when you hear a man swear, you know that there is a deal of "swear" in his heart, for the language in which he dares to imprecate God's vengeance proves how alienated his heart must be from God.
I would remind you, who do not pray, that you will want to pray one day. If there were to be a pledge exacted from you that you never would pray to God,if you were offered money never to pray, suppose you took the money, and promised never to pray,I know what you would think; you would say to yourself, "What shall I do with this money, It is the price of my soul's salvation." It would strike you at once that it was an awful thing never to be allowed to pray, and you would feel that you had sold yourself to the devil, body and soul, and you would be in dire trouble. Well, but, as you say that you never pray, you might as well take the money that is offered to you. As you do not pray, I do not see what use the privilege of prayer is to you." If it be of any use to pray to God, "say you, "I shall pray at the last." Then pray now, for you never know what may be your last moment. Who knows how close you may be to your grave even while you are sitting in your pew? You saw one friend faint, just now; and we have seen hearers fall back dead even while gathered in the congregation God grant that we may not see it again! Still, the fact that it has happened is a loud call to all of us bidding us begin to pray.
Thus I have shown you where David found his prayer; he found it in his heart.
II. Now, secondly, HOW CAME DAVID'S PRAYER TO BE IN HIS HEART?
I answer that he found it in his heart because the Lord put it there. Every true heart-prayer, that is accepted of God, first came from God. The Lord Jesus passed by David's heart, and threw this prayer in at the window; and then, when the good man went down to look for a prayer, he found this prayer lying on the floor of his heart ready for him to use.
How does God put prayers into a man's heart? I answer, first, he instructs us how to pray. We none of us know how to pray aright till we have been to school to the Holy Spirit. We know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit comes, and shows us our need. Thus we see what to pray for. He also shows us what Christ has provided for us, and thus we see what we may hope to obtain. He shows us, too, that the way to God is through the precious blood of Jesus, and he leads us along that crimson, blood-besprinkled road, and so, by his instruction, he puts the prayer into our hearts.
In the next place, he puts it there by inclining us to pray. Benjamin Beddome wrote,
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