Who in the days of his flesh…
Such is the pattern which He, who is our pattern, gives us of acceptable effectual prayer. What are our prayers? Heavy, for the most part, and earthly; often we are unwilling to begin them, readily falling in with some plea, why we should not pray now, readily ceasing. And well may we have no pleasure in prayers such as we too often offer. Or of those she really desire to pray, how many have their minds so little controlled at other times, or so thronged with the things of this life, that the thoughts of the world pour in upon them, when they would pray. Step by step, we sunk amid the distractions of the world, and step by step only may we hope that our Father will raise us out of the mire wherein we plunged ourselves. Rut our first step, the very beginning and condition of our restoration, is to unlearn the distractions whereby we have been beset. In seeking to remedy our distractions, our first labour must be to amend ourselves. Such as we are at other times, such will our prayers be. A person cannot be full of cares, and riches, and pleasures, and enjoyments, and vanities of this life, up to the very moment when he falls down at God's footstool, and leave these companions of his other hours behind him, so that they will not thrust themselves in with him into the holy presence. We cannot keep our thoughts disengaged at prayer, if they are through the day engaged; we cannot keep out vain thoughts then, if at other times we yield to them. We must live more to God, if we would pray more to God; we must be less engrossed with the world, if we would not have the world thrust itself in upon our prayers and stifle them. But still further, even when we would serve God, or do our duty in this life, we must see that we do our very duties calmly. There is a religious, as well as a worldly, distraction. We may mix up self in doing duty, as well as when we make self our end. Religious excitement, or excitement about things of religion, may as effectually bar our praying as eagerness about worldly things. We may be engaged about the things of God, yet our mind may all the while centre in these things, not in God. Holy Scripture joins these two together, calmness or sobriety and prayer; " Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." Peace is the beginning and end of prayer; its condition and its reward. Resign yourselves, that ye may pray, and God will guard your thoughts, and hold them to Himself. If, also, you would guard against wandering in prater, you must practise yourself in keeping a check upon your thoughts at other times. In this busy age, in which every one would know about everything, and, like the Athenians, our occupation seems to be to know some new thing, and what conveys news is thought the instrument of knowledge, and knowledge of every sort is thought a good, it is not a light matter, but one to which we must take great heed; what we hear, and admit into our minds. Our minds are holy things: they are the temples of God; and so, for His honor's sake who has so hallowed them, we should be on our guard what we allow to enter there. Be not curious about things which concern you not: what happens in the street, or passes by you, or befalls a neighbour, unless charity requires it of you. These things waste the mind more than you can well think. Rather recollect that your concern is not with the world; your home, your hopes, your abiding-place, is not here, but in God; your citizenship is not on earth, but in the heavens; your places here shall shortly know you no more; the earth shall contain no more of you than the dust of your bodies, in keeping for you against the resurrection. Then, on the other hand, as we seek, during the day, to weaken the hold which the world has upon us and our thoughts, so must we by His grace to strengthen our own capacity of turning to God. Away from the world and to God! Commit to Him thoughts, words, and works, to be "ordered by His governance, to do that is righteous in His sight"; to be "begun, continued, and ended" in Him. So when you come to your fuller and more set devotions, you may hope that He, whom you serve continually, will keep you then also, and will vouchsafe Himself to visit you, and be in your thoughts, which you would fain make His, and will shut out the world by filling your thoughts with Himself. It is the infrequency of prayer which makes prayer so difficult. It is not a great effort now and then, which makes the things even of this life easy to us; it is their being the habit of our bodies or our minds. It was by continued exercise which we were not aware of, that our bodies, as children, were strengthened; it was by continued practice that we learnt anything. By continued gazing at far-off objects, the eye sees further than others; by continued practice the hand becomes steadied and obeys the motions of our mind. So and much more must the mind, by continual exercise, be steadied, to fix itself on Him whom it cannot grasp, and look up to Him whom it cannot see. Yea, so much the more exceedingly must it with strong effort fix itself by His grace on Him, because we cannot see Him or approach to Him, but by His revealing Himself and coming down to us, and giving us eyes to see and hearts to comprehend; and this He will do only to the earnest and persevering, and to us severally, as we are such. They then will pray best, who, praying truly, pray oftenest. This, also, is one great blessing of the practice of ejaculatory prayer, that is, prayer which is darted up from the mind in the little intervals which occur, whatever we are doing, Nothing goes on without breaks, to leave us space to turn to God. Amid conversation there is silence; in the busiest life there are moments, if we would mark them, when we must remain idle. We are kept waiting, or we must bear what is wearisome; let prayer take the place of impatience. In preparing for business, let prayer take the place of eagerness; in closing it, of self-satisfaction. Are we weary? be it our refreshment! Are we strong? let us hallow our strength by thanksgiving! The very preparation or close of any business brings with it of necessity a pause, teaching us by this very respite to begin and end with prayer; with prayer beforehand for His help, or at the end thanksgiving to Him who carried us through it, or for pardon for what has been amiss in it. Such are some of the more distant preparations for prayer, such as it should be, fixed and earnest; to strive to make God, not the world, the end of our lives; not to be taken up even with our duties in the world, but amid them to seek Him; to subdue self, and put a restraint upon our senses at other times, that we may have the control over them then; to lift our thoughts to Him at other times, so will they rise more readily then. These are, in their very nature, slowly learnt. Yet as, if wholly learnt, it were heaven itself, so is each step, a step heavenwards. Yet there are many more immediate helps, at the very time of prayer. Neglect nothing which can produce reverence. Pass not at once from the things of this world to prayer, but collect thyself. Think what thou art, what God is; thyself a child, and God thy Father; but also thyself dust and ashes, God, a consuming fire, before whom angels hide their faces: thyself unholy, God holy; thyself a sinner, God thy Judge. Then forget not that of thyself thou canst not pray. We come before Him, as helpless creatures, who need to be taught what to ask for, and knowing, to be enabled to ask, and a-king, to be enabled to persevere to ask. Then watch thyself, what helps or hinders thee to fix thy mind on God. Then as to the words of our prayer: we should beware how we pass hastily over any of our prayers. It is not how much we say, but what we pray, which is of real moment. Then, the best models of prayer consist of brief petitions, as suited to men in need; for when they really feel their need, they use not many words. "Lord, save us, we perish," is the cry of need. And so the petitions of the pattern of all prayer, our Lord's, are very short, but each containing manifold prayers. So are the Psalms in prayer or praise: "Blot out all mine iniquities," "Create in me a new heart," "Cast me not away from Thy presence," "Save me by Thy Name." In this way we may collect our strength and attention for each petition, and so pray on, step by step, through the whole, resting at each step on Him, who alone can carry us to the end, and if, by human frailty, we be distracted, sum up briefly with one strong concentrated effort what we have lost by wandering. In public prayer the case is different. For here, if we wander, the prayers meanwhile go on, and we find that we have lost a portion of our daily bread; that God's Church on earth has been praising with angels and archangels and the Church in heaven, while we have been bringing our sheep and our oxen and our money-changing, the things of this life, into God's presence and the court of heaven. Yet the remedies are the same, and we have even greater helps. The majesty of the place may well awe us with devotion, and will aid us to it, if we waste not its impressiveness by our negligence or frivolity. Come we then calmly to this holy place, not thinking or speaking, up to its very threshold, of things of earth, but as men bent on a great service, where much is at stake; coming to a holy presence, from whom depends our all. Pray we, as we enter it, that God would guard our thoughts and compose oar minds and fix them on Him. Employ we any leisure before the service b, gins, in thought or private prayer; guard we our eyes from straying to those around us; listen we reverently to His holy word; use the pause before each prayer to ask God to enable us to pray this prayer also; and so pray each separate prayer, as far as we can, relying on His gracious aid. Yet we are not to think that by these or any other remedies distraction is to be cured at once. We cannot undo at once the habit, it may be, of years. Distraction will come through weakness, ill-health, fatigue: only pray, guard, strive against it; humble yourselves under it, and for the past negligences, of which it is mostly the sad fruit; rely less upon yourself, cast yourself more upon God, hang more wholly upon Him, and long the more for that blessed time, when the redeemed of the Lord shall serve Him day and night without distraction.
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;