The Essentials of Prayer by E.M. Bounds
“‘He will.’ It may not be today,
That God Himself shall wipe our tears away,
Nor, hope deferred, may it be yet tomorrow
He’ll take away our cup of earthly sorrow;
But, precious promise, He has said He will,
If we but trust Him fully—and be still.
“We, too, as He, may fall, and die unknown;
And e’en the place we fell be all unshown,
But eyes omniscient will mark the spot
Till empires perish and the world’s forgot.
Then they who bore the yoke and drank the cup
In fadeless glory shall the Lord raise up.
God’s word is ever good; His will is best:—
The yoke, the heart all broken—and then rest.”
—Claudius L. Chilton
Trouble and prayer are closely related to each other. Prayer is of great value to trouble. Trouble often drives men to God in prayer, while prayer is but the voice of men in trouble. There is great value in prayer in the time of trouble. Prayer often delivers out of trouble, and still oftener gives
strength to bear trouble, ministers comfort in trouble, and begets patience in the midst of trouble. Wise is he in the day of trouble who knows his true source of strength and who fails not to pray.
Trouble belongs to the present state of man on earth. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.” Trouble is common to man. There is no exception in any age or clime or station. Rich and poor alike, the learned and the ignorant, one and all are partakers of this sad and
painful inheritance of the fall of man. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” The “day of trouble” dawns on every one at some time in his life. “The evil days come and the years draw nigh” when the heart feels its heavy pressure.
That is an entirely false view of life and shows supreme ignorance that expects nothing but sunshine and looks only for ease, pleasure and flowers. It is this class who are so sadly disappointed and surprised when trouble breaks into their lives. These are the ones who know not God, who
know nothing of His disciplinary dealings with His people and who are prayerless.
What an infinite variety there is in the troubles of life! How diversified the experiences of men in the school of trouble! No two people have the same troubles under like environments. God deals with no two of His children in the same way. And as God varies His treatment of His children, so trouble is varied. God does not repeat Himself. He does not run in a rut. He has not one pattern for every child. Each trouble is proportioned to each child. Each one is dealt with according to his own peculiar case.
Trouble is God’s servant, doing His will unless He is defeated in the execution of that will. Trouble is under the control of Almighty God, and is one of His most efficient agents in fulfilling His purposes and in perfecting His saints. God’s hand is in every trouble which breaks into the lives of men. Not that He directly and arbitrarily orders every unpleasant experience of life. Not that He is personally responsible for every painful and afflicting thing which comes into the lives of His people. But no trouble is ever turned loose in this world and comes into the life of saint or sinner, but comes with Divine permission, and is allowed to exist and do its painful work with God’s hand in it or on it, carrying out His gracious designs of redemption.
All things are under Divine control. Trouble is neither above God nor beyond His control. It is not something in life independent of God. No matter from what source it springs nor whence it arises, God is sufficiently wise and able to lay His hand upon it without assuming responsibility
for its origin, and work it into His plans and purposes concerning the highest welfare of His saints. This is the explanation of that gracious statement in Romans, so often quoted, but the depth of whose meaning has rarely been sounded, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
Even the evils brought about by the forces of nature are His servants, carrying out His will and fulfilling His designs. God even claims the locusts, the cankerworm, the caterpillar are His servants, “My great army,” used by Him to correct His people and discipline them.
Trouble belongs to the disciplinary part of the moral government of God. This is a life of probation, where the human race is on probation. It is a season of trial. Trouble is not penal in its nature. It belongs to what the Scriptures call “chastening.” “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Speaking accurately, punishment does not belong to this life. Punishment for sin will take place in the next world. God’s dealings with people in this world are of the nature of discipline. They are corrective processes in His plans concerning man.
It is because of this that prayer comes in when trouble arises. Prayer belongs to the discipline of life.
As trouble is not sinful in itself, neither is it the evidence of sin. Good and bad alike experience trouble. As the rain falls alike on the just and unjust, so drouth likewise comes to the righteous and the wicked. Trouble is no evidence whatever of the Divine displeasure. Scripture instances without number disprove any such idea. Job is a case in point, where God bore explicit testimony to his deep piety, and yet God permitted Satan to afflict him beyond any other man for wise and beneficent purposes. Trouble has no power in itself to interfere with the relations of a saint to God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
Three words practically the same in the processes of Divine discipline are found, temptation, trial and trouble, and yet there is a difference between them. Temptation is really a solicitation to evil arising from the devil or born in the carnal nature of man. Trial is testing. It is that which proves us, tests us, and makes us stronger and better when we submit to the trial and work together with
God in it “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”
Peter speaks along the same line:
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith being much more precious than that of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor and glory at
the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
The third word is trouble itself, which covers all the painful, sorrowing, and grievous events of life. And yet temptations and trials might really become troubles. So that all evil days in life might well be classed under the head of the “time of trouble.” And such days of trouble are the lot
of all men. Enough to know that trouble, no matter from what source it comes; becomes in God’s hand His own agent to accomplish His gracious work concerning those who submit patiently to Him, who recognise Him in prayer, and who work together with God.
Let us settle down at once to the idea that trouble arises not by chance, and neither occurs by what men call accident. “Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground, yet man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Trouble naturally belongs to God’s moral government, and is one of His invaluable agents in governing the world.
When we realise this, we can the better under-stand much that is recorded in the Scriptures, and can have a clearer conception of God’s dealings with His ancient Israel. In God’s dealings with them, we find what is called a history of Divine Providence, and providence always embraces trouble. No one can understand the story of Joseph and his old father Jacob unless he takes into the account trouble and its varied offices. God takes account of trouble when He urges His prophet Isaiah on the wise:
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.”
There is a distinct note of comfort in the Gospel for the praying saints of the Lord, and He is a wise scribe in Divine things who knows how to minister this comfort to the broken-hearted and sad ones of earth. Jesus Himself said to His sad disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless.”
All the foregoing has been said that we may rightly appreciate the relationship of prayer to trouble. In the time of trouble, where does prayer come in? The Psalmist tells us: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Prayer is the most appropriate
thing for a soul to do in the “time of trouble.” Prayer recognises God in the day of trouble. “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.” Prayer sees God’s hand in trouble, and prays about it. Nothing more truly shows us our helplessness than when trouble comes. It brings the strong man low, it discloses our weakness, it brings a sense of helplessness. Blessed is he who knows how to turn to God in “the time of trouble.” If trouble is of the Lord, then the most natural thing to do is to carry the trouble to the Lord, and seek grace and patience and submission. It is the time to inquire in the trouble, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” How natural and reasonable for the soul,
oppressed, broken, and bruised, to bow low at the footstool of mercy and seek the face of God? Where could a soul in trouble more likely find solace than in the closet?
Alas! trouble does not always drive men to God in prayer. Sad is the case of him who, when trouble bends his spirit down and grieves his heart, yet knows not whence the trouble comes nor knows how to pray about it. Blessed is the man who is driven by trouble to his knees in prayer!
“Trials must and will befall;
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all—
This is happiness to me.
“Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer;
Bring me to my Saviour’s feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.”
Prayer in the time of trouble brings comfort, help, hope, and blessings, which, while not removing the trouble, enable the saint the better to bear it and to submit to the will of God. Prayer opens the eyes to see God’s hand in trouble. Prayer does not interpret God’s providences, but it does justify them and recognise God in them. Prayer enables us to see wise ends in trouble. Prayer in trouble drives us away from unbelief, saves us from doubt, and delivers from all vain and foolish questionings because of our painful experiences. Let us not lose sight of the tribute paid to Job
when all his troubles came to the culminating point: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.”
Alas! for vain, ignorant men, without faith in God and knowing nothing of God’s disciplinary processes in dealing with men, who charge God foolishly when troubles come, and who are tempted to “curse God.” How silly and vain are the complainings, the murmurings and the rebellion of men in the time of trouble! What need to read again the story of the Children of Israel in the wilderness! And how useless is all our fretting, our worrying over trouble, as if such unhappy doings on our part could change things! “And which of you with taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?” How much wiser, how much better, how much easier to bear life’s troubles when we take everything to God in prayer?
Trouble has wise ends for the praying ones, and these find it so. Happy is he who, like the Psalmist, finds that his troubles have been blessings in disguise. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes. I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou
in faithfulness hast afflicted me.”
“O who could bear life’s stormy doom,
Did not Thy wing of love
Come brightly wafting through the gloom
Our peace branch from above.
“Then sorrow, touched by Thee, grows bright,
With more than rapture’s ray;
As darkness shows us worlds of light
We never saw by day.”
Of course it may be conceded that some troubles are really imaginary. They have no existence other than in the mind. Some are anticipated troubles, which never arrive at our door. Others are past troubles, and there is much folly in worrying over them. Present troubles are the ones requiring attention and demanding prayer. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Some troubles are self-originated. We are their authors. Some of these originate involuntarily with us, some arise from our ignorance, some come from our carelessness. All this can be readily admitted without breaking the force of the statement that they are the subjects of prayer, and should drive us to prayer. What father casts off his child who cries to him when the little one from its own carelessness has stumbled and fallen and hurt itself? Does not the cry of the child attract the ears of the father even though the child be to blame for the accident? “Whatever things ye desire” takes in every event of life, even though some events we are responsible for.
Some troubles are human in their origin. They arise from second causes. They originate with others and we are the sufferers. This is a world where often the innocent suffer the consequences of the acts of others. This is a part of life’s incidents. Who has not at some time suffered at the
hands of others? But even these are allowed to come in the order of God’s providence, are permitted to break into our lives for beneficent ends, and may be prayed over. Why should we not carry our hurts, our wrongs and our privations, caused by the acts of others, to God in prayer? Are such things outside of the realm of prayer? Are they exceptions to the rule of prayer? Not at all. And God can and will lay His hand upon all such events in answer to prayer, and cause them to work for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Nearly all of Paul’s troubles arose from wicked and unreasonable men. Read the story as he gives it in 2 Cor. 11:23-33.
So also some troubles are directly of Satanic origin. Quite all of Job’s troubles were the offspring of the devil’s scheme to break down Job’s integrity, to make him charge God foolishly and to curse God. But are these not to be recognised in prayer? Are they to be excluded from God’s disciplinary processes? Job did not do so. Hear him in those familiar words. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”
O what a comfort to see God in all of life’s events! What a relief to a broken, sorrowing heart to see God’s hand in sorrow! What a source of relief is prayer in unburdening the heart in grief!
“O Thou who driest the mourner’s tear,
How dark this world would be,
If, when deceived and wounded here,
We could not fly to Thee?
“The friends who in our sunshine live,
When winter comes are flown,
And he who has but tears to give,
Must weep those tears alone.
“But Thou wilt heal the broken heart,
Which, like the plants that throw
Their fragrance from the wounded part,
Breathes sweetness out of woe.”
But when we survey all the sources from which trouble comes, it all resolves itself into two invaluable truths: First, that our troubles at last are of the Lord. They come with His consent He is in all of them, and is interested in us when they press and bruise us. And secondly, that our troubles, no matter what the cause, whether of ourselves, or men or devils, or even God Himself, we are warranted in taking them to God in prayer, in praying over them, and in seeking to get the greatest spiritual benefits out of them.
Prayer in the time of trouble tends to bring the spirit into perfect subjection to the will of God, to cause the will to be conformed to God’s will, and saves from all murmurings over our lot, and delivers from everything like a rebellious heart or a spirit critical of the Lord. Prayer sanctifies trouble to our highest good. Prayer so prepares the heart that it softens under the disciplining hand of God. Prayer places us where God can bring to us the greatest good, spiritual and eternal. Prayer allows God to freely work with us and in us in the day of trouble. Prayer removes everything in the way of trouble, bringing to us the sweetest, the highest and greatest good. Prayer permits God’s servant, trouble, to accomplish its mission in us, with us and for us.
The end of trouble is always good in the mind of God. If trouble fails in its mission, it is either because of prayerlessness or unbelief, or both. Being in harmony with God in the dispensations of His providence, always makes trouble a blessing. The good or evil of trouble is always determined
by the spirit in which it is received. Trouble proves a blessing or a curse, just according as it is received and treated by us. It either softens or hardens us. It either draws us to prayer and to God or it drives us from God and from the closet. Trouble hardened Pharaoh till finally it had no effect on him, only to make him more desperate and to drive him farther from God. The same sun softens the wax and hardens the clay. The same sun melts the ice and dries out the moisture from the earth.
As is the infinite variety of trouble, so also is there infinite variety in the relations of prayer to other things. How many are the things which are the subject of prayer! It has to do with everything which concerns us, with everybody with whom we have to do, and has to do with all times. But
especially does prayer have to do with trouble. “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” O the blessedness, the help, the comfort of prayer in the day of trouble! And how marvelous the promises of God to us in the time of trouble!
“Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”
“If pain afflict, or wrongs oppress,
If cares distract, or fears dismay;
If guilt deject, if sin distress,
In every case, still watch and pray.”
How rich in its sweetness, how far-reaching in the realm of trouble, and how cheering to faith, are the words of promise which God delivers to His believing, praying ones, by the mouth of Isaiah:
“But now, thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned: neither shall the flame kindle upon thee . . . For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.”