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Sweet Hour Of Prayer

Sweet Hour Of Prayer

by Paul Melton

Published in
The Christian Informer
December, 2003


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Last updated:
April 8, 2004.

W. W. Walford was a blind preacher of obscure birth with no education, but he had a strong mind and a most retentive memory. Although blind, in the pulpit he was always able to give chapter and verse with unerring precision and scarcely ever misplaced a word as he quoted from the Psalms and every part of the New Testament. Because he had memorized so much of the word of God, people said that he knew the whole Bible by heart. He would actually sit at home in the chimney corner, meditating on the Scriptures, and at the same time he would be cutting, shaping and polishing bones with his hands for shoehorns and other little useful implements. Sometimes he would even attempt poetry. Once a friend visited him and Walford quoted one of his poems, and his friend committed the words to paper. The first stanza of the poem the friend wrote down for Walford are the familiar words -

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father's throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter's snare
By thy return, Sweet hour of prayer!

I don't believe we in the church of Christ place enough importance on prayer; however, prayer is the very air that the Christian breathes. Augustine tells us that "prayer is the soul's breathing." When we fail to pray, we are actually suffocating our soul. A Christian without prayer is spiritually dead. One man said, "Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary to a Christian. Pray, then, my dear brother; pray, pray, pray." Spurgeon wrote, "If a church does not pray, it is dead." He continues, "Neglect of private prayer is the locust that devours the strength of the church." Continual prayer deters us from becoming weak.

REPETITION OF THE THEME

Nine times in this song we find the title repeated, "Sweet Hour of Prayer." First, notice the title does not say, "Sweet Minute of Prayer." In the garden of Gethsemane, we do not know how long Jesus prayed, but he probably prayed an hour, for he asks his disciples, "Could you not stay awake one hour?" (Mark 14:37). Sometimes all of our schedules become so hectic that we just don't pray much. I'm not saying that we have to pray an hour every day. But have you ever prayed a full hour? We will sit in front of the television and watch an hour-long program, but wouldn't think of spending an hour alone with God in prayer. The time we spend in prayer is a measure of how much we love God.

Asbury said, "I propose to rise at four o'clock as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation." Samuel Rutherford rose at three in the morning to meet God in prayer. Joseph Alleine arose at four o'clock and prayed until eight, when he opened his store. Robert McCheyne would spend from six to eight every morning praying. John Welch thought the day wasted if he did not spend eight or ten hours in prayer. His wife would complain when she found him lying on the ground at night weeping. He would reply, "Wife, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them!" We may not know who many of these people are, but they put many of us to shame!

MEN OF GOD

In the Scripture, we read of many men of God who prayed for hours without stopping - "And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night" (1 Samuel 15:11). We read about Anna, who had been a widow for 84 years, Luke 2:37 says, she "did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." Luke 6:12 says, "Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." One man said, "If Christians spent as much time praying as they do grumbling, they would soon have nothing to grumble about."

A DREADFUL HOUR?

Notice again, the song does not say, "Dreadful hour of prayer." Prayer should be "sweet". Sometimes we look at prayer as a chore, instead of a privilege. We should long to pray to God. The lyrics of this song says "Sweet hour of prayer. The joy I feel, the bliss I share."

There are three levels of prayer:

First, Casual Praying

This kind of prayer is done at mealtime, bedtime, when we have to, or when it's expected of us. Our prayers tend to be quick and to the point, lasting at most 2 or 3 minutes. There is nothing wrong with this, but casual praying is as far as some people reach in their prayer life.

Second, Parroted Praying

We just parrot well-fabricated phrases that we have heard other brethren use. In this stage, we say all the right things, but our heart is not in it. We pray for it because we are supposed to pray for it, but there is no feeling behind it. Sometimes we do pray fairly regularly, but our prayers often feel stale and shallow and we get into this rut of praying the same old things every day. There is the same numbing repetition of the same hackneyed phrases, but a prayer without feeling is like a body without a soul.

Third, Soul Praying

In this type of prayer, we plead with God with feeling to help us, and are so thankful to God for helping us in the past that our joy overflows as we pray to Him. In Colossians 4:12 we read that Epaphras "is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured." Epaphras was wrestling with God in prayer. This kind of prayer is the sweat of the soul. This is an agonizing heart crying out mightily unto the Lord as Jesus did in the garden. Hebrews 5:7 says that Jesus "offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him."

Like Hannah sometimes we need to "pour out our soul before the Lord." 1 Samuel 1:10 says, "And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish." We need to pour out our hearts like water before the face of the Lord, and tell him our worries, joys, pains, fears, hopes, everything. We spill out our hearts to Him, even rage out our disappointments in Him, as David so often did in the Psalms.

To develop "soul prayer" in your life, let me suggest using the Psalms as models for your prayers. Notice how often David puts feeling and emotion into his prayers. Here are some excerpts from Psalm 42 "As a deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you. . . My tears have been my food day and night. . . Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?" The Psalms teach us to pray openly and honestly to God, especially out of the darkest nights of our soul.

So where are you on the prayer growth chart - casual prayer only, parroted prayer, or soul prayer? At what level is your prayer life? Soul prayer is the key to having a close relationship with God.

DAVID'S FOUR SENTIMENTS

There are at least four sentiments found in the book of Psalms which we need to express in our prayers:

First -"I love and exalt you."

Psalm 18:1 says, "I will love You, O LORD my strength." As humans we like for someone to tell us they love us unconditionally - that they love us not just because of things we do, but because of who we are. No sweeter words can be said than "I love you." Likewise, God likes for us to tell Him we love Him because of who He is. We love God, not merely on the basis of what He has done, but because we understand His true character, that is, the emotional, intellectual, and moral qualities which set Him apart and make Him great.

I love you and exalt you because you know all. "Lord, my knowledge is like a drop of water, but your KNOWLEDGE is wider than the ocean." Psalm 139:2,4 says, "You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether."

I love you because, though we are so unloving and impatient, "You, O Lord, are a God full of COMPASSION, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth" (Psalm 86: 15).

I love you because "You are HOLY, enthroned in the praises of Israel" (Psalm 22:3).

I love you because you are our strength. Psalm 23:4 says, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 31:4 says "Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, For You are my strength."

Furthermore, we express our love to God because he is EVERLASTING. Psalm 90:2 "Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God." Psalm 93:2 states, "Our throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting." Psalm 102:27 says, "But You are the same, And Your years will have no end." Have you told God that you love him because of his character?

Second- "I appreciate you"

We all like to feel appreciated. If we go out of our way and work hard to do something, we like for someone to take notice and acknowledge our effort. It bothers us when people do not express their gratitude. It's as if they put no value on what we've done for them. God likes to be appreciated for what he has done for us. Entire psalms are devoted to thanking God for His incredible deeds for His people. "Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who only does wondrous things!" (Psalm 72:18)

Have you ever been so thankful, that you got up in the middle of the night, and got on your knees to thank God? Psalm 119:62 "At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments." David crawls out of bed at midnight to thank God.

We have all heard entire prayers to God in the assembly, where not a word of thanks is given to God. How shameful! In Psalm 107 verses 8, 15, 21, 31 we find the same verse, "Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!" Oh, how we need to express our appreciation daily to God in prayer.

Third -"I trust you" with my life.

We all like for people to trust us. We like for people to share secrets with us. We like for people to think enough of us to trust us with their car, or house, or money. So God wants us to trust him with everything. David trusted God so much that he said, "Into your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth" (Psalm 31:5). This is not just something we say when we die, but this is a dedication to live for Jesus. We lift up our lives and say "To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul" (Psalm 25: I ). It's all yours. David told the LORD in Psalm 119:94, "I am Yours".

There was a tightrope walker which did incredible aerial feats. All over Paris, he would do tightrope acts at tremendously scary heights. Then he had succeeding acts; he would do it blindfolded, then he would go across the tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow. An American promoter read about this in the papers and wrote a letter to the tightrope walker, saying, "Tightrope, I don't believe you can do it, but I'm willing to make you an offer. For a very substantial sum of money, I would like to challenge you to do your act over Niagara Falls." Now, Tightrope wrote back, "Sir, although I've never been to America and seen the Falls, I'd love to come." Well, after a lot of promotion and setting the whole thing up, many people came to see the event. Tightrope was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. Drums roll, and he comes across the rope which is suspended over the treacherous part of the falls - blindfolded!! And he makes it across easily. The crowds go wild, as he walks across it a second time, this time pushing a wheelbarrow. He comes to the promoter and says, "Well, Mr. Promoter, now, do you believe I can do it?" "Well of course I do. I mean, I just saw you do it." "No," said Tightrope, "do you really believe I can do it?" "Well of course I do, you just did it." "No, no, no," said Tightrope, "do you believe I can do it?" "Yes," said Mr. Promoter, "I believe you can do it." "Good," said Tightrope, "then you get in the wheelbarrow." Of course, the promoter didn't want to do that. We believe God can do anything, but we are not willing to trust him with our life.

We should tell God, "I don't know what to do. I don't know why you allowed this to happen to me, but O LORD my God, in You I put my trust because You know what is best for me." Psalm 31:1 reads, "In You, O LORD, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed." And if you come to a decision where you don't know what God's will is, pray what David prayed in Psalm 143:8 "In You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You." You can pray, "Lord, I don't know what to do, but I trust you to help me make the right decision."

Fourth - "I need you."

We all like to feel needed. One of the worst things you can say to someone is, "We don't need you." We all like to feel valuable. Likewise, God delights in hearing us tell him that we need him. God wants to hear us say, "We can't make it on our own." We depend upon him as a newborn baby depends upon its parents.

Four times, David just comes right out and expresses his need for God. Psalm 40:17, "But I am poor and needy; Yet the Lord thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God." In Psalm 70:5, David confesses, "But I am poor and needy; Make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay." Psalm 86:1 "Bow down Your ear, O LORD, hear me; For I am poor and needy." Psalm 109:22 "For I am poor and needy, And my heart is wounded within me."

David is recognizing his own inadequacy, and is depending on God to supply his every need. Prayer is my personal declaration of dependence on God. When I come to Him I'm saying, "I am totally dependent upon You for my needs, God. Without you, I can do nothing." Following are a few of the many things we need God for.

FORGIVENESS

We need God's forgiveness. Psalm 25:18 reads, "Look on my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins." Psalm 86:3 says, "Be merciful to me, O Lord, For I cry to You all day long." We lay out our shortcomings before him and ask him for mercy.

HELP

We need God's help in our day to day troubles. We see in Psalm 31:9,12,16, "Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; My eye wastes away with grief, Yes, my soul and my body! I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel. Make Your face shine upon Your servant; Save me for Your mercies' sake." Psalm 69:17 reads, "And do not hide Your face from Your servant, for I am in trouble; hear me speedily."

MORTALITY

We need God to help us handle our mortality. Some people fear growing old and dying. Psalm 39:4 "LORD, make me to know my end, And what is the measure of my days, That I may know how frail I am. Indeed You have made my days as handbreadths, And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor." In Psalm 102:24 an afflicted man prays, "Oh my God, Do not take me away in the midst of my days"

GUIDE US

We need God to guide us and keep us from making foolish decisions. Psalm 73:22-24 "I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory."

HELP US LOVE OUR ENEMIES

We need God to help us love our enemies. David was always praying about his enemies in the Psalms. David asks God in Psalm 25:19 "Consider my enemies, for they are many, And they hate me with cruel hatred." Maybe your parents abused you when you were growing up, verbally or physically; it may take divine help to be able to forgive them. Maybe a brother in the church said something that offended you, then plead with God to help you love your enemies. Luke 6:27 says, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you." We just do not like some people. We need God to help us love them.

OVERCOME TEMPTATION

We need God's help to overcome temptation. Satan and all his forces are out to defeat us through temptation and fear. If we start the day without praying for God's strength, we are going into battle with only our own resources - and that's simply not much! We need God's strength to help us not to give into this temptation. Psalm 86:16 says, "Give your strength to your servant, and save the son of Your maidservant." Twice Jesus charged His disciples "Pray that you do not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:40,46). In verse 46 He asks them, "Why do you sleep?" then directs them, "Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation." Temptations are like the doors of a house, and the inside is full of sinful pleasures. There is something inside that our flesh desires. We must decide to either ENTER into the temptation or ESCAPE it. Our flesh desperately longs to enter, but we must pray God to make us strong that we might escape. Our song says, "My soul has often found relief and oft escaped the tempter's snare by thy return sweet hour of prayer."

Prayer is not only for our benefit, but it is also for God's enjoyment. He as a Father longs to hear from the children whom He dearly loves. May this article encourage you to spend a more time in prayer today, that you may tell your Father that you love Him, and how great He is. Tell Him you appreciate Him for all He has done for you, and that you trust Him with all your problems and your life, and never close a prayer without telling Him you need Him.


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