Category Archives: Spurgeon

Don’t draw the wrong conclusion from unanswered prayer

Here is something that puzzles me and I expect puzzles you too.

Ever since we’ve started prayer meetings in Ilford, we’ve prayed for people we know to come to Jesus. I’ve not counted how many such prayers we’ve offered, but there have been many. And yet we’ve seen very few clear answers. The puzzle is this: “are we really more anxious to see people saved than God himself is?”. That’s how it can look and feel. We really want people to become Christians; if it were in our hands, we’d save everyone straight away. So, it looks like we’re more merciful than God.

In his book, “Only A Prayer Meeting”, the preacher Charles Spurgeon puts his finger on that issue and tackles it very, very helpfully. So, this is me basically regurgitating his answer!

Here’s the answer: it’s just an optical illusion. That’s only how it looks at a casual glance. But if we probe further, and examine ourselves a bit more, we’ll see that we’re seriously misrepresenting our own hearts. We’re being pretty puffed up about quite how zealous we really are. Isn’t our compassion pretty hit and miss? Are we as intense in our desire for people’s salvation as we like to tell ourselves? This kind of self-satisfaction is not a good sign at all. It suggests we think our work for God is up to scratch. We’re being pretty conceited. That’s hardly a good pre-condition for God to work. If God were to answer our prayers this Sunday, wouldn’t we be tempted to steal the honour and feel smug about ourselves, secretly thinking: “we’ve done things pretty well as a church; we somehow deserve this”?

God’s plan in salvation is always to make ourselves smaller that he might be bigger. The trouble is: “Some trumpets are so stuffed with self that God cannot blow through them. Some pitchers are too full of their own muddy water for God to pour the water of life into them” (p.29). So, part of our reaction to our unanswered prayers for conversions should be to ask: “what have we got to learn from our non-success?” Paul experienced “the anguish of childbirth” before Christ was formed in the Galatians’ hearts (Gal 4:19). The psalmist first sowed in tears, before he reaped in joy (Psalm 126:5). God wants to form us into men like Moses, who was ready to have his name blotted out of the book that Israel might be saved (Ex 32:32), and like Paul, who was ready to be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers (Rom 9:3). Spurgeon says: “We cry, ‘Arm of the Lord, awake!’ and he replies, ‘Awake, awake, O Zion!” (p.30). In other words, let’s not kid ourselves that God’s the one sleeping, when, really, it’s us!

So, don’t draw the wrong conclusion from our unanswered prayers for conversions. When God delays to answer us, let’s not secretly tell ourselves we’re more compassionate than him; rather let’s humble ourselves and pray we’ll start to show just a fraction of the compassion that he has for sinners.

Not at the prayer meeting – presumed dead

Acts 2:42 tells us: “They devoted themselves to… the prayers”. What could that kind of devoted commitment to the prayers of the church look like for you? Here’s a lovely example of a Christian’s commitment to the prayer meeting, reported by Charles Spurgeon’s little brother, James Spurgeon:

There never was a prayer-meeting held without Mrs. W—— being present. Whether I was there or not, she was. Once, about six months ago, she was absent; but when I asked her where she had been, she said:
I came there, and put the books down, although I could not stop to the meeting.
She had come to the chapel, and reported herself, and then gone off to see someone who was ill. That was the only time I ever knew her to be away from a prayer-meeting until last Sunday evening, when I missed her again. I asked my deacons if they had seen her, or heard anything of her, and they said:
We do not know where she is, but she was not with us last Friday night, at the prayer-meeting.
I said that I was sure she was dead, for if she had been alive she would have been certain to have been at the prayer-meeting. Nobody questioned what I said. All felt with me that she would not have missed two consecutive prayer-meetings unless she had been dead, or too ill to leave her house. During the evening service one of the deacons went off to where she lived all by herself, and, not being able to make anybody hear, he obtained assistance, and broke into the house. There he found just what we expected; she was there, upon her knees, dead, in her little parlour, and she must have died in great suffering, and in the act of praying to God.
She was a remarkable character. She visited and gave away tracts in the worst street in Croydon, and she had a singularly happy way of getting hold of very wicked people, to whom she would tell the story of her own life, and say that she used to be just like them, but by the grace of God she had been converted, and that grace which had done so much for her could do the same for them.
There is a story told as an instance of the pranks that used to be played upon her. A young man thought that he would frighten her; so he dressed himself up as nearly like the devil as his imagination enabled him to do, and when she knocked at his door, he opened it, and called out:
I am the devil,
and began to shout at her. Without being at all alarmed, she quietly put on her glasses, and looked him up and down, and said:
You ain’t the devil, you are only one of his children.
I thought the old lady had the best of it that time. I asked her if she ever saw him again, and she replied:
Oh dear, no! He just put his head in, and went off.
We shall sorely miss her; our prayer-meetings will have a blank through Mrs. W——’s absence that we shall not easily make up. I hope some of you will be such constant attendants at the prayer-meeting that if you are absent twice we shall say of you:
I am sure our brother or sister must be dead,
although we do not want to have you departing from us so suddenly as did our good friend at Croydon.

(Taken from The Sword and Trowel: 1884 pages 89 – 90)

I know that London life is much busier for us today than it was in Victorian London. And I know we can’t do everything.  But I am convinced that the church prayer meeting is much more telling as to the real health of our church than what you see on Sundays. Luther says somewhere: “as it is the business of cobblers to make shoes, and tailors to make clothes, so it is the business of Christians to pray”.  Let’s encourage each other to come along, to share our needs, and spread them before our Father in heaven.

“They devoted themselves to… the prayers” (Acts 2:42).