For most of us, perhaps, it is still harder to secure the quiet heart. The contemplationists of the Middle Ages desired to present themselves before God in silence, that He might teach them what their lips should utter, and their hearts expect. Stephen Gurnall acknowledges that it is far more difficult to hang up the big bell than it is to ring it when it has been hung. Mc’Cheyne used to say that very much of his prayer time was spent in preparing to pray. A new England Puritan writes: “While I was at the Word, I saw I had a wild heart, which was as hard to stand and abide before the presence of God in an ordinance, as a bird before any man. And Bunyan remarks from his own deep experience: “O ! the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how many bye-ways the heart hath and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God.”
There are, in particular, three great, but simple acts of faith, which will serve to stay the mind on God.
1) Let us, in the first place, recognize our acceptance before God through the dying of the Lord Jesus. When a pilgrim, either of the Greek or of the Latin Church, arrives in Jerusalem, his first act, before ever he seeks refreshment or rest, is to visit the traditional scene of the Redeemer’s passion. Our first act in prayer ought to be the yielding of our souls to the power of the blood of Christ. It was in the power of the ritual sacrifice that the high priest in Israel passed through the veil on the day of atonement. It is in the power of the accepted offering of the Lamb of Divine appointment that we are privileged to come into the presence of God. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which He dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a Great High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water: let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for He is faithful that promised” (Heb. 10:19-23, R.V.).
“Were I with the trespass laden
Of a thousand worlds beside,
Yet by that path I enter –
The blood of the Lamb who died.”
2) It is important also that we confess and receive the enabling grace of the Divine Spirit, without whom nothing is holy, nothing good. For it is He who teaches us to cry, “Abba, Father,” who searches for us the deep things of God, who discloses to us the mind and will of Christ, who helps our infirmities, and intercedes on our behalf “according to God.”21 And we all, “with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). When we enter the inner chamber we should present ourselves before God in meekness and trust, and open our hearts to the incoming and infilling of the Holy Ghost. So we shall receive from the praying Spirit, and commit to the praying Christ, those petitions which are of Divine birth, and express themselves, through our finite hearts and sin-stained lips, in “groanings which cannot be uttered.” Without the support of the Holy Spirit, prayer becomes a matter of incredible difficulty. “As for my heart,” said one who was deeply exercised in this engagement, “when I go to pray, I find it so loath to go to God, and when it is with Him, so loath to stay with Him, that many times I am forced in my prayers, first to beg of God that He would take mine heart, and set it on Himself in Christ, and when it is there, that He would keep it there. Nay, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only, blessed be grace, the Spirit helps our infirmities.”
3) Once more, as “the Spirit rides most triumphantly in His own chariot,” His chosen means of enlightenment, comfort, quickening, and rebuke being the Word of God, it is well for us in the beginning of our supplications to direct our hearts towards the Holy Scriptures. It will greatly help to calm the “contrary” mind if we open the sacred volume and read it as in the presence of God, until there shall come to us out from the printed page a word from the Eternal. George Mueller confessed that often he could not pray until he had steadied his mind upon a text. Is it not the prerogative of God to break the silence? “When Thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Psa. 27:8). Is it not fitting that His will should order all the acts of our prayer with Himself? Let us be silent to God, that He may fashion us.
“So shall I keep
For ever in my heart one silent space;
A little sacred spot of loneliness,
Where to set up the memory of Thy Cross,
A little quiet garden, where no man
May pass or rest for ever, sacred still
To visions of Thy sorrow and Thy love.”
David MacIntyre (1859 – 1938), The Hidden Life of Prayer, Chapter 2.