“After this manner therefore pray ye”.
Hearers, do not neglect praying. You must not say: “My misery is so great. I am such a wicked person. I am so ignorant. Nothing can ever be expected from me. No good thing will ever come out of me.” You must not do that. You must seek solitude. Fall down on your knees. Go somewhere where you cannot be seen if you are in a position to do this and fall down on your knees and persevere! Who knoweth if God will return and leave a blessing behind Him! This concerns also those around you. You must never say: “Nothing will ever come of this child, or that man, or that woman.” In the first place you must never give up your child, or whosoever it may be. And in the second place, you must think of another old-Dutch saying: As long as there is life, there is hope. But you must not put conditions before God, or prescribe Him the way it has to go, nor determine to what extent or at what time He should help you. You have to leave it to God, for He is God, and there is none else.
When you pray, you must pour out everything, everything! Your thefts, your unfaithfulness, your adultery, your robbery, your backbiting, your slander, your haughtiness, your pride, your uncleanness. Launch out into the deep and you will find nothing else but mud and abominations. Just pour it out. Tell it to the Lord. Just spread it out before Him. He knows who you are. “That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man” (Ecclesiastes 6:10). No living soul on earth is devout. There has been only one who was devout: the Lord Jesus. We are ungodly, much more than we know or we believe each other to be, absolutely ungodly. But we need not be rejected because we are wicked, for the apostle Paul writes, that God freely justifies the wicked. Just these, namely the wicked, are the objects of God’s love, those who willingly confess to be what they are. It is not of little importance to confess to be wicked and becoming it anew. On the verge of despair man sometimes learns to understand how difficult it is to believe, but also that it is the gift of God. We must learn everything by experience, and who is lacking the experience is without the knowledge, and who is without the knowledge talks meaningless words, speaking indiscriminately.
Prayer has also to be taught us. We sang Psalm 143 together. Was it given to you to pay attention to the contents of these verses? I will point out two verses of this Psalm, from which you can see, how we ought to pray. This is the first verse:
O LORD, wilt Thou hear my prayers,
Give favourably ear unto my supplication.
Hear me, O Almighty God.
Because of Thy faithfulness, sworn unto me.
Hear me because of Thy righteousness.
(Translated from the Dutch Psalm book.)
Was it given to you to pay attention to this, while we were singing it? That is the right praying. “Because of Thy faithfulness, sworn unto me.” Yes, that may surprise you, and yet it is the truth. “Because of Thy faithfulness, sworn unto me.” Without an oath sworn by God, there is no prayer either. As I stated before, I do not say you have to stop praying. Do you now understand the quoted verse? Maybe you will understand it tomorrow, or in a year’s time, or still later. We have to draw near such a God to Whom we have the boldness to say: “Thou hast confirmed it on oath.” Only this gives us something for holding on to. I know: it is very difficult. But what is easy? Easy is to let oneself go, to sin. That is very easy, everything goes along with this, flesh and blood, and as we are by nature. But the boldness we spoke about has to go against everything. That is the foundation of prayer, sworn faithfulness, not directly to us - indirectly to us - directly to Christ and in Christ to us.
That is the right prayer. When you pray, you must not start with praying, because that does not help. You will say: “What? Will such a prayer not be heard? Now I don’t understand it at all any longer!” I will explain it to you. When you pray, you have to start with giving thanks. Do you think this to be strange? It is difficult; I admit that it is difficult. I have just said: What is easy? If you do not know where to go because of very heavy pain (there are many amongst us who have suffered such a great deal of pain), it is difficult to say with your heart that God is good. And in such circumstances it would not be hard to curse, to leave God or to become desperate. If we were to pray when we can hardly live because of pain, we must start with giving thanks, otherwise our prayer will not be heard. And this is confirmed by the Holy Scripture. For the Holy Scripture says: Know ye not, “that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). There is nothing which leads man to repentance but the goodness of God. Whosoever does not see that God is good, and does not acknowledge that, will never be converted.
And now I will read for you the next verse which attracted my attention while singing, it is the fifth verse:
My soul is drained of expectation;
My heart is numb with consternation
When I remember former days
I muse on all Thy preservation
And ponder all Thy works and ways.
(Translated from the Dutch Psalm book.)
Plain, is not it? Plain. Here it is: the goodness of God leads to repentance. And then, never stop praying. If you must perish, perish then while praying. You must never give up! There is not a single reason to give up, because to the Lord belongeth escape from death. To Him be the honour, glory and thanks in eternity.
(From: Sermon on Matthew 6:9, 10 February 1946 in The Hague.)