No Prayer is Lost

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Prayer2Horatius Bonar wrote about the prayers of the saints in Revelation 8:1-5. He suggested that there are a number of lessons we can learn about perseverance in prayer, noting that not a single one of our prayers is lost before our gracious and loving God. He gives these lessons we can learn:

(1.) Prayer remains often long unanswered.—Days, months, and ages it may lie unanswered, yet not one petition shall fall to the ground. The reasons for the long delay are often far beyond our reach; but in the end they will be found infinitely wise and gracious. ‘He answered her not a word’ (Matthew 15:23) is a sentence which the saints of God have often pondered, and which the history of the Church has in all ages illustrated. Delays and delays there have been, till hope deferred made the heartsick. But the Hearer of prayer well knows what He is doing.

(2.) Prayer is not lost.—It lies on ‘the golden altar which is before the throne.’ We lay each petition there, as we say, ‘for Christ’s sake.’ We have entered the tabernacle. We have passed the brazen altar, and, accepting the sacrifice there, we have been accepted. We go in to the inner altar, and lay our prayers upon its gold, where there lie heaps upon heaps of prayers waiting for their answer. Not one petition, even the poorest or feeblest, has dropped from that altar, or been swept away, or lost in the process of time. All, all are there. In themselves the are poor, having no fragrance; but their intrinsic imperfection cannot change the nature of that altar on which they are laid. There they are preserved,—each sigh, each tear, each cry, from child or aged man, from the chief of sinners, from the thief upon the cross, from the chamber of weakness and sorrow, from the crushed spirit and the broken heart,—there they are: the groanings that cannot be uttered; the ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner;’ the ‘How long?’ of the tortured martyrs; the moan of the suffering saint upon his tossing sick-bed,—there they are: the father’s prayer, ‘Lord, save my child;’ the child’s prayer, ‘Lord, save my father’,—there they are: the pleadings for the church of God, for the overthrow of Antichrist, for the binding of Satan, for the deliverance of earth, for the consummation of the eternal purpose! Not one cry lost; not one petition gone astray. All there!

(3.) Prayer will be answered.—Sooner or later every petition will receive its true and proper answer,—an answer that will satisfy the petitioner to the full; an answer from Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. Delay will only add to the fullness of the answer, and increase our joy when it comes. And it will come. He is faithful that promised. He cannot deny Himself.

(4.) The answer will come in connection with Christ’s surpassing excellence.—His fragrance is to be cast upon these long-lying prayers, that seem without life or motion, and they shall arise. ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ will be heard again, and the prayers of ages shall have life poured into them. It is written, ‘Thy dead men shall live; my dead body shall they arise:’ so may it be said of our prayers laid upon the altar. His divine perfection cast upon them and pervading them, absorbs and extracts all their imperfection, and they ascend, as odors of divine sweetness, perfect and irresistible, before the throne of God. That which was lacking in them is far more than supplied. Their want of faith, and earnestness, and coherence, disappears. The simple cry which they contained,—the core or kernel within,—thus stripped of its vile accompaniments, goes up in melody and power, bringing down at length the full and glorious answer. Christ is magnified in such answers; out of our infirmities there comes honour to Him.

(5.) Prayer is often answered in ways we little thought of.—We know not what we ask, though we think we know it well. We pray for the hastening of the King and the kingdom. Have we considered the judgments which that arrival is to bring? We looked for peace, and behold trouble; yet out of that trouble peace is to come; for light, and darkness has come; yet out of that darkness shall light arise. We ask for faith and holiness; we get sickness, or bereavement, or earthly disaster. Yet out of these the longed-for purity and faith shall come. We plead for the reign of the Prince of peace, and lo, wars and rumors of wars! for the removal of creations curse, and lo, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences in divers places! Yet out of these are to come the new heavens and earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. We shall one day get all we prayed for, and much more. Let us pray always, and not faint. This is the day of prayer; the day of the answer is coming. Glorious shall that answer be, though perhaps unexpected; blessed shall it be, yet perhaps terrible in the events which it brings.

Our prayers—’the prayers of all saints’—are lying now on the altar, presented long ago, in much weakness, and imperfection, and unbelief. They are waiting for a fresh application of the divine fragrance, that is to make them irresistible. That fragrance is on its way; it is at hand.

The church is on her knees. The burden of her cry is, ‘How long?’ For earth is not improved, and its guilt is accumulating. Human evil, in spite of science, and literature, and art, is growing too great and too hopeless for man to contend with, ether for removal or punishment. The unrenewed heart works out its plans of progress and elevation, in defiance of God’s sentence against sin, and in contempt of the two divine remedies for the maladies of the human heart,—the cross of the Substitute, and the power of the Holy Ghost. It refines and polishes, and thinks thereby to turn iron into silver, and silver into gold. It charms the adder, and imagines that its sting is gone. It fertilizes the soil, and boasts that the curse is removed. It reforms states and parliaments; it diplomatizes, and musters its armies, and prepares new weapons of war, blind to the will of Him by whom kings reign and princes decree judgment; heedless of the eternal purpose, or of the one bright issue of all earth’s confusion, and gloom, and anguish,—the arrival of the righteous King, to break His enemies in pieces with His iron rod, and to sway His holy scepter over an earth which, having passed through the fires of judgment, shall be meet for the habitation of the just.