Reading: 1 Sam. 7:1-13.
We are seeking to trace the course of spiritual life with a view to discovering the secrets of spiritual progress and growth and enlargement. The book of Samuel opens with a very small degree of spirituality, things being in a very low state among the Lord's people. Samuel is brought in as a personal embodiment and representation of spirituality - that which is according to the Lord. The whole of this book and the second book is a history of spiritual arrest or spiritual growth, and the causes of both - that which lies behind spiritual arrest: smallness and weakness - and that which lies behind spiritual growth: increase and progress. This chapter brings out the secret of Samuel's life as revealing spiritual fulness progressively and the secret of influence and power, and it is quite clear that it was his prayer life.
We shall begin to pass from Samuel; at this point there is an interruption. The ark which is central to everything is now at Kiriath-jearim, and will be there for a long time. We shall not meet it again until the days of David when he comes to the throne, but there are other things which clearly point to this matter of spiritual life. And here, as we are about to leave Samuel and have not much more to say about him, we come to this which seems to be the crown of everything in Samuel's life. He is referred to later in Scripture in this very connection: "Though... Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind would not be toward this people" (Jer. 15:1). This reveals how great an influence Samuel had with God, and what a place prayer had.
So, if Samuel sets before us spiritual growth and spiritual measure, we cannot leave him without taking note of this which was behind it all: his prayer life. Perhaps we could hardly be taught anything fresh about it as a matter of a subject or a theme. It would be like old platitudes to say things about it, and yet it is so necessary for us to realise how much does hang upon this. What was happening here was that the battle of Israel's spiritual life was being fought through in the unseen. These big issues relating to God's purpose in His people, were being handled by Samuel altogether behind the scenes. Spiritual progress was secured in the prayer realm.
Prayer a Battle and a Battlefield
Prayer is, above all other things, a battle and a battlefield. If the enemy can, he will destroy or cripple our prayer life. There is no point at which the enemy concentrates his forces, his intelligence, and his wiles more than at the point of the prayer life of the child of God. Either by open and positive assault, by direct methods and means of interference, or by subterfuge, by trickery, by all kinds of subtle movements of which we are unaware at the time, he seeks to touch the prayer life and put it out; so much hangs upon it. Along physical lines, along circumstantial lines, along spiritual lines, by extraordinary or what might seem to be the ordinary contingencies of life, his focal point, his objective, is the prayer life. Spiritual progress on our own part will be slow and small if our prayer life is small and weak and limited. You cannot fail to see that those whose prayer life is strong and persistent are those who go on.
Then, not only as to their own spiritual growth, but as to their influence among others, their service to the Lord's people, their travailing on behalf of others, the spiritual progress of others is traceable so much to the prayer life of the Lord's people. That is a statement of fact which cannot be denied, and if you do not realise how true that is, you are destined to discover it sooner or later, and the sooner the better.
Watching unto Prayer
The other thing is that, seeing that the enemy is so concerned about this matter, we have got to be concerned about it, and the apostle, as you know, in speaking of this very matter says, "with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and on my behalf" (Eph. 6:18,19). These are strong words. In that exhortation he uses the phrase, "and watching thereunto", watching unto prayer, which means that the wiles of which he has spoken earlier in that chapter, "that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil", concentrated upon the prayer life, and they have to be taken note of.
Most of the Lord's people have found that the most valuable and the most profitable time for prayer is the first thing in the day, in the morning before the day begins. That is a very common experience. But that is not always the easiest time, and if it is going to be had, we have to watch unto it. I am only mentioning this by way of illustration; how far you apply it rests with you. But for some people it is not so easy to get up in the morning to have a time with the Lord, but it may be because they do not go to bed when they ought to. They are just carrying on at night unnecessarily so that they are too tired in the morning. To watch unto prayer means that if we are going to have our time in the morning, we had better go to bed. You have to think ahead, and say, "There is that prayer time, let us be careful we do not get robbed of that"; watching unto prayer. You will not find that it comes easily, that it just happens. You know quite well that prayer is beset by all manner of difficulties, and you never discover that there are other intelligences concerned with this until you make up your mind about it. When you begin to be serious about this thing, then you discover that you are up against things that did not seem to be there at the time.
The enemy, of course, would succeed most fully if he could hide what he is doing, if he could keep under cover and not let you know what he is doing, because to show himself is to betray himself. If he can do it without showing himself, it is easy victory. If you are saying - "This is only so and so, I have no time now, things are not suitable" - you are taking on the camouflage of the devil. But you make up your mind, and you discover there is something more positive in this than just a circumstance. There is no getting away from it that our spiritual growth and effectiveness is centred in our prayer life, and that that prayer life therefore, is the thing that the enemy is most against, and we have to watch unto prayer most carefully.
It was through Samuel's praying that the Philistines were neutralised for so long that they came no more into the border of Israel, and the people of God had this time of respite. The enemy was dealt with behind the scenes, and God came out through the prayer life of this man. There is this long period when the ark was at Kiriath-jearim until David came to the kingdom. Samuel fills the gap with prayer. The next move of the ark was David bringing it up to its place at Jerusalem. It is the progress of the testimony to its final resting place, to God's satisfaction. I mention that as the setting of everything: the progress of the Lord's testimony concerning His Son towards fulness and the great factor being that of our prayer life.