In prayer the ear is an organ of first importance. It is of equal importance with the tongue, but must be named first. For the ear leads the way to the tongue. The child hears a word before it speaks it. Through the ear comes the use of the tongue. Where the faculties are normal the tongue is trained only through the ear. This is nature's method. The mind is moulded largely through the ear and eye. It reveals itself, and asserts itself largely through the tongue. What the ear lets in, the mind works over, and the tongue gives out.
This is the order in Isaiah's fiftieth chapter (Isa_50:4) in those words, prophetic of Jesus. "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that are taught.... He wakeneth my ear to hear as they that are taught." Here the taught tongue came through the awakened ear. One reason why so many of us do not have taught tongues is because we give God so little chance at our ears.
It is a striking fact that the men who have been mightiest in prayer have known God well. They have seemed peculiarly sensitive to Him, and to be overawed with the sense of His love and His greatness. There are three of the Old Testament characters who are particularly mentioned as being mighty in prayer. Jeremiah tells that when God spoke to him about the deep perversity of that nation He exclaimed, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me My heart could not be towards this people" (Jer_15:1). When James wants an illustration of a man of prayer for the scattered Jews, he speaks of Elijah, and of one particular crisis in his life, the praying on Carmel's tip-top. These three men are Israel's great men in the great crises of its history. Moses was the maker and moulder of the nation. Samuel was the patient teacher who introduced a new order of things in the national life. Elijah was the rugged leader when the national worship of Jehovah was about to be officially overthrown. These three men, the maker, the teacher, the emergency leader are singled out in the record as peculiarly men of prayer.
Now regarding these men it is most interesting to observe what listeners they were to God's voice. Their ears were trained early and trained long, until great acuteness and sensitiveness to God's voice was the result. Special pains seem to have been taken with the first man, the nation's greatest giant, and history's greatest jurist. There were two distinct stages in the training of his ears. First there were the forty years of solitude in the desert sands, alone with the sheep, and the stars, and—God. His ears were being trained by silence. The bustle and confusion of Egypt's busy life were being taken out of his ears. How silent are God's voices. How few men are strong enough to be able to endure silence. For in silence God is speaking to the inner ear.
"Let us then labour for an inward stillness—
An inward stillness and an inward healing;
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,
But God alone speaks in us, and we wait
In singleness of heart, that we may know
His will, and in the silence of our spirits,
That we may do His will, and do that only" (Longfellow).
A gentleman was asked by an artist friend of some note to come to his home, and see a painting just finished. He went at the time appointed, was shown by the attendant into a room which was quite dark, and left there. He was much surprised, but quietly waited developments. After perhaps fifteen minutes his friend came into the room with a cordial greeting, and took him up to the studio to see the painting, which was greatly admired. Before he left the artist said laughingly, "I suppose you thought it queer to be left in that dark room so long." "Yes," the visitor said. "I did." "Well," his friend replied, "I knew that if you came into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes you could not appreciate the fine colouring of the picture. So I left you in the dark room till the glare had worn out of your eyes."
The first stage of Moses' prayer-training was wearing the noise of Egypt out of his ears so he could hear the quiet fine tones of God's voice. He who would become skilled in prayer must take a silence course in the University of Arabia. Then came the second stage. Forty years were followed by forty days, twice over, of listening to God's speaking voice up in the mount. Such an ear-course as that made a skilled famous intercessor.
Samuel had an earlier course than Moses. While yet a child before his ears had been dulled by earth sounds they were tuned to the hearing of God's voice. The child heart and ear naturally open upward. They hear easily and believe readily. The roadway of the ear has not been beaten down hard by much travel. God's rains and dews have made it soft, and impressionable. This child's ear was quickly trained to recognize God's voice. And the tented Hebrew nation soon came to know that there was a man in their midst to whom God was talking. O, to keep the heart and inner ear of a child as mature years come!
Of the third of these famous intercessors little is known except of the few striking events in which he figured. Of these, the scene that finds its climax in the opening on Carmel's top of the rain-windows, occupies by far the greater space. And it is notable that the beginning of that long eighteenth chapter of first Kings which tells of the Carmel conflict begins with a message to Elijah from God: "The word of the Lord came to Elijah: ... I will send rain upon the earth." That was the foundation of that persistent praying and sevenfold watching on the mountaintop. First the ear heard, then the voice persistently claimed, and the eye expectantly looked. First the voice of God, then the voice of man. That is the true order. Tremendous results always follow that combination.