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All Christians are being tested in their responsiveness and obedience to their own consciences. God has provided within them that great monitor of their conduct and behavior. So how is it between us and our consciences? Are we infinitely particular about paying attention to what our consciences say? Are we careful to educate those consciences because any conscience can be in darkness?

There are many Christian consciences that, in the words of Thomas Boston, are “too pernickety.” They condemn what God’s Word does not condemn, and Christians must educate their consciences. There are other consciences that can let everything pass, even those attitudes that God’s Word condemns. They are not as sensitive as they should be; they are too broad and too open. Our consciences must constantly stand under the scrutiny of God’s Word. The conscience must always be open to commending what God’s Word commends and condemning what God’s Word condemns. The Puritan Thomas Manton reminds us:

Conscience must be satisfied with something. So professing Christians can please themselves with giving to God as much obedience as is least contrary to their feelings and inclinations. Like a servant who obeys his master when he sends him on a mission to a fair or a feast, but deceives in errands that are more demanding. This man is satisfying self, his own inclinations. Such men are not so much serving God as their own interests.

Let us suppose that every reader of Tabletalk has an enlightened conscience. What allegiance are we showing to it? Are we careful to obey it when we are emotionally disinclined, when we lie in the depth of depression, or when we’re wallowing in self-pity? We know that there is a duty to attend to, but it is very unpleasant and unattractive, an unwelcome responsibility. Do we have the maturity to stand over our emotions and in the face of our feelings determine to attend to what God commands us to do, even though we are emotionally disinclined to do so?

There is no greater peril in the Christian life than to make our emotions the touchstone of our duties—in other words, to wait for the moment of inspiration before we obey our Lord, who has told us always to pray and not to faint. We are to stare at some sentiments that are saying to us, “You couldn’t be expected to pray when you are feeling like this.” We must stand as servants of the Lord, not of our feelings, and insist that although we’re lying virtually on the emotional floor of despondency, we must pick ourselves up and attend to what God requires from us.

There is no greater peril in the Christian life than to make our emotions the touchstone of our duties.

Are we conscientious in the face of our feelings and the tremendous obstacles that providence may often place in the way of a warm and sensitive relationship with our Savior? It is a mere trifle to say, “Help me now, dear Savior.” It is a small thing to thank Him for mercies received and daily blessings. Yet one of the surest signs of growing in grace is that we pay careful attention to matters of detail in the Christian life. Our Lord’s highest commendation falls on Christians who are faithful in little things.

This is the point, so very often, at which we are losing this particular struggle. It might not seem like much to you not to be in the midweek prayer meeting or to keep a quiet time—just a small thing. Yet it is in those small things that our faith is being severely tested.

If there is one area of our lives that Satan will try to diminish in our minds, it is praying. Before the conversion of the great evangelist Brownlow North, there was an occasion when he was complaining to his godly aunt (who had never ceased to pray for him) that he had given up praying because his prayers were not being answered. She looked him squarely in the face and said, “You have not because you ask not, or you ask amiss.” He was deeply convicted by those words.

Is it so mysterious that I am not growing? Couldn’t the main reason be my prayerlessness? We need to become focused on the encouragement of warm, loving times with our patient Savior—the One who does not cease whispering our names into the ears of His Father. We must deal with this besetting sin. We are not going to grow in Christlikeness until we meet regularly in the secret place with Jesus. There are lessons we learn there that cannot be learned anywhere else.

So we must sometimes pray that we might pray. Then as we pray, we say to God, “I judge myself most unfit to speak to You.” Then we pray, “Oh, that I may become more fit to pray.” By praying, we became more prayerful, especially when we are most disinclined. We speak out of the state of our hearts, and we address ourselves, “Why are you so prayerless, my soul?” There is no other way to become praying men and women. We learn to run by running. We learn to wrestle by wrestling. We learn to cook by cooking. It is by a determination to keep praying in the face of every fiery dart from Satan and of every blanket of deadness that the flesh would throw over our spirits. It is those prayers that are sustained in the battle of continuing to cry, “O Lord, have mercy,” that will eventually leave an unusual sweetness in the heart. We pray in reliance on His love for us while not demanding that He answer us when and how we want. We heed Charles Spurgeon’s comforting advice: “Pray often, and pray briefly.”

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