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Prayer as Communion with God


First Day, Second Week

The thought of prayer as a natural function in human life ought to be of this practical service to us: it should keep us from yielding too easily to disbelief or discouragement when we have difficulty with prayer in our individual experience. At least, so one of the psalmists felt.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the

words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou answerest not; And in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy,

O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

Our fathers trusted in thee:

They trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

They cried unto thee, and were delivered:

They trusted in thee, and were not put to shame.

--Psalm 22:1-5.

Note the three troubles which this psalmist has been having with prayer. He cannot make God seem real to him; his prayer brings him no relief in his difficulties; and even persistency in prayer accomplishes nothing. Then he remembers that prayer is not something with which he, for the first time in history, is experimenting. "Our fathers trusted in thee . . . and thou didst deliver them." He sees that the accumulating testimony of his fathers in all ages bears witness to the power of prayer. He therefore sensibly concludes 21 that he would better, not pit a few months of individual failure in praying against the general experience of the race. In view of what prayer has meant to all peoples, he sees that probably the trouble is with himself and not with prayer. He sets himself therefore to understand prayer if he can, and in the 22nd verse of the Psalm, he begins the recital of the victorious outcome: "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: In the midst of the assembly will I praise thee." May God make us as sensible as this psalmist and give us as real a triumph!

O God, who art, and wast, and art to come, before whose face the generations rise and pass away; age after age the living seek Thee, and find that of Thy faithfulness there is no end. Our fathers in their pilgrimage walked by Thy guidance, and rested on Thy compassion; still to their children be Thou the cloud by day, the fire by night. In our manifold temptations. Thou alone knowest and art ever nigh: in sorrow. Thy pity revives the fainting soul; in our prosperity and ease, it is Thy Spirit only that can wean us from our pride and keep us low, O Thou sole Source of peace and righteousness! take now the veil from every heart; and join us in one communion with Thy prophets and saints who have trusted in Thee, and were not ashamed. Not of our worthiness, but of Thy tender mercy, hear our prayer. Amen--James Martineau (1805-1900).

Second Day, Second Week

Let us consider this week some of the practical reasons for our failure to make the most out of our power to pray. To that end read these verses representing two aspects of the Master's life:

We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. John 9:4.

In the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed.--Mark 1:35.

Which of these two emphases in the Christian life do appreciate the better? Is it not clear that all the characteristic 22 enthusiasms of our day cluster around work? In the churches, service is the popular note, and the favorite hymns are "The Son of God goes forth to war," "Soldiers of Christ arise," and their kind. Our failure in prayer is partly due to the prevailing temper of our generation, which in its splendid enthusiasm for work has neglected that culture of prayer, on which in the end the finest quality of spirit and the deepest resources of power must depend. Is not this one reason why keen observers note that our generation is marked by practical efficiency and spiritual shallowness? May we not hope to keep in ourselves the best gains of this efficient age and at the same time recover the "practice of the presence of God"?

Almighty Father, enter Thou our hearts, and so fill us with Thy love, that, forsaking all evil desires, we may embrace Thee, our only good. Show unto us, for Thy mercies' sake, O Lord our God, what Thou art unto us. Say unto our souls, I am thy salvation. So speak that we may hear. Our hearts are before Thee; open Thou our ears; let us hasten after Thy voice, and take hold on Thee, Hide not Thy face from us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Enlarge Thou the narrowness of our souls, that Thou mayest enter in. Repair the ruinous mansions, that Thou mayest dwell there. Hear us, O Heavenly Father, for the sake of Thine only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.--St. Augustine (354-430).

Third Day, Second Week

Failure to cultivate our power of prayer goes back in many to childish ideas of prayer's meaning, which, never altogether outgrown, hamper us and make our praying seem unreasonable and futile. There are some who still think of prayer in terms of childish supplications to a divine Santa Claus. Let us note the two aspects of truth set forth in these two passages:

And he sat down, and called the twelve; and he saith unto them. If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a little child, and set 23 him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them. Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.Mark 9: 35-37.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. I Cor. 13:11.

When Christ sets as our ideal the childlike qualities of sincerity and humility, he is not asking us to be childish. Many foolish prayers are offered by the well-meaning but unintelligent with the excuse that they are childlike in their simple trust. But we are grown-up children, and have an obligation to exercise our intelligence, to outgrow infantile ideas of prayer that belittle it, and to enlarge our conceptions of the significance which fellowship with God may have for life. To pray to God as though he were Santa Claus is childish; but a man may still be childlike in his faith and range up into another sort of praying:

"Thou Life within my life, than self more near,

Thou Veiled Presence infinitely clear;

From all illusive shows of sense I flee

To find my center and my rest in Thee."

O Heavenly Father, the Author and Fountain of all truth, the bottomless Sea of all understanding, send, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, and lighten our understandings with the beams of Thy heavenly grace. We ask this, O merciful Father, for Thy dear Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.--Bishop Ridley (1500-1555).

Fourth Day, Second Week

Childishness in prayer is chiefly evidenced in an overweening desire to beg things from God, and a corresponding failure to desire above all else the friendship of God himself. The same growth ought to take place in our relationship with God which occurs in a normal fellowship between a child and His parents. At first the child wants the parents' gifts and thinks of the parents largely in terms of the things which 24 they do for his comfort and pleasure. He is not able yet to appreciate the value of the parents' personalities. A sure sign of wholesome maturity, however, is found in the child's deepening understanding of the parents themselves--his increasing delight in their friendship, thankfulness for their care, acceptance of their ideals, reliance on their counsel, and joy in their approval. The child grows through desiring things from his parents into love of his parents, for their own sakes.

A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. . . . But when he came to himself he said. How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.--Luke 15:11-13, 17-19.

Note the change of prayer from "Give me" to "Make me." Whether through experience of sin or sorrow or hard practical struggle we come to a real "maturity, we always tend to grow out of crying to God "Give me" into the deeper prayer "Make me." In a word we cease valuing God merely because of the things he may give, and we come into the love of God himself and the desire to be made over by him.

Grant me, O most loving Lord, to rest in Thee above all creatures, above all health and beauty, above all glory and honor, above all power and dignity, above all knowledge and subtilty, above all riches and art, above all fame and praise, above all sweetness and comfort, above all hope and promise, above all gifts and favors that Thou canst give and impart to us, above all jubilee that the mind of man can receive and feel; finally, above angels and archangels, and above all the heavenly host, above all things visible and invisible, and above all that Thou art not, O my God. It is too small and unsatisfying, whatsoever Thou bestowest on me apart from Thee, or revealest to me, or promisest, whilst Thou art not


seen, and not fully obtained. For surely my heart cannot truly rest, nor be entirely contented, unless it rest in Thee. Amen.--Thomas a Kempis (1379-1471).

Fifth Day, Second Week

Prayer has failed in some because it has always appeared to them as an obligation rather than a privilege. When they think of it they think of a duty to be done. Contrast with this the glowing words of the sixty-third Psalm:

O God, thou art my God; earnestly will I seek thee: . . .

Because thy lovingkindness is better than life,

My lips shall praise thee . . .

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness;

And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips;

When I remember thee upon my bed,

And meditate on thee in the night-watches.

For thou hast been my help,

And in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.

My soul followeth hard after thee:

Thy right hand upholdeth me.--Psalm 63: 1, 3, 5-8.

Prayer here is not a burden to be borne, an obligation to be fulfilled, something that is due to God and must be paid. Prayer is a privilege; like friendship and family love and laughter, great books, great music, and great art, it is one of life's opportunities to be grasped thankfully and used gladly. The man who misses the deep meanings of prayer has not so much refused an obligation; he has robbed himself of life's supreme privilege--friendship with God.

Thou divine Spirit that, in all events of life, art knocking at the door of my heart, help me to respond to Thee. I would not be driven blindly as the stars over their courses. I would not be made to work out Thy will unwillingly, to fulfil Thy law unintelligently, to obey Thy mandates unsympathetically. I would take the events of my life as good and perfect gifts from Thee; I would receive even the sorrows of life as disguised gifts from Thee. I would have my heart open at all times to receive--at morning, noon, and night; in spring, summer, and winter. Whether Thou comest 26 to me in sunshine or in rain, I would take Thee into my heart joyfully. Thou art Thyself more than the sunshine, Thou art Thyself compensation for the rain; it is Thee and not Thy gifts I crave; knock, and I shall open unto Thee, Amen.--George Matheson.

Sixth Day, Second Week

I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus. . . . I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing.--I Tim. 2:1-5, 8.

Our failure to think of prayer as a privilege may be partly due to the fact that we can pray any time, "in every place." The door of prayer is open so continuously that we fail to avail ourselves of an opportunity which is always there. There are plenty of people in London who never have seen the inside Of Westminster Abbey, partly because they could go there any day. Consider then the aptness of Austin Phelps' illustration: "In the vestibule of St. Peter's, at Rome, is a doorway, which is walled up and marked with a cross. It is opened but four times in a century. On Christmas Eve, once in twenty-five years, the Pope approaches it in princely state, with the retinue of cardinals in attendance, and begins the demolition of the door, by striking it three times with a silver hammer. When the passage is opened, the multitude pass into the nave of the cathedral, and up to the altar, by an avenue which the majority of them never entered thus before, and never will enter thus again. Imagine that the way to the Throne of Grace were like the Porta Sancta, inaccessible, save once in a quarter of a century. Conceive that it were now ten years since you, or I, or any other sinner, had been permitted to pray: and that fifteen long years must drag themselves 27 away, before we could venture again to approach God; and that, at the most, we could not hope to pray more than two or three times in a lifetime! With what solicitude we should wait for the coming of that Holy Day!" It may be that through sheer negligence and the deceiving influence of good but weak intentions, we are missing one of life's great privileges, because it is so commonplace.

O Lord, keep me sensitive to the grace that is round about me. May the familiar not become neglected! May I see Thy goodness in my daily bread, and may the comfort of my home take my thoughts to the mercy seat of God!--J. H. Jowett.

Seventh Day, Second Week

Another practical reason for failure in prayer is found in impatience. We have made a few fitful and hurried attempts at praying and seeing no good consequence have impatiently called the practice worthless and have quit it. Suppose that a man should similarly make a dash at friendship and after throwing off a few trial conversations should dogmatically conclude that there was nothing in friendship after all. But friendship is not really tested in so dashing and occasional a way; friendship is rather a life to be lived, habitually, persistently--and its results are cumulative with the years. So prayer is a cumulative life of friendship with God.

And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him. Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them. When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation.--Luke 11:1-4.

Note that when the disciples heard Jesus pray they became aware that praying like his was nothing that they could happen on, or drift into, or dash off in a moment of special inspiration. Such praying was a lesson to be learned by 28 assiduous practice. "It is a great art to commune with God," said Thomas a Kempis. We would not expect to take a try at a violin once in a while and yet make much of it. But see how we treat this finer instrument of prayer!

Which of these seven practical causes of failure, considered this week, apply to you?--pitting a little individual failure against the experience of the race; welcoming the emphasis on work to the exclusion of the emphasis on prayer; thinking of prayer childishly until it has seemed irrational; valuing God less than the things he may give until prayer has looked mean; regarding prayer as an obligation rather than a privilege; neglecting prayer because it is so familiar an opportunity; impatience with praying after a few, fitful trials.

Come, O Lord, in much mercy down into my soul, and take possession and dwell there. A homely mansion, I confess, for so glorious a Majesty, but such as Thou art fitting up for the reception of Thee, by holy and fervent desires of Thine own inspiring. Enter then, and adorn, and make it such as Thou canst inhabit, since it is the work of Thy hands. Give me Thine own self, without which, though Thou shouldst give me all that ever Thou hast made, yet could not my desires be satisfied. Let my soul ever seek Thee, and let me persist in seeking, till I have found, and am in full possession of Thee, Amen.--St. Augustine (354436).

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