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CHAPTER IV

Prayer and the Goodness of God

DAILY READINGS

First Day, Fourth Week

And there came near unto him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto him. Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee. And he said unto them. What would ye that I should do for you? And they said unto him. Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand and one on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?--Mark 10:35-38.

Of all misconceptions of prayer, none is more common than the idea that it is a way of getting God to do our will. Note the request which James and John made of our Lord: they wanted him to put himself at their disposal; they wished their will for themselves to be in absolute control, with the Master as aider and abettor of it. Prayer to God, so conceived, is simply self-will, expecting the Almighty to back it up and give it right-of-way. Consider how often our praying is thus our demand on God that he shall do exactly what we want; and then in contrast, note this real prayer of D. L. Moody:

Use me then, my Saviour, for whatever purpose, and in whatever way, Thou mayest require. Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with Thy grace. Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with Thy love. Take my heart for Thine abode; my mouth to spread abroad 56 the glory of Thy name; my love and all my powers, for the advancement of Thy believing people; and never suffer the steadfastness and confidence of my faith to abate--that so at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, "Jesus needs me, and I Him."--D. L. Moody.

Second Day, Fourth Week

The trouble with many folk is that they believe in only a part of God. They believe in his love, and thinking of that alone they are led into entreating him as though he might be coaxed and wheedled into giving them what they want. They argue that because he is benign and kindly he will give in to a child's entreaty and do what the child happens to desire. They do not really believe in God's wisdom his knowledge of what is best for all of us, and in his will his plan for the character and the career of each of us. When anyone believes in the whole of God, is sure that he has a wise and a good purpose for every child of his, and for all the world, prayer inevitably becomes not the endeavor to get God to do our will, but the endeavor to open our lives to God so that God can do in us what he wants to do. Consider, in the light of this truth, the prayer of the Master in Gethsemane:

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto his disciples, Sit ye here, while I go yonder and pray. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and sore troubled. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: abide ye here, and watch with me. And he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Again a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, My Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And he left them again, 57 and went away, and prayed a third time, saying again the same words.--Matt. 26:36-44.

O Lord, Thou knowest what is best for us, let this or that be done, as Thou shalt please. Give what Thou wilt, and how much Thou wilt, and when Thou wilt. Deal with me as Thou thinkest good, and as best pleaseth Thee. Set me where Thou wilt, and deal with me in all things just as Thou wilt. Behold, I am Thy servant, prepared for all things; for I desire not to live unto myself, but unto Thee; and Oh, that I could do it worthily and perfectly! Amen.--Thomas a Kempis (1379-1471).

Third Day, Fourth Week

Let us this week consider particularly the ways in which the practice of prayer opens our lives to God so that his will can be done in and through us. For one thing, prayer, as we now are thinking of it, involves solitude, where the voice of God has a chance to be heard.

And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.--Matt. 6:5, 6.

Consider the testimony of different sorts of men to the value of occasional solitude in the midst of a busy life. Says Walter Savage Landor, the poet, "Solitude is the ante-chamber of God; only one step more, and you can be in his immediate presence." Goethe says, "No one can produce anything important unless he isolates himself." "Chinese" Gordon writes to his sister, "Getting quiet does one good--it is impossible to hear God's voice in a whirl of visits--you must be more or less in the 'desert' to use the scales of the sanctuary, to see and weigh the true value of things and sayings." And an anonymous epigram hits off the important truth, "He is a wonderful man who can thread a needle while at cudgels in a crowd." How much 58 time, away from the distraction of business, and the strife of tongues, are we giving to the enriching use of solitude?

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what Thou wouldest have us to do; that the spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in Thy light we may see light, and in Thy straight path may not stumble, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.--William Bright.

Fourth Day, Fourth Week

Prayer opens our lives to the guidance of God because by its very nature it encourages the receptive mood. The dominant mood today is active; but some things never come into life until a man is receptive. That a boy should run many errands for his father and should be faithful and energetic in doing it is of great importance; but the most far-reaching consequences in that boy's life are likely to come from some quiet hour, when he sits with his father, and has his eyes opened to a new idea of life, which the father never could give him in his more active moods. God's trouble to get people to listen is set forth in the eighty-first Psalm:

Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee:

But my people hearkened not to my voice;

And Israel would none of me.

So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart.

That they might walk in their own counsels.

Oh that my people would hearken unto me.

Psalm 81:8, 11-13.

Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee; Thou only knowest what I need; Thou lovest me better than I know how to love myself. O Father! give to Thy child that which he himself knows not how to ask, I dare not ask either for crosses or consolations: I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee, Behold my needs which I know not myself; see and do according to Thy tender mercy. Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up: 59 I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice: I yield myself to Thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thyself in me. Amen.--Francois de la Mothe Fenelon (1651-1715).

Fifth Day, Fourth Week

Jesus therefore answered them, and said. My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself. He that speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent me, the same is true and no unrighteousness is in him.--John 7:16-18.

Prayer opens our lives to God so that his will can be done in and through us, because in true prayer we habitually put ourselves into the attitude of willingness to do whatever God wills. If a young man says, "I am willing to be a lawyer, but not a business man; I am willing to be a physician, but not a medical missionary," he will never discover what God really wants him to be. He must hand God a carte blanche to be filled in as God wills, and there must be no provisos and reservations to limit the guidance of God. If a man of whose wisdom and motives we are suspicious asks us to do what he is about to demand, we may well say, "Tell me what you expect and I will tell you whether or not I will do it." But we may not take that attitude toward God; we may not distrust his wisdom, or his love, or his power to see us through what he demands. We must be willing to do whatever he wills. True prayer is deliberately putting ourselves at God's disposal.

O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health, or life, except to spend them for Thee, with Thee, and in Thee, Thou alone knowest what is good for me; do, therefore, what seemeth Thee best. Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to Thine; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders of Thine eternal Providence; and may equally adore all that comes to me from Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.--Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).

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Sixth Day, Fourth Week

And Jehovah spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.--Exodus 33:11.

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.— James 2:23.

The most transforming influences in life are personal friendships. Everyone who meets us influences us, but friendship opens the heart to the ideas, ideals, and spiritual quality of another life, until we are susceptible to everything that the friend is and sensitive to everything that he thinks. Desdemona describes the natural effect of close friendship:

"My heart's subdued

Even to the very quality of my lord."

Consider then what persistent fellowship with God will mean in changing life's quality and tone. Henry Drummond said, "Ten minutes spent in Christ's society every day; aye, two minutes, if it be face to face and heart to heart,--will make the whole life different." In how many people is the fine quality which all feel and none can describe, the result of this inner fellowship! Some things cannot be bought or earned or achieved; they must be caught, they are transmitted by contact as fragrance is. Perhaps the greatest consequence of prayer is just this atmosphere which the life carries away with it, as Moses came with shining face from the communion of his heart with God. True prayer is habitually putting oneself under God's influence.

We rejoice that in all time men have found a refuge in Thee, and that prayer is the voice of love, the voice of pleading, and the voice of thanksgiving. Our souls overflow toward Thee like a cup when full; nor can we forbear; nor shall we search to see if our prayers have been registered, or whether of the things asked we have received much, or more, or anything. That we have had permission to feel ourselves in Thy presence, to take upon ourselves something of the light of Thy countenance, to have a consciousness that Thy thoughts are upon us, to experience the inspiration of the 61 Holy Spirit in any measure--this is an answer to prayer transcending all things that we can think of. We are glad that we can glorify Thee, that we can rejoice Thee, that it does make a difference to Thee what we do, and that Thou dost enfold us in a consciousness of Thy sympathy with us, of how much Thou art to us, and of what we are to Thee.--Henry Ward Beecher.

Seventh Day, Fourth Week

Yet thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.--Isaiah 43:22.

And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee; for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us by means of our iniquities.--Isaiah 64:7.

Consider the reasonableness of the prophet's vehement condemnation of prayerlessness, in view of this week's truth. Take out of life solitude where God's voice can be heard, the receptive mood that welcomes guidance, the willingness to do whatever God wills that puts itself habitually at God's disposal, and the fellowship that gives God's secret influence its opportunity; and what can God do with any life? Two very young girls were discussing prayer. Said one: "I am not going to pray again for two weeks." After an interval of shocked silence, the other exclaimed: "Poor God!" Does not this exclamation reveal a true philosophy of prayer? Think of the things God wants to give to and do through our lives, and consider how the prayerless, unreceptive heart blockades his will.

Almighty God, and most merciful Father, give us, we beseech Thee, that grace that we may duly examine the inmost of our hearts, and our most secret thoughts, how we stand before Thee; and that we may henceforward never be drawn to do anything that may dishonor Thy name: but may persevere in all good purposes, and in Thy Holy service, unto our life's end; and grant that we may now this present day, seeing it is as good as nothing that we have done hitherto, perfectly begin to walk before Thee, as becometh those that are called to an inheritance of light in Christ. Amen.--George Hickes (1642-1715).

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