David's Prayer of Repentance13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan said to David, “Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.” 2 Samuel 12:12–14
Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and rightb spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willingc spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to Godd is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
--- New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Psalm 51)
Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.
--- St. Francis of Assisi
The Irish Blessing
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
The Lord's Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our debts and we forgive
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever. Amen.
--- Matthew 6:9-13
Christ Be With Me
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us.
--- St. Patrick
When the thought of you wakens in us
God our heavenly Father,
when the thought of you
wakes in our hearts,
let its awakening
not be like a startled bird
that flies about in fear.
Instead, let it be like a child
waking from sleep
with a heavenly smile.
--- Søren Kierkegaard
Daniel's PrayerDaniel 9:3–16 (KJV 1900)
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: 4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said,
O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; 5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: 6 Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. 8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; 10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him. 12 And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. 14 Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice. 15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly. 16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. --- Daniel
Lord, you are like a shepherd to me,
and so I have all that I need.
You give me rest
in meadows of green grass,
and you lead me to water
where I gain new life and strength.
You guide me
along the way that is best for me.
Even when I walk in darkness
and everything around seems like death,
you are there, walking with me,
and the promise
of your love and faithfulness
helps to conquer my fear
n the sight of those who do me down,
you invite me
to sit at table with you.
There you offer me
even more than I need,
and you remind me
that I am significant and special.
You call me to goodness and kindness
every day of my life,
and your house will be my home
my whole life long.
The Grail Prayer
I give you my hands to do your work.
I give you my feet to go your way.
I give you my eyes to see as you do.
I give you my tongue to speak your words.
I give you my mind that you may think in me.
I give you my spirit that you may pray in me.
I give you my heart that you may love in me
your Father and all mankind.
I give you my whole self that you may grow in me,
so that it is you, Lord Jesus,
who live and work and pray in me.
Doing the little and the great things
Teach us, Lord,
to do the little things
as though they were great
because of the majesty of Christ
who does them in us
and who lives our life.
Teach us to do the greatest things
as though they were little and easy
because of his omnipotence.
--- Blaise Pascal
“I called to the LORD out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 You cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
howa shall I look again
upon your holy temple?’
5 The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit,
O LORD my God.
7 As my life was ebbing away,
I remembered the LORD;
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
--- New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jon 2:2–7)
Job Is Humbled and Satisfied
42 Then Job answered the LORD:
2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
--- New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Job 42:1-6)
Bede the Venerable
O Christ, our Morning Star,
Splendour of Light Eternal,
shining with the glory of the rainbow,
come and waken us
from the greyness of our apathy,
and renew in us your gift of hope. Amen
Lord, the sea is so wide
and my boat is so small.
Be with me.
I thank you, Lord,
for knowing me better than I know myself,
and for letting me know myself
better than others know me.
Make me, I pray you,
better than they suppose,
and forgive me for what they do not know
bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger
O Lord my God.
Teach my heart this day
where and how to find you.
You have made me and re-made me,
and you have bestowed on me
all the good things I possess,
and still I do not know you.
I have not yet done
that for which I was made
Teach me to seek you,
for I cannot seek you
unless you teach me,
or find you
unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire;
let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you;
let me love you when I find you
you have mercy on all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully set me ablaze
with the fire of your Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a human heart,
a heart to love and adore you,
a heart to delight in you,
to follow and enjoy you. Amen
Sarum Book of Hours, 1514
God be in my head
and in my understanding.
God be in my eyes
and in my looking.
God be in my mouth
and in my speaking.
God be in my heart
and in my thinking.
God be at my end
and at my departing.
God to enfold me,
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.
God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.
God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my soul,
God in my heart.
God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber,
God in my ever-living soul,
God in mine eternity
Penetrate these murky corners
where we hide our memories
and tendencies on which we do not care to look,
but which we will not yield freely up to you,
that you may purify and transmute them.
The persistent buried grudge,
the half-acknowledged enmity
which is still smouldering,
the bitterness of that loss
we have not turned into sacrifice
the private comfort we cling to,
the secret fear of failure
which saps our initiative
and is really inverted pride,
the pessimism which is an insult to your joy.
Lord, we bring all these to you,
and we review them
with shame and penitence
in your steadfast light.
St Francis of Assisi
O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honour and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
- you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.
Pope John Paul II/Hiroshima, Japan, 1981
To you, Creator of nature and humanity,
of truth and beauty, I pray:
Hear my voice,
for it is the voice
of the victims of all wars and violence
among individuals and nations.
Hear my voice,
for it is the voice
of all children who suffer and who will suffer
when people put their faith in weapons and war.
Hear my voice
when I beg you to instil
into the hearts of all human beings
the vision of peace,
the strength of justice
and the joy of fellowship
Hear my voice,
for I speak for the multitudes
in every country and in every period of history
who do not want war
and are ready to walk the road of peace.
Hear my voice
and grant insight and strength
so that we may always respond
to hatred with love,
to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need with the sharing of self,
to war with peace.
O God, hear my voice,
and grant to the world your everlasting peace
Lord, you were rich
yet, for our sakes, you became poor.
You promised in your Gospel
that whatever is done
for the least of your brothers and sisters
is done for you.
Give us grace to be always willing and ready
to provide for the needs
of those whose parents have died
or whose homes are broken,
that your kingdom of service and love
may extend throughout the world,
to your unending glory.
attributed to St Francis of Assisisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love,
where there is injury, pardon,
where there is doubt, faith,
where there is despair, hope,
where there is darkness, light,
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
God grant me
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom
to distinguish the one from the other.
(St Ignatius Loyola
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have said
that you are the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Do not allow us to stray from you,
who are the Way,
not to distrust you, who are the Truth,
nor to rest in anything other than you,
who are the Life.
St. Richard of Chichester
Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given me,
for all the pains and insults
which you have borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.
of Charles de Foucauld
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
O Lord my God,
thank you for bringing this day to a close.
Thank you for giving me rest
in body and soul.
Your hand has been over me
and has guarded and preserved me.
Forgive my lack of faith
and any wrong that I have done today,
and help me to forgive all who have wronged us.
Let me sleep in peace under your protection,
and keep me from all the temptations of darkness.
Into your hands I commend my loved ones.
I commend to you my body and soul.
O God, your holy name be praised
And Thou, O most merciful Father,
we beseech Thee for Thy mercy's sake,
continue Thy grace and favour toward us:
let the sun of Thy gospel
never go down
out of our hearts;
let Thy truth abide,
and be established among us forever. . . .
Apparel us thoroughly in Christ,
that he may live in us,
and so Thy name may be glorified
in the sight of all the world, Amen.
Since Thou hast regenerated me,
make me now to grow in grace.
Since Thou hast put into my heart
a hatred of sin
and a hunger after righteousness,
intensify the same.
Since Thou hast made me a branch of the Vine,
make me a very fruitful one.
Since Thou hast united me to Thy dear Son,
enable me to show forth His praises,
to honor Him in my daily life,
and thus to commend Him to those
who know Him not.
A Prayer Journal
I don’t believe that you or I have an accurate understanding of what prayer really is. I usually pray alone, except with my wife, but I so much enjoy listening to and connecting with the prayers of others.
I have read many Devotionals and Prayer Books, but I found this little book to be exceptional in cutting through the layer skins we all employ in prayer. Below are a few excerpts, but if you don’t already know what an exceptional author Flannery O’Connor was then you should do a little googling. Reading her prayers in the backdrop of her novels makes them especially riveting.
Introduction / W. A. Sessions
From January 1946 to September 1947, Flannery O'Connor kept a journal that was, in essence, a series of prayers. She was not twenty-one years of age when she began this journal, and at twenty-two, when she wrote the last entry, it was clear that her prayer journal had already made a difference in her life.
The prayers in her journal naturally emerged out of the busy classrooms, libraries, and streets of Iowa City. Her dorm room, which opened onto the only bathroom on the floor, was far from private. In that awkward room the young writer began her journal as she sat at a desk with her pens, pencils, and typewriter beside her hot plate (all the refrigerated items stood outside the window). Thus her world was far from cloistered. Yet in her years at Iowa she was increasingly seeing openings both out of and into her life -- and her desire to write fiction carried the greatest meaning for her in such a setting, where so many influences converged.
In fact, in the midst of writing these prayers, she began her first novel, eventually titled Wise Blood. That was during the Thanksgiving break of 1946, and whatever else the outreach of prayer had done, in initiating this truly original work of American fiction, O'Connor had extended the reach of her journal. Her prayer to be a good writer reiterated often in the journal had already been answered. She had discovered within herself a deeper source for acts of her imagination. Indeed, she had learned there in Iowa how Coleridge's act of imagination as the "willing suspension of disbelief" could become for her the freedom of creating fiction in that suspension.
By the time O'Connor wrote her final journal entry, she had offered herself directly to God. In her entries she sought to consecrate herself so that she might love the absolute more, sacrifice more. But on September 26, 1947, three years before the sudden arrival of lupus, the disease that had killed her father and would kill her, the young O'Connor wrote her last entry. Nothing appeared to have happened. On that day her "thoughts are so far away from God," and she wondered in a discordant image if the "feeling I egg up writing here" was little more than "a sham." That very day, in fact, she had proved herself "a glutton-for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought." She closed the journal matter-of-factly: "There is nothing left to say of me."
Actually there was a great deal left. The journal itself was finished, and it accurately reflected O'Connor's literary achievements thus far and even foretold her suffering and death. Not least were the results of her outlandish hope, at least in the twentieth century, for total commitment to God. In that hope she had created characters who knew (negatively, like the Misfit of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," or positively, like the tattooed man of "Parker's Back " or Ruby Turpin of "Revelation") the cost of having a destiny painful to wait out but, in her fiction, alive only through their waiting.
Below are excerpts from her journal
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and myself is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside. I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, "oh God please," and "I must," and "please, please."
I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask you with resignation that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind - realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not wish to presume. I want to love.
My dear God, I am impressed with how much I have to be thankful for in a material sense; and in a spiritual sense I have the opportunity of being even more fortunate. But it seems apparent to me that I am not translating this opportunity into fact.
You say, dear God, to ask for grace and it will be given. I ask for it. I realize that there is more to it than that - that I have to behave like I want it. "Not those who say, Lord, Lord, but those who do the Will of My Father." Please help me to know the will of my Father - not a scrupulous nervousness nor yet a lax presumption, but a clear, reasonable knowledge; and after this give me a strong Will to be able to bend it to the Will of the Father.
Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate. I dread, Oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery. I do not want it to be fear which keeps me in the church. I don't want to be a coward, staying with You because I fear hell.
I should reason that if I fear hell, I can be assured of the author of it. But learned people can analyze for me why I fear hell and their implication is that there is no hell. But I believe in hell. Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven. No doubt because hell is a more earthly-seeming thing. I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God. It is natural that I should not imagine this. If we could accurately map heaven some of our up-and-coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10¢ the copy to all over 65. But I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be clever on 2nd thought and like to be clever & want to be considered so. But the point more specifically here is, I don't want to fear to be out, I want to love to be in; I don't want to believe in hell but in heaven. Stating this does me no good. It is a matter of the gift of grace. Help me to feel that I will give up every earthly thing for this. I do not mean becoming a nun.
Let us act with humility,
cast ourselves at one another's feet,
join hands with each other,
and help one another.
For here we battle not against pope or emperor,
but against the devil,
and do you imagine that he is asleep?
O Lord God, mighty and merciful, we are asking for mercy — mercy amid the manifestations of your great might. We are asking, for Jesus’s sake. Not because we deserve anything better than calamity. We know that we have sinned. We have exchanged the high treasure of your glory for trinkets. We have not loved you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We have sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. We are pleading for mercy.
We make no demands. You are God, and we are not. We are bent low in submission to your just and sovereign power. Indeed, we are prostrate before the unstoppable wind of your justice and wisdom.
We know that you, O Lord, are great. Whatever you please, you do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. You make clouds rise at the end of the earth. You bring forth the wind from its storehouses.
You have commanded and raised the mighty wind, and it has lifted up the waves of the sea. The floods have lifted up, O Lord. You have tilted the waterskins of the heavens.
You sweep us away as with a flood. You kill and you make alive; you wound and you heal; and there is none that can deliver out of your hand. You sit enthroned over the flood — enthroned as King forever.
We are like a dream, like dust swept off the street in a torrent.
But you, O God, are mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea. It is our peril and our hope that you can do all things, and no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
O Lord, do not sleep through this storm. O Lord, let not the flood sweep over us, or the deep swallow us up. Rise up! And do what only you can do amid these winds and waves. Rebuke them, as you once did. When they have done your wise and needed work, let them not have one minute more of strength. Command them, O Christ, to cease, we pray. And make a holy calm. For you are God, all things are your servants.
And give us ears, O God. Your voice, O Lord, is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. O God, forbid that we would not give heed.
Open our ears, you who once brought Job to humble silence, announcing from the whirlwind who you are, and that, when all is lost, the story then unfolds that in it all your purpose was compassionate and kind.
Whether we sit waste deep in the water of our Texas homes, or wait, uncertain, with blankets on a church pew, or nail the plywood to our Florida shop, or sit secure and dry a thousand miles from any sea, teach us, in mercy, what we need to learn, and cannot any other way.
And woe to us who, far away from floods, would point our finger at the sufferer and wonder at his greater sin, forgetting how the voice of Jesus rings in every tragedy: “Do you think that they were worse offenders? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The very word of God to all Americans.
And now, O Lord, unleash the common grace of kindness from a million hearts and bank accounts, and grant as great a mercy in rebuilding as you once gave verdict to destroy. Restrain, O God, the evil hearts of those who would bring sorrow upon sorrow by looting what is left behind, or exploiting loss for private gain.
And in your church awaken this: the truth that you once gave yourself for us that we might be redeemed, not first from floods, but sin and lawlessness. That you once died, not first to put us out of peril, but to make us pure. Not first to spare us misery, but to make us zealous for good deeds. And so, O mighty Christ, unleash from us another flood: the blood-bought passion of your people not for ruin, but for rebuilding lives and homes.
O Father, awaken every soul to see where we have built our lives on sand. Show us from every storm the way to build our lives on rock. Oh, are you not our rock? Our fortress, our deliverer, our God in whom we take refuge, our shield, and the horn of our salvation, our stronghold. How great the fall of every life built on the sand of human skill!
And yet, how great the sure and solid gift held out to everyone in Christ! For you have said more wonderfully than we can ever tell:
Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword — or wind, or waves? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through your great love for us.
or you have made us say with deep assurance: Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor hurricanes nor floods, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And all in Jesus’s name,
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Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
“Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.”—Psalm 86:6
WHEN I was reading this eighty-sixth Psalm, I reminded you that the title of it is “A prayer of David.” It is rightly named “A prayer,” for it is very especially filled with supplication. There are four other Psalms each called by the name Tephillah, or “prayer,” but this deserves to be distinguished from the rest and known as “the prayer of David,” even as the ninetieth Psalm is known as “the prayer of Moses.” It savours of David. The man of sincerity, of ardour, of trials, of faults, and of great heart, pleads, sobs, and trusts through all the verses of this psalm.
Note one thing about this remarkable prayer of David—it is almost entirely devoid of poetry. Men use grand, studied, rapturous, and poetical expressions in their praises; and they do well. Let God be praised with the noblest thoughts, as well as the most charming music. But when a man comes to prayer, and that prayer is out of the depths of sorrow, he has no time or thought for poetry. He goes straight at the matter in hand, and pleads with God in downright plainness of speech. You shall notice that in happy prayers, in times of joy, men use similes, and metaphors, and tropes, and symbols, and the like; but when it comes to wrestling with God in times of agony, there is no beauty of speech: parable and poesy are laid aside. The man’s language is in sackcloth and ashes; or, better still, it stands stripped for wrestling, every superfluous word being laid aside. Then the cry is heard, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” That is not poetry, but it is a great deal better. Throughout this psalm David is a plain-dealer, speaking with God in downright earnest. He has got his grip of the covenant angel, and he will not let him go. Men cannot study where to put their feet prettily when they are wrestling: they have to do the best they can to hold their ground, and fling their antagonist. In such a prayer-psalm as this, there is no studying of language: it is the pouring out of the heart as the heart boils over, the utterance of the desires as they bubble up from the soul’s deeps, with an entire carelessness as to the fashion of the expression.
This ought to be a hint to you when you pray. Do not study how to arrange your words when you come before the Lord. Leave the expression to the occasion: it shall be given you in the selfsame hour what you shall speak. When your heart is like a boiling geyser, let it steam aloft in pillars of prayer. The overflowing of the soul is the best praying in the world. Prayers that are indistinct, inharmonious, broken, made up of sighs and cries, and damped with tears—these are the prayers which win with heaven. Prayers that you cannot pray, pleadings too big for utterance, prayers that stagger the words, and break their backs, and crush them down—these are the very best prayers that God ever hears.
So, you say, dear friends, that you cannot pray; you are so troubled that you cannot speak. Well, then, copy the beggars in the street. They must not beg, for that is contrary to law. But a man sits down, and writes on a spade, “I am starving,” and he looks as white as a sheet. What a picture of misery! He is not begging; not he; but the money comes dropping into the old hat. So, when you cannot pray, I believe that your silent display of utter inability is the best sort of praying. The blessing comes when we sit down before the Lord, and in sheer desperation expose our spiritual need.
I am not going to dwell longer upon that matter, but will simply show you what was the nature of David’s prayer. There are two things which David must have when he prays—two great things after which he strains with his whole heart. The first is personal intercourse with God. Read that sixth verse: “Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications.” And, in the second place, he must have personal answers from God. He is not content to pray without prayer having some practical result. So, the seventh verse is, “In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.”
I. First, then, David in his prayer sought, beyond all things, to have PERSONAL INTERCOURSE WITH GOD. To my mind that is just the distinction between prayer before conversion, and prayer after it. I often bring that out when I am seeing enquirers who have been religiously brought up. This is the sort of dialogue we hold: “You used to pray, did you?” “Yes, sir; I could not have gone to sleep if I had not said my prayers.” “Was there any difference between that kind of praying and what you now practise?” The reply usually is, “Well, sir, I do not now call the first praying at all. I used to say some good words that I had been taught, but I did not say them to anybody; now I speak to God, and I have the feeling that he is hearing what I say, and that he is present with me in my room.” It is the realization of that second person as really present, the consciousness of the divine presence, which makes prayer real. What can be the good of going through a form of prayer? Can there be any charm in a set of sentences? If you are not speaking to God, what are you doing? I should say that a prayer would do as much good repeated backwards as forwards, if it is not spoken to God. We have heard of instances of grown up persons keeping on saying the prayer which their mother taught them, and asking that God would bless their father and mother, after they had been dead twenty years. All sorts of absurdities, I do not doubt, have come from the long-continued and thoughtless repetition of mere words. I am not now speaking against the use of a form of prayer, if you feel that you can pray with it; but the point is, that you must be speaking to God, and you must have personal intercourse with the invisible One, or else there is nothing whatever in your prayer, whether it be composed on the spot, or repeated from memory.
Note well, that David, while he thus sought to have dealings with God, to come to close grips with the Lord in the act of prayer, was not presumptuously bold. He perceives the condescension of such fellowship on God’s part. This may be seen in the psalm. If you have the psalm open before you, kindly begin with the first line: “Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me.” As if he said, “Thou art so high that, unless thou shalt stoop, and stoop very low, thou canst not commune with me. But, Lord, do thus stoop. Bow down thine ear. From thy lofty throne, higher than an angel’s wing can reach, stoop thou down and listen to me—poor, feeble me.” This is what we must have in order to true prayer. Our prayer must climb to that great ear which hears the symphonies of the perfected, and the hallelujahs of cherubim and seraphim. Is there not something very wonderful about this, that we, who are both insignificant and unworthy, should be able to speak to him who made the stars, and upholds all things by the word of his power? Yet this is the essence of prayer: to rise, in human feebleness to talk with divine omnipotence; in nothingness to deal with all-sufficiency. You cannot venture upon this without the Mediator, Christ; but with the Mediator, what a wonderful fellowship a worm of the dust is permitted to enjoy with the infinite God! What condescension there is in a sinner communing with the thrice-holy Jehovah! Seek after this intercourse; nothing can excel it.
As you further read in this psalm, you will notice that David, in order to obtain this high privilege, pleads his need of it. He cries, “I am poor and needy”: as much as to say, “Lord, do come to me, do let me have personal intercourse with thee, for nothing else will serve my turn. I am so poor that thou alone canst enrich me; I am so feeble, that thou alone canst sustain me. Thou hast made me: Lord, forsake not the work of thine own hands! I, thy child, am full of wants, which thou only canst supply. Oh, deal with me in great compassion!” Virtually his plea is,
“Do not turn away thy face,
Mine’s an urgent, pressing case.”
Now, is not this very encouraging, that your claim upon God should lie in your need? You cannot say to God, “Lord, look at me, and commune with me, for I am somebody”; but you may say, “Lord, commune with me, for I am nobody.” You may not cry, “Lord, help me, for I can do much”; but you may cry, “Lord help me, for I can do nothing.” Your need is your most prevalent plea with God. When you are desiring to pray such a prayer as consists in intercourse with God, it is great condescension on his part to draw near to you; but he will condescend to your needs, and come near, because your misery needs his presence. God will not condescend to your pride, but he will bow his ear to your grief. If you set up a claim to merit, he will turn his back upon you; but if you come to him with a claim of necessity, which is merely a beggar’s claim when he asks for alms—an appeal to the charity of God’s sovereign love, then he will turn about and hear your prayer. Come, my heart, art thou not encouraged to come near to God, seeing he hath respect to thy low estate, and pitieth thy sorrows?
Read on, and you will find that David, in order to come into intercourse with God, next pleads his personal consecration: “Preserve my soul; for I am holy.” By this I understand him to mean, that he belongs to God; that he is consecrated and dedicated to the divine service. Should not the priest handle the golden bowl? Should not the priest enter into the holy place? And should not God therefore come and deal with the man who is dedicated to his use, and set apart to his service? My dear brothers and sisters, can you say to-night that you live for God? Do you recognize that you are not your own, but bought with a price? Well, there dwells an argument in that fact—a reason why the Lord God should come and take hold of you, and link himself with you. You are the vessels of his sanctuary, you are the instruments of his divine service, you are consecrated to his honour, and you may expect him therefore to touch you with his hand, to employ you in his work, and to identify himself with you in your circumstances and necessities.
Moreover, David, anxious to use every argument, pleads his trust: “Save thy servant that trusteth in thee.” This is a conquering plea: “Lord, my sole reliance is on thee; come to me, then, and justify the confidence which thou thyself hast inspired.” “Without faith it is impossible to please God;” but when God has given us faith, then we may be quite sure that we do please him; and if we please him, then, like Enoch, who pleased him, we shall walk with him. You may expect, in prayer, to find God drawing near to you, if in very deed you are holding to him as the one ground of your confidence. Brethren, are you sure that you do trust in God? You answer, “Yes.” Ah! then let me say to you, that you shall have a reward, and that reward will probably be that you will be taught to trust him more. That you may rise to a larger faith you will probably suffer greater troubles than you have hitherto known. The reward of service is more service. A good soldier, who has fought through many battles, and won many victories, shall be sent out to the wars next time his master’s forces want a captain. You, having already trusted, shall have your faith further tried, in order that you may glorify God, and so arrive at a greater faith. Do you not see that faith largely lies in the realization that God is, and that God is near? And if you so realize God when you bow the knee in prayer, you may expect to have sweet intercourse with him. Many years ago I trusted God about many things, and I found him true; but of late I have had to take a step in advance, and trust God wholly and alone, in the teeth of all appearances. I have been called almost literally to stand alone in contending against error; and in this I have distinctly taken a nearer place in prayer with the God whom I serve in my spirit. It is very well to rest on God when you have other props, but it is best of all to rest on him when every prop is knocked away. To hang on the bare arm of God is glorious dependence; and he that has once done it, cannot think of ever going back to trust in men again. “No,” says he, “I tried you once, and you failed me. I had you with me, and I trusted God in you; but now that you have turned from me, I will trust God alone without you, even though you now come back to the man you deserted.” Dependence upon the Lord creates a glorious independence of man. Verily, it is true, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm”; but verily, verily, it is true, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.” Part of that blessedness will be found in the communion which such a man enjoys with God whenever he approaches him in prayer.
Still, following the same line, notice that David pleads for God’s presence because he is God’s servant. He says here, “Save thy servant.” A servant has liberty to enquire as to his master’s will, and he is justified in asking to see his Lord. If he is employed upon his master’s business, he says, “I want orders. I wish to tell my master my difficulties, and to seek from him a supply for those necessities which his service will bring upon me.” You feel that he has a good and sufficient plea when he urges this request. Even so, if you can honestly feel that you are spending your strength in the Lord’s service, you, also, may lawfully expect that, when you draw near to him in prayer, your Master will speak to you as his servant, and he that has sent you will commune with you.
David urges yet another reason why just now he should see God, namely, that he is always in prayer: “I cry unto thee daily.” The Lord will hear your prayer, my dear hearer, to-night, if you never prayed before: I am quite sure of it. But I am still more sure that, if you have been long in the habit of prayer, it is not possible that the Father of mercies should cease to hear you. Oh, the sweet delights of constancy in prayer! The habit of prayer is charming, but the spirit of prayer is heavenly. Be always praying. Is that possible? Some have realized it, till the whole of the engagements of the day have been ablaze with prayer. God bring us each one into that condition! Then we need not barely hope that he will have intercourse with us, for we shall be already enjoying his presence and his fellowship. Blessed are we when prayer surrounds us like an atmosphere. Then we are living in the presence of God; we are continually conversing with him. May such be our lot! May we climb to the top of the mount of communion, and may we never come down from it!
David also tells the Lord that, when he could not attain to the nearness he desired, yet he struggled after it, and strained after it. Is not this the meaning of the expression, “Rejoice the soul of thy servant, for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul”? As much as if he said, “Lord, when I cannot climb the hill of fellowship, I labour to do so. If I cannot enter into thy presence, I groan until I do so.” We ought either to be rejoicing in the Lord, or pining after him! Ask God to make you miserable, unless his conscious presence makes you happy. Unless his love is shed abroad in your heart, to be the beginning of heaven, may you mourn his absence as a very hell to your soul! Often I pray—
“Oh, make my heart rejoice, or ache;
Resolve each doubt for me:
Lord, if it be not broken, break;
And heal it if it be.”
We want one of the two—either to commune with God, or else to sigh and cry till we do so. We must hunger and thirst after righteousness if we are not filled. To be in a state of content without fellowship with God would be a terrible condition indeed.
Now, when a man’s daily cries and inward strivings are after God, he may certainly expect that God in prayer will have intercourse with him. But again, I say, does it not seem extraordinary that you and I, insignificant persons, who can have no claim upon the great Maker of the universe, should yet be permitted to come to his courts—ay, even to come to himself through Christ Jesus, and speak with him as a man speaketh with his friend? Do not think that Abraham, when he stood before the Lord, and pleaded with him, as one man does with another, was singularly favoured above the rest of the elect family. It was a high favour, I cannot tell you how great; but such honour have all the saints. There are occasions with all his people when the Lord brings them very near, and speaks with them, and they with him, when his presence is to them as real as the all-pervading air, and they are as much rejoiced in it as in the presence of father, or wife, or child, or friend.
Still David, conscious of the great privilege which he sought, was not content without pleading the master argument of all: he pleads the great goodness of the Lord. Read it in verse five: “For thou, Lord, art good.” As much as to say—If thou wert not good thou wouldst never listen to me. I am, as it were, a noxious insect which a man might far sooner crush than speak with; and yet thou art so good, my God, that instead of setting thy foot on me, thou dost lift me up and talk with me. Who thinks of an angel talking with an emmet? That would be nothing; here is Jehovah speaking with a creature which is crushed before the moth. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” He lets an unworthy creature tell out its heart to him, and he bows his ear, and listens as earnestly as if there were no other voice in heaven to command his thought. He gives his whole attention to the feeble cry of an unworthy one. Such an amazing fact could not happen unless it were written, “For thou, Lord, art good.”
Ah! but besides that, there is sin in us. I can understand the great God forgetting our littleness, and bowing down to it; but for the holy God not to be held off by our sinfulness, this is a greater wonder still. But then the verse says he is “ready to forgive.” Ah, yes! when some of us think of what we were, we must be drowned in amazement that ever we should be permitted to commune with God. Yonder is a man who could once swear at an awful rate, and now God listens to his voice in prayer. Another was a Sabbath-breaker, a neglecter of the Word of God, a despiser of every holy and pure thing, and yet he is now permitted to come into intimate friendship with the Most High. It is very marvellous, is it not?
Remember, none ever washed Christ’s feet except a woman that was a sinner. Our Lord selects those that have been the greatest sinners to come into the nearest communion with himself. It may be he has raised up some sister here, who was once a tempter of others, to become a mighty intercessor in prayer for the salvation of others. It may be that some brother here, who once was—ah! but he is ashamed to remember what he was—has now become mighty in supplication; and, like Elijah, can open or shut the windows of heaven. Oh, the strangeness of Almighty grace! Let God’s name be magnified for ever and ever.
Thus I have enlarged on the first thought that, in prayer, it is vital to us really to speak with God. Before I leave it, I want to pass a question round the place. Do you, my dear hearers, all pray so as to speak with God? If not, what does it mean? If you merely repeat good words, what is the use of it? You might as well stand on a hill and talk to the moon, as kneel down and hurry through the Lord’s Prayer, and then think that you have prayed. I tell you, you might better do the first than the second, for you would not insult God in that case; whereas you do insult him in every one of those holy words which you use without thought, heart, and faith. Think how you would like your own child every Morning to come to you, and repeat a certain set of words without meaning anything thereby. You would say, “There, child, there, I have heard that often enough. Come to me no more with your empty noise.” You would not care for vain repetitions. But when your boy or girl says, “Father, I need such a thing, please give it me,” you hearken to the child’s words. It may be that you have not enough of this world’s goods to be very anxious that your children should come with large petitions; but if you were sufficiently rich, you would say, “That is right, dear child. Is there anything else you want? Tell me what it is. I will right gladly give you all things that are needful for you.” You would wish your child’s request to be an intelligent one, and then you would gladly attend to it. If your prayer does not come from your heart it will not go to God’s heart; and if it does not bring you near to God, so that you are speaking to him, you have simply wasted your breath. You have done worse than nothing, for in all likelihood you have daubed your conscience over with the notion that you have prayed, and so you have even done yourself serious harm by a flattering deceit. Oh, that God would save you from being so foolish!
II. And now I come to the second point, and I pray God to give me strength to speak upon it, and give you grace to hear it. Not at any great length, but with much earnestness, I have to remind you that David, in his prayer, desired PERSONAL ANSWERS FROM GOD. When we pray, we expect God to hear us, even as David says, “In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.”
I must not speak for all Christians in this matter; but I may speak for myself and for many dear brethren in the faith, and I must boldly say that we expect the Lord to hear our prayers; nay, we are sure that he does so. We hear our fellow-Christians say, when we tell them of instances in which God has heard our prayers, “How very extraordinary!” And we look at them, and say, “Extraordinary!” Has it become an extraordinary thing for God to be true to his own promise? I like better the remark of the good old lady, who, when her prayer was answered, was asked, “Does it not surprise you?” She said, “No, it does not surprise me; it is just like him.” If any one of you had a promise from a friend that, upon your sending in a note, he would give you such and such a thing; if you sent the request, and he fulfilled his promise, would you say, “I am greatly surprised at his action”? No, no: you believe that your friend means what he says, and you look for him to keep his word. O child of God, deal with God on those terms. The wonder was, that he should make the promise at all; but when he has made the promise, it is not wonderful that he should keep it. He expects you to ask, and he waits to give.
A promise is like a cheque. If I have a cheque, what do I do with it? Suppose I carried it about in my pocket, and said, “I do not see the use of this bit of paper, I cannot buy anything with it,” a person would say, “Have you been to the bank with it?” “No, I did not think of that.” “But it is payable to your order. Have you written your name on the back of it?” “No, I have not done that.” “And yet you are blaming the person who gave you the cheque? The whole blame lies with yourself. Put your name at the back of the cheque, go with it to the bank, and you will get what is promised to you.” A prayer should be the presentation of God’s promise endorsed by your personal faith. I hear of people praying for an hour together. I am very pleased that they can; but it is seldom that I can do so, and I see no need for it. It is like a person going into a bank with a cheque, and stopping an hour. The clerks would wonder. The common-sense way is to go to the counter and show your cheque, and take your money, and go about your business. There is a style of prayer which is of this fine practical character. You so believe in God that you present the promise, obtain the blessing, and go about your Master’s business. Sometimes a flood of words only means excusing unbelief. The prayers of the Bible are nearly all short ones: they are short and strong. The exceptions are found in places of peculiar difficulty, like that of Jacob, when he cried,
“With thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.”
As a general rule, faith presents its prayer, gets its answer, and goes on its way rejoicing. We expect our God to answer our prayer all the more surely when we are in trouble. David so expected: “In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.” Trouble is sent to make us pray. When we pray, the prayer becomes the solace of our trouble; and when the prayer is heard, it becomes the salvation out of our trouble. Many of you would be out of trouble quickly if you prayed. “Sir, I have been doing my best.” And what is your best? A better thing than your best is to wait upon the Lord. Often and often trial has to rap our fingers to make us let go our harmful confidences, and turn to the Lord. With our vain-confidence we are like a madman with a razor: the more we grasp it, the more it cuts us. Drop the deadly self-trust; trust in God, and look to him, and your deliverance will speedily come to you. If you should have no answer at any other time, you will assuredly be heard in the time of trouble if you trust in the Lord.
Now, if we expect God to answer us, we do so on very good grounds. There are certain natural reasons. I was turning over in my mind the question, “Why do I pray? Why have I any reason to believe that God hears me?” And I thought to myself, “Well, on natural grounds I have a right to believe that God will hear prayer, or otherwise why is prayer commanded?” The Scripture is full of prayer. It is an institution of the old covenant, as well as of the new, and yet it is a piece of folly if God does not hear it.
“Oh,” says somebody, “but it does you good to pray, even though there may be no such a thing as God’s hearing prayer.” It might do an idiot good to pray when he knew there was no hearing of prayer on God’s part; but not being an idiot myself, I could not perform such a stupid exercise. I would as soon sit on a five-barred gate, and whistle to the hills as offer prayer if I did not hope to be heard. If there is no God that hears prayer, I shall not pray, nor will any other rational being. Show prayer to be unheard of God, and you have shown it to be a folly. Show prayer to be a folly, and who will pursue it? Does God invite us to pray? Does he command us to pray? Are there many injunctions of this kind—“Men ought always to pray, and not to faint”; “Pray without ceasing”; and so on? Then prayer must be heard of God. How would it be with you if you said to a number of poor people, “Come round to my gate to-morrow, and I will relieve your distresses”? Would you not intend to relieve their distresses when you said so? I cannot imagine that you would be so diabolical as to keep on saying, “Come to my house. Whenever you are hungry, come to my table. Whenever you need clothes, come to my door, and ask”; all the while saying to yourself, “But I do not intend to give you anything. You may come, and ring the bell as long as you like; it will be fine exercise for you, but I shall take no notice of your appeals.” It would be a most shocking and disgraceful mockery of misery. God will not serve us in that fashion. The very institution of prayer gives us the assurance that God intends to hear and to answer.
Observe, again, that prayer has been universal among all the saints. There have been saints of different moulds and temperaments, but they have all prayed. Some of them have been, like Heman and Asaph, masters of song, and they have prayed; others could not sing, but they have all prayed. To-day you may meet with all sorts of Christians, holding many kinds of doctrines, but they all pray; and what is most curious, they all pray alike, too. You can scarcely detect a difference when they pray.
“The saints in prayer appear as one,
In word, and deed, and mind.”
A man may preach doctrine contrary to the grace of God; but get him on his knees, and he prays to God for grace, as heartily as John Calvin himself. We are one at the mercy-seat. Whatever doctrinal views we may hold, when we plead with the living God, in the power of the Holy Ghost, we are poured into one mould. How is this? If, all the ages through, saints have prayed, have they all been fools? Have they all exercised themselves in a way that was utterly useless and absurd? Do not believe it!
Note again, that the more godly and holy a man is, the more he prays. You never heard yet that a man began to backslide, or that a sober man became a drunkard, through praying too much. Did you ever hear of a person becoming unkind to his wife, ungenerous to the poor, negligent of public worship, or guilty of grievous sin, through being too much in prayer? No; the case is the reverse. As the man loves God more, and becomes more like Christ, he takes greater delight in prayer. That cannot be an idle and useless exercise which the best of men have followed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If there be a possibility of error, we err in the best of company: for yonder comes the Lord Jesus himself from his lonely haunt, with the burrs of the heather from the mountain-side sticking to his garments. He has spent all night in agonizing prayer. He will not open his mouth to preach to the multitude till first of all he has received a new anointing from his Father’s hand in secret fellowship with heaven. Our Master and his best disciples have abounded in prayer.
Well, dear friends, these are natural reasons; and there are a great many more, if you will think them out.
But, if you turn to Scriptural reasons, why was there a mercy-seat if there is nothing in prayer? Why does the throne of grace still remain as a permanent institution, of which Paul says, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace,” unless there is a reality in it? Tell me, why is Christ the way to the mercy-seat? Why is he himself the great Intercessor and Mediator, if there is nothing in prayer? The Holy Ghost helpeth our infirmities in prayer; surely there must be something effectual where he lends his aid. What! is he, after all, helping us to do a thing which produces no result?—helping us to present petitions which will never reach the ear of God? Tell that to the philosophers; we are not so credulous.
For, once more, we know that God hears prayer, because we have met with multitudes of his people who can tell of answers to prayer. What is more, we are ourselves among that number. Looking back on my diary, I find it studded with answers to prayer. Often when I have talked with friends of an Evening, telling them a few cases in which God has heard my cries in time of need, they have said, “Have you written these down?” “Well, no, I cannot say that I have.” “Oh,” says one, “pray do not let such facts be lost.” I have to reply that many cases of answered prayer are quite beyond the belief of average people. I know them to be true, but I do not expect others to believe my tale. When William Huntington wrote his “Bank of Faith,” some people called it a “Bank of Nonsense.” I could write twenty “Banks of Faith,” and every word should be as sure as an honest man could write; but the only result would be, that people would say, “Oh, well, you know, that is the result of the good man’s fanaticism.” The moment that the moderns do not like to believe a thing, they call it fanatical. If we were put into a witness-box to-morrow, our testimony would have weight with the court; but yet, the moment we talk about God’s hearing prayer, oh, then we are romancing, and our witness is not to be received. But, brothers and sisters, we bear a true witness, whether men receive it or not. I solemnly declare that no fact is better proved by my experience than this, that the Lord hears the prayers of his believing people. You, each one, will know for himself, or herself, whether there is a God that hears prayer. Does he answer your petitions? Brethren, you are sure that he does, and at the asking of the question you bow your heads and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” My dear brother, William Olney, sits here among us: have we not prayed him twice back from the gates of the grave? He lives as an instance of answered prayer. There is not a stone or a beam about this great Tabernacle but has been an answer to our prayers. In days when, as a congregation, we were few and feeble, we ventured on the serious enterprise of building this great house, and we prayed it up stone by stone, to the praise and glory of God. If we who worship beneath this dome did not believe in prayer, the stones out of the wall would cry out against us.
But I hear a voice saying, “There are so many difficulties about prayer being heard.” Are there? The farther I go in this life, the more difficulties I am informed of, though I should not have discovered them myself. I am assured that there are great difficulties about eating, breathing, and sleeping. As to the very air, I do not know what it is not full of: it teems with the seeds of disease, and the wonder is that we live at all. But we do live, do we not? and we shall eat our suppers to-night despite the difficulties in connection with food. As to the difficulties connected with prayer, they are altogether philosophical difficulties, and by no means practical ones. If you are philosophers, you may weary your heads about them; but if you are simple, practical people, you may pray, and receive the blessing.
“Ay, but the power of prayer with God supposes that God may change.” Well, our doing anything supposes that, but it is a mere supposition. Your even walking home to-night might raise a difficulty as to the decrees of God; but it is a non-existent difficulty. After you have entertained it as long as you like, you will find that you have entertained a shadow. Suppose that you leave off supposing, and just do as God tells you, and see whether it does not work. When you find that it does practically work, let other people enjoy the difficulties. I do not eat meat; but if I did, I should always feel quite satisfied to let my dogs have the bones: the meat would satisfy me. If there are any difficulties about prayer, the dogs may have them—I mean the philosophers; but as for us, simple Christian people, we are satisfied with the meat of the precious fact that prayer brings every blessing from above. We pray, and God hears us, and that is enough for us. Our God does not change his will, and yet he wills a change in answer to prayer.
I have done when I have made this further remark. I cannot expect any man to believe that he can commune with God, or that God will in very deed hear his prayer, and grant him his desire, unless he has been led personally to try it. But if, by the Spirit of God, he has been led to seek after God, and to draw near to God, I shall have no need of further arguments with him. That man has now entered upon a new life, in which he will be capable of understanding new things. Until he does enter upon that life, he is spiritually deaf, and blind; and what can he know about spiritual realities? Our Lord has said to us, “Ye must be born again.” When we are born again, then the life within turns toward the life of God, and has fellowship with God, and God answers to it, and the desire of the godly one is granted. Oh! the honour of communion with God! Happy beings who enjoy it! How unspeakable the privilege of pouring out your hearts before God! Delight yourselves therein before you fall asleep this night. Oh, the holy quietude which it brings! You have not an ounce of care to carry, because all your burden is, in prayer and supplication, laid on him that careth for you! Oh, the love that dwells in the heart of the man who draws near to God in prayer! You cannot love God at a distance. You must draw nearer, and nearer, or love will not rest. As when one comes into the sunshine, he feels the warmth, so when we come nearer to God we have more joy in him. Keep near to God; abound in prayer; let your supplications be instant and constant; and you will be sure that the Father himself hears your cries!
Oh, that some here who never prayed would begin at once! Trust in Jesus, the Intercessor, and let that trust show itself by pleading the merit of his blood in earnest prayer. Oh, that you would now begin that holy life of prayer which shall lead up to the eternal life of praise at the right hand of God. Amen.
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These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. Acts 1:14
Just as prayer was central to the life of the early church, it is central to Friends today. Prayer has many facets — love, adoration, thanksgiving, surrender, confession, transformation, guidance, supplication, intercession, cleansing, purification, healing, forgiveness, praise, and the quiet joy of being in the presence of God. Prayer is daily communion with God, in which we come to know Jesus as Friend, Teacher, and Lord. This daily practice has been important to Friends through the centuries, as exemplified by London Yearly Meeting’s query: “Do you make a place in your daily life for inward retirement and waiting upon God that you may learn the full meaning of prayer and the joy of communion with Him? And do you live in daily dependence upon His help and guidance?” Many Friends through the years have taken a time aside each day for retirement, a time of quiet prayer, often reading a Bible passage followed by quiet prayer and reflection. Friends have been encouraged through the years to turn to God throughout each day and night in inward prayer, worship, and surrender, always endeavoring to place God at the center of life, and praying to abide in Christ’s Life and power, and under the guidance of the Inward Teacher. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Many have become accustomed to thinking of prayer as a monologue that we direct to God. Prayer is actually something that God does in us. “Prayer is a gift.” When we turn to God in prayer, we turn to One who is already within us and waiting. One who seeks us first, and will teach us how to pray. “Before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24). “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
It is important to “open the door” by taking time aside regularly for prayer, taking time for retirement daily. Usually a set time each day is helpful. Some Friends find it helpful to go to one place in their home or garden to pray. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He prayed a prayer which is sometimes called the “Lord’s Prayer.” He prayed this prayer, not to be used as a form or as “vain repetitions” (Matt. 6:7), but to share important aspects of prayer. This prayer brings before God all things, large and small — from the coming of the Kingdom to daily bread. It begins and ends with adoration. Jesus begins the prayer with “Our Father which art in heaven,” grounding prayer in relationship with God. Prayer begins with worship — “Hallowed be thy name.” Jesus prays for the coming of the kingdom, and asks that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He asks for personal needs, forgiveness, and deliverance, all under God’s care and love.
As modern people, we may be struggling with many questions about prayer. How can we influence God? Should we try to do so? How can we pray rightly? What are we to think when our prayers appear to go unanswered? It is important to begin to pray, no matter where you are in regard to these questions. It is known from experience that prayer brings us closer to God, so don’t wait until you have solved these questions to pray. London Yearly Meeting encourages Friends “reverently yet daringly to make fuller experiment of the life of trust and consecration through prayer, that they may know relief from the burden of anxiety and perplexity and realize the joy of health and victory, whereby they may become centers of radiant energy for the help and healing of others.”
Everyone who prays comes to times of dryness — times when God is seemingly absent. It is as if one is forsaken by God. One feels and senses nothing. One feels abandoned and deserted This can occur over long periods of time, or occur from time to time, almost as seasons, alterations in times when we know God’s presence and then God’s seeming absence. Perhaps these times are given to us to teach us that we can’t manage God — that God is not a puppet on a string that we can manipulate. As our trust in inward feelings becomes shattered, we can learn faith in God alone. God works in us during these dry times to produce detachment, humility, patience, and perseverance. These are times for trusting in God and patient waiting. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).
Prayer as Relationship with God
As in all things, we have a perfect example of prayer in the life of Jesus. He shows us how a life of constant prayer enables one to live in a close and transforming relationship with God. It is evident that prayer was very important in Jesus’ relationship to God. There are frequent references in the Gospel accounts to Jesus’ prayer life. He often sought a place for solitude and took time apart for prayer. He prayed during important times in His ministry such as the temptation in the desert, the Sermon on the Mount, His healing ministry, His transfiguration, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Cross.
These times in prayer were important to Jesus in communing with God. They drew him closer to the Father, whom He called “Abba” or “Daddy,” indicating their intimate relationship. Jesus’ prayers enabled Him to center His life in God and to know and do God’s will in His life and ministry. In prayer, He became one with the Father’s will.
In Jesus’ final discourse with the disciples just before His betrayal and death, He invited all people to enter into this same close relationship. He prayed for the disciples and all of His other followers, “That they all may be one as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21).
Jesus explained what it meant to be one by using a familiar example from the natural world, the vine and the branches. He said, “I am the true vine … abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:1,5). In prayer, we learn to abide in the Vine, and have such a deep and close relationship with God that our whole lives are transformed by becoming more and more attuned to God, and to God’s desires for our lives and for the world. To abide in Christ is to remain attached to the Root, to draw all Life from Him, to bring our minds, hearts, and souls into Christ’s Life, to draw all wisdom, Life and strength from Him, and to live under His guidance, Life, and Power.
By abiding in Christ through prayer we become new persons, remade into the image of Christ (Gal. 2:20). As Christ lives more and more in us, we bear fruit and become Christ’s presence and love in the world (as individuals and as the Meeting community). “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love” (John 15:8-9).
Through prayer, we learn how to bear fruit by becoming open to God’s leadings and being given the strength to follow them: “Ye are my Friends if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). Jesus prayed to the Father to send the Spirit of truth who dwells with us and in us (John 14:17), who will teach us all things (John 14:26). As part of living in this transformed life under the guidance and direction of the indwelling Spirit, the Spirit teaches us how to pray. Spirit led prayer becomes one of the ways for this transformation of life to take place, as well as one of the fruits of this transformation. The Inward Guide teaches us so that we know how to pray: “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth, what is in the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).
As our lives become more and more led by the Inward Teacher, we will be “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6: 18). Jesus said, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7). If we are abiding in Christ and Christ in us, we will be in accord with the mind of God, and all that we hope or pray for will conform to His will. This is what is meant by praying in Jesus’ name (John 14:13). it is in prayer that we learn to relinquish our will so that it becomes one with the Father’s will, just as Jesus did in His Life. As we live out this transformed life under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our whole life becomes a prayer. We come to live for God, loving God above all, letting God take over our lives, opening ourselves to His Love, and living out His will. This is the meaning of “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Prayer in the Meeting Community
Prayer plays an important part in the life of the Meeting community in its relationship to God, to Meeting members, and to the wider world. Prayer is important in both Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Business. The prayers of all uphold and undergird the worship. The Meeting is helped when Friends come to the Meeting in a spirit of prayer, which is strengthened by their prayers throughout the week. Prayers for individuals and for the Meeting itself help the Meeting to become centered, so that a true spirit of worship arises. Some Friends pray for each individual in the Meeting as a way of centering. There are also prayers for the Meeting as a whole and for this particular time of worship — that it may be centered on God’s presence and open to God’s direction and guidance. Prayer undergirds vocal ministry — prayers to be attuned to God’s guidance for those giving the message and for those receiving it.
In Meeting for Business, it is this deep sense of prayer which is needed to find God’s will for the Meeting. Very difficult subjects have sometimes been resolved when extended time has been taken for prayer. Vocal prayer during Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Business is an important part of the worship. When the silent waiting worship is living, the worshipers seek to discern each other’s needs, to bear in their own hearts the sufferings of the wider world, and to feel the call to dedication in the service of the Kingdom of God.
Silent prayer may then lead also to vocal prayer. Vocal prayer can unite the whole Meeting in praise and dedication to God, and to God’s purposes. Those feeling a leading to pray, wait for the Spirit to pray through them, and then kneel to pray the prayer inspired by God. Intercessory prayers for those in the Meeting community are an important way of sharing Christ’s love with each other. “In intercession we share with God our deepest desires for others . . . we can have no right desire for others in which God has not forestalled us. It was His desire before it was ours. . . . All intercession is a self-offering, a self-giving, a longing that what we ask for others may be done, if need be, through our selves.” Sometimes we learn in prayer that we can do nothing for the person and the situation, and through prayer, learn the trust to place the person and the situation in God’s hands.
Prayer and The World
Prayer is the basis for helping to bring in God’s Kingdom of peace, righteousness, and justice. It is through prayer that we find the guidance and strength to be God’s presence in the world. This is exemplified in the life of John Woolman, an 18th- century Friend, who was active in many concerns for bringing God’s love and justice to slaves and slave holders, the poor, native Americans, and animals and the creation. Woolman found the guidance, strength, and courage to do God’s work in these areas through prayer. For others, it is through prayer that they learn that prayer itself is the way they are led to care for the world with God’s love. For example, some find their ministry in praying for the homeless, for children, for the unemployed, and for others in need.
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