Thoughts on prayer

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From Hannah More:

Prayer is the application of want to Him who only can relieve it, the voice of sin to Him who alone can pardon it. It is the urgency of poverty, the prostration of humility, the fervency of penitence, the confidence of trust. I It is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness, but the felling of it; not figures of speech, but compunction of soul. It is the “Lord, save us, we perish”; of drowning Peter; the cry of faith to the ear of mercy.

Adoration is the noblest employment of created beings; confession, the natural language of guilty creatures; gratitude, the spontaneous expression of pardoned sinners. Prayer is desire; it is not a mere conception of the mind, nor a mere effort of the intellect, nor an act of the memory; but an elevation of the soul towards its maker; a pressing sense of our own ignorance and infirmity; a consciousness of the perfection of God, of His readiness to hear, of His power to help, of His willingness to save. It is not an emotion reduced in the sense, nor an effect wrought by the imagination; but a determination of the will, an effusion of the heart.

Prayer is the guide to self-knowledge, by prompting us to look after our sins in order to pray against them; a motive to vigilance, by teaching us to guard against those sins which, through self-examination, we have been enabled to detect.

Prayer is an act both of the understanding and of the heart. The understanding must apply itself to the knowledge of the Divine perfections, or the heart will not be led to the adorations of them. It would not be a reasonable service, if the mind was excluded. It must be rational worship, or the human worshipper would not bring to the service the distinguishing faculty of his nature, which is reason. It must be spiritual worship, or it would lack the distinctive quality to make it accetable to him who is a Spirit, and who has declared that he will be worshippped “in spirit and in truth.” Prayer is right in itself as the most powerful means of resisting sin and advancing in holiness. It is above all right, as everything is which has the authority of Scripture, the commmand of God, and the example of Christ.

It is a hackneyed objection to the use of prayer, that is is offending to the omnscience of God to suppose he requires information of our wants. But no objection can be more futile. We do not pray to inform God of our wants, but to express our sense of the wants which he already knows. As he has not so much made his promises to our necessities as to our requests, it is reaonsble that our requests should be made before we can hope that our necessities will be relieved. God does not promise to those who want, that they shall “have,” but to those who “ask”; nor to those who need, that they shall “find,’ but to those who “seek.” So far, therefore, from his previous knowledge of our wants being a ground of objection to prayer, it is in fact, the true ground itself for our application. Were he not knowledge itself, our information would be of as little use as our application would be were he not goodness itself.

We cannot atttain a just notion of prayer while we remain ignorant of our own nature, of the nature of God as revealed in Scripture, of our relation to him, and dependence on him. If, therefore, we do not live in the daily study of the Holy Scriptures, we shall want the highest motives to this duty and the best helps for performing it; if we do, the cogency of these motives, and the inestimable value of these helps, will render argument unnecessary, and exhortations superfluous.

One cause, therefore, of the dullness of so many Christians in prayer, is their slight acquaintance with the sacred volume. They hear it periodically, they read it occasionally, they are contented to know it historically, to consider it superficially; but they do not endavor to get their minds imbued with its spirit. If they store their memory with its facts, they do not impress their hearts with its truths. They do not regard it as the nutriment on which their spiritual life and growth depend. They do not pray over it; they do not consider all its doctrines as of practial application; they do not cultivate that spiritual discernment which alone can enable them judiciously to appropriate its promises and its denunciations to their own actual case. They do not apply it as an unerring line to ascertain their own rectitude or obliquity.

In our retirements we too often fritter away our precious moments–moments rescued from the world–in trivial, sometimes, it is to be feared, in corrupt thoughts. But if we must give the reins to our imagination, let us send this excursive faculty to range among great and noble objects. Let it stretch forward, under the sanction of faith and the anticipation of prophecy, to the acomplishment of those glorious promises and tremndous threatenings which will soon be realized in the eternal world. These are topics which, under the safe and sober guidance of Scripture, will fix its largest speculations and sustain its loftiest flights. The same Scripture, while it expands and elevates the mind, will keep it subject to the domnation of truth; while, at the same time it will teach it that its boldest excursion must fall infinitely short of the astonishing realitiies of a future state.

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