Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday in Lent 5: We can never pray a prayer incapable of answer

Opening Sentence
I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." Luke 15:18, 19

Commemoration: Charles Henry Brent
Heavenly Father, whose Son prayed that we all might be one: deliver us from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance, that, following your servant Charles Henry Brent, we may be united in one family with all who confess the Name of thy Son Jesus Christ: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 120, 121, 122, 123

Lessons: Exodus 5-6:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20-33, 39-40; Mark 9:42-50

In one shape or another the religious question which gives thoughtful, religious people the most trouble is probably the question of Prayer. We cannot doubt that it has always been so. We feel sure that in every condition of religion, down to the lowest, in which human beings are moved to supplicate God at all, the struggle between the two feelings, between the instinct that God must hear and answer, and the doubt whether God can hear and answer, has been always going on. It is not a struggle of our days alone; it is not a question which certain peculiar tendencies of our time have brought on.

Is it possible for the great First Cause to be laid open to appeals which originate in human wills, and so to yield to causes behind God in governing God's action? You see our very jealousness for God's honor comes and lays itself across the path by which our timid souls are creeping to the mercy-seat. The very greatness which tempts us to trust God seems to forbid us to ask.

"If ye abide in me." Oh, my dear friends, how many of our prayers must go unprayed, if we sent them up tot he mercy-seat through that judgment-chamber where the words of Jesus sit! How many times we have complained that our prayer brought no answer, when it was a prayer we never could have prayed unless we first drove out every word of Christ from its abiding-place within us! is there a Christian here who can declare before God that he or she ever prayed to God in perfect submission to Christ's will, in perfect conformity to Christ's Words, and got no answer? Not here; not in all the world; not in all the ages!

This is the meaning of Christ's promise: The true Christian must always have an answer to prayer, because we can never pray a prayer incapable of answer. Does it sound like a mere truism? Is it an insignificant conclusion that we have reached? Does it amount to nothing to say that Christ will grant all our prayers because we cannot ask anything that God is not willing and anxious to grant already? Surely there is no weakening of the thought of prayer in this. How would you strengthen it? Would you say that  the good Christian may ask of God things that God is unwilling to bestow, and gain them? But why is God unwilling to bestow them except for one of two causes: either that the giving of them would injure the soul that asks them, or that it would interfere with some plan that the divine wisdom has shaped for the universe at large? In either case can you conceive of a true and filial prayer demanding the unwilling boon? Grant that Christians have the power, will they use it? Must they not in using it depart out of that harmony with Christ which is the very condition of success, cease to abide in him, and so fail of the dangerous gift that is desired?

The result of our whole study of Prayer today seems to be this, that it involves far more than we ordinarily think -- a certain necessary relation between the soul and God. The condition of prayer is personal; it looks to character. How this rebukes our ordinary slipshod notions of what it is to pray! God's mercy-seat is no mere stall set by the vulgar roadside, where every careless passer-by may put an easy hand out to snatch any glittering blessing that catches the eye. It stands in the holiest of holies. We can come to it only through veils and by altars of purification. To enter into it, we must enter into God.

Phillips Brooks 

Prayer is the Soul's Sincere Desire