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without prayer—the dead set and insistent craving of the heart after evil. In any group of men, you may not in this sense divide those who pray from those who do not. All are praying the prayer of dominant desire. The great question is: what are they after? what is their demand on life?
It is to be noted, also, that prayer in this sense is the inward measure of any man's quality. Living beings reveal their grade in the scale of existence by their wants. Inanimate things want nothing Stones and clods are undisturbed by any sense of lack. The faintest glimmering of life, however, brings in the reign of want. Even in some one-celled Amoeba rolling about in search of food, the presence of life means a hunger which is the rudiment of prayer. And from these dim beginnings of instinctive need to the spiritual demands of sage and saint, the extent and quality of a being's wants are a good measure of his life.
In the difference between a savage, wanting nothing but nakedness, a straw-hut, and raw food to content him, and one of us, demanding conveniences that lay tribute on the ends of the earth, our material progress can be measured. In the difference between an African dwarf, with no interests beyond his jungle's edge, and a modern scientist beating the wings of his enquiry against the uttermost bars of the universe, we can gauge our intellectual growth. In the difference between a pagan with his fetish, and Paul saying of his life with Christ, "I press on,” our spiritual enlargement is measured. The greater a man is, the wider and deeper and finer are his desires. His prayer is the measure of him. What it takes to meet his need is the gauge of his size. Men come into life as they move into strange cities and at once begin praying. Some ask for the city's places of vulgar amusement or of vice; some for the best music and the finest art; some for low companionship, others for good friends; and some for the centers of social service and the temples of God. So each man prays and as he prays he reveals his quality. No man can escape the prayer of dominant desire, nor evade the inevitable measurement of his life by his prayer.
IV This truth becomes very serious when we face a further development of it: that the prayer of dominant desire always tends to attain its object. This is true, in the first place, because a central craving organizes all the faculties of our lives about itself and sets mind and hands to do its bidding. Of the three ways in which men cooperate with God, working, thinking, and praying, a cursory view might suggest that praying is a somewhat superfluous addition; that, at least, the other two plainly belong first in importance. On the contrary the prayer of dominant desire habitually precedes thought and work. We think and labor because in our innermost heart we have prayed first, because some Desire is in us, calling to our minds, “Come, bring me this !” and ordering our hands, “Go bring me that!” Desire is the elemental force in human experience.
A man wants money. That is his real demand on life-his prayer. How his mind, then, puts on servile livery to wait on his dominant desire! How quick his wit becomes, how sinewy his thought in the service of his prayer! Wherever men concentrate their wills, apply their minds and submit to toil, back of this visible consequence is dominant desire. If Bismarck stops at nothing in amalgamating the German Empire, an ambition is in the saddle—“You may hang me,” he said, “so long as the rope you do it with binds Germany to the Prussian throne.” And if Burns writes incomparable Scotch lyrics, we must trace his labor back to his prayer:
“E'en then a wish (I mind its pow'r),
Shall strongly heave my breast,
Or sing a song at least.” Dominant desire gathers up the scattered faculties, concenters the mind, nerves the will, and drives hard toward the issue. It always tends to achieve its end. As John Burroughs put it, “If you have a thing in mind, it is not long before you have it in hand.”
This prayer of dominant desire, however, tends to achieve its object, not merely because it concentrates the powers within the man, but because it calls into alliance with it
forces from without the man. Wherever there is low pressure in the atmosphere, thither the wind rushes to fill the need. So the cravings of men create low-pressure areas and, from without, help blows in to the fulfilment of their desires. This is easily illustrated in the social life, for in every enterprise now on foot in the world, men are endeavoring to supply other men's desires—churches to meet the desire for worship, saloons to meet the craving for drink, schools to supply the thirst for knowledge. Behind every organization lies a craving. Human wants are the open bays that call the sea of human effort in.
This truth is just as evident in the life of the individual. When a man craves vicious pleasure, low companions inevitably drift to him from every side; low books that pure minds pass unobserved, flow in to satisfy his appetite. His prayer creates a call that is answered by everything kindred to his want. As a whirlwind catches up the adjacent air into its vortex, so a man's desire calls in the congenial forces of his environment. To the prodigal, doubtless, every evil influence in the village came by spiritual gravitation to further his evil purpose, until at last his dominant desire drew his father in. The very patrimony which was meant to be his blessing he used in furtherance of his controlling passion until it proved his curse.
To translate the story at once into the terms of our experience with God, the universe itself responds to a man's insistent demands upon it. Even the forces of the Spiritual World align themselves, however reluctantly, with a man's controlling prayer. He can create a back eddy in the river of God's will, and the very waters that would have helped him go straight on, will now swirl around his dominant desire.
Here, then, is one of the most revealing and startling aspects in which the meaning of prayer may be considered : we all are praying the prayer of dominant desire, our quality is measured by it; and because it both engages in its service our inward powers and calls to its furtherance forces from without, it tends with certainty to achieve its end.
When from this general consideration of prayer as desire, we move up to the more usual thought of prayer as the soul's
definite approach to God, we gain outlooks on our subject that no other road so well affords. We see clearly that many of the speeches addressed to God that we have called our prayers are not real prayers at all. They are not our dominant desires. They do not express the inward set and determination of our lives. What we pray for in the closet is not the thing that daily we are seeking with undiscourageable craving. It is not difficult to pray with the lips for renewed character and serviceable life, for social justice and the triumph of the Gospel. The Bible shows us in many a familiar passage what we ought to pray for. The liturgies of the churches too are beautifully eloquent with prayers that welled up from sincerely aspiring hearts, and we readily can frame petitions that copy the letter of the churches' prayers. A man in this superficial sense may gain the trick of public supplication. His prayers are eloquent and beautiful, they are verbal aspiration after most worthy things. But as with “Solomon's Prayer" at the dedication of the temple, there is an appalling hiatus between the requests publicly made and the manifest desires of the man who prays. Prayer that is not dominant desire is too weak to achieve anything. Any loitering student can cheaply pray to be learned ; any idler in the market place can pray to be rich; any irresolute dodger of duty can pray for a vigorous character. But such praying is not really prayer.
"Prayer is the souls sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
That trembles in the breast."
This perception of the nature of true prayer as dominant desire addressed to God, lights up two important matters. For one thing it adds a significant contribution to our thought on unanswered prayer. It suggests that while a man's outward petition may be denied, his dominant desire, which is his real prayer, may be granted. Parents for example pray for their children's character and usefulness. They ask that godliness and public-mindedness may make their sons and daughters men and women of spiritual distinction. Such supplications are eminently worthy; but too often, proper as they are, they do not represent the parent's dominant desire. The real wish that controls decisions, that creates the atmos
phere of the home and shapes the character of the children, is the parents' ambition for the children's wealth or social
There lies the family's masterful craving. Now as between the spoken prayer and the dominant desire, is there any question which will be answered? The fact is that the real prayer of that family tends inevitably to be answered. Many a man would have to confess that for all his denied petition, he had gotten what his heart was inwardly set upon. The controlling passion in any life draws an answer, sometimes with appalling certainty.
Men are given to complaining of unanswered prayer, but the great disasters are due to answered prayers. The trouble with men is that so often they do get what they want. When the prodigal in the far country came to himself, friends gone, reputation gone, will-power almost gone, to find himself poor, hungry, feeding swine, he was suffering from the consequence of an answered prayer, a dominant desire fulfilled. So Lot wanted Sodom, and got it; Ahab craved Naboth's vineyard, and seized it; Judas desired the thirty pieces, and obtained them. The Bible is full of answered prayers that ruined men. The power of dominant desire is terrific. Again and again in history we see the old truth come true: "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul!” (Psalm 106:15).
“O Gracious Lord, how blind we are,
On our own ruin bent !
Our bitterest punishment !
This perception of the nature of prayer as dominant desire also lights up one of the most notable causes of failure in praying-insincerity. The Master laid reiterated emphasis upon sincerity in prayer. He meant that the petition offered must be the genuine overflow of inward desire. The fault of