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and gone to church every Sunday, and yet for any practical result of strength in life, or trust in death, have never appropriated a single Christian idea or Christian feeling." Over against such a futile form of religion consider a vital prayer like this of Thomas à Kempis, founded on the thought of God's individual love.
Ah, Lord God, Thou holy Lover of my soul, when Thou comest into my soul, all that is within me shall rejoice. Thou art my Glory and the exultation of my heart; Thou art my Hope and Refuge in the day of my trouble. Set me free from all evil passions, and heal my heart of all inordinate affections; that, being inwardly cured and thoroughly cleansed, I may be made fit to love, courageous to suffer, steady to persevere. Nothing is sweeter than Love, nothing more courageous, nothing fuller nor better in heaven and earth; because Love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, above all created things. Let me love Thee more than myself, nor love myself but for Thee. Amen.-Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471).
Sixth Day, Third Week
To many people prayer is a pious practice rather than a vital transaction, not so much because it is an inherited bit of propriety, but because it is looked upon as a good work which wins merit in the eyes of God. Men think of prayer as a safe practice to indulge in if they are to keep on good terms with God. They go through it as a courtier might observe the rituals of obeisance that please the king and the neglect of which might get a careless man into trouble. Prayer to many is a safety appliance, like a lightning-rod, upward raised lest the Eternal God, seeing their neglect, fall foul of them. It is founded on fear. They conceive that the saying of prayer is a measure of protection which they would better attend to. What a pitiful misunderstanding of prayer! Prayer is not a "good work” in return for which a blessing is given, as men buy and sell over the counter. Our pious practices are as useless as a Tibetan prayer wheel, unless at the heart of them all is cons ous fellowship with the Father who cares.
Listen to Isaiah's expression of God's contempt for formal worship without spiritual meaning :
What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith Jehovah: I have had enough of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.—Isaiah 1:11-15.
Most loving Lord, give me a childlike love of Thee, which may cast out all fear. Amen.-E. B. Pusey (1800-1882).
Seventh Day, Third Week
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye_received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.-Romans 8: 14-17.
In the light of this passage how impossible to think of saying prayers as merely a pious practice. Prayer seen in the light of this Christian truth becomes at once the claiming of our sonship, the appropriation of our heritage. All through the New Testament the reader is conscious that wealth is waiting to be claimed. "Unsearchable riches of Christ,” "Rich toward God,” “Heirs of God,” phrases such as these suggest the sense of spiritual wealth in which the first Christians rejoiced. They had found an Eldorado in the Gospel that God loved every son of man. Now, prayer is the active appropriation of this wealth. Of how many of us is it true that friendship with God is an unclaimed heritage! We have the title-deeds in our church membership, but we do not
have the spiritual riches in our lives. In our prayers we are not appropriating our faith that God really does care.
Grant me, even me, my dearest Lord, to know Thee, and love Thee, and rejoice in Thee. And, if I cannot do these perfectly in this life, let me at least advance to higher degrees every day, till I can come to do them in perfection. Let the knowledge of Thee increase me here, that may full hereafter. Let the love of Thee grow every day more and more here, that it may be perfect hereafter; that my joy may be great in itself, and full in Thee. I know, O God, that Thou art a God of truth; O make good Thy gracious promises to me, that my joy may be full. Amen.-St. Augustine (354-430).
COMMENT FOR THE WEEK
When a man, making earnest with prayer, sets himself to practice communion with God, he is likely to awaken with a start some day to a disturbing reflection. “This thing that I am doing,” he well may say, “presupposes that the Almighty God takes a personal interest in me. I am taking for granted when I pray that the Eternal is specially solicitous on my behalf. Praying may seem a simple matter, but on what an enormous assumption does it rest!” Now, this reflection accords entirely with the facts. Prayer does involve confidence that God takes interest in the individual who prays. The fact, for example, that the Bible is preeminently a book of prayer, involves of necessity the companion fact that the God of the Bible cares for individuals. He knows all the stars by name (Psalm 147: 4); he numbers the hairs of our heads (Matt. 10:30); of all the sparrows "not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God” (Luke 12:6). John is expressing his thought of God as well as his interpretation of Christ when he says, “He calleth his own sheep by name” (John 10:3). God is like a shepherd who misses even one lost from his flock, a housewife who seeks for a single coin, a father who grieves for one boy gone wrong (Luke 15). Of all the children in the world, says Jesus, “It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14).
Throughout the Bible, and especially in the New Testament, God is not a king dealing with men in masses. He is no Napoleon, who, warned by Metternich that a campaign would cost a million men, said, “What are a million men to me?" God is a father, and the essence of fatherhood is individual care for the children. For all that there are so many of us, as St. Augustine said, “He loves us every one as though there were but one of us to love." That is the message of the Book, and it underlies the possibility of vital prayer.
This truth that God cares for every one of us is easy to speak about, beautiful to contemplate, but hard to believe. How can God care for each of us? We know the heart of Jesus well enough to understand that he loved every one he met. But God? How can we make it real to ourselves that he who sustains the milky way, who holds Orion and the Pleiades in his leash, knows us by name?
For one thing, we seem too small and insignificant for him to know. If God cares for each of us, that presupposes in us a degree of value and importance surpassing imagination; and as one considers the vastness of the physical universe, it seems almost unbelievable that individual men can be worth so much. Even the Psalmist felt the wonder of man's worth in such a world, when he cried : “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:3, 4). The Psalmist, however, never saw more than 6,000 stars on the clearest night when he looked at the sky from the heights of Zion. We today can see 100,000,000 of them through our telescopes; and when we put a photographic plate, instead of our eyes, at the orifice of the instrument, we obtain indications of multitudes more. When, therefore, a modern psalmist like Tennyson thinks of man's possible value in so great a universe, he feels the terrific urge of doubt; he gathers all the activities of mankind, our wars, politics, arts and sciences, and cries,
"What is it all but the murmur of gnats
How in the face of this new knowledge of the universe can we pray in the confidence that God knows and cares for each one of us?
Many a man's faith is undone and his prayers stopped by this appalling contrast between the size of the world and his own smallness. The microscope, however, should counteract a little the disheartening influence of the telescope. It is evident that the Power which cares for the stars cares for all things with utter disregard of size. Inside any common pin as marvelous activity is going on as ever was present among the stars. Here are electrons so many and so small that the race in a million years could not count them, and yet not one electron touches another. In comparison with their size they are as far apart as the planets of a solar system. Endlessly they revolve about each other, and no one ever slips by an infinitesimal degree from the control of law. Not strong reason but weak imagination leads us to be terrified by the mere size of the universe into the thought that God cannot care for us. So far as physical nature has any testimony to bear on the matter at all, she says, “There is nothing too great for the Creator to accomplish, and nothing too small for him to attend to. The microscopic world is his, as well as the stars.”
The real answer to our doubt, however, comes not from physical nature at all, but from spiritual insight. We are so small that God cannot care for every one of us? But surely, we ourselves are not accustomed to judge comparative value by sice. As children we may have chosen a penny rather than a dime because the penny was larger; but as maturity arrives, that basis of choice is outgrown. The dearest possessions of the human race- diamonds and little children, for example—are rather notable for their comparative smallness. A mother's love for her baby is not a matter of pounds and ounces. When one believes in God at all, the consequence is plain. God must have at least our spiritual insight to perceive the difference between size and worth. Mere bulk cannot deceive him. He must know where in all his universe the real values lie.
As to where the real values do lie, the thoughtful of all races have unanimously agreed that they are found inside personality, not outside of it. Tennyson's word is a sum ry of the best thought of all time: