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the Pharisees who prayed on the corners was not that they were asking for unworthy things. Their petitions were doubtless excellent, springing out of scriptural ideas and couched in scriptural language. But the prayers did not represent the inward and determining wishes of the men. The petitions were not sincere. The lives of the Pharisees blatantly advertised that their habitual ambitions did not tally with their occasional supplications. When the Master bids us make prayer private, to think of God when we pray as “the Father who seeth in secret,” to use no futile and repetitious formulas but to go at once to the pith of our want (Matt. 6:5ff), he is making a plea for sincerity. Prayer to him is the heart, with all its most genuine and worthy desires aflame, rising up to lay hold on God. It is no affair of hasty words at the fag-end of a day, no form observed in deference to custom, no sop to conscience to ease us from the sense of religious obligations unfulfilled. Prayer is the central and determining force of a man's life. Prayer is dominant desire, calling God into alliance.
The fact that we do not stand on street corners to perform our devotions ought not to blind us to the subtle temptation by which, even in private, we are led into theatrical, insincere praying. We pray as we think we ought to. We ask for blessings that we feel are properly to be asked for, graces that we should want, whether we do or not. We mask ourselves behind an imaginary personage-ourselves disguised in court clothes and asking from God the things which we presume God would like to be asked to give. We cry as St. Augustine did, “O Lord, make me pure”; and then we hear our real self add as his did, “but not now!” How much such praying there is and how utterly ineffective! It is not real. We have not at the center of our lives controlling desires so worthy that we can ask God to further them and so earnest that our prayers are the spontaneous utterance of their urgency.
In the last chapter we spoke of such petitions as “Thy kingdom come,” which for nearly twenty centuries has been the prayer of the church. But how many have really prayed it? In how many has it been the dominant desire ? Economists describe what they call "effective demand.” It is the demand of those who not only need commodities, but who are willing and able to pay the price. Only when a petition be
comes an "effective demand” is it real prayer. When a man rehearses all the blessings he has prayed for himself and the world, he may well go on to ask whether he really wishes the prayers granted. Is he willing to pay the price? The great servants of the Kingdom in history always have been men of prayer and the implication is sometimes suggested that praying would make us similarly serviceable. But this essential element should never be forgotten, that the great servants of the Kingdom were men of powerful prayer because they were men of dominant desires for whose fulfilment they were willing to sacrifice anything. Paul, Carey, Livingstone, and all their spiritual kin praying for the triumph of Christ with all their hearts and hurling their lives after their prayers; St. Augustine at last really praying for purity, until the answer involved tearing loose the dearest ties of his past life—these are examples of costly praying which achieves results. This is not prayer called in to eke out what is lacking in an otherwise contented life; this is life centering in and swung round prayer like planets round the sun. Prayer becomes serious business when it becomes dominant desire. We stand there at life's center, at the springs of its motive and the sources of its power.
A cursory reading of the Beatitudes awakens surprise because prayer is not mentioned there. How could the Master sum up the benedictions of the spiritual life and omit prayer from his thought? Turn to them again, then, and read more deeply. The Master put prayer into the Beatitudes in one of the greatest descriptions to be found in the Bible: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Prayer is hunger and thirst. Prayer is our demand on life, elevated, purified, and aware of a Divine Alliance.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
What is the relation between prayer and a person's dominant
desires and purposes? How far does prayer represent the real purpose and desire of the man?
When do the words spoken in prayer fail to represent the real prayers?
How far can a man's character be measured by his prayers?
What is the difference between outward petition and a dominant desire of a life?
What effect upon the answer to prayer has a person's domi
Can prayer which does not represent dominant desire be answered? Why or why not?
What made the difference in the prayer for forgiveness of the servant who owed ten thousand talents and the one who owed one hundred shillings? When has a person a right to expect an answer to a prayer for forgiveness?
How far was the first missionary tour of Paul the result of prayer? What is the difference between offering a prayer for missions and offering ourselves?
When is a nation's prayer for peace sincere? To what extent does prejudice against other classes and nations interfere with an effective prayer for peace?
When are we justified in praying for the poor? for our friends ? for forgiveness? for world brotherhood? for missions ?
Are all prayers representing dominant desire answered ? When is prayer sincere?
Why did the Master denounce the prayers of the Pharisees?
Why does lack of time for meditation make for insincerity in prayer ?
When does a person really pray “Thy kingdom come"?
What is the relation of procrastination to the inefficacy of prayer?
What light do the Beatitudes throw upon the prerequisite of answered prayer ?
What makes the difference between a petition addressed to God and a sincere prayer ?
What makes for insincerity in prayer?
What is the relation of dominant desire to sincerity in prayer?
How can I make my prayers sincerely represent my dominant
Prayer as a Battlefield
First Day, Ninth Week
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts;
The Psalmist is praying here for a cleansed and empowered personality. The secret place where he first offered these entreaties must have been to him a battlefield. There took place those inner struggles on whose issue moral purity and power depend. Prayer is the innermost form of the fight for character. As Clement of Alexandria in the second century, put it, “The aim of prayer is to attain the habit of goodness, so as no longer merely to have the things that are good, but rather to be good,” and in our generation George Meredith restates the same truth, “Who rises from his
prayer a better man, his prayer is answered.” foundest need of the world is clean, strong, devoted personality. We are poor there—not in material prosperity or organizing skill or intellectual ingenuity, but in radiant, infectious, convincing personality. The real poverty is poverty of character, and that is due in how large a measure to the lack of those spiritual disciplines and fellowships which are included in genuine prayer! Let us consider this week the service of prayer as an inner battlefield on which the issues of character are settled.
O God, make perfect my love toward Thee and to my Redeemer and Justifier; give me a true and unfeigned love to all virtue and godliness, and to all Thy chosen people wheresoever they be dispersed throughout all the world; increase in me strength and victory against all temptations and assaults of the flesh, the world, and the devil, that according to Thy promise I be never further proved or tempted than Thou wilt give me strength to overcome.
Give me grace to keep a good conscience; give me a pure heart and mind, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.-Christian Prayers (1556).
Second Day, Ninth Week
And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with demons. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many demons; and he suffered not the demons to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, All are seeking thee. And he saith unto them, Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth. And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.—Mark 1: 32-39.
Was not this solitary prayer of the Master a battle for courage and strength to go on? It came between the crush