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(2) to converse KаTÀ DɛÓν (face to face with God), no lightness, no evrрareλía (facetiousness)." The greatest praying has generally meant habitual communion with God that expressed itself in occasional acts, and occasional acts that deepened habitual communion; but whatever the method, alike the basis and the end of all was abiding fellowship with God.
"There is a viewless, cloistered room,
As high as heaven, as fair as day,
One hearkening, even, cannot know
For another thing, the thought of prayer as communion with God relieves us from the pressure of many intellectual difficulties. To pray for detailed gifts from God, to ask him in the realm where the laws of nature reign to serve us in this particular, or to refrain in that—this sort of entreaty raises puzzling questions that baffle thought. To commune with God, however, is not only prayer in its deepest meaning; it is prayer in its simplest, most intelligible form. Here, at least, we can confidently deal with reality in prayer, undisturbed by the problems that often confuse us. For the standard objections to prayer-the reign of natural law making answer impossible, the goodness and wisdom of God making changes in his plans undesirable-need not trouble us here. When a man sits in fellowship with his friend, neither begging for things, nor trying to content himself with soliloquy, but gaining the inspiration, vision, peace, and joy which friendship brings through mutual communion, he does not fear the reign of law. The law of friendship is communion, and prayer is the fulfilling of the law. So fellowship in the spirit may be free and unencumbered, theoretical perplexities may be left far behind; and we may range out into a transforming experience of the
divine friendship, when we learn that prayer is not beggary, it is not soliloquy, it is communion with God.
This interpretation of the innermost nature of prayer as the search of the soul for God rather than for his gifts, has, to some, a modern sound, as though it were new-invented, perhaps, to put the possibility of praying out of reach of this generation's special difficulties. But to call this view modern is to betray ignorance of what the choicest people of God in all centuries have meant by praying. Recall St. Augustine's entreaty in the fourth century, "Give me thine own self, without whom, though thou shouldest give me all that ever thou hadst made, yet could not my desires be satisfied." Recall Thomas à Kempis in the fifteenth century, praying, "It is too small and unsatisfactory, whatsoever thou bestowest on me, apart from thyself." And then recall George Matheson in the nineteenth century: "Whether thou comest in sunshine or in rain, I would take thee into my heart joyfully. Thou art thyself more than the sunshine; thou art thyself compensation for the rain. It is thee and not thy gifts I crave." This view of prayer is neither peculiarly modern nor ancient; it is the common property of all Christian seers who have penetrated to the heart of praying. The intellectual puzzles are found in the fringes of prayer; prayer at its center is as simple and as profound as friendship.
The inevitable effect of this sort of communion is that God becomes real. Only to one who prays can God make himself vivid. Robertson of Brighton has already described for us his crude ideas of prayer in his boyhood. Listen to him, however, as at the age of twenty-five he writes: "It seems to me now that I can always see, in uncertainty, the leading of God's hand after prayer, when everything seems to be made clear and plain before the eyes. In two or three instances I have had evidence of this which I cannot for a moment doubt." An experience like this makes God vivid, but to many people God is only a vague Being in whom they dimly believe but with whom they have no dealings. They have heard of him in the home from childhood and never have entirely escaped the influence of their early teaching about
him; they have heard of him in the church and find it difficult to doubt what everywhere, always, and by all has been believed concerning him; they have heard of him from the philosophers, and when a scientist like Sir Oliver Lodge says, "Atheism is so absurd that I do not know how to put it into words," they see no reason to dispute. But all this is like the voice of many astronomers saying that there are rings about Saturn. Men believe it who never saw the rings. They believe it, but the rings have no influence upon their lives. They believe it, but they have no personal dealings with the object of their faith. So men think that God is, but they never have met him. They never have come into that personal experience of communion with God which says: "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee" (Job 42:5).
Nothing is real to us except those things with which we habitually deal. Men say that they do not pray because to them God is not real, but a truer statement generally would be that God is not real because they do not pray. Granted a belief that God is, the practice of prayer is necessary to make God not merely an idea held in the mind but a Presence recognized in the life. In an exclamation that came from the heart of personal religion, the Psalmist cried, "O God, thou art my God" (Psalm 63:1). To stand afar off and say “O God,” is neither difficult nor searching. We do it when we give intellectual assent to a creed that calls God "Infinite in being and perfection; almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will." In such a way to say, "O God," is easy, but it is an inward and searching matter to say, "O God, thou art my God." The first is theology, the second is religion; the first involves only opinion, the second involves vital experience; the first can be reached by thought, the second must be reached by prayer; the first leaves God afar off, the second alone makes him real. To be sure, all Christian service where we consciously ally ourselves with God's purpose, and all insight into history where we see God's providence at work, help to make God real to us; but there is an inward certainty of God that can come only from personal communion with God. "God," said Emerson, "enters by a private door into every individual.”
One day in Paris, a religious procession carrying a crucifix passed Voltaire and a friend. Voltaire, who was generally regarded as an infidel, lifted his hat. "What!" the friend exclaimed, "are you reconciled with God?" And Voltaire with fine irony replied: "We salute, but we do not speak.” That phrase is a true description of many men's relationship with God. They believe that God is; they cannot explain the universe without him; they are theists, but they maintain no personal relationships with him. They salute, but they do not speak. They believe in the church, and, especially in sensitive moments when some experience has subdued them to reverence, they are moved by the dignity and exaltation of the church's services, but they have no personal fellowship with God. They salute, but they do not speak.
When men complain, then, that God is not real to them, the reply is fair: How can God be real to some of us? What conditions have we fulfilled that would make anybody real? Those earthly friendships have most vivid reality and deepest meaning for us, where a constant sense of spiritual fellowship is refreshed occasionally by special reunions. The curtain that divides us from the thought of our friend is never altogether closed, but at times soul talks with soul in conscious fellowship. The friend grows real. We enter into new thankfulness for him, new appreciation of him, new intimacy with him. No friendship can sustain the neglect of such communion. Even God grows unreal, ceases to be our Unseen Friend and dwindles into a cold hypothesis to explain the world, when we forget communion.
Jude expressed a deep insight into the necessities of the spiritual life, when he said: "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (vs. 21).
SUGGESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
What are the primary practical difficulties in prayer?
Why does a child lose confidence in prayer if it is not literally answered?
How far do men continue to pray who believe in prayer as spiritual exercise?
What difficulties in prayer are set forth in Psalm 22:1-5? How far are these typical?
In your experience, what have been the chief practical difficulties in praying?
If no petition were ever answered, would it still be worth while to pray?
What light does the Bible throw upon these practical difficulties?
What was the difference in the prayer of the prodigal on leaving and returning home?
What was the essential element in prayer in the experience of Jesus? Did Jesus receive everything he prayed for? Why did Jesus pray?
Why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? Why is communion with God the central idea of prayer?
What is the greatest gift that any friend gives another? What is the essence of any personal relationship? Is this true of relationship with God?
How does communion with God differ from the experience of human friendship?
What effect upon the prayer life has the experience of prayer as communion with God?
What is necessary for the maintenance of communion with God?