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God's Care for the Individual
First Day, Third Week
Perhaps the greatest single difficulty in maintaining the habit of prayer is our tendency to make of it a pious form and not a vital transaction. We begin by trying to pray and end by saying prayers. To urge ourselves to a practice that has thus become a stereotyped and lifeless form is futile. Nobody ever succeeds in praying as a tour de force; but if the act of prayer can be seen as the great Christians have seen it-a vital and sustaining friendship with a God who cares for every one of us-praying will cease being a form and become a force and a privilege. Note the vitality of prayer as the Psalmist has experienced it: My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; For my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my high tower; I shall not be moved. With God is my salvation and my glory: The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.—Psalm 62:5-8.
In confirmation of this same experience in our own day, consider the testimony of Sir Wilfred Grenfell: “The privilege of prayer to me is one of the most cherished possessions, because faith and experience alike convince me that God himself sees and answers, and his answers I never venture to criticise. It is only my part to ask. It is entirely his to give or withhold, as he knows is best. If it were otherwise, I would not dare to pray at all. In the quiet of home, in the heat of life and strife, in the face of death, the privilege of speech with God is inestimable. I value it more because it calls for nothing that the wayfaring man, though a fool, cannot give—that is, the simplest expression to his simplest desire. When I can neither see, nor hear, nor speak, still I can pray so that God can hear. When I finally pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I expect to pass through it in conversation with him.”
O Lord, renew our spirits and draw our hearts unto Thyself that our work may not be to us a burden, but a delight; and give us such a mighty love to Thee as may sweeten all our obedience. Oh, let us not serve Thee with the spirit of bondage as slaves, but with the cheerfulness and gladness of children, delighting ourselves in Thee and rejoicing in Thy work. Amen.-Benjamin Jenks (1646-1724).
Second Day, Third Week
One of the root reasons why prayer becomes merely a pious form is that while people believe in God in a general and vague fashion, they do not vividly grasp the idea that God cares for and is dealing with every one of us.
How think ye? If any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which goeth astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which have_not gone astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.—Matt. 18: 12-14.
A man may hold true this individual care of God for each of his children, and still may not practice habitual prayer, but it is difficult to see how anyone can practice habitual prayer if he does not hold for true that God loves every one of us. Who can continue praying, in any Christian sense, to a God that does not care? For prayer, at least, a God who does not care, does not count. Haeckel, the materialist, has displaced the Creator by a primal substance which he solemnly crowns Emperor of the universe under the title of “Mobile Cosmic Ether.” Can we imagine anyone finding vital and sustaining help in supplications addressed to such an object, or are vast congregations likely to be stirred in adoration, praying, “O Mobile Cosmic Ether, hallowed be thy name!" Why not? Is not the reason simply this, that the God to whom real prayer is made must care for us as a race and as individuals ?
Almighty God, the refuge of all that are distressed, grant unto us that, in all trouble of this our mortal life, we may flee to the knowledge of Thy lovingkindness and tender mercy; that so, sheltering ourselves therein, the storms of life may pass over us, and not-shake the peace of God that is within us. Whatsoever this life may bring us, grant that it may never take from us the full faith that Thou art our Father. Grant us Thy light, that we may have life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.-George Dawson (1821-1876).
Third Day, Third Week
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father: but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. -Matt. 10:29-31.
Let us. face again today that formality in prayer that comes from a failure to grasp the individual love of God. There are real difficulties for the mind to face when it tries to believe that God so cares for each of us, but perhaps even greater for most people is the difficulty that the imagination faces. In this vast universe how can we picture God as caring for every individual thing, even to stricken sparrows and to the hairs of our head? Consider, however, the scientific truth of gravitation, that the whole earth rises to meet a child's ball, just as truly as the ball falls to meet the earth, and that only the lack of sensitiveness in our instruments prevents us from measuring the earth's ascent as it responds to the pull of the child's toy. Can we imagine that? Is it not unimaginable, though plainly true? And if in a gravitate system a whole planet moves to meet a tossed ball, we ought not to dismiss, for reasons of weak imagination, the truth that in a love-system of persons, the Eternal God responds to each child's approach. As Kipling sings:
“Who clears the grounding berg,
O Thou good omnipotent, who so carest for every one of us, as if Thou caredst for him alone; and so for all, as if all were but one! Blessed is the man who loveth Thee, and his friend in Thee, and his enemy for Thee. I behold how some things pass away that others may replace them, but Thou dost never depart. O God, my Father, supremely good, Beauty of all things beautiful, to Thee will I intrust whatsoever I have received from Thee, and so shall I lose nothing. Thou madest me for Thyself, and my heart is restless until it repose in Thee. Amen.-St. Augustine (354-430).
Fourth Day, Third Week
Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.—John 17:20-23.
It is easy to think that God's love centered about the Master, but consider what it would mean for prayer vitally to believe that God so cares for each of us- 5—“lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me!" As Silvester Horne puts it in his Yale lectures: "What is the Gospel ?—It is contained in a verse of one of the greatest Christian hymns:
"Were the whole realm of Nature mine,
That were a present far too small !
That is to say that my soul is a greater and bigger thing than the whole realm of nature. Do you believe it? I agree it is the most romantic of all beliefs. It affirms that the soul of every forced laborer on the Amazon is of more value than all the mines of Johannesburg, all the diamonds of Kimberly, all the millions of all the magnates of America. It affirms that in God's sight all the suns and stars that people infinite space, are of inferior worth to one human spirit dwelling, it may be, in the degraded body of some victim of drink or lust, some member of the gutter population of a great city who has descended to his doom by means of the multiplied temptations with which our so-called society environs him. It is a romantic creed. But if it is not true Christianity itself is false.” Has your failure in prayer been due to your failure in apprehending for yourself this heart of the Gospel?
O God, mercifully grant unto us that the fire of Thy love may burn up in us all things that displease Thee, and make us meet for Thy heavenly Kingdom.-Roman Breviary.
Fifth Day, Third Week
For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.--Hebrews 4: 15, 16.
Note the sequence of thought in these verses: first, the revelation in Christ of a God who cares; and second, resultant confidence in the reality of prayer. In contrast with this reality of prayer to those who apprehend the personal love of God, consider how many people know prayer only as an inherited bit of propriety. Prayer to them is a formality because it is a practice taught in infancy, and maintained by force of habit as a tradition. It is not vital. It does not mean “Grace to help us in time of need.” They are true to George Eliot's description of Hetty in Adam Bede: “Hetty was one of those numerous people who have had god-fathers and god-mothers, learned their catechism, been confirmed,