Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter II - Prayer

Prayer is a difficult matter, both in theory and in practice. But it is essential to learn to pray.

It is important to recognize that the scope of Christian prayer is much wider than mere intercession or petition. It is the communion of the soul with GOD, and its purpose is union with the life of GOD in identity of purpose with His will. The beginning of prayer is a sursum corda, a lifting up of the heart to GOD. It is well to remember that true prayer is never a solitary act, even when a man prays in solitude. We pray not as individuals but as members of a Family, and our prayer is spiritually united and knit together with the common prayer-life of the universal Church, of which it forms a part. We pray, moreover, not to wrest to our private ends the purposes of GOD, not to induce Him, so to speak, to do our wills instead of His, but to unite our wills with His will, as children who have confidence in their Father. True prayer is offered in the Name of Christ–that is, it is prayed in His Spirit, according to His mind and will. It can never, therefore, be selfish or self-centred. The Lord’s Prayer is its model and its type. A few words may be said in explanation of this prayer.

It begins with a recognition of the common Fatherhood of GOD. It is only as members of His Family that we can approach Him: He is in no sense our personal or private GOD, but the common Father of us all.

And our Father is “in heaven"–that is, supreme, eternal, the Lord and Ruler of all things. His Name is holy, and to be hallowed: it is in reverence and deepest worship that we bow before Him. He is King, and we pray that His Kingship may be realized, in earth as it is in heaven: and that His will may be done–that is the supreme desire of our hearts, and the highest object of our petitions.

And therefore we are vowed to His service: and because we are sure that He will supply whatever we really need to that end, we pray in confidence for daily needs both spiritual and bodily–"Give us this day our daily bread.” And remembering that we are unprofitable and faithless and disloyal servants we ask forgiveness for our sins, well knowing that we can only be forgiven as we ourselves are ready to forgive. And so looking to the future and mindful of our frailty we pray that GOD will not lead us into “temptation” or trial, without at the same time providing a way of deliverance from the assaults of evil. The prayer customarily ends with an ascription of praise and glory to GOD.

That is the type and model of Christian prayer: and prayer is truly Christian just in so far as the spirit and temper of the Lord’s Prayer inspires it. We can only pray rightly in the Holy Spirit. “We know not what to pray for as we ought: but the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.”

As for the technique of prayer, a man, on kneeling or standing to pray, will do well to spend a short time first in silence and recollection, waiting in stillness upon GOD, remembering His presence, His holiness, His love, and His responsiveness to His children’s cry. Let him next make an act of adoration, spoken or unspoken, and invoke GOD the Holy Spirit to enable him to pray aright. Then let him pour out before GOD all that is in his heart, his troubles, his anxieties, his perplexities, his sins: let him ask for forgiveness: let him give thanks: let him pray for the coming of GOD’S Kingdom, in its various aspects: commending to GOD’S guidance and protection all right causes and aspirations in the world, in things both social and political and international, in things ecclesiastical, in things moral and religious and missionary: let him add personal and private intercessions for those near and dear to him and for those whom he meets in the daily intercourse of life: and let him end as he began, in a few moments of quiet waiting upon GOD.

That is the general scheme of a Christian’s private prayers. They should include in due proportion the several elements of adoration, thanksgiving, penitence, petition, and intercession. They need not be lengthy. “Use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” It is quality and not quantity of prayer that counts. And the prayers of a busy man must necessarily be short.

But it is worth while taking time and trouble over the ordering of one’s prayers. A man’s intercessions, in particular, are not likely in practice to have the width, the range, and the variety which are desirable, unless they are planned and ordered in accordance with a coherent scheme which is thought out in advance. It is the part of wisdom to keep a note-book, in which names and subjects for intercessory prayer may be jotted down and distributed over the days of the week for use in due rotation. Such schemes, however, if drawn up and used, should be revised from time to time, and not suffered to become a mechanical burden or a legal bondage. There should be freedom and spontaneity in a Christian’s prayers. It is well to have rules, and to try not to be prevented by mere slackness from keeping them. But it is important to see to it that the self-imposed rule is so framed as to prove genuinely conducive to reality in prayer, and suitably adapted to opportunity and circumstance: and it is very often a good thing from time to time, in the interests of freedom, quite deliberately to break one’s rules.

With regard to forms and methods of prayer, it is desirable that men should learn to pray freely in their own words, or even in no words at all. Provided a man remembers reverence, he need not stand on ceremony with GOD. But it is advisable also to use books and manuals of prayer –at any rate in the first instance: to use them, but not to be tied to them. Many such manuals have been compiled and published within recent years: the majority of them are unsatisfactory in varying degrees. A few, however, can confidently be recommended: especially Prayers for the City of God, compiled by G. C. Binyon (Longmans); Prayers for Common Use (Universities Mission to Central Africa, Dartmouth St., Westminster); and Sursum Corda, a Handbook of Intercession and Thanksgiving, arranged by W. H. Frere and A. L. Illingworth (A. E. Mowbray and Co., Ltd.).

Prayer need not be confined to stated hours and times. Interpreting prayer at its widest, the ideal should be to “pray without ceasing." It was said of an early Christian writer that his life was “one continuous prayer”: and it is well to form the habit of inwardly lifting up the heart to GOD from time to time in the midst of daily cares and business. Where Churches are kept open it is often possible in passing to spare time to enter and kneel for two or three minutes in quiet and recollection before GOD: but it is perfectly possible to pray inwardly at any time and in any environment. Fixed times of prayer, nevertheless, there must also be: and a man should at least pray in the morning upon rising and in the evening before going to bed. If a time can also be secured for midday prayer, so much the better: but this is more difficult. To have formed a really fixed and stable habit of daily prayer is an enormous step forwards in Christian life. Much depends upon learning to rise regularly at a fixed hour before breakfast: and this in turn depends upon a regularity in going to bed, which under modern conditions of life it is not always easy to achieve. If a man is obliged to be up so late at night that it is morally certain that he will be too tired to pray with much reality before turning in, he should endeavour, if it is at all possible, to secure some time for prayer at an earlier stage in the evening.

Difficulties in the life of prayer beset everybody. Thoughts have a way of wandering, the “saying” of prayers tends to become mechanical, moods vary, and there are times in most men’s lives when they feel it almost impossible to pray with any sense of reality. A man should not lightly be discouraged. He may be recommended to remind himself that GOD knows all about it, and that the resolute offering of his will to GOD at such times, in defiance of distraction and difficulty, has special value. It is well to take God into one’s confidence. “If GOD bores you, tell Him that He does.” He is no exacting tyrant, but a Father caring for His sons. Those who care to do so may find Prayer and some of its Difficulties, by the Rev. W. J. Carey (Mowbray & Co.), a helpful book to read in this connexion.

A final word may be said with regard to a theoretical difficulty which many people feel in connexion with the intercessory and petitionary sides of prayer. Since GOD’S will, it may be argued, is presumably going to be done in any case, and since He knows the real needs both of ourselves and of our friends better than we do, what is the point of praying for them? To many people it may be a sufficient practical answer to refer to the example and precept of Christ, who both taught and practised intercessory prayer. But it is possible to go a little further, and to point out that it appears to be GOD’S will, not merely that such and such a thing should be done, but that it should be done in response to our human prayers. True it is that “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him”: but our Lord emphasized this truth, not as a round for regarding prayer as futile or unnecessary, but as a reason for praying. For prayer is an expression of the filial spirit towards our Father, and the more simply and naturally we approach GOD as children, making our petitions before Him with childlike hearts, the more truly will our prayers be in accordance with that spirit of sonship which is the mind of Christ. At the same time, the knowledge that our Father is wiser as well as greater than we will forbid us to clamour for what in wisdom is denied us, and will in general govern the spirit and scope of our petitions. Just as our Lord points out that an earthly father, if asked for bread, will not give his child a stone, so conversely in the experience of every Christian it often happens that in his blindness he asks a stone, and is given bread. But no Christian will ask deliberately and knowingly for stones.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
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