Prayer is the key to open the day, and the bolt to shut in the night. But as the sky drops the early dew and the evening dew upon the grass, yet it would not spring and grow green by that constant and double falling of the dew, unless some great shower at certain seasons did supply the rest, so the customary devotion of prayer twice a day is the falling of the early and the latter dew. But if you will increase and flourish in works of grace, empty the great clouds sometimes, and let fall in a full shower of prayer. Choose out seasons when prayer shall overflow like Jordan in times of harvest.
Real inward devotion knows no prayer but that arising from the depths of its own feeling. Perfect prayer, without a spot or blemish, though not a word be spoken and no phrases known to mankind be uttered, always plucks the heart out of the earth, and moves it softly, like a censer, to and fro beneath the face of heaven. A good man’s prayer will, from the deepest dungeon, climb heaven’s height, and bring a blessing down. Prayer is the wing wherewith the soul flies to heaven, and meditation the eye wherewith we see God.
He that acts toward men as if God saw him, and prays to God as if men heard him, although he may not obtain all that he asks, or succeed in all that he undertakes, will most probably deserve to do so; for, with respect to his actions toward men, however much he may fail with regard to others, yet if pure and good, with regard to himself and his highest interests they can not fail. And with respect to his prayers to God, though they can not make the Deity more willing to give, yet they will, and must, make the suppliant more worthy to receive.
Between the humble and contrite heart and the Majesty of heaven there are no barriers. The only password is prayer. Prayer is a shield to the sword, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan. Prayer has a right to the word “ineffable.” It is an hour of outpouring which words can not express—of that interior speech which we do not articulate even when we employ it. The very cry of distress is an involuntary appeal to that invisible Power whose aid the soul invokes. Our prayer and God’s mercy are like two buckets in a well; while one ascends the other descends.
For the most part, we should pray rather in aspiration than petition, rather by hoping than requesting; in which spirit, also, we may breathe a devout wish for a blessing on others upon occasions when it might be presumptuous to beg it. Prayer is not eloquence, but earnestness: not the definition of helplessness, but the feeling it; not figures of speech, but compunction of soul. When the heart is full, when bitter thoughts come crowding thickly up for utterance, and the poor common words of courtesy are such a very mockery, how much the bursting heart may relieve itself in prayer!
The dullest observer must be sensible of the order and serenity prevalent in those households where the occasional exercise of a beautiful form of worship in the morning gives, as it were, the keynote to every temper for the day, and attunes every spirit to harmony. Family worship embodies a hallowing influence that pleads for its observance. It must needs be that trials will enter a household. The conflict of wishes, the clashing of views, and a thousand other causes, will ruffle the temper, and produce jar and friction in the machinery of the family.
There is needed some daily agency that shall softly enfold the homestead with its hallowed, soothing power, and restore the fine harmonious play of its various parts. The father needs that which shall gently lift away from his thoughts the disquieting burden of his daily business; the mother, which will smooth down the fretting irritation of her unceasing toil and trial; and the child and domestic, that which shall neutralize the countless agencies of evil that ever beset them. And what so well adapted to do this as, when the day is done, to gather around the holy page, and pour a, united supplication and acknowledgment to that sleepless Power whose protection and security are ever around their path, and who will bring all things at last into judgment?
And when darker and sadder days begin to shadow the home, what can cheer and brighten the sinking heart so finely as this daily resort to the fatherly One, who can make the tears of the lowliest sorrow to be the seed-pearls of the brightest crown? The mind is thus expanded, the heart softened, sentiments refined, passions subdued, hopes elevated, and pursuits ennobled. The greatest want of our intellectual and moral nature is here met, and home education becomes impregnated with the spirit and elements of our preparation for eternity.
The custom of having family prayers is held in honor wherever there is real Christian life, and it is the one thing which more than any other knits together the loose threads of a home, and unites its various members before God. The religious service in which parents, children, and friends daily join in praise and prayer is at once an acknowledgment of dependence on the Heavenly Father and a renewal of consecration to his work in the world. The Bible is read, the hymn is sung, the petition is offered, and unless all has been done as a mere formality and without hearty assent, those who have gathered at the family altar leave it helped, soothed, strengthened, and armored as they were not before they met there. The sick and the absent are remembered, the tempted and the tried are commended to God, and, as the Israelites in the desert were attended by the pillar and cloud, so in life’s wilderness the family who inquire of the Lord are constantly overshadowed by his presence and love.
We, ignorant of ourselves, may ask in prayer for what would be to our injury, which the Father denies as for our own good; so find we profit by losing of our prayers. Or we may even pray for trifles, without so much as a thought of the greatest blessings. And, with sorrow be it said, we are not ashamed many times to ask God for that which we should blush to own to our neighbors. It is by reason of the worthlessness of so many of our petitions that they remain unanswered. Good prayers never come creeping home. We are sure we shall receive either what we ask or what we should ask. Prayer is a study of truth, a sally of the soul into the infinite. No man ever prayed heartily without learning something.
It is for the sake of man, not of God, that worship and prayer are required. Not that God may be rendered more gracious, but that man may be made better, that he may be confirmed in a proper sense of his dependent state, and acquire those pious and virtuous dispositions in which his highest improvement consists. When we pray for any virtues we should cultivate the virtue as well as pray for it. The form of your life, every petition to God, is a precept to man. Our thoughts, like the waters of the sea, when exhaled toward heaven lose all their bitterness and saltness, and sweeten into an amiable humanity, until they descend in gentle showers of love and kindness upon our fellow-men.
God respecteth not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they are; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how neat they are; nor the geometry of our prayers, how long they are; nor the music prayers, how melodious they are; nor the logic prayers, how methodical they are: but the divinity of our prayers, how heart-sprung they are—not gifts, but graces prevail in prayer. We should pray with as much earnestness as those who expect every thing from God, and act with as much energy as those who expect every thing from themselves.
It is possible to have a daily worship which shall be earnest, vivifying, tender and reverential, and yet a weariness to nobody. Only let the one who conducts it mean toward the Father the sweet obedience of the grateful child, and maintain the attitude of one who goes about earthly affairs with a soul looking beyond and above them to the rest that, remaineth in heaven. It is not every one who is able to pray in the hearing of others with ease. The timid tongue falters, and the thoughts struggle in vain for utterance. But who is there who can not read a psalm or a chapter or a cluster of verses, and kneeling repeat in accents of tender trust the Lord’s prayer? When we think of it that includes every thing.
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