The Disciple,—Sometimes this question is asked, “Since God is fully aware of our needs, and knows how to supply them in the best way, not for the good only but for the evil, how should we pray to Him about them? Whether our necessities be temporal or spiritual, can we by our prayers alter the will of God?”
The Master,—1. Those who ask such a question show clearly that they do not know what prayer is. They have not lived a prayerful life, or they would know that prayer to God is not a form of begging. Prayer does not consist in an effort to obtain from God the things which are necessary for this life. Prayer is an effort to lay hold of God Himself, the Author of life, and when we have found Him who is the source of life and have entered into communion with Him, then the whole of life is ours and with Him all that will make life is perfect. To evildoers God, out of love for them, gives what is necessary for their life in this world, but their spiritual necessities He does not even show to them, as they have no spiritual life.
Were He to bestow such spiritual blessings upon them, they would not be able to appreciate them. But on those who believe gifts of both kinds are bestowed, especially spiritual blessings, with the result that very soon they pay little regard to temporal blessings, but fix their love on the unseen and spiritual. We cannot alter the will of God, but the man of prayer can discover the will of God with regard to himself. For to men of this kind God makes Himself manifest in the hidden chamber of the heart, and holds communion with them; and when His gracious purposes are shown to be for their good, then the doubts and difficulties of which they complain pass away for ever.
2. Prayer is, as it were, a breathing in of the Holy Spirit, and God so pours His Holy Spirit into the life of the prayerful that they become “living souls” (Gen. ii.7; John xx.22). They will never die, for the Holy Spirit pours Himself by means of prayer into their spiritual lungs, and fills their spirits with health and vigour and everlasting life.
God, who is Love, has freely bestowed on all men those things which are necessary for both the spiritual and temporal life, but since He offers salvation and His Holy Spirit to all as freely, they are lightly esteemed. But prayer teaches us to value them, because they are as necessary as air and water, heat and light, without which life is impossible. The things for our spiritual life God has freely provided, but men so lightly regard them that they offer no thanks to their Creator; but on the other hand, His gifts of gold, silver, and precious jewels, which are scarce and obtained with great difficulty, they highly esteem, though with such things the hunger and thirst of the body cannot be assuaged, nor the longings of the heart be satisfied. With such folly do men of the world act with regard to spiritual things, but to the man of prayer are given true wisdom and eternal life.
3. This world is like a widespread ocean in which men sink and are drowned, but marine animals carry on their life in the deepest water, because they occasionally come to the surface and, opening their mouths, take in a certain amount of air, which enables them to live in the depths. So they who rise to the surface of this life-ocean, by means of private prayer breathe in the life-giving Spirit of God, and find even in this world life and safety.
4. Although fish spend their whole life in the salt water of the sea, yet they do not themselves become salty, because they have life in them; so the man of prayer, though he has to live in this sin-defiled world, remains free of the sinful taint, because by means of prayer his life is maintained.
5. Just as the salt water of the sea is drawn upwards by the hot rays of the sun, and gradually takes on the form of clouds, and, turned thus into sweet and refreshing water, falls in showers on the earth (for the sea water as it rises upwards leaves behind it its salt and bitterness), so when the thoughts and desires of the man of prayer rise aloft like misty emanations of the soul, the rays of the Sun of Righteousness purify them of all sinful taint, and his prayers become a great cloud which descends from heaven in a shower of blessing, bringing refreshment to many on the earth.
6. Just as the waterfowl spends its life swimming in the water, yet when in flight its feathers are perfectly dry, so men of prayer have their abode in this world, but when the time comes for them to fly aloft they pass from this sin-polluted world and arrive without spot or stain at their everlasting home of rest.
7. The ship, quite properly, has its place in the water, but for the water to flow into the ship is both unsuitable and dangerous. So for a man to have his abode in this world is right and good for himself and others, for, keeping himself afloat, he will be able to help them to arrive along with himself at the haven of life. But for the world to find its way into his heart means death and destruction. Therefore the man of prayer ever reserves his heart for Him who formed it to be His temple, and thus both in this world and that which is to come he rests in peace and safely.
8. We all know that without water it is impossible to live; but if we sink beneath it we choke and die. While we need to make use of and drink water, we ought not to fall into and sink beneath it. Therefore the world and worldly things must be used with discretion, for without them life is not only difficult but impossible. For this very purpose God created the world that men might make use of it, but men should not drown themselves in it, for thus the breath of prayer is stopped and they perish.
9. If by ceasing to live the life of prayer the life of the spirit begins to fail, then those worldly things which are intended to be useful become hurtful and destructive. The sun by its light and heat makes all vegetable things to live and flourish, and also causes them to wither and die. The air also gives life and vigour to all living beings, but itself is the cause of their decomposition. Therefore “Watch and Pray.”
10. We ought so to live in this world that though we are in it we are not of it, and then the things of this world instead of being hurtful will be useful, and will help the growth of the spiritual life; but only on this condition, that the spirit ever keeps its face turned towards the Sun of Righteousness. Thus it sometimes happens that in a plot of unclean and filthy ground flowers spring up and flourish, and the sweet scent of the flowers overpowers the evil smell of the place. The plants, turning towards the sun, receive from it light and heat, and the filth instead of being hurtful to the plants fertilizes them and helps them to grow and flourish. So, too, the man of prayer as he prays turns his heart to Me, and receives from Me light and warmth, and amidst the ill odours of this evil world the sweet scent of his new and holy life glorifies Me, and there is produced in him not sweet odours only, but also fruit which shall abide for ever.