The Method of Prayer

May 19th, 2021 • 6 min

From Meditations for Layfolk, page 176:

(I) The whole doctrine of prayer from its practical standpoint can be summed up by saying that it is talking to God as a friend talks with a friend. That is, indeed, the best test of my prayers. Should I venture to talk to anyone I was fond of in the way I talk to God? We read in Scripture of God walking and talking with Adam in the cool of the evening, and we say to ourselves, That is perfect prayer. What does it matter in what shape God appeared, or whether He appeared at all! At least imagination grasps what the sacred author intended. Or, again, when we find it written of Enoch that “he walked with God till God took him,” we say, again, that our ideal of prayer could not be better described. Or lastly, for the quotations could be multiplied to any extent, when we first come across this wonderful sentence, are we not immediately conscious of what is meant: “God spoke to Moses, face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend.” Now here we have in a very brief epitome all that, from a practical point of view, we need to know about prayer. It is simply the converse between my soul and God, to be carried on in precisely the same fashion of language and the same pregnant silences that characterize my own talks with my friends. These must be the models by which I individually test the value and the sincerity of my prayers. Nothing else will do, nor will anything else for long hold or attract me. Prayers will ultimately bore me unless I carefully follow out these directions. First, then, the matter of prayer is originated by the mind out of the articles of faith, and the result is that the heart leaps up to love God in consequence, and this love itself is expressed in the simple language and silences of friendship.

(II) Now this “talking as with a friend” involves certain consequences. It involves a view of prayer that should make it very much more easy for me. For example, prayer must be perfectly natural. I must speak to God in my own language, or else I cannot hope to pray frequently nor well. I may in my life ape the thoughts and style of another, but only for a while, since I soon wear his garments threadbare or show occasionally the real clothing that is beneath. My conversation with friends is perfectly easy. I have no character to keep up with them; they know me too well to be taken in by what I do not mean, and will not be at all impressed by any pose. So with them I lay all that aside, and appear as they know me to be. I say exactly what I think in the language that is most spontaneous and natural to me. Let me see, then, that the same naturalness is to be seen in my prayers. If my temperament is emotional, my prayers should be emotional; but if by temperament I am very matter of fact, what good would there be in my attempting to use the rapturous language of ecstasy? The sooner I learn that I cannot fit myself in to another’s prayers, the better for my own peace of soul. They will either be too large or too small; in any case will only hamper my movements. Just as ready-made boots do not fit, so neither do ready-made prayers: the former blister the feet, the latter blister the soul. My prayers should therefore be my own, and I should ask only for what I honestly want. It is a mockery to ask God to take me to Himself if I cannot really say that I want to go; and it is a lie to speak of myself as the greatest sinner in the world if I know that I certainly am not.

(III) Quite honestly, then, I will speak to God in prayer as a friend speaks with a friend. That at least will be my ideal, and I shall do nothing deliberately that conflicts with it. Am I, therefore, to cast aside all my prayer-books? Not at all. It is true that as far as possible I should endeavour to do without them, for surely my needs, my reasons for thankfulness, and the motives that I have for praising God should supply me with abundance of material for talking to Him. But undoubtedly from time to time I do find myself strangely silent; perhaps I am really only very tired. Still, it is helpful always to have a book, provided that we realize it to be merely a model and not the only way. Yet even here, at these times when our hearts can say nothing from sheer weariness, or from whatever other cause, we should still keep to our test and use the privilege of friendship. For surely one chief way in which friends differ from acquaintances is that we can be silent with friends, but allow no pause in the conversation when we are with an acquaintance: should this last happen, we grow uncomfortable and cast about for something to talk about, but to be in the friend’s presence is joy enough. Conscious of each other, we are content; walking side by side, we may say never a word, “make” no conversation; or sit, as on either side of the fireplace sit old cronies, speaking not at all, yet happy. For silence expresses things too large to be packed into language; and out of the fulness of the heart the mouth most often cannot speak. Hence, when I come to Communion, or make a visit to my Friend and find I have nothing to say, let me say nothing, be silent, wait for Him to speak; at least be glad that I am near Him.

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