Living up to Our Prayers
J. R. Miller, 1905
Prayer tests life. If we only tried seriously to live up to our praying—it would have a powerful effect upon our character and conduct! We pray to be made unselfish; if we demanded of ourselves all that this means, it probably would restrain many selfish impulses in us and radically affect our treatment of others. It would set us in new relations to all about us. It would check in us the crafty desire, so common among men, to get the better of others in all transactions. Someone writes:
"God, that I might spend my life for others,
With no ends of my own;
That I might pour myself into my brothers,
And live for them alone."
What would happen in us, what change, what transformation, if this prayer were to be answered?
We pray to be made patient. If we are really sincere in this request, we shall find ourselves halted many a time in our impetuous moods, our tongues silenced on the very edge of angry outbursts, and our harsh and bitter feelings softened by an irresistible constraint toward quietness and gentleness.
There is no prayer that most Christians make oftener than that they may be made like Christ. It is a most fitting prayer, and one that we should never cease to make. But if we very earnestly wish to be transformed into Christ's likeness—we will find the desire growing into great intensity in our daily lives, and transforming them. It will affect every phase of our behavior and conduct. It will hold before us continually, the image of our Lord, and will keep ever in our vision—a new standard of thought, of feeling, of desire, of act, of speech. It will keep us asking all the while such questions as these, "How would Jesus feel about this—if He were personally in my circumstances? How would Jesus answer this question? What would Jesus do—if He were here today where I am?"
Our Lord gives us some very definite instructions concerning praying and living. For example, He teaches us that if we would have our sins forgiven—we must forgive others. "Forgive us our debts—as we also have forgiven our debtors." There is no mistaking the meaning of this petition. Each time we pray to be forgiven, we commit ourselves to an act, something we must voluntarily do, before we can hope to receive an answer—we pledge ourselves to be forgiving. If we are sincere when we offer this prayer, and if we think seriously of what we are saying, no bitterness can stay in our hearts, no resentful feeling, no grudge.
Yesterday someone wronged us, injured us, treated us unkindly, did something which stung us to the heart. Last night we looked back over our day, and it was blotted and stained. We asked God to forgive us these evil things. He is very merciful, and loves to be gracious. But as we pray to be forgiven we promise something—we promise to forgive. If we would live up to our prayer we must give up our resentment, our bitterness, and must show the same mercy to others—that we ask God to show to us.
The Master tells us very plainly, also, what we should do when in the divine presence we become conscious of any wrong we have committed. He is exhorting against anger in any form, and tells us in startling words that hatred, bitterness, and contempt of others are violations of the sixth commandment. Then He illustrates it in a very practical way, "If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you—leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
When we approach the altar of prayer the light of God's holiness shines upon us, searching the deepest things in our hearts and lives. If in this exposure of the hidden springs of our being—we find in ourselves feelings or qualities that are not right, we should instantly set them right. If we remember that yesterday we did something to another that was unloving, that we were unjust or uncharitable to him, we cannot go on with our prayer—until we have made right whatever was wrong in our treatment of him. In order to do this, it may be necessary ofttimes for us to rise from our knees and go out to undo some evil that we have done to another; to perform some neglected duty before we can finish our devotion; to make restitution if we have taken anything that was his or in any way have injured him.
This might stop the flow of our words sometimes, while we go out to set something right in the realm of action which in the divine presence we see to be wrong. But it would save us from some of the mockeries and insincerities of prayer which now so much mar our worship.
Here is an illustration from childhood. A little boy was counting his money on the morning of a Fair day to which he had been looking forward with eager expectancy. He found in his pocket one ten-cent piece, two nickels, and eleven pennies. His father watched him going over his money and said, "Son, aren't you going to put some of that in your missionary bank for children on the other side of the world?" "I'm going to the Fair," said the boy. "Well, I think it would be a good thing to put some of it with the money that is to help other children to have a life with some happiness in it," replied the father. "I am going to the Fair, and I need it all," said the boy.
"All right," said his father, "but come and say your morning prayer, and we will go down to breakfast." So the little fellow kneeled down and prayed for his family and home, that he might be a good boy, and then stopped. "Aren't you going to pray for the children on the other side of the world?" asked his father. "I am saying this prayer alone," said the boy. "Well—but I wouldn't leave them out today," replied his father.
The lad thought a moment, and then he prayed for the children in missionary lands. When he got up he took four of his pennies and put them into his missionary box. He knew that if he prayed for the heathen children he would have to give part of his money to the fund for sending the gospel to dark lands. When at last he made the prayer, he gave gladly. He couldn't help it.
There are prayers, too, that we cannot finish on our knees—they can be completed only out in some field of active duty. Our neighbor is in trouble. We hear of it, and, believing in prayer, we go to our place of devotion and plead that God would send him the help he needs. But almost certainly, prayer is not all the duty of the hour. We cannot get the thought of the human need out of our mind. We must rise from our knees, go to our neighbor, and with our own hands do for him what needs to be done, and then return and finish our prayer.
It is our duty always to pray, to take everything to God. But usually prayer is not enough alone. When we ask God to bless others, it is quite likely that the blessing will be sent to them through us. When we plead for one who is in need, it is probable that his need must be supplied from our plenty and through our hands. We must rise from our knees and go out in paths of love and service.
There is danger always of unconscious insincerity in our praying for spiritual blessings. The desires are to be commended. God approves of them and will gladly bestow upon us the more grace we ask for: the increase in love, the greater faith, the purer heart, the new advance in holiness. But these are attainments which are not bestowed upon us directly, as gifts from heaven. We have much to do in securing them. When we ask for spiritual blessings or favors, the Master asks, "Are you able to climb up to these heights? Are you able to pay the price, to make the self-denial, to give up the things you love, in order to reach these attainments in holiness, in grace, in spiritual beauty?"
If our lives were as good as our prayers, we would be saint-like in character. Our duty is not to bring our praying down to lower levels—but to bring our lives up to higher reaches. If we find that our prayers are beyond our living, our duty is not to lower them to suit the tenor of our living—but to bring our lives up to the higher standard of our praying!