Perfect Prayer: How Offered, How Answered, by Chauncey Giles

from Chauncey Giles Perfect Prayer. How Offered: How Answered  (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1903)

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Perfect Prayer.
How Offered: How Answered

by Chauncey Giles


Teach us to pray.” (Luke 2:1)

The use of Prayer and the manner in which it operates to produce its effects is a subject which has awakened unusual interest in the Christian world in the last few years. As men become better acquainted with the substances and forces of the material world they see more clearly that all things proceed according to immutable laws. Storms, droughts, wars, famines, and pestilences, which it was formerly believed were sent upon men by an angry God to punish them for their sins, are now seen to be the effects of natural causes which are constant in their operation, and which in a great degree are under human control. Why, then, should we ask the Lord to interpose and prevent effects which His own forces acting according to His own laws produce? Why should we ask the Lord to save us from the consequences of our own wicked actions, when it can only be done by a change in ourselves? The more clearly men see that human suffering is due to their own ignorance of the laws of life, or to their willful disobedience to them, the more they will be disposed to doubt the propriety of asking the Lord to avert a calamity which is caused by a violation of the laws and order of infinite wisdom.

All the happiness and blessings we enjoy are also the effect of immutable causes. Man was made for happiness. All his faculties of body and spirit are organized to be the subjects of pleasurable sensations and the most exquisite joys, and all the forms and forces of the material and spiritual worlds are adjusted to this infinitely complex organization with the most delicate and the most exact precision for the purpose of ministering to human happiness, the essential purpose for which the Lord works. Why, then, should we ask the Lord to do that for ourselves or others which He is in the constant effort to do? He regards us with infinite love now; can any appeal from human lips move Him to an intenser love? He is employing all the means in His infinite power directed by His infinite wisdom for our highest good now; can He be persuaded to do more or better our importunities? It is impossible in the nature of things. Why, then, should we pray? The answer evidently must be that our asking is one of the means, one link in the chain of causes and effects by which the evil is averted or the good bestowed.

Another cause of doubt about the efficacy of prayer lies in the fact that many earnest and importunate prayers are not granted. The Lord says to men, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” Humble and sincere Christians do ask, in words at least, and their request is not granted. Then doubts of many kinds arise. Does not the Lord keep His promises? Is there any use in asking if there is no certainty of receiving an answer? It is generally supposed that the Lord can grant our requests immediately by a direct exercise of omnipotent power, and when the answer does not come we fall into doubt about His willingness or power to do it. Yet He may be answering us the most directly even when He seems to be deaf to our entreaties. There may be obstacles in the way of which we have no knowledge, which can only be removed according the laws of the Divine order and with our cooperation and it may require much progress in spiritual life before we are willing to give that.

There is a prevalent misconception about the end to be obtained by prayer. It is generally supposed that the office of prayer consists in working some change in the mind of the Lord by which He can be induced to save us from evils, or grant us blessings which He would not otherwise have done. But this cannot be its purpose. There is no necessity for any change in Him. The only permanent obstacles to our complete happiness lie in ourselves; consequently the only change required is in ourselves, and the principal use of prayer is its agency in bringing us into a state in which the Lord can save and bless us. It has been objected with much emphasis to this view of the purpose of prayer that it makes our petitions a mere pretense. We ask the Lord to render us a service which we know He desires to grant; we implore a gift which we refuse to receive when offered to us. But even when we know this we may be sincere in our petitions, because we need Divine aid to remove the obstacles which exist in our own minds, as much as to bestow the gift. In all genuine prayer there is behind the special request an acknowledgment of our dependence upon the Lord for the power to receive as well as to ask, and a surrender of the inmost causes of thought and affection to His guidance. However desirable the special blessing we seek may seem to us, the condition “not as I will, but as Thou wilt,” is always implied. Sincere, genuine prayer tends to bring us into such relations to the Lord that we can receive what He gives us the power to ask. It is a state of humiliation in which our own evil desires are held abeyance; it is turning to the Lord and opening our affections to a fuller reception of the Divine life; it is yielding ourselves up in affection and thought to the Divine guidance. So far as we do this we come within the sphere of the Divine power, and the Lord can do more for us than we can ask or conceive.

It is the aim of the author of the following pages to give the answer of the New Church to some of the questions which are now frequently asked concerning the nature and use of prayer, to show in what genuine prayer essentially consists, and to set forth the conditions on which it can be answered. It will be seen that much stress is laid upon the fact that man is only a form capable of receiving life, and consequently that his essential relation to the Lord is that of a recipient of life to the Giver of it. This central truth is the key to some of the most difficult problems of existence. It shows us that prayer is not merely a matter of words, that it is an actual turning to the Source of life and the opening of the organic forms of the mind to its influx. The discourses were first published separately as they were delivered, and in that form they have been widely circulated. So many acknowledgments have been received from inquiring and devout minds of the help they have derived from them in removing their doubts about the efficacy of prayer, and in gaining assurance that every genuine prayer will be answered when the conditions are fulfilled on which the Lord’s promises are made, that it is hoped their use may be continued by publication in a more permanent form. In the exposition of the “perfect prayer” which our Lord gives to all who come to Him with the request, “teach us to pray," it has been the endeavor to give some help in raising it above a mere formality, to show the richness of its vital power and its perfect adaptation to all human needs. Infinite Wisdom is its author, and it must contain infinite treasures of goodness and truth. That all who are seeking a heavenly life and a more intimate communion with the Lord may find some assistance in the following pages, is the sincere prayer of the author.

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