“Odes to the Joy of Prayer; quotes that delight in God’s Presence” from L.Willows

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To me, prayer is the passageway to God, a gift that he has bestowed upon and into our hearts. He has placed within us an open door to himself by which we have access to his throne.

It is humbling and thrilling at the same time to realize that at any moment of the day or night we can not only reach our Creator but that God wishes to love, guide and intimately converse with us. Prayer is an act of love rather than one of desire and wanting. It worships, praises and surrenders to God’s will before the will of self. We trust that his goodness is even more than what we can fathom for ourselves, that he is there beside us as we speak every word. The Presence; His Presence- is palpable. It grows miraculously to become one’s greatest joy. L.Willows

“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction
that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed
insufficient for the day.”
-Abraham Lincoln

“God has instituted prayer so as to confer upon his creatures the dignity of being causes.”
-Blaise Pascal

There is a place where thou canst touch the eyes
Of blinded men to instant, perfect sight;
There is a place where thou canst say, “Arise”
To dying captives, bound in chains of night;
There is a place where thou canst reach the store
Of hoarded gold and free it for the Lord;
There is a place–upon some distant shore–
Where thou canst send the worker and the Word.
Where is that secret place–dost thou ask, “Where?”
O soul, it is the secret place of prayer!
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”
-Victor Hugo

“Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell God your troubles, that God may comfort you; tell God your joys, that God may sober them; tell God your longings, that God may purify them; tell God your dislikes, that God may help you conquer them; talk to God of your temptations, that God may shield you from them: show God the wounds of your heart, that God may heal them. If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. Talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration say just what you think. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God.”
-Francois Fenelon

“God does not delay to hear our prayers because He has no mind to give; but that, by enlarging our desires, He may give us the more largely.”
-Anselm of Canterbury

The Apostle Paul had a purpose in saying: ‘Pray without ceasing’. Are we then to ceaselessly bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? …. there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. … The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer.”
-Saint Augustine

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“Prayer transforms us by God’s Presence”, from Rev. Ben Patterson author of God’s Prayer Book

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What is Prayer by Ben Patterson from “God’s Prayer Book; the Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms”

Prayer is more than a tool for self-expression, a means to get God to give us what we want. It is a means he uses to give us what he wants and to teach us to want what he wants. Holy Scripture in general, and the Psalms, in particular, teach us who God is and what he wants to give. When the members of his synagogue complained that the words of the liturgy did not express what they felt, Abraham Heschel, the great philosopher of religion, replied wisely and very biblically. He told them that the liturgy wasn’t supposed to express what they felt; they were supposed to feel what the liturgy expressed.

To be taught by the Bible to pray is to learn to want and feel what the Bible expresses—to say what it means and mean what it says. Those who have practiced this kind of prayer over time make a surprising discovery: As they learn to feel what the Psalms express, their hearts and desires are enlarged. They find that what they once regarded as strong desires were really weak, puerile little wishes, debased inklings of what is good.

Of course! Would not the God who made us in his own image understand better than we ever could what we really need? And shouldn’t we ask him for it? As C. S. Lewis put it, God Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The best part of prayer is who you pray to. Answers to prayer are wonderful, but the Answerer is better. Spend enough time with Jesus, and you’ll start to look and think and act like Jesus. Seeing is becoming. The church father Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” It’s true: God is never more glorified than when we come alive to the vision of God. Prayer is anticipation and preparation for the great day promised in Scripture when we will see Christ fully and “will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”

Augustine prayed,
How shall I call upon my God, my God, and my Lord, since in
truth when I call upon him I call him into myself? Is there any
place within me where God can dwell? How can God come into
me, God who made heaven and earth? O Lord my God, is there
any place in me that can contain you?

Is there any place in us that can contain God? No, there is not. Something must expand us for that to happen. The Psalms are God’s gracious gift to us to do that very thing. How sweet and kind of God to give us a book of prayers in his Word. This Word “is alive and powerful . . . sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
This is the very Word he gives us to pray in the Psalms!

Paul coined a word to describe the character of Scripture: He said it is “inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Greek is literally “God-breathed.” The breath of God permeates the Bible. The breath of God is the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who spoke light into darkness and turned dust into living beings made in the image of God. This is the Spirit who God speaks to us in the Bible, making it “useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.

It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16). With this thought, no doubt in mind, the poet George Herbert described prayer as “God’s breath in man returning to his birth.” The same Breath that gives us breath to pray comes to us through the God-breathed Scriptures. What we inhale in the Word of God, we exhale in prayer. Like language, what comes in comes out, changing us in the process.

Certainly, God invites us to pour out our hearts to him. The Psalms, which John Calvin called “an anatomy of all parts of the human soul,” can help us do that. All the joys, pleasures, hopes, fears, despairs, doubts, heartaches, terrors, and longings of which we are capable are mirrored, clarified, sanctified, and transformed in the Psalms, as are all the ways we may pray: supplication, intercession, praise, thanks, lament, and meditation. The Psalms, as many have said, are a mirror; they will reveal you. Yet they are much more. Read them and they will read you. Pray them and they will change you.

Prayer is better than a tool for mere self-expression, unless the self being expressed is the self being shaped by the Word of God into the image of Christ. And who is Christ, but the new Adam, the true human, the faithful Son who lived as we were all created by God to live? When we sin we are apt to excuse ourselves and say, “I’m only human.” But Jesus knows better. He points to himself and says, in effect, “When you sin, you are less than human.” We say, “Just be yourself when you pray.” Jesus says, in effect, “You need to be a self, a true self, before you can be yourself.”

To be in God’s presence is to be transformed. At the end of The Divine Comedy, Dante writes of passing through the levels of hell and purgatory before ascending through heaven into God’s very presence. He tries to describe what he saw when he looked into the face of God. Words fail him, for human language cannot express such a sight. But he does describe the effect gazing into the face of God has on his will and desire: But now my desire and will were revolved, like a wheel which is moved evenly, by the love that moves the sun and other stars.

The same love that moves stars and constellations and nebulae moves you. The apostle Paul said that to be in the presence of God is to have a veil lifted so we “. . . can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

Source: God’s Prayer Book, The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms by Ben Patterson by Tyndale House Publishers

Reverend Ben Patterson is the Campus Pastor at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California. He served previously as the founding pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church (California), senior pastor of New Providence Presbyterian Church (New Jersey), and Dean of the Chapel at Hope College from 1993 to 2000. He is a contributing editor to “Christianity Today” and “Leadership Journal,” and the author of several books; his most recent work, a “Prayer Devotional Bible,” was released this past spring. Ben earned his bachelor’s degree from La Verne University in 1966 and his master’s of divinity from The American Baptist Seminary of the West in 1972.

“The Hidden Life of Prayer”, from David MacIntyre

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In one of the cathedrals of Northern Europe an exquisite group in high relief represents the prayer life. It is disposed in three panels. The first of these reminds us of the apostolic precept, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ We see the front of a spacious temple which opens on the market-place. The great square is strewn with crowds of eager men, gesticulating, bargaining-all evidently intent on gain. But One, who wears a circlet of thorn, and is clothed in a garment woven without seam from the top throughout, moves silently through the clamorous crowds, and subdues to holy fear the most covetous heart.

The second panel displays the precincts of the temple, and serves to illustrate the common worship of the Church. White-robed ministers hasten here and there. They carry oil for the lamp, and water for the laver, and blood from the altar; with pure intention, their eyes turned towards the unseen glory, they fulfill the duties of their sacred calling.

The third panel introduces us to the inner sanctuary. A solitary worshipper has entered within the veil, and hushed and lowly in the presence of God, bends before the glancing Shekinah. This represents the hidden life of prayer of which the Master spoke in the familiar words, ‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee’ (Matt. 6:6, R.V.).

Our Lord takes it for granted that His people will pray. And indeed in Scripture generally the outward obligation of prayer is implied rather than asserted. Moved by a divinely-implanted instinct, our natures cry out for God, for the living God. And however this instinct may be crushed by sin, it awakes to power in the consciousness of redemption. Theologians of all schools, and Christians of every type, agree in their recognition of this principle of the new life.

Chrysostom has said, ‘The just man does not desist from praying until he ceases to be just;’ and Augustine, ‘He that loveth little prayeth little, and he that loveth much prayeth much;’ and Richard Hooker, ‘Prayer is the first thing wherewith a righteous life beginneth, and the last wherewith it doth end;’ and Père la Combe, ‘He who has a pure heart will never cease to pray, and he who will be constant in prayer shall know what it is to have a pure heart;’ and Bunyan, ‘If thou art not a praying person, thou art not a Christian;’ and Richard Baxter, ‘Prayer is the breath of the new creature;’ and George Herbert, ‘Prayer…the soul’s blood.’

And yet, instinctive as is our dependence upon God, no duty is more earnestly impressed upon us in Scripture than the duty of continual communion with Him. The main reason for this unceasing insistence is the arduousness of prayer. In its nature it is a laborious undertaking, and in our endeavor to maintain the spirit of prayer we are called to wrestle against principalities and powers of darkness.

‘Dear Christian reader,’ says Jacob Boehme, ‘to pray aright is right earnest work.’ Prayer is the most sublime energy of which the spirit of man is capable. It is in one aspect glory and blessedness; in another, it is toil and travail, battle and agony. Uplifted hands grow tremulous long before the field is won; straining sinews and panting breath proclaim the exhaustion of the ‘heavenly footman.’ The weight that falls upon an aching heart fills the brow with anguish, even when the midnight air is chill. Prayer is the uplift of the earth-bound soul into the heaven, the entrance of the purified spirit into the holiest; the rending of the luminous veil that shuts in, as behind curtains, the glory of God. It is the vision of things unseen; the recognition of the mind of the Spirit; the effort to frame words which man may not utter.

A man that truly prays one prayer,’ says Bunyan, ‘shall after that never be able to express with his mouth or pen the unutterable desires, sense, affection, and longing that went to God in that prayer.’

The saints of the Jewish Church had a princely energy in intercession: ‘Battering the gates of heaven with storms of prayer,’ they took the kingdom of heaven by violence. The first Christians proved in the wilderness, in the dungeon, in the arena, and at the stake the truth of their Master’s words, ‘He shall have whatsoever he saith.’ Their souls ascended to God in supplication as the flame of the altar mounts heavenward.

The Talmudists affirm that in the divine life four things call for fortitude; of these prayer is one. One who met Tersteegen at Kronenberg remarked, ‘It seemed to me as if he had gone straight into heaven, and had lost himself in God; but often when he had done praying he was as white as the wall.’ David Brainerd notes that on one occasion, when he found his soul ‘exceedingly enlarged’ in supplication, he was ‘in such anguish, and pleaded with so much earnestness and importunity,’ that when he rose from his knees he felt ‘extremely weak and overcome.’ ‘I could scarcely walk straight,’ he goes on to say, ‘my joints were loosed, the sweat ran down my face and body, and nature seemed as if it would dissolve.’

A living writer has reminded us of John Foster, who used to spend long nights in his chapel, absorbed in spiritual exercises, pacing to and fro in the disquietude of his spirit, until his restless feet had worn a little track in the aisle.

One might easily multiply examples, but there is no need to go beyond Scripture to find either precept or example to impress us with the arduousness of that prayer which prevails. Should not the supplication of the Psalmist, ‘Quicken Thou me, according to Thy word…quicken me in Thy righteousness…quicken me after Thy loving-kindness…quicken me according to Thy judgments…quicken me, O Lord, for Thy name’s sake;’ and the complaint of the Evangelical Prophet, ‘There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee,’ find an echo in our experience? Do we know what it is to ‘labour,’ to ‘wrestle,’ to ‘agonize’ in prayer?

Another explanation of the arduousness of prayer lies in the fact that we are spiritually hindered: there is ‘the noise of archers in the places of drawing water.’ St. Paul assures us that we shall have to maintain our prayer energy ‘against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’

Dr. Andrew Bonar used to say that, as the King of Syria commanded his captains to fight neither with small nor great, but only with the King of Israel, so the prince of the power of the air seems to bend all the force of his attack against the spirit of prayer. If he should prove victorious there, he has won the day. Sometimes we are conscious of a satanic impulse directed immediately against the life of prayer in our souls; sometimes we are led into ‘dry’ and wilderness-experiences, and the face of God grows dark above us; sometimes, when we strive most earnestly to bring every thought and imagination under obedience to Christ, we seem to be given over to disorder and unrest; sometimes the inbred slothfulness of our nature lends itself to the evil one as an instrument by which he may turn our minds back from the exercise of prayer.

Because of all these things, therefore, we must be diligent and resolved, watching as a sentry who remembers that the lives of men are lying at the hazard of his wakefulness, resourcefulness, and courage.

‘And what I say unto you,’ said the Lord to His disciples, ‘I say unto all, Watch! ‘

There are times when even the soldiers of Christ become heedless of their trust, and no longer guard with vigilance the gift of prayer. Should any one who reads these pages be conscious of loss of power in intercession, lack of joy in communion, hardness and impenitence in confession, ‘Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.’

‘Oh, stars of heaven that fade and flame,
Oh, whispering waves below!
Was earth, or heaven. or I the same,
A year, a year ago!

‘The stars have kept their home on high,
The waves their wonted flow;
The love is lost that once was I,
A year, a year ago.’

The only remedy for this sluggish mood is that we should ‘rekindle our love,’ as Polycarp wrote to the Church in Ephesus, ‘in the blood of God.’ Let us ask for a fresh gift of the Holy Spirit to quicken our sluggish hearts, a new disclosure of the charity of God. The Spirit will help our infirmities, and the very compassion of the Son of God will fall upon us, clothing us with zeal as with a garment, stirring our affections into a most vehement flame, and filling our souls with heaven.

‘Men ought always to pray, and ‘-although faintness of spirit attends on prayer like a shadow-‘not faint.’ The soil in which the prayer of faith takes root is a life of unbroken communion with God, a life in which the windows of the soul are always open towards the City of Rest. We do not know the true potency of prayer until our hearts are so steadfastly inclined to God that our thoughts turn to Him, as by a Divine instinct, whenever they are set free from the consideration of earthly things.

It has been said of Origen (in his own words) that his life was ‘one unceasing supplication.’ By this means above all others the perfect idea of the Christian life is realized. Intercourse between the believer and his Lord ought never to be interrupted.

‘The vision of God,’ says Bishop Westcott, ‘makes life a continuous prayer.’ And in that vision all fleeting things resolve themselves, and appear in relation to things unseen. In a broad use of the term, prayer is the sum of all the service that we render to God, so that all fulfillment of duty is, in one sense, the performance of Divine service, and the familiar saying, ‘Work is worship,’ is justified. ‘I am prayer,’ said a Psalmist (Psa. cix. 4). ‘In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,’ said an Apostle.

In the Old Testament that life which is steeped in prayer is often described as a walk with God. Enoch walked in assurance, Abraham in perfectness, Elijah in fidelity, the sons of Levi in peace and equity. Or it is spoken of as a dwelling with God, even as Joshua departed not from the Tabernacle; or as certain craftsmen of the olden time abode with a king for his work.

Again, it is defined as the ascent of the soul into the Sacred Presence; as the planets, ‘with open face beholding,’ climb into the light of the sun’s countenance, or as a flower, lit with beauty and dipped in fragrance, reaches upwards towards the light.

At other times, prayer is said to be the gathering up of all the faculties in an ardor of reverence, and love, and praise. As one clear strain may succeed in reducing to harmony a number of mutually-discordant voices, so the reigning impulses of the spiritual nature unite the heart to fear the name of the Lord.

But the most familiar, and perhaps the most impressive, description of prayer in the Old Testament, is found in those numerous passages where the life of communion with God is spoken of as a waiting upon Him. A great scholar has given a beautiful definition of waiting upon God: ‘To wait is not merely to remain impassive. It is to expect-to look for with patience, and also with submission. It is to long for, but not impatiently; to look for, but not to fret at the delay; to watch for, but not restlessly; to feel that if He does not come we will acquiesce, and yet to refuse to let the mind acquiesce in the feeling that He will not come.’

Now, do not let any one say that such a life is visionary and unprofitable. The real world is not this covering veil of sense; reality belongs to those heavenly things of which the earthly are mere ‘patterns’ and correspondences. Who is so practical as God? Who among men so wisely directed His efforts to the circumstances and the occasions which He was called to face, as ‘the Son of Man who is in heaven? ‘Those who pray well, work well. Those who pray most, achieve the grandest results. To use the striking phrase of Tauler, ‘In God nothing is hindered.’

The cultivation of the habit of prayer will secure its expression on all suitable occasions.

In times of need, in the first instance; almost everyone will pray then. Moses stood on the shores of the Red Sea, surveying the panic into which the children of Israel were cast when they realized that the chariots of Pharaoh were thundering down upon them. ‘Wherefore criest thou unto Me?’ said the Lord. Nehemiah stood before King Artaxerxes. The monarch noted his inward grief, and said, ‘Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart.’ That question opened the door to admit the answer to three months’ praying; and the hot desire that had risen to God in those slow months gathered itself into one fervent ejaculation, ‘So I prayed to the God of heaven.’

Again, one whose life is spent in fellowship with God will constantly seek and find opportunities for swift and frequently-recurring approaches to the throne of grace. The apostles bring every duty under the cross; at the name of Jesus their loyal souls soar heavenward in adoration and in praise. The early Christians never met without invoking a benediction; they never parted without prayer. The saints of the Middle Ages allowed each passing incident to summon them to intercession-the shadow on the dial, the church-bell, the flight of the swallow, the rising of the sun, the falling of a leaf.

The covenant which Sir Thomas Browne made with himself is well-known, but one may venture to refer to it once more: ‘To pray in all places where quietness inviteth; in any house, highway, or street; and to know no street in this city that may not witness that I have not forgotten God and my Saviour in it; and that no parish or town where I have been may not say the like. To take occasion of praying upon the sight of any church which I see, or pass by, as I ride about. To pray daily, and particularly for my sick patients, and for all sick people under whose care soever. And at the entrance into the house of the sick to say, ‘The peace and the mercy of God be upon this house.’ After a sermon to make a prayer and desire a blessing, and to pray for the minister.’ And much more of a like nature.

Once more, one who lives in the spirit of prayer will spend much time in retired and intimate communion with God. It is by such a deliberate engagement of prayer that the fresh springs of devotion which flow through the day are fed. For, although communion with God is the life-energy of the renewed nature, our souls ‘cleave to the dust,’ and devotion tends to grow formal-it becomes emptied of its spiritual content, and exhausts itself in outward acts. The Master reminds us of this grave peril, and informs us that the true defense against insincerity in our approach to God lies in the diligent exercise of private prayer.

In the days of the Commonwealth, one of the early Friends, ‘a servant of the Lord, but a stranger outwardly,’ came into an assembly of serious people, who had met for worship. ‘And after some time he had waited on the Lord in spirit he had an opportunity to speak, all being silent; he said by way of exhortation, ‘Keep to the Lord’s watch.’ These words, being spake in the power of God, had its operation upon all or most of the meeting, so that they felt some great dread and fear upon their spirits. After a little time he spake again, saying, ‘What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.’ Then he was silent again a little time, but the whole meeting, being sensible that this man was in some extraordinary spirit and power, were all musing what manner of teaching this should be, being such a voice that most of the hearers never heard before, that carried such great authority with it that they were all necessitated to be subject to the power.’

Soldier of Christ, you are in an enemy’s country; ‘Keep to the Lord’s watch.’

Source: David MacIntyre; “The Secret Life of Prayer: The LifeBlood of a Christian” (Published 2010)

“All the Prayers I have Sung”, a poem from L.Willows

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Will you feel all the prayers that I have sung?
Here in the closeness, as stars brine in God’s One.
How I have held you, with your heart in such love,
given you over, to Love; Him, Above.

Do you know that I love you forever and more?
When the moon comes upon me I’ll soften the clouds.
Finding all goodness to hold you, to restore,
to keep you, dear heart; wrapping you to the core.

Do you know that I love you forever and more?
After days part, in soft dreams cover,
I sing the pictures that fly like sweet darts,
there they go lightly like birds to God’s heart.

Will you feel all the prayers that I’ve sung?
Here in such closeness, as the stars brine in God’s One.
Each minute, each hour that bids holy view-
calls Heaven, Love’s mercies. See, they open for you.

© 2019 Linda Willows

Psalm 66:19 “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”

Psalm 139:2-4, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.”

1 John 5:14 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”