Prayer (last in a series)

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. (Nehemiah 1:11a)

For the past eleven weeks I’ve shared my thoughts about prayer with you.  This week we hear from some famous Christians known for their prayers:

St. Augustine

St. Augustine in his Cell; artist: Sandro Botticelli

What can be more excellent than prayer; what is more profitable to our life; what sweeter to our souls; what more sublime, in the course of our whole life, than the practice of prayer!

He whose attitude towards Christ is correct does indeed ask ‘in his name’ and receives what he asks for, if it is something which does not stand in the way of his salvation. He gets it, however, only when he ought to receive it, for certain things are not refused us, but their granting is delayed to a fitting time.

Augustine was Bishop of Hippo, a major city in what is now the country of Algeria, from 395-430 A.D.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas, which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.

An excerpt from A Simple Way to Pray

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, was a German priest and theologian and one of the principle leaders of the Protestant Reformation.

Julian of Norwich

Statue of Julian of Norwich by David Holgate

Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness. This is our Lord’s will…that our prayer and our trust be, alike, large. For if we do not trust as much as we pray, we fail in full worship to our Lord in our prayer; and also we hinder and hurt ourselves. The reason is that we do not know truly that our Lord is the ground from which our prayer springeth; nor do we know that it is given us by his grace and his love. If we knew this, it would make us trust to have of our Lord’s gifts all that we desire. For I am sure that no man asketh mercy and grace with sincerity, without mercy and grace being given to him first.

Julian of Norwich, 1342-1416, took her name from the church in England at which she lived as an anchoress – a kind of hermit – engaged in contemplative prayer.

Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers

It is not so true that “prayer changes things” as that prayer changes me and I change things. God has so constituted things that prayer on the basis of Redemption alters the way in which a man looks at things.

Prayer is not a question of altering things externally, but of working wonders in a man’s disposition.

Get into the habit of dealing with God about everything. Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.

It is by no haphazard chance that in every age men have risen early to pray. The first thing that marks decline in spiritual life is our relationship to the early morning.

When we pray “in the Name of Jesus” the answers are in accordance with His nature, and if we think our prayers are unanswered it is because we are not interpreting the answer along this line.

Oswald Chambers was a Scottish minister and teacher who lived from 1874 – 1917.  Many people know of him through the collection of his writings assembled by his wife after his death entitled, My Utmost for His Highest.

W.H. Auden

W. H. Auden; photo credit: news.bbc.co.uk

Our wishes and desires … are involuntary and, therefore, not in themselves prayers. They only become prayers when addressed to God … A petition does not become a prayer unless it ends with the words, spoken or unspoken, nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou wilt.

W. H. Auden was born in England in 1907 and later became an American citizen.  He is considered by some to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.  He died in 1973.


Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton; photograph by John Howard Griffin

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

An excerpt from Thoughts in Solitude

Thomas Merton was a 20th century Roman Catholic monk and writer.

George Herbert

George Herbert

Prayer (I)

Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six days’ world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the souls blood,
The land of spices, something understood.

George Herbert was an Anglican priest and poet who lived in England from 1593 to 1633.

Next week:  Some thoughts on the parable of the Good Samaritan: Who is my neighbor?

About Claudia Dickson Greggs

I am an Anglican priest, author, wife and mother. Writing and teaching about Christian life and faith are passions of mine.
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3 Responses to Prayer (last in a series)

  1. Godandnumbertheory says:

    Thank you for this wonderful list of prayers that still name needs and desires that are best understood when offered to God rather than carried around by us. The Merton prayer is prophetic. Many thanks. Godandnumbertheory.

  2. Rick says:

    Thanks for posting these quotes, Claudia. There are several interesting things I see in these quotes.

    1. Overall, it seems the earlier the date of the quote (the earlier the person lived), the more certain they are of things, whereas, the later, the less certain. I guess mainly it’s Merton whose quote states less certainty than the others. Sometimes I think we tend to over-think things Theological, and as we do, we end up being less certain than if we didn’t over-think them. It’s interesting, too, that not all those who spent time in contemplation ended up less certain than this quote from Merton portrays him.

    2. The quote by Chambers holds an interesting portion: “Get into the habit of dealing with God about everything. Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.” I have found in my own life that, if I, for whatever reason, put off praying, the rest of the day is on a “wrong level”. But once I do pray, the level becomes “right.”

    I think one thing that might interfere with prayer in our society is the belief that we must accomplish a certain amount today. Society pressures us to do that, and pressures us to not take/make the time to pray, to relate to God, to soak in His presence. But without that, we work the rest of the day on that “wrong level”, and do ourselves, God and society a great disservice.

    Especially in churches this applies. Why are church leaders and parishioners not spending more time in prayer than in prayerless doing? We are not graded by God on how much we do. Our relationship with God and others is the measure of our “success” (if there is such a thing – and who is it that’s measuring this success?) as Christians if anything is. Certainly, there is a “doing” part of our walk, but only after the praying/being part is accomplished.

    I don’t know if all this makes sense or not. I’m not advocating not doing, but am advocating more prayer and more dependence on God for things to get done and for direction than it seems most churches today seem to do. I’m still looking for a local church whose orientation is more prayer and being than constant worldly doing.

    • Rick, I certainly agree with your comment about the high level of “busy-ness” in a number of churches today. Many well-intentioned programs are launched by clergy and parishioners because these programs seem like good things to do — but has the Lord called them to undertake such work? In some instances, people don’t want to take the time to find out if it is the Lord’s will. I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past. I used to think if a good idea popped into my head it must be the Lord’s will. Not so.

      Sometimes Christians are more interested in making sure their church looks “vital” or “successful” instead of seeking to be a church that allows the Lord to direct all their activity. But Christians succumb too easily to secular gimmicks, like creating and designing programs to attract more people (what about spending time in prayer together and letting the Holy Spirit raise up whatever programs are needed, if any?). I think if a church is committed to the Lord and to seeking prayerfully his will in all things there is no need to worry about whether people will find the church “attractive.”

      Jesus was not concerned with whether people found him “appealing.” He simply wanted to do his Father’s will. Luke makes a point of showing us, in his gospel, how Jesus took time to pray, to seek his Father’s will, before he made important decisions. He prayed for 40 days in the desert before he began his ministry in Nazareth (and the people of Nazareth rejected him; but Jesus wasn’t focussed on being successful), he spent the night praying on a mountainside before he called his disciples, (and one of them went on to betray him; but it wasn’t a mistake to call Judas), and he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested and crucified.

      In Acts of the Apostles, where Luke records the activities of Jesus’ followers, we hear how before and after major decisions and activities the Christian community prays together. This should be our model, too.
      Thanks so much for your comments, Rick. Claudia

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