A Method of Prayer


by Madame Guyon

 

The following extract [from Percy Gardner’s Exploratio Evangelica] bears specially on Egotism and Prayer; but there are also many passages throughout the book in which he indicates that prayer is to him the nerve and centre of the religious life, the sphere in which the supreme religious facts are personally verified, and the chief means by which the " Divine Ideas," as he calls them, obtain entrance into the human soul --

"Prayer being once established as an institution becomes with time the vehicle in which works, from age to age, the divine idea of the surrender of the will of man to the will of God.  At first sight it seems very ill-adapted for such a purpose.  It seems adapted rather to be the instrument of the self-assertion of the will of the individual, bending to its own purposes the powers even of the spiritual world.  And no doubt strong egotistic purpose is in many lands the mark of prayer, and survives in more civilised countries among those addicted to sorcery and witchcraft, who think the repeated prayers confer on those who offer them not only a degree of absolute merit, but also actual power over the spirits, to bend them to human will.  Unless the Power which works for righteousness were real and living, this tendency would be the natural and inevitable result of the custom of praying.  But this tendency in the course of history comes into collision with a force far stronger than itself.  Men come into the presence of the powers of the unseen world in simple egotism; but they are subdued and converted; and they learn that there is a higher good than that after which they were striving, and a purpose in their lives beyond the mere desire of self-gratification.

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"With the continued practice of prayer, the egotism which demands good for one's self, and the natural affection which demands gratification for one's relations and friends, though they do not die away, pass more or less into the background.  Man learns that the higher the tone of his request, the more sure it is to be granted;  and thus there slowly dawns upon him the perception of a divine will which wills what is best.  He learns to pray rather for delivery from fear of his enemies than for delivery out of the hand of his enemies; from the fear of death rather than from dying.  He seeks inner changes rather than mere outward interpositions. And as this conception becomes more and more concrete and objective, man perceives more and more that his highest wisdom and happiness is to conform his own will to that which is divine.  Then prayers become less a series of petitions than a communion with the unseen.  Instead of trying to gain what he wishes, man learns to try to conform his wishes to the will of God, revealed to him day by day and felt by him to embody the ideal life."

This is true to the characteristic Christian experience in prayer, though it is not a complete account of the facts.  Prayer destroys egotism in the Christian experience because God is found in Christ, and all fellowship with God effects a gradual transmutation of the egotistic into the filial personality.  It is in prayer that the soul first attains to consciousness of its true self; first as individual, then as part of a great whole, a drop in the sea of Being, an iota in an august Name, a child in "the blameless family of God."

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