Chapter 26: The Meaning Of Prayer

Our Faith
by Emil Brunner

Chapter 26: The Meaning Of Prayer

There is nothing more daring or more humiliating than prayer. It is daring because in prayer I dare to speak with Him whom all the heavens cannot contain. The man who prays trusts that his speaking with God is not in vain, that something happens when he prays that otherwise would not occur. "The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." The brain almost reels when it imagines this possibility, surely it is foolish presumption, or simply a remnant of primitive superstition. Are we to believe that the Lord of the world really considers the petitions brought before him by a mere man? The Bible answers yes to all of these questions, and the whole of Biblical revelation creates and nurtures faith in God's hearing of prayer. God is our Father -- that means precisely that He hears. He stands in a reciprocal relationship with us, there is communication between us and Him. God awaits our prayer, and because He longs to extend His kingdom not only over men but through men and with men, God accomplishes some things only when they are asked for; God earnestly awaits our prayer. We dare believe that our prayers make possible for us some action of God not otherwise possible. To believe this, and actually to pray in such trust is surely the most daring thing a man can do.

To pray is also most humbling. Every other act, no matter how small or humble, is nevertheless our act, we are responsible, it is our work, and we have, for all its insignificance, a certain pride in what we have done. But when we pray we fold our hands in silent gesture that we now do nothing more, we now are at the end of our efforts -- that we now leave all things. Father, to Thee! Prayer is a declaration of impotency, it is to say, "I surrender the helm of my life; take it, I can do no more."

Hence prayer is really nothing but faith. So much prayer -- so much faith. So little prayer -- so little faith. In prayer it appears whether a man is daring enough to believe that God is really our Father. That is trust in God. And in prayer it also appears whether a man is humble enough to surrender all to God and to look for all things from Him. To me it always seems that if we could pray aright great things would have to happen. Christianity is so poverty-stricken because so few

really know the meaning of prayer and only he knows who is able to pray. Perhaps none of us yet know rightly. We are still too lacking in trust, and not humble enough in resignation. We do not yet reckon sufficiently on the reality of God. Wherever men today take God with real seriousness miracles happen as they did 2000 years ago. The man who does not believe in such miracles, cannot pray. We fail to take the promises of God seriously enough.

We have to learn how to pray again. It is learned only in quiet and composure. Prayer means first of all the assurance of the presence of God, or as those of old well said "coming before God," "standing before His face." That is not so simple. It requires an effort of the will, -- and more than that. "I will arise and go to my Father." That resolution requires the courage to let God tell you the truth, the humiliating knowledge that you can no longer help yourself. Only he really seeks God, for whom all other doors are bolted. God Himself meets us only when we are at the end of our knowledge and power.

Hence prayer is so much harder than work, more exhausting. For a hundred men who are not afraid of the exertion of labor, there are only a few who take upon themselves the strain of prayer. Most .flee from it, are afraid of it, for who would not be afraid to be alone with God? To babble little prayers is not to pray. The Publican who did not dare to lift up his eyes, and who could only sigh "God be merciful to me, a sinner" -- prayed. But the Pharisee who used the machinery of prayer so fluently did not pray; he was too full of himself for that.

Prayer, as all worth-while deeds, requires time. He who takes no time for the practice will either fail to learn how to pray, or, if he once knew will soon forget. Only he who takes much time for prayer can then understand what the Apostle means by the word "pray without ceasing." And prayer does not mean saying many words, it means seeking God and letting God seek us. When the Psalmist says that he is still before God, rejoices in God, he indicates the content and the mood of prayer. Prayer proceeds from petition to praise, from praise to thanks; and from praise and thanks onward to enlarged petition. But all real prayer, I think, will begin with the petition of the disciples, "Lord, teach us to pray!"