There’s a Hebrew image from the Rabbinical writings to which William Barclay, author of The Daily Study New Testament refers, and which conjures the idea of The Lord God leaning forward in prayer to Himself beseeching that He should always remain merciful.
A fine if unusual image carrying many layers of query and thought within it.
What I’d like to try to draw out of it is to look into further that essential inwardness which prayer requires for it to be made to God with that sense of fulfillment being accompanying for the petitioner. It is about that sense that God is within that I want to talk; and/or that he can be best attempted to be approached by us searching ourselves within, or by using our inmost resources to seek for Him, for a ‘hyperlink’ to His ‘website’.
A very busy place; ranked number one in Alexa.
I want to look also at a contrasting condition to this precondition of vaulable prayer being begun by us seeking an inwardness within us; to look at the condition of us seeking for the things of the world for ourselves; by way of us projecting our concentration and earnestness outwards; and towards those things of the world which we are desiring.
The one disposition, of being inward in prayer, is characterised our by need, by yearnings, by gratitude, by adoration, by respect , by hope, and by submission; the other disposition of outwards-facing desire being projected upon those things of the world which in our sights, is characterised by anticipation, by adoration, by yearnings, by hope, sometimes by covetousness, sometimes by ambition, etc.
Inward prayer is expression of a desire to communicate with God and, when we are asking of Him requests, of getting answers from Him and made to our requests . Outward desire for worldly things is an expression accompanied by a sense in us of our lacking something, which we pin on the things we desire, and which thus make them things we wish to have. In the clearest cases we feel very much like there is metaphorically, a ‘hole in our lives’ – a ‘promotion shaped-hole’ or a ‘new car shaped hole’ etc.
One might object that petitions to God asking Him for things also equally conjures a sense of the person praying and asking having ‘holes in his/her life’; and there may be some truth in this; especialy in those cases when for the prayer petitioner their lives at the present time are hard for them to be bearing.
In mitigation of this it might be countered that depending on what we seek as prayer petitioners or as desirers of worldly things, we go to God for help with some things and to the world with the hope of the accquisition of others. The same person – maybe at different times in their life, might pray to God for help and also might equally hanker quite dearly in the world for a higher calibre job with more pay. Some people might possibly perhaps put to God a request for a higher calibre job with more pay; but such a petition to God I myself believe in most cases would be misguided.
As a broadly general rule we might be able to say that people go to God for dealing with crises in their lives, or on topics not easily solvable by them looking to the world to solve them; and people go to the world for its things when there is no personal crisis going on in their world or when the things of the world they desire appear at least remotely achievavble by use of their own means and resources.
Some other persons go to God regularly or frequently although not often for solving personal crises but maybe more often to ask Him for help in things of the world which the world generally appears unable to solve for itself. (Pollution; Delpetions of environment etc included) These people often go to God also so as to ‘check-in’ with Him and draw comfort and strength from Him and to offer Him their obedient worship and thanks.
These calls upon desire etc then I believe seem to cover for the most part approches made by different people in different situations, taking their desires and their problems to God or to the world, and in their seeking solutions to these desires etc.
The important part of all this dissection of situations and motivations I have been laying out, is that part which provides comfort and strength to those who pray. Those who go to pray to God and who receive little or none of these strength and comfort from their efforts are I think, either novices in prayer or else not frequent prayers to The Lord God. The essential inwardness of prayer is accquired by practice I believe; and also unless one feels in earnest, then any attempt at obtaining inwardness, for it to be present in oneself whilst one is praying, may well result in the praying person getting no satisfaction or benefit from their prayers.
At the risk of mingling divine things with human things untowardly, I would tentatively suggest that when Jesus in the gospels cures the woman with a flux of blood for thirty years by her merely touching his mantle and him unawares; in this gospel miracle when Jesus knows of his curing the woman by sensing that ‘virtue has gone out of me’; that is, that something curative has extended itself ouwards from him, and to the woman; I think perhaps this whole event and episode might at least help illustrate for us that essential duality of and contrast between worldly desire and heavenly petition. That Jesus the Son bears an (everlasting) stock of what he terms ‘virtue’ which he allows to be available to those who are his committed followers. The woman with the flux of blood being one such follower.
Her lack in her life being a personal crisis, her need is her desiire and the world has not been able to fulfill it; so she throws herself as it were on the mercy of Jesus; and in good faith and in obedience to his law of love. And so she his cured by his ‘virtue’ going out to her; but importantly also, as The Lord himself tells her ; ‘By your faith you are healed’.
Now, the world being such a place as The Bible calls variously: ‘vanity of vanities’ and of ‘no continuing city’ and ‘a vale of tears’ ‘a snare’ and many more memorable epithets in the same vein; in the world it is not uncommon; it is frequent, often perhaps mostly the case, that the world does not deliver up those things even for which we have a modest ambition and a mild covetousness to obtain from it – the job promotion and higher pay or the new car etc. In the world as the share dealers’ adverts are fond of letting us know ‘The value of stocks can go down as well as up’ – and this is the essential nature of the beast.
Hence The Bible again ofers us an alternative; a place ‘of many mansions’ and whereabouts ‘the lion lays down with the lamb’ and where we shall ‘beat our swords into poughshares’ and where ‘every tear is wiped away’ and again many more suchlike epithets of the same tenor. The place God offers us is a continuing city and is a ‘life in abundance’ and ‘everlasting’.
Simply put in mathematical terms: The infinite minus 1 units ad infinitum is diminished no whit; and so it is that strength and comfort as ‘virtue’ is able to go out from such a place endlessly without aggregate loss to that place. In the finite world economists consider the precondition of scarcity of resources a foundational truth about the nature of things. Their whole study is founded on a presumption that there is always, and ever will be, a limit to what is the availability of any goods or services. Thus in the world the sum goes; the maximum available minus 1 units ad infinitum means an eventual diminution to zero of units available.
Thus we face competition when we go for obtaining the things of the world which we desire; whereas there is no competition,, no need for competition in the heavenly realms where eternal store is available, evermore to everyone. There is always risk, always doubt, about any goods or services required of the world, about any job position or new car we go after, and it is risk and doubt of it slipping throughour hands and (often) it going to another person. Hence our dsesires are able to be refered to as passions; and the words passion and desire are commonly used and assumed to be synonyms in daily usage; because our doubt and our risk whilst we are waiting to see whether we obtain what we desire, they represent something (unlike Jesus’s ‘virtue’) going out of us; leaving our presence, and it investing itself in the things of the world which we desire.
This item of thing which goes out of us is felt often fiercely by us as a sense of yearning in us or as a burning hope and strong covetousness; or even as de facto loss!; we feel it as being a lack within ourselves and we associate this feeling of lack with the very objects of the world we are desiring for ourselves; and we usually feel that had we only those things of the world we are desiring we should not feel this dreadfull lack but instead be satisfied. Thus seeking after worldly things can be denominated as us having a desire them as equally as it can be said to be that we suffer a passion for them.
Passion is denominated by its stationary, often constrained, status. Passion is passive; it is something suffered utterly. Nothing can be done about it other than having fulfilment of its object which the sufferer is lacking. Matthew Arnold the poet said of one of his poems he excluded from his works, that he excuded it because in it ‘There is everything to be endured and nothing to be done’. This hits the spot bullseye in describing a person caught up in a fit of passion. The resultant frusrtations and angsts are often terrible to bear or to witness.
Thus we merely pitch our tents of hope for worldly things outside the store that sells them; awaiting the Monday morning doors opening and the rush of shoppers in to swarm and grab in a free for all items they have been eyeing up all week. Will I be smothered in the rush? Will I fall sick the evening before? Will they be all gone before I get mine? Everything to be endured and nothing to be done.
And the greater the investment of risk and hope into the passion, into the hankering, and the bigger the prize, the worse the passion and the fiercer the letdown of disappointment whenever it fails. This is the world and its ways; as we all understand well enough. Yet we still remain like the man and the woman who marry together four or five times over and divorce each time only to marry together again, happy to place hope before experience as if history were fiction and fiction history.
And what happens to that something gone out of us as our passion whenever we are disappointed by the world? It is always net loss in our own understandings – a giving away of something for nil return. As Shakespeare tells us:
“The expense of spirt in a waste of shame is lust in action”.
Yet not so. No loss; only a lesson for those happy to learn it. As the Lord Jesus says: “He who has ears to hear; let him hear”. Or as George Herbert a poet priest says in the final verse of his poem ‘The Pearl’
“I know all these and have them in my hand;
Therefore not seeled but with open eyes
I fly to thee, and fully understand
Both the main sale and the commodities;
And at what rate and price I have thy love,
With all the circumstances that may move.
Yet through the labyrinths, not my grovelling wit,
But thy silk twist let down from heav’n to me
Did both conduct and teach me how by it
To climb to thee.”
And Herbert writes again in his poem ‘The Pulley”
“When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.””
And is not this rest that Herbert speaks of that which we lack and are seeking ever; is it not the key contention to all the concerns we have been trawling through in this essay of mine. We desire, we suffer a passion for obtaining things of the world because we desire that satisfaction from having obtained them in the finish? We imagine, and again in a case of hope overwhelming good experience, that our obtaining those things of the world which we hanker after and are caught up in a pasion prison seeking them, that they will give us that satisfaction we seek finally. But yet it remains the case, always and ever – the next thing – and the next thing. And shortlived satisfactions if any. We are silly creatures – like children and their toys.
Thus we have made for ourselves (a rod for our backs) a consumer society which feeds and feeds into this hapless, listless hankering and passion whereby we are ever seeking the next thing – and then the next thing; etc. I cite the words again ‘Here is no continuing city’.
Is not God’s rest, which He promises to us; NOTE: He promises; to all those who ask Him for His rest and are in all earnest in asking Him; is not this rest of His actual rest; the real thing; “not available in stores on the high streets; only at the Heavenly Gates; get yours now”!
Is not prayer as freely offered and pleased to be offered, a happy experience which, whether in petition and at a time of personal crisis or in thanks and joy and praise; is not prayer always answered by a reply from God; Him giving us a helping from the everlasting supplies of His strength and comfort. Is not one always every time given something in one’s prayers; more than that which oneself has offered or given up; given to us by God; and which is truly treasure; truly peace and truly rest and satisfaction? Is it not in our prayers that Jesus’ word is fulfilled ‘In giving you shall receive’?
Is it not the contrary in our investing in rocky risk and often thin vain hope for the things of the world; and even in our obtaining; does this not always pan out for us as being inevitably little more than an expense of spirit in a waste of shame?
If God was a fariground stallholder He would be ‘A prize every time’ guy; but not one which disappoints the little children who flock to him by giving out dead goldfish; instead One Who invites the children to enjoy a full and fulfilled life; and a hereafter; all at a classy Marina of Oceanworld creatures. “You will receive full measure; to the brim and running over.” Amen. Amen.