Right Rev Boyd Carpenterlord Bis
I have been asked to write some thoughts on answers to prayer. I am
afraid that I cannot give from personal experience vivid and striking
anecdotes such as others have chronicled. God does not deal with all
alike, either in His gifts of faith or in those of experience. We differ
also in the use we make of His gifts. But if I mistake not the object of
these papers is not merely to gather together an array of startling
experiences, but rather to unite in conference on the great subject of
prayer and the answers to prayer.
No doubt every Christian spirit holds within his memory many cherished
experiences of God's dealings with him, and these must touch the
question of prayer. But the greater part of these experiences belong to
that sanctuary life of the soul which, rightly or wrongly, we keep
veiled from the world. There are some matters which would lose their
charm if they were made public property. There is a reticence which is
of faith, just as there may be a reticence which is of cowardice or
unfaith. But like the little home treasures, which we only open to look
upon when we are alone, so are some of the secret treasures of inward
experiences. Nevertheless, none of us can have lived and thought without
meeting with a sort of general confirmation or otherwise of the efficacy
of prayer; and though I cannot chronicle positive and striking examples,
I can say what I have known.
I have known men of a naturally timid and sensitive disposition who have
grown at moments lion-like in courage, and they would tell you that
courage came to them in prayer. I have known one man, who found himself
face to face with a duty which was unexpected and from which he shrank
with all his soul. I have known that such a one has prayed that the duty
might not be pressed upon him, and yet that, if it were, he might be
given strength to fulfil it. The duty still confronted him. In trembling
and in much dismay he undertook it; and when the hour came, it found him
calm and equable in spirit, neither dismayed nor demoralised by fears.
Such a one might not tell of great outward answers to prayer; but inward
answers are not less real. At any rate, the Psalmist chronicled an
answer such as this when he wrote: "In the day when I cried Thou
answeredst me and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul" (Psalm
There is, further, a paradox of Christian experience which may be noted.
The soul which waits upon God finds out sooner or later that the prayers
which seem to be unanswered are those which may be most truly answered.
For what is the answer to prayer which the praying heart looks for?
There is no true prayer without the proviso--Nevertheless not what I
will, but what Thou wilt. In other words, there is no true prayer
without reliance upon the greater wisdom and greater love of Him to whom
we pray. Thus it is that God's answer may not be the answer as we looked
for it. We form our expectations: they take shape from our poor little
limited surroundings; but the prayer in its spirit may be wider than we
imagine. To answer it according to our expectations might be not to
answer it truly. To answer it according to our real meaning--i.e.,
according to our spiritual desire--must be the true answer to prayer.
One illustration will suffice. A man, pressed by difficulty and
straitness, may pray that he may be moved to some place of greater
freedom and ease. He thinks that he ought to move elsewhere. He prays
for guidance and the openings of God's providence. In a short time a
vacant post presents itself: he applies for it, it is just the thing he
wished for. He continues his prayers. The post is given to another. His
prayers have not been answered: such is his conclusion; but is not the
answer really--"Not yet--not yet--wait awhile. My grace is sufficient
for thee"? He waits; he leaves his life in God's hands. After an
interval another opening occurs, and almost without an effort he is
moved to the vacant place. It is this time, perhaps, not the kind of
place he thought of; it is less interesting, it is more onerous, it
fills him with fear as he undertakes its duties. He has prayed, but the
answer came not as he wished or thought or hoped. The years go by. He
looks back from the vantage-ground of distance. He can measure his life
in better proportions. He sees now that the movements of his life have a
deep meaning. He perceives that to have gone where he wished to have
gone, and even where he prayed to be placed, would have been to miss
some of the best experiences and highest trainings of this life. He
begins to realise that there is not a spot which he has visited, not a
place where he has toiled, which has not brought to him lessons that
have been most helpful, nay, even needful, in his later life. He sees
that God has sent him here or there to fit him for work which, unknown
and unexpected in his earlier days, the future was to bring.
The least-answered prayer may be the most-answered. It is the
realisation that experiences fit us for the duties of later life which
yields to us the assurance that in the deepest sense our seemingly
disregarded prayers have been most abundantly remembered before God.
Thus, indeed, we can enter into the spirit of familiar words and
acknowledge concerning each prayer that it is
Which grants it or denies."
And so it may come to pass in later life that our specific petitions for
this or that thing may grow fewer. We may realise more and more our own
ignorance in asking. We may rely more and more on the divine wisdom in
giving. Even in the case of others we may recognise the unwisdom of
asking many things on their behalf. Our love would tenderly shield them
from rough winds and bitter hours. We pray that the divine love would
spare them dark days; and yet, are the prayers well prayed? Does God not
lead souls through darkness into light? Is not the Valley of the Shadow
the precursor of the table of love which God spreads? Can the head be
anointed with God's kingly oil which has not been bowed down in the
darkness? Ah! how little we know! how short-sighted we are! And how
great and full and strong God's love is! And, this being so, may not
experience bring us larger trust and lesser prayers--not less, indeed,
in intensity, not less in the wrestling of spirit; not less in the
striving to reach nearer to God's will, but less in the number and
specific character of our petitions? To put it another way--the
petitions are fewer because the prayer is deeper and truer.
"Not my weak longings, Lord, fulfil,
But rather do Thy perfect will,
For I am blind and wish for things
Which granted bring heart-festerings.
Let me but know that I am blind,
Let me but trust Thee wondrous kind."
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