The ear is inclined toward someone, either when our hearing is impaired, or when he to whom we 434 listen has a weak voice, or when the distance is too great that separates him from us. The first is impossible with God. How should he, who has planted the ear, not hear; how should he who has created sound, and the hearing of it, not hear all creaturely sound? Hence, when it is said of God, that he inclines his ear to our prayer, it always means a grace to usward, an act of Divine compassion, whereby the Majesty in the heavens adapts himself to us, bows Himself down to us, and seeking, meets us in the way.

True prayer is always clothed with deep humility. There are all sorts of prayers. Prayer that is said; words that are muttered thoughtlessly; prayer because the stated hour has struck; prayer from sense of duty; prayer born from need; prayer from deep longing after God; prayer for higher, heavenly strength; prayer from gladness in happy thankfulness; prayer for oneself; prayer for others; prayer when one is alone; prayer with others; spoken prayer; silent prayer;--the form always changes, and each has its own value. But in all true prayer, in which one can not rest until he knows that God listens to his prayer, the soul feels small, the person is conscious of weakness, and in his own estimation he is as nothing, and less than nothing, before the Triune God, and self is effaced in order that God may draw us up to himself, that the heart may be lifted up, and that we may have freedom of utterance.

What is the world compared with the firmament, and what are we who pray, compared with the world in which we are one of more than a 435 thousand millions of living souls? There are a few mighty ones who feel, and must feel, that they are great in the world. Think of a Napoleon, or of a Bismarck. But there is nothing of this in the ordinary man who prays, whose name is scarcely known outside of his village or town. The mighty ones on earth have their own account with God. We can not reckon with them here. We deal here with the ordinary worshipper who is scarcely known outside of his own little circle. And what is such a one, if he bends his knees before the Most High God, the Almighty Creator, who maintains and governs this little world, and the many thousand suns and stars which sparkle and shine in the heavens that endlessly spread themselves above us?

In all true prayer, therefore, i. e., with such prayer with which in some measure at least the soul thinks of the majesty and greatness of God, he who prays can never be anything else than a nothing in his own esteem, and be deeply conscious that his prayer is but a passing breath, unless it pleases the Lord to incline his ear unto it.

This need springs from the insignificance of the human voice, from the immeasurable distance, and more still from the indispensableness of personal inclination to him who prays. When we would have prayer pierce the heavens, our voice is so much the acme of weakness, that it makes no difference whether a leader in the house of prayer raises his voice so as to make it resound through the arches, or whether a sick man on his bed breathlessly whispers his low prayer to God. Even where no sound of voice is heard at all, the silent 436 prayer must be breathed from the soul. The voice here avails nothing. We can compel a hearing with men by speaking more loudly and boldly; but when we would speak to "our Father in heaven" the voice loses absolutely all significance. Then the stentorian voice of the orator has no advantage whatever over the weakest voice of a child. And whether the shipwrecked man in his extremity cries out his "O God, help me" in the face of the howling tempest, it is all the same. Whether strong or weak, our voice avails nothing here. The bleating of the lost sheep can make the shepherd hear. Our voice can never move God to hear us.

The voice in prayer is for our own sake and for the sake of those who pray with us. Even on our knees in solitude we feel impelled to express our prayer in words. Clearness only comes into our prayer by the means of words. It brings relief, it unburdens the soul. The undulation of sensations within comes to rest in the whispered or spoken word of prayer. A prayer without words can cry out from the soul after God, but that takes place instinctively and we do not even call that prayer. Real prayer goes through our consciousness. He who prays must know what he wants to pray for. His memory must be active. He must think of the needs, for which he prays. He must know the mercies for which he gives thanks. He must be fully aware of the task in behalf of which he invokes Divine help. From the mysticism of the heart the praying soul must come to be clearly conscious, and this comes to pass in the word and through the voice, and this makes prayer perfect. This shows itself still more 437 strongly in prayer with others. Then the voice is the instrument which brings the prayer of him who prays to the soul of those who pray with him. He who leads in prayer must be like him that plays the keys of the organ. His soul plays. The soul of the others must sound with his. And thus there is common prayer; a special grace imparted to us by God.

Then comes the distance. When we want to ask some one across a stream or lake for something, we naturally raise our voice, and it helps us when he on the other side turns his ear toward us, and by his hand back of it shows that he listens, and tries to understand our call. And what broad waters flow between us and God, when we want to call on him. The whole world lies between and all the absorbing interests of life, and the immeasurable distance to the heaven of heavens, where the Lord is enthroned in everlasting light.

Our Savior commanded us not to begin prayer by addressing the Holy Spirit within us, not with calling upon the Omnipresent One, who compasses our going and our lying down and whose hand is upon us, but with a reverent invocation of "Our Father who art in heaven," and the Heidelberg Catechism says so beautifully, that we should do this, in order not to think of the great God in an earthly way. Of course, this is not all. By continuance prayer becomes more intimate. This means that in prayer God gradually reveals his holy presence to us and comes close to us. And at length even enters our heart, when the Holy Spirit prays with us and for us, and teaches us how to pray. But to begin with this is sickly 438 mysticism. At first we face the distance. First the soul must lift itself to higher things. Not here below but above is the altar of the prayers of the saints, which burns with incense before his face. No more here below, but in heaven our Savior is seated at the right hand of God, and prays for us, and by his intercession supports our prayer. First "Lift up your hearts," the sursum corda, and then as we pray God in his majesty graciously condescends to us.

And this true impulse of prayer expresses itself in this, that prayer can sometimes become a calling, a crying, a roaring, as the Psalmist says; and only when we observe that God inclines his ear to us, and regards us, and hearkens to our prayer, does the praying soul find rest. When in prayer we feel that the listening ear of God inclines itself to us, the distance is bridged, and we know that God has come near to us, and that we are near unto God.

And so, at length, prayer reaches its highest bliss in what in the third place we called the personal turning of God to him who prays. Thousands upon thousands call on God every morning and every evening for help and for salvation. True, the number of those who no longer pray is on the increase. But still the numbers of those who in times of need and stress cry after God for deliverance are incalculably great. And now the point is, to know that among those thousands and tens of thousands who are to be noticed, God also looks on us, and that he knows that we, too, call upon him. Among all these voices that cross each other and mingle together to have our voice also penetrate to the Almighty. If we may express it 439 in a very human way, to know, to perceive, to feel, that we, too, come to our turn, and that for us also there comes a moment of hearing--that is what he who prays means, when he gives jubilant thanks, that God has also inclined the ear to his prayer.

Of course, this is not so with God. He does nothing in turn. He hears every one who prays immediately and all at the same time. But in our human consciousness there is always in our prayer, when it penetrates, a sense that God now turns also to us, and inclines his ear to our personal prayer. That he inclines to your prayer differently than to the prayer of others, because the Most High God knows your particular life, understands your personal nature, estimates your special need of soul and therefore has stored up for you an altogether particular hearing of your prayer.

And this is the glory of prayer. You call upon God, and he knows you. He distinguishes you as one among thousands. However insignificant you may be, with whatever burden of sin you come to him, he does not pass you by. He despises not your supplication. He turns himself to you, and inclines his listening ear. And when you perceive this inclination of God, prayer becomes a seal to you of your election. With close by you, but that eternally you belong to him, kings and princes on earth, the mighty and the great alone are admitted. To him, the King of Kings, even the most forgotten and despised have access. When you pray, and God inclines his ear to your prayer, you are close to God, and your Father who is in heaven, seals the fact to you, that not only now you have his presence

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