When President Grant lay dying, his old friend, Gen. O. O. Howard, came to see him. Howard told his old chief, under whom he had fought through the Civil War, how much the people of the United States appreciated his work. Grant, restless and wistful, seemed unimpressed. What had impressed him, obviously, was the example of faith and prayer that Howard had long set before his fellow officers and soldiers. “Tell me,” cut in the dying commander-in-chief, “tell me something more about prayer.”

It is a piercingly appropriate request, spurred alike by humility and by hope. Always there is something more to learn about this amazing function and force by means of which, as Tennyson put it, “more things are wrought than this world dreams of.”

Prayer is responsive. At one level it may be ignorance and fear responding to mystery, littleness responding to vastness, guilt of violated taboo responding to a terror-world of spirits manipulated by medicine men and witch doctors. At a different level it may be the disciples of Jesus, awed by his own practice of prayer into a reverential aching of wonder and longing, saying wistfully, “Lord, teach us to pray”

In prayer, God is always there ahead of us. He is the prior fact. He tirelessly cultivates the prayers of his biblically enlightened people. “Call to me, and I will answer you” (Jer. 33:3).

Prayer is purgative. Christian prayer is an invited intimacy with the Father-God who is loving and holy. In his presence, the pride that is discovered is the pride that dies. The resentment that is cancerous is the resentment that is cured. The pettiness that is probed is the pettiness that is purged. Contrite and believing prayer is the soul’s ...

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