George Herbert on Prayer (2)
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” John 4.34
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
- George HerbertI suspect that most of us think of prayer as hard work. We are right to think so. The old monastic saying, “Orare est laborare,” “To pray is to work,” is certainly the experience of many sincere Christians. Prayer, simply put, is hard work.
Hard work generally tends to deplete us of energy and strength. We don’t think of hard work as nourishing and building us up, but as leading us to require nourishment and building up.
But Jesus said His “food” was “to accomplish his work,” the work God had given Him to do. Among the many different aspects of Jesus’ work was the work of prayer.
As we know, Jesus labored in prayer, rising early, staying up late, praying without ceasing, even praying and laboring unto great drops of blood. He knew that prayer was hard work, but this hard work was food for His soul.
George Herbert knew the same thing. In his poem, “Prayer (1)”, he wrote that prayer is “the church’s banquet”. Prayer, though it “takes it out of us,” has power to revive us in God’s Spirit so that we are strengthened in our souls to serve Him with greater vision, energy, and effects.
How does prayer do this?
First, prayer fixes the focus of our minds on unchanging spiritual realities. As we pray we look through the veil that separates us from eternity, entering the very throne-room of Christ and basking in His glory, which is manifest there. As we pray, extolling the many virtues of God and Christ, calling upon the strength of the Spirit, rehearsing the promises of the Lord back to Him, and pleading for a fuller vision and experience of His Kingdom, we are renewed in our minds. Our worldview is enriched; our hope is strengthened and increased; and our resolve to press on toward the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus is firmed up.
At the same time, as we gaze in prayer upon the beauty of Christ, and commune with Him in His glory (Ps. 27), we find that our hearts are enlarged in love for the Lord. Lesser things lose their thrall as we drink in the vision of Christ and pour out heart-felt words of worship, adoration, and praise. These, in turn, exercise our heart in love for the Lord, just as our physical muscles are exercised during a workout. We may come away from prayer feeling worn down, even exhausted, but we will find our hearts strengthened in love for God as we “belly up” to the banquet table of prayer and “chow down” in the Lord.
Finally, our consciences are reinforced in the things that matter most, so that, through our labors in prayer, we find our wills strengthened to resist the devil when he comes to tempt us, and to choose the way of the Lord in all things. The more we pray, and the more we feed at the banquet table of communion with the Lord, the firmer our consciences are set for doing what it right and good before God and men.
Prayer is, indeed, like a banquet. It is the food God has prepared for us, the perpetual smorgasbord He puts before us daily, and the training table for all the athletes of the Lord. Herbert had it exactly right. He learned from Jesus that, though prayer is hard work, it is the food of the Lord for the reviving of our souls day by day.
Have you fed at the Lord’s table yet today?
A conversation starter: Ask some Christian friends to join you for “lunch.” When they get there, hand them a copy of Herbert’s prayer and a psalm to guide your time together. Then spend an extended time feeding on prayer before you share a meal together.
T. M.’s books on prayer include God’s Prayer Program, a guide to learning how to pray the psalms; The Psalms for Prayer, in which all the psalms are set up to guide you in how to pray them; and If Men Will Pray, a serious attempt to call men of faith to greater diligence in prayer. Follow the links provided here to purchase these from our online store.