George Herbert on Prayer (5)
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. Psalm 42.1
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 Herbert
A paraphrase is a kind of re-stating of something not quite clear in language designed to make it more intelligible.
The best example I can think of is the very fine paraphrase of Scripture which Ken Taylor rendered in The Living Bible. Here are all the great truths, soaring pericopes, and profound teachings of the Word cast into everyday language that anyone can understand. Early in my walk with the Lord, when I was hungry for Scripture but stumbling over the language of the King James Version (the only version I knew about), The Living Bible fed and nurtured my soul.
Prayer, George Herbert suggested, is like a paraphrase of our souls. We can’t really describe the state of our souls or even express everything that is going on there. It’s difficult to say in prayer exactly what we feel, or to convey everything we need or want to say in the way of praise, thanks, confession, or supplication.
So in prayer we just pour out our souls as best we can, “paraphrasing” for the Lord, but not for His benefit. He knows us and what we need. He coaxes us, in prayer, like a parent coaxing a child to say what he wants, to express our deepest thoughts and affections as best we can. We, stammering, comply, looking to the Spirit to fill in the gaps where we just can’t seem to make ourselves clear (Rom. 8.26).
As we thus paraphrase the condition and need of our souls, the state of our souls becomes clearer to us, and we gain better insight as to how we ought to pray and for what. The more we pray, the better we know our own needs, and the more we will be able to offer in prayer the true contents of our souls.
Thus prayer, though it be but a halting, stammering paraphrase of our souls, can be clarifying and edifying, for the more we pray, in the best way we are able, the more our souls hunger to be heard, and the more we will return to the Lord in prayer again and again.
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.