George Herbert on Prayer (24)
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. Psalm 139.1
“…your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6.8
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
When Susie and I were first married we benefited from reading together a little book by Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier. The book was entitled, To Understand Each Other. Neither of us knew anything about being married, but we both agreed that learning to understand one another is an important component of a healthy relationship.
Things haven’t changed in the 43 years we’ve been married. A few years back a popular book appeared on the subject of marital relations, entitled, “You Just Don’t Understand”, by Deborah Tannen. It was a bestseller for years. That book, like the one Susie and I read, addressed what is one of the deepest longings of every person’s heart – the longing to be understood.
I can’t say that I’ve mastered everything that’s involved in understanding others or their needs. But I know this much: I’d really like others to understand me.
But what does that mean, exactly? What is it to be understood?
It’s like someone entering your brain, having a look around, and saying, “Ah, OK, I see what’s going on here. It’s all good. Not to worry.” To be understood is to have the sense that someone “gets it” where you’re concerned, someone knows where you’re coming from and what you need, and is good with that.
We all want to be understood, to have someone know us truly and personally, and, in spite of that, to say, “It’s OK. I understand.”
How wonderful it is to know that God searches us out – completely, everything about us. He knows us and everything we need – nothing is hidden from Him with Whom we have to do. And yet He understands and reaches out to us in mercy and steadfast love. He has hidden our lives in Jesus, Whom He loves, and He loves us in Him just as we are.
And in prayer we experience that sense of being understood.
Prayer is the medium of understanding between us and God. In prayer we come to God and make our best effort at praising Him. As hard as we try, our praises sound so trite, so unworthy, so shallow. But it’s the best we know how to do.
And God replies, “I understand.”
We confess our sins – often the same ones we struggle with over and over. Will we ever get better? Ever move on from here?
We intercede for others, to plead with God to see their dilemma and meet their need. We try hard to feel what they’re feeling and to care as much as possible.
We pray for ourselves, seeking mercy, strength, wisdom, guidance, help…
Mostly, throughout our time in prayer, we seem to be agreeing with the Apostle Paul who insisted that we don’t know how to pray as we should.
Prayer is where we hear God saying to us, “I understand. I hear you. I know you. I love you. I’ll take it from here.” To pray is to be understood, and not just by anybody, by God!
Next step: The next time you pray, keep in mind that God understands what you’re after, what you’re trying to be about. Rest in His understanding and delight in His love.
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.