Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Praying and Working

From the Introduction to Praying and Working; Being Some account of what Men can Do when in Earnest, by Rev. William Fleming Stevenson. (Printed by Robert Carter in New York, 1863).

Praying and Working

“...Work is lauded and glorified, even for its own sake, without regard to its end. It is held to be something sacred, a thoroughly manly and almost devout pursuit. Nay, it has been exalted into a kind of deity in our day, to be worshipped with a pure and rigorous devotion. Life is to be doing, because it is felt more than ever that there is power in life. And insensibly this character of force and strength has spread itself over the various fields of thought. Literature, science, art, bear witness to the dominant practical tone as much as the ceaseless ring of the workshop, the fever of modern business, or the structure of our social life. There is even a muscular Christianity,--curious outgrowth of a strong-limbed generation. And there is a healthiness about this zeal for work. ... There is something genuine and through and earnest about it. It is some recognition of the meaning and dignity of life. And looking at what has been accomplished, the vast stride forward that has been taken, looking at the vigor of Christian work and the numberless Christian activities that have been called into play, there is cause of honest, thankful congratulation. Yet there is also cause for much fear and regret. There is a rapid growth of materialism. ... People demand a sensation, unreal or immoral, if it be only sensation. The tendency is to exalt the lower and visible agencies, to depreciate the higher and spiritual, to measure life by what it can shew for itself rather than by what it is; to cultivate and respect mere display of strength...”

“Is there not the notion that the world is only what the world sees itself to be, that if you take any other than worldly forces you will come to no result? Is there not more than ever the disposition to throw over upon praying men, who believe in an invisible power and skill and law and presence, the charge of folly, enthusiasm, fanaticism? To work is honest enough; but prayer over and above the work is treated as a courteous superfluity. Let the work be done manfully, it is preached; let it be even blundering, provided it is sincere; but as for prayer, it is somewhat a waste of energy. Or, if there be prayer, it is freely hinted, let it be kept apart; let it have its own sphere, and not intrude upon the working day; nay, let it have its praying men, and give us our working men. Praying men may not always have been judicious; there may be some plausible foundation for separating the working from the praying man; foolish and impracticable things may have been attempted by well-meaning and unwise people. Prayer, moreover, has its own sphere, and is not to encroach upon another; it is not to usurp the place of work. But neither is it to be divorced from work, nor is it less real and needful; and to say that the praying man is to be kept distinct from the working man is practically to close the common energies of life against the intrusion of prayer. Those who say it have a vague impression that a man who lays stress upon prayer is deficient in practical wisdom; that the devotional element of character tends to remove a man from the region of common sense to the borders of the fairy-land of sentiment; that he becomes a dreamer of dreams that will never fit into the plain rough order of the world. If that were true, it would be worth considering. Any element of character existing in excess will disturb a man’s balance. But if the inevitable tendency of a prayerful spirit were to thwart a man’s activity and usefulness, it would be incompatible with Bible-teaching and Christian principle. There is no need to deny any inevitable tendency of the kind. The Bible, which exhorts to prayer, is the most practical of all books; devout men are at least as practical as their neighbors; and if they were not, it would be because they have not rightly understood the Bible doctrine, or because of some strong natural fault. If three men were singled out who laid almost extravagant stress upon prayer, whose belief in it would startle many modern Christians, they would be Augustine, and Bernard, and Luther; yet men of the most various temperament, and men of the rarest practical gifts and insight. For the greatest workers will always be the foremost in communion with God, and communion with God is the very heart of prayer.”

“Nor are prayer and work connected by any arbitrary link, but as different aspects of the same man. ‘Ora et labora,’ writes Dr Wichern in one of his pleasant papers, ‘is carved on a peasant’s house in the Vierland. ‘It must be French,’ said a neighbor’s wife, as I stood looking at the legend, ‘but you know it just means ---
With this hand work, and with the other pray,
And God will bless them both from day to day.’’
Ora et labora [pray and work] is the legend of the Christian’s faith, and the plan of his life. His fervent prayer begets honest, manly, unshrinking work; his work, as it is faithful,--and it is faithful in proportion as he realizes it is for God,-- throws him back upon prayer.”

“...Work is no more prayer than prayer is work, although the looseness of the expression is often forgiven for the deeper truth of the thought. Work is no more prayer than a walk in the fields is religious worship. To the devout man both are devout. To the undevout man they are nothing. Nay, work without prayer is as dangerous, ay, and more, than prayer without work. It is the practical ignoring of God, of a spiritual world and spiritual laws. It is the start downwards of the grossest and most superstitious materialism. It is a clear peril of our present time. ...we do want to be taught the need and sacredness of prayer, and that it is a force, of which though the world knows nothing, yet it establishes greater than the world’s works.”

“And it just so happens that in our own generation [that of 1863] there is a singular group of men, who, somewhat about the same time, and without the least knowledge of one another, and in very different spheres, took for their watchword that “French” puzzle of the simple Vierlander, and over whose lives might be written, as their clearest exponent, Ora et labora. They are men who maintain that God exercises some direct influence in the affairs of the world; who therefore appeal to Him in any puzzle or difficulty; who expect His help, and as they believe that He has the hearts of all men in His hand, do not know any special circle or class of men, or any special type of actions, within which that help must be limited. They distinctly believe in God as their Father, and never acre to realize Him either as a pure, infinite Intelligence, or as an eternal Law. They believe, also, that prayer is not an arbitrary provision for temporary circumstances, but that it is fixed in the ways of God, and in harmony with the settled relations of the world and the laws of human conduct. And they believe that if in God’s name they begin a fitting work, God will establish it; answer their prayers regarding it; enable them to deal wisely, and righteously, and prosperously by it; and that behind every other means to its success, and as the very highest means, and often supplanting the others, there is prayer itself.”

“...These men are all one in the principle of their work, but very various in its application. It is a mistake to suppose that that principle discourages the use of means. It is merely selecting from many means what appears the most efficient; and to these men that is prayer. As to other means, some use them more freely than others, but they all use them in subordination to the first. They do not hold that prayer nullifies a man’s wit, or thrift, or counsel, or prudence, but intensifies and guides and purifies them. From what has been said already ,it may be inferred they do not hold that prayer justifies inaction. They are conscious of work to do; it is in the strength of that consciousness that they commit it to God; that while using every likely way to success they believe there may be unlikely ways, that they do not see all God sees. Nor are they so foolish as to believe that God will help them to a work for which they have no fitness; but on the other hand, they believe that the man who prays that he may do a work for which he has no aptitude is praying against the laws of prayer."