Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

December 3, 1896

The Prayer that God Approves

By Mrs. E. G. White ST December 3, 1896

Jesus taught his disciples that a humble and contrite spirit is an inward principle; that the austere, gloomy countenance is not an index to a humble, submissive spirit. While the heart should have the grace of humility, the countenance should be cheerful, not gloomy and repulsive. His words of instruction to them were: “Moreover, when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” ST December 3, 1896, par. 1

Like other observances of a religious character, fasting, when practiced from right motives, will prove a blessing. But this, like almsgiving, had been perverted. The Pharisees put on an outward appearance of great sanctity, of humiliation and contrition, while in their hearts they cherished sins of a revolting character. They made their religion unattractive by their stern, forbidding appearance. But the true Christian will never chill the atmosphere with severe exactions and painful stiffness. He is to have a sweet, subduing, cheerful and saving influence upon those with whom he comes in contact. ST December 3, 1896, par. 2

The object of the Pharisees in giving publicity to their prayers,—to be exalted in the opinions of men,—was that which Christ condemned. And the same self-righteous prayers he rejects today wherever they are offered among the professed people of God. In our day, as in Christ's, unworthy motives often prompt the prayers and almsgivings. These things are done to obtain the approval of men; but they bear the disapproval of the world's Redeemer. God's name is profaned every day in the meaningless prayers of many who profess to be Christians. ST December 3, 1896, par. 3

This sin is not found alone with the illiterate, but frequently even with men who have ability and influence. They will professedly pray to God, while in truth they are preaching a sermon to him. As though he lacked information, they give him a definite account of everything. Their prayers are to the people; God scarcely enters their minds. All such prayers are as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, with no heart, no purpose, no point. Such prayers will be only a curse to the ones who thus profane this sacred privilege. Nothing is so repulsive to Christ as insincere devotion, voluntary humility, and hypocritical almsgiving. He said, “When thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;” appear comfortable and cleanly. It is a great mistake to suppose that the unwashed face and tangled locks proclaim your sanctity. ST December 3, 1896, par. 4

This lesson to the disciples is applicable to every Christian to the end of time. Devotion to God does not consist in groans and sighs and a sad countenance. Many give to the world wrong impressions in regard to the religion of the Bible by complaining of trials and crosses and hardships. The true servants of the heavenly King are the most happy people in the world. While their service is earnest and sincere, they carry with them the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, to lighten the path heavenward for all those who will walk in it. The religious life is one of conflict and trial; yet of spiritual happiness and joy. ST December 3, 1896, par. 5

Some professed followers of God utter loud prayers, and exercise the body in a violent manner. The prophets of Baal worked themselves up into a frenzy when praying to their idol gods. These heathen cried, and cut themselves with lancets and knives until they presented a frightful appearance. But they were more sincere than are many who today offer prayers in a storm of excitement. Their conduct was in keeping with their ideas of devotion to their gods. But Christians have a living and all-powerful God, whose ear is quick to detect the real needs of the suppliant, and by their excited and unnatural manner they dishonor their prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. ST December 3, 1896, par. 6

Our hearts have been pained when we have listened to prayers which have been made to men and not to God. Self-righteous, self-confident prayers never rise higher than the lips that utter them. Prayer offered in spasmodic fervor, merely a storm of words, will not be heard and answered by God. ST December 3, 1896, par. 7

Some think it a mark of humility to pray to God in a common manner, as though talking with human beings. They profane his name by needlessly and irreverently interlarding their prayers with “God Almighty,”—awful and sacred words, that should never pass the human lips except with bated breath and solemn and subdued tones. ST December 3, 1896, par. 8

The humble, intelligent prayer of faith, that comes from unfeigned lips, is wholly acceptable to God. It is the heart-felt prayer that is heard in heaven and rewarded by an answer on earth. “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word.” “For thus saith the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and a humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” ST December 3, 1896, par. 9

Jesus taught his disciples that only that prayer which arises from unfeigned lips, prompted by the actual wants of the soul, is genuine, and will bring heaven's blessing to the petitioner. He gave a brief, comprehensive prayer to his disciples. This prayer, for its beautiful simplicity, is without a parallel. It is a perfect prayer for public and private life; it is dignified and elevated, yet so simple that the child at its mother's knee can understand it. The children of God have repeated this prayer for centuries, and yet its luster has not dimmed. Like a gem of value it continues to be loved and cherished. This prayer is a wonderful production. None will pray in vain if in their prayers are incorporated the principles contained therein. Our prayers in public should be short, and express only the real wants of the soul, asking in simplicity and simple trusting faith for the very things we need. Prayer from the humble, contrite heart is the vital breath of the soul hungering for righteousness. ST December 3, 1896, par. 10

God understands the needs of humanity. He knows what we desire before we ask him. He sees the soul's conflict with doubt and temptation. He marks the sincerity of the suppliant. If the heart is afflicted, if the spirit is humble before God, he marks it. He will accept the humiliation and affliction of soul, and will reward according to the purity of the motives that prompted the action. ST December 3, 1896, par. 11

As a faithful physician, the world's Redeemer has his finger upon the pulse of the soul. He marks every beat; he takes note of every throb. Not an emotion thrills it; not a sorrow shades it; not a sin stains it; not a thought or purpose passes through it, with which he is not acquainted. Man was purchased at an infinite cost, and is loved with a devotion exceeding that which a father feels for his child. The prayer that comes from a sincere heart will ever find a response in heaven. ST December 3, 1896, par. 12

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