I’ve used this little devotional Augustine Day By Day over the past 22 years… some years following it “day by day” while most years I just pull it out whenever the Spirit moves me. This was one of those days.
You see, I’ve been sensing a deeper call to prayer. I mean, I’ve always prayed… pretty much the way I talk (and even write most of the time)… in a conversational style. I’ve never been a big one to pray long fancy, polished, prayers… In fact, I felt the call to pastoral ministry at an altar rail when I was 17… but the “joy” (most people spell that as “f-e-a-r”) of praying in front of people paralyzed me inside. I eventually did step into the pulpit at age 34… and was still scared of that public praying aspect of the job. I mean, I talk to God all the time… but I talk to Him like I talk to a friend… and sometimes it’s absolute silence… because I’m simply listening.
Anyway, in the May 6 entry of this devotional, the editor shares a quote from Augustine from a commentary Augustine wrote about Psalm 118. The closing verse (118:29) of the Psalm is exactly the same as the opening verse (118:1). They both read: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” (NAS=New American Standard version)
As Augustine reflected on that verse (those verses?) and all that had been sandwiched in between that opening and closing verse, he drawn to consider the way we Christians try to pray. And, he was overwhelmed by the awareness that the out loud voice in prayer can be used to connect with God in true prayer but it sometimes can just as easily simply try to fool the humans nearby into thinking the one uttering the words is connecting in prayer with God when there is NO real communication going on at all.
Check out Augustine’s thoughts from the devotional…
“If the cry to the Lord uttered by those who pray is made with the sound of the bodily voice without the heart being turned to God, who can doubt that it is made in vain? But if it comes from the heart, even if the bodily voice is silent, it can be concealed from everyone else but not from God.”
“Therefore, when we pray–whether aloud as required or silently–to God, our cry must come from the heart.”
Augustine recognizes that the REAL prayer, is the prayer from the heart… and sometimes that’s also expressed out loud and others can listen in as one is praying from their heart and it happens to come out in their voice as well. But sometimes, the real, true prayer, the ‘heart prayer’ comes from such a deep place in the heart that it rises straight to God’s heart without anyone else even hearing a peep.
It reminds me of a story I once heard about a meal at which President Lyndon Johnson was in attendance. The president asked a friend to ‘share grace’ or ‘say the prayer.’ The man proceeded to pray and, after a few seconds, Johnson spoke out and said something to the effect of “Speak up, we can’t hear you!” And the praying friend calmly responded, “I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. President,” and calmly returned to his praying.
I’m not arguing against vocalized prayer, but as that presidential friend reminded Johnson, and Augustine reminds the rest of us, we listeners who happen to be near enough to someone to hear them pray out loud or to hear them in prayer when there is just silence… we need to recognize that we cannot always hear the true prayer… but God can! And none of us ever fool him!