Daily Prayer
by
William Ellery Channing

      THE Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments agree in enjoining prayer. Let no man call himself a Christian who lives without giving a part of life to this duty. We are not taught how often we must pray; but our Lord, in teaching us to say, " Give us this day our daily bread," implies that we should pray daily. He has even said to us, "pray always" -- an injunction to be explained, indeed, with that latitude which many of his precepts require, but which is not to be satisfied, we think, without regular and habitual devotion. As to the particular hours to be given to this duty, every Christian may choose them for himself. Our religion is too liberal and spiritual to bind us to any place or any hour of prayer. But there are parts of the day particularly favorable to this duty, and which, if possible, should be redeemed for it. On these we shall offer a few reflections.
      The first of these periods is the morning which even nature seems to have pointed out to men of different religions as a fit time for offerings to the Divinity. In the morning our minds are not so much shaken by worldly cares and pleasures as in other parts of the day. Retirement and sleep have helped to allay the violence of our feelings, to calm the feverish excitement so often produced by intercourse with men. The hour is a still one. The hurry and tumults of life are not begun, and we naturally share in the tranquillity around us. Having for so many hours lost our hold on the world, we can banish it more easily from the mind, and worship with less divided attention. This then, is a favorable time for approaching the invisible Author of our being, for strengthening the intimacy of our minds with him, for thinking upon a future life, and for seeking those spiritual aids which we need in the labors and temptations of every day.
      In the morning there is much to feed the spirit of devotion. It offers an abundance of thoughts friendly to pious feeling. When we look on creation, what a happy and touching change do we witness! A few hours past, the earth was wrapped in gloom and silence. There seemed "a pause in nature." But now a new flood of light has broken forth, and creation rises before us in fresher and brighter hues, and seems to rejoice as if it had just received birth from its Author. The sun never sheds more cheerful beams, and never proclaims more loudly God's glory and goodness, than when he returns after the coldness and dampness of night and awakens man and inferior animals to the various purposes of their being. A spirit of joy seems breathed over the earth and through the sky. It requires little effort of imagination to read delight in the kindled clouds or in the fields bright with dew. This is the time when we can best feel and bless the Power which said, "let there be light;" which "set a tabernacle for the sun in the heavens" and made him the dispenser of fruitfulness and enjoyment through all regions.
      If we next look at ourselves, what materials does the morning furnish for devout thought! At the close of the past day, we were exhausted by our labors, and unable to move without wearisome effort. Our minds were sluggish, and could not be held to the most interesting objects. From this state of exhaustion, we sunk gradually into entire insensibility. Our limbs became motionless, our senses were shut as in death. Our thoughts were suspended, or only wandered confusedly and without aim. Our friends, and the universe, and God himself were forgotten. And what a change does the morning bring with it ! On waking, we find that sleep, the image of death, has silently infused into us a new life. The weary limbs are braced again. The dim eye has become bright and piercing. The mind is returned from the region of forgetfulness to its old possessions. Friends are met again with a new interest. We are again capable of devout sentiment, virtuous effort, and Christian hope. With what subjects of gratitude, then, does the morning furnish us! We can hardly recall the state of insensibility from which we have just emerged without a consciousness of our dependence, or think of the renovation of our powers and intellectual being without feeling our obligation to God. There is something very touching in the consideration if we will fix our minds upon it, that God thought of us when we could not think; that he watched over us when we had no power to avert peril from ourselves that he continued our vital motions and in due time broke the chains of sleep and set our imprisoned faculties free. How fit is it, at this hour, to raise to God the eyes which he has opened, and the arm which he has strengthened; to acknowledge his providence; and to consecrate to him the powers which he has renewed! How fit that he should be the first object of the thoughts and affections which he has restored! How fit to employ in his praise the tongue which he has loosed, and the breath which he has spared.
      But the morning is a fit time for devotion, not only from its relation to the past night, but considered as the introduction of a new day. To a thinking mind, how natural at this hour are such reflections as the following: ^ I am now to enter on a new period of my life, to start afresh in my course. I am to return to that world where I have often gone astray; to receive impressions which may never be effaced; to perform actions which will never be forgotten; to strengthen a character which will fit me for heaven or hell. I am this day to meet temptations which have often subdued me: I am to be intrusted again with opportunities of usefulness which I have often neglected. I am to influence the minds of others, to help in moulding their characters and in deciding the happiness of their present and future life. How uncertain is this day! What unseen dangers are before me! What unexpected changes may await me! It may be my last day! lt will certainly bring me nearer to death and judgment! Now, when entering on a period of life so important yet so uncertain how fit and natural is it, before we take the first step to seek the favor of that Being on whom the lot of every day depends, to commit all our interests to his almighty and wise providence to seek his blessing on our labors and his succor in temptation, and to consecrate to his service the day which he raises upon us! This morning devotion not only agrees with the sentiments of the heart but tends to make the day happy, useful, and virtuous. Having cast ourselves on the mercy and protection of the Almighty, we shall go forth with new confidence to the labors and duties which he imposes. Our early prayer will help to shed an odor of piety through the whole life. God, having first occupied, will more easily recur to our mind. Our first step will be in the right path, and we may hope a happy issue.
      So fit and useful is morning devotion, it ought not to be omitted without necessity. If our circumstances will allow the privilege, it is a bad sign when no part of the morning is spent in prayer. If God find no place in our minds at that early and peaceful hour, He will hardly recur to us in the tumults of life. If the benefits of the morning do not soften us, we can hardly expect the heart to melt with gratitude through the day. If the world then rush in and take possession of us, when we are at some distance and have had a respite from its cares, how can we hope to shake it off when we shall be in the midst of it, pressed and agitated by it on every side ? Let a part of the morning, if possible, be set apart to devotion; and to this end we should fix the hour of rising, so that we may have an early hour at our own disposal. Our piety is suspicious if we can renounce, as too many do, the pleasures and benefits of early prayer, rather than forego the senseless indulgence of unnecessary sleep. What! we can rise early enough for business. We can even anticipate the dawn, if a favorite pleasure or an uncommon gain requires the effort. But we cannot rise that we may bless our great Benefactor, that we may arm ourselves for the severe conflicts to which our principles are to be exposed! We are willing to rush into the world, without thanks offered, or a blessing sought! From a day thus begun, what ought we to expect but thoughtlessness and guilt?
      Let us now consider another part of the day which is favorable to the duty of prayer ^ we mean the evening. This season, like the morning, is calm and quiet. Our labors are ended. The bustle of life has gone by. The distracting glare of the day has vanished. The darkness which surrounds us favors seriousness, composure, and solemnity. At night the earth fades from our sight and nothing of creation is left us but the starry heavens, so vast so magnificent, so serene, as if to guide up our thoughts above all earthly things to God and immortality. This period should in part be given to prayer as it furnishes a variety of devotionai topics and excitements. The evening is the close of an important division of time, and is therefore a fit and natural season for stopping and looking back on the day. And can we ever look back on a day which bears no witness to God, and lavs no claim to our gratitude? Who is it that strengthens us for daily labor, gives us daily bread, continues our friends and common pleasures, and grants us the privilege of retiring after the cares of the day, to a quiet and beloved home? The review of the day will often suggest not only these ordinary benefits, but peculiar proofs of God s goodness, unlooked-for successes, singular concurrences of favorable events, signal blessings sent to our friends or new and powerful aids to our own virtue which call for peculiar thankfulness. And shall all these benefits pass away unnoticed? Shall we retire to repose as insensible as the wearied brute? How fit and natural is it to close with pious acknowledgment the day which has been filled with Divine beneficence! But the evening is the time to review, not only our blessings, but our actions. A reflecting mind will naturally remember at this hour that another day is gone, and gone to testify of us to our Judge. How natural and useful to inquire what report it has carried to heaven. Perhaps we have the satisfaction of looking back on a day which in its general tenor, has been innocent and pure, which, having begun with God's praise, has been spent as in his presence: which has proved the reality of our principles in temptation: and shall such a day end without gratefully acknowledging him in whose strength we have been strong, and to whom we owe the powers and opportunities of Christian improvement? But no day will present to us recollections of purity unmixed with sin. Conscience, if suffered to inspect faithfully and speak plainly, will recount irregular desires and defective motives, talents wasted and time misspent; and shall we let the day pass from us without penitently confessing our offences to him who has witnessed them, and who has promised pardon to true repentance? Shall we retire to rest with a burden of unlamented and unforgiven guilt upon our consciences? Shall we leave these stains to spread over and sink into the soul? A religious recollection of our lives is one of the chief instruments of piety. If possible, no day should end without it. If we take no account of our sins on the day on which they are committed, can we hope that they will recur to us at a more distant period, that we shall watch against them to-morrow, or that we shall gain the strength to resist them, which we will not implore?
      One observation more, and we have done. The evening is a fit time for prayer, not only as it ends the day, but as it immediately precedes the period of repose. The hours of activity having passed, we are soon to sink into insensibility and sleep. How fit that we resign ourselves to the care of that Being who never sleeps, to whom the darkness is as the light and whose providence is our only safety ! How fit to entreat him, that He would keep us to another day, or, if our bed should prove our grave, that He would give us a part in the resurrection of the just and awake us to a purer and immortal life. The most important periods of prayer have now been pointed out. Let our prayers like the ancient sacrifices, ascend morning and evening. Let our days begin and end with God.

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