Monday, August 03, 2009


Prayer – not a thing you associate immediately with the First World War. But the Rev Neville Stuart Talbot Assistant Chaplain-General to the Fifth Army gave it consideration for the soldiers with his book “Thoughts on religion at the front.”

He even set out a model payer based on the Hymn “Jesu, Lover of my Soul.” That in his own words “suggest the right association of ideas in which our Lord should live in the mind of a young man.”

It is an interesting article and raises the question on the balance between religion and trench life?

"There is also the objection that too hard things have been said here about the turning to God under pressure of anxiety, and the expression in prayer of the natural desire for safety. After all, as a Jesuit fellow-padre reminded me at the front, Our Lord at His hour of trial, when "exceeding sorrowful even unto death," prayed in agony. And further it is plain that prayer to Him, and as He would have it be to others, was far more than a trustful harmony of self with the will of the Father. He urged men to take their requests to God. "Ask and ye shall receive." I can imagine that the conception of prayer at times of emergency, as suggested in earlier pages, might be so full of resignation as to be reduced to the fatalism extraordinarily prevalent at the front—"If it 'its yer, it 'its yer," as the men say. Are we not to ask not to be hit?

It is nearly enough to recall the Lord's Prayer in regard to this objection. As I have said, men on service widely associate prayer with the expression of need or anxiety. To restrict prayer thus is to begin the Lord's Prayer half-way through, at "Give us this day our daily bread." It is a question of order and emphasis. Christian prayer begins with God. It turns away from self to the glory of God. It begins with praise and acclamation—the glad acknowledgment of what God is and is doing. It is only in the second place and because of what God is—because He is our Father and is at work to bring in His kingdom and has a will for us and for all—that the prayer which expresses our need comes in aright.

Therefore I would say to a man going into battle—"Pray now if never before. Set God before you as you see Him, as you can clearly apprehend Him, in Christ. He is your Father, you are His son, however unworthy. Lift up your heart to Him Who, in and through all the turmoil around you, presses onward with the business of His kingdom and the fulfilment of His heart's desire. And commit all to Him. In trustful intimacy give utterance to your longing to be brought through the perilous hour for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Name. Commit all to Him, asking forgiveness. He knows what you have need of in life or in death—and let the rest go!"
For such prayer in the Name of Christ—that is, prayer in accordance with His mind and founded on the character of God as made known in Him—there awaits undiscovered and unexhausted resources of power. So Jesus told men. So Christian experience testifies. We have to pray truly Christ-wise, not asking for stones to be made bread, not seeking to be hidden from life's storms, but to be brought through them in faithful endurance.

Prayer after the mind of our Lord depends greatly on how we think of Him. The following lines, written by a barrister, are, I think, a wholesome corrective of that which is too soft in our conventional thoughtabout our Saviour. Despite a false or partial note here and there, they are nearer to Him than the thought underlying the first verse of the hymn--a great favourite among the men owing to its tune--"Jesu, Lover of my Soul." At any rate they suggest the right association of ideas in which our Lord should live in the mind of a young man:

Jesus, Whose lot with us was cast,
Who saw it out, from first to last:
Patient and fearless, tender, true,
Carpenter, vagabond, felon, Jew:
Whose humorous eye took in each phase
Of full rich life this world displays,
Yet evermore kept fast in view
The far-off goal it leads us to:

Who, as your hour neared, did not fail--
The world's fate trembling in the scale--
With your half-hearted band to dine,
And chat across the bread and wine:
Then went out firm to face the end,
Alone, without a single friend:
Who felt, as your last words confessed,
Wrung from a proud unflinching breast
By hours of dull ignoble pain,
Your whole life's fight was fought in vain:
Would I could win and keep and feel
That heart of love, that spirit of steel.

I would not to Thy bosom fly
To slink off till the storms go by.
If you are like the man you were
You'ld turn with scorn from such a prayer,
Unless from some poor workhouse crone,
Too toil-worn to do aught but moan.
Flog me and spur me, set me straight
At some vile job I fear and hate:
Some sickening round of long endeavour,
No light, no rest, no outlet ever:
All at a pace that must not slack,
Tho' heart would burst and sinews crack:
Fog in one's eyes, the brain a-swim,
A weight like lead in every limb,
And a raw pit that hurts like hell
Where once the light breath rose and fell:
Do you but keep me, hope or none,
Cheery and staunch till all is done,
And, at the last gasp, quick to lend
One effort more to serve a friend.

And when--for so I sometimes dream--
I've swum the dark, the silent stream,
So cold, it takes the breath away,
That parts the dead world from the day,
And see upon the further strand
The lazy, listless angels stand,
And with their frank and fearless eyes
The comrades whom I most did prize:
Then, clean, unburdened, careless, cool,
I'll saunter up from that grim pool,
And join my friends: then you'll come by,
The Captain of our Company:
Call me out, look me up and down,
And pass me through without a frown,
With half a smile, but never a word--
And so I shall have met my Lord.

We have to pray as Christ prayed in Gethsemane in fellowship with His sufferings. But we have also to pray as knowing the power of His Resurrection. We have to rise in faith to claim the supernatural power which neither He used nor we may use merely for self-preservation, which yet is to be set free in the service of the kingdom.
Prayer in the Name of Christ is not only the prayer of resignation, based on the self-committal of Jesus our Brother into the hands of th Father. Such would ever tend, as uttered by our trembling faith, towards fatalism. But it is also prayer in the Name of Him "Who was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead, even Jesus Christ our Lord." It is the prayer of power—that power which was at Jesus' command, and was therefore the subject of His temptation, and was drawn upon by the faith of sufferers and yet was unused by Jesus to save Himself. This power is the power of God. It is "the exceeding greatness of His power, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places."

Here are heights where the air is charged with potentiality of new life, hardly dreamt of by our faith on its low stagnant levels. Here are heights to be stormed by faithful unself-seeking love. This way lies deliverance and new creation, and the breaking of prison bars and the turning of our captivity such as shall fill all our mouths with laughter.

A few know that these words are not rhetorical. They know, with St. Paul, the riches of the glory of Christ's inheritance in the saints. Such was Mary Slessor, pioneer missionary in West Africa, the leaves of whose biography I happened to turn over as I was writing these pages. She had frequently to take journeys through forests with leopards swarming around her. She wrote: "I did not use to believe the story of Daniel in the lions' den until I had to take some of these awful marches, and then I knew it was true and that it was written for my comfort. Many a time I walked along praying 'O God of Daniel, shut their mouths,' and He did."

This is the prayer of faith. It is the prayer which asks "not to be hit." It is more than resignation, it is the prayer of power. It believes that there are hardly-tapped powers and possibilities in God for those who seek first His kingdom and righteousness. We do not know much about such prayer in our present spiritual sickness. But it is there, a weapon to be wielded by dauntless, simple faith. There is an inheritance to be claimed by little-loving sons, who yet are sons—"heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him."

For more information on Re. Neville Stuart Talbot. Go to

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