Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire
by James Montgomery, 1818
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
unuttered or expressed, the motion of a
hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
the falling of a tear, the upward glancing
of an eye, when none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
that infant lips can try; prayer the sublimest
strains that reach the Majesty on high.
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
the Christian’s native air, the watchword at the
gates of death while ent’ring heav’n with prayer.
O Christ, by whom we come to God,
the life, the truth, the way; the path of prayer that
you have trod, Lord, teach us how to pray.
These words were set to music and became a hymn in 1990. Although it is in the hymnal used in the church I attend I have never heard it sung. I have no idea how popular the poem was before it became a hymn however I can imagine that it was fairly well known. If not a well known poem it may just have been discovered and deemed worthy of setting to music. In any case the words express well the desire to offer prayer.
The simplicity of prayer is mentioned in the third stanza as the form of speech for infant lips. In contrast the complexity of prayer is expressed as we pray with each sense: the burden of a sigh, the upward glance, the falling tear and words unuttered or expressed carrying the soul’s desire.
The last stanza begs of Christ to teach us how to pray. These desires of the soul, the burdens we bear, the simplest speech of infants, the vital breath of Christian prayer seems to fall short. The sincere desire to offer up the innermost concerns of the heart beacons for assistance from Christ. Who better to ask for assistance than Christ who carries our prayer forward to God?
This hymn is included in the section of the hymnal titled Faith Journey: Doubt/Faith. What an appropriate location for this poem set to music which expresses exactly doubt and faith. On the faith journey all doubts may be carried to Christ through prayer in faith that our heart’s sincere expression will be heard and peace of mind attained or an answer revealed. Are not burdens, desires, and concerns mostly caused by doubt? And prayer is the answer to our soul’s sincere desire.