Prayer, according to the testimony of St John, is an incense, whose perfume rises to God. Therefore it is said in the Revelation (chap. viii.3), that an angel held a censer, which contained the incense of the prayers of saints.
Prayer is an outpouring of the heart in the presence of God. "I have poured out my soul before the Lord," said the mother of Samuel (1 Sam. i.15). Thus the prayers of the Magi at the feet of the infant Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem were signified by the incense which they offered.
Prayer is the heat of love, which melts and dissolves the soul, and carries it to God. In proportion as it melts, it gives out its odour, and this odour comes from the love which burns it.
This is what the Bride meant when she said, "While the King sitteth at His table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof" (Cant. i.12). The table is the heart. When God is there, and we are kept near to Him, in His presence, this presence of God melts and dissolves the hardness of our hearts, and as they melt, they give forth their perfume. Therefore the Bridegroom, seeing His Bride thus melted by the speech of her Beloved, says, "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?" (Cant. iii.6).
Thus the soul rises up towards its God. But in order to this, it must suffer itself to be destroyed and annihilated by the force of love. This is a state of sacrifice essential to the Christian religion, by which the soul suffers itself to be destroyed and annihilated to render homage to the sovereignty of God; as it is written, "The power of the Lord is great, and He is honoured of the lowly" (Ecclus. iii.20). And the destruction of our own being confesses the sovereign being of God.
We must cease to be, so that the Spirit of the Word may be in us. In order that He may come to us, we must yield our life to Him, and die to self that He may live in us, and that we being dead, our life may be hidden with Christ in God (Col. iii.3).
"Come unto me," says God, "all ye that be desirous of me, and fill yourselves with my fruits" (Ecclus. xxiv.19). But how can we be filled with God? Only by being emptied of self, and going out of ourselves in order to be lost in Him.
Now, this can never be brought about except by our becoming nothing. Nothingness is true prayer, which renders to God "honour, and glory, and power, for ever and ever" (Rev. v.13).
This prayer is the prayer of truth. It is worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth. In spirit, because we are by it drawn out of our human and carnal action, to enter into the purity of the Spirit, who prays in us; and in truth, because the soul is led into the truth of the ALL of God, and the NOTHING of the creature.
There are but these two truths, the ALL and the NOTHING. All the rest is untruth.
We can only honour the ALL of God by our NOTHINGNESS; and we have no sooner become nothing, than God, who will not suffer us to be empty, fills us with Himself. Oh, if all knew the blessings which come to the soul by this prayer, they would be satisfied with no others: it is the pearl of great price; it is the hidden treasure. He who finds it gladly sells all that he has to buy it (Matt. xiii.44, 46). It is the well of living water, which springs up into everlasting life (John iv.14). It is the practice of the pure maxims of the gospel.
Does not Christ Himself tell us that the kingdom of God is within us? (Luke xvii.21). This kingdom is set up in two ways. The first is, when God is so thoroughly master of us that nothing resists Him: then our heart is truly His kingdom. The other way is, that by possessing God, who is the sovereign Lord, we possess the kingdom of God, which is the height of felicity, and the end for which we were created. As it has been said, to serve God is to reign.
The end for which we were created is to enjoy God in this life, and men do not believe it!