Posts Tagged ‘prayer’
We need tools to help us, but we need the Holy Spirit to illumine, convict, and empower. And much of the Spirit’s work in us will be done in conjunction with prayer.
Joe Thorn presses it painfully home.
According to Gary Brady, this sober and earnest prayer was lifted to God 350 years ago today on the Lord’s day before the Great Ejection:
To thee, O Lord Jesus, we commend ourselves: To thee who judgeth rightly, thy poor Servant resigneth, and committeth this Congregation. The Lord pardon unto me wherein I have been wanting unto them: The Lord pardon unto them, wherein they have been wanting in the hearing of thy Word, that we may not part with sin in our hearts. Unto thee who judgest uprightly I commend them. The Bishop of Souls take care of them: Preserve them from the love of the World: teach them to wait on thee, and to receive from thee whatever any one or Family may stand in need of.
Provide them a Pastor according unto thine own will, only in the mean time give us that Anointing [that] shall lead us out of our own wills and ways, that we may walk in the ways of Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus say now amongst them, I am your Shepherd, you shall not want. Say to them as thou didst to thy Disciples, Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in the Father, believe also in me. So far as we are able we put thy Name upon them: we name the Name of the Lord Jesus over them. The Lord Jesus bless them; teach them to follow Holiness, Peace, and a Heavenly Conversation. The Lord make them useful to each other. The Lord Jesus be a blessing to them, and me and all ours. The God of Peace and Consolation fill them with blessings according as thou seest every one stand in need of. To thee, O Lord, we commend them, do thou receive them, that under thy counsel they may be preserved blameless, until the day [of] Jesus, where we may all meet crowned with Glory. Amen.
Lewis Allen has a couple of very profitable posts about praying for our children. In the first, leaving a legacy, he quotes Flavel:
For my own part, I must profess before the world that I have a high value for this mercy, and do, from the bottom of my heart, bless the Lord, Who gave me a religious and tender father, who often poured out his soul for me. He was the one that was inwardly acquainted with God, and being full of compassion for his children, often carried them before God, prayed and pleaded with God for them, wept and made supplication for them.
This stock of prayers and blessings left by him before the Lord, I cannot but esteem above the fairest inheritance on earth. O, it is no small mercy to have thousands of fervent prayers lying before the Lord, filed up in heaven for us. And O that we would all be faithful to this duty! Surely our love, especially to the souls of our relations, should not grow cold when our breath doth. O that we should remember this duty in our lives, and if God give opportunity and ability, fully discharge it when we die; considering, as Christ did, we shall be no more, but they are in this world, in the midst of a defiled, tempting, troublesome world. It is the last office of love for ever we shall do for them.
John Flavel, “Sermon on John 17.11,” Works, 1:257-8
In the second, Lewis offers the pattern of his own prayers for his children. I am rebuked by the consistency, specificity and spirituality of those prayers. A good example for us all . . .
I went out yesterday again to speak to the people in the village where we have been having evangelistic Bible studies. The first man I spoke to gave me an answer to which I am becoming sadly accustomed: “No . . . no . . . that’s not for me.”
I hear this so often, usually the moment someone knows that I am speaking to them about Jesus Christ. It becomes increasingly distressing the more often I hear it, and calls for prayers like this from Thomas Watson:
Oh, that the eyes of sinners may be speedily opened—that they may see the difference of things, the beauty which is in holiness, and the astonishing madness that is in sin!
HT The Old Guys.
Eds. Joel R. Beeke and Brian G. Najapfour
Reformation Heritage Books, 2011,267pp., paperback, $16
Taking us to men who knew their God, the editors of this volume call upon various authors (in addition to their well-represented selves) to consider the lessons to be learned and patterns to be observed in some of whom it could truly be said that they walked with God. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Perkins, Burgess, Bunyan, Henry, Boston, and Edwards together with a more incidental but still significant host of others, all come under the microscope to teach us the nature and practice of true prayer. There is no appetite in this volume for dry instruction, for the whole breathes a devotional and exhortatory air, closing with Joel Beeke’s earnest plea for prayerful praying. Surely there are few who do not struggle with truly praying, occasionally or consistently? For all such, this book mines the treasures of the past for the profit of the present, reminding us of the blessings and beauties of taking hold of God in prayer, and urging us to the same.
James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke
Reformation Heritage Books, 2010, 99pp., paperback, $10 / £7.50
This is the first in a planned series of volumes providing 31 meditations on a given subject. Each portion consists of a verse or two from the Word clearly dealing with the topic followed by no more than two or three pages of lucid and warm comment. There is a sense of development throughout the volume, giving the sense that if one were to use this as a daily devotional help over the course of a month, there might be genuine progress in understanding and engagement with God. A book like this cannot make us pray, nor will reading it instantly solve all our problems in prayer, but as a guide in the intentions and substance of prayer, gratefully received and earnestly practiced, it may be of much help in teaching us this holy discipline.
“Missed out her, and him, and them…”
“Yawn. Nothing new to say?”
“You call that a prayer?”
“Not enough faith…not enough passion…not enough anything.”
“You don’t actually believe that made a difference, do you?”
“You’ll probably not even think about prayer for the rest of the day.”
So whispers the Adversary when we have tried to pray. David Murray discusses how we might fight back with the truth.
Prayer, in many ways, is the supreme expression of our faith in God and our faith and confidence in the promises of God. There is nothing that a man ever does which so proclaims his faith as when he gets down on his knees and looks to God and talks to God. It is a tremendous confession of faith. I mean by this that he is not just running with his requests and petitions, but if he really waits upon God, if he really looks to God, he is there saying, ‘Yes, I believe it all, I believe that you are a rewarder of them that diligently seek you, I believe you are the Creator of all things and all things are in your hands. I know there is nothing outside of your control. I come to you because you are in all this and I find peace and rest and quiet in your holy presence and I am praying to you because you are what you are.’ That is the whole approach to prayer that you find in the teaching of Scripture.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of Our Salvation (Wheaton, IL; Crossway Books; 2000), 35.
Oh, for more faith, and more prayer!
HT The Old Guys.
Christian Focus, 2010, 128pp., paperback, £6.99
This is a book which can be read quickly, but its lessons should last a lifetime. Its much-loved, greatly-learned and highly-esteemed author, who moved in the orbit of the Bonars, provides a simple but profound invitation to engage with God in earnest, humble, contrite, intelligent, worshipful prayer, holding out to us the sweet rewards of such engagement. His language is Scriptural, his soul is ardent, and his call is urgent. Arming himself also with a wealth of encouragements and warnings from past worthies, he gives us here a clarion call to get on our knees and seek the face of God. I should hope that any Christian would benefit greatly from a reading of this book, for it encourages even as it convicts, it exhorts even as it rebukes, it draws us out even as it drives us down.
To preach the word, therefore, and not to follow it with constant and fervent prayer for its success, is to disbelieve its use, neglect its end, and to cast away the seed of the gospel at random.
John Owen, Works, 16:78
Pray, preach, pray, ad infinitum.
Richard Crashaw’s poetic comment on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
Two went up into the Temple to pray.
Two went to pray? O rather say,
One went to brag, th’other to pray.
One stands up close, and treads on high,
Where th’other dares not send his eye.
One nearer to God’s altar trod,
The other to the altar’s God.
Quoted in Ryken, Luke (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 2:255.
When we go to pray, do we have the appearance of being near to God, or do we truly come into his holy presence?
Here is John Bunyan’s allegorical reckoning of prayer drawn from The Holy War. The town of Mansoul, backslidden and besieged and now indwelt by an army of Doubters under Diabolus, is in a terrible condition. Only the castle of the heart stands out, battered daily by the enemy. Petitions to the Prince Emmanuel have so far failed to obtain the needed relief, but now Mansoul is directed to the Lord Secretary (the Holy Spirit) to assist in their prayers:
After the town of Mansoul had been in this sad and lamentable condition for so long a time as I have told you, and no petitions that they presented their Prince with, all this while, could prevail, the inhabitants of the town, namely, the elders and chief of Mansoul, gathered together, and, after some time spent in condoling their miserable state and this miserable judgment coming upon them, they agreed together to draw up yet another petition, and to send it away to Emmanuel for relief. But Mr. Godly-Fear stood up and answered, that he knew that his Lord the Prince never did nor ever would receive a petition for these matters, from the hand of any whoever, unless the Lord Secretary’s hand was to it; ‘and this,’ quoth he, ‘is the reason that you prevailed not all this while.’ Then they said they would draw up one, and get the Lord Secretary’s hand unto it. But Mr. Godly-Fear answered again, that he knew also that the Lord Secretary would not set his hand to any petition that himself had not an hand in composing and drawing up. ‘And besides,’said he, ‘the Prince doth know my Lord Secretary’s hand from all the hands in the world; wherefore he cannot be deceived by any pretence whatever. Wherefore my advice is that you go to my Lord, and implore him to lend you his aid.'(Now he did yet abide in the castle, where all the captains and men-at-arms were.)
So they heartily thanked Mr. Godly-Fear, took his counsel, and did as he had bidden them. So they went and came to my Lord, and made known the cause of their coming to him; namely, that since Mansoul was in so deplorable a condition, his Highness would be pleased to undertake to draw up a petition for them to Emmanuel, the Son of the mighty Shaddai, and to their King and his Father by him.
Then said the Secretary to them, ‘What petition is it that you would have me draw up for you?’But they said, ‘Our Lord knows best the state and condition of the town of Mansoul; and how we are backslidden and degenerated from the Prince: thou also knowest who is come up to war against us, and how Mansoul is now the seat of war. My Lord knows, moreover, what barbarous usages our men, women, and children have suffered at their hands; and how our home-bred Diabolonians do walk now with more boldness than dare the townsmen in the streets of Mansoul. Let our Lord therefore, according to the wisdom of God that is in him, draw up a petition for his poor servants to our Prince Emmanuel.’ ‘Well,’ said the Lord Secretary, ‘I will draw up a petition for you, and will also set my hand thereto. ‘Then said they, ‘But when shall we call for it at the hands of our Lord?’ But he answered, ‘Yourselves must be present at the doing of it; yea, you must put your desires to it. True, the hand and pen shall be mine, but the ink and paper must be yours; else how can you say it is your petition? Nor have I need to petition for myself, because I have not offended.’ He also added as followeth: ‘No petition goes from me in my name to the Prince, and so to his Father by him, but when the people that are chiefly concerned therein do join in heart and soul in the matter, for that must be inserted therein.’
So they did heartily agree with the sentence of the Lord, and a petition was forthwith drawn up for them. But now, who should carry it? that was next. But the Secretary advised that Captain Credence should carry it; for he was a well-spoken man. They therefore called for him, and propounded to him the business. ‘Well,’ said the captain, ‘I gladly accept of the motion; and though I am lame, I will do this business for you with as much speed and as well as I can.’
When we pray, the hand and pen must be the Spirit’s, but the ink and paper must be ours, and faith – however lame – must carry the request to the throne of grace.
From Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, volume 4, chapter 15:
And so our Christian orator, while he says what is just, and holy and good (and he ought never to say anything else), does all he can to be heard with intelligence, with pleasure and with obedience; and he need and so far as he succeeds, he will succeed more by piety in prayer than by gifts of oratory; and so he ought to pray for himself and for those he is about to address, before he attempts to speak. And when the hour is come that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up his thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute. For, as in regard to every matter of faith and love there are many things that may be said, and many ways of saying them, who knows what it is expedient at a given moment for us to say, or to be heard saying, except God who knows the hearts of all? And who can make us say what we ought and in the way we ought except Him in whose hand both we and our speeches are? Accordingly, he who is anxious both to know and to teach should learn all that is to be taught, and acquire such a faculty of speech as is suitable for a divine. But when the hour for speech arrives, let him reflect upon that saying of our Lord’s as better suited to the wants of a pious mind “Take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” The Holy Spirit, then, speaks thus in those who for Christ’s sake are delivered to the persecutors; why not also in those who deliver Christ’s message to those who are willing to learn?
via Heavenly Worldliness.
The greatest, the most successful servants that Christ ever had divided their functions into two departments – ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.’ What would be thought of dividing the twelve hours of our day by giving six hours to prayer for the Gospel and six to the ministry of the Word? Had all Christ’s servants acted thus, could anyone estimate how mighty the results on the world would be today?
The ministry of the Word tends to be a more public function, and the private labour of the study is therefore somewhat readily justified. But wrestling with God is almost entirely a private function, and it is easy to maintain the veneer of public usefulness while skimping on the private labours of intercession. I am not suggesting that giving oneself to prayer and to the ministry of the Word demands an absolutely equal division of labour, but what is the testimony of their relative importance of each one as judged by the proportion of time and energy given to the one compared to the other in the day of a gospel minister? And how much more effective might ministers be if we kept more closely to the apostolic model?
God will have his people pray for what he hath purposed and promised, to show the great delight he takes in their prayers. As a father, though he can send to his son who lives abroad the money he hath promised for his maintenance, yet let him not have it except he comes over at set times for it. And why? Not to trouble his son, but delight himself in his son’s company. God takes such content in the company of his praying saints, that to prevent all strangeness on their part, he orders it so that they cannot neglect a duty but they shall lose something by it. ‘Ye have not, because ye ask not.’ And the more they abound in prayer the more they shall with blessings. The oftener Joash had ‘smote upon the ground,’ the fuller his victory over Syria had been. As the arrows of prayer are that we shoot to heaven, so will the returns of mercy from thence be. Yet must it not be imputed to any loathness in God to give, that he makes them pray often and long before the mercy comes, but rather to the content he takes in our prayers. He doth all this on a design to draw out the graces of his Spirit in his children, the voice and language of which in prayer makes most sweet melody in the ear of God. The truth is, we are in this too like musicians playing under our window; they play while the money is thrown out to them, and then their pipes are put up. And were our wants so supplied by the answer of one prayer, that we did not suddenly need a new recruit, we would be gone, and God should not hear of us in haste.
William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 2:301
Ray Ortlund relies on Gardiner Spring to press home the pastor’s dependence on the prayers of his people, reminding us that the failures and victories of pastors are also the failures of those who fail to pray or the victories of those who plead for the blessing:
And who and what are ministers themselves? Frail men, fallible, sinning men, exposed to every snare, to temptation in every form; and from the very post of observation they occupy, the fairer mark for the fiery darts of the foe. They are no mean victims the great Adversary is seeking, when he would wound and cripple Christ’s ministers. One such victim is worth more to the kingdom of darkness than a score of common men; and on this very account, the temptations are probably more subtle and severe than those encountered by ordinary Christians. If this subtle Deceiver fails to destroy them, he artfully aims at neutralizing their influence by quenching the fervor of their piety, lulling them into negligence, and doing all in his power to render their work irksome. How perilous the condition of that minister then, whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people! It is not in his own closet and on his own knees alone that he finds security and comfort and ennobling, humbling and purifying thoughts and joys; but it is when his people also seek them in his behalf that he becomes a better and happier man and a more useful minister of the everlasting gospel.
Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit (Edinburgh, 1986), pages 223-224.
We began this series yesterday with Fuller’s introduction to his letter entreating the assistance of his Christian hearers in promoting the interest of Christ in the world. There, he briefly established the principles of co-operation upon which he intended to proceed, namely, the united and active interest of every member of Christ’s body in the health and growth of that body.
In the letter, he deals with the opportunities for such contributions in terms of four groups of people with whom pastors have to do, and in the service of whom the saints might make a vital contribution. The first group is “serious and humble Christians,” and here are Fuller’s suggestions and requests:
First, It may be supposed that in every church of Christ there will be a considerable portion of serious and humble Christians. – Our work in respect of them is to feed them with the wholesome doctrine of the word, and to teach them the mind of Christ in all things. The assistance which we ask of you, brethren, in this part of our ministry, is, that you would not only pray for us, but be free to impart to us the state of your minds, and whether our labours be edifying to you or not. It is not so much by a systematical statement and defence of Christian doctrines that believers are edified, as by those doctrines being applied to their respective cases. This is the way in which they are ordinarily introduced in the Scriptures, and in which they become “words in due season.” But we cannot well preach to the cases of people unless we know them. Add to this, the interest which you discover in the things of God has a more than ordinary influence on our minds in the delivery of them. You cannot conceive the difference between addressing a people full of tender and affectionate attention, whose souls appear in their eyes, and answer, as it were, to the word of God; and preaching to those who are either half asleep, or their thoughts manifestly occupied by other things. By looking at the one, our hearts have expanded like the flowers before the morning sun: thoughts have occurred, and sensations have been kindled, which the labours of the study could never have furnished. But, by observing the other, our spirits are contracted like the flowers by the damps of the evening, and thoughts which were interesting when alone have seemed to die as they proceeded from our lips.
It will tend not a little to increase your interest in hearing, if you exercise yourselves on other occasions in reading and reflection. If you attend to the things of God only, or chiefly, while hearing us, we shall preach to you under great disadvantage. The apostle complained of many things being hard to be uttered, owing to the Hebrews being dull of hearing; and that, when for the time they ought to have been teachers, they had need that one should teach them again which were the first principles of the oracles of God. Thinking hearers gave a facility to preaching, even upon the most difficult subjects; while those whose minds are seldom occupied at other times can scarcely understand the most easy and familiar truths.
Here, then, are ways in which healthy saints can make a vital contribution to the work of ministry:
- Firstly, and most fundamentally, you can pray for your pastors. It was Spurgeon who spoke for countless men (albeit on a different scale) when he said that the secret of all his pastoral ‘success’ was that his people prayed for him. Prayer opens the windows of heaven to bring down a blessing. If you can do nothing else, you can pray for your pastors, and plead a blessing on their labours.
- Secondly, you can labour to know and be known by those who serve you, with a ready transparency and in intelligent communication. It is this ready and easy relationship that enables the under-shepherd to minister to his particular flock, and to the particular sheep in it. To this end, will you open your hearts to your pastors about your joys and troubles, your hopes and fears, your delights and concerns, so that they might minister to you wisely? Further, will you intelligently communicate to them whether or not they are feeding your souls and scratching your spiritual itches in and out of the pulpit, if not on the Lord’s day then with a phone call, quiet word, grateful note or encouraging email during the week? How many never respond with any outward sign of intelligent appreciation! How many more never get beyond “Good word, pastor!” at the door on the way out, or platitudes about being “so blessed”? Knowing how and in what ways we have profitably served, or if we are failing to bring forth from our treasure things new and old for the good of the saints, helps preachers to be wise physicians of your souls.
- Thirdly, you can be exemplary listeners. To be sure, there are bad days when the kids were up all night and you struggle to keep your eyes open, or when that headache means you can only look at the preacher with a squint, or when you are persuaded that you did indeed leave the oven on at full heat. But, generally speaking, do you draw the truth out of your preachers, contributing to a lively spiritual dynamic in which, by means of mutual sensitivity, the flow of truth – under divine pressure and hissing-hot – comes flooding out of his soul into yours? Your appearance and spiritual disposition under the preaching of the word will contribute either to the flowering or the withering of your pastors in the act of preaching. (See also here.)
- Fourthly and finally, you can maintain spiritual fitness for hearing by your own reading and reflection apart from the services of worship. Such activity forms the channels down which the truth must run, and dredges out the silt that too readily builds up to inhibit that flow of truth. Especially on Saturday evenings, stoke up a good fire in your souls, so that on the Lord’s day morning you need only to rake over the coals to see the flames leap up once more. Holy familiarity with God’s truth in the general run of life will equip you to understand and receive it when it is offered to you morning and evening on the Lord’s day.
And, brothers and sisters, the best time to begin is now, and the best Lord’s day to put this into practice is the coming one, and the one after that, and so on and so on, until glory dawns, and faith is sight.
There is no secret behind powerful preaching – apart from secret prayer. The biggest mistake we can make as preachers is to think that we can learn to preach powerfully from books, from seminars, or from lectures on preaching. No, for preaching to be powerful it must be preceded by, accompanied with, and followed by prayer.
Read it all here.
From Ray Ortlund:
“They saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.” Mark 5:15
There is no temperament Jesus cannot control. There is no madness he cannot soothe. There is no darkness he cannot illuminate. There is no chain he cannot break. There is no raving he cannot calm. There is no shame he cannot dignify. There is no nakedness he cannot clothe. There is no legion he cannot command.
And when he proved his power, restoring this dear man who had suffered so much for so long, sending the demons into the nearby herd of pigs, the people “began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17).
Jesus forced on them a choice — his transformation or their pigs? They preferred their pigs. Sure, their world was dysfunctional. But it was theirs. It was familiar. They preferred it undisturbed.
This passage in the Bible has nothing to say to us today.
Worldliness in the church is the number one enemy, and that comes in when we have unspiritual people, and we have unspiritual people too often because they are nominal Christians. They have the language, they have the outward, but they don’t have the power. So, Paul’s words: ‘The kingdom of God is not in word but in power.’ That whole school of Edwards and Alexander and so on — they believed in the power of religion. You know, men candidating for the ministry, and the minister saying, ‘Can he pray down the Holy Spirit?’ Imagine that question today. Can a man pray down the Holy Spirit? It’s not perhaps exactly the sentence we would say is completely correct, but you know what they meant. . . . When those men prayed, the Holy Spirit did come down. (Rev. Iain Murray, in a recent 9Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever)
Again the weather militates against a full prayer meeting during our week of prayer. A few of us were able to gather at a private home where we had some time to pray for the vitality of Christ’s church and the advance of Christ’s kingdom. With regard to the latter, for those who were present and for those who were not able to attend I circulated the twelfth (twelfth is a strange word to type, harder to type than to write) chapter from Edward Bickersteth’s Treatise on Prayer, entitled “The spirit of prayer for the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ.” It is, in some senses, a condensed version of Jonathan Edwards’ longer treatment of the topic, known in abbreviation as the ‘Humble Attempt’ – at least, it strikes many of the same notes.
You may have questions about the particular millennial perspective that underpins the piece, even while you accept the practical thrust of the conclusions; you may note that certain phrasing would no longer be considered politically correct or particularly helpful in today’s writing, however much truth lies behind the author’s choice of words; and, you may also observe that the distinctive Anglicanism of the writer rises to the surface at one or two points. May it help us to pray for the glory of God in salvation as we press on with a new year.
The spirit of prayer for the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ
Amid all that sin and sorrow which the Christian sees in the world, observes in his family, or feels in his own heart, there is one bright prospect on which his eye can dwell with unmingled satisfaction, and in the anticipation of which his heart can exult with unbounded joy – the promised time when truth and righteousness and peace shall universally prevail. That such a time will come, a simple-minded and humble reader of the Scriptures can have no doubt. Such passages as the following plainly point out an extension of the Gospel which has never yet taken place.
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee” (Ps 22.27). “All kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him” (Ps 72.11). “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord, and shall glorify thy name” (Ps 86.9). “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11.9). “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom 11.25-26). “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11.15).
Observe the fulness of each of these expressions. Surely they foretell the universal spread of Christianity. To deny this, would, as President Edwards has observed, be in effect to say that it would have been impossible for God, if he had desired it, plainly to foretell any thing that should absolutely extend to all the nations of the earth. To suppose that these are merely high-wrought figures, and that events answerable to them are not likely to take place, is little short of supposing an intention to mislead others.
We may, then, rejoice in the delightful prospect which the Bible thus opens before us. But these promises involve a duty, as well as convey a cheering prospect – the duty of exerting ourselves to promote the coming of this kingdom. Among other means of doing so, the duty of prayer is of the first importance. This subject is so little noticed in general, and yet forms so large a part of that prayer which our Lord teaches his disciples daily to use, that though it has already been in some measure anticipated, when stating the subject of intercession in the chapter on private prayer, it justly calls for distinct consideration.
While it is clear from various promises that the kingdom of Christ shall universally prevail, it is no less manifest that there are difficulties which only a divine power can overcome.
There are many opposing powers of a nature that no arm of flesh can subdue. Man may contend with man, with some hope of success; but in contending “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” we want divine aid. We must pray with the prophet, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord.” How can Satan be dethroned from his palace, the heart of man, till “a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him?”
All men’s natural inclinations and corrupt opinions also oppose the reception of the gospel. Nothing is more absurd to him who knows not the Bible and the power of God, than to imagine that the blinded Hindoo, enchained to his caste, the acute and licentious Mahomedan, reverencing his false prophet, the savage and degraded African, and the barbarous New Zealander, should give up their various notions, and embrace the pure, holy, and humbling truths of the Gospel of Christ. The means, also, by which this change is to be effected, appears to man utterly inefficient. The preaching of the cross of Christ is still “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” No arm of flesh can help us here: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Many of the great promises of Scripture relative to that happy period of which we have been speaking, seem to call for the spirit of prayer.
Observe the determination of the Saviour and his church: “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory” (Is 62.1-2); and then notice how this determined zeal in seeking to promote the light and glory of the Church is approved and required: “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence; and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Is 62.6-7).
The intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven is much on this subject. It is one part of his prayer, “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn 17.21). And he so earnestly desires the salvation of man, that it is called “the travail of his soul.” In the second Psalm the Father is described as addressing the Son thus: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps 2.8). Doubtless the Son has fulfilled this, as he has fulfilled every other part of his blessed office as an Intercessor. Hence we have more encouragement from his intercession to pray for the conversion of the heathen than for almost any other object. We are sure that the Son of God intercedes for us in this particular thing, and offers up our prayers. And as our Lord thus intercedes himself for the enlargement of his kingdom, so his word is full of directions and examples to encourage us to do the same.
Observe the directions to pray. Our Lord seeing the harvest to be great, and the laborers few, instructed his disciples to use this means of obtaining them: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9.38). One half of the prayer which he has taught us daily to use relates to this: “Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Doubtless when “all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him” (Ps 22.27), those petitions in the Lord’s prayer, with its simple but sublime and magnificent conclusion, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever,” will receive a more manifest accomplishment than ever they have yet done. We are told in Isaiah 45.11, “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” St. Paul thus earnestly presses this duty: “I exhort, therefore, that first of all” – as a matter of chief importance – “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;’ and he afterwards adds, “for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim 2.1-4); and again he says, “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, as it is with you.”
Observe the prophecies respecting this spirit of prayer: “It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall go unto another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (Zec 8.20-22).
We have also examples to encourage us thus to pray. David prays, ‘Have respect unto the covenant; for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty” (Ps 74.20). “Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces” (Ps 122.7). Esther, when the peculiar people of God were on the point of destruction, sends to all the Jews to fast and pray with her and her maidens; and their united prayers are heard. Daniel’s prayer for the church when in captivity is well worthy of imitation (Dan 9.2, 16-17). It is probable that on the very evening of the day on which our Lord directed his disciples to pray for more laborers, he himself went into a mountain, and continued all night in prayer to God; and after thus praying all night, on the following morning he chose his twelve apostles (Mt 9.36-38; 10.1-5 compared with Lk 6.12-16). The apostles, after his ascension, all “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication;” and at length, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost was given: ‘The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those that published it” (Ps 68.11). The church of Antioch “fasted and prayed,” and then sent forth Barnabas and Saul on that great mission to the Gentiles, the benefits of which ultimately reached even to England (Acts 13.3).
And to come to more modern times: We find that holy men have ever, as they have more advanced in religion, felt more for the perishing state of mankind. Baxter thus expresses himself in some reflections at the close of his life: “My soul is much more afflicted with the thoughts of this miserable world, and more drawn out in a desire for its conversion than heretofore. I was wont to look little further than England in my prayers; but now I better understand the case of mankind, and the method of the Lord’s prayer. No part of my prayer is so deeply serious as that for the conversion of the infidel and ungodly world.” It is worth while reading the life of the missionary [David] Brainerd, and in our own days, the diaries of Henry Martyn, only to observe the constant ardor of their souls in praying for the coming of Christ’s kingdom.
A blessing has ever attended this mode of seeking the welfare of the church. The cry of Israel in Egypt “came up unto God by reason of the bondage; and God heard their groaning,” and he sent them a deliverer. Daniel’s prayer was attended with an immediate answer (Dan 9). Who would have supposed, in the state in which Judea and the world were when our Lord was crucified, that in so short a time such preachers should be raised up from the self-righteous or worldly Jews, or the benighted Gentiles, as should carry the gospel into all the known nations of the earth, and almost convert the world? They prayed, and great was found to be the efficacy of prayer. In fact, every period of the revival of religion has been distinguished by the previous spirit of prayer. All the great societies that have been raised in present times, and that fill and adorn our country, have been raised in prayer; and the way to obtain for them that full benefit to mankind of which, under the blessing of God, they seem capable, is for those who support them to give them also their continual prayers. St. Paul urges a striking reason why Christians should thus pray: “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf,” (2Cor 1.11); that thus, as he expresses it elsewhere, “the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God” (2Cor 4.15).
The importance of this will be more seen, when it is remembered, that the enlargement and building up of the spiritual church is entirely the work of God. Who can accomplish all the promises on this subject? Who can influence the minds of Christians in general to promote their fulfilment? Who can raise up, and prepare, and duly qualify the laborers? Who can open their way before them, and prosper their undertakings? Who can give the heathen eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel? And when the seed is sown in their hearts, who must give the increase? In short, through whose power and mercy must all flesh see the salvation of God? We need not answer the question. It must be evident how greatly, in any design to promote the kingdom of Christ, the fervent, general, continued, united, and persevering prayers of all the church of God are needed in every step of our way. The effect to be produced manifests the necessity of a divine power. It is not a mere instruction in a particular system; it is not a mere change of sentiment; but an entire change of heart and life – the fulfilling of that promise, “I will create in you a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within you.” Like the work of creation, it requires the hand of God. As it is only his power that makes the seed sown in the earth to shoot and spring up; so here, “neither is he that planteth any thing, neither is he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” And the fervency and ardor of prayer is here specially called for. Is it not a proof that the prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” has been coldly uttered, when we look abroad and see the present state of the kingdom of Christ? May we not well suppose that it would have been very different had every Christian that used the prayer fervently offered up therewith the desire of his heart unto God?
It pleases the Almighty generally to work through prayer, as it is prayer that gives God, who is jealous of his honor, all the glory. When blessings come in answer to prayer, the praise is more generally ascribed to him to whom alone all praise belongs. The time is hastening on, when one vast song shall fill the earth “from sea to sea, and from the rivers unto the ends of the earth;” when shall be heard “as it were the voice of mighty thundering, saying, Allelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth; let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him.” And doubtless, when, through the prayers of many, this happy period arrives, the burden of the song will be, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things; and blessed be his glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.”
May the reader lay these things to heart, and remember how small a sacrifice the thing desired calls for. You are not here asked to give your silver and gold, or your life, though these all belong to your Saviour; but the duty now pointed out is simply that of remembering a perishing world in your prayers; and in constantly and faithfully discharging it, you are obeying the two great commands of love to God, and love to man. Never, then, think a prayer to be at all complete which does not include the heathen world. Never be satisfied with a prayer, either in your closet, in your family, in your walks with your relatives and friends, or in the house of God, in which you have not asked of God something relating to his ways being “made known on earth, his saving health among all nations.”
Pray for all the societies engaged in this work, either at home or abroad – for all the missionaries sent forth among the heathen, and all preparing to go, and for all who conduct or support missionary efforts. As a real Christian, you will be an immense gainer by the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ, and the increase of the communion of saints.
And as this is the duty of individuals, so there seems a special efficacy in united prayer. Much that has been said on social, family, and public worship, applies here. Let Christian assemblies in every part of our land come frequently together to pray for the coming of Christ’s kingdom; and it should be one of the happiest signs of its approach.
Let love to your Saviour, benevolence towards man, your own interest in this promised and happy era, the remarkable signs of the times, and your plain and positive duty, all combine and influence and excite you really often to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
Thou Maker and Sustainer of all things,
Day and night are thine,
heaven and earth declare thy glory;
but I, a creature of thy power and bounty,
have sinned against thee by resisting
the dictates of conscience,
the demands of thy law,
the calls of thy gospel;
yet I live under the dispensation of a given hope.
Deliver me from worldly dispositions,
for I am born from above and bound for glory.
May I view and long after holiness
as the beauty and dignity of the soul.
Let me never slumber, never lose my assurance,
never fail to wear armour when passing through enemy land.
Fit me for every scene and circumstance;
Stay my mind upon thee and turn my trials to blessings,
that they may draw out my gratitude and praise
as I see their design and effects.
Render my obedience to thy will
holy, natural, and delightful.
Rectify all my principles
by clear, consistent, and influential views of divine truth.
Let me never undervalue or neglect any part of thy revealed will.
May I duly regard the doctrine and practice of the gospel,
prizing its commands as well as its promises.
Sanctify me in every relation, office, transaction and condition of life,
that if I prosper I may not be unduly exalted,
if I suffer I may not be over-sorrowful.
Balance my mind in all varying circumstances
and help me to cultivate a disposition
that renders every duty a spiritual privilege.
Thus may I be content,
be a glory to thee
and an example to others.
Thou great I AM,
I acknowledge and confess that all things come of thee –
life, breath, happiness, advancement,
sight, touch, hearing,
goodness, truth, beauty –
all that makes existence amiable.
In the spiritual world also I am dependent
entirely upon thee.
Give me grace to know more of my need of grace;
Show me my sinfulness
that I may willingly confess it;
Reveal to me my weakness
that I may know my strength in thee.
I thank thee for any sign of penitence;
give me more of it;
My sins are black and deep,
and rise from a stony, proud,
Help me to confess them with mourning, regret, self-loathing,
with no pretence to merit or excuse;
I need healing,
Good Physician, here is scope for thee,
come and manifest thy power;
I need faith;
Thou who hast given it to me,
maintain, strengthen, increase it,
Centre it upon the Saviour’s work,
upon the majesty of the Father,
upon the operations of the Spirit;
Work it in me now that I may never doubt thee
as the truthful, mighty, faithful God.
Then I can bring my heart to thee full of love, gratitude, hope, joy.
May I lay at thy feet these fruits grown in thy garden,
love thee with a passion that can never cool,
believe in thee with a confidence that never staggers,
hope in thee with an expectation that can never be dim,
delight in thee with a rejoicing that cannot be stifled,
glorify thee with the highest of my powers,
burning, blazing, glowing, radiating,
as from thy own glory.
This week the church here has been having a week of prayer, seeking the blessing of God in the coming year. Our rough outline of concern was the glory of God in all things, the health of the church, and the spread of the gospel. Unfortunately, the weather has been a touch awkward, and so many people were unable to attempt the journey to the church building yesterday that we had to cancel the prayer meeting. Instead, I culled three offerings from from The Valley of Vision (Banner of Truth) and circulated them to the church here.
While my Old World Dissenting sensitivities rub up a little at the prospect of written prayers, these are not intended for rote repetition. Puritan authors often wrote prayers into their books and published sermons, expressing reactions to truth and desires for God. I chose three that I hoped would, in the absence of our corporate meeting, prime the pump for individual and family prayer. They give us an insight into the hearts of godly men and women profoundly conscious both of their need of grace and of the fullness of grace held out by God in Christ. I thought such excellent examples of close dealing with God might be more widely helpful, so I will post them over the next few days, beginning below.
I feel it is heaven to please thee,
and to be what thou wouldst have me be.
O that I were holy as thou art holy,
pure as Christ is pure,
perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!
These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book,
and shall I break them? must I break them?
am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?
Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner,
that I grieve this blessed God,
who is infinite in goodness and grace!
O, if he would punish me for my sins,
it would not would my heart so deep to offend him;
But though I sin continually,
he continually repeats his kindness to me.
At times I feel I could bear any suffering,
but how can I dishonour this glorious God?
What shall I do to glorify and worship
this best of beings?
O that I could consecrate my soul and body
to his service,
without restraint, for ever!
O that I could give myself up to him,
so as never more to attempt to be my own!
or have any will or affections
that are not perfectly conformed to his will
and his love!
But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.
O may angels glorify him incessantly,
and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower
before the blessed King of heaven!
I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise;
but when I have done all I can to eternity
I shall not be able to offer more than
a small fraction of the homage
that the glorious God deserves.
Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.
My father sends me a little packet of gold dust gathered from Thomas Cobbet, Gospel Incense (Pittsburgh, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993). This is Cobbet’s fourth reason to enforce the duty of public prayer.
How many of us who act as the mouthpiece of the congregation, or how many of the congregation themselves, entering into the praises and petitions being uttered, appreciate either the great task being undertaken, the immense privileges God extends to us, or the unity of mind and heart, and oneness of spirit that ought to be expressed in public praying? If these things were better understood it would be very difficult to suppress the heartfelt ‘Amen’ that rightly belongs to such public prayers.
Cobbet says that
public prayer is a public profession and confession of God, of the only true God and that one mediator, Jesus Christ; yea, of the oneness of the saints with each other in the same Father and Saviour.
Nor is the least honour to the Lord, as a great King, to have so many several companies of subjects waiting on him with petition for his royal favour; it is a holy joint homage and service for many to join as one man in prayer. Calling upon the name of the Lord, and serving him with one shoulder, are joined. Public prayer is a public profession and expression of one and the same faith, of many in one and the same Father, in one and the same Mediator of the covenant, and in one and the same covenant of grace; it is a joint cry of one and the same spirit, in and from many children’s hearts, calling one Abba Father; it is a common meeting of the several desires of several good hearts in this one common centre. It is a holy burning-glass, wherein the several bright and warm rays of the faith of many suppliants being in an holy wise contracted in one point, breaks forth into a holy fire of love expressions to the Lord, and their own and others souls’ welfare; it is a joint outcry, by reason of a serious sense of the same grievances of many; if others’ sorrows, sufferings, wants, burdens, be not the same with thine or mine, yet in praying this, we make each others’ ails ours, as they do makes ours theirs. We come to pray in public with variety of cases differing from each other in sundry respects; but in public prayer each one’s soul is put, as it were, in another’s stead. Public prayer is a common cry made out by the joint consent of this or that embodied people against some common enemies to their blessed King, his crown, and his dignity. Public prayer is a public condemnation, therefore, voiced by our own mouths against any private discords and divisions, if any such should be amongst us. (59-60)