Dr. Steve Lawson:
* This article has been excerpted from chapter 7, “Reading and Praying the Bible in Corporate Worship,” in Give Praise to God: A vision for Reforming Worship, ed. Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W. H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan III (P&R, 2003).
Recommendations for Improving Public Prayer*
Let us make several recommendations for the improvement of public prayer.
PRAY IN THE LANGUAGE OF SCRIPTURE
First, pray in the language of Scripture. Obviously this is our primary point. Listen to the voices from the past as they universally urge this practice. Matthew Henry says, “I would advise that the sacred dialect be most used, and made familiar to us and others in our dealing about sacred things; that language Christian people are most accustomed to, most affected with, and will most readily agree to.” Patrick Fairbairn urges that the whole prayer “should be cast much in the mould of Scripture, and should be marked by a free use of its language.” R.L. Dabney says, “Above all should the minister enrich his prayers with the language of Scripture,” explaining,
Besides its inimitable beauty and simplicity, it is hallowed and sweet to every pious heart by a thousand associations. It satisfies the taste of all; its use effectually protects us against improprieties; it was doubtless given by the Holy Spirit to be a model for our devotions. Let it then abound in our prayers.
Samuel Miller says,
One of the most essential excellencies in public prayer, and that which I feel constrained first of all, and above all to recommend, is, that it abound in the language of the word of God.
Thomas Murphy says,
The prayer of the sanctuary should be thoroughly saturated with scriptural thought and expression. The language of the Bible is that which the Spirit prompted, and which must therefore be most in accordance with the mind of God. For the same reason it must be Bible language which is best calculated to express those devotional feelings which are the work of the Spirit in the heart.
John Broadus counsels,
The minister should be consistently storing in his memory the more directly devotional expressions found everywhere in the Bible, and especially in the Psalms and Prophets, the Gospels, Epistles, and Revelation…most of us greatly need in our prayers a larger and more varied infusion of Scripture language.
But perhaps some are still unpersuaded, or are concerned that what worked in the past may not work today. Consider the following.
1. This is the pattern found in Scripture itself.
This is not merely the opinion of the Reformers or of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century evangelical theologians. It is also the pattern that we see in Scripture. The biblical saints learned God-pleasing devotional language from the Bible. They often used the language and themes of Scripture to interpret and express their experience. Consider for instance Moses seminal revelatory experience in Exodus 34:6,7.
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
The echo of this revelation is heard on at least thirteen additional occasions in the Old Testament as later prophets learned from Moses how to praise God (Num 14:18; 2 Ch 30:9; Neh 9:17,31; Pss 103:8;111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; etc). As we have seen Mary at the annunciation drew upon the Song of Hannah (Lk 1:46-55, c.f., 1 Sam 2:1-10; Solomon at the dedication of the temple incorporated Psalm 132:8,9 (2 Ch. 6:40-42); Jesus on the cross used the words of Psalms 22:1 and 31:5 (Mt 27:46, Lk 23:46); and the early church in the face of persecution cited Psalms 146 and 2 (Acts 4:24-30). In each case the language of Scripture provided the language for prayer.
Where then are we to learn the language of Christian devotion if not from Scripture? That this is less than self-evident to a tradition whose defining principle has been that worship must be regulated by God’s word is surprising indeed. Since our minds are “factories for idols,” borrowing Calvin’s phrase, we must be taught the language of prayer. Isn’t that the point of the disciples’ request of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1)? Isn’t that indeed the point of the Book of Psalms? Were the Psalms not provided to teach the people of God the language of devotion with which God is pleased? If Jesus in the supreme crisis of his life drew upon the Psalter in order to understand and express His devotion and experience, then we can do no less.
2. There is a special efficacy in Scripture-based prayer.
It then follows that there is a special efficacy in Scripture-based prayer. No prayers more accurately reflect the will of God than those which use the language which God Himself puts into our mouths. No request is more sure to be granted than that which expresses what God Himself has promised to fulfill. No petition is more sure to be answered than that which pleads for that which God already commands. Pray the promises and commands of Scripture. This principle is evident in James 1. Does God command that we be wise? Of course He does. It follows then that we should ask for it. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Similarly, pray the promise of 1 John 1:9, that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Claim the promise of John 3:16 in prayer, that “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish.” Plead that the people of God will be holy even as God is holy (1 Pt 1:16). Plead that they will love one another and bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). Faith comes by hearing the word of God doesn’t it (Rom 10:17)? The word prayed in the hearing of the congregation will be efficacious to the salvation of their souls.
3. There is a special comfort in scriptural prayer.
There is a special comfort in scriptural prayer. It is one thing to pray, “Lord, please be with us through this day.” It is quite another to pray, “Lord remember your promise, ‘I will never leave nor forsake you’” (Heb 13:5). Can’t you sense the difference? It is one thing to pray, “As we begin our prayer, we thank you for the privilege of bringing our petitions to you.” It is quite another to pray, “We come at Your invitation, O Christ, for you have promised, ‘Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.’ And so we come asking, seeking, and knocking” (Matt 7:7,8). It is one thing to pray in the midst of tragedy, “Lord we know that you have a plan.” That is a true, valid, and comforting thing to pray. Even so, it is quite another to pray, “O Lord, you have numbered the hairs upon our heads. You are working all things after the counsel of your will. Not even a sparrow may fall from a tree apart from you. You cause all things to work together for good for those who love you, and are called according to your purpose” (Matt 10:29,30; Eph 1:11; Rom 8:28). More effectively comfort the hearts of your people by echoing the promises of Scripture in your prayers. Continue reading
Article by Melton Duncan, a ruling elder at Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C. (original source here)
When Roman legions invaded Caledonia (modern-day Scotland) in the late first century AD, it was said by the historian Tacitus that the powerful Celtic chieftain Calgacus emerged and rallied his tribes against the might of Rome, famously declaring, “They make a desert, and they call it peace.”
Today’s Christian pastor is likewise making similar stands for biblical Christianity in the midst of a secular desert created by an anti-Christian culture. The Bible describes a faithful pastor as an elder who oversees the flock and the household of God. According to Paul, pastor/elders rule the church (Titus 1:5) and guard the treasures of Christ (v. 9). Additionally, they minister to the people by teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
If ever there was an era in Christian history that believers should be committed to praying for their pastors, it is now. James rebukes our prayerlessness when he says, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). And what prayers are we offering up to God on behalf of our pastors? Let me suggest several.
THAT HE WOULD DELIGHT IN PREACHING
If your minister is not being blessed and instructed by the Word, it is highly unlikely that you will be. Your spiritual well-being is directly linked to your pastor’s seeking the Lord in his preparation for the sacred desk. If he is not diligently seeking the Lord, you won’t find Him in his preaching either.
A godly pastor is a joyful, dutiful herald of the most high King. His enthusiasm for proclaiming God’s Word will be infectious and unstoppable, and it will be readily apparent to all who hear him that this is a man who knows his God. Second Timothy 4:1–2 reads:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
THAT HE WOULD ENJOY THE LORD’S WAY
I suspect that many people who sit week after week in the pews of their particular church have no idea how difficult a Sunday is for a minister and his family. Pray for your pastor’s Sundays. Robert Murray M’Cheyne says: “A well-spent sabbath we feel to be a day of heaven upon earth. … We love to rise early on that morning, and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God.”
THAT HE WOULD LEAD HIS FAMILY WELL
Pray that God would help your pastor in the midst of busyness to taste and see that the Lord is good. Pray that his children would grow up loved and cherished in the household of faith. Joel Beeke says: “Family worship is the foundation of child rearing. As family worship goes, so will go the family. The Puritans thought family worship was the whole backbone of society.” We read in Deuteronomy 6:4–7:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
THAT HE WOULD HAVE A HEART FOR THE LOST
May your pastor have a Christlike love for the lost and a joy in telling others about the Shepherd-King. If a man loves the Lord, he will love telling others the old story of the gospel. He also will teach and model for others a renewed sense of evangelism and mission. He is worthy to receive the glory and honor due Him (Rev. 4:11). Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is worthy to receive the reward. We need our pastors to have a zeal for the lost.
THAT THE LORD WOULD PROTECT HIM
A growing personal relationship with Christ will supply the motivation and zeal needed for a pastor’s duty to God. It will be tiring. It will require an all-in, total commitment. Pray that God would provide every physical and emotional need for the call to serve. Pastors are often subject spiritual temptation, so pray for God to protect these men from the evil one. Pray that they would guard themselves and be granted personal holiness. Pray that they would apply the means of grace to their own hearts, by God’s help.
THAT HE WOULD PREACH THE GOSPEL
Thomas Smyth of the antebellum historic Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, S.C., once charged a young pastor by saying:
Preaching is your pre-eminent employment, so the Gospel is the sum and substance of your preaching—the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation.
Necessity is laid upon you, yea, woe is unto you if you preach not the Gospel. … Preach Christ as set forth in the Gospel—the sum and substance of God’s testimony, and the author of eternal salvation to all who believe upon him.
Preach—this glorious Gospel of good news—first and last, every way, and everywhere, in public and in private; in the pulpit and by the press; to the living and to the dying; to the lost and the saved.
Pray for your pastor, pray as if your very life and those you love depended upon it.
Desiring God Pastors Conference 2011
Dr. Joel Beeke: The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor: In His Room, With His Family, Among the People of God
Dr. Joel Beeke: Leading Family Worship
Text: Ephesians 1:15-18
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is filled with insights that most of us miss unless we ponder the meaning of each word. Every Christian should bask in the riches of what is revealed here and make it a pattern of prayer for those we know and love.
I want to introduce this article by taking us back some forty-one years to the initial publication of what soon became an evangelical classic: J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP, 1961). The book was an expansion of the address Packer delivered to The London Inter-Faculty Christian Union (LIFCU) on October 24, 1959, at Westminster Chapel. What makes Packer’s book so instructive for us today is the utter incredulity on his part, in 1961, regarding a theological perspective that today, in 2002, is widespread and pervasive in its influence.
Packer begins his defense of divine sovereignty in salvation by appealing to what he believes is, or at least should be, an evangelical consensus on the practice of prayer. He appears to assume that no one who embraces a high view of Scripture could possibly think otherwise. It is more than simply that we pray, but also how and what we specifically ask God to do that Packer believes supports his understanding of the activity of God in saving a human soul. Here is what he says:
‘You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask. And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God’s own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God’s own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus by your practice of intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God’s grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.’
He also appeals to what he believes is the underlying theological assumption for our gratitude. Why do you ‘thank’ God for your conversion, he asks? It is, he says, ‘because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it.’ You thank God because ‘you do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense.’ Packer believes he is speaking for all Christians when he says,
‘You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God’s. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to.’
Of course, today there is an increasing number of professing evangelicals who happily do precisely what Packer contends they ‘would not dream’ of doing. Packer’s incredulous ‘Nothing of the sort!’ is today’s ‘orthodoxy’. What Packer claims you would never attribute to the human will is the very thing advocates of libertarian freedom insist upon. What Packer says we would never tell God, indeed, that thought at which our hearts would revolt, is being preached and published at a dizzying pace in 2002.
In all fairness to Packer, one must assume that such language is intentional hyperbole, a writer’s way of jolting his readers into thinking through what he believes are the unacceptable implications of the theological system he opposes. But the fact remains that what Packer argues most certainly cannot (or should not) be the conscious intent of any thinking Christian is precisely that for most, if not all, open theists. Given the latter’s insistence on libertarian free will, what Packer contends we would never ask of God is precisely what open theists applaud as the essence of intercessory prayer.
I have yet to read an open theist who does not make much of the argument from prayer. Some would even appear to have embraced this theological model in large part because it alone invests in intercessory prayer a value and efficacy that warrant its practice. One often hears open theists declare that classical theism, in its affirmation of exhaustive divine foreknowledge, destroys the foundations of prayer and transforms otherwise meaningful dialogue with God into a sham. Greg Boyd is typical of most open theists when he says: ‘My conviction is that many Christians do not pray as passionately as they could because they don’t see how it could make any significant difference.’ Again, he writes, ‘I do not see that any view of God captures the power and urgency of prayer as adequately as the Open view does, and, because the heart is influenced by the mind, I do not see that any view can inspire passionate and urgent prayer as powerfully as the Open view can.’ The same sentiment may be found in David Basinger’s treatment of prayer as part of a larger concern with the practical implications of the open view of God. Continue reading
On today’s Dividing Line broadcast I brought a practical teaching on the personal prayer life of the Christian. A simple way to pray.
1976 (Transcribed by David Edgington)
If my people called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
What’s involved in this? God expects us to pray!
But we must not forget what Jonathan Edwards said when he said to promote explicit agreement and visible union of all God’s people in “extraordinary prayer.” What do you mean by “extraordinary prayer”?
When you find people getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight – that’s extraordinary prayer. When they give up their lunch-time and go and pray at a noon day prayer meeting – that’s extraordinary prayer. But it must be united and concerted.
It doesn’t mean that a Baptist becomes any less of a Baptist or an Episcopalian is less loyal to the 39 articles or that a Presbyterian turns his back on the Westminster Confession – not at all! But they recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and they are prepared to pray together in concerted prayer that God may hear and answer. We haven’t reached that stage yet.
This national conference on prayer … is … unprecedented in some ways. It’s a sign of the direction in which we are moving. It’s what I call “extraordinary prayer”.
But you folk who are here – those who listen to my voice – must take it back to your churches. And when they are prepared to set aside time to pray for a spiritual awakening. That’s when God is going to answer.
Now some people say, “that means then its up to us.” Oh no we can’t say that either. Matthew Henry said, “When God intends great mercy for His people, He first of all sets them a praying.”
Even God is sovereign in this matter. But we must respond. He has chosen never to work without our cooperation. So whether your interpretation of revival is Calvinistic or Arminian – it’s a very simple thing. You must pray – then God will work.
May God help us so to pray. Amen.
Whatever our level of maturity as a Christian, most of us would admit that we could use some help in the matter of prayer. Endless repetition and distracted thoughts are constant enemies to an effective prayer life. Here is the biblical solution.