DFW, End of the Tour St. Ignatius Quote

I recently watched the movie, The End of the Tour. Near the end of the movie, some space is given to a prayer of St. Ignatius that hung (not sure if this is true, it was a movie after all) on DFW’s wall:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

The Holy Spirit as Editor

I have left my Spirit to be your secretary and the inditer [i.e. composer] of all your petitions.

-Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, p. 21

Goodwin expounds Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete of his people. This ties into an idea I’ve written about before HERE: The Spirit ‘fixing our prayers on the way up.’ When you have an editor in the Holy Spirit, you should not fear boldness in prayer.

How to Pray Before the Work-Day

Matthew Henry gives some great suggestions for how to start off the day in prayer for your work and family. Quotes are taken from Daily Communion with God: How to Make the Most of Each Day.

1) Pray for your family:

We have families to look after, it may be, and to provide for, and are in care to do well for them; let us then every morning by prayer commit them to God, put them under the conduct and government of his grace, and then we effectually put them under the care and protection of his providence. Holy Job rose up early in the morning to offer burnt-offerings for his children, and we should do so to offer up prayers and supplications for them, according to the number of them all (Job 1:5) (Kindle Loc. 636).

2) Pray for your work

a) for wisdom, for success, for God’s blessing and presence:

We are going about the business of our callings perhaps, let us look up to God in the first place for wisdom and grace to manage them well, in the fear of God, and to abide with him in them; and then we may in faith beg of him to prosper and succeed us in them, to strengthen us for the services of them, to support us under the fatigues of them, to direct the designs of them, and to give us comfort in the gains of them. We have journeys to go, it may be, let us look up to God for his presence with us, and go no whither, where we cannot in faith beg of God to go with us (Loc. 640).

b) for skill and strength:

We have a prospect perhaps of opportunities of doing or getting good, let us look up to God for a heart to every price in our hands, for skill, and will, and courage to improve it, that it may not be a price in the hand of a fool (Loc. 645).

c) for deliverance from temptations particular to that day:

Every day has its temptations too, some perhaps we foresee, but there may be many more that we think not of, and are therefore concerned to be earnest with God, that we may not be led into any temptation, but guarded against every one; that whatever company we come into, we may have wisdom to do good, and no hurt to them; and to get good, and no hurt by them (Loc. 646).

d) for God’s general grace to carry us through the difficulties of the day:

We know not what a day may bring forth; little think in the morning what tidings we may hear, and what events may befall us before night, and should therefore beg of God, grace to carry us through the duties and difficulties which we do not foresee, as well as those which we do; that in order to our standing complete in all the will of God, as the day is, so the strength may be (Loc. 650).

Praying by Faith and Not by Sight

My father was a Christian who believed in prayer but I knew and understood little of his praying until after my own conversion at the age of seventeen. From that time as I listened to my father’s petitions I concurred with them all – all, that is, except one, and this one had to do with a subject which was so much a part of his praying that I could not miss the divergence in our thought. Our difference concerned the extent to which the success of the kingdom of Christ is to be expected in the earth. My father would pray for its universal spread and global triumph, for the day when ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’, and when great multitudes in all lands will be found numbered among the travail of Christ’s soul…

-Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, p. xv

I was deeply convicted by this paragraph. My prayer life, public and private, has already changed as a result of it.

The fact of the matter is that we too often pray by sight, basing all petitions on what we see, rather than laying ahold of the promises of God. Our pessimism leads us to forget the promises of Christ that his kingdom will not only endure, but flourish. Can you imagine that  Americans, to whom the gospel traveled so far to reach, are pessimistic about God’s ability to lengthen its arm?

In the context of the latest headlines, I remember Abraham, who pleaded with God for Sodom, for the sake of ten righteous men who might be there. There weren’t ten righteous to be found. But today we surely know that there is one righteous Man for whose sake we can plead. We can plead the name of Jesus, and plead the cause of Jesus, and plead the love of Jesus, and plead the death and resurrection of Jesus. Should we not be more optimistic than Abraham, who had only seen the shadow of Christ’s righteousness?

Plead with God that his kingdom would increase – not that he would crush his enemies, but that he would win his enemies; that he would spare them for the sake of his righteous Son, and for the sake of his kingdom. That he would see the travail of his soul and be satisfied to increase the number of his kingdom and family.

Matthew Henry once wrote, based on Zechariah 12:10, that when God wants to move in this world, he sets his people to praying. Surely this is the sort of prayer he inspires – the type of prayer Calvin had in mind when he wrote in the Institutes, that “we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s Gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon.”

The Deepest Thing I Know

I resolved to live differently, ‘to pay attention to the deepest thing [I] know,’ as Douglas Steere evocatively described prayer.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 48

The Psalter paraphrase of Psalm 65:1-5 says this:

Praise waits for Thee in Zion; all men shall praise thee there
And pay their vows before Thee, O God Who hearest prayer.
Our sins rise up against us, prevailing day by day,
But Thou wilt show us mercy and take their guilt away.

How blest the ones Thou callest and bringest near to Thee,
That in Thy courts forever their dwelling place may be;
They shall within Thy temple be satisfied with grace,
And filled with all the goodness of Thy most holy place.

O God of our salvation, since Thou dost love the right,
Thou wilt an answer send us in wondrous deeds of might.
In all earth’s habitations, on all the boundless sea,
We find no sure reliance, no peace, apart from Thee.

In this psalm King David describes a group of people waiting, primed, to pay attention to God.

In Psalm 27: 4, David puts it this way:

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.

The old word, rarely used these days, that captures the idea is ‘behold.’ To behold, to see, to pay attention. This type of language has been missing from my vocabulary about prayer.

Ordering the Soul through Prayer (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification)

Strive to bring your soul into order by this duty, however disordered by guilt, anguish, inordinate cares or fears…A watch must be often wound up. You must wrestle in prayer against your unbelief, doubting, fears, cares, reluctancy of the flesh to that which is good; against all evil lusts and desires, coldness of affection, impatience, trouble of spirit; everything that is contrary to a holy life and the grace and holy desires to be acted for yourselves or others…Stir up yourselves to this duty…

– Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Chapter 13

I like Marshall’s language of ‘ordering’ the soul by prayer; it’s very much true to my experience. I wake up every morning, more or less, a disordered mess, and find that prayer is the only means by which I can get my mind, and frame of mind, in the right condition to face the day.

For this reason, prayer is highly instructive. It not only grabs ahold of God’s promises; it is a means God uses to teach us to love what is good and hate what is evil. For in it we pray against what is evil within us and seek after good; we repent of sin and seek grace; we turn from self-centeredness and seek to align ourselves with God’s purposes.

What To Do When You Don’t Feel Like Praying

If you find your heart so very dry and unaffected with the things of religion that you can say nothing at all to God in prayer, that no divine content occurs to your thoughts, go and fall down humbly before God and tell him with a grievous complaint that you can say nothing to him, that you can do nothing but groan and cry before him. Go and tell him that without, his Spirit you cannot speak one expression, that without immediate assistance from his grace you cannot proceed in this worship.Tell him humbly that he must lose a morning or an evening sacrifice if he does not condescend to send down fire from heaven upon the altar.

– Isaac Watts, A Guide to Prayer

Profess your powerlessness. Admit your inability. Plead your prayerlessness. You will find that you are praying.

John Calvin writes,

It is, therefore, by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father. For there is a communion of men with God by which, having entered the heavenly sanctuary, they appeal to him in person concerning his promises in order to experience, where necessity so demands, that what they believed was not vain, although he had promised it in word alone. Therefore we see that to us nothing is promised to be expected from the Lord, which we are not also bidden to ask of him in prayers. So true is it that we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon (Institutes 3.20.1).

In other words, to my point, it is by pleading our inability that we dig up the riches of prayer itself. It is by pleading our prayerlessness that we call down the blessing of prayer. For God promises, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). The Spirit is the Spirit of supplication. And we plead with him therefore, to give us the grace of prayer. And as we do so, he is already at work, for in our pleading about prayerlessness, we are already praying.

Isaac Watts’ Rules for Prayer

When Isaac Watts speaks, I listen. He is the reason this blogs exists (see the About page) and could paraphrase psalms like no one else (i.e. O God Our Help In Ages Past, Jesus Shall Reign Wher’er the Sun). He gives his teaching on prayer in his book, A Guide to Prayer. Below I will quote his six rules for prayer and then offer a short summary at the end.

1. Strive to know God and yourself in light of the Scripture

Rule 1: Strive for a large acquaintance with all things that belong to religion, for there is nothing that relates to religion but may properly make some part of the content of our prayer. This is therefore the most general advice and the most universal rule that can be given in this case. Let us daily seek after a more extensive and a more affecting knowledge of God and of ourselves. A great acquaintance with God in his nature, in his persons, in his perfection, in his works and in his Word will supply us with abundant furniture for invocation, adoration, praise, thanksgiving and blessing; and will suggest to us many arguments in pleading with God for mercy. An intimate acquaintance with ourselves and a lively sense of our own frames of spirit, our needs, our sorrows and our joys will also supply us with proper thoughts for confession, for petition and for giving thanks.We should acquaint ourselves therefore with the Word of God in a great degree, for it is there he reveals himself to us and there he reveals us also to ourselves. Let the word of Christ dwell richly in you in all wisdom, that you may be furnished with petitions and praises.

2. Use methods to guide you

Rule 2: Let the nature of this duty of prayer, as divided into its several parts, be impressed upon our hearts and dwell in our memories. Let us always remember that it contains in it these several parts of worship, namely, invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, profession (or self-resignation), thanksgiving, and blessing. That we may retain them better in our minds, they may be summed up in these four lines: Call upon God, adore, confess, Petition, plead, and then declare You are the Lord’s, give thanks and bless, And let Amen confirm the

Note: I teach my children to use the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication

3. Be specific

Rule 3. If you wish to be furnished with larger supplies of material, do not content yourselves merely with generalities, but go into particulars in your confessions, petitions and thanksgiving. Enter into a particular consideration of the attributes, the glories, the graces and the relations of God. Express your sins, your wants and your sorrows, with a particular sense of the mournful circumstances that attend them.

4. Read, discuss, and meditate first

Rule 4: In order to furnish our minds with content for: prayer, it is very convenient at solemn times of worship to read some part of the Word of God, or some spiritual treatise written by holy men; or to converse with fellow Christians about divine things; or to spend some time in recollection or meditation of things that belong to religion.

5. Read the prayers of the Bible, especially the Psalms

Rule 5: If after all we find our hearts very barren and hardly know how to frame a prayer before God of ourselves, it has often been useful to take a book in our hand which contains some spiritual meditations in a petitionary form, some devout reflections or excellent patterns of prayer: above all, the psalms of David, some of the prophecies of Isaiah, some chapters in the Gospels, or any of the Epistles.

6. Pray about your inability to pray

Rule 6: If you find your heart so very dry and unaffected with the things of religion that you can say nothing at all to God in prayer, that no divine content occurs to your thoughts, go and fall down humbly before God and tell him with a grievous complaint that you can say nothing to him, that you can do nothing but groan and cry before him. Go and tell him that without, his Spirit you cannot speak one expression, that without immediate assistance from his grace you cannot proceed in this worship.Tell him humbly that he must lose a morning or an evening sacrifice if he does not condescend to send down fire from heaven upon the altar.

I wanted to make an acronym for the points but found it difficult. So I give this summary:

  • Know God and yourself through study and observation
  • Use a method
  • Be specific in everything
  • Meditate first
  • Read the Psalms and other biblical prayers
  • Pray your weakness

Notice the first point is very broad, the second is more specific, and the third very specific. The final three points are helps for those who might struggle. I was especially helped by Watts’ encouragement for those with ‘dry and unaffected’ hearts to pray their weakness and inability. That leaves me with essentially no excuses. Even when I don’t feel like praying, I should be telling God that I don’t feel like praying and seeking his help.

You can read the ebook for free HERE. For related posts, see my post on Jesus Shall Reign HERE and my post on John Owen and prayer HERE.

Pray Without Ceasing (Andrew Gray)

I find Andrew Gray‘s thoughts on prayer quite helpful. He has already charged us that it is our atheism or idolatry that keeps us from praying; now he defines prayer, illustrates its beauty, and gives us some principles to help us ‘pray without ceasing.’

What is prayer?

…It is a sweet [traveling] and trafficking of the soul betwixt emptiness and fulness – betwixt our inability to help ourselves, and his ability to help us; the one deep calling unto the other deep; or in short, it is a soul’s conference with God (p. 218).

It is, he says, the act in which I take my empty, thirsty soul to the infinite fountain of life. It is the act in which I take my weak, helpless soul to the One who is mighty to save. It is the act in which we come to, as it were, the great conference room of God.

If prayer means traveling, where are we going?

O! what a glorious and unspeakable dignity suppose you it to be, to be daily having your walk in heaven…and to be conversing with him, whose fellowship is of more infinite worth than all imperial dignities. A Christian that is much exercised in prayer may have this to say when he is passing through the gates of death to long and endless eternity, that he is now to change his place, but not his company; heaven may be to him but a blessed transition to a more constant and immediate enjoyment of God (p. 213)

In prayer we lift up our hearts to the Lord of heaven; our souls converse with the God of heaven. In prayer, the cares of earth are lifted to heaven, and the help of heaven is brought down to the earth.

How can we pray without ceasing?

First, That in all our lawful diversions an interruptions from the divine exercise and employment in this noble duty and grace of prayer, we may be keeping ourselves in a praying frame and disposition, so that, when occasion presents itself to us, we may retire ourselves from the noise of our secular affairs, and converse with him (p. 215).

…Secondly, It holds out this unto us, that, in the midst of all our business, and other affairs that we go about, we ought to be sending forth secret and divine [prayers] toward God… (p. 215).

And then, lastly…that we should lay hold, yea, more, that we should watch to lay hold upon every opportunity for this duty of prayer; yea, more, that we should labour for all occasions for the enjoying of this admirable dignity (p. 216).

His three points toward praying without ceasing are simple:

1. Always be ready to pray. Work to keep your attitude such that you could retire to secret prayer at any moment.

2. Always be, in the words of à Kempis, mentally praying, in bursts, throughout the day.

3. Always look for opportunities to pray. I would add here that those opportunities can be private, public, and within the family. Look for opportunities to pray in private to be sure. But also look for opportunities to pray with other people, especially your family, even if you are not the one who is vocally praying. Join others in prayer.

Check your attitude. Are you in a frame of mind and soul to pray? Check your habits. Are you conversing with God throughout the day? Check your desires. Are you longing to pray to the degree that you are actively seeking time and opportunity to do it?

All quotations are from Andrew Gray, Directions and Instigations to the Duty of Prayer [Pray Without Ceasing], from The Works of Andrew Gray (Soli Deo Gloria).

What Keeps You From Praying?

Now, there are these two comprehensible and cardinal evils which do exceedingly mar and intercept the obedience of Christians unto this great and precious command of praying without ceasing, and they are these two, atheism and idolatry; too much confidence in ourselves, and too much leaning to our own understanding, which is idolatry…and too little confidence and trusting in God, which is our atheism, employing ourselves in all, and employing God in nothing…And what is this practice, but involving ourselves in that woeful curse, – Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, who heart departeth from the Lord…[Jer. 17:5].

– Andrew Gray, Directions and Instigations to the Duty of Prayer [Pray Without Ceasing], from The Works of Andrew Gray (Soli Deo Gloria), p. 213

Andrew Gray was a young (and brilliant) Scottish preacher in the 17th Century who died at the age of 22. His wisdom was far beyond his years. My conscience was ripped and up and put back together again by this beautiful sermon. This is where it was ripped up:

‘What keeps you from praying?’ he asks. He sees only two possibilities – atheism and idolatry. Either you don’t believe in God, or you believe that you are a god. Possibility one is that there is no God; possibility two is that if there is a God, you are strong enough that you don’t need his help and don’t need to say ‘thanks.’ Repentance is in order.

What he says about prayer following this is wonderfully helpful and will come in the next post.