God sees us praying (or not)

Manton Monday — Insights from puritan Thomas Manton

One of the great encouragements for keeping up our prayers comes from the instructions of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:6   “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” esv. Jesus reminds us that our heavenly Father sees us. Of course, such a fact will unsettle those who neglect prayer (or do worse things, thinking no one sees them). Puritan Thomas Manton speaks of both consequences of the fact that “God sees” us in secret  — Manton

Here are the encouragements to this personal, private, and solitary prayer, taken from God’s sight, and God’s reward. From God’s sight, [He observes] thy carriage; the posture and frame of they spirit, the fervor and uprightness of heart which thou manifest in prayer is all known to Him. Mark, that which is the hypocrite’s fear, and binds condemnation upon the heart of a wicked man, is here made to be the saints’ support and ground of comfort — that they pray to an all-seeing God (1 John 3:20, “…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything…”). Their heavenly Father sees in secret; He can interpret their groans, and read the language of their sighs. Though they fail as to the outside of a duty, and there be much brokenness of speech, yet God sees brokenness of heart there, and it is that He looks after. God sees.

[Works, Vol. 1, page 9]

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A Day to Pray

One Scripture verse that encourages me to pray comes from Psalm 81:10I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.  ThisSONY DSC reminds me of newly hatched birds in a nest and their  wide-mouthed pleas for food from their parents. Our heavenly Father delights to receive our pleas in prayer, and He promises to answer us! We ought often to pray, and to “open wide out mouths” in expectancy of God’s blessing.

Today, the first Thursday in May, is our National Day of Prayer in the USA. I hope all Christians will take time (perhaps at Noon) to seek the Lord in heart-felt prayer for mercy on America. Let me further encourage you with a few historical quotes that define the work of prayer…

  • Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God has promised.  — John Bunyan
  • Prayer as it comes from the saint is weak and languid; but when the arrow of a saint’s prayer is put into the bow of Christ’s intercession it pierces the throne of grace.  — Thomas Watson
  • Prayer is the sweat of the soul.  — Martin Luther
  • Neglect of private prayer is the locust which devours the strength of the church.   — C. H. Spurgeon

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Pray in a closet?

Manton Monday — Insights from puritan Thomas MantonManton

Matthew 6:5-6   “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” esv

Of course, most of us also know the KJV  which says, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door….” In what way are Christians to understand this duty in prayer? Are we to make use of a physical secret place for prayer?

Puritan Thomas Manton provides some helpful insight today —

These words are not to be taken metaphorically, not yet pressed too literally. Not metaphorically, as some would carry them:  ‘Descend into thy heart, be serious and devout with God in the closet of thy soul, which is the most inward recess and retiring place of man.’ This were to be wanton with Scripture. The literal sense is not to be lear without necessity, not yet pressed too literally, as if prayer should be confined to a chamber and closet. Christ prayed in the mountain (Matt. 19:23); and (Gen. 24:63) Isaac went into the field to meditate. The meaning is, private prayer must be performed in a private place, retired from company and the sight of men as much as may be.

[Works, Vol. 1, page 8]

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Prayer shaped by God’s Word

FRIDAY FRIENDS – a guest post by Tom Malinowski*

Jesus commands us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We cannot fulfill this greatest of commandments without developing and nurturing a relationship with God — which can only occur through a rich and powerful prayer life. This desirable prayer life must, however, begin with God’s Word.1103660_hands_up

Martin Luther was adamant that we cannot “know” who we are communicating with if we go “beyond God’s Word.” In other words, we cannot be assured we are communicating with the one true god unless we begin with Scripture. He writes: “We must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our hearts; he works in the hearts of whom he will, and how he will, but never without the Word.”

Timothy Keller, in his book, Prayer, asserts that our starting point for prayer must be immersion in God’s Word. We cannot grow in our relationship with God unless we learn who He is. The more we know who God is, the more our prayer is shaped and determined accordingly. Consequently, if our prayers are not a response to God’s Word, our prayers may be addressing a god that we wish for rather than the real God. In his book, Answering God, Eugene H. Peterson writes, “What is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God.”

Many of us lack communication skills in that we tend to speak without listening. Let that not be the case as we communicate and build our relationship with the Lord.

 

*My friend, Tom, is a financial consultant and father of five residing in Charlton, NY, with his wife, Lisa. Tom is also a facilitator in the Schenectady City Mission’s Bridges to Freedom Program, a recovery and discipleship program.

 

Combined strength in prayer

Manton Monday — Insights from Puritan Thomas Manton

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20 esv

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The promises of God’s word are precious, especially those related to prayer. One promise found here in Matthew 18 leads us to believe that there is a greater ‘impact’ (for lack of a better word) when groups of believers pray together. Listen to the commentary of Thomas Manton on this Scripture (written while discussing another verse about praying in private).

“When they shall agree in one public prayer, it seems to have a greater efficacy put upon it — when more are interested in the same prayer — when, with a combined force, they do as it were besiege the God of heaven, and will not let Him go unless He leaves a blessing. Look, as the [civil or legal] petition of a shire and county to an authority is more than a private man’s supplication, so when we meet as a church to pray, as as a family, there is combined strength. And in this sense, that saying of the schoolmen is orthodox enough — viz., that prayer made in the church has a more easy audience with God. Why? Because of the concurrence of many which are met there to worship God.”

[Works, Volume 1, page 8; emphasis added]

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Spiritual Self-Watchfulness

“There is need of constant watchfulness on the part of the professors of Christianity, lest under the influence of unbelief they depart from the living God, said Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh (1784-1858), commenting on a passage in Hebrews.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
Hebrews 3:12-13 esv

Passages such as this ought to arrest a presumptuous believer, and make him immediately more prayerful as he clings more closely to Christ.

Brown continues, There is nothing, I am persuaded, in regard to which professors of Christianity fall into more dangerous practical mistakes than this. They suspect everything sooner than the soundness and firmness of their belief. There are many who are supposing themselves believers who have no true faith at all — and so it would be proved, were the hour of trial, which is perhaps nearer than they are aware, to arrive. And almost all who have faith suppose they have it in greater measure than they really have it. There is no prayer that a Christian needs more presently to present than, “Lord, increase my faith” and “deliver me from an evil heart of unbelief.” All apostasy from God, whether partial or total, originates in unbelief. To have his faith increased — to have more extended, and accurate, and impressive views of ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ — ought to be the object of the Christians most earnest desire and unremitting exertion.

The Lesson of Jonah’s Prayer

Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly… JONAH 2:1

The comments of Hugh Martin (1822-1886), one of my favorite writers, are always profitable to read. In this case we learn something astute on prayer —

The prayer of Jonah is an illustrious instance of the conflict between sense and faith. And it will give unity to our meditations on it, if we keep this in view, and use this as the key to its interpretation; namely, that it discloses the action and reaction in the prophet’s soul, of sense and faith; sense prompting to despair; faith pleading for hope, and procuring victory . . .

The essential feature of the prayer — as a prayer of faith in circumstances that, save for faith, were altogether desperate — will commend it to every exercised believer, as a prayer to the proper understanding of which he will derive some light from his own experience, and which, when properly understood, will in its turn reflect light on his own experience back again, and tend to purify and strengthen that experience too.

For this prayer of faith, though in unparalleled circumstances, and spiritually noble in a marvellous degree, contains in it nothing but the ordinary principles of all believing prayer; and though we may not equal it in degree, if our prayers are not the same in kind, they are false.

Is not this the very trial of faith; namely, to have circumstances to contend with which appear to extinguish hope, yea, which viewed in themselves, not only appear to, but actually do shut out all hope whatever? Take the case of Abraham, and the character and commendation of his faith . . . ‘Against hope he believed in hope’ (Rom. 4:18) . . .

This is the victory which faith has to achieve.

from his Commentary on Jonah, Banner of Truth Trust, 1958

A disciple’s prayer

How do you pray about your relationship to the Savior, Jesus Christ?

The following prayer from The Valley of Vision (Banner of Truth Trust, 1975, p. 44), is a fine example of the prayerful praises and petitions we ought to be regularly raising to God the Father. (When you are “reading” a prayer like this, and making it your own prayer, I encourage you to speak it aloud. This helps differentiate it from mere ‘reading’ and it helps you make the words truly your own prayer.)

Thou God of all grace,

Thou hast given me a Savior,
produce in me a faith to live by him,
to make him all my desire,
all my hope,
all my glory.

May I enter him as my refuge,
build on him as my foundation,
walk in him as my way,
follow him as my guide,
conform to him as my example,
receive his instructions as my prophet,
rely on his intercession as my high priest,
obey him as my king.

May I never be ashamed of him or his words,
but joyfully bear his reproach,
never displease him by unholy or imprudent conduct,
never count it a glory if I take it patiently
when buffeted for a fault,
never make the multitude my model,
never delay when thy Word invites me to advance.

May thy dear Son preserve me from this present evil world,
so that its smiles never allure,
nor its frowns terrify,
nor its vices defile,
nor its errors delude me.

May I feel that I am a stranger and a pilgrim on earth,
declaring plainly that I seek a country,
my title to it becoming daily more clear,
my meetness for it more perfect,
my foretastes of it more abundant;
and whatsoever I do may it be done
in the Saviour’s name.

Amen.

How is my meager prayer heard?

Without fail, God hears all the prayers of His people. Even the tepid petitions of four or five souls in a back room of a church in upstate NY, while the world noisily revolves around Olympic games or political races. Marvel at this with me…

It is indeed a wonder that our voice is heard at all! So weak, so broken is it at times, that it seems marvelous that it should be heard, even in silence the most intense. But heard it is, not in the midst of silence, but of myriad sounds. The cries of a groaning world are entering the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth; the songs of praising and adoring beings are ascending continually before His throne; the rush of myriad worlds as they whirl through space, is listened to by THE ONE form whose hand they were rolled forth upon their wondrous paths! But despite all these, the mind of the Infinite One is undistracted, and listens in undisturbed calmness to the whisperings of the least among His saints. O my soul, be deep in thy belief of this; and in that belief, even though thou canst pray with but a whispering voice, yet pray; let the belief of the Psalmist be also thine, “Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice.” (Psalm 55:17)
~ P. B. Power*

*P.B. Power (1822-1899) is one of the more powerful writers on the topic of prayer. This quotation is from his book, The “I wills” of the Psalms (Banner of Truth Edition,1985; out of print), which is subtitled: The Determinations of the Man of God as found in some of the ‘I Wills’ of the Psalms.

A brief prayer for Sanctity of Life Sunday…

Almighty God, our Father in heaven,
We praise You as Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker of every living thing.
We worship You as those whom You have redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We thank you for this company of believers, and for a new year in which to serve and glorify You.
We pray, Father, that we would know the meaning of ‘being in the world, but not of it’ and that we’d live to please You in all things.

Human life at 12 weeks

We pray, Lord, that Your people would see what love and justice demand of us regarding the sanctity of life, and the defeat of abortion in our land.
Protect every unborn child we pray!
Stir Your people to lives of action and deeds of compassion.
To that end, give us a fuller measure of Your Holy Spirit we ask.
In all things, Lord, keep us faithful to Your Word, and in step with Your Spirit.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Amen.