John Bunyan: Prayer is a pouring out of the heart

19 12 2011

The following was written by John Bunyan from an English jail cell, where he was imprisoned for refusing to pray according to the forms contained in the Book of Common Prayer.  Spurgeon said of this work that it had the “smell of the jail cell about it.”  I am grateful for the heritage of the Anglican Communion and grateful for the theologically informed and beautiful prayers contained in our liturgy.  NEVERTHELESS, God help the Christian whose prayer life is limited to the forms in the Book of Common Prayer!!!  God help the Christian who knows no deeper communion with God than reading words on a page!  I pray that God’s Spirit will assist each of us in praying according to the manner which Bunyan sets forth below. 

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, and an AFFECTIONATE pouring out of the soul to God. O! the heat, strength, life, vigour, and affection, that is in right prayer! “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” (Psa 42:1). “I have longed after thy precepts” (Psa 119:40). “I have longed for thy salvation” (ver 174). “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Psa 84:2). “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times” (Psa 119:20). Mark ye here, “My soul longeth,” it longeth, it longeth, &c. O what affection is here discovered in prayer! The like you have in Daniel. “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God” (Dan 9:19). Every syllable carrieth a mighty vehemency in it. This is called the fervent, or the working prayer, by James. And so again, “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). Or had his affections more and more drawn out after God for his helping hand. O! How wide are the most of men with their prayers from this prayer, that is, PRAYER in God’s account! Alas! The greatest part of men make no conscience at all of the duty; and as for them that do, it is to be feared that many of them are very great strangers to a sincere, sensible, and affectionate pouring out their hearts or souls to God; but even content themselves with a little lip-labour and bodily exercise, mumbling over a few imaginary prayers. When the affections are indeed engaged in prayer, then, then the whole man is engaged, and that in such sort, that the soul will spend itself to nothing, as it were, rather than it will go without that good desired, even communion and solace with Christ. And hence it is that the saints have spent their strengths, and lost their lives, rather than go without the blessing (Psa 69:3; 38:9,10; Gen 32:24,26).

All this is too, too evident by the ignorance, profaneness, and spirit of envy, that reign in the hearts of those men that are so hot for the forms, and not the power of praying. Scarce one of forty among them know what it is to be born again, to have communion with the Father through the Son; to feel the power of grace sanctifying their hearts: but for all their prayers, they still live cursed, drunken, whorish, and abominable lives, full of malice, envy, deceit, persecuting of the dear children of God. O what a dreadful after-clap is coming upon them! which all their hypocritical assembling themselves together, with all their prayers, shall never be able to help them against, or shelter them from.

Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul. There is in prayer an unbosoming of a man’s self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate pouring out of the soul in requests, sighs, and groans. “All my desire is before thee,” saith David, “and my groaning is not hid from thee” (Psa 38:9). And again, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me” (Psa 42:2,4). Mark, “I pour out my soul.” It is an expression signifying, that in prayer there goeth the very life and whole strength to God. As in another place, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, – pour out your heart before him” (Psa 62:8). This is the prayer to which the promise is made, for the delivering of a poor creature out of captivity and thralldom. “If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut 4:29).

Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul TO GOD. This showeth also the excellency of the spirit of prayer. It is the great God to which it retires. “When shall I come and appear before God?” And it argueth, that the soul that thus prayeth indeed, sees an emptiness in all things under heaven; that in God alone there is rest and satisfaction for the soul. “Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God” (I Tim 5:5). So saith David, “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape; incline thine ear to me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: – for thou art my rock and my fortress; deliver me, O my God, – out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord God, thou art my trust from my youth” (Psa 71:1-5). Many in a wording way speak of God; but right prayer makes God his hope, stay, and all. Right prayer sees nothing substantial, and worth the looking after, but God. And that, as I said before, it doth in a sincere, sensible, and affectionate way.

John Bunyan, Prayer (Banner of Truth Trust: 2005 pg 16-17)


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