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[ As we continue our series on prayer, here we begin a study in which Richard Baxter gives us general directions concerning prayer.]
Directions for Prayer in General, pt. 1
by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
He that handleth this duty of prayer as it deserves, must make it the second part in the body of divinity, and allow it a larger and exacter tractate than I here intend: for we have three natural faculties, an understanding, will, and executive power, so these are qualified in the godly, with faith, love, and obedience; and have three particular rules: the creed, to show us what we must believe, and in what order; the Lord’s prayer, to show us what, and in what order, we must desire and love; and the decalogue, to tell us what, and in what order, we must do (though yet these are so near kin to one another, that the same actions in several respects belong to each of the rules). As the commandments must be believed and loved, as well as obeyed; and the matter of the Lord’s prayer must be believed to be good and necessary, as well as loved and desired; and belief, and love, and desire, are commanded, and are part of our obedience; yet for all this, they are not formally the same, but divers. And as we say, that the heart or will is the man, as being the commanding faculty; so morally the will, the love or desire, is the Christian; and therefore the rule of desire or prayer, is a principal part of true religion.
Direction 1. See that you understand what prayer is. True Christian prayer is, the believing and serious expressing or acting of our lawful desires before God, through Jesus our mediator, by the help of the Holy Spirit, as a means to procure of Him the grant of these desires. Here note, 1. That inward desire is the soul of prayer; 2. The expressions or inward actings of them, is as the body of prayer; 3. To men it must be desire so expressed, as they may understand it; but to God the inward acting of desires is a prayer, because He understands it; 4. But it is not the acting of desire, simply in itself, that is prayer; for he may have desires, that are not offered up to God with heart or voice; but it is desires, as some way offered up to God, or represented, or acted towards Him, as a means to procure His blessing, that is prayer indeed.
Direction 2. See that you understand the ends and use of prayer. Some think that it is of no use, but only to move God to be willing of that which He was before unwilling of; and therefore because God is immutable, they think that prayer is a useless thing. But prayer is useful, 1. As an act of obedience to God’s command; 2. As the performance of a condition, without which He hath not promised us His mercy, and to which He hath promised it; 3. As a means to actuate, and express, and increase our own humility, dependence, desire, trust, and hope in God, and so to make us capable and fit for mercy, who otherwise should be incapable and unfit; 4. And so, though God be not changed by it in Himself, yet the real change that is made by it on ourselves, doth infer a change in God by mere relation or extrinsical denomination; He being one that is, according to the tenor of His own established law and covenant, engaged to disown or punish the unbelieving, prayerless, and disobedient, and after engaged to own or pardon them that are faithfully desirous and obedient. So that in prayer, faith and fervency are so far from being useless, that they as much prevail for the thing desired by qualifying ourselves for it, as if indeed they moved the mind of God to a real change: even as he that is in a boat, and by his hook lays hold of the bank, doth as truly by his labor get nearer the bank, as if he drew the bank to him.
Direction 3. Labor above all to know that God to whom you pray: To know Him as your maker, your redeemer, and your regenerator; as your owner, your ruler, and your Father, felicity and end; as all-sufficient for your relief, in the infiniteness of His power, His wisdom, and His goodness; and to know your own dependence on Him; and to understand His covenant or promises, upon what terms He is engaged and resolved either to give His mercies, or to deny them. “He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). “He that calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved: but how shall they call on Him, on whom they have not believed” (Rom. 10:13-14).
Direction 4. Labor when you are about to pray, to stir up in your souls the most lively and serious belief of those unseen things that our prayers have respect to; and to pray as if you saw them all the while, even as if you saw God in His glory, and saw heaven and hell, the glorified and the damned, and Jesus Christ your Mediator interceding for you in the heavens. As you would pray if your eyes beheld all these, so strive to pray while you believe them: and say to yourselves, “Are they not as sure as if I saw them? Are they not made known by the Son and Spirit of God?”
Direction 5. Labor for a constant acquaintance with yourselves, your sins and manifold wants and necessities; and also to take an actual, special notice of your case, when you go to prayer. If you get not a former constant acquaintance with your own case, you cannot expect to know it aright upon a sudden as you go to pray: and yet if you do not actually survey your hearts and lives when you go to prayer, your souls will be unhumbled, and want that lively sense of your necessities, which must put life into your prayers. Know well what sin is, and what God’s wrath, and hell, and judgment are, and what sin you have committed, and what duty you have omitted, and failed in, and what wants and corruptions are yet within you, and what mercy and grace you stand in need of, and then all this will make you pray, and pray to purpose with all your hearts. But when men are willful strangers to themselves, and never seriously look backwards or inwards, to see what is amiss and wanting, nor look forwards, to see the danger that is before them, no wonder if their hearts be dead and dull, and if they are as unfit to pray, as a sleeping man to work.
Direction 6. See that you hate hypocrisy, and let not your lips go against or without your hearts; but that your hearts be the spring of all your words: that you love not sin, and be not loathe to leave it, when you seem to pray against it; and that you truly desire the grace which you ask, and ask not for that which you would not have: and that you be ready to use the lawful means to get the mercies which you ask; and be not like those lazy wishers, that will pray God to give them increase at harvest, when they lie in bed, and will neither plough or sow; or that pray Him to save them from fire, or water, or danger, while they run into it, or will not be at the pains to go out of the way. Oh what abundance of wretches do offer up hypocritical, mock prayers to God! Blaspheming Him thereby, as if He were an idol, and knew not their hypocrisy, and searched not the hearts! Alas, how commonly do men pray in public, “that the rest of their lives hereafter may be pure and holy,” that hate purity and holiness at the heart, and deride and oppose that which they seem to pray for! As Augustine confessed of himself before he was converted, that he prayed against his filthy sin, and yet was afraid lest God should grant his prayers. So, many pray against the sins which they would not be delivered from, or would not use the means that is necessary to their conquest and deliverance. “Let him that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19). “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18; see Ezek. 14:3,4,14). Alas, how easy is it for an ungodly person to learn to say a few words by rote, and to run them over, without any sense of what he speaks, while the tongue is a stranger to the heart, and speaks not according to its desires!