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[ As we continue our series on prayer, here we continue a study in which Richard Baxter gives us general directions concerning prayer.]
Directions for Prayer in General, pt. 2
by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
Direction 7. Search your hearts and watch them carefully, lest some beloved vanity alienate them from the work in hand, and turn away your thoughts, or prepossess your affections, so that you lack them when you should use them. If the mind be set on other matters, prayer will be a heartless, lifeless thing; alas, what a dead and pitiful work is the prayer of one that hath his heart ensnared in the love of money, or in any ambitious or covetous design! The thoughts will easily follow the affections.
Direction 8. Be sure that you pray for nothing that is disagreeable to the will of God, and that is not for the good of yourselves or others, or for the honor of God; and therefore take heed, lest an erring judgment, or carnal desires, or passions, should corrupt your prayers, and turn them into sin. If men will ignorantly pray to God to do them hurt, it is a mercy to them if God will but pardon and deny such prayers, and a judgment to grant them. And it is an easy thing for fleshly interest, or partiality, or passion, to blind the judgment, and consequently to corrupt men’s prayers. An ambitious or covetous man will easily be drawn to pray for the grant of his sinful desires, and think it would be for his good. And there is scarce an heretical or erroneous person, but thinketh that it would be good that the world were all reduced to his opinion, and all the opposers of it were borne down. It is like the religious leaders during the days of the early church who had a persecuting zeal for God (see Rom. 10:2), and who did pray according to that zeal, as well as persecute; as it is like that Paul himself prayed against the Christians, while he ignorantly persecuted them. And they that think they do God service by killing His servants, no doubt would pray against them, as some do at this day. Be especially careful therefore that your judgments and desires be sound and holy, before you offer them up to God in prayer. For it is a most vile abuse of God, to beg of Him to do the devil’s work; and, as most malicious and erroneous persons do, to call Him to their help against Himself, His servants, and His cause.
Direction 9. Come always to God in the humility that beseemeth a condemned sinner, and in the faith and boldness that beseemeth a son, and a member of Christ: do nothing in the least conceit and confidence of a worthiness in yourselves; but be as confident in every lawful request, as if you saw your glorified Mediator interceding for you with His Father. Hope is the life of prayer and all endeavor, and Christ is the life of hope. If you pray and think you shall be never the better for it, your prayers will have little life. And there is no hope of success, but through our powerful Intercessor. Therefore let both a crucified and glorified Christ be always before your eyes in prayer; not in a picture, but in the thoughts of a believing mind. Instead of a crucifix, let some such sentence of holy Scripture be written before you, where you use to pray, as in John 20:17, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Or Heb. 4:14, “We have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”; ver. 15, 16: “that was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin: let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy,” etc. Heb. 4:9,20: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and that entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered.” Heb. 7:25: “He is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” John 14:13,14: “If ye ask anything in My name, I will do it.” Christ and the promise must be the ground of all your confidence and hope.
Direction 10. Labour hard with your hearts all the while to keep them in a reverent, serious, fervent frame, and suffer them not to grow remiss and cold to turn prayer into lip-labour, and lifeless formality, or into hypocrisy, if it be not carefully watched. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” (James 5:16). A cold prayer showeth a heart that is cold in desiring that which is prayed for, and therefore is unfit to receive the mercy: God will make you know that His mercy is not contemptible, but worthy of your most earnest prayers.
Direction 11. For the matter and order of your desires and prayers, take the Lord’s prayer as your special rule; and labor to understand it well. For those that can make use of so brief an explication, I shall give a little help.
It is apparent that the method of the Lord’s prayer is circular, partly analytical, and partly synthetical: beginning with God, and ending in God; beginning with such acknowledgements as are prerequisite to petition, and ending in those praises which petition and grace bestowed tend to; beginning with our petitions for God’s interest and the public good, according to the order of estimation and intention, till we come to the mere means; and then beginning at the lowest, and ascending according to the order of execution. As the blood passing from the greater to the smaller numerous vessels, is there received by the like, and repasseth to its fountain; such a circular method hath mercy and duty, and consequently our desires.