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On Prayer

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[ As we continue our series on prayer, here we continue a study in which

Richard Baxter answers questions about prayer.]

 

Some Questions About Prayer Answered, pt. 4

by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

 

Question 31. How should a Christian keep up an ordinary fervency in prayer?

Answer.† 1. See that knowledge and faith provide you matter; for as the fire will go out if there be not fuel, so fervency will decay when you are dry, and scarce know what to say, or do not well believe what you understand.† 2. Clog not the body either with overmuch eating and drinking, or over-tiring labors; for an active body helps much the activity of the mind; and the holiest person will be able but poorly to exercise his fervency, under a dull or languishing body.† 3. Rush not suddenly upon prayer, out of a crowd of other businesses, or before your last worldly cares or discourses be washed clean out of your minds.† In study and prayer, how certain a truth is it, that work is not well done, which is done with a mind that is prepossessed, or busied about other matters; that mind must be wholly free from all other present thoughts or business, which will either pray or study well.† 4. Keep a tender heart and conscience that is not senseless of your own concernments; for all your prayers must needs be sleepy, if the heart and conscience be once hardened, seared, or fallen asleep.† 5. Take more pains with your hearts than with your tongues.† Remember that the success of your work lies most on them.† Bear not with their sluggishness; do by them as you would do by your child, who sleeps by you at prayer; you will not let them snort on, but jog them till you have awakened them.† So do by your hearts when you find them dull.† 6. Live as in the continual presence of God; but labor to apprehend His special presence when you are about to speak to Him; ask your hearts how they would behave themselves, if they saw the Lord, or but the lowest of His holy angels.† 7. Let faith be called up to see heaven and hell as open all the while before you; and such a sight will surely keep you serious.† 8. Keep death and judgment in your continual remembrance and expectation:† remember how all your prayers will be looked back upon.† Look not for your life:† remember that this prayer for aught you know may be your last; but certainly you have not long to pray:† pray therefore as a dying man should do.† 9. Study well the unspeakable necessity of your souls.† If you prevail not for pardon, and grace, and preservation, you are undone and lost forever.† Remember that necessity is upon you, and heaven or hell are at the end, and you are praying for more than a thousand lives.† 10. Study well the unspeakable excellency of those mercies which you pray for:† O think how blessed a life it would be, if you could know God more, and love Him more, and live a blameless, heavenly life, and then live with Christ in heaven forever!† Study these mercies till the flames of love put life into your prayers.† 11. Study well the exceeding encouragements that you have to pray and hope; if your hope decay your fervor will decay.† Think of the unconceivable love of God, the astonishing mercy showed to you in your Redeemer, and in the helps of the Holy Spirit, and how Christ is now interceding for you.† Think of these till faith make glad your heart; and in this gladness, let praise and thanksgiving have ordinarily no small share in your prayers; for it will tire out the heart to be always poring on its own distempers, and discourage it to look on nothing but its infirmities; and then, a sad, discouraged temper will not be so lively a temper, as a thankful, praiseful, joyful temper is, for gladness is a very expressive thing, and apt to show itself.† Sad men are seldom eloquent; especially if the body be sick as well as the mind.† 12. Let the image of a praying and a bleeding Christ, and of His praying saints, be (not on a wall before your eyes, but) engraven on your minds.† Is it not desirable to be conformed to them?† Had they more need to pray importunately than you?† 13. Be very cautelous in the use of forms, lest you grow dull and customary, and before you are aware your tongues use to go without your hearts.† The heart is apt to take its ease when it feels not some urgent instigation.† And though the presence of God should serve the turn without the regard of man, yet with imperfect men the heart is best held to its duty when both concur.† And therefore most are more cautelous of their words, than of their thoughts; as children will learn their lesson better, when they know their masters will hear them it, than when they think he will not.† Now in the use of a form of prayer, a sleepy heart is not at all discerned by man, but by God only; for the words are all brought to your hand, and may be said by the most dull and careless mind; but when you are put to express your own desire, without such helps, you are necessitated to be so mindful of what you do, as to form your desires into apt expressions, or else your dullness or inattentiveness will be observed even by men; and you will belike one that has his coach, or horse, or crutches taken off him, that if he have legs must use them, or else lie still.† And to them that are able, it is often a great benefit to be necessitated to use the ability they have; though to others it is a loss to be deprived of their helps.† I speak not this against the lawfulness of a form of prayer; but to warn you of the temptations which are in that way.† 14. Join oft with the most serious, fervent Christians; for their fervor will help your hearts to burn, and carry you along with them.† 15. Destroy not fervency by adulterating it, and turning it into an affected earnestness of speech, and loudness of voice, when it is but a hypocritical cover for a frozen, empty heart.

Question 32.† May we look to speed ever the better for anything in ourselves, or in our prayers?† Is not that to trust in them, when we should trust on Christ alone?

Answer.† We must not trust in them for anything that is Christís part and not theirs; but for their own part it is a duty to trust in them (however quarrelsome persons may abuse or cavil at the words):†† and he that distrusts prayer in that which is its proper office, will pray to little purpose: and he that thinks that faithful, fervent, importunate, understanding prayer, is no more effectual with God for mercy, than the babbling of the hypocrite, or the ignorant, careless, unbelieving, sleepy prayers of the negligent, will either not care how he prays, or whether he prays at all or not.† Though our persons and prayers have nothing that is meritorious with God, in point of commutative justice, nor as is co-ordinate with the merits of Christ, yet have they conditions without which God will not accept them, and are meritorious in subordination to the merit of Christ, in point of paternal governing justice according to the covenant of grace; as an obedient child deserves more love, and praise, and reward from his father than the disobedient:† as the ancient fathers commonly used the word merit.

Question 33. How must that person and prayer be qualified that shall be accepted of God?

Answer.† There are several degrees of Godís acceptance.† I. That which is but from the common grace may be accepted as better than none at all.† II. That which has a promise of some success, especially as to pardon and salvation, must be, 1. From a penitent, believing, holy person.† 2. It must proceed from true desire, and be sincere; and have renewed faith and repentance in some measure.† 3. It must be put up in confidence on the merit and intercession of Christ.† 4. It must be only for things lawful.† 5. And to a lawful end.† III. That which is extraordinarily accepted and successful, must be extraordinary in all these respects:† in the personís holiness, and in renewed faith and fervent importunity, and holy love.

 

Special Directions for Family Prayer

 

Direction 1.† Let it be done rather by the master of the family himself than any other, if he be competently able, though others be more able; but if he be utterly unfit, let it rather be done by another than not at all; and by such an one as is most acceptable to the rest, and like to do most good.

Direction 2.† Let prayer be suited to the case of those that join in it, and to the condition of the family; and not a few general words spoken by rote, that serve all times and persons alike.

Direction 3.† Let it neither be so short as to end before their hearts can be warm and their wants expressed (as if you had an unwilling task to slubber over, and would fain have done); nor yet so tedious as to make it an ungrateful burden to the family.

Direction 4.† Let not the coldness and dullness of the speaker rock the family asleep; but keep awake your own heart, that you may keep the rest awake, and force them to attention.

Direction 5. Pray at such hours as the family may be least distracted, sleepy, tired, or out of the way.

Direction 6. Let other duties concur, as oft as may be, to assist in prayer:† as reading, and singing psalms.

Direction 7. Do all with the greatest reverence of God that possibly you can; not seeming reverence, but real; that so more of God than of man may appear in every word you speak.

Direction 8.† The more the hearers are concerned in it, the more regard you must have to the fitness of your expressions; for before others, words must be regarded, lest they be scandalized, and God and prayer be dishonored.† And if you cannot do it competently without, use a well-composed form.

Direction 9.† Let not family prayer be used at the time of public prayer in the church, nor preferred before it, but prefer public prayer, though the manner were more imperfect than your own.

Direction 10.† Teach your children and servants how to pray themselves, that they may not be prayerless when they come among those that cannot pray.† John and Christ taught their disciples to pray.

 

Special Directions for Secret Prayer

 

Direction 1.† Let it be in as secret a place as conveniently you can; that you may not be disturbed.† Let it be done so that others may not be witnesses of it, if you can avoid it; and yet take it not for your duty to keep it unknown that you pray secretly at all:† for that will be a snare and scandal to them.

Direction 2. Let your voice be suited to your own help and benefit, if none else hear you.† If it be needful to the orderly proceeding of your own thoughts, or to the warming of your own affections, you may use a voice; but if others be within hearing, it is very unfit.

Direction 3.† In secret, let the matter of your prayers be that which is most peculiarly to your own concernment, or those secret things that are not fit for public prayer, or are there passed by; yet never forgetting the highest interest of Christ, and the gospel, and the world and church.

Direction 4. Be less solicitous about words in secret than with others, and lay out your cares of the heart; for it is that which God most esteems in your prayers.

Direction 5. Do not, through carnal unwillingness, grow into a neglect of secret prayer, when you have time; nor yet do you superstitiously tie yourselves to just so long a time, whether you are fit, or at leisure from greater duties, or not.† But be the longer when you are most fit and vacant, and the shorter when you are not.† To give way to every carnal backwardness is the sin on one side; and to resolve to spend so long a time, when you do but tire yourselves, and sleep, or business, or distemper makes it a lifeless thing, is a sin on the other side.† Avoid them both.

Direction 6.† A melancholy person who is unfit for much solitariness and heart-searchings, must be much shorter, if not also seldomer in secret prayers, than other Christians that are capable of bearing it: and they must, instead of that which they cannot do, be the more in that which they can do; as in joining with others.

 

(This concludes our series on Prayer.)