Teach Us to Pray: The usefulness of the inscribed prayers of the saints

Ryan Bush

man holding his hands on open book

O Giver of every good and perfect gift, I praise and bless You for Your great and continued mercies to me.

You give all things to me richly for my enjoyment. I receive from You full provision for all my temporal wants, and You forgive my iniquities.

Behold what manner of love You, my Father, have bestowed upon me that I should be called a son of God!

—Isaac Watts

Of all the means the Lord has made available to you, his beloved child, for the preserving of your soul and the inflaming of your heart, there are none more fundamental than reading the Scriptures and prayer. You may have heard what Charles Spurgeon said when asked, What is more important: Prayer or Reading the Bible? He responded with a question of his own. He said, What is more important: Breathing in or Breathing out?

If you are like me you have spent many hours learning how to study the Bible. You’ve taken classes, attended workshops, read books, and purchased software all for the purpose of becoming a more diligent and faithful student of God’s Word. This is right and good, for it would be foolish to expect a person to become a proficient, productive, and passionate student of the Scriptures without the help of more mature Christians to give him direction. Yet, this principle is equally true for the Christian and prayer and we invest precious little in learning how to pray. What deliberate, concrete actions have you taken for the purpose of becoming a person of fervent and faithful prayer?

Prayer is fundamental to the Christian life. It is mentioned around 500 times in the Scriptures. All the saints of old prayed. Jesus Christ prayed. Many faithful Christians throughout history were known for their praying. William Swan Plumer said, “To speak of a prayerless Christian is as absurd as to talk of a living man who never breathes. As soon as Saul of Tarsus met with a change of heart, it was said, ‘Behold, he prayeth.’”

Prayer comes naturally to the believer. It is a duty taught by natural religion. The praying of a believer, however, ought to mature as he grows in grace and faith. But for this to happen, he needs faithful examples by which he can find his way. The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) That interaction alone is sufficient to convince us that prayer is something that is a part of sanctification. Not only do Christians pray more as they mature, but they pray better.

There are two errors that we should be wary of as we learn to pray. First, we must avoid the pitfall of thinking that we should pray nothing but the words of Scripture. The Scriptures inform, shape, and saturate our prayers, but we are free to cry out to the Lord using our own words. Second, we should avoid praying as though the Scriptures aren’t relevant to our prayers. The Scriptures should undergird all that we bring to the Father. The Scriptures show us what God’s will is and the mature Christian seeks to pray in accordance with God’s revealed will.

The 1689 LBCF is helpful here. Our confession reminds us that for prayers to be acceptable, they must be made in this way: 1) In the name of the Son, 2) by the help of the Spirit, 3) and according to the will of the Father. And it should be accompanied by understanding, reverence, humility, fervor, faith, love, and perseverance.

With those helps in mind, we ought to consider ways in which we can learn to pray. We must enroll in the school of prayer. Yes, we study the Scriptures diligently concerning prayer and allow the Scriptures to shape our prayers, but we also have faithful saints who have gone before us who humbly and boldly brought their petitions before the throne of grace. When we read their prayers, they show us how to pray too. Of course, we don’t seek to memorize their prayers as though they contain some special power, but we do listen to them pray, and we pray along. As we follow them to the throne of grace, we learn how to communicate the deepest longings of our souls in a way that gives a fuller expression than we may have been capable of otherwise. For example, consider this excerpt from one of Lewis Bayly’s prayers:

Though You should drown me in the sea of Your displeasure with Jonah, yet I will catch such hold on Your mercy that I will be taken up dead, clasping her with both hands.

And though You should cast me into the bowels of Hell, as Jonah into the belly of the whale, yet from there I would cry to You, “O God, the Father of Heavens, O Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the world, O Holy Ghost my Sanctifier, three Persons, and one eternal God, have mercy upon me a miserable sinner.”

Or this prayer from Robert Hawker:

Do Lord, as You have said.

Dig about me, and pour upon me all the sweet influences of Your Holy Spirit, which, like the rain, and the sun, and the dew of heaven, may cause me to bring forth fruit unto God.

You may consider finding a source of prayers like these and adding them into your daily times of devotion. In my home we read one puritan prayer a day during our times of Family Worship. There are a treasure trove of prayers for us to take up if we are willing. Here are a few options to consider:

  • The Valley of the Vision by Arthur Bennett
  • Piercing Heaven by Robert Elmer
  • The Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly (public domain)
  • The Poor Man’s Portions by Robert Hawker (public domain)
  • C. H. Spurgeon’s Prayers by C. H. Spurgeon (public domain)
  • Also, my volume, A Guide to Family Worship, contains 30 puritan prayers.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email