Weekly Reflection (31st August 2020)
Good morning. It is good to be back with you again this morning. I trust that you had a good weekend. If you are in Melbourne, you would have enjoyed a wonderful weekend of sunshine and warmer weather. It looks like we are back to the cold and wet wintry weather the next few days.
The other good news is that the number of COVID-19 cases in Victoria is continuing its downward trend. Wherever you are, let us all do our part to do what is right to keep each other safe so that the restrictions will ease sooner rather than later.
Today we remember the well know Puritan preacher John Bunyan who died this day in 1688. He is best remembered as the author of the Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. This masterpiece is an all-time bestseller second only to the Bible. If you have not read it, please do so. If you have read it before, read it again to be inspired anew.
He also wrote nearly sixty titles, many of them expanded sermons. The Pilgrim’s Progress was written during his twelve years in prison for refusing to give up preaching. During this time, he also wrote a spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
Let us pray:
O Thou high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is holy, who hast promised to dwell with those that are of a contrite and humble spirit: Cleanse our hearts, we pray thee, from every stain of pride and vainglory; that though the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, yet thou wouldest consent to abide with us forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[i]
The Prayer of the Week
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
When it comes to prayer[ii], three ‘giants’ stand out among the English Puritans, namely John Owen, Richard Baxter and John Bunyan. They all wrote works on prayer.[iii] John Bunyan’s, however, is the most accessible.[iv]
John Bunyan stressed the vital importance of prayer for the Christian. He said, ‘Prayer is an ordinance of God to be used both in public and private; yea, such an ordinance as brings those that have the spirit of supplication into great familiarity with God. It is also so prevalent an action that it gets from God, both for the person that prayed, and for them that are prayed for, great things.
‘It is the opener of the heart of God, and a means by which the soul, though empty is filled. By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God, as to a friend, and to obtain fresh testimony of God’s friendship to him’.
For Bunyan, prayer is most of all fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Prayer then is the privilege and duty of the Christian and must be undertaken with the deepest sincerity and affection.
Bunyan sees prayer as a ‘sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God’.
Interestingly, Bunyan penned these words in Bedford Gaol, when he was imprisoned for opposition to using forms of prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer; he believed prayer should be extemporaneous and from the heart as Puritans do.
In a way, he was right. Prayers are just words if uttered without spirit or understanding – whether be it written or impromptu. Approaching the Almighty must not be undertaken flippantly or without faith; it must be ‘sensible’ – that is, with understanding and an awareness of sin’s danger and God’s mercy. This awareness will encourage us to pray for cleansing in the blood of Christ.
Prayer must be ‘through Christ’, says Bunyan, ‘or else it must be questioned, whether it is prayer’ at all. And, he adds, ‘this coming to God through Christ is the hardest part of prayer. Here the mystery of grace is perceived, for to come through Christ is for the sinner to be enabled of God to hide himself under the shadow of the Lord Jesus as a man hides under a thing for safety’.
Through Christ we find favour with God. So faith is essential, as by it we put on Christ and in him appear before God. When we pray we ‘must come to God by Christ’s merits, in his blood, righteousness, victory, intercession and so stand before him, being accepted in the beloved’. The Holy Spirit quickens and stirs our hearts ‘by, with and through the Scriptures to form prayer words pleasing to God. For Bunyan, ‘the prayer that goes to heaven is the one that is sent there in the strength of the Spirit’. [v]
Prayer is asking what God has promised not what we had chosen for ourselves and not begging for God to act. Payer is subjecting God’s will to ours, and not ours to his. Prayer is building a relationship with God and not claiming a debt.[vi]
Our prayer then must be clothed in humility, since prayer submits to the will of God. Let God dispose of our prayers as ‘his heavenly wisdom sees fit’.
To Bunyan, ‘one word spoken in faith is better than a thousand prayers’. ‘To pray in faith is to ask of God, in the name of Christ, what he hath promised, relying on his power and truth for performance, without binding him up to time, and confiding him to our manner of means’.[vii]
Such was Bunyan stance on prayer that enabled him to penned many influential words that still inspires us 350 years after they were written. Indeed, it kept him effective during his years locked up in prison despite the hardships and the tormenting pain of separation from his young family.
May we follow Bunyan’s example of prayerfulness knowing, like him, that the voice of our hearts are heard on high.
The Morning Collect
Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love to one another and to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the Lord bless us and keep us; the Lord make his face to shine upon us, and be gracious to us; the Lord lift up his countenance upon us, and give us peace. Amen.[viii]
Thank you again for sharing this time together. Do have a safe and joyful week. May we take this wonderful opportunity to strengthen our prayer life in this time of restrictions. Till we meet again here next Monday. God blessings be upon you and your loved ones this day and forever more.
[i] Coloquhoun, Frank, Parish Prayers, Hodder and Stoughton, London 1967, p. 350.
[ii] McNaughton, Ian, The Evangelical Times, April 2010.
[iii] 1. R. Baxter, A Christian Directory, ‘Directions for prayer in general’, chapter 23, pp. 483-486. J. Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. by W. H. Goold (Banner of Truth), Vol. 4, pp. 36ff. J. Bunyan, Prayer (Banner of Truth). His text was 1 Corinthians 14:15. Bunyan here sets himself the task of ‘showing you the very heart of prayer’.
[iv] Quotes are from J. Bunyan, Prayer (Banner of Truth), unless otherwise stated.
[v] G. S. Wakefield, Puritan devotion (Epworth Press), p. 69.
[vi] W. Gurnall, The Christian in complete armour, Vol. 2, p. 338.
[vii] Ibid. pp. 338-9.