Watts on Prayer

While I was in India, I finished reading A Guide to Prayer, by the well known hymn writer, Isaac Watts. I was impressed by his humble, practical, and biblical approach to this topic that is more often discussed than done.

I’ve asked Mark Mullery to address the issue of praying publicly at this year’s WorshipGod06 conference. I think we often don’t realize what a significant means of edification, training, and grace public prayer can be for the people we serve. Of course, it might be difficult to imagine when our prayers often sound something like this:

Father God, we just come before you today, Lord, to say we love you, Jesus, and Spirit, we just want you to be blessed by our coming together today, Lord God, and we ask you to show us your presence today, Jesus, in such a way that we’d worship you like we’ve never worshiped you before, God, and we just want to say that it’s a joy to be in your presence like this, Lord, because of your awesome love and grace, and…

Like, know what I mean?

So, I wanted to whet your appetite for some of the insights Watts has for both public and private prayer. In his introduction he explains why we need to learn how to pray:

“Since it is a duty of such absolute necessity for all and of such universal use, it is fitting we should all know how to perform it aright, that it may be accepted by the great God, and become a delightful and profitable exercise to our own souls and to those that join with us.”

Watts takes a refreshingly balanced approach to every aspect of prayer. Prayer is an activity that benefits both us and those who listen to us. It is both learned and spontaneous. Fruitful prayer is a product both of the mind AND the heart.

in Chapter One, called The Nature of Prayer, Watts divides prayer into eight sections:

Invocation (or calling upon God)
Profession (or self-dedication)

Always seeking to help us understand his thinking, Watts explains why we should begin our prayers adoring God for His nature, attributes, and works: “These meditations are of great use in the beginning of our prayers, to abase us before the throne of God, to awaken our reverence, our dependence, our faith and hope, our humility and joy.”

The sections on Confession and Petition had some gems in them, but I was particularly affected by the topics of Pleading and Profession.

“Pleading with God, or arguing our case with him in a fervent yet humble manner, is one part of that importunity in prayer which Scripture so much recommends.” (Job. 23:3-4; Jer. 12:1)

He encourages us to plead with God from a number of perspectives: the greatness of our wants, danger or sorrows; the perfections of God’s nature; the ways God describes His relation to us (Creator, Father); God’s promises; the honor of God’s name in the world; and the experiences of others. He then says that “the most powerful and prevailing argument is the name and mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It’s here that I can see how my view of prayer is often fatalistic. I pray because I should, or because there are needs I’m aware of. But I should see the disconnect between the way the world is and the way God has said it should be and plead with God that He act. Does my belief in God’s sovereignty keep me from asking Him to bring justice, freedom, and righteousness to the earth?  Is there any evidence of passionate faith in my praying?

When Watts speaks of Profession, or Self-Dedication, he admits that it’s rarely mentioned as an aspect of prayer. It includes both confessing that we are the Lord’s own and renouncing the world. He writes:

“We can never be too frequent or too solemn in the general surrender of our souls to God and binding our souls by a vow to be the Lord’s forever: to love him above all things, to fear him, to hope in him, to walk in his ways in a course of holy obedience, and to wait for his mercy unto eternal life.”

Just as I never tire of reminding my wife, Julie, how I am passionately committed to her for life, so we should never stop telling the Lord that we are gladly His forever.

Tomorrow I’ll share Watts’ thoughts on The Gift of Prayer.

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2 Responses to Watts on Prayer

  1. Eric Schumacher March 22, 2006 at 10:52 PM #

    Thanks for sharing this. Public prayer can be such a ministry and opportunity for teaching, yet thoughtful preparation for such prayer is too often neglected (by myself!).

  2. Tim March 23, 2006 at 12:57 PM #

    Thanks, Bob! Prayer is something I’ve been thinking more about lately too. I appreciate your blog very much.

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