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John Bunyan
Praying in the Spirit
"How To Pray"

I. WHAT TRUE PRAYER IS

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart and soul to God, through Christ, with the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God. In this description are seven things that we need to consider:

1. Prayer is to be sincere.

Prayer is a sincere pouring out of the soul to God. Sincerity runs through all the graces of God in us, and influences all the actions of a Christian, or else our actions are not really from God. It is the same with prayer, as shown when David speaks about prayer, “I cried out to [the Lord] with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened [to my prayer]” (Psalm 66:17, 18).

Part of the exercise of prayer is sincerity, without which God will not look upon it as prayer in its proper sense. God says in his Word, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). The lack of this sincerity made the Lord reject the prayers in Hosea 7:14, where he said, “They do not cry out to me from their hearts,” that is, in sincerity, “but wail upon their beds.” Their prayers were only a fake, a hypocritical show, only to be seen by men, and applauded by them.

And why must sincerity be one of the essential ingredients of prayer which is acceptable to God? Because sincerity causes the soul to open its heart to God, and to plainly tell him the situation, without rationalization; to clearly condemn itself, without deceit; to cry out to God as a friend, without flattery. Sincerity is the same no matter if you are praying alone in a closet, or before the face of the world. The sincere praying Christian does not know how to wear two masks, one before men, and another in the closet; rather it must have God, and be honest with him in prayer. God will not listen to lip service, for God looks at the heart, and listens only to prayer which is accompanied with sincerity.

2. Prayer is to make sense.

It is a sincere and rational pouring out of the heart or soul. It is not, as many take it to be, a few babbling, verbose, flattering expressions, but rather, a sensible utterance of the heart. Prayer has in it a reasonable understanding of different things; for example, sometimes the sense of sin, and sometimes an understanding of mercy received.

A. Sometimes it is an awareness of the need of mercy, because of the danger of sin.

Effective prayer bubbles out of the heart when it is overcome with grief and anguish. David experienced this, saying that he was “feeble and utterly crushed; groaning in anguish of heart, his heart was pounding, his strength failed him; even the light was gone from his eyes” (Psalm 38:8-10). The Lord heard Ephraim’s moaning (Jeremiah 31:18). Peter weeps bitterly (Matthew 26:75). Christ “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). And all of this came from a sense of the justice of God, the guilt of sin, the pains of hell and God’s wrath. The Psalmist said, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:4). In all these instances, and in hundreds more that might be named, you will see that prayer carried with it a reasonable understanding of the situation, and that coming from a sense of sin.

B. Sometimes in prayer, there is a sweet sense of mercy received; encouraging, comforting, strengthening, and instructive mercy,

Thus David pours out his soul, to bless, and praise, and admire the great God for his loving-kindness to such poor vile wretches. “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalms 103:1-5). And we can see that sometimes the prayer of saints are turned into praise and thanksgiving, and yet they are still prayers. This is a mystery; God’s people pray with their praises, as it is written, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). A conscious thanksgiving, for mercies received, is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; and it has a great influence on His actions.

A good sense of sin, and the wrath of God, with some encouragement from God to come to him, is a better prayer-book than that which is taken out of the Roman Catholic mass-book, which are nothing but the scraps and fragments of the inventions of some popes, monks, and who knows what else.

3. Prayer is to be an affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ.

O! the heat, strength, life, vigor, and affection, that is in the right kind of prayer! “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). “How I long for your precepts” (Psalm 119:40). “I long for your salvation” (Psalms 119:17). “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:2) “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” (Psalm 119:20). Note in these verses that I just quoted how the Psalmist’s, “pants, yearns, and is consumed,” for God and his Word. O what affection is revealed here in prayer!

Again, it is a pouring out of the heart and soul. There is in prayer a disclosure of a man’s inner self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate outpouring of the soul in requests, sighs, and groans. “All my longings lie open before you,” said David, and “my sighing is not hidden from you” (Psalm 38:9).” And again, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? These things I remember as I pour out my soul” (Psalm 42:2, 4). Note, “I pour out my soul.” It is an expression signifying, that in prayer the very life and entire strength is poured out to God. And in another place, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him” (Psalm 62:8). This is the kind of prayer to which the promise is made, for the delivering of a poor creature out of captivity and bondage. “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

Again, it is a pouring out of the heart and soul TO GOD. This also shows the excellency of the spirit of prayer. It is the great and holy God that prayer is addressed to. “When can I go and meet with God?” And it argues, that the soul which prays in this manner, sees an emptiness in everything under heaven; that in God alone there is rest and satisfaction for the soul. “The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help” (1 Timothy 5:5). David said, “In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth” (Psalm 71:1-5).

Many speak to God with lots of empty words; but the right kind of prayer makes God his hope, rest, and his all in all. The right kind of prayer sees nothing more important, nor worth looking after, but God.

Again, it is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart and soul to God, THROUGH CHRIST. We must add that prayer must come through Christ, or else it is to be questioned, whether it really is a prayer, even though it may appear so lofty and eloquent.

Christ is the way through whom the soul has admittance to God the Father, and without Christ it is impossible that even one prayer request would be heard by our Heavenly Father (John 14:6). Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13, 14). This was Daniel’s way in praying for the people of God; he did it in the name of Christ. Listen, “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary” (Daniel 9:17). Likewise, David prayed, “For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great” (Psalm 25:11).

But note this, it is not every one that makes mention of Christ’s name in prayer, that truly prays to God in the name of Christ. This coming to God through Christ is the hardest part of prayer. A man may be aware of his deeds, and sincerely desire mercy, and yet not be able to come to God through Christ. That man that comes to God by Christ, must first have a knowledge of Christ; “because anyone who comes to [Christ] must believe that he exists” (Hebrews 11:6). And so he that comes to God through Christ, must know Christ. Moses said to the Lord, “teach me your ways so I may know you” (Exodus 33:13).

4. Prayer is to be by the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit.

These things are so dependent on one another, that it is impossible that one could have an acceptable prayer, without all of these things working together; without these things, it is only a prayer that will be rejected by God. For without a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart to God, it is nothing but lip-service; and if it is not through Christ, then it falls far short of ever sounding acceptable in God’s ears. In the same way, if it is not prayed in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, then it is the same as the sons of Aaron, presenting an offering with unauthorized fire (Leviticus 10:1, 2). Any prayer which is not petitioned through the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit, cannot possibly be “according to the will of God (Romans 8:26, 27).

5. Prayer is to be for things that God has promised.

It is prayer when it is within the compass of God’s Word; and it is blasphemy, or at best vain babbling, when the petition is for things outside of God’s Holy Book. David, when he prayed, kept his eye on the Word of God, “I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word” (Psalm 119:25). And again, “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28; see also 41, 42, 58, 65, 74, 81, 82, 107, 147, 154, 169, 170). And, “Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope” (Psalm 119:49). And surely the Holy Spirit does not immediately stir up the heart of the Christian without the Word of God, rather it is by, and with, and through the Word, by bringing it to the heart, and by opening the sinful heart, whereby the man is provoked to go to the Lord, and to tell him how it is with him, and also to plead, and supplicate, according to the Word.

So I say, as the Spirit is the helper and the governor of the soul, when it prays according to the will of God; so it is guided by and according to, the Word of God and his promise. Therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ himself did not pray except in accordance with the Word, even though his life was at stake. He said, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:53, 54).

In other words, Jesus was saying, “Were there only a word for it in the scripture, I would soon be out of the hands of my enemies, I would be helped by angels; but the scripture will not warrant this kind of praying, for that says otherwise. It is praying then according to the Word of God. The Spirit by the Word must direct, both in the manner, and the matter of prayer. “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind (1 Corinthians 14:15). There is no understanding without the Word. For if they reject the word of the Lord, “what kind of wisdom do they have?” (Jeremiah 8:9)

6. Prayer is to be for the good of the church.

This means that the prayer must be for the honor to God, or Christ’s advancement, or his people’s benefit. For God, and Christ, and his people are so linked together that if the good of the one be prayed for, then the church, the glory of God, and advancement of Christ, must also be included. For as Christ is in the Father, so the saints are in Christ; and he that touches the saints, touches the apple of God’s eye. He that prays for the peace and good of the church, does, in fact, ask in that prayer that which Christ has purchased with his blood; and also that which the Father has given to him for paying that price. Now he that prays for this, must pray for abundance of grace for the church, for help against all its temptations; that God would let nothing be too difficult for it; and that all things might work together for its good, that God would keep them blameless and harmless, the sons of God, to his glory, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.

7. And prayer must submit to the will of God.

As Christ has taught us, prayer must say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10); therefore the people of the Lord in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers, and all that they have, at the feet of their God, to be disposed of by him as he in his heavenly wisdom sees best. And never doubting that God will answer the desire of his people in a way that will be most advantageous for them and for his glory. Therefore when the saints pray with submission to the will of God, they are not to doubt or question God’s love and kindness to them. But because they are not always wise, and sometimes Satan may take advantage of them, so as to tempt them to pray for that which, if they had it, would neither be to God’s glory nor for his people’s good.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14, 15). For, as I said before, that petition that is not prayed in and through the Spirit, will not be answered, because it is outside the will of God. For only the Spirit knows the will of God, and therefore only he knows how to pray according to the will of God. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). But more of this later. Thus we have seen what prayer is.

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