Learning to Adjust for the Sake of the Gospel of Christ

By God’s grace I’ve been preaching now for 20 years and I’ve had the privilege of preaching for different churches (usually Baptist, Presbyterian, and Reformed congregations). While these churches have many things in common, they also have their own distinct emphases in belief and practice. For instance, they differ in the way they worship God on Sunday. Some sing psalms only, while others sing both psalms and hymns. Some still pray in “Thee and Thou,” others don’t. Some have the so-called “catechism preaching,” others don’t. Some use instruments in their congregational singing, others only sing acapella. Some have specific dress codes for their ministers, others don’t. Some are used to a lengthy service, others are not. And the list of examples can go on and on.

Now, I think we preachers should be aware of and be willing to respect these different practices, as we guest preach for these congregations. Remember, we are only invited as guest preachers; and thus, we should be sensitive and respectful to their non-essential beliefs and practices even if we don’t agree with them. In doing so, we will gain their respect to listen to us when we preach the gospel to them. Let me then suggest that we consider the following points as we guest preach. Learning to Adjust for the Sake of the Gospel of Christ

1. Dress appropriately.

Of course, dressing appropriately in this context depends on where you preach. For some churches a black suit, a white shirt, and a black tie is the expected dress code for preaching. For others, it may be simply a suit and tie dress code, or in some cases ministers still wear a ministerial robe when preaching.

Years ago I was invited to preach in Canada for a congregation that was used to their preacher wearing a black suit and a black tie. The day before Sunday, the minister of this congregation kindly asked me if I brought a black tie with me. I said, “No. If fact, I never had one.” He then told me gently that they have some members who might be offended and thus lose interest in listening to me, if I don’t wear a black tie. Thankfully, this minister gave me a black tie, which I wore as I preached for his congregation. For the gospel’s sake I wore a black tie. As a result, I gained those people’s respect. They listened to the message.

2. Don’t preach too long, but don’t preach too short either.

Some churches are used to lengthy sermons; others are not. One day one of my friends, who is a pastor, phoned me, inviting me to preach again for their congregation. Over the phone, this pastor also told me how much he and his congregation appreciated me whenever I preached for them. However, he lovingly informed me that his congregation was not used to a long sermon and that he himself tried to preach for not more than 40 minutes. He then told me a bit of the history of his congregation. “One of our former ministers,” he said “only preached for 25 to 30 minutes.”

There are churches, however, that are used to long sermons. I’ve preached for a congregation where the average length of the message is 50 minutes (or even longer). Church members generally don’t complain listening to such a lengthy message. Children have also become used to sitting for that long.

Since some churches are used to long messages and others are not, I’ve learned to ask the congregation to tell me the average length of time their pastor preaches. If it is your first time to preach for a congregation, usually they don’t mind if you preach too long. Some preachers are, of course, uniquely gifted with rhetorical and oratory powers and thus able to hold their listeners’ attention. Charles Spurgeon was like this preacher. That being said, it shows consideration to make an effort to adjust the length of your sermon to make it comparable to what the congregation is accustomed to.

3. Pray considerately.

I remember being invited to preach and the pastor, who invited me, requested me to pray in “Thee” and “Thou.” Then he added, “We have members in our congregation, who will be offended if they hear the preacher addressing God in “You.” These members are convinced that to pray in “Thee” and “Thou” shows reverence to God and that to pray in “You” is a form of disrespect. Of course, this claim has no scriptural basis. The truth is just because you pray in “Thee” and “Thou” does not mean you are showing reverence to God. You can pray in this manner and still be disrespectful to God. On the other hand, not because one prays in “You” does it mean that he or she is not showing respect to God. I think this issue is a matter of tradition, or culture. In fact, in my first language, which is Filipino, it is more respectful to address God in plural pronouns (in old English, that is “Ye”) than in singular pronouns (like “Thou”). Filipinos use plural pronouns even if they know that there is only one God; and they do so in order to express their deep reverence to God.

Now, I did not grow up praying in “Thee” and “Thou.” But for the gospel’s sake, I prayed in “Thee” and “Thou” in this pastor’s congregation where the tradition is to pray in this kind of language. If I had not prayed in “Thee” and “Thou,” some of his members would have right away shut their minds before I even began to preach. By being considerate to their conviction and tradition, I gained their respect to listen to me as their guest speaker.

4. Use the congregation’s pew Bible.

Each church has a preferred Bible version. Some churches think though that the King James Version (KJV) is the only accepted version. One time I preached for a congregation that uses the KJV as their pew Bible. Aware of this congregation’s belief and practice, I preached from the KJV. However, as I don’t heavily rely on my sermon notes when I preach, whenever I quoted scriptural verses from my memory, I unconsciously quoted them from the English Standard Version (ESV), for this was the version I used for years in my former congregation. When this church invited me back, the pastor gently reminded me to use the KJV even when preaching. For the gospel’s sake and to respect the conviction of their congregation, I made more of an effort to not just read from the KJV, but to quote from it also. On the other hand, I also believe that pastors who prefer the KJV should also be respectful to congregations that use the ESV, NKJV, or other conservative versions. It can cause disorder and confusion if the guest pastor is reading from one version and the congregation is following along in a different one.

Conclusion

My point is simple: my fellow preachers, as we guest preach, let’s learn to respect other congregations’ non-essential convictions and practices for the sake of the gospel. In regard to tie and suit color, the pronouns used in prayer, or the Bible version, I am prepared to give up my Christian liberty so as not to create a stumbling block (1 Cor. 9:20–22). I am willing to adapt to their non-essential traditions and cultures, without sinning against God’s Word, in order to win them to Christ. But lest you misunderstand my point, let me emphasize that while I am willing to condescend for the sake of not stumbling anyone, I am not willing to compromise on essentials or offend God for the sake of winning people to Christ.

 

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Preaching

“Give me Scotland, or I die”: John Knox as a Man of Prayer

John Knox was born in Scotland about 1514. So he was only about three years old when the Protestant reformation started in Germany in 1517. Converted to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism in 1543, Knox lived during the time when it was often very dangerous to be a follower of Christ. When the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor (also known as “Bloody Mary” because of her ruthless persecution of the Protestants) became queen in 1553, Knox, who was in England at this time, was forced to hide. He eventually landed in Geneva where he met John Calvin, who became his mentor. Knox retuned to Scotland in 1559, the year after Queen “Bloody Mary” died and was succeeded by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. He remained in Scotland, bringing reformation to the church until his death in 1572. The Collected Prayers of John Knox

Today people remember Knox as the leader of the Protestant reformation in Scotland and the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. But what others don’t realize is that by the end of his ministry, he became more well known for his prayer than for his other ministries.  The devout Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” Why do you think the Queen said this? Well, because she saw the impact of Knox’s prayer. From a human point of view, it was the prayer of Knox that sparked the Reformation in Scotland. His prayer became the fuel of the ongoing reformation during his time. His prayer shook the land of Scotland, causing a revival among God’s people.

Perhaps of all the prayers of Knox, “Give me Scotland, or I die” is the most quoted one.  It was not an arrogant prayer but a passionate plea, showing his intense desire for the conversion of the people of Scotland. His prayer was an expression of his great confidence in God. One of Knox’s mottos was “one man with God is always in the majority.” His prayer also echoes the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Romans 10:1, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” I wonder if we have the same desire for our fellow countrymen. When was the last time you prayed for your country like Knox did for his? Do we sincerely pray for our fellow countrymen’s conversion?

Knox remained prayerful even to death. During his dying hours, “he was much engaged in meditation and prayer. These words were often in his mouth”: “Come, Lord Jesus. Sweet Jesus into Thy hand I commend my spirit. Be merciful, Lord, to Thy Church, which Thou hast redeemed. Give peace to this afflicted commonwealth. Raise up faithful pastors who will take charge of Thy Church. Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin, both by evidences of Thy wrath and mercy.”

“Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin.” What a godly prayer of Knox! Indeed, after he died on November 24, 1572 (at about age 58), Principal Smeaton, one of Knox’s contemporaries, said of him, “I know not if ever God placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.” Knox was not perfect, but we can definitely learn from his prayer life.

To learn more about Knox’s theology, spirituality, and practice of prayer, see The Collected Prayers of John Knox (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019).

John Knox Prayer

How to Fight for Contentment in Your Work as a Mom

Our guest contributor today is Esther Engelsma (née Beeke) who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband and two children. She is the author of How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom? and serves her church as an administrative assistant. Learn more at estherengelsma.com.

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Contentment in the type and amount of work you accomplish in motherhood, or in any other role, is not a magical trait that God sprinkles over you. It is something that must be learned (Phil. 4:11) and fought for daily. One of Satan’s strategies since the day he tempted Eve in the garden is to sow discontent in our hearts. But we do not have to fall for his lies. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can combat him and glorify God by fighting for contentment in the work God has called us to. Here are some practical examples of how to do that: How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom

1. Believe what God says about Himself. He says He is good (Pss. 119:68; 145:9). He says that if you love Him and are called according to His purpose, everything in your life works together for good (Rom. 8:28). Do you believe this? If you do, then you must also believe that any command He gives is for your good. Among many other commands, He tells you to work heartily (Col. 3:23). He would not tell you this if the work in front of you was not good for you. Even if it feels small or boring at times, you can grow in contentment by repeating these truths to yourself again and again.

2. Work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23). Doing your work with energy makes it go by faster and helps you feel energized by it rather than depleted. The exhaustion that comes at the end of a day of hard work is a far better feeling than the tiredness at the end of a lazy day of short tasks sandwiched between long breaks on social media. It is laziness that breeds discontent, not work. And while work does not guarantee contentment, you will never be content if you don’t do the work the Lord has put in front of you. It is in obedience that you find peace.

3. Remember your reward. Read on in Colossians 3: Work “heartily…knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance” (vv. 23–24). God Himself gives the incentive of reward, and it’s not wrong to look forward to it. No matter what you do, knowing there is a reward waiting for you at the end is a wonderful incentive. As Paul wrote, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

4. Learn to love your work. If a task must be done, you might as well learn to love it. You can learn to love it in the same way that someone can learn to love investing five dollars instead of spending it—by focusing on the long-term results rather than on the immediate satisfaction. And isn’t that what so much of the Christian walk is about? We must learn to deny what our flesh wants in the moment, which leads to death, in order to do what God wills by the Spirit’s power, which is life (Rom. 8:13).

5. Realize that the work of motherhood and homemaking must be learned. We tend to think that motherhood a natural role and must therefore come easily, but it doesn’t. We know how to do many of the individual tasks, but putting them all together in a way that gets it all done is a challenge and takes time to figure out. But just like any other job, you don’t have to start out as an expert. You can search out people in person or online to teach you better ways of doing the work. You can improve with time. As your kids grow, so do you.

6. Get good at your work. What activities do you enjoy doing? What activities are you good at? The two lists are probably similar. A reasonable conclusion is that if you want to like an activity or task more, you need to get better at it. How can you get better at your work? By practice. How can you practice? By doing it over and over—weekly, daily, or hourly. How convenient that motherhood and homemaking put you in a position that requires you to do just that. If you put in the effort, you can’t help but get better at your work and therefore learn to enjoy it more.

7. Accept what you can accomplish in a day. Productivity is like money in that you tend to think that if you had just a little more, you would be happy. You won’t. When you get more, you’ll want more. You must be aware of how much you can and should accomplish in a day and you must work hard, but you must also train your mind to be content with what was accomplished. God has the hairs on your head numbered (Luke 12:7). Do you think He didn’t number the crumbs that fell from the high chair today? Do you think He didn’t plan the fights you had to mediate, the tears you had to wipe? Those “interruptions” did not get in the way of your “real work.” They were your real work. They were your calling. Contentment doesn’t just apply to whether you are happy with your body or your clothes. God gave you a limited and specific level of ability, time, and opportunity to get things done. You must use time and talents well, but when you have done that, you must be content with what you accomplished, because it is what God meant for you to accomplish.

8. Look for the cause of your discontent. If you struggle with discontent, try to pinpoint what is causing it. On the one hand, is it something that you can and should be working on or changing? Then work at it. Spiritual life is so intertwined with your physical life and environment that often tackling a project or goal you should have finished months ago can help in the fight for contentment. It’s not the finished goal that will make you content, but it is God’s will that you care for the blessings and do the work He has placed in front of you, and you cannot expect contentment outside that will. On the other hand, is your struggle with discontent over something that you cannot or should not be working on or changing? Then soak your mind in the Word of God, prayer, and good books and podcasts so that it is not being soaked in the matter of discontent. No one stays content without prayer, work, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

9. Practice gratitude. Pray thanksgiving and sing praises all day long, every time you think to do so. It will change your experience of motherhood and of life. It is what God created you for. You are included in “the people…I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isa. 43:21). It doesn’t matter how productive you may be in the world’s eyes. If you shirk the purpose for which God made you, productivity means nothing and you will never feel satisfied, no matter how much you strive for it. If, however, you strive for productivity not as a means to prop yourself up but as a tool to bring glory to God, you can be and feel productive.

Note: Content taken from How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom? p. 28–33. © 2017. Used by permission of Reformation Heritage Books.

 

Mother

Four Possible Reasons Why Some Depressed People Hesitate to Tell Others about their Depression

Many people are silently suffering from depression. Their suffering is silent because for some reason they feel embarrassed to let others know that they are having times of despair. Why do they feel embarrassed to admit that they have depression? Let me suggest the following four possible reasons: Silent Depression

1. People with depression feel ashamed that they actually have a form of mental illness, as depression is a health issue affecting the mind (what and how we think).

That’s why a depressed person is generally unable to think rationally. But depression also affects the heart (what and how we feel). In short, it can affect the totality of our being—both our body and soul. Interestingly, people with high blood pressure don’t hesitate to tell others that they have some heart issues and are taking beta blockers to treat their hypertension. Yet some depressed people feel somewhat embarrassed to inform others that they have some mental issues and are on an antidepressant. This feeling of shame is unnecessary. If you are on an antidepressant, you don’t need to be embarrassed. When properly taken, antidepressants can be a blessing to you. Just as insulin is God’s blessing to the diabetic, so is an antidepressant to the clinically depressed. Thank God for that medication!

2. People struggling with depression are often misunderstood.

“You have a beautiful house, a wonderful family, and a nice job, and you are depressed?” Misunderstanding:  If you are rich, you should never feel depressed.

“You are a Christian and you are depressed?”

Misunderstanding: Christians don’t get depressed.

“You are a church leader and you are depressed?”

Misunderstanding: Spiritual leaders (such as deacons, elders, and pastors) should never feel depressed. Remember Charles Spurgeon, the so-called Prince of Preachers, suffered from depression. William Cowper, the great hymn writer of “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” also struggled with depression.

3. People battling with depression are often treated insensitively. Some heartlessly say to them, “Get over it. Don’t act like a baby. Get up and work!” They may utter these words with a good motive to help, but such remarks will only cause the depressed to feel more discouraged. Sometimes the best thing we can say is this: “I’m sorry to hear about your depression. I will pray for you. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you.”

4. People suffering from depression are often accused of something that is not necessarily true. Here’s the accusation: they are suffering from depression because of their personal sin. Sadly some people think that depression is always a result of personal sin. Now, it is true that depression is a consequence of our original sin. If Adam had not sinned, there would be no depression. But depression is not necessarily a result of personal sin.

For example, a mother who is suffering from postpartum depression is not necessarily suffering because of a particular sin. She just gave birth. And now her body is undergoing physical changes. Her hormones are dropping and that can make her feel very tired both mentally and emotionally. Mental and emotional exhaustion may lead to depression. What she thus needs is medical treatment because she is having a medical issue. She needs a medication to treat her postpartum depression.

If you say to this mother that her depression is God’s punishment for her sin, and that she must therefore repent in order to get healed, you will not help her but further harm her. You will only place an unnecessary feeling of guilt in her heart.

Having said this, I’m not suggesting that depression is only a physical problem and that it has nothing to do with our spiritual life. The truth is God created us with body and soul. And our body and soul are so closely united to each other that our physical problems can affect our spiritual condition (and vice versa). That’s why a depressed Christian often struggles with doubts. Therefore when dealing with a depressed person, it is highly advisable to be holistic—to address all aspects of life. Thankfully, today we have Christian counselors who are especially trained to deal with depression from a biblical point of view. Thus, if you are depressed, don’t hesitate to look for professional help.

 

Note: This post appeared as “Silently Depressed” in The Outlook 69, no. 5 (September/October 2019): 16–17.

Sickness

Exercise Patience as You Listen to the Preaching of God’s Word

Sadly, our culture has helped make us all far less patient than we need to be. We live in a world full of impatient people who demand instant gratification from those who serve them. I’m afraid this self-centered way of thinking has now become tolerated, or even accepted, in our local churches. As a result, we seem to want everything now—from short worship songs to brief prayers to brief sermons. We have this same mentality virtually everywhere we go. We want fast service at restaurants and immediate access to information on our smartphones. We evaluate every invitation to do something with others by how much time it will take for us to participate. Even as we worship God, we want things to be fast and convenient; if they are not, we are quick to complain.

But listening as God speaks to us is not always fast or convenient. It is challenging work, and it often constitutes the longest part of our worship services. Strangely, we seem to be able to watch a movie for hours or attend a long sporting event without complaining, but we want our worship services to end precisely on time so we can rush off to lunch and to the next thing on our schedule. If the preaching runs a bit too long by our standard, we are quick to complain to others in the church, and possibly even the pastor, that we feel that way. Don’t we realize the damage we can cause by having such a critical attitude? We don’t help anybody by trying to rush through our worship services, least of all ourselves. We need to learn to be patient!

We must remind ourselves that rich, deep, biblical sermons—sermons with substance that are able to feed our hungry souls, minister to our deepest hurts, and ultimately help us grow in Christlikeness—are rarely able to be delivered by a pastor in a mere fifteen minutes! According to Nehemiah 8:2–3, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard . . . from early morning until midday . . . And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Just imagine! Ezra read God’s Word to the people for hours, and they listened! In a similar way, we must remember to be patient as God’s Word is faithfully expounded and to not allow other things to distract us from hearing what God wants to say to us. Nothing in all the world is more important to us than hearing from God, so we must be sure to make that the top priority of our lives. This requires us to be patient listeners when our pastors open God’s Word and proclaim its truths to our hearts.

A Hearer of God's Word

Preaching Sermon

Come Prepared as You Listen to the Preaching of God’s Word

Because the preaching of God’s Word is the most significant and challenging part of public worship, it requires mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual participation from not only the pastor but also the listeners.

For the pastor, preaching is an exhausting process. In fact, some think that preaching just one sermon is the equivalent of a full eight-hour work day. Thus, pastors who preach two sermons are working sixteen hours in one day. While others may not agree with this somewhat exaggerated statement, preaching two sermons in one day takes a ton of energy out of the preacher. Pastors also have to labor for hours prior to preaching in order to prepare the messages God has put on their hearts. In his article “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?” Thom S. Rainer concluded that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.”[1] Obviously, good, biblical sermons don’t write themselves. Pastors must devote many hours to praying, studying, and writing out their messages (and hopefully getting some rest!) before they stand before the congregation. A Hearer of God’s Word

Because the preaching of God’s Word is such a crucial part of God-honoring worship, the congregation must also come prepared to receive what God says to them. But this does not happen automatically. It requires some planning and special effort on our part, and we will benefit far more from each worship service—and each sermon—if we prepare ourselves in at least two ways.

First, we must prepare ourselves spiritually. Receiving the preached Word of God is challenging work; it requires alertness and active listening on our part. Yet it is also one of the most important things we do as growing Christians! Just as physical trainers teach athletes to stretch their muscles and warm-up prior to intense exercise, so we should take some time to “stretch our spiritual muscles” before we participate in public worship. This means we must prepare our hearts and souls to receive biblical truth from God, truth that is sure to stretch us spiritually as we are clearly reminded of the awesomeness of God, the lostness of unbelievers, and even the lingering sinfulness of our own imperfect hearts. The glorious truths of Scripture should produce great joy in our hearts, but they are not always easy to receive, since they also call on us to confess sins and to change our lives in significant ways.

We should remember that prayer is the most important way for us to prepare ourselves spiritually for worship, as we ask God prior to each service to make our hearts receptive to whatever He wants to teach us. Another way to do this is to find out in advance what text is going to be preached (which is often posted in the church bulletin or on the church website) and to spend some time reading it and contemplating what it says, either the night before or the morning of the worship service. Take some time to pray over the specific passage of Scripture, asking God to help you understand it better as you hear it preached and to show you how to apply it to your own life. We can also prepare ourselves spiritually by singing hymns or listening to Christ-exalting music as we get ready for church.

Second, we must also prepare ourselves physically to worship God with our church family. It is easy for us to forget that our bodies are involved in worship too! We use our eyes to watch the pastor and read the Bible. We use our ears to hear the music and to listen to the preaching. We use our mouths to sing and to pray. Sometimes our legs are used for standing to sing or pray with our church family. Likewise, our mind is vital for all of these things and for contemplating the life-changing truths that are proclaimed to us from Scripture. Sometimes we try to distinguish the spiritual worship of God from anything that we do physically, but we can’t do that. When we worship God, we do so physically.

This means that when our bodies are exhausted, it is hard to participate fully in worship. We’re far less likely to benefit from the sermon if we are too tired to even listen to what is preached. We owe it to ourselves, to our church family, and certainly to God to be sufficiently rested prior to attending worship. Are we going to bed at a good time? Parents, are you making sure children get their sleep on Saturday night so that the entire family will have the physical energy to benefit from the church service? If you’re blessed to attend a church that has two services on Sunday, are you faithful to attend both services as often as possible, and are you trying to rest before attending the evening service? Sometimes the most pious thing we can do on Sunday afternoon is take a nap so that we’ll be physically prepared for the evening service. Whatever our particular schedule may look like, we should make every effort to limit our evening activities the night before we attend worship and to prepare ourselves physically as well as spiritually.

     [1] Thom S. Rainer, “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?,” June 22, 2013, https://thomrainer.com/2013/06/how-much-time-do-pastors-spend-preparing-a-sermon/.

Note: This post is an excerpt from A Hearer of God’s Word: Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better

 

Preaching Sermon

John Newton’s Four Thoughts on Public Prayer

Our guest contributor today is Giancarlo Montemayor, the Spanish Publisher at B&H Publishing Group and a PhD student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Marcela and they have two children.

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John Newton (1725–1807)—the famous writer of Amazing Grace—wrote more than a thousand letters in his lifetime, and many of them deal with the subject of prayer. Newton believed and taught that prayer is a corporate discipline as much as it is a personal one. In correspondence with a friend, Newton expressed his high view on public prayers—or “social prayers”—as he called them. He referred to these prayers as “the most profitable exercises (excepting the public preaching) in which Christians can engage”.[1] In another letter, Newton instructed a reader on how to conduct such public prayers—that they should be short, methodological, distinct from sermons, and reverent.[2]

1. Public Prayers Should be Short

John Newton

John Newton

First of all, Newton argued that “long prayers should in general be avoided,” because they could distract even the most spiritually mature people. For him, the problem of some public prayers is that they are too long. He thus said that it is better that the hearers “should wish the prayer had been longer, than spend half the time in wishing it was over.”[3]

2. Public Prayers Should be Simple

Newton was not fond of elaborated prayers, arguing that they sounded rather “artificial.” He didn’t mean that prayers should be disorganized. In fact, he said that “some attention to method may be proper, for the prevention of repetitions.”[4] He recommended Isaac Watts’ A Guide to Prayer, but he commented, “a too close attention to the method therein recommended, gives an air of study and formality, and offends against that simplicity which is so essentially necessary to a good prayer.”[5]

3. Public Prayers Should be Distinct from Sermons

Public prayers are indeed a learning opportunity for those who listen, but Newton regretted that “the prayers of some good men are more like preaching than praying.” Newton believed that preaching is speaking “the Lord’s mind to the people,” while praying is speaking “the desires of the people to the Lord.”  When one confuses one for the other, “it can hardly be called a prayer.” Far from benefiting the congregation, Newton lamented, such prayers would hardly help those who want to pray from their hearts. In contrast, Newton commended prayers that are “breathings to the Lord, either of confession, petition, or praise.” And although prayers should be based on Scripture and the gospel, they should reflect the experience, expressions, and feelings of the soul. By doing so, prayers will result in “the edification of others.”[6]

4. Public Prayers should be Reverent

Lastly, Newton disapproved the “custom that some have of talking to the Lord in prayer.” He was referring to the informal tone as if prayer was “the most familiar and trivial occasion.” He exhorted those who pray publicly to remember that they speak to the King of kings. Praying this way will “prevent us from speaking to [God] as if he was altogether such as one as ourselves!”[7] 

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[1] John Newton, Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 78.

[2] Even though the letter is not divided as such, the pattern seems obvious as one reads it.

[3] John Newton, The Works of the Reverend John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 1:77.

[4] Newton, Works, 1:77.

[5] Newton, Works, 1:77.

[6] Newton, Works, 1:77.

[7] Newton, Works, 1:77.

John Newton Prayer