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.


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] 


[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

Respect the Time Your Pastor Needs for Prayer and Sermon Preparation

One of the Calvinist Baptist ministers that came out of eighteenth-century evangelicalism was Samuel Pearce (1766–1799), who, in the words of Susan Huntington (1791–1823), was “pre-eminently a holy man.” He was the pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where he served faithfully from 1790 until his death in 1799. With God’s blessing, the Birmingham congregation grew spiritually and numerically (more than 300 souls were converted) under Pearce’s preaching. Sunday school, benevolent society to assist the poor, and sick society to care for the afflicted were established during his ministry. Samuel Pearce

When William Belsher was ordained pastor in the Baptist congregation in Worcester, Worcestershire, it was Pearce who gave the ordination sermon. In this sermon, based on Ephesians 4:11, Pearce urged lovingly the church members to respect and protect their pastor’s time for prayer and study of God’s Word—the pastor’s two primary ministries listed in Acts 6:4, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Pearce said in that sermon,

“I want to convince you that, for your own sakes, you should promote a studious habit in your minister; allow him every inch of time he wants; neither call upon him, nor expect him to call upon you for no better purpose than to gossip; especially let his mornings and his Saturdays be sacred—it is little short of cruelty to interrupt him then. As you love him, so, no doubt, you will feel a pleasure in his company; but let him choose his own times for seeing you; and do not accuse him of criminal negligence, if his visits are less frequent than you expect. Perhaps at the very moment of your disappointment, he was studying something against the Lord’s Day for your case—perhaps at the moment you are censuring him for his neglect, he is wrestling with God for you in his closet.”[1]

Commenting on Pearce’s message, church historian Michael Haykin (to whom I am indebted for my own study of Pearce) writes, “Here Pearce surely speaks from personal experience of the tension that pastors in the Protestant tradition have repeatedly faced: the need to devote substantial time to sermon-preparation and prayer while also caring for the souls of those in their churches.”[2]

Pastors of large congregations especially struggle with this tension. What is striking, though, in Pearce’s admonition is the fact that the church members are to respect their pastor’s prayer and sermon preparation time for their own sake. Now, if you are a church member, you might say, “How can this be for my own sake?” Well, imagine having a pastor who does not have sufficient time to intercede regularly for you. Imagine a pastor who does not have enough time to study for his sermons. You obviously want to hear good sermons from your pastor; but good sermons do not write themselves. Your pastor must devote many hours to praying, studying, and writing out his messages (and hopefully getting some rest!) before he stands behind the pulpit. In his article “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?” Thom Rainer concludes that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.”[3]

Let’s just say that your pastor needs 15 hours to prepare for one sermon. If he preaches twice, then 30 hours of his time is spent just for preparation. He still has other duties such as meetings to attend, visits to make, members to counsel, emails to reply to, phone calls to make, Sunday School or Catechism lessons to prepare, a family to take care of, and other unexpected responsibilities such as a funeral. If you don’t respect your pastor’s time for sermon preparation, the entire congregation will suffer eventually by having a half-cooked sermon, which can result in spiritual malnourishment among the members.

If you are an elder in your church, you have the responsibility to make sure that your pastor is getting enough time for prayer and study of God’s Word. Remember, your pastor is to devote himself “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Unfortunately, some elders have unrealistic expectations from their pastor. As a result, their pastor burns out and becomes ineffective in the ministry, which in turn affects the life of the church.

Elders should regularly ask their pastor, “Are you getting enough rest? Are you still able to exercise? Are you still able to fulfill your holy duty as a husband and father? How is your prayer life? Are you still able to pray for us on a regular basis, not just on Sunday or during prayer meeting? Are you getting enough time for sermon preparation?” A pastor should honestly answer these questions, so that his elders can properly help him for the sake of their congregation.




[1] The Duty of Ministers to be Nursing Fathers to the Church; and the Duty of Churches To Regard Ministers as the Gift of Christ (London, 1796), 51–52. Italics in the original.

[2] The Piety of Samuel and Sarah Pearce (Joshua Press, 2012), 12.

[3] “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?,”

Evangelical Spirituality Ministry Prayer Preaching Samuel Pearce

Working Prayerfully: A Lesson from Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_EdwardsOne of my favorite writers is Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), often considered to be the last Puritan. Through his writings, Edwards taught me a lot, especially with regard to prayer. For instance, he taught me to work or study prayerfully. As a pastor, I learned from Edwards to prepare for my sermons prayerfully. As a PhD student, I also learned from him to do a research paper prayerfully. As an author, I learned to write a book or article prayerfully. Indeed, Edwards himself did this. As he was studying, approximately 13 hours a day, he was doing so prayerfully, so that prayer and study intertwined with each other. Iain Murray, in his masterful biography of Edwards, illustrates this point well:

“Edwards maintained daily set times for prayer, when it was probably his custom to speak aloud. He also had…particular days which he set aside for solitude, meditation and fasting. But prayer was not a compartment in his daily routine, an exercise which possessed little connection with the remainder of his hours alone. Rather he sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshipper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together” (Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 143).

Donald Whitney’s observation is similar: “Edwards was so devoted to prayer that it is hard to find a daily routine for him that wasn’t permeated with it…. He prayed over his studies, and he prayed as he walked in the evening. Prayer was both a discipline and a part of his leisure” (“Pursuing A Passion For God Through Spiritual Disciples: Learning From Jonathan Edwards, in A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 114).

Even Edwards’ physical exercise was permeated with prayer. Many people comment that one of Edwards’ weaknesses was that he was a workaholic at the cost of his health. While this comment has an element of truth, he was not altogether neglectful of his health. In fact, number twenty of his Resolutions, written when he was nineteen years old, shows his concern for his whole-being: “Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.” Moreover, he himself makes a record in his Personal Narrative that he would ride out into woods for his health: “I rode out into the woods for my health…having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer.” What is noteworthy here is that even his physical exercise was interfused with a spirit of prayer.

Oh, may the Lord teach us to pray. May we turn our workplace into a sanctuary where we work as a worshipper of God. And even if we go to the gym to exercise, may we do so prayerfully. Truly, may our entire life be permeated with prayer. After all, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Do you work prayerfully?

Prayer-seemed-to-be quote on Edwards

To learn more about Edwards’ prayer life, see my book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.






Jonathan Edwards Prayer Puritan

A Prayer for Industry

Last month our congregation hosted a prayer day service attended by our sister churches in the area. One of the men that led in prayer prayed for the industries. Here’s his prayer: prayer-meeting_t_nv

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. We come before you to praise you for who you are and for what you have created. We also come before you to pray for the industries over which you are sovereign.

Our heavenly Father, Thomas Edison tried 1000 times before he produced a practical electric light bulb. You spoke only four words, Let there be light, and instantly there was light. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

It took man 10 years to construct the Panama Canal joining two great oceans together. And you just spoke and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

It took man 5 years to build the great Hoover dam to hold back the waters. And you spoke the words: Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

It took man 8 years to design and prove the Apollo space program, and 5 days for man to travel from earth and set foot on the Moon. You spoke the words and made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

For over 400 years, man dreamed of ways to be able to fly like a bird. The Wright Brothers spent 4 years to achieve the first powered flight. And you spoke Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens. And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Yes, Father, it was very good and we praise you for that. Yet, we know how we have fallen with our father Adam to whom you spoke these words: cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. And Adam became the first farmer.

You have created us to work and to subdue the earth. Because of our pride, we think we really are able to subdue the earth on our own and have sinned because we worship the creation instead of the Creator. We have not always made good use of the many resources that you have provided. We have polluted the air and the waters. We have become a throw-away society including the fact that we have thrown you and your Word away. We have created and use the internet to bring the world closer together and share with others. Forgive us for making this our modern tower of Babel. You have created us to give glory to you and instead we glorify ourselves. We ask for your forgiveness.

We thank you Father for the gifts you have given us—for your Son Jesus and your Holy Spirit. We thank you for the abundance of resources you have given us. We thank you for your provision of the modern inventions that make our lives easier. We thank you for the industries that have been developed over the years. We thank you for using men like Gutenberg in the creation of the printing press and now since that time over 6 billion Bibles have been printed in over 450 languages. We pray that you will continue blessing this work in spreading your Word to the ends of the earth. We thank you for using men like Marconi and Armstrong for the invention of the radio. And now there are over 1600 Christian radio stations in this country broadcasting the good news of Jesus Christ. We pray that you will continue blessing this work also. We praise you for using unlikely men such as Thomas Watson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and countless others in the development of the modern computer and communications which are put to good use to spread the gospel.

We pray for those who work in print shops, continuing the work that you began with Gutenberg. We pray for those who work in the radio and TV broadcasting industry to bring the gospel to the world and pray that these means will always be used for your glory. We pray for your blessing on those who labor deep in dangerous mines to dig coal for heating and the generation of electricity to light our homes and our churches. We pray for those who work on oil derricks on the seas drilling to the depths of the earth to bring us oil and gas to fuel our cars. We pray for your blessing for those who work on the assembly lines to build those vehicles which bring us to worship you on the Lord’s day. We ask for your blessing on those who sail on the ships of the seas and for those who build and fly aircrafts which enable missionaries to reach the ends of the earth. We pray for the farmers who grow the crops and for those who operate trains and trucks that bring goods from one place to another. We pray for the builders, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians who build our homes, businesses, and church buildings. We pray for the scientists, chemists, and engineers that you use to bring us modern medicines and medical devices.

Father, you have given us countless means to make our lives easier and give us more leisure. This is extra time that we have that our parents and grandparents did not have. We ask your Holy Spirit to guide us not to waste that time but to be industrious and engage in systematic labor especially for some useful purpose. That useful purpose is obeying your great commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And Jesus added: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Having confidence in that we come before you asking for these things in Jesus’ name. Amen!


The Address: “Our Father in heaven”

“Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9a)

The Lord’s Prayer can be divided into eight sections. The first section, which is our focus in this post, is what we call the address: “Our Father in heaven.” What I will do in this post is give you three basic implications of this portion of the Lord’s Prayer.the-Lords-Prayer

1. Those who pray must address their prayers to God the Father.

In the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to address our prayers to his Father. If we don’t address our prayers to his Father, we should not expect a reply from God. Sometime ago I mailed a letter to someone. A few days later, my letter came back to me because I mistakenly wrote down my address on the area where I was supposed to put the recipient’s address. My letter did not reach the recipient. Wrong address! Likewise, it is vital that we have the right address when we pray.

Now, if Jesus instructs us to address our prayers to his Father, can we pray to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit? The answer is of course yes. As Martin Luther (1483-1546) explained, when we pray to Jesus, we “need not worry that the Father and the Holy Spirit will be angry on this account. They know that no matter which Person [we] call upon, [we] call upon all three Persons and upon the One God at the same time. For [we] cannot call upon one Person without calling upon the others, because the one, undivided divine Essence exists in all and in each Person.” In his treatise Communion with God (1657), John Owen (1616-1683) encourages us to fellowship with each person of the Trinity. Indeed, our prayer should be trinitarian. In our prayer, we can say with Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) “I don’t know which Person of the Trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them, and I need them all.”


2. Those who believe in Christ have the right to call God their Father.

One of the benefits of our relationship with Christ is the privilege of calling his Father our Father. I remember when I got engaged to Sarah (now my wife), her father, Pastor Bart Elshout, told me that from now on I should start calling him dad. One of the blessings of my relationship with Sarah is the honor of calling her father my father. Spiritually speaking, when you were married to Jesus by faith, his Father became your Father also according to God’s Word (John 1:12). At first you may feel awkward calling the father of your husband or wife as your father. But, eventually it becomes second nature.

Sadly, there is a mistaken notion among some Christians that only the very advanced believers can call God their Father. There is also an incorrect idea that God is an angry God (period); and so, these Christians hesitate to address God as their Father. Yes, it is true that according to Psalm 7:11 “God is angry with the wicked every day.” But, he loves those who believe in his Son.

My wife and I have a two-year old daughter. The moment she was conceived, she became my child and I became her father. Yes, as an unborn child, she was not yet aware of this truth. When she was born, I started introducing myself to her face-to-face with the words: “Hello baby Anna, I’m your daddy!” Again, she had no idea what my words really meant. But as she grew, she began recognizing my voice. And as I continued revealing myself to her, she began to know me as her daddy. I will never forget the very first time she called me dada; it stirred my heart. Imagine then how God must feel when we call him “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:16-17). It certainly brings joy to him.


3. Those who don’t believe in Christ have no right to call God their Father.

The Jews, who did not believe in Jesus, thought that God was their Father. But Jesus said to them in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil.” They have no right to call God their Father for they do not believe in Jesus to be the Son of God. Apart from Jesus Christ, you cannot come to God and regard his Father as your Father (John 14:6; Gal. 3:26). Through Christ, however, you have “access by faith” into God’s presence (Rom. 5:2). Think of this: in Christ you are now a member of God’s family. This truth assumes that before you believed in Jesus you were not a part of God’s family. But as a believer in Christ you now belong to the best family in the world, for your Father is the One who is in heaven. What a great privilege!

Further, in Christ you can now boldly come to God and enjoy all the blessings that he has stored for you in his house. I remember that when I visited my fiancée, now my wife, in her parents’ house, her father told me to feel free to access what was in the fridge and pantry whenever I wanted to. If I went hungry then while staying in their home, it would have been my fault, for I had been granted a full access to their refrigerator. Similarly, our heavenly Father has given us free access to his throne of grace. Therefore, if we go hungry spiritually, we cannot blame him. Our gracious Father in heaven wants us to enjoy all the benefits of our membership into his family. Do you use your membership for your spiritual growth?


Note: This post is based on my message The Address: Our Father in Heaven (Matt. 6:9a).

Prayer The Lord's Prayer

Gleaning Profit From Still Moments

By Marleen Flood (guest blogger)

We live in a day where busyness prevails. We are constantly on the move. We always seem to have or “need” something to do. Even so, there are times in our lives where we find that we are sitting still with “nothing to do.” I can think of several situations where this time of stillness may be the case. To mention two: during times of illness and during a long sit in a waiting room. There is, however, one situation in life that comes to the forefront of my mind, as I have been in this situation many times—a baby’s feeding time.

Babies are great blessings from the Lord. They bring us so much joy and add something special to our families, churches, and communities. They also bring us, especially parents, those quiet moments. New babies may feed up to eight hours a day. That is a lot of down time. Whether bottle-fed or breastfed, the fact is that babies eat a lot. And parents, especially mothers, spend a lot of time just sitting with their babies. We sit and sit and think about all of the things that we should be doing. We may try to hold a book or phone, but this is quite a difficult task while holding an infant. We then soon give up and just sit.

Bonding is amazing, but even bonding gets old fast at three o’clock in the morning. So what should a parent do during these quiet, long, and lonely hours? I would posit prayer. Why? Well, because prayer is something that we can do without the use of our hands. We can pray quietly, anywhere and anytime. Now, as Christians we ought to be praying anyway, though I have found that in our busy world, prayer has become more and more brief and shallow. We tend to pray in church and at meals, perhaps at bedtime, and then we throw up quick prayers throughout the day for a myriad of reasons. These types of prayer are all good. But where is the deep and thoughtful prayer? I have found through personal experience that late night feeding times are wonderful occasions for this kind of prayer.

When is the last time that we have prayed for our neighbors, long lost friends, extended family, Christians in other nations, leaders of our nation and of other nations, or the worldwide church? What about thanking God for things we forget to thank him for, like health and vigor, the ability to function in ways that others cannot, for our freedom, and for people who care about us? This list can seem overwhelming, yet it is not meant to make Christians feel guilty about their prayer lives. Jesus Christ has paid the price in full for all of our sins, both those of commission and omission. We have Christ Himself interceding for us and the Holy Spirit giving us the very words to pray. Thus, let this post be an encouragement to Christians everywhere, especially to those with little babies, to use their quiet moments to pray in a way that they may not often have the time to. I promise praying in this manner will be profitable for you and for others, and most importantly, will be glorifying to our Heavenly Father.


Note: Marleen Flood is wife to Durell, stay-at-home-mom to their seven children, and a member of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan.

Parents Prayer