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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Prayer

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

A Father’s Prayer for His Son

Jonathan Edwards had a son, Timothy Edwards (1738-1813), who left home to study at the College of New Jersey (now called Princeton University). While in Newark, New

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Jonathan Edwards

Jersey, Timothy became severely sick. To comfort his son, who at that time was only fourteen years old, Jonathan Edwards sent him a letter from Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In this letter Edwards offers a word of prayer for his son and reminds his son of his own duty to pray to God for mercy. Here is an extract from the letter:

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Stockbridge, April 1, 1753

My Dear Child,

Before you will receive this letter, the matter will doubtless be determined, as to your having the smallpox. You will either be sick with that distemper, or will be past danger of having it, from any infection taken in your voyage. But whether you are sick or well, like to die or like to live, I hope you are earnestly seeking your salvation….

Till you have savingly believed in Christ, all your desires, and pains, and prayers lay God under no obligation; and if they were ten thousand times as great as they are, you must still know, that you would be in the hands of a sovereign God, who hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. Indeed, God often hears the poor, miserable cries of sinful, vile creatures, who have no manner of true regard to him in their hearts; for he is a God of infinite mercy and he delights to show mercy for his Son’s sake; who is worthy, though you are unworthy; who came to save the sinful and the miserable some of the chief of sinners.

Therefore, there is your only hope; and in him must be your refuge, who invites you to come to him, and says, “He that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out” [John 6:37]. Whatever your circumstances are, it is your duty not to despair, but to hope in infinite mercy through a Redeemer. For God makes it your duty to pray to him for mercy which would not be your duty, if it was allowable for you to despair. We are expressly commanded to call upon God in the day of trouble; and when we are afflicted, then to pray.

I earnestly desire, that God would make you wise to salvation and that he would be merciful and gracious to you in every respect, according as he knows your circumstances require. And this is the daily prayer of

Your affectionate and tender father, Jonathan Edwards.

P.S. Your mother and all the family send their love to you, as being tenderly concerned for you.[1]

 

 

Note: This post is an excerpt from  Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer (2013).

 

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[1] “Letter to Timothy Edwards,” in Letters and Personal Writings, 578-80.

Jonathan Edwards Prayer

Martin Luther’s Influence on My Prayer Life

I was once interviewed about my co-edited book Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011). The interviewer asked me this question: Which one of these godly men has influenced your prayers the most. Here’s my reply:takinghold-3d

 

Allow me to give you two: Martin Luther (one from the Reformers) and John Bunyan (one from the Puritans). These two men have profoundly shaped my spirituality, particularly my prayer life. For example, they taught me to maintain the priority of prayer. Luther once said, “I have so much scheduled for tomorrow I must pray for that I must arise an hour earlier to have an extra hour alone with God” (p. 224). Similarly, Bunyan wrote, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed” (p. 231). How often we do the opposite and only set apart a little time to pray because we are too busy in our work. May we capture the prayer life of Luther who “Even in the busiest periods of the Reformation,” says Andrew W. Kosten, “averaged two hours of prayer daily” (p. 24). And how true that we accomplish little because we do not pray to God for help. This is basically the point of James: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). I am more and more convinced that behind the effectiveness of these men in the ministry was their powerful prayer life.

John Bunyan Martin Luther Prayer