God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Prayer

If God is sovereign, why do we need to pray? If He already knows everything, why do we need to tell Him what we need? Watch this short video to find out why.

 

 

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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

Nehemiah: A Man of Prayer

800-Nehemiah 4 Praying

Nehemiah Praying

Someone has said, “If I wished to humble anyone, I would ask him about his prayer life.” Indeed, it is humbling to be asked, “How is your prayer life?” When you woke up this morning, before you came here, did you pray for God’s blessing upon this worship service? Did you pray for yourself that God would use this service for your soul’s benefit? Do we pray regularly—day and night? Can we honestly sing: “Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!”? Do we really enjoy praying to God? Do we find it sweet and delightful when we commune with Him? Or, maybe we find it sour and boring.

My objective in this message is to help us become more prayerful by studying the life of Nehemiah—a man of prayer. We will particularly study his prayer found in our passage (vv. 5-11). And as we examine his prayer, I want to highlight the following elements of his prayer:

  1. Adoration of God (v. 5)
  2. Admission of sin (vv. 6-10)
  3. Appeal to God (v. 11)

 

To keep reading the message, click here.

 

Prayer

2013 Youth Conference Heritage Reformed Congregations

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Singing praises to God

Last week (July 10) God gave me a privilege to lead a workshop for the 2013 Youth Conference Heritage Reformed Congregations held in Camp Michawana, Hastings, Michigan. The topic that was assigned to me was very dear to my heart—“Leading in Prayer.” I spoke twice—once in the morning and once in the afternoon. It was encouraging to see these young people take God’s Word seriously. I even heard some of them say “Amen” which was a bit unusual to hear from young people. Others and I felt that God was with us in this camp. In fact, with teary eyes, one camper said to me, “I felt God’s presence with us this afternoon.” Praise be to God!

Thanks to camp directors: Tim & Brenda Pols and Dirk & Kristi Spaans. My brothers and sisters in Christ, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

To read the message that I delivered for this conference, click here.

Prayer

A Pastor’s Role in Evangelism

 

The work of evangelism is not only for a pastor. All believers should evangelize; they should share the gospel of Christ with the unbelievers. In that sense, along with their pastor, they become evangelists. The title “evangelist” comes from the Greek word which simply means a messenger of the gospel. For instance, in Acts 21:8 Philip is called “the evangelist.” Philip was not an ordained pastor. But he was an evangelist because he “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts. 8:12 ESV). Thus, broadly speaking, anyone who faithfully promulgates the good news is an evangelist. However, strictly speaking, an evangelist is a divinely gifted person whose primary calling is to proclaim the gospel in a place where the gospel has not yet been proclaimed before (Eph. 4:11). Acting as a missionary, an evangelist does not stay in one place, but moves on to another place to continue his work of evangelism. The pastor, on the other hand, remains in his congregation to shepherd them. Yet, practically, all pastors are evangelists. All pastors should be announcers of the gospel. The Apostle Paul, writing to his fellow minister, says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). All pastors are called to “do the work of an evangelist” which is to declare the message of the cross. What follows is a brief study of some of the roles of a pastor in evangelism.

Pastors have an important role in the work of evangelism. First, a pastor should pray evangelistically. He should spend time regularly in praying specifically for the lost souls. Paul did this: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [people of Israel] is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). With God’s help, a minister should learn to pray with George Whitefield (1714-1770), an English evangelist: “O Lord give me souls, or take my soul!” A pastor should also pray to God for passion for the lost. Jesus, the Greatest Evangelist, had compassion for sinners (Matt. 9:36). The ministry of evangelism will become a burden for a pastor if he does not have passion. He should, therefore, pray with the hymn writer, Herbert G. Tovey (1888-1972):

Give me a passion for souls, dear Lord,
A passion to save the lost;
O that Thy love were by all adored,
And welcomed at any cost.

Jesus, I long, I long to be winning
Men who are lost, and constantly sinning;
O may this hour be one of beginning
The story of pardon to tell.

Though there are dangers untold and stern
Confronting me in the way,
Willingly still would I go, nor turn,
But trust Thee for grace each day.

How shall this passion for souls be mine?
Lord, make Thou the answer clear;
Help me to throw out the old life line
To those who are struggling near.

Second, a pastor must preach evangelistically. He must always present the gospel in his sermons. With care he must address both believers and unbelievers in his preaching. Lovingly he must call the unconverted to repentance and point them to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. A pastor should also teach the believers the mandate of witnessing for Christ. Many do not evangelize because of ignorance. A pastor has a critical role to educate and equip Christians for the great work of soul winning.

Third, a pastor should live evangelistically. The unbelievers should see the gospel in his life. He should create a thirst and hunger for Christ among them. At his home he should share the gospel with his unconverted children. In his community he should befriend his neighbors and reach out to them with the message of the cross. In his congregation, he should set a good example by personally getting involved in the work of evangelism and missions. Church members will be more encouraged to evangelize if they see their pastor making an effort to win souls for Christ. Wherever he goes (grocery store, bank, airport, gym, restaurant, barbershop, etc.), he should strive to share the glad tidings. He should always actively look for opportunities to evangelize.

By nature sinners are not interested in the gospel; sinners are totally depraved, and so, a pastor should be the one to come first to them and bring the message of salvation, confident that God can save them. He should humbly acknowledge that without the help of the Holy Spirit, he can do nothing. If people reject the offer of the gospel, he should not be discouraged, for his business is not to save sinners, but to point them to the Savior—the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone has rightly mentioned, “An evangelist is a nobody who is seeking to tell everybody about Somebody who can help change anybody.”

Finally, a pastor should give evangelistically. As the Lord enables him, a minister should support financially the ministry of evangelism and missions. Paul Lee Tan narrates the story of Robert Arthington of Leeds, a Cambridge graduate. Arthington “lived in a single room, cooking his own meals; and he gave foreign missions 500,000 pounds on the condition that it was all to be spent on pioneer work within twenty-five years.” Later Arthington wrote, “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.”  Similarly, David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to American Indians, who died at the age of 29 because of tuberculosis, said: “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ. While I am asleep, I dream of these things; as soon as I awake, the first thing I think of is this great work. All my desire is the conversion of sinners, all my hope is in God.”  Indeed, how many pastors today can say with Brainerd, “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ?”

The Greatest Evangelist said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). Churches today need more laborers. Let us pray that God will give us more laborers who have passion for the lost.

 

Note: This post, with very slight changes, also appears in Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth 21, no. 4 (2013): 112-13.

 

Evangelism Pastor Prayer

Sermon Conclusion at David Brainerd’s Funeral

When Jonathan Edwards wrote his biography of David Brainerd (1718-1747), he entitled it “An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd, Minister of the Gospel, Missionary to the Indians [Native Americans], from the Honourable Society in Scotland, for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of A Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey…” This long title briefly describes Brainerd, a faithful and diligent servant of Jesus Christ. At the young age of twenty nine, Brainerd died from tuberculosis in Edwards’ house. According to Edwards, a few days before Brainerd died, “though he was then so low that he could scarcely speak, he so exerted himself that he made a prayer very audibly, wherein besides praying for those present and for his own congregation, he earnestly prayed for the reviving and flourishing of religion in the world.”[1] At the funeral of Brainerd, Edwards delivered a sermon which ended with the following prayerful words:

Oh, that the things that were seen and heard in this extraordinary person, his holiness, heavenliness, labor and self-denial in life, his so remarkable devoting himself and his all, in heart and practice, to the glory of God, and the wonderful frame of mind manifested, in so steadfast a manner, under the expectation of death, and the pains and agonies that brought it on, may excite in us all, both ministers and people, a due sense of the greatness of the work we have to do in the world, the excellency and amiableness of thorough religion in experience and practice, and the blessedness of the end of such whose death finishes such a life, and the infinite value of their eternal reward, when absent from the body and present with the Lord; and effectually stir us up to endeavors that in the way of such an holy life we may at last come to so blessed an end. Amen![2]

 

Note: This post is an excerpt from my recent book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “A Sermon Preached on the Day of the Funeral of the Rev. Mr. David Brainerd,” in The Life of David Brainerd, ed. Norman Pettit, vol. 7 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 551.

[2] Ibid., 553-54.

David Brainerd Jonathan Edwards Prayer Preaching