Prayer advice from John Bunyan

John Bunyan's Dream

In the book simply titled Prayer, John Bunyan comments:

None knows how many by-ways the heart has, and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God. How much pride also, if enabled with expressions! How much hypocrisy, if before others! And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret, unless the Spirit of supplication is there to help! When the Spirit gets into the heart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.

I think this is a marvelous paragraph written by one of God’s faithful, suffering saints. I also know how easy it is to skim blog posts, particularly quotes, and not pick up the treasure embedded within. Therefore I want to SLOW you d – o – w – n !

None knows how many by-ways the heart has, and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God.

When you try to pray, or meditate upon the attributes of God, or read the Bible, or memorize a verse, what happens? Does your razor sharp mind cling with tenacious attention to the matter in hand? Or do your thoughts drift and wander, meandering sneakily away from the things of God which are its set task, to more appealing pursuits such as what to have for lunch, wondering what updates might await on Facebook, worrying about bills needing to be paid, and considering how to justify buying some new clothes? My heart is sneaky, it will slip away from praying so quickly and quietly that it has been long gone from that task before I even realize I’ve gone. What about you?

How much pride also, if enabled with expressions!

Pride in my heart is insidious, not even noticed until it finds a way to express itself, and then I enjoy the buzz of making it known how fantastic I am so much that there is no way I can recognize it as pride, or admit this to myself. I am unwilling to see pride for what it is, and my pride is adept at finding ways to express itself. I even like to speak of pride as a separate entity from my will, when in fact I am willful and proud. I’m sure you are better than this, that you are humble and see the sinfulness of pride for what it is, not giving expression to it in your own life, though noticing it surprisingly often in others. Are you agreeing, nodding knowingly? That wouldn’t be pride finding expression would it?

How much hypocrisy, if before others!

Church, homegroup, prayer meetings, elders meetings… occasions of such honesty, candour and confession. NOT! It might offend ________ if I confessed this sin in church, certainly __________ would be likely to stumble if I opened up about my struggles in homegroup. A prayer meeting is really not the place to ask for help controlling my tongue, and true honesty in the elders meeting would fracture the working relationship of the group. So you confess all your failings to God in a quick prayer, knowing that He knows all things so it is no secret from Him. Surely it is best if others see you as you would like to be rather than as you really are. It is only proper to be honest to God and maintain a  facade of lies before others so that they can be fooled into thinking you have it so together that you couldn’t possibly understand their weaknesses and struggles. (I do hope you spot the sarcasm here!)

And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret

How often are you stricken with an urgency to pray? Do you hunger to be on your knees with God? Is your soul naturally longing to intercede for the Kingdom of God? Chances are high that you did not give very positive answers to those questions. I know that left to myself, prayer degenerates into sleep remarkably quickly! So what is the answer?

…unless the Spirit of supplication is there to help!

We need more than human willpower to pray. Praying is an act of faith, faith in God. It requires grace from God to be able to pray.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zechariah 12:10 NIV)

When the Spirit gets into the heart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.

Remember that the Holy Spirit will always draw us to Christ. When the Spirit drives prayer, Jesus Christ will feature prominently in those prayers.