The Worship Quote of the Week for (04/22/2008):

Bunyan on Prayer
Should leaders in the church read prayers in corporate worship? Should they plan their prayers beforehand, or lead in a totally extemporaneous fashion? Today's WORSHIP QUOTE is a lesson in prayer from John Bunyan. As you may know, Bunyan was not only the author of PILGRIM'S PROGRESS (1678), but also an influential leader in the non-conformists movement in seventeenth-century England. He and his fellow Puritan held to the use of FREE prayers rather than those from the Book of Common Prayer. These excerpts from Bunyan's "I Will Pray with the Spirit" are contained in Christopher Ellis's helpful book GATHERING: A THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY OF WORSHIP IN FREE CHURCH TRADITION.


"Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or, according to the Word, for the good of the Church, with submission, in Faith, to the will of God."

Bunyan's definition of prayer is a full one and contains a number of themes which will help in the exploration of the free prayer tradition. First, prayer and worship must be offered with sincerity of purpose: prayer is "a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God through Christ." Sincerity is required, as there is no place for pretence before the God who knows and sees all. True prayer is also "sensible," for it needs to engage the mind and be rational in intent and expression. Prayer is an "AFFECTIONATE pouring out of the heart or soul to God" and as such moves within the sphere of the religious affections. Bunyan will later suggest that prayer cannot be stimulated externally by a prayer book, but here he states this concern positively. Prayer is an outpouring of the heart—not only is it emotionally charged but it flows from the depths of the person. . . .

Prayer and worship are places where our relationship with God is expressed and developed. This aspect of encounter is central to Bunyan's understanding of prayer and an important theme in our examination of worship. Here is intimate devotion: "By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God as to a friend, and obtain fresh testimony of God's friendship to him."

. . . Bunyan himself had agonized long about his standing before God, but here he declares that the experience of prayer is a means whereby the believer may have evidence of being accepted by God. In this he seems to anticipate later developments in Evangelicalism. Whereas the Puritans agonized about their eternal destiny, Wesley was to see the experience of conversion as evidence of God's acceptance. Here Bunyan seems to see the experience of prayer in a similar way—evidence of being accepted as a friend of God. Later in "I will Pray with the Spirit," he speaks of the relationship of the believer to God as that of a child to a parent and, with an allusion to Romans 8:14-17, he speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the cry "Abba." Thus the discovery of a special relationship with God is made through the pneumatological dimension of prayer:

"No, here is the life of Prayer, when in or with the Spirit, a man being made sensible of sin, and how to come to the Lord for mercy; he comes, I say, in the strength of the Spirit, and cryeth, FATHER . . . That one word spoken in Faith, is better than a thousand prayers, as men call them, written and read, in a formal, cold, luke-warm way."

If religion only consisted in being a law-abiding citizen of the Kingdom of God, then outward behaviour would be the most important aspect of Christian living. Law can only regulate outward behaviour. However, seeing Christian living as entering into a family relationship with God is likely to lead to devotional expectations about that living which involve ATTITUDES and FEELINGS.

--John Bunyan (1628-1688), from "I Will Pray with the Spirit" (1668) as quoted in Christopher J. Ellis. GATHERING: A THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY OF WORSHIP IN FREE CHURCH TRADITION. London: SCM Press, 2004, pp. 113-14. ISBN: 0334029678

Have a great week,

Chip Stam
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

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