“Now, let no Christian say, that he has no communion with God in closet-prayer, because he has not such a full, such a choice, such a sweet, such a sensible, and such a constant communion with God in closet-prayer—as such and such saints have had, or as such and such saints now have; for all saints do not alike enjoy communion with God in their closets: some have more, some have less; some have a higher degree, others a lower; some are enrapt up in the third heaven, when others are but enrapt up in the clouds. What man is there so childish and babyish as to argue thus, that he has no wisdom, because he has not the wisdom of Solomon; or, that he has no strength, because he has not the strength of Samson; or, that he has no life, because he has not the swiftness of Ahimaaz; or, that he has no estate, because he has not the riches of Dives? And yet so childish and babyish many weak Christians are, as to argue thus: namely, that they have no communion with God in their closets, because they have not such high, such comfortable, and such constant communion with God in their closets, as such and such saints have had, or as such and such saints now have! Whereas they should seriously consider, that though some saints have a great communion with God—yet other saints have but a small communion with God; and though some Christians have a strong communion with God—yet other Christians have but a weak communion with God; and though some Christians have a very close and near communion with God—yet other Christians have but a more remote communion with God; and though some of God’s servants have a daily, constant, and uninterrupted communion with God—yet others of his servants have but a more transient and inconstant communion with God.” —Thomas Brooks, The Privy Key of Heaven
“Prayer is nothing but the turning of a man’s inside outward before the Lord. The very soul of prayer lies in the pouring out of a man’s soul into the bosom of God. Prayer is nothing but the breathing that out before the Lord that was first breathed into us by the Spirit of the Lord. Prayer is nothing but a choice, a free, a sweet, and familiar intercourse of the soul with God. Certainly, it is a great work of the Spirit to help the saints to pray: Gal. 4:6, ‘Because you are sons. God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ God hath no still-born children.” —Thomas Brooks, The Privy Key of Heaven
Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.
The LORD is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed. —Psalm 28:4, 8
In examining the 27th psalm one discovers that the steering wheel can be on the right side of the car. Though it may feel awkward, right isn’t wrong. The saint’s faith can drive from confidence to lament without the car being in reverse or turning around and going back over ground we though we’d gained.
But now, in the 28th Psalm, the wheel is back on the left. In the 27th Psalm we drive from confidence to lament then back to a brief conclusion of confidence. Now, in the 28th, we drive from lament to confidence then back to a brief conclusion of lament. Overall, in the 27th we drive from confidence to lament; in the 28th, from lament to confidence.
Though we “feel” more comfortable driving this direction, we often don’t know how to get there. How does one get from lament to confidence? Often lament takes a hard right into despair or a sharp left into self-reliance. If we fail to reach the proper destination, the reason is as simple as our failure to use the map. This psalm is both a map and it points to the map. It both is the Word of God and it points to the Word of God.
There are two declarations of truth the psalm that serve as transition points: the first from petition to praise, the second from praise to petition. In the first (v. 5), David declares with confidence the destruction of the wicked; in the second (v. 8), he declares the salvation of God’s people and His anointed. How is it that David is confident of these things? Because God has spoken.
Both David’s lament and His laud are guided by the Word; the Word by which God gives faith. We often don’t make the transition from lament to laud because our conscience rightly testifies against us that we cannot. When our lament is an expression of “Your kingdom come!” laud will follow. I’m afraid our prayers are not concerned with God’s kingdom come, but our comfort and fun. When we cry out in prayer, it isn’t so much in longing for God’s kingdom to come as sobbing that our kingdom has gone.
The answer to this is repentance, and that means humbly asking for directions. You don’t naturally know how to steer your prayers. Yes, you need the Spirit, but the Spirit speaks through the Word. You’re not a prophet. Pull over and talk to one. David is a good one to start with.
As we turn from Paul’s thanksgiving (1:3–8) to his supplication (1:9–14) we might do so thankfully anticipating a conviction reprieve. “Paul’s thankfulness was convicting, but now he’s asking for stuff. This should be lighter on the heart. I’m good at asking for stuff.”
After the thanksgiving section we feel as though we ask too much and say thanks too little. Upon reading Paul’s petition, we’re jolted, seeing that it’s not that we ask too much, but too little, like a mortally wounded soldier begging a master surgeon for a bandage. Both our thanksgiving and petitions prove shallow. We ask for idols, when there is God to be had.
The deeper conviction in contrasting our prayers with Paul’s isn’t found in what Paul does, but why he does it. Paul’s prayers are God-centered. Our thankfulness and petitions are often small because they’re focused on small reference point. Draw a circle three meters in circumference around our feet. This is our bubble of thanksgiving. This is our sphere of petition.
The way to rectify our prayer problems isn’t found in simply doubling down on effort. This is likely nothing more than another expression of self-centeredness. Begin with God. Here is a simple principle to radicalize your prayer life, pray to God, as God. How’s that? Before you speak to Him, hear Him speak through His Word concerning who He is and what He has done. “There is a direct correlation,” John Piper writes, “between not knowing Jesus well, and not asking much from Him.”
Change the reference point. Both our thanksgiving and our petitions should be God-sized. We can never do either too much. We may do them sinfully quite frequently, but never excessively.
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much;
None can ever ask too much.
From “Ask What I Shall Give Thee”
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and pow’r are such,
None can ever ask too much.
—John Newton, Works
From a letter concerning family worship:
Indeed, a person who lives in the exercise of faith and love, and who finds by experience that it is good for him to draw nigh to God, will not want to be told how often he must pray, any more than how often he must converse with an earthly friend. Those whom we love, we love to be much with. Love is the best casuist, and either resolves or prevents a thousand scruples and questions, which may perplex those who only serve God from principles of restraint and fear. —John Newton
In 1 Timothy 2 Paul urges Timothy to urge prayer. In doing so Paul not only tells Timothy what to do, he shows him how. Paul wants the Ephesian church to say all kinds of prayers for all kinds of people (2:1). Paul says that such prayer pleases God (2:3), and then goes on to describe God and what he has done (2:4ff). Paul’s solution to the prayer problem was theology. This is natural, for the prayer problem was caused by bad theology. Paul tells Timothy, “First of all, then.” The “then,” relates this admonition to the “certain persons,” like “Hymenaeus and Alexander,” who were teaching “different doctrine.” Theology is as practical as the prayers in your mouth.
If you are prayerless, or if your prayers are small and selfish the wrong place to start is with disciplines regarding the time, posture, and method of prayer. The proper place to begin is disciplines regarding Bible study, Bible reading, Bible memorization, and Bible meditation. The professional interviewer who spends all of his time practicing in the mirror concerning his posture, using the right intonations and emphasis in his speech, and making sure that the time and setting of the interview are perfect, rather than studying the interviewee, will be a poor interviewer. Likewise, the Christian who spends all their time thinking about posture, time, and method will pray small, selfish prayers because all their focus is on themselves. Get to know God, and you’ll pray. You’ll know the right kind of questions to ask. You’ll grow in prayer. Your prayer life can only be as big and deep as your theology.