Jul 09, 2020

How A Puritan From the 1600’s Teaches Us to Pray

John Bunyan

Although poor and with little formal education, John Bunyan wrote many of his sixty books, including  The Pilgrim’s Progress, while jailed for preaching the gospel. This well-known English Puritan also developed a vital prayer life. Concerning prayer, Bunyan said,

“When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words, than thy words without a heart.”

I’m challenged by Bunyan’s words. Read them again – slowly. Get beyond the 1600’s English and let the full weight of Bunyan’s words fall on you. If I’m honest, they are, in a way, frightening.

Prayer can become formal, professional, rigid, predictable, lifeless, sluggish, nice sounding, wordy. I think you get the picture. How can we pray with our heart? While I am still learning how to pray, I’ll offer some suggestions as a fellow climber on the mountain of prayer.

  1. Recount the grace of God in saving you. What would my life look like now had I not been saved?
  2. Consider His kindness in your journey thus far. How many times has God come through for you?
  3. Forgetting our own brokenness can lead to meaningless prayers. Are we willing to pray like a tax collector– “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” – ? (see Luke 18:9-14)
  4. Consider the condition of your heart. Do I watch over my heart as Scripture exhorts in Proverbs 4:23?
  5. We are addressing God. Do we see Him as the ‘man upstairs’ or the God of the universe who holds everything together?
  6. Private prayer should sometimes include prolonged silence. Why not begin some prayer times with quiet reflection?
  7. Keep in mind that prayer is more about a growing relationship than a formulaic recitation of words. Do we treat prayer like a drink machine— money in, product out; right words spoken, answers drop down for me to enjoy?

Recently, I shared with the other pastors a growing sense of burden on my heart regarding Woolsey and our joining together for prayer. I am sure much of this burden stems from the unsettling current world and national events. I  urge you to join in with your faith family here at Woolsey for future times when we come together for prayer. Charles Spurgeon said, “The Prayer Meeting is an institution which ought to be very precious to us and to be cherished very much by us as a Church, for to it we owe everything.”[1] As I consider Woolsey, every significant advancement, every blessing experienced, every crisis overcome, every good decision, has resulted from corporate prayer.

I have yet to meet the Christian who believes he or she has reached the summit of prayer, so do not give up climbing. As we climb, let’s remember Bunyan’s words. Read them again, slowly, will you?

“When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words, than thy words without a heart.”


[1] “Prayer Meetings” Charles Spurgeon; https://www.thekingdomcollective.com/spurgeon/sermon/3421/; accessed June 24, 2020.