Praying Without Ceasing
The Puritans show us the need to be praying men of God. They were truly “men of the closet.” In their closets—their special, private place dedicated to prayer, be it in the bedroom, the attic, or the open field—they would lift up their voices and cry aloud to the God of heaven for divine benediction upon themselves and their ministries, their families, churches, and nations.
Unlike many modern ministers, the quality of the spiritual life of Puritan ministers seems to have been uniformly high. I believe that the Puritans were great preachers first and foremost because they were also great petitioners who wrestled with God for divine blessing upon their preaching. Richard Baxter said,
“Prayer must carry on our work as well as preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we shall never prevail with them to believe and repent.”
Or as Robert Traill wrote,
“Some ministers of meaner gifts and parts are more successful than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, so much as because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.”
Timothy, your private prayers must season your pulpit messages. Take to heart Richard Sibbes’s admonition: “A minister of Christ is often in the highest honor with men for the performance of one half of his work [the ministry], while God is regarding him with displeasure for the neglect of the other half [prayer]” (cf. Acts 6:4). Like the Puritans, jealously guard your personal devotional time. Set your priorities on spiritual, eternal realities.
Be persuaded that as soon as you cease to watch and pray, you court spiritual disaster.
Be painfully aware, as John Flavel said, “that a man may be objectively a spiritual [man], and all the while subjectively a carnal man.”[iv]
Believe, as John Owen noted, that “no man preacheth that sermon well that doth not first preach it to his own heart…. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.”[v]
Previous articles in the "Learn from the Puritans" series:
- Being Shaped by the Word
- Marrying Doctrine and Practice
- Preaching Practical Piety
- Preaching Experientially
- Focusing on Christ
- Keeping with Catechizing
Joel Beeke (@JoelBeeke) is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and one of the pastors of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written, co-authored, and edited over 80 books.
"Patience and Maturity" by Gabriel Williams
Solitude Improved by Divine Meditation, available in paperback through Soli Deo Gloria Publications
Reformed Preaching by Joel Beeke
Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson
[i] See Benjamin Brook, The Lives of the Puritans, 3 vols. (1813; reprint Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994); William Barker, Puritan Profiles (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 1996).
[ii] The Reformed Pastor, p. 123.
[iii] The Works of the late Reverend Robert Traill (1810; reprint Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 1:246.
[iv] The Works of John Flavel (1820; reprint London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 5:568.
[v] Works of John Owen, 9:455, 16:76.
[xxv] A Method for Meditation, p. 43.