No Christian exercise has so many counterfeits as prayer. While all would seem to practice prayer, few actually know it in truth and experience. We may say prayers, sing prayers, read prayers, and hear prayers, and yet not really pray.
True prayer is making known our requests to God, according to His will, with faith in His love, and the realization of our own dependency upon Him in our hearts (Phil. 4:6; 1 John 5:14; 1 Kings 8:47,52).
God first works prayer in humble hearts by pouring upon them the “Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zech. 12:10). The Holy Spirit then reveals what is to be prayed for and leads in a manner of prayer. All true prayer is by the teaching of the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:26).
When I speak of “making our requests known to God,” I do not mean that we vainly inform God, or try to move Him according to our own ideas. Rather, we move ourselves to God and make our hearts believe that God will perform that which He has revealed, promised, and purposed, either from Scripture or through His communion with us. David found in his heart to pray to establish the temple because God had revealed to David [his son] would build the Lord’s house (2 Sam. 7:12-13).
Just as we learn the manners of our friends and increase in affection toward them by conversing with them, so by conversing with God do we learn the manners of heaven and feel an increase of love, both in us toward God, and of His love towards us. In this respect, prayer has a double good in it.
God is to be invocated not only with the heart and tongue, but, so to speak, “with the hand also.” Asa and the men of Judea, for example, prayed to God and fought with their enemies (2 Chron. 13:14-15). To ask anything at the hands of the Lord and not offer ourselves as ready instruments to effect and bring it to pass is to tempt God’s power and to abuse His goodness. To pray for that which we do not sincerely desire is to mock God.
As all things live in heat, so the life of prayer stands in the heat of earnest and fervent desire. Our prayers must be in earnest on all occasions for small things and for great. A readiness to pray earnestly and expectantly is a disposition that has faith not only joined with it as a companion but also as the very parent of it.
Whoever hopes to correctly begin and bring an enterprise to a successful conclusion must begin with prayer and end with praise. An individual who does not work in this manner, especially if the matter is difficult or of great importance, puts himself in the danger of ending in his own praises or, if unsuccessful, can only thank his own profaneness in passing God by.
Secret prayer, by one alone with God, has the following advantages over public prayer: There is less danger of hypocrisy; the believer can “descend to particulars” that would not be appropriate to address in public; there can be a show of affection and emotion that expresses the state of the heart, especially if perplexed with grief or fear, which would be considered unseemly or immodest in public (Matt. 6:5; Luke 18:10-14).
Public prayer, on the other side, enjoys its own place and privilege: It is mandated in the order and ordinances of the Church (1 Tim. 2:1); many can enter agreement, touch upon a thing to be asked, and lay hold of the special promise that it will be done (Matt. 18:19); we can set upon things and battle, as it were, in a troop; we present testimony that God is sovereign and governs in the affairs of men; we demonstrate that the Lord is present with the Church and hears their requests, thereby confirming the faith of fellow believers, convicting the immoral, and convincing atheists.
Nothing can keep the individual who holds himself in the fear of God from enjoying the use and fruit of the heavenly grace of prayer. Not solitary confinement and want of fellowship, nor darkness of night, nor thickness of walls can ever deprive those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells from immediate access to God. The prayers of the devout will always ascend and find their way to the Lord. Blessed be His name who has provided this ready means of divine comfort and assistance for His servants, even in their most desolate situations.
The above article was written by John Robinson (1576-1625) who was a Pilgrim pastor who discipled a band of believers that boarded the Mayflower in 1620. On their voyage he instructed them on both devotional “secret” prayer and on to corporate “public” prayer. This article, published in 1625, comes from ‘New Essays’. It was excerpted and adapted from the original Old English manuscript by Gary P. Bergel.