Prayer is an ever-accessible privilege and duty. We can always come before God in any place and in any circumstance. God has invited us to His “throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” and we should “with confidence draw near” (Hebrews 4:16). But how much do we pray? Too often we neglect prayer. We fail even to sense our need for prayer. Though we are always in desperate need of God’s mercy, we succumb to weakness and weariness. Our need is great, yet our prayers are few.
Puritan pastor Samuel Lee (1627–1691) offers helpful instruction for us in his treatise “Secret prayer successfully managed.” He prepared the treatise to encourage his congregation to be diligent in their prayers. How can we be more faithful to avail ourselves of the throne of grace? What can we do to season our thoughts so that when we do come to God in prayer, we are ready for fruitful communion with Him?
Early in the treatise, Lee mentions 5 ways to prepare the heart and mind for prayer:
1. Focus your attention on God. Specifically, he says to consider “some attributes of God that are proper to the intended petitions.” We need to think most about God—not our troubles, not our wants, not our trials—but God.
Consider this for a moment. What do we typically do when we write out a prayer list? What goes on that list? It’s our troubles, our wants, and our needs. Lee would have us refocus our prayers. We certainly want to bring our cares and concerns to God. But when we consider a need or a problem or a situation or a circumstance—something we know we must bring to God: we must teach ourselves to turn our thoughts to God.
Do we have a need? Think first of God and His Word! Consider who God is. Meditate upon His attributes, His character, His nature. Ask some questions:
What attributes does God display in perfection that fill our need?
What does God think about our need?
Is it something He thinks we need?
Do we have a want or desire? Think first of God and His Word!
It this a holy desire?
Does it honor God?
Will receiving it further His glory?
Are we facing a difficult situation? Think first of God and His Word!
Are there commands in Scripture we should obey?
Is there wisdom in His Word we should heed?
What would most honor and glorify God?
Now to pray this way, think this way, and act this way, it is imperative that we know the Bible. We must know God: who He is, what He has done, and what He has said He will do. We must pursue a knowledge of God in reading, studying, learning and memorizing Scripture. We must make theology, learning about God, our great passion.
The more we fill our minds and thoughts with His Word—the more we season our soul with truth—when life gets stirred up, His Word will come out.
Our problem is we all too often spend too much time and energy thinking about ourselves—our hopes, our dreams, our plans, our agenda—and then when life gets stirred up, we get discouraged, because what comes out of us is ungodly and depressing—it’s too much of us.
The way to begin seasoning your life for prayer is to think much about God.
2. Meditate on the promises of God. Lee describes this as a “digestion of some peculiar and special promises concerning the affair.” We are to take in God’s Word, particularly the promises of God, for the nourishment of our souls. What does Scripture have to say about our petitions? Are we praying according to God’s Word and God’s will? Are we asking for things that God tells us to ask for?
What has God promised in His Word that speaks to our need or our situation? What has God promised in His Word that outshines our need or our situation? What have we gained in Christ that makes the needs and wants and suffering in this life worth enduring for His sake and for His glory?
3. Consider why God should grant your requests. Lee recommends “meditation on suitable arguments.” What reasons can we give in support of our cause. Were God to answer our prayers, how would it further our good and work toward His glory? Thinking this way will drive us to abandon trivial requests and ask for what is best—it will compel us to ask for what is commendable according to His Word.
4. Ask God for help. We often lack direction and courage in our praying. We should ask God to help us in our prayers, to strengthen us in our weakness. We should ask Him for wisdom and for boldness. And then we should come to the throne of grace—boldly, with confidence that we are coming to One who will hear and answer us. Once we have thought through our requests in light of God’s nature and God’s promises, once we have searched the Scriptures and found biblical ground on which to make our appeal, then we should be encouraged to come. Draw near to God and pray! Don’t hesitate or hold back.
5. Come with a humble, attentive spirit. Lee urges “an engagement of the heart to a holy frame of reverence and keeping to the point in hand.” We are to bring our prayers, mindful that we are coming before a holy God.
James reminds us: “’God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:6–8). Come before God with humility, submitting to His Word, repenting of sin and mindful of His presence. Then be alert and expectant for God’s answer that you might be quick to praise Him and give thanks.
When your prayers are seasoned with thoughts of God and His Word—saturated with a desire to see His will accomplished and His glory made known—you can pray expectantly. Because God will accomplish all His Word and He will make His glory known!
Samuel Lee’s treatise on prayer has been republished in The Bible and the Closet (reprinted in 1992 by Sprinkle Publications). Part 1 is on Scripture reading: “How we may read the Scriptures with the most spiritual profit” by Thomas Watson. Part 2 is Samuel Lee’s treatise on prayer: “Secret prayer successfully managed.” Part 3 is on family worship (compiled from the writings of several pastors): “The Family Altar: or the duty, benefits, and mode of conducting family worship with remarks on the various parts of prayer.” The book is a valuable resource and I recommend it highly.