Prayer and Study, Study and Prayer (Shedd)

Homiletics and Pastoral Theology: With an Appendix (WGT Shedd)
Shedd, Pastoral Theology

Serious Christians are students of the Word.  We seek the truth in God’s Word, we find it there, and we learn more about it as we grow, study, and read.  We memorize verses, try to understand biblical concepts, and we desire to live as Scripture calls us to live.  We are students of the Word of truth.

However, as W. G. T. Shedd wrote about studying the Word, 

It is not sufficient to commune with the truth; for truth is impersonal. We must commune with the God of truth. It is not enough to study, and ponder, the contents of religious books, of even the Bible itself. We must actually address the author of the Bible, in entreaties and petitions.

There can, consequently, be no genuine religion without prayer. And the degree of religion, will depend upon the depth and heartiness of prayer. It does not depend so much upon the length, as the intensity of the mental activity. A few moments of real and absorbing address to God, will accomplish more for the Christian, in the way of arming him with spiritual power, than days or years of reflection, without it.

 Shedd then applies study and prayer to the pastor’s life:

Well, therefore, may we lay down, as the first rule for the promotion of piety in the clergyman, the great and standing rule for all Christians. Let him not be satisfied with studying, and pondering, the best treatises in theology, or with studying, and pondering, even the Bible itself. Besides all this, and as the crowning and completing act, in the religious life, let him actually, and really pray. Let him not be content with a theological mood, with a homiletic spirit, with a serious and elevated mental habitude. Besides all this, and as a yet higher and more enlivening mental process, let him truly, and personally address his Maker and Redeemer, in supplication. Let him not attempt to promote piety in the soul, by a merely negative effort,—by neglecting the cultivation of the mind, and undervaluing learning and study. If the clergyman is not spiritually-minded, and devotedly religious, with learning and studiousness, he certainly will not be so without it. Neglect of his intellectual and theological character, will not help his religious character. Let him constantly endeavor to advance the divine life in his soul, by a positive, and comprehensive method. Let him consecrate, and sanctify all his study, and all his meditativeness, and all his profound and serious knowledge, with prayer.

 William G. T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1872), 336–337.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


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If Thou Drawest Me Not (Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.) In 1415 John Huss was in prison for “heresies” such as saying that belief in the Pope is not necessary for salvation, that laypeople should be able to drink the wine in the Lord’s Supper, and for pointing out other inconsistencies and immorality in the Church.  Huss also faced many false accusations, such as the one where he supposedly called himself the fourth person of the Trinity.

Although Huss was suffering terribly in prison (headaches, toothaches, vomiting, [kidney or gall] stones, and horrific nightmares), he would not recant.  Some thought he should just admit to the false accusations – since they were obviously false, everyone would understand.  Others even tried to sort of trick Huss into recanting.  But he continually said he would not recant of anything he taught that agreed with the truth of Scripture.  “I would not for a chapel full of gold recede from the truth,” he wrote.  Huss said that if he did recant, he would be breaking the 9th commandment and scandalizing God’s people who had heard his sermons.

The last letters Huss wrote from prison are very much worth reading.  He knew he was going to die, and at times he was afraid that he would waver in his faith.  Here’s one moving prayer he wrote in a letter to his friends at Constance in 1415:

O loving Christ, draw me, a weakling, after Thyself; for if Thou drawest me not, I cannot follow Thee. Grant me a brave spirit that it may be ready. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace prevent, come in the middle, and follow; for without Thee I can do nothing, and, especially, for Thy sake I cannot go to a cruel death. Grant me a ready spirit, a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, and a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.

Although many of us reading this are not in prison for the sake of the gospel, the attitude and ethos of this prayer is one we all should share as we call on the name of the Lord.  Indeed, we are weak, but he is strong!

[The above info and quote is found in  Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Huss: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 253.]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Pastor’s Prayer (Luther)

Luther's Prayers by [Luther, Martin] This pastor’s prayer of Luther is one that resonates very much with me:

“[Lord,] you know how unworthy I am to fill so great and important an office.  Were it not for your counsel, I would have utterly failed long ago.  Therefore I call upon you for guidance.  Gladly will I give my heart and voice to this work.  I want to teach the people.  I want always to seek and study in your Word, and eagerly to meditate upon it.  Use me as your instrument.  Lord, do not forsake me.  If I were alone, I would ruin everything.  Amen”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Prayers, p 89.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Will Not Send You To Purgatory (Ryken)

Philip Ryken’s When You Pray is a very helpful resource for studying the Lord’s Prayer and for learning more about prayer and praying.  When I recently studied the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our debts...”), I found the following paragraphs helpful:

“As soon as we start trying to figure out how to pay God what we owe for our sins, we realize how much trouble we are really in.  Obviously, we cannot pay off our debts by ourselves.  How could we ever make up for all the sins we have committed?  Yet this is precisely the error most religions make, including false versions of Christianity.  They all operate on the basis that human beings can do something to make things right with God.  Their reasoning goes something like this: ‘Lord, I know I keep messing up, but I’m trying really, really hard to be good.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have a list here of some of the good things I’ve done – charitable work, and that sort of thing.  Yes, I know my list isn’t as long as it could be, but why don’t we just call it even?’  This kind of approach is based on the principle of works righteousness, the idea that doing good works can make someone good enough for God.”

“The truth is, however, that forgiveness is not something we can work for, it is only something we can ask for.  Even if we worked for all eternity, laboring in the very pit of hell, we could never work off the debt we owe to God.  What could we ever pay to God?  Jesus posed the question this way: ‘What can a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mt. 16:26b NIV).  The answer, of course, is nothing.  Our souls are the most valuable thing we have.  When, because of our sin and guilt, we owe God our very souls, there is nothing left for us to pay.”

Later Ryken notes that “we owe God far more than we or anyone else could ever pay.”  So what can we do about our massive debt to God?  The only thing we can do is beg God for forgiveness: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! (Lk. 18:13).

“This is precisely what we do in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We ask our Father to forgive us our debts.  With these words we declare our moral bankruptcy, freely admitting that we owe God more than everything we have.  Then we do the only thing we can, which is to ask him to forgive us outright.  Because he is our loving Father, God does what we ask.  ‘He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities… As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Ps. 103:10, 13 NIV).  God the Father offers forgiveness as a free gift of his grace.  When you go to him, weighed down with the debt of all your guilt and sin, he will not sit down with you to work out a payment plan.  He will not scheme to charge you more interest.  He will not send you to Purgatory or anywhere else to work off your debts.  On the contrary, God is a loving Father who offers forgiveness full and free.”

Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2000), p. 125-6.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Prayer: Often, Short, Strong (Luther)

  Martin Luther was quick to point out the spiritual abuses and unbiblical practices in many monasteries of his day.  In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 6:7-13, Luther noted how many monks thought of prayer as a work:

Therefore they have themselves said that there is no harder work than to pray; and that is in fact true, if you aim to make a work or labor out of your praying, imposing upon your body to read or sing so many hours continuously, so that any day laborer would rather choose to thresh for a whole day, than only to move his mouth for two or three hours one after another, or look straight into a book. In short their prayer was not a sighing or desire of the heart, but a mere force-work of the mouth or tongue: so that if a monk has been reading or muttering his Horas for forty years, he has not prayed from his heart for an hour during all that time. For they never think of presenting their wants before God in their prayers, but they think only that they must do it, and God must regard this trouble and toil.

So Luther was pointing out that the medieval monastic view of prayer was wrong since it viewed prayer as a work to gain favor with God.  Many thought that long prayers would get God’s attention and impress him.  Luther, however, would have none of that:

But the Christian’s prayer, which is offered in faith upon the promise of God, and presents before him from the heart its need, that is easy, and occasions no labor. For faith soon tells what it wants, yes, with a sigh that the heart utters and that cannot be reached or uttered in words, as Paul says. The Christian prays, and because he knows that God hears him, he does not need to prate everlastingly. Thus the saints in the Scriptures prayed, as Elijah, Elisha, David and others, with short, but strong and powerful words; as we see in the Psalms, in which there is hardly one that has a prayer of more than five or six verses. Therefore the old fathers have very properly said, there is no use in many long prayers, but they praise the short ejaculatory prayers, in which one lifts a sigh heavenward with a word or two; which one can do very often when he is reading, writing, or doing some other work.

…In short, one should pray short, but often and strongly; for God does not ask how much and long one has prayed, but how good it is and how it comes from the heart.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017), p. 166.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

A Prayer for Reading Scripture (Geneva)

For around 75 years (1536-1609) Geneva had a sort of Bible study group called the Congregation.  It was something like an in-depth public Bible study where pastors, professors, and students would take turns explaining, interpreting, and applying Scripture and also answering questions.  (The Reformers understood well that Scripture needs to be interpreted and explained in a corporate setting “to avoid the rash conclusions of private imaginations,” as Manetsch wrote.  But that’s the topic of a different blog post.)

Before they read and explained Scripture, the men would pray the following prayer:

“We pray to you, our good God and Father, asking that you might forgive all our faults and offenses, and illuminate us by your Holy Spirit to have the true understanding of your holy Word.  Give us the grace that we need to handle it purely and faithfully to the glory of your holy name, for the edification of the Church, and for our salvation.  We ask these things in the name of the only and blessed Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

This is an excellent example of the kind of prayers we should pray as we approach Scripture.  We pray for forgiveness, illumination, and for grace to understand and interpret it rightly – for God’s glory, the good of the church, and the salvation of his people.

The above quotes are found in Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p. 134-5.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Lord, Save Me From Myself (Augustine)

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Here’s a prayer worth reading (and praying!) a few times!

Oh Lord, this mercy I humbly beg: that whatever you give me up to, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.  If you will give me up to be afflicted, tempted, or reproached, I will patiently sit down and say, ‘It is the Lord; let him do with me what seems good in his own eyes.’  Do anything with me, Lord, lay what burden you will upon me, but please, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.

Or, in Augustine’s terse words: A me, me salva Domine! (which means something like “Lord, save me from myself!)

The above quote is rephrased from Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997) 50.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015