I’ve been reading from a little book I found on eBay a few weeks ago: How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer (Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2007), and it has some wonderful excerpts from Wesley’s sermons on prayer. I just wish it was cited more fully.
About every 5 pages, the book presents a short quote in a larger font–some of the more famous quotes. (I wish the editors were identified by name, so that I might cite them here.) On page 47, for instance, this gem is reprinted:
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergyman or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”
Actually, I most often see a slightly different version of that quote, but this one is fine, and it does inspire me. The book draws from Wesley’s sermons, pamphlets and books. It is very much focused on John Wesley’s beliefs and teachings of the “heart of prayer.” This anthology is more inspirational than practical.
Many of the excerpts seem like paraphrases of longer collections which I have read in older editions of Wesley’s sermons, but, nevertheless, these are well-organized and helpful. For instance on page 23 of this new pocket edition, there is a one-page compilation of a sermon on I Thessalonians 5:16-18 ( Rejoice always; pray without ceasing… give thanks (NASB)):
“Rejoice always” in uninterrupted happiness in God. “Pray without ceasing,” which is the fruit of “always rejoicing” in the Lord. “In everything give thanks,” which is the fruit of both the former. This is Christian perfection. Further than this we cannot go, and we need not stop short of it.
Our Lord has purchased joy, as well as righteousness, for us. It is the very design of the gospel that, being saved from guilt, we should be happy in the love of Christ.
Prayer may be said to be the breath of our spiritual life. One who lives cannot possibly cease breathing. So much as we really enjoy of God’s presence, so much prayer and praise do we offer up “without ceasing”; else our rejoicing is but delusion.
Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. One who always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from Him, and receives them only for His sake–not choosing nor refusing, liking nor disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to His perfect will.
“For this,” that you should thus rejoice, pray, give thanks, “is the will of God,” always good, always pointing at our salvation!
Amen! I enjoyed reading that short excerpt early one morning.
Another day recently, I found myself pondering an excerpt about praying through temptation. On page 34, we find this preaching on the text 2 Peter 2:19 (“The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation.” NASB) This almost seemed like a practical guide to me:
If darkness is occasioned by manifold, heavy, and enexpected temptations, the best way of removing and preventing this is to teach believers always to expect temptation. They dwell in an evil world, among wicked, subtle, malicious spirits, and have a heart capable of evil. They must be convinced that the whole work of sanctification is not, as they may have imagined, wrought at once. When they first believe, they are as newborn babes who are to gradually grow up. They may expect many storms before they come to the full stature of Christ.
Above all, let them be instructed, when the storm is upon them, not to reason with the devil but to pray. Let them pour out their souls before God and show him of their trouble. ….
To the tempted we may may declare the loving-kindness of God. Dwell upon His faithfulness and the virtue of that blood shed for us to cleanse us from all sin. God will bear witness to His Word and bring them out of trouble. He will say, “Arise; shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”
I will close, now, with a favorite quote by Wesley on prayer:
God’s command to “pray without ceasing” is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air.
Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.
All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice.
Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things.
As the furious hate which the devil bears us is termed the roaring of a lion, so our vehement love may be termed crying after God.
God only requires of his adult children, that their hearts be truly purified, and that they offer him continually the wishes and vows that naturally spring from perfect love. For these desires, being the genuine fruits of love, are the most perfect prayers that can spring from it.
From A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, as believed and taught by the Reverend Mr. John Wesley, from the year 1725, to the year 1777.