John Wesley, Prayer, and Holiness—Part 3

I’ve been posting about the surprising guidelines John Wesley gave to his North American ordained elders in 1784. At the ripe old age of 81 Wesley was harvesting a lifetime of prayer, ministry, and theological reflection.
For Sunday worship he prescribed an only slightly adapted Book of Common Prayer service for Sunday morning and evening. When I discovered this, I was shocked and then assumed he would encourage people to pray the Daily Office at home during the week. But no! Again, surprisingly his guideline was: “…reading the litany only on Wednesdays and Fridays, and praying extempore on all other days.”
By “the litany” he must mean The Great Litany, a nearly comprehensive call and response prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. This is no “now I lay me down to sleep.” It is an all-encompassing prayer, covering a very complete list of needs personal, congregational, even national and international. It can take 15 minutes or more to pray through if you do it with feeling.
I was barely even aware of the litany, so he got me again! Evidently we can gather that the guided prayers twice on the Lord’s Day would provide a template for extempore prayer in the week. But to make sure they weren’t just praying for Aunt Susie’s stubbed toe and a sickly donkey, The Great Litany gave scope and perspective on what Kingdom Praying can be. Yet, church folk and preachers would not just rely on prescribed prayers (a valuable discipline in themselves), but would develop the discipline of forming prayers from the heart. Like a personal trainer of the Spirit, Wesley was providing a balanced discipline, leaving room for the Spirit’s leading, but grounding people in the prayer life of the Psalms. Hmmmmmm…
There’s a lot to reflect on here, especially in light of holiness. You guessed it, that will have to wait for my next post!

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Posted on May 23, 2011, in CotN, Spiritual Formation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The reason for Wednesday and Friday is that they are penitential days and the BCP calls for the litany to be said on those days.

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