John Wesley, Prayer, and Holiness–Part 4
Finally, I’m getting back to this series of posts… John Wesley’s Prayer Book gives guidelines for worship and devotion. I’ve been sharing how it is surprising in many ways. And I think it has major implications for the life of prayer and for holiness.
1. Worship and Prayer need structure–it’s rather surprising how free church-oriented so many of Wesley’s followers are today. Empty formalism helps no one. But neither does empty informalism! The Psalms show us the ancient patterns of worship and devotion. We do well when we let them guide us today, whether our worship is contemporary or traditional.
2. Prayer and Holiness go hand-in-hand. You can’t really have a rich experience of one without the other. You can’t really be devoted to God without spending a certain amount of time in prayer daily. Prayers of devotion cannot simply be laundry lists of requests. (more on this later) The life of holiness flows out of the life of prayer.
3. The genius of Wesley’s plan was the balance between extempore and prescribed prayers. However, perhaps a bit more structure to the daily plan would be helpful.
4. The Book of Common Prayer, or something like it, gives a serviceable model for prayer, Bible reading, and holiness. A lot of Wesley’s views on holiness and sanctification came from prayers and Scripture readings in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). By having morning prayer, noontime prayer, evening prayer, and compline (bedtime prayer) it lays out a way to stay in communion with God throughout the day. It’s setup as the Daily Office and includes a plan to regularly read through the Bible along with one’s prayers. It offers a very complete vision of prayer. If one just mindlessly reads through it in monotone, it probably won’t edify very much. But if one seeks to make these prayers (most of which come from the psalms and other Scriptures) one’s own, by praying them slowly and meaningfully, great things can happen. One learns how to truly give thanks to God. One learns how to humbly come before God, acknowledging our human frailty and God’s glory. One learns how to praise God in a very full way. Then, when it’s time to ask God for your needs, you’ve set a better atmosphere and probably put yourself in a better mindset.
The Daily Office Readings get you through the Scriptures regularly. The earliest versions of the BCP had a rigorous program. A 7 day or 30 day pattern of reading all the Psalms as prayers. A 1 year plan to read the whole Bible. Modern versions have a 7 week plan for reading the Psalms, an annual plan for the New Testament and 2 year plan for the Old Testament.
You don’t have to use the BCP. Here is my recommendation for a nice combo plan of prayer and regular Bible reading. First, find a method and pace of Bible reading you can reasonably maintain. http://www.YouVersion.com has a boatload of possible plans. Then set aside time every morning and evening for prayer and Bible reading. (About 15-30 min each time). Pray through the equivalent of about 5 Psalms per day. Pray them as your prayers. Then offer up your thanksgivings and supplications(requests) to God from your heart. Then read through about 2/3 of your daily reading plan in the morning, about 1/3 at night. A couple times each week block out more time. Read the Scriptures slowly and out loud. Sit in silence and listen for God’s leading. Read again, really listening. Now make note of anything you hear God saying. If it’s unusual in nature, be sure to share with mature friends or a pastor, asking for feedback. Usually God will be encouraging you in your faith, drawing you deeper into holiness and helping guide you through decisions. Of course, whenever you’re facing big decisions have your church family praying with you and supporting you. Don’t try to fly solo.
Sanctification is a crisis and a process. We’re purified in an instant, but matured in character over time. In a very practical sense we get our holiness from time spent with God. God will use this twice-a-day pattern to help form you into a holy person over time. You can add brief times of prayer at noon and bedtime to keep you tuned in to God. Prayers of devotion help our hearts to be strangely warmed on a regular basis.
We are also formed by practicing our faith in community. Acts of service then allow that grace to make a difference in the world.
So there you have it: John Wesley, Prayer, and Holiness. There’s a lot more to be said, but there’s already a lot here to be lived. In classic Wesleyan fashion, let’s live it together for a while and then reflect on it more!
Grace and Peace,