One of William Cowper’s lesser-known hymns is a favorite of mine. It deserves to be sung far more often than it is. It is a refreshingly honest lyric on the subject of prayer. The opening line addresses the well-known fact that distractions abound whenever we set about to pray.
“What various hindrances we meet
In coming to a mercy seat;
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there.”
Cowper was ever aware of his weakness and, finding comfort in Christ’s tenderness, he knew what it was to draw near to Christ and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.
Later in the hymn, Cowper confronts the individual (probably himself) who says in essence, “I can’t pray, I don’t know what to say.”
“Have you no words? Ah, think again,
Words flow apace when you complain;
And fill your fellow creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.”
Why is it, he asks, that we can talk for ages about nothing and air our disappointments with fluency, but when we kneel to pray, words are hard to come by?
We face the enemy of our souls in the battlegrounds of intercession. The evil one is vehemently opposed to our calling upon our Heavenly Father. He has no reason to fear the prayerless Christians. Here again in Cowper:
“Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.”
To think of prayer in this way helps me not to give up or to rely on feelings. John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote that “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”
As an aid to my prayers, I often turn to the book The Valley of Vision or to A Diary of Private Prayer. Best of all, we have 150 Psalms that can frame our approach to God during all the changing seasons and valleys of our lives.
My good friend, Dr. William Philip has written a helpful book on this subject and we are offering it as a resource this month. Do take advantage of it.
With my thanks to you and for you and with my love in the Lord Jesus,
Topics: Letters From Alistair Begg