The local church I lead and belong to decided to pray and reflect through one prayer of the Puritans every day through the 40 days of Lent. This was an alien experience for us. There were several questions we needed to answer for ourselves. Why are we praying someone else’s prayers? How can prayers written a few centuries ago help us today?
We were not entirely sure about the answers. But our church leadership had been profoundly moved and impacted by reading, meditating on, and praying a few of these Puritan prayers. So we felt we should invite the congregation to try it.
The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, was a rich and ready resource. As I write this, we have just finished reflecting and praying through 31 prayers over as many days. You can watch the prayers and our reflections on the New City Mumbai YouTube channel. Here is what we have discovered on this journey.
The Puritan Prayers Enriched Our Own Prayers
Every single day we discovered that reflecting on the Puritan prayers did not stifle our own prayers. Rather, they lifted ours. We experienced a new sense of awe and wonder. We saw the beauty of God’s holiness afresh. The hunger and thirst with which the Puritans sought Christ through these prayers aroused a deeper longing in our hearts too.
The Puritan prayers are a gentle antidote to the harsh pace of the world we live in. They have the potential to hold you down and anchor you to Christ even as the world speeds past you in meaningless haste.
The Puritan prayers cannot replace our own but they can enrich them. We hate to admit it. But often our prayers were often mere babbling (Matt. 6:7). Many words, little meaning. Much time, less affection. But the Puritan prayers were like a blast of pristine mountain air reviving the polluted lungs of a city dweller. More truth and more power in fewer words. This is some thing that millennials—who place a high value on authenticity—are sure to appreciate.
The Puritan Prayers Forced Us To Slow Down
These prayers are not meant be read quickly. Anyone reading with a genuine desire to grow will not be able to skim through these prayers. So often, sentences demand long pauses, deep reflection, growing conviction, and birth overflowing praise.
The Puritan prayers are a gentle antidote to the harsh pace of the world we live in. They have the potential to hold you down and anchor you to Christ even as the world speeds past you in meaningless haste. This slowing down helped us listen more clearly to our own hearts and to God. They taught us the pause of reverential awe.
The Puritan Prayers Helped Us Break the Shackles of Our Culture
We are all captives to our culture, though we are being freed by the gospel. In cities, the culture of haste, distraction, and short attention spans often keep us from praying. This is particularly true of millennials, who are prone to live in the fear of missing out (FOMO) and see distraction as a way of life. The Puritan prayers portray Christ beautiful and Christ worthy of our devotion above all else.
And, when we do pray, this culture shapes our prayers—what we long for, what we ask for, and how how we ask for it. As we live, work, and play in this culture it can be very hard to break out of the unhelpful patterns it promotes.
A gentle voice, a Christ-like voice from another time and another culture can often open the eyes of our heart to actually see how we are trapped. The Puritan prayers were such a voice. As they reshaped our prayers into truthful but unfamiliar ways and vocabulary; they helped us escape many shackles of our culture.
The Puritan Prayers Helped Us See Our Saviour More Clearly
The Puritans were absolutely clear that their greatest goal and highest prize was nothing else and nothing less than Christ himself. They received and enjoyed every gift from God, but they did not treasure any of these more than God. They understood deeply that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. So their affections were deeply drawn to Christ.
Since this foundation was strong, their lives were a seamless journey with no dichotomy between faith and work. Whether they ate or drank, married or stayed single, worked in a farm, factory, or church, they did it all for the glory of God.
I need to close with one caveat though. Without a deep appreciation of gospel-centered living, you may find the Puritan prayers overly self-depreciating. You may think of the Puritans as overly sin-conscious or perhaps even defeatist. If you do, I invite you to consider that Christ had to go to the grave in order to display the power of his resurrection.
Sinners need to repent (and keep repenting) before they can taste eternal life by faith in Christ. Consider the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Consider the coldness of the elder son in the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32). Consider that whoever is forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:47). As you do I am confident you will see, know, and feel that the only path to eternal joy is through a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).