How much has the task of preaching changed in four hundred years, do you think?
In my last year of training for pastoral ministry at Carey Baptist College I did a bit of guest preaching in different churches instead of a normal church placement.
When I preached at Roskill Baptist, the minister there kindly shared this 400ish-year-old prayer with me. He regularly prayed it in his study before preaching, and now I do the same.
I’ve also prayed it aloud with congregations before preaching, explaining that I’m letting them overhear my prayer for the sermon. The ‘slothful audience’ line usually gets a muffled giggle or three.
The unnamed puritan preacher who wrote this has a job that is pretty different from the way I practised church ministry. This prayer is for a Sunday morning, and yet the sermon is unwritten – not my style, it must be said!
But otherwise I feel real comradeship with this preacher. I, too, ‘go weak and needy to my task,’ and need to be reminded not to be proud. And I often choke up when I get to the lines near the end:
‘help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer’
This preacher knows the importance of the task, and pays attention to the role of the preacher, the congregation, and God, in joining together in the event of preaching.
It inspires me every time I pray it, and I offer it to you to share around, as it was generously shared with me.
My Master God
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertinent to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to people’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and to set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached,
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that people might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.
You can find this prayer and others like it in The Valley of Vision: a collection of Puritan Prayers, Arthur Bennett (ed) 1988, Banner of Truth.
I’m keen to hear what you think.
Is there a line or phrase that resonates with you? Or is it completely foreign? Are there written prayers you regularly pray?