Friday, April 4, 2014

Spirtually Minded Praying

How may we know that our prayers pour forth from an internal fountain of grace, that is, from new life within imparted by the Spirit of God, and thus know that we are truly spirtually minded in our prayers?

This is my restatement of a question John Owen asks in his incomparable and soul-satisfying work on The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded. And here are what I regard as some highlights of his answer, which I give to help us discern whether or not we are spirtually minded in our prayers.

But before I give these highlights, I want to answer an objection. I can hear someone saying, "Well, now, isn't prayer itself an expression of spiritual mindedness?" And the answer is, "Well, it depends." Think (to point to only two examples that come to mind) about what the Lord Jesus teaches about hypocritical and unacceptable praying in Mt. 6:5-8 and in Lk. 18:9-14.

Now, then, for the highlights of Owen's answer:

First, Owen says that we are assured generally that "whoever believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself" (1 Jn. 5:10). "Sincere faith," he says, "will be its own evidence" (292).

Second, it is an evidence that grace within is at work in spiritual thoughts and desires when the soul finds sweet spiritual satisfaction in spiritual disciplines and duties such as prayer. Not to put to fine a point on it, Owen challenges our lukewarmness in asserting that "this holy complacency [satisfaction], this rest and sweet repose of mind, is the foundation of the delight of believers in this duty" (292).

He then adds, the spiritually minded "do not pray only because it is their duty to do so, nor yet because they stand in need of it, so that they cannot live without it, but they have delight in it; and to keep them from it is all one as to keep them from their daily food and refreshment" (292–293).

Alright, so delight is the essential matter in this matter. But how does it arise? What brings it about? I mean, we can't just turn it on, can we? Owen says that this delight in prayer of which he is speaking arises from the following three things:

First, it arises from "the approach that is made unto God therein. It is in its own nature an access unto God on a throne of grace (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:19-20); and when this access is animated by the actings of grace, the soul hath a spiritual experience of a nearness in that approach" (293).

Second, this soul-satisfaction arises "from the due exercise of faith, love, and delight, the graces wherein the life of the new creature doth consist" (293).

Third, it arises "from the testimony of conscience, bearing witness unto our sincerity, both in aims, ends, and performances of the duty" (293–294).

Owen then rounds off this instruction by saying, "Hence a gracious repose of mind and great satisfaction do ensue" (294).

—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 292–294.

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