Ben Patterson on Prayer
By Kevin Deyoung
I don’t know anyone wiser when it comes to prayer than Ben Patterson. His books on prayer are rich and encouraging. I heartily recommend Deepening Your Conversation with God and his newer book God’s Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms. If you are in the area, it would be worth your time to hear Ben at the Magnify Conference this weekend in East Lansing. Advanced registration is preferred, but walk-ups are welcome. Come and learn and pray with us. If you can’t come, look for the audio next week.
Patterson on why we pray:
So we must pray, because the work of the church is God’s work, not ours! We must also pray because prayer actually gets God’s work done. That’s the way prayer is seen in heaven. Ponder this scene in the throne room of heaven: An angel stands before God holding a golden censer, burning incense that is mixed with the prayers of the saints on earth. These prayers go up before God, and then are mixed with fire from the altar and hurled back down on earth. The amazing result is cataclysm on earth, “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (Rev. 8:5).
Now picture the saints on earth, huddled in their prayer meetings. If their experience of prayer is anything like mine can be, they may often feel their prayers are barely making it to the ceiling, or are dribbling out and rustling across the floor like dry leaves. Prayer doesn’t frequently bring with it the sensation of cosmic power unleashed, what poet Georg Herbert called “reversed thunder.” But that is exactly what is happening! The whole creation is shaken by the prayers of the saints. Something is happening as they pray. Work is being done, whether they see it or not. Deepening Your Conversation, 24-25
I love this story about the power of prayer to preserve the integrity and witness of the church.
Bob Bakke, of National Prayer Advance, tells of churches of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and their experience of this kind of prayer. After the first Great Awakening, three churches in this community convenanted to follow the pattern suggested by Edwards. In each congregation, cell groups would meet weekly to agree in prayer. Monthly, the separate congregations would then gather the cells and conduct all-church prayer meetings of agreement. Then quarterly, all three would come together for the same kind of praying. This pattern was followed faithfully, without interruption, for a century. Two remarkable things happened during this time. All three churches reported periodic harvest or “ingatherings” of souls, in which there would be a number of new believers brought into the congregations, about every eight to ten years. Also, during this time, all of New England was being swept by Unitarianism. But not these three churches. They remained firmly true to the faith while apostasy swirled around them, but not over them. Around the time of the Civil War, the prayer meetings ceased. Within five years these churches all capitulated to Unitarianism! Deepening Your Conversation, 165-66
And here’s one more quote from Patterson, this one on the importance of praying the Bible, especially the Psalms.
Prayer is more that a tool for self-expression, a means to get God to give us what we want. It is a means he uses to give us what he wants, and to teach us to want what he wants. Holy Scripture in general, and the Psalms in particular, teach us who God is and what he wants to give.
When the members of his synagogue complained that the words of the liturgy did not express what they felt, Abraham Heschel, the great philosopher of religion, replied wisely and very biblically. He told them that the liturgy wasn’t supposed to express what they felt; they were supposed to feel what the liturgy expressed. To be taught by the Bible to pray is to learn to want and feel what the Bible expresses—to say what it means and mean what it says. God’s Prayer Book, 7