We have been focusing on the importance of our prayer life as a church at Woodlawn. One helpful instructor for us has been the works of John Bunyan. Bunyan went to jail in part because of his conviction that prayer, whether public or private, should be from the heart. He was opposed to using the forms found in the Book of Common Prayer that were expected in the established church. Bunyan’s manuscript on prayer was written by him for publication after his death.
I find Bunyan’s reluctance to publish his exposition on prayer a stark contrast to our day where many well known preachers are more than willing to share their “secrets” to a successful prayer life. Most contemporary books talk more about personal habits and experiences rather than what true, spirit-filled prayer actually is. Bunyan describes prayer first and foremost as a “sincere pouring out of the soul to God.” He explains:
Sincerity is such a grace as runs through all the graces of God in us, and through all the actings of a Christian, and has the sway in them too, or else their actings are not regarded of God. David speaks particularly of sincerity when he mentions prayer: ‘I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (Ps. 66.17,18). Part of the exercise of prayer is sincerity, without which God does not accept it as prayer. (Ps. 16.1-4). ‘Ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart’ (Jer.29.12,13).
And why must sincerity be one of the essentials of prayer which is accepted of God? Because sincerity carries the soul in all simplicity to open its heart to God, and to tell him the case plainly, without equivocation; to condemn itself plainly, without dissembling; to cry to God heartily, without complimenting. ‘I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. (Jer. 31:18). Sincerity is the same in a corner alone, as it is before the face of all the world. It knows not how to wear two masks, one for an appearance before men, and another for private use. It must have God, and be with him in the duty of prayer. It is not a lip-labour that it regards, for sincerity, like God, looks at the heart, and that is where prayer comes from, if it be true prayer.
Sincere prayer is the same wherever we are. Confessing our sin is the first step in a transparent, God-honoring prayer life.