Jonathan Edwards: The Duty of Prayer

Prayer is one of the spiritual disciplines that is brought up in churches, small groups, and individual conversations numerous times. When tragedy strikes close to home or around the world the knee-jerk response from people is to “send prayers” and “praying for the victims and their families.” How can we move from praying out of necessity to praying from delight? How can we move from seemingly small prayers to Christ exalting, world-changing prayers? The move isn’t as drastic as it is fundamental. I have read a number of excellent books on prayer: John Wesley’s  How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer (VALUE BOOKS), E.M. Bound’s The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer: Experience the Wonders of God through Prayer, and Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer to name a few. While each of those books, in my opinion is a must read, there is one that I return to often when desiring to deepen my prayer life and remember that God works through prayer.

Jonathan Edwards was a pastor, missionary, and theologian in New England during the 18thCentury. He is well known for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Edwards wrote voluminously during his life time and one work that is often neglected is his work on prayer. Original title is nearly a paragraph long and is shortened to A Call to United, Extraordinary Prayer: An Humble attempt…. This book is based on his interpretation of Zechariah 8:20-22. His main goal is to encourage Christians the world over to be praying for the moving of the Spirit of God to save sinners and glorify Christ. He is emboldened in his writing not only by the evidence that he sees in the Scriptures but by the historical account of the united praying of several churches in Scotland.

Over the next several weeks my goal is to look at Edwards’ vision of prayer and the way in which he desired to see Christians carry out this call to prayer. For this introduction I want to start where Edwards begins and that is in the necessity of prayer. There is no substitution for the individual or corporate prayers of the Church. No amount of singing, Bible study, fellowship, or preaching takes the place of the prayers of God’s children. Indeed, Edwards makes this exact observation: “Prayer, some suppose, is here [in Zech 8] to be taken synechdochically, for the whole of divine worship…” However, for Edwards, what Zechariah is pointing to is the practice of seeking God’s face. He writes about this type of prayer, “[other prophecies] speak of an extraordinary spirit of prayer, as preceding the introducing that glorious day of religious revival.” As Edwards read the Bible, he saw that God calls for the prayers of the Church to bring about His glory. Prayer, an extraordinary-supernatural prayer, is to be the pursuit of each local church and the Church worldwide. Edwards, never one to shy away from a challenge, called for this type of united extraordinary prayer from the global Church.

For a man who is remembered for his sermons, long hours of study, and serious theological treatises, Edwards was above all a pastor and a Christian who desired with his whole heart to know God and see the glory of Christ spread across all lands to all peoples. This type of desire controlled and compelled Edwards to pray. But along with his personal desire to pray, through his study of Scripture, he also saw the necessity of the united prayers of the Church universal.

If we today see the need and necessity of prayer, what does Edwards desire for the Church to pray for and to seek after? What are the specific requests that Edwards would want the Church to take up today? That will be the topic for the next installment.

Article by Caleb Nedimyer

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