Leadership, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations

Reflection on Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit

Dr. Paul Chilcote authored a little book entitled Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit. It is John Wesley’s standard sermons condensed into prayers. I highly recommend using Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit as a devotional.

As I began reading these prayers, I was immediately reminded of reading several of Wesley’s sermons when I was in college. I believe the prayers do capture the spirit of Wesley’s sermons. While reading these prayers, how can one not feel the fire burning in Wesley’s soul? It is no surprise that Wesley inspired and led an explosive movement of religious renewal. His level of passion is difficult to overstate, and the wording of these prayers communicates it.

Wesley’s themes of grace, a salvation experience, growth, the work of the Spirit, and practical Christian living come through the prayers. Wesley’s warmed heart informs these sermons/prayers throughout with a sense of the wonder of God’s grace that had broken into his own life. For example, in prayer 5, “Justification by Faith”, Chilcote captures Wesley’s wonder with the lines, “O Righteous and Pardoning God, How can we make our way back to you and find your love when we are so broken and sinful?” (p. 21)

The painted picture is one of the futility of attempting to earn one’s salvation. The situation is hopeless… were it not for this gracious God’s love that “was too strong to leave us cut off and alienated” (p. 21)! Wesley is awe-struck at God’s grace that accomplishes what would otherwise be impossible. God’s love appears again and again in these sermons/prayers.

Chilcote describes Wesley’s heart-warming experience and belief in assurance of salvation in terms of “calm” and “an inner voice” in the midst of “troubled seas” and “severe trials in life” (pp. 39-40). Wesley’s search for assurance is reflected in his emphasis of it. Chilcote’s prayer 10, “The Witness of the Spirit”, expresses a desire for a sense of security in a relationship with God like that between a child and a parent. The Spirit of God is constantly at work in our lives, drawing us, leading us, comforting us.

Wesley’s concern with practical guidance for Christian living comes through all of the prayers, as there is a practical element to each of them. Wesley’s helps Christians to grow in grace, and his urgent and intense desire for growth is expressed in all of the prayers whether or not Wesley is specifically addressing it. He writes about peaceful relationships and conflict management (“Purity, Peacemaking, and Reconciliation”), grief and sadness (“A Heavy Heart”), guilt feelings (“No Condemnation”), the destructiveness of being judgmental (“Caution against Bigotry” and “The Loving Attitude”), and money management (“The Use of Money”, “Christian Treasure” and “The Good Steward”). It is obvious that Wesley intentionally seeks God in the everyday matters of life and pursues growth in all of these areas.

Wesley also teaches the foundational doctrines of Christian living like the new birth, repentance, justice and mercy, self-denial, an attitude of love, etc. I was surprised at how many of Wesley’s standard sermons (13) are based on the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount contains the bulk of Jesus’ ethical teaching, so this makes sense, but I was not aware that roughly 25% of Wesley’s standard sermons use texts from the Sermon on the Mount.

Wesley’s intentionality, intensity, and urgency come through these prayers. I believe that a person who prays these prayers daily would experience immense growth in grace simply from being exposed to Wesley’s passionate pursuit of God. Intensity and urgency seem to spring from the emotions and the intellect, but intentionality is the willful choice to do something about it. Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit clearly shows Wesley’s never-ending intentional quest to live a holy life in response to God’s grace.

I plan to use Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit as a devotional and as a discipleship tool. The prayers would be a great resource to share with small group leaders or to use as pastoral prayers in worship services. Wesley would want me, as a pastor, to use resources like Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit to intentionally disciple the congregation I serve.