John Bunyan: “What True Prayer Is”
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.
Prayer is a sincere pouring out of the soul to God
Sometimes there is a sweet sense of mercy received; encouraging, comforting, strengthening, enlivening, enlightening mercy. Thus David pours out his soul, to bless, and praise, and admire the great God for his loving-kindness to such poor vile wretches. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1–4). And thus is the prayer of saints sometimes turned into praise and thanksgiving, and yet is still prayer. This is a mystery; God’s people pray with their praises, as it is written, “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; it prevails with him unspeakably.
In prayer there is sometimes in the soul a sense of mercy to be received. This again sets the soul aflame. “Thou, O Lord of hosts,” says David, “hast revealed to thy servant, saying I will build thee an house; therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray unto thee” (II Samuel 7:27). This provoked Jacob, David, Daniel, with others, not by fits and starts, nor yet in a foolish frothy way, but mightily, fervently, and continually, to groan out their conditions before the Lord, as being sensible of their wants, their misery, and the willingness of God to show mercy (Genesis 32:10, 11; Daniel 9:3, 4).
Prayer is a pouring out of the heart or soul
There is in prayer an unbosoming of a man’s self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate pouring out of the soul in requests, sighs, and groans. “All my desire is before thee,” says David, “and my groaning is not hid from thee” (Psalm 38:9). And again, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me” (Psalm 42:2, 4). Mark “I pour out my soul.” It is an expression signifying that in prayer there goes the very life and whole strength to God. As in another place, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). This is the prayer to which the promise is made, for the delivering of a poor creature out of captivity and thraldom. “If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).
Again, prayer is a pouring out of the heart or soul to God
This shows also the excellency of the spirit of prayer. It is the great God to which it goes. “When shall I come and appear before God?” And it argues that the soul that thus prays indeed, sees an emptiness in all things under heaven; that in God alone there is rest and satisfaction for the soul. “Now she that is a widow, indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God” (I Timothy 5:5). So says David, “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape; incline thine ear to me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: for thou art my rock and my fortress; deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord God, thou art my trust from my youth” (Psalm 71:1-5). Many speak of God; but right prayer makes God the hope, stay, and all. True prayer sees nothing substantial, and worth the looking after, but God. And that, as I said before, it does in a sincere, sensible, and affectionate way.
~ From A Discourse Touching Prayer