We have been charting the biblically wise advice of John Owen for pastors, given in an ordination sermon preached on Friday 8th September 1682. His counsel is profound, challenging, and utterly relevant to our contemporary task as preachers. Thus far we have observed the essentials he attaches to preaching the Word and his four great motivations for praying as preachers. In this article we will examine the advice he offers about what the preacher should pray about.
Owen points the prayers of pastors in three directions:
- We should pray for the success of the Word: prayer and public ministry of the Word of God are intimately and ultimately linked. The success of God’s Word is according to a number of key measures; directing believers in duty, instruction in the truth, growth in grace, and ‘all things whereby we may come to the enjoyment of God’. Preachers are to pray for the success of the Word before they preach and after they preach, that what is spoken might find good soil in the hearts of those who hear.
- We should pray for the presence of Christ: without the presence of Christ in our gatherings all of our other labour is in vain. Our ‘gifts, notions, parts, fervency’ are of no avail without the presence of Christ – we must pray for a palpable sense of his being among us as we gather for worship.
- We should pray about the state and condition of the church: the preacher is to know his flock, he knows ‘their measure, their weakness, and their temptations; he knows the times and seasons in which they are exercised and exposed, whether times of adversity or prosperity’ and as a result he is uniquely placed to bring the burden of these needs before the Lord. Pastoral concern is a great driver for prayerful reliance on God to meet the needs of his people.
These matters for prayer can be greatly expanded upon, but Owen has managed to provide the pastor with rich guidance in atomic form. There is much cause to pray, there are many matters for prayer, how many of us, then, will move as God motivates us, and pray as God bids us for the glory of his name and the good of his people?