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Praying with The Puritans

Greetings All,

     This past weekend I attended a conference in Pittsburgh, PA, for the CCO (Coalition For Christian Outreach) where there just happened to be a bookseller.  My curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over to see what books were on the shelves.  I practiced great restraint (for me) and ended up walking out with only four new books to add to my library!  One, which was entitled: "Kneeling With Giants - Learning To Pray With History's Best Teachers," by Gary Neal Hansen, caught my attention.

     I've only gotten through two of it's chapters so far, but I found one section both interesting and helpful.  It's called, "Praying with The Puritans" and encourages us to use their common form of praying by meditation and writing.  Enjoy.

Praying With The Puritans

     "Back in student days, after a bad breakup, my journal saved my sanity. I bought a little black book to hold my dark, grieving thoughts, and in it I poured out lamentation, confusion and anger. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, until I didn't need to anymore.  A couple years later, I looked back and found that pretty much every page was the same. You could say writing was a kind of therapy, but for me it was prayer. God was listening. Healing came.
     I often pray best with a pen.... Writing in my journal draws me quickly and surely into God's company. God is there, listening, and I find myself understood and accepted. That changes me. It may seem an odd and indirect form of prayer -- I do not start each journal entry with "Dear God" -- but if prayer is conversation, the act of writing allows me to take my part of the dialogue seriously.  It slows me down, and hidden things come to light.  Burdens are lifted. Insights and possibilities emerge....
     To all who resist writing as a way of prayer, I plead for an imaginative openness. A great many people find that writing sparks spiritual growth.... The first time I tried to write in a journal, I found myself so anxious I destroyed every page. I was not afraid that someone would see it. The struggle was with myself. Here were my feelings, the insides of me, spread out on a page. I felt almost naked. Later, and to my own surprise, I tried again. Soon writing in my journal was the way to come honestly to God and find grace. All I can say is that it is worth it to keep coming back to the experiment of prayerful writing...  If this is a new way to pray, it can be a challenge. The good news is that many Christians have prayed this way throughout history.  And there is no better example than the Puritans.
     Now, before you start rolling your eyes, let me say that these sixteenth and seventeenth-century Calvinists from England and then America have gotten a bad rap. We assume the joke is true that a Puritan is defined as someone terribly afraid that someone, somewhere, is having fun.  In literature class we read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) or The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1915-2005) [neither one of which ever met or had any interaction with a Puritan] and forever after when we hear "Puritan" we picture poor Hester Prynne being judged and shamed, or the horror of the Salem witch trials.  However, if you read what the Puritans wrote about the Christian life, the picture changes. They brought single-minded passion to their pursuit of God. They lived with a focused, prayerful longing to be made new in Christ. They may have been more conscious of sin than most Christians are today, but they were also more aware of God's blessings and grace. These were inner experiences, but I can describe them confidently because when they prayed about them they often did so with pen in hand. Written approaches to prayer were so important to the Puritans that they wrote manuals to teach each other how to do it. 
     The Puritans, as Calvinists, had a very heavy doctrine of providence, believing that God was actively involved in virtually everything in their lives and the world. Today the idea has fallen on hard times. Many assume God is not actively involved, or they look at things that happen in the world and wonder what God could possibly have been thinking. Providence filled John Beadle (an English Puritan who lived from 1595-1667 and wrote "Diary of a Thankful Christian") with a sense of wonder. He claimed that if we only looked, we would see God's name, wisdom, power and faithfulness in every blade of grass and every drop of rain. Nurturing awareness of providence can bring us to awe as well. Believing, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, "earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush alive with God" makes it more likely that we will notice God at work, take off our shoes, and kneel.
     Beadle lists a number of topics to write about in our journals. Some are more clearly powerful than others, but they all help us move forward in seeing God at work, and giving thanks, knowing God better and loving God more. 

            1.) "Let every man keep a strict account of his effectual calling." "Effectual calling" is the Puritan term for the way God got through and made you a Christian... 
       2.) "Take special notice of all divine assistance.. either in the performance of the duties that are required of us, or in bearing those evils that are inflicted upon us." 
       3.) "Remember, and for that end put into your journal all deliverance's from dangers, either to you or yours."
       4.) "All the instruments, all the people and means that God has in providence at any time used for your good, must not be forgotten." 
       5.) "And finally, mark what returns, what answers God gives to your prayers, and write them down... as most remarkable pledges of His love." 
     When I first became a believer (38 yeas ago) I did this very thing more often (having no idea the Puritans had done it before me). I even have those journals in my possession still, and the answers to many prayers recorded there. But in our fast paced society that habit fell by the wayside. Thankfully, this chapter convinced me I need to pick up my pen and journal again.  You may want to give it a try as well. After all, how could one not benefit from prayerfully writing about God's grace and involvement in their lives, or recording for future days a written record to remind them of His power, providence, intervention, rescue, provision, and daily expressions of kindness?  I dare say it could do everyone nothing but good! 

In His Service, Pastor Jeff