By Ian Hugh Clary
Without taking morbid fascination in the failings of another, we can learn from the struggles of other Christians. To observe an admired Christian wrestle against sins that beset even us, help us take heart that our trials are not uncommon. It should not surprise us, but we can forget that, yes, saints greatly used of God like John Piper or Joni Eareckson Tada fight against sin. This can encourage us, if taken rightly, when it comes to the mundane aspects of Christian discipleship like prayer or bible reading. To see that a hero of the faith struggled to pray keeps me from complacency, and encourages me to press on as they evidently did. Even more encouraging is to read about their victories over sin, and the joy they received from such victories.
I was struck by this as I read about Andrew Fuller. On May 2, 1785 he wrote in his diary about a monthly prayer meeting set up in his church in Kettering—part of the “Prayer Call” that began in 1784. I’ll quote the entry at length:
This evening, I felt tender all the time of the prayer-meeting for the revival of religion; but, in hearing Mr Beeby Wallis [a deacon in the church] pray for me, I was overcome: his having a better opinion of me than I deserve, cuts me to heart! Went to prayer myself, and found my mind engaged more than ordinarily in praying for the revival of religion. I had felt many sceptical thoughts; as though there were room to ask—What profit shall I have if I pray to God? for which I was much grieved. Find a great satisfaction in these monthly meetings: even supposing our requests should not be granted, yet prayer to God is its own reward.
There are a number of thoughts we can take away from such a quote. One is the inadequacy a pastor feels before his congregants. Wallis had a high view of his pastor, and Fuller, knowing his own heart, experienced conviction of sin. Another is that the prayers of one can spur another in the same. A third, and pertinent to this post, is that Fuller—a man with no mean theological abilities, and well used by God—doubted the value of prayer, if only in his own heart. This grieved him, because he knew his doubts were unfounded, real though they were. Yet Fuller encourages us by telling of us of the satisfaction he received in corporate prayer, even prayer that might not be answered in the way he hoped. Why? Because, in that great, pithy quote, he said: “prayer to God is its own reward.” Rooted in a tradition that stressed the importance of communion with God, Fuller was able to gain a biblical perspective on prayer that helped him—and us—see the real value in prayer. This is a rebuke to me when I languish in my own spiritual lethargy. I am thankful to read quotes like this.
Ian Hugh Clary is finishing doctoral studies under Adriaan Neele at Universiteit van die Vrystaat (Blomfontein), where he is writing a dissertation on the evangelical historiography of Arnold Dallimore. He has co-authored two local church histories with Michael Haykin and contributed articles to numerous scholarly journals. Ian lives in Toronto with his wife and two children.