Johann Habermann (1516-1590): Prayer of a School Child for the Holy Spirit

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Johann Habermann (1516-1590), praised by his contemporaries as a talented Old Testament exegete, joined the Lutheran church in 1540. In 1565, Habermann published his most important work, Christliche Gebet für alle Not und Stende der gantzen Christenheit, known in English as Morning and Evening Prayers for All Days of the Week, a prayer-book that assigned prayers for various Christian needs to each day of the week. Within fifteen years after its publication, the book had become widely circulated in Protestant circles, and was available in Latin, English, and French translations. Many contemporary Protestant prayer-books still include some adapted versions of Habermann’s prayers. The prayer below is for meant for school children, but I reckon it is also very appropriate (with slight alteration) for older students and scholars:

Prayer of a School Child for the Holy Spirit.

O my dear Lord, Jesus Christ, I thank Thee, that to the present day, Thou ordainest church and school ordinances and regulations, and hast given unto my parents and me grace, that I too may be thus trained. I beseech Thee, fill me with Thy Holy Spirit, that I may ever obey my dear parents and teachers, who only seek my welfare. Give unto me a docile heart, that I may learn my catechism, noble arts and language, and thus increase in godliness, wisdom, understanding, and every virtue. O my dear Lord Jesus Christ, create in me a pure, chaste, and modest heart. May I ever serve Thee in upright faith and true fear, and love Thee from all my heart. Subdue in me all evil lusts. Endow me with Thy Holy Spirit. Help me to continue in true humility. Grant me an obedient heart, to honor my parents according to Thy commandment, and neither anger nor grieve them. May they live long on this earth, and protect Thou and preserve them from disease, evil, and harm. Be gracious unto us and merciful. Bless us in body and soul, now and forevermore. Amen.

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Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556): Prayer for a grasp of the Scriptures

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Most people who grew up in Afrikaans churches (not only the Dutch Reformed Church) are familiar with the song:

Lees jou Bybel; bid elke dag, bid elke dag, bid elke dag,

Lees jou Bybel; bid elke dag

En jy sal groei, groei, groei

Translated into English as:

Read your Bible; pray every day, pray every day, pray every day

Read your Bible; pray every day

And you will grow, grow, grow

While this is the simplest of songs and is taught to small children, it contains two of the most essential elements of the Christian life: the daily studying of Scripture and prayer. The English Reformer Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556) combines these two in a prayer for a grasp of the Scriptures, or alternatively, for Scripture’s grasp on us:

“Blessed Lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant us that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of thy holy word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our saviour Jesus Christ.”

– Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), Collects, Second Sunday in Advent

For Cranmer, the touchstone or reference point for wisdom is “all holy Scriptures.” He prays that we would not only hear the Scriptures as words, but “inwardly digest” them as the Word by which we may be comforted (i.e. strengthened). Cranmer views the Bible as providing both the grounds for our patience and the fuel for our strengthening. Such patience and strengthening are able to take us by the instrumentality of hope right up to the threshold of our present lives. After we cross this threshold, we shall receive the “everlasting life” promised in the last phrase. Cranmer invites us to love the Bible and learn it, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the cause for which it was written: our patience and our comfort.

Our prayers and God’s covenantal promises

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By Jake Griesel

John Calvin regarded the command to pray and God’s promises as the two pillars of prayer (cf. Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.xx.13-14).  In this regard he points inter alia to Matt. 7:7 “Ask (command) and it shall be given you (promise)” Here Christ teaches us, says Calvin, not only what we are supposed to do (pray) but also promises us that our prayers are never in vain. God’s promises grant us great assurance in our prayer lives.

Our prayers and the lesson from the Psalms

If we want to learn how to pray, we must inter alia go to the Psalms. The Psalms have been called the “school of prayer.” In the Psalms we find ourselves in the inner room (Matt. 6:6) of the Old Covenant. There we see how believers in the Old Covenant prayed in their inner rooms. But that is not all. We must especially remember that the prayers in the Psalms were not merely human prayers, but were inspired by the Holy Spirit, who after all inspired the Holy Scriptures and therefore also the Psalmist’s prayers, whether it be David or someone else. Therefore spending time in the Psalms means that we find ourselves in the Holy Spirit’s “school of prayer.” He is the One who teaches us to pray in the Psalms. One thing about the Psalms is especially noteworthy here: the role which God’s covenant plays therein. The poets sang about God’s covenant; they rejoiced in it. Just think of Psalm 105:8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. And this we find also in the prayers of the Psalms. When the Psalmists prayed, they did not pray aimlessly, but appealed to what the LORD had promised in his covenant. To give one example, Asaph prayed in Psalm 74:20, “Have respect unto the covenant., thereby making an appeal to God’s covenant. Many other prayers in the Psalms, though not necessarily containing the word “covenant” (Heb: berith), nonetheless also allude to God’s covenantal promises, such as in Psalm 88:11 where the sons of Korah prayed: Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?”, or in Psalm 143:1 where David prayed: “Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.” The Psalmists knew that they could depend on God’s promises and faithfulness. The believer’s plea is never in vain when founded upon God’s promises. The LORD is faithful and will perform that which he has promised.

Our prayers and the baptismal form of our church

Now we must connect the instruction in the Psalms to ourselves in our day. We are, after all, also children of the covenant/promise (Gal. 3:29; 4:28). The Lord has indeed also made his covenant with us. He has given us a great treasury of promises. We not only may, but indeed should also appeal to these promises, being assured that God will hearken unto us when we appeal to what he has promised.

In this regard I’d like to refer to the baptismal form of our church – the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (Afrikaans: Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk). In our baptismal form, we find a summary of what God has promised us, which is linked to the Trinitarian formula in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost(Matt. 28:19). These promises are discussed below:

Promise #1: Dat Hy ons Vader is wat ons liefhet en vir ons sorg (That He is our Father who loves us and cares/provides for us)

We were baptized in the Name of the Father. As our Father, He desires to provide us with all good things and avert evil or work it together for our good (Rom. 8:38). We should therefore not doubt when we pray that God will provide for us – He promised to do this, and his faithfulness and promises never fail. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea (Psalm 46:2). When we therefore pray for his Paternal care and protection, we may know without doubt that our lives are in the omnipotent hands of our heavenly Father who loves us. This does not mean that no evil (illness, loss, etc.) will cross our paths. The Lord has nowhere promised this to us. What we can indeed know, however, is that we never face our trials and tribulations without our heavenly Father’s providential care and that he will ultimately work all of these to our good. This he does indeed promise (again, Rom. 8:38), and this promise certainly is an uninterrupted fountain of comfort to us believers while we dwell as pilgrims in this world.

Promise #2: Dat Jesus Christus ons Verlosser is (That Jesus Christ is our Redeemer)

Our forgiveness is also no dubious matter, because when we were baptized in the Name of the Son, God thereby promised that it is his will to wash us clean of our sins in the precious blood of his Son. Children of God often struggle with doubt: “Will God ever forgive me for this great sin which I have committed?” But we ought not to stand with eyes fixed on the greatness of our sins, but rather to fix our eyes firmly on the greatness of God’s faithfulness which he has promised us in Jesus Christ. As John Newton once said, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour”. As great as our sins may be, Christ is an infinitely greater Saviour.

Promise #3: Dat die Heilige Gees in ons woon, van ons nuwe mense maak en ons lei (That the Holy Spirit dwells in us, makes new people out of us and leads us)

When we were baptized in the Name of the Holy Spirit, God promised to ingraft us into Christ by his Holy Spirit, and grant us faith, repentance, sanctification and obedience by his Holy Spirit. If we then struggle with a certain sin or wavering faith, we do not therefore have to doubt that God will grant us his Holy Spirit if we ask him in prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Matt. 7:7).

Christ and assurance in our prayers

Why is it so certain that the Lord will perform that which he has promised? Why can we pray with so much confidence regarding the Lord and his promises? Is it because any merit we may have which secures these promises? Certainly not. No, if we look to ourselves, we look to corruption, severe fallibility and, ultimately, a hopeless cul-de-sac. We then immediately abrogate all of God’s promises. We can then not depend on any of his promises. When we look to ourselves, therefore, the deepest sense of doubt and despair overcomes us. But “all the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20); these promises are true and sure and fixed not because of us, but because of Jesus Christ, and in him. That is why, whenever we pray, we pray in Jesus’ Name.

Prayer and faith in God’s promises

The Lord promises us great and amazing things in his covenant, but this covenant also demands our response: We must repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). Whoever does not do this, also does not receive the fulfilment of God’s promises. The same counts for our prayers: we must pray in faith, otherwise we will not receive, as James so clearly teaches us (1:6-7). Many believers struggle with doubt and wavering faith. But this also we may confess to the Lord and pray for faith. And then there is no need for any doubt: he will grant us faith according to his promise. After all, faith itself is a gift from God, and is not of ourselves (Eph. 2:8). God’s covenant does include a condition that needs to be fulfilled from our side, but this condition is granted us and fulfilled by God on our behalf, by the granting of faith and repentance through the Holy Spirit – not only in regeneration, but also in sanctification and perseverance. Therefore we can say with Augustine:

Da quod iubes, et iube quod vis“Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt” (Augustine, Confessions, X.29).

Philip Ryken: The effectiveness of our prayers does not depend on their length

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When I became a Christian I heard many godly men exhort me to spend long periods in prayer. Some recommended waking up early to pray, and for some time when I stayed in the hostel on the university campus I used to do exactly this with a small group of other young men – every Wednesday morning we all prayed together early in the morning for about an hour. I’ve also read many accounts of great Christians who have spent hours upon hours in prayer – which has no doubt benefited Christ’s church. As wonderful and beneficial as longer prayers are, I think we have to be careful when it comes to this topic. We’ve always got to remember not to judge prayers based on how long they are. The essence of true prayer is a believing heart calling upon the Father through Christ by the Holy Spirit (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 45). In fact, Jesus told us not to heap up empty phrases when we pray, thinking that we will be heard for our many words (Matt. 6:7). And the pattern for prayer that he gave us is pretty short (Matt. 6:9-13). In this regard, I appreciate how Philip Ryken discussed this in his book When You Pray:

“Knowing God as Father means…you can keep prayer simple. When children need something from their fathers, they do not hire a lawyer, draft a formal petition, or get down on their knees, they just ask. That is why Christian prayers are straightforward. The prayers of pagans tend to be overly complicated, but when Christians pray, they pray to their Father.”

“As a general rule, the prayers of God’s children are short and sweet. Martin Luther (1483-1546) once said, ‘Our prayer must have few words, but be great and profound in content and meaning…Few words and richness of meaning is Christian; many words and lack of meaning is pagan.’ Indeed, one of the striking things about most biblical prayers is their brevity. It is hard to find a prayer anywhere in the Bible that when read aloud would be more than five minutes long.”

“Some Christians measure spirituality by the amount of time a person prays. True, there is plenty of teaching in Scripture about being devoted to the life of prayer. Jesus himself spent a great deal of time in prayer, and the apostle Paul tells us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17, KJV). However, the effectiveness of our prayers does not depend on the length of our prayers.”

“God does not need any lengthy explanations. If you find that your prayer life is too weak, is it possibly that you are trying to make things too complicated? Our prayers must be fervent, of course, and they ought to be frequent, but they do not need to be fancy.”

– Philip Ryken, When You Pray, p. 30-31

God’s people all have different personalities and temperaments. Some can pray for hours on end with great fervency. Others pray short fervent prayers throughout the day. The point is that we pray often, from the heart, to our Father in heaven. The saint that prays for hours is not more spiritual than the saint that prays frequent, brief, heart-felt prayers.

William Scribner: An Appeal to Parents to Pray Continually for the Welfare and Salvation of their Children (1873)

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Although praying for our children is clearly a biblical duty, it is too frequently neglected. Often this arises from a secret unbelief in regard to the likelihood, or possibility, of conversion and real religion in childhood and early youth. This has arrested and prevented prayer and effort for this great blessing.

The early conversion of all the children of the Church should be intensely desired and incessantly prayed for. Many who are converted only as adults suffer from evil habits developed in their youth. Not only would these be prevented, but habits which none but a true Christian prizes — habits such as daily prayer, determined fighting with sin in its various forms, generosity, watchfulness over self, and others of a similar kind — are usually formed strongest when young.

In addition, we should expect the conversion of the children of believers as much as, if not more than, others who attend the church and who are not yet believers. The same means of grace have been enjoyed and the exhortations and warnings of the gospel are as understandable to a child as to an adult.

The biblical evidence that it is God’s will that the children in the Church should be born again at an early age, is found in Matthew 19:14:

“Let the little children to come to Me.”

Often children are not converted because parents leave their work to others. Valuable though Sunday school teachers are, no parent can be released from the obligation of striving by his or her own personal efforts to lead his children to Christ. We are commanded to bring our children up “in the fear and nurture of the Lord.” In the case of the children of believers (covenant children), parental training should be the first and usual means of their salvation. The work to be done by parents includes:

a. Instructing them in the faith.
b. Setting them a holy example.
c. Restraining them.
d. Praying for them.

It is this last aspect which is the focus here. In 1873 William Scribner wrote an essay entitled “An Appeal to Parents to Pray Continually for the Welfare and Salvation of Their Children”.  Whilst acknowledging that the duties of Christian parents towards their children include instructing them in the faith, setting them a holy example, and restraining them, praying for them is the one that is “too frequently neglected”. Here are his encouragements to parents to pray for their children’s salvation and welfare. This is especially touching to me, because my mother persevered in intercessory prayer on my behalf for more than seven years when I was lost, rebellious and God-hating during my teenage years, and I believe her prayers played an important role in my conversion at age 19. And she still prays for me, together with my father. Every morning at the breakfast table my parents pray together for me and my two sisters, and we can see the fruits thereof as time and time again God has graciously answered their prayers. But without further ado, here is what Scribner wrote:

“I. Praying for Your Children’s Salvation

You should pray for your children’s conversion because:

1. Their salvation is so great a prize that it is worth all the pains which your prayer to secure it for them may cost you.”

The fact that their souls are precious beyond all thought, that the loss of their souls would be inconceivably dreadful, that eternal life would be an infinite gain to them, and that your prayers may be instrumental in saving them, should stir you up to offer constant requests on their behalf.

2. Few will pray for them if you do not.

Though we are commanded to intercede for all men (1 Tim. 2:1), few engage in this duty as they should. When it is done, those who are prayed for are often those who are considered important in the Church’s or the world’s estimation.

3. No one else can pray for them as you do.

The genuine love you have for your children, the tenderness you feel for them and your knowledge of their make-up, needs and problems, qualify you to plead with God on their behalf with an urgency and earnestness which can take no refusal. When God wants to convince us of his willingness to hear prayer, he bases his argument on his parental love:

‘If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!’ (Luke 11:13).

4. Your omitting to do so will be perilous to them and to you.

God notes our attempts to fulfill our parental obligations. It is not to unfaithful, prayerless parents that his exceeding great and precious promises are addressed:

‘But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him , and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.’ (Ps. 103:17-18)

Your children are surrounded by evil influences and they are fallen creatures. They need to be protected by the power of God, and no less do they need to be inwardly restrained, enlightened, controlled, purified, and guided by the Holy Spirit.

5. You will then find it easier to perform other parental duties on the performance of which God has conditioned their salvation.

God commended Abraham for being one who would fulfil his parental duties (Gen. 18:18-19):

‘For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.’

God’s will for you as a parent is clear:

‘And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.’ (Deut. 6:6-7) It is a great work, and nothing can sustain you under the burden like praying for your children, believingly, earnestly and perseveringly. In giving attention to instruction and discipline, do not neglect prayer! Some blessings seldom come except in answer to heartfelt prayer. One of these is the early conversion of our children.

6. Prayer alone can call into exercise that divine power in their behalf, which is absolutely necessary in order that the prayers which you may employ for their salvation may not be used in vain.

Only God’s mighty power can effect the great change necessary, raising them to life from a state of spiritual death. Your child is absolutely dependent upon the influences of God’s all-powerful Spirit. Though you persevere in the use of means, without the Spirit it will be in vain. Nothing but believing prayer can secure his power to effect the change.

7. By their salvation, granted in answer to your prayers, your Saviour will be glorified

Not merely the salvation of your children, but the glory of your dear Saviour in their salvation, should impel you to pray for them. This motive should be stronger than any other which can influence you to seek their salvation.

8. You have a strong encouragement and incentive to do so in the explicit promise of God that, if you are faithful to your trust, he will be their God.

The words which God spoke to Abraham, when he entered into covenant with him and his seed, may be regarded as addressed to every believer individually, and therefore to you (cf. Gen. 17:7; also Isa. 59:21, Acts 2:38). God’s promises to you take into account your responsibility as a parent. Because God loves his own people with a love which passes knowledge, they cannot earnestly plead for such a thing as the salvation of their children without having power with him. In addition to this, his love for them causes him to have tenderness for their children. They also are beloved by him and are dear to him for their parents’ sake.

II. Praying for Your Children’s Welfare

Do not consider only your children’s salvation but pray also for your children’s welfare because:

1. You my then expect, as a result of your prayers, that the power of God will counteract in some measure the evil you have done them.

Even the best of parents sometimes do their children harm. This may be as a result of undue severity in discipline, partiality or injustice, but equally by misguided tenderness and lack of conscientious in exercising authority. Unceasing prayer will enable you to avoid these sins. Thoughtful love for them, and an earnest desire for their real good, would take replace mere fondness, and you would be led to avoid the extremes of harshness and hurtful indulgence.

2. There will be critical periods in their lives when without your incessant prayers, offered with reference to such times, they my be left to act most unwisely if not disastrously.

Pray for them in the momentous decisions concerning matters such as their future career and possible marriage. Do not put off praying over these because they might be in the distant future. Consider, you may not be alive when they face these decisions.

3. It will lead you to a better understanding of them. Fervent prayer, continuously offered for them, in which their special wants, as far as you know them, are spread before God, will be sure to lead to a greater watchfulness over them. It will lead to a closer study of their character and to more exact understanding of their traits and wants. You should know what motives most easily influence them and what temptations are most likely to lead them into wrongdoing. You should also be familiar with their sorrows and circumstances, knowing intimately each one’s character. If you are praying for them you will be compelled to note these things.

4. It will increase your holy desires for them.

If we cannot pray, even for strangers, without learning to love them, surely the more we commend our children to God, the stronger will our love for their souls become. This steady increase of holy desires in your heart, with reference to you children, will prove an unspeakable blessing both to them and to you.

5. No other means will be so effectual in enabling you to overcome the difficulty you experience in talking with then on religious subjects.

Out of the abundance of your heart your mouth will speak. We are often too reserved when it comes to speaking of spiritual matters with our children, despite the scriptural command (Deut. 6:7). Nothing is so suited to remove this as earnest, persistent prayer, in which your child’s needs are spread before God and specific requests are offered in its behalf.

6. You will thereby secure for then God’s aid in the efforts they my make to yield you their obedience God requires of children submission to the parent’s will and implicit obedience. Children need more than mere human assistance, even though that assistance may come from wise and affectionate parents. They can no more perform their duties as children without such help from God, than you, without such help, can perform your parental duties. You are solemnly bound to think of the dependence of your children on God’s help, and earnestly to pray that help may be given them in their endeavours to honour and obey you.

7. Other parents seeing your example, may be led to imitate you.

Others may be challenged by your diligence and may be inspired to be more zealous in their parental duties.

8. They will often, should they continue in the world, have their times of need when the power of God alone can avail to help them.

Disappointments, sickness, losses, cares, in short, adversity in various forms, will be sure to overtake them sooner or later, and well will it be for them if you have anticipated these times of need by much prayer offered on their behalf. There will be times of temptation when they will be in fearful danger. The evil one will seek to lay snares for them and at such times earthly friends will be of no help. Ask the Saviour to defend them from the spite, power and wiles of evil spirits, the agents of Satan, who are constantly around them.”

In closing, never approach the throne of grace with your own wants without remembering your children’s, who are no less helpless and needy than you. Let us resolve that we will give ourselves more intently to the work of interceding for our children. Whether we pray for our offspring or not must decide what our distant decedents are to be, and what kind of influence they will exert. Surely our fervent prayers for God’s blessing on our children would be offered without ceasing were we able to fully comprehend the far-reaching results of such prayers.”

Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-543) on reverence at prayer

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“If we do not venture to approach men who are in power, except with humility and reverence, when we wish to ask a favour, how much must we beseech the Lord God of all things with all humility and purity of devotion? And let us be assured that it is not in many words, but in the purity of heart and tears of compunction that we are heard. For this reason prayer ought to be short and pure, unless, perhaps it is lengthened by the inspiration of divine grace.”

– Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-543), The Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. XX

Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109): “That your joy may be complete”

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This prayer from Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109) can be found in his famous Proslogion, which he wrote in 1077-1078.

“I pray, O God, that I may know You and love You, so that I may rejoice in You. And if I cannot do so fully in this life may I progress gradually until it comes to fullness. Let the knowledge of You grow in me here, and there [in heaven] be made complete; let Your love grow in me here and there be made complete, so that here my joy may be great in hope, and there be complete in reality. Lord, by Your Son You command, or rather, counsel us to ask and you promise that we shall receive so that our ‘joy may be complete’ [John 16:24]. I ask, Lord, as You counsel through our admirable counselor. May I receive what You promise through Your truth so that my ‘joy may be complete’.  God of truth, I ask that I may receive so that my ‘joy may be complete’. Until then let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak of it, let my heart love it, let my mouth preach it. Let my soul hunger for it, let my flesh thirst for it, my whole being desire it, until I enter into the ‘joy of the Lord’ [Matt. 25:21], who is God, Three in One, ‘blessed forever. Amen’ [Rom 9:5].”