Being a pastor, I have been on pastoral search team committees both as a member as well as a candidate on countless occasions. Often, the worse of such teams would ask derivative questions of potential pastors along these lines: "How old are you? Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you like children? Do you enjoy working with youth? What are your hobbies? Outside of the church activities, what do you do for fun? Do you have a sense of humor when you speak?" These questions sound fine and dandy that is if you are running a matchmaking agency looking for potential spouses. They sound like the questions you would reserve for a date between a man and a woman. They are definitely not the most penetrating (or even the most Biblically responsible) questions to ask in looking for a man of God called to the holy task of administering God's graces.
This is why whenever I am on a pastoral search team one of the first things I would do is to invite the potential candidate to pray. Prayers, especially those that are unscripted and extemporaneous, are a window into our souls. It is the barometer that measures the intimacy between the candidate and God. Prayer reveals more about a person's spiritual depth and dimension even more than preaching can. In this day and age of Internet plagiarism where the best of sermons from the best of preachers are readily available, a pastor's lack of spiritual depth can easily be disguised under the piles of illustrations, funny lines and even stellar sermon outlines available for just a click. But not when the pastor is leading a public prayer especially when he's not given time to prepare for.
This is thus the value of a book like "C. H. Spurgeon's Prayers." If you want to tour of what made Charles Hadden Surgeon such a mighty vessel of God, read his prayers. Gathering 26 of Spurgeon's pastoral prayers (and one sermon on prayer), these are extemporaneous prayers uttered by the pastor before his congregation on Sunday mornings at London's Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon is arguably one of Christendom's most influential figures. Often hailed as the Prince of Preachers, Spurgeon's golden voice could be heard by as many as 5,000 people without the augmentation of modern amplification. Even though it has been over a couple of hundred years since Spurgeon's death, his sermons are still selling today as hot cakes. And of all the reprints of literature from the Victorian era, Spurgeon's sermons have been the most prodigiously produced.
Though Spurgeon would on occasions surrender his pulpit to other preachers, it has been said that he rarely missed the congregational prayer. For Spurgeon, the congregational prayer was more than just laying the needs of the church before the feet of God. Rather, he saw prayer as a teaching moment for him to impact God's truth to his flock. But prayer for Spurgeon was also a pastoral moment shared between the pastor and his people. It is through Spurgeon's prayer we get an intimate depiction of the pastor's acumen, concern and love for his church. From the vantage point of Scripture, Spurgeon is spot on. Jesus, for instance, after the raising of Lazarus in John 10:41 & 42, also used prayer as a teaching moment to teach the crowd who He really was.
So, what is the value of us in reading the prayers of Spurgeon today? May I suggest six reasons: first, the prayers of Spurgeon help us to pray in a way God will always answer. If Scripture is the expression of God's will, God is most delighted to answer if we ask according to His will. Hardly does a paragraph of his prayer go by without Spurgeon citing, alluding, quoting and applying Scripture to his petitions. Pay attention to the Scriptural allusions to some of these lines from Spurgeon's prayers: "Walking among the golden candlesticks trim every lamp and make every light, even though it burneth but feebly now, to shine out gloriously through Thy care."
Why is it important to pray using Scripture? If you pray through Scripture, you don't have to wonder, "Is what I am asking self serving? Is this what I should be praying about? Will God be pleased with my prayer?" And you don't have to worry if God will not answer your prayers. When you are praying Scripture, you know you are praying in keeping with God's will. And if it's God's will that you seek, you can be sure He will answer.
Second, Spurgeon prayed through the whole council of God. In Acts 20:27 elders are commanded to teach the whole council of God, that is all of the Old and the New Testaments. Spurgeon shows us through his prayers how to Acts 20:27 is possible even in prayer. When was the last time you heard a sermon on Revelation 12 about the Dragon chasing after the pregnant woman? Now ask yourself, when was the last time you heard Revelation 12 used in a prayer? Spurgeon shows through his prayers that the book of Revelation is not jut material for theological debates. Rather, all of Scripture is God's Word (yes, this includes Revelation) and it be can used prayerfully in worship before God.
Third, the prayers of Spurgeon show us where his citizenship lies. Many of our prayers are centered upon our earthly existence: "Lord, please provide my husband with a job. Lord, heal Aunt May of her broken toe. Lord, please help Johnny find a Godly wife." These prayers are by no means wrong, but if they form the bulk of our petitions, then in what ways are we seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Yet, if you analyze the prayers of Spurgeon 80% of his prayers are centered upon God's kingdom. "We might pray about our troubles. We will not; we only pray against our sins. We might come to Thee about our weariness, about our sickness, about our disappointment, about our poverty; but we will leave all that, we will only come about sin." Almost in every of these 26 prayers here, Spurgeon prayed more for holiness and righteousness than healed toe nails and our dream vacation in Europe.
Fourth, Spurgeon's prayers reveal the secrets of why he was called the Prince of Preachers. Many things can be said about Spurgeon's preaching. And indeed from every stance his sermons are vintage and nonpareil. But one gets a sneaking suspicion that the power of the revival nature of his preaching resides also in his prayers. Never would Spurgeon allow a Sunday to go by without boldly asking for the lost. But more importantly, Spurgeon realized that conversion is spiritual battle between God and the Satan. By reading through the prayers of Spurgeon, you can't help but notice how many times Spurgeon prayed against the work of Satan. My favorite line being: "yet grant that Satan may cast out Satan, and may his kingdom be divided, and so fall." When was the last time we prayed against the work of Satan?
Fifth, through the prayers of Spurgeon, we hear his pastoral heart. The pastor's pastoral skills are not most evident in the counselling room or by the hospital bed, but it is in the throne room of God. Before God, how does a pastor love his congregation? If all you pray for your congregation resides in the superficial, temporal and the material, you don't really love the congregation. Spurgeon loved his church so deeply that he tunnels into their souls and pray fervently for them. "We have heard Thy message to the churches at Ephesus; it is a message to us also. Oh! Do not let any of us our first love. Let not our church grow cold and dead."
Sixth, Spurgeon prayed that his church would bear the marks of the Cross in their bodies. We have often used prayers as lucky charms so that "bad" things don't happen to us. We pray so that we might not get caught by the police as we race our kids from home to school. We pray that we might book the last minute flight so that we can go home for Christmas for our much deserved break. When was the last time we ever prayed to share in Christ's sufferings (Phil. 3:10) and bear the marks of His suffering (Gal. 6:17)? When was the last time we hear these words: "We have been willing to lose our name and our repute if so be Thou mightiest be glorified, and truly we often feel that if the crushing of us would lift Thee one inch the higher, we would gladly suffer it?"
Outwardly Spurgeon might not look remotely like an ideal pastor. But wait till he prays: you can hear the Lion of Judah in his roar. You can witness how the torrents of the Temple's waters putting out the glowing sulphurs of hell. And you can hear the chirpy flutter of the sparrow whispering in our ears, "We do have a heavenly father who cares for us." For God's hand on his servant cannot be discern through a person's marital status or his status or his wealth but it is in the way he or she prays. So, thank God for this collection of prayers by Spurgeon that reminds us again of what powerful prayer sounds like. As the disciples asked the Lord all those years ago, may we also ask of Jesus today, "Lord, teach us to pray."