A commenter asked me to say a word about Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ advice in Preaching and Preachers that Christians should make use of devotional books in order to ‘warm their hearts’ for prayer. So, here goes.
The Doctor’s remarks are from chapter 9, The Preparation of the Preacher. This may very well be the best chapter of the book, at least from my perspective, though chapters 4 (The Form of the Sermon) and 15 (The Pitfalls and the Romance) are right up there with it. What am I saying?, the whole book is very, very good. But I digress.
MLJ was keenly aware of what it felt like to be ‘cold at heart.’ He therefore encouraged folks to do things that would liven their affections with the intent of praying. There is a place for disciplined prayer to be sure, but if prayer is mainly cold and dry in your life, something is amiss. Perhaps your emotions have become dull. And so he pointed to regular, systematic Bible reading, the reading of devotional books, and music as the three primary means of thawing out a cold heart.
The frequent, systematic reading of Scripture is absolutely essential here. If you are cyclically reading the Bible, you will constantly be finding new things that move you. Just tonight this happened to me as I was reading 2 Kings 7 with my family. It tells the story of four lepers who trek into the camp of the Syrians in the midst of a famine only to find that the Syrian forces had fled and left all their goods. The lepers alerted officials to their findings and Israel found a new supply of cheap food, and gold and silver.
The premise, though not made up, is not unlike Goldilocks and the Three Bears. She found the house empty, and she enjoys the porridge. That’s what Israel did, on a much larger scale. As I thought about this passage, my mind was drawn to Christ, and particularly to the words of the Apostle Paul, that ‘he who was rich, for your sake became poor, that you might become rich in him.’ Which led me to the words of Charles Wesley, ‘He left his Father’s throne above, so free so infinite his grace. Emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.’ Christ is ransacked for our sake. He gives up his goods, his wares, so that they can become ours, and he does so voluntarily.
My point is simply that reading the Bible systematically, as MLJ contended, is a, make that the, major source of the fire that warms the heart toward God.
Next, he encouraged the reading of devotional books. He does not name them in Preaching and Preachers, but I have read enough of him to know what he considered to be gold. He loved the Puritans, as do I. When I find myself down or cold, I inevitably turn to the Puritans for warmth. Thomas Watson, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Brooks, and John Owen are my go to devotional writers. But notice I call them devotional. Today the word devotional usually equals short and fluffy, like Our Daily Bread. But this is not what devotional should mean. The Doctor used the term to denote something ‘with a note of worship in it.’ Devotional then, for him and for me, means something that exalts God and his grace and his glory. Something that draws you up into something of his glory. The Puritans do this.
The Doctor also liked Whitefield and Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. He read Charles Hodge often. He read Charles Spurgeon. These are names that he mentions repeatedly. He read their sermons. If you want your soul warmed, read the good preachers. A couple of months ago when I was reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, I happened to turn one night to a sermon by Spurgeon called Enchanted Ground. I was looking through a table of contents in a collection of his sermons and said to myself, ‘That sounds like it came straight out of Bunyan.’ So it did. But I found in the sermon a call to wake up from slumber, to not let the devil woo you to sleep with his devices and distractions. I needed that, it warmed my heart. Lately I have been reading a collection of sermons by Francis Shaeffer and it has had much the same impact. It has provoked me to praise God in prayer.
Lastly, MLJ mentions music. The devotional power of good music is fairly evident and doesn’t need explanation. Get to know the great old hymns. Learn the psalms. Sing the psalms. On days when I find myself cold, stressed, and melancholy, you will likely find me at some point singing the words of Psalm 43, ‘Send out thy light, send out thy truth, let them lead me…O my soul, why art thou cast down, why so discouraged be? Hope thou in God! I’ll praise him still. My help, my God, is he!’
And in addition, let me encourage here the practice of Christian meditation. Think about what you read and sing. Think deeply about it. Don’t read simply in order to get information. Don’t sing just to work up raw emotions. Read and sing to get fuel. Raw reading and raw singing are cheap fuel that don’t go very far. Reading and singing with an eye toward thinking – deep thinking – however, will provide lasting fuel. I am still living off the fuel I gained from reading Preaching and Preachers years ago – because I have kept thinking about what I read, internalizing it, applying it. The same, of course, is the case with the Bible. Think about what you read. Don’t be content to simply let your eyes pass over words. Embed those words in your soul, apply them to your soul, let them lead you to Jesus every day of your life. The Bible is like a fire, and meditation blows on that fire and makes it come to life and bring heat in your soul.
All of this will lead to more fervent prayer. And it cannot simply be a thing you do in the morning when you wake up. It has to be a part of your lifestyle, it needs to be engrained into who you are every waking moment. Every star in the sky should be fuel for devotion. Every rose in the flowerbed. Every hurricane or tornado. Every book, even the bad ones, even the godless ones. It’s all fuel if you will use it to point your heart back to Jesus Christ and his glory. Ask the Holy Spirit for help.
For more on meditation, see HERE and HERE.