Prayer – Wilhemus À Brakel

Wilhemus À Brakel (1635-1711) was a Dutch Reformed minister. During his final pastorate in Rotterdam, he published The Christian’s Reasonable Service, a systematic theology that expresses what is required of man in order to serve God in Spirit and truth. It works through each of the major Christian doctrines in a way that shows them all centering in the person and work of Jesus Christ. After explaining many of the Christian graces, he enters into a discussion on prayer and then an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer.

À Brakel begins, “The acknowledgment of all God’s perfections, and the exercise of all virtues toward God coalesce in prayer – that necessary, profitable, holy, and sanctifying duty of a Christian. Consequently, the exercise of religion is comprehensively expressed as prayer and calling upon God: ‘Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD’ (Gen 4:26).” [1] Prayer is one of the chief manners in which religion is practiced. He then lists the variety of forms prayer takes: worship, invocation, supplication, groaning, public, private, intercessory, imprecatory, and thanksgiving. Each of these prayers are appropriate for any type of situation.

Prayer is simply “the expression of holy desires to God in the name of Jesus Christ, which, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, proceed from a regenerated heart, along with the request for the fulfillment of these desires.”[2] Each part of this definition is important. Prayer is the expression of holy desires. The expression of holy desires means three things. The person praying is looking to himself and his deficiency. The person praying is looking to God to supply his needs. And the person praying is looking for that which is lacking. The intermingling of these three is the expression of holy desires. This is done in the name of Jesus Christ and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is, therefore, thoroughly Trinitarian in its exercise.

Our prayer is to be characterized by humility, in Spirit and truth, with earnestness and fervency, with perseverance, and in faith. Humility is “the sensible, humble disposition of the supplicant, resulting from a view of the majesty of God, and of his own sinfulness, unworthiness, and impotence either to supply his deficiency or to have it fulfilled by God.”[3] Praying in Spirit and truth means to pray with understanding as an exercise of the will. This is not rote repetition. Earnestness and fervency means to pray with intense and strong desire with understanding and thoughtfulness. Praying with perseverance means to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). And prayer in faith means that the one praying is a Christian, he uses God’s Word as a guide, he trusts in God’s providence, ordination, and power to answer prayer, and he believes that prayer works.

Wilhelmus À Brakel then explains several reasons to pray. It glorifies God. It pleases God. God hears your prayers. The Christian is allowed to enter into the throne room of God Almighty in prayer. Prayer is a means of sanctification in the life of the Christian. And prayer truly is a means by which God will execute his will and fulfill your holy desires.

He then explains a variety of obstacles that we all experience in prayer. We all face these obstacles from time to time. There is a reason it is far more common for people not to pray than to be consistent in prayer. And those reasons have not changed much from the 18th century to the 21st. If God already knows my needs, anxieties, and desires, then why pray? It is not for you to inform God, but rather for you to acknowledge your need and God’s gracious supply. If God has already decreed whatsoever is to happen, then why pray? The secret things are for the Lord, but the revealed things are for us. God has bound us to means and He wills that we believe and rely upon His promises through the means given. À Brakel adds, “God has also decreed already how long you will live. Do you therefore desist from eating and drinking?”[4] If I sin again and again, how could I ever come to God in prayer? I’m not worthy. This is true. You aren’t worthy. But you come to God in prayer through Christ’s righteousness. Don’t let sin keep you from prayer, instead let it drive you all the more to trust in God’s forgiveness and strength.

Finally, À Brakel gives very practical advice in prayer. Find time alone and free of distractions. Humble yourself before God. Focus on Him and his glory. Lift your heart up to him. If you need to, repent of sin and trust in Christ’s forgiveness. Don’t fall into a rut of using the same words over and over, but pray from the heart. Take your time and persevere even if your prayer time seems dark or dull. Finally, remember that God does, indeed, hear your prayer and he will answer them.

[1] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 3.443.

[2] Ibid., 3.446.

[3] Ibid., 456.

[4] Ibid., 471.