Isaac Watts on the Nature of Prayer - Invocation

The famed hymn writer, Isaac Watts, wrote a book entitled A Guide to Prayer.  In dealing with the nature of prayer, Watts lists no less than 9 divisions for one to consider when praying to God: Invocation, Adoration, Confession, Petition, Pleading, Profession, Thanksgiving, Blessing, and the "Amen".  In our extremely hurried and perversely selfish society, Watts' exalted view of prayer serves as both a reproof against shallow, self-centered prayers and an example of careful, soul-searching, God-exalting prayers.  He begins with what he calls the "invocation."

Invocation is the first portion of a prayer to God.  It means simply to call upon God.  For a prayer to be genuine it must first be addressed to the genuine God of the Bible.  This sounds simple enough, yet so many pray while seemingly showing little to no idea of who it is they are praying to based on the kinds of assumptions their prayers make about the character and activity of God.  What you say to God when praying says something about who you believe God is (what He is like, how He works in His world, etc.).

For Isaac Watts, your prayer to God must begin with an appropriate acknowledgement of who He truly is as He has revealed Himself to be in Scripture.  One's personal feelings and emotions or impressions and vague conceptions do not define who God is--the Bible alone tells us who God is. You do not pray to the true and living God if you do not pray to the God of the Bible.

Watts tells us to mention one or more of the names or titles of God when we call on Him in prayer. Such designations as "Most holy God and Father," "God most high," "Sovereign Lord of all creation," "Most merciful God of all grace and steadfast love," are good ways not only to rightly honor God for who He has revealed Himself to be in the Bible, but also serve to place the one praying in his/her proper place before the Almighty God.

Acknowledgement of God by way of the titles He has given Himself naturally leads the believer to the second part of Watts' invocation, namely, a declaration of one's desire and design to worship God. Here the believer confesses his or her own unworthiness before the Lord and acknowledges that He alone is worthy of all worship and praise.

Watts adds a third and final portion to the invocation.  The one engaged in prayer should emphasize a desire for God's assistance and acceptance under the sense of his own insufficiency and unworthiness. Several needs come to mind when thus praying to God. We need grace. We need knowledge, understanding, instruction, correction, and wisdom. We need humility and thankfulness. Most importantly, we need the Holy Spirit's controlling and purifying influence within.

It is not hard to see the focus of Watts' invocation---God Himself!  Far too many prayers place humanity at the center of the universe and treat God like a cosmic Santa who owes us a life free from pain and discomfort.  Watts' helpful book on prayer is a much needed corrective to such man-obsessed prayer.  I'll summarize Watts' following 8 divisions of prayer in future blogs.