Poetry, Prayer, and the Power of Biblical Truth

On some evenings or Sunday afternoons, I love to read through hymnals. I don’t sing the songs. Rather, I simply read through the lyrics as spiritual poetry. The best hymn-writers take spiritual truths and summarize them in impactful and memorable ways.

In this regard, one of the best hymn-writers was John Newton. Famous for one song, “Faith’s Review and Expectation”—which we call “Amazing Grace”—Newton wrote almost three hundred hymns. Sadly, most of these aren’t sung today. But one that should probably be brought back is his song that is usually referred to by its first line: “Behold the Throne of Grace.” Originally, untitled, this hymn provides amazing encouragement for the believer to pray.

You would think that, as Christians, prayer would be natural to us and that we wouldn’t struggle at all. But we all know that’s not true. We often have difficulty in prayer. Among other things, we are discouraged and believe it won’t help, get worried that God doesn’t care, feel like there are better things to do, or simply lack the motivation to spend time with God.

And this is where something like this hymn can help. Newton was a pastor and understood the nature of the human heart better than most. So, when one of his members chronically struggled with depression, he invited him to use his gift of poetry to write hymns. He and Newton would sit together and work on lyrics that would be sung by the church.  There is power in poetically describing the truths of God. It has a way of making the familiar fresh, redirecting us to the glories above.  For Newton’s member, it was a way to draw up the man’s gaze to God and away from his awful feelings and thoughts.

The same may be true for us.  Below I’ve summarized the stanzas of Newton’s hymn into specific biblical encouragements to pray. And if you find your prayer time needs refreshment, consider reviewing these truths and some of the biblical texts which teach them. Then perhaps one morning or evening, when your desire to pray is flagging, or the couch seems more desirable than the chairs of the monthly prayer gathering, read through Newton’s hymn, soak up its pastorally-wise encouragements, and make your way to the throne of grace.

“Behold the Throne of Grace”

Behold the throne of grace,
The promise calls us near,
There Jesus shows a smiling face
And waits to answer prayer.

That rich atoning blood,
Which sprinkled round we see,
Provides for those who come to God
An all prevailing plea.

My soul ask what thou wilt,
Thou canst not be too bold;
Since His own blood for thee He spilt,
What else can He withhold.

Beyond thy utmost wants
His love and pow’r can bless;
To praying souls He always grants,
More than they can express.

Since ’tis the Lord’s command,
My mouth I open wide;
Lord open Thou Thy bounteous hand,
That I may be supplied.

Thine image, Lord, bestow,
Thy presence and Thy love;
I ask to serve Thee here below,
And reign with Thee above.

Teach me to live by faith,
Conform my will to Thine;
Let me victorious be in death,
And then in glory shine.

If Thou these blessings give,
And wilt my portion be;
Cheerful the world’s poor toys I leave,
To them who know not Thee.

 – John Newton

Biblical Truth and Encouragements 

  1. God wants to hear and answer his people’s prayers (John 15:7–11).
  2. Jesus’ death promises forgiveness and acceptance (Heb 12:24).
  3. God will not withhold any good thing since he’s already given us his best in Christ (Rom 8:32).
  4. God often gives beyond what we can even ask for in prayer (Eph 3:20–21; Rom 8:26–27).
  5. God commands we pray so that he can bless us (Matt 7:7–11).
  6. God is conforming us to Christ’s image, through suffering to glory (Rom 8:18, 28–30).
  7. God will help us follow in Christ’s footsteps, submitting to God’s will (Luke 22:42–46; Rom 6:5–11).
  8. God’s generosity in giving spiritual things through prayer allows us to leave behind earthly treasures (Ps 84:8–12).

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