A Praying Christian by J. Sidlow Baxter

Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter (1903-1999) was born in Sidney, Australia, and grew up in Lancashire, England. He trained for the ministry at Spurgeon’s College, London, where the foundations were laid for a life of fruitful ministry; he was a pastor in Scotland and England. He later moved to the United States, where he eventually retired and died.  His ecclesiastical roots were in the Calvinistic Methodist Church.

     Dr. Baxter was not only a preacher of outstanding ability, but first and foremost, he was a Bible teacher. He was in great demand as a speaker at conferences and conventions. Among Baxter’s best-known books are Awake My Heart, Divine Healing of the Body, The Strategic Grasp of the Bible, and Rethinking Our Priorities. His most popular work is Explore the Book, a 1760-page tome that analyzes and summarizes each book of the Bible. He also authored a trilogy on the doctrine of sanctification: A New Call to Holiness, His Deeper Work in Us, and Our High Calling, which were later published as one volume.

Editor: I first came across a book by Dr. Baxter in 1974, after which I began to acquire as many of his books as I could find (presently totaling 15). What a warm-hearted, keen-minded servant of the Lord he was. He being dead yet speaketh! I have lost the source from which this article was taken. 

When I entered the ministry in 1928, I determined that I would be the most “Methodist” Baptist in the history of the world. Talk about perfectionism! Talk about making plans for the day! They must have been a marvel to both angels and demons.

But, just as the stars in their courses fought against Sisera long ago, so the stars in their courses seemed set on smashing my well-made plans to smithereens. Oh, I would start. You know, I’d rise at 5:30. Fifteen minutes to wash and dress. Then an hour and a half of prayer and Bible reading. Half an hour for breakfast. Thirty minutes for a constitutional— to walk up to the woods, breathe deep and, when nobody was looking, run now and again—that’s a constitutional.

Now, I won’t take time telling you all the subtle subterfuges which Satan used to trip me up and trick me out of keeping my plans. But I found that with increasing administrative duties and responsibilities in the pastorate, my plans were going haywire. My time for prayer was getting crowded out, and my periods of study with the Bible were getting scarcer.

That was bad enough, but it was worse when I began to get used to it. And then I began excusing myself. My prayer life became a case of sinning and repenting. Every time I got down to pray, I had to start weeping and asking the Lord’s forgiveness. I had to repent that I hadn’t prayed more and ask Him to help me to do better in the future. All such things really take the pleasure out of praying!

A Crisis

Then it all came to a crisis. At a certain time one morning, I looked at my watch. According to my plan, for I was still bravely persevering, I was to withdraw for an hour of prayer.

I looked at my watch, and it said: “Time for prayer, Sid.” But I looked at my desk, and there was a miniature mountain of correspondence. And Conscience said, “You ought to answer those letters.” So, as we say in Scotland, I swithered (doubt, waver). Shall it be prayer? Shall it be letters? Prayer? Letters? Yes, no. Yes, no. And while I was swithering, a velvety little voice began to speak in my inner consciousness: “Look here, Sid, what’s all this bother? You know very well what you should do. The practical thing is to get those letters answered. You can’t afford the time for prayer this morning. Get those letters answered.”

But I still swithered, and the voice began to reinforce what it had said. It said, “Look here, Sid, don’t you think the Lord knows all the busy occupations which are taking your time? You’re converted, you’re born again, and you’re in the ministry. People are crowding in; you’re having conversions. Doesn’t that show that God is pleased with you? And even if you can’t pray, don’t worry too much about you. Look, Sid, you’d better face up to it. You’re not one of the spiritual ones.”

I don’t want to use extravagant phrases, but if you had plunged a dagger into my bosom, it couldn’t have hurt me more. “Sid, you are not one of the spiritual ones.”

I’m not the introspective type, but that morning I took a good look into Sidlow Baxter. And I found that there was an area of me that did not want to pray. I had to admit it.

A Battle

I didn’t want to pray. But I looked more closely, and I found that there was a part of me that did. The part that didn’t was the emotions and the part that did was the intellect and the will.

Suddenly I found myself asking Sidlow Baxter: “Are you going to let your will be dragged about by your changeful emotions? And I said to my will: “Will, are you ready for prayer?” And Will said, “Here I am, I’m ready.” So I said, “Come on. Will, we will go.”

So Will and I set off to pray. But the minute we turned our footsteps to go and pray, all my emotions began to talk: “We’re not coming, we’re not coming. we’re not coming.” And I said to Will, “Will, can you stick it?” And Will said, “Yes, if you can.” So Will and I, we dragged off those wretched emotions, and we went to pray and stayed an hour in prayer.

If you had asked me afterward, “Did you have a good time?” Do you think I could have said yes? A good time? No, it was a fight all the way!

What I would have done without the companionship of Will, I don’t know. In the middle of the most earnest intercession, I suddenly found one of the principal emotions way out on the golf course, playing golf. And I had to run to the golf course and say, “Come back.” And a few minutes later, I found another of the emotions; it had traveled one and a half days in advance, and it was in the pulpit preaching a sermon I had not even yet prepared. And I had to say, “Come back.”

I certainly couldn’t have said we had a good time. It was exhausting, but we did it. The next morning came. I looked at my watch, and it was time. I said to Will, “Come on, Will, it’s time for prayer.”

And all the emotions began to pull the other way, and I said, “Will, can you stick it?” And Will said, “Yes, in fact, I think I’m stronger after the struggle yesterday morning.” So Will and I went in again.

The same thing happened. Rebellious, tumultuous, uncooperative emotions. If you had asked me, “Have you had a good time?” I would have had to tell you with tears, “No, the heavens were like brass. It was a job to concentrate. I had an awful time with the emotions.”

A Victory

This went on for about two and a half weeks. But Will and I stuck it out. Then one morning during that third week, I looked at my watch, and I said, “Will, it’s time for prayer. Are you ready?”

And Will said, “Yes, I’m ready.” And just as we were going in, I heard one of my chief emotions say to the others. “Come on, fellows, there’s no use wearing ourselves out; they’ll go on whatever we do.”

That morning we didn’t have any hilarious experience or wonderful visions with heavenly voices and raptures. But Will and I were able, with less distraction, to get on with praying. And that went on for another two or three weeks. In fact, Will and I had begun to forget the emotions. I would say, “Will, are you ready for prayer?” And Will replied, “Yes, I’m always ready.”

Suddenly one day, while Will and I were pressing our case at the throne of the heavenly glory, one of the chief emotions shouted, “Hallelujah!” and all the other emotions suddenly shouted, “Amen!” For the first time, the whole territory of James Sidlow Baxter was happily coordinated in the exercises of prayer, and God suddenly became real, and heaven was wide open, and Christ was there, and the Holy Spirit was moving, and I knew that all the time, God had been listening.

The point is this: the validity and the effectuality of prayer are not determined or even affected by the subjective psychological condition of the one who prays. The thing that makes prayer valid and vital and moving and operative is “MY FAITH takes hold of God’s truth.”

Brothers and sisters, soon now, we shall be meeting Him. When you meet Him, and speak reverently, when you feel His arms around you, and when you embrace as well as adore Him, don’t you want to be able to look into that wonderful face and say, “Lord, at last, I’m seeing face-to-face the One I have for years known heart-to-heart.”

Why don’t you resolve that from this time on, you will be a praying Christian? You will never, never, never regret it! NEVER!!! 





Author: Ralph I. Tilley

I joyfully identify with the long history of the orthodox, evangelical stream of the Church. Theologically, I am a conservative. On issues of secondary importance, I will not quibble with my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I would hope I have no doctrinal biases; however, I realize that is a practical impossibility: “Now I know in part.” You can read more on the About page.