Praying with Wesley

By Les Longden –

John Wesley was known for his emphasis upon the “means of grace.” Wesley defined these as the “ordinary channels” by which God conveys preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace to human beings. They are outward signs, words, or actions that God has especially appointed for the purpose of wooing us, speaking to us, and healing us.

Wesley wrote a whole sermon dedicated to describing these means of grace. They include searching the Scripture and receiving the Lord’s Supper. Elsewhere, he argued, “Surely there are works of mercy as well as works of piety, which are real means of grace.”

In other words, Wesley saw that God’s holiness and presence are disclosed to us not only in so-called religious activities in which we seek God’s grace for ourselves, but also through those actions where we lose ourselves in service to others. And thus he kept in careful balance the biblical command to love God and neighbor.

I want to look for a moment at what Wesley regarded as the first and most paramount means of grace. The one Wesley put first on the list was prayer, “whether in secret or with the great congregation.” We discover that Wesley interpreted secret and public prayer by turning to his meditation on the Lord’s Prayer.

You can read this in his Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, VI. If you don’t have Wesley’s collected sermons, there is a nice little collection for personal devotions titled Songs and Sermons, which contains a shorter version entitled “A Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer.”

I have used this little meditation for years to help me pray the Lord’s Prayer with freshness and depth. I have learned to pray it better by praying it with Wesley.

I especially like his interpretation of the phrase, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Wesley conceded from the start that most people understand these words to be “only an expression of, or petition for resignation; for a readiness to suffer the will of God.” He thought this could be a good thing, even a “precious gift of God.” But he added that this is not what we pray for in this petition.

“We pray, not so much for a passive, as for an active conformity to the will of God,” he wrote. Focusing on the qualifying phrase, “as it is in heaven,” Wesley asked how the will of God is done in heaven by the angels and those who circle His throne.

There’s no room here for Wesley’s whole account, but I encourage you to find his sermon and begin to pray the prayer with him. He showed how to pray it with the hosts of heaven who do God’s work. “They love His commandments,” he said. “It is their meat and drink to do His will; it is their highest glory and joy. They do it continually; there is no interruption in their willing service.”

Pray this prayer with Wesley and you’ll begin to discover, like Wesley and the angels in Heaven, what it means to run with all our powers to do the will of God on earth, as it is in heaven.

Leicester R. Longden is associate professor of evangelism and discipleship, emeritus, and director of United Methodist studies at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. 



  1. Moises Isla Duenas says

    I’m very glad to receive “Good News” because it’s an evangelical and wesleyan branch within the UMC. In these difficult times that we know it’s the last time we are to raise the standards of the true and only Gospel we have received through the revelation of God in His Holy Word our highest and only pattern of faith and behavior.

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