John Stott used to pray this prayer everyday:
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control
Holy, blessed and glorious trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
What’s striking about this prayer is how much it focuses on what David Brooks calls eulogy virtues, “the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being,” rather than résumé virtues, “the skills that you bring to the job market and contribute to external success.” Most of us have clear strategies for developing career success, Brooks observes, but we’re not so clear on how to develop a profound character.
I appreciate Stott’s prayer for a few reasons. It’s Triune. It focuses on the goal of living in God’s presence and pleasing him. It asks for help with costly obedience. It asks the Spirit for help in developing his fruit. And it ends with a plea for mercy. All of these components point to a man who has a desire to please God, is focused on the right things, and knows that he needs God’s help to develop godly character.
Godly character seems so ordinary. The fruit of the spirit seems so pedestrian. Resume virtues impress; character virtues seem secondary. Some may even argue that some of the virtues get in the way of good leadership. Cultivating these virtues is always countercultural. It always requires the Spirit’s help, especially when we’re tempted to sacrifice them for the sake of other goals.
“You could be the most eloquent preacher in the world and still be on the road to hell,” writes Aaron Menikoff. “You could have a church building packed to the brim every Sunday morning and still not be a child of God. Your ministry may seem to be thriving under your leadership, but if you lack the fruit of the Spirit, you don’t know Christ and need to repent immediately.”
I’m praying for many things these days. I’m reviewing my calendar for the coming year and making some plans. I want to serve my congregation well and accomplish some big things. I’m also praying that the church will respond faithfully and well to the challenges we’re facing in our age, which will require courage, clarity, and conviction. Now is not a time for silence or retreat.
But I’m struck by how much we can attempt without qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So it seems like a good time to pray something like John Stott’s prayer.
May the Triune God produce within us the character we need to both please him and live faithfully in our time. May these virtues characterize our lives and our churches. This is my prayer for 2022.