William Wilberforce’s Lesser Known Campaign

Tim Thornborough | June 21st 2018

What should we pray for ourselves?

Perhaps we could take a lead from William Wilberforce. His early life was, by his own account, wasted away. On a whim, he stood for UK Parliament at the age of 21. He was elected partly because, as his friend William Pitt said, he had: “the greatest natural eloquence of all the men I ever knew.”

But his early years in Westminster were wasted. He later said of them: "The first years in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object."

But then he became a convinced and a convicted Christian, through the witness of an old schoolmaster Isaac Milner; and everything changed.

"Surely the principles of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation" — William Wilberforce

He found a new attitude to his wealth, his behaviour, and most importantly, his mission in life. We all know the role he played in the abolition of the slavery, but he had another, less well known mission. He later summed it up like this:

"God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

By “manners” he meant character and behaviour. We know that Wilberforce spent much time praying that his efforts at the abolition of the slave trade. But his journals show that his private prayers were also focused on growing in personal holiness as a Christian. He said:

"Selfishness is one of the principal fruits of the corruption of human nature; and it is obvious that selfishness disposes us to over-rate our good qualities, and to overlook … our defects.”

And he knew from his reading of Galatians 5 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (KJV). So as part of his daily reflection and prayers, he wrote down the letters L J P L G G F M T, and scored himself against each of them for the previous day. His habit was then to thank God that he had been given grace in the areas he had done well in. But also to confess and to ask God to help him in the areas he was struggling with.

Day after day, he weighed his thoughts, words and actions against this list and asked God to help him grow more like Christ. And by repeatedly focusing on this he made sure that his prayer life was not something that was merely personal, but practical as well. As he said:

"Surely the principles of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation.”

What an example to follow…

Find help to pray through many of life’s joys and trials in Rachel Jones’ new book: Five Things to Pray for Your Heart: Prayers that Change You to be More Like Jesus. Available now.

Tim Thornborough

Tim Thornborough is the founder and Publishing Director of The Good Book Company. He is series editor of Explore Bible-reading notes, and has contributed to many books published by the Good Book Company and others. He is married to Kathy and has three adult daughters.

Featured product