Summary: When we pray fervently, all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is focused on praying as the Spirit leads. We may fool ourselves with the other prayer keys, but not this one.
Prayer Keys - Earnestness
“Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:17-18
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, future US Presidents, were among the delegates meeting at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, on March 23, 1775, considering a resolution sending Virginia troops to the Revolutionary War. The Virginia House of Burgesses was unconvinced. Finally, Patrick Henry spoke. He concluded:
“What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Reportedly, those in attendance, upon hearing the speech, also shouted, “give me liberty or give me death!”
That passionate speech is credited with turning the tide. It is one of the most passionate lines from the American Revolution. It changed the course of history.
That line reminds me of a passionate prayer, prayed over 200 years earlier. John Knox prayed “Give me Scotland or I die.”
John Knox was described as low in stature and of a weakly constitution. A contemporary, Mr. Thomas Smeaton, said, “I know not if God ever placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.”
When that frail body went to his knees, Mary, Queen of Scots, trembled. She said she feared the prayers of John Knox more than the combined armies of Europe.
Larry Christenson in his book, The Christian Family, says John Knox prayed with such power that all Scotland was awakened. He goes so far as to attribute the whole reformation of Scotland to Knox’s prayers. He writes, “’Lord, Give me Scotland or I’ll die!’ [Knox] cried. And he prayed with such intensity that the Lord answered.”
Jonathan Edwards, a man used by God in the First Great Awakening, also prayed with fervent intensity. I have read that he preached in a weak, squeaking, monotone voice and held his tiny manuscript so close to his face that people could not see his expressions. When he preached, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in his weak, squeaking, monotone, people had to strain to hear him. It is said that he preached powerfully without the eloquence or theatrics some modern “evangelists” depend on. Strong men gripped pews and pillars as if they felt themselves falling into hell. Judgment day had dawned and they were desperately holding on to life until the altar call.
For three days before he first preached that sermon, he did not eat or sleep. Claiming New England for Christ was the only thing that mattered to him. Prayer was important to him. Food and sleep were not. Nothing distracted him. I am certain he did not intend it, but people passing his room heard his weak, squeaking voice as he sobbed, “God, give me New England! Give me New England!”
He finally rose from his knees and made his way to the pulpit. He was so weak, he could barely prop himself up. But before he opened his mouth, great conviction had already fallen on the congregation.
David Brainerd, a missionary to the Indians from 1743 to 1747, also prayed with fervent intensity.
Like John Knox, he was frail. Unlike John Knox, he never finished college, being expelled from Yale for criticizing a professor and for attending meetings of the “New Lights,” a religious organization. He was described at melancholy and despondent.
When we discussed holiness as a prayer key, I disagreed with those who described Luther and Spurgeon and other great preachers as “clinically depressed.” I suspect that they were more sensitive to their own sin than most of us are to our sins. They knew that any sin against the infinitely holy God is an infinitely wretched sin. We can surrender too easily in our struggle with sin, believing that confession and forgiveness are easy alternatives. We rarely mention that sorrow precedes repentance.
“Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God… Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…” 2 Corinthians 7:1, 9-10.
Godly sorry leads to repentance. It is not a casual, “Lord, forgive me my sins,” every night before bed. Repentance is never a casual thing.