Charles Spurgeon: Praying in the Holy Spirit: Fervency

When I was looking around for a devotional topic for last week’s Prayer at Six meeting, I came across the evening devotional for that date (October 8th) in Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. The 20th verse of the book of Jude exhorts us to “pray in the Holy Spirit.” In this devotional reading, Spurgeon gives his rendition of what this means. First, he characterizes prayer as a two-way relationship with God when he says that, “Only the prayer which comes from God can go to God.” Prayer is a conversation with God, not a monologue. Prayers that are entirely self-motivated have little effect. He then goes on to describe five qualities of praying in the Spirit. We considered the first one at this evening’s meeting: “Praying in the Holy Spirit is praying in fervency. Cold prayers ask the Lord not to hear them. Those who do not plead with fervency, plead not at all. As well speak of lukewarm fire as of lukewarm prayer—it is essential that it be red hot.” This got me to thinking about what fervency means for prayer.

I’ve been in plenty of meetings where prayers could be described as fervent for their being loud, intense and accompanied by strained facial expressions and vigorous bodily gestures. These sorts of things may be evidence of fervent prayer but they not constitutive of it. Fervency is not just emotionalism. I think real fervency has its source in the heart and soul of the one praying. It comes from a deep concern that our prayers be heard and a vivid awareness of the need for them to be answered. One example of fervent prayer is Hanna’s prayer for a son in 1 Samuel 1:1-20. Hanna was so distressed that she prayed without making a sound while moving her lips and weeping bitterly. To the undiscerning priest, Eli, she appeared to be drunk. Another familiar example of fervent prayer is that of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). Fervency most naturally arises out of agony on our part; when we are desperate for help from God. But I think fervency can also be cultivated according to Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:9-12 and I think that it is important that we do so.

But why would fervency matter to God? Isn’t our plain speaking enough for him to hear our prayers? No, because prayer is an expression of our relationship with God and, like any personal relationship, its quality matters more than the mere content of its communication. Think about any personal relationship you have with family, close friends, a spouse or your children and compare your expression of caring and concern for these people with that which you express to God in prayer. If we pray merely to convey information about our wants or needs when we feel them, or the concerns of others when we are asked to pray for them, we are praying “lukewarm prayers.” Prayer is not simply a transaction between two parties (you and God) who happen to be interested in what each has to offer the other. Fervency arises out of a desire not only to communicate with God, but to commune with him. Fervent prayer is the expression of a relationship that we consider to be vital to our well being, something with which we can’t live long without exercising; availing ourselves of its possibilities at every opportunity.

That word, “lukewarm”, put me in mind of the text used by Pastor Jerry Kasberg in his sermon yesterday. The warning to the Church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-20 is about being lukewarm in their pursuit of God and undiscerning of their need for his mercy, grace and love. If our prayers are not a reflection of the quality of our desire for God, what are they? Fervency in prayer depends on the depth of our concern over the subject of our prayers. It is cultivated by reflection, self examination, empathizing with the needs of others, and opening ourselves up to God’s direction of our lives. Spiritual disciplines have been developed and practiced for centuries in order to help cultivate a life that is characteristically “fervent in the Spirit.” These take regular effort on our part, but so does maintaining any valuable connection with another person. Think about it. Is anything hindering your prayers?

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