Excerpted from “The Christian Soldier” by Thomas Watson
Prayer is a duty which keeps the trade of piety flowing. When we either join in prayer with others, or pray alone, we must use holy violence. It is not eloquence in prayer—but violence carries it. Theodorus, speaking of Luther, “once (says he) I overheard Luther in prayer: with what life and spirit did he pray! It was with so much reverence, as if he were speaking to God—yet with so much confidence, as if he had been speaking to his friend.” There must be a stirring up of the heart, 1. To prayer. 2. In prayer.
1. There must be a stirring up of the heart TO prayer, Job 11:13. “If you prepare your heart, and stretch out your hands toward him.” This preparing of our heart by holy thoughts and ejaculations. The musician first tunes his instrument, before he plays.
2. There must be a stirring up of the heart IN prayer. Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and soul to God, which cannot be done aright without offering violence to one-self. The names given to prayer imply violence. It is called wrestling, Gen. 32:24. and a pouring out of the soul, 1 Sam. 1:15; both of which imply vehemency. The affection is required as well as invention. The apostle speaks of an effectual fervent prayer, which is a parallel phrase to offering violence.
That we may offer violence to ourselves and by fervency feather the wing of prayer, let these things be duly weighed.
- The majesty of God with whom we have to do. He sees how it is with us in prayer, whether we are deeply affected with those things we pray for. “The king came in to see the guests,” Matt. 22:11. So when we go to pray, the King of glory comes in to see in what frame we are; he has a window which looks into our breasts, and if He sees a dead heart, he may turn a deaf ear. Nothing will sooner make God’s anger wax hot, than a cold prayer.
- Prayer without fervency and violence is no prayer; it is speaking, not praying. Lifeless prayer is no more prayer than the picture of a man is a man. To say a prayer, is not to pray; Ashanius taught his parrot the Lord’s Prayer. It is the violence and wrestling of the affections that make it a prayer, else it is no prayer.
- The zeal and violence of the affections in prayer best suits God’s nature. He is a spirit, John4:24. and surely that prayer which is full of life and spirit is the savory food he loves, 1 Peter 2:5. “Spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” Spirituality and fervency in duty, is like the spirits of wine, which are the more refined part of the wine. Bodily exercise profits nothing. It is not the stretching of the lungs—but the vehemency of the desire, that makes music in God’s ears.
- Consider the need we have of those things which we ask in prayer. We come to ask the favor of God; and if we have not his love, all that we enjoy is cursed to us. We pray that our souls may be washed in Christ’s blood, and if he washes us not, “we have no part in him.” Such are these mercies that if God denies us, we are forever undone. Therefore what violence we need to put forth in prayer. When will a man be earnest, if not when he is begging for his life?
- Let it provoke violence in prayer, to consider, that those things which we ask, God has a mind to grant. If a son asks nothing but what his father is willing to bestow, he may be the more earnest in his suit. We go to God for pardon of sin, and no work is more pleasing to him than to seal pardons. Mercy is his delight, Micah 7:18. We pray to God for a holy heart, and this prayer is according to his will, 1 Thes. 4:3. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification”. We pray that God would give us a heart to love him. How pleasing must this request must be to God! This, if anything, may excite prayer, and carry it in a fiery chariot up to Heaven, when we know we pray for nothing but that which God is more willing to grant than we are to ask.
- No mercy can be bestowed on us but in a way of prayer. Mercy is purchased by Christ’s blood—but it is conveyed by prayer. All the promises are bonds made over to us—but prayer puts these bonds in suit. The Lord has told Israel with what rich mercy He would bespangle them; he would bring them to their native country, and that with new hearts, Ezek. 36. The breast of God’s mercy is full—but prayer must draw the breast. Surely, if all other ways are blocked up, there’s no good to be done without prayer; how then should we ply this oar, and by a holy violence stir up ourselves to take hold of God.
- It is only violence and intenseness of spirit in prayer that has the promise of mercy affixed to it. Matt 7:7. “Knock, and it shall be opened.” Knocking is a violent motion. The Aediles among the Romans had their doors always standing open, so that all who had petitions might have free access to them. God’s heart is ever open to fervent prayer. Let us then be fired with zeal, and with Christ pray yet more earnestly. It is violence in prayer which makes Heaven-gates fly open, and fetches in whatever mercies we stand in need of.
- Large returns God has given to violent prayer. The dove sent to Heaven has often brought an olive leaf in its mouth: Psalm 34:6. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” Crying prayer prevails. Daniel in the den prayed and prevailed. Prayer shut the lion’s mouth and opened the lion’s den. Sleidan reports of Luther, that perceiving the interest of piety to be low, he betook himself to prayer; at length rising off his knees, he came out of his closet triumphantly, saying to his friends, “We have overcome; we have overcome!” At which time it was observed that there came out a proclamation from Charles the Fifth, that none should be further molested for the profession of the gospel. How may this encourage us and make us hoist up the sails of prayer when others of the saints have had such good returns from the holy land.
- That we may be the more violent in prayer, it is good to pray with a sense of our needs. A beggar that is pinched with poverty, will be earnest in craving alms. Christian, review your needs; you need a humble, spiritual frame of heart; you need the light of God’s countenance; the sense of need will quicken prayer. That man can never pray fervently who does not pray feelingly. How earnest was Samson for water when he was ready to die, Judges 15:18. “I die for thirst!”
- If we would be violent in prayer, let us beg for a violent wind. The Spirit of God is resembled to a mighty rushing wind, Acts 2:2. Then we are violent, when this blessed wind fills our sails, Jude, verse 20, “Praying in the Holy Spirit.” If any fire be in our sacrifice, it comes down from heaven.