A while back I did a short study on prayer, specifically petitioning God. Petitioning is simply asking God for something. I have problems with Christians who think that God moves or changes his mind because we pray. We pray because God moves and changes situations. God changes us in prayer, not the other way around. Our prayers don’t change the world. God works through our prayers to bring about his desired changes in the world. There are four parts to petitioning prayer: fervency, faith, holy argument, and perseverance. I’ll be posting notes from my study in the next three days. Today, here are some thoughts on fervency.
Definition: Prayer that passionately, enthusiastically, and affectionately digs deep into the soul to present your requests to God.
James 5:17, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.”
In 1 Kings 18, the prophets of Baal and Elijah made a wager to see whose God was the true God. In 1 Kings 17, what James was referring to, Elijah prayed for there to be no rain on the earth. So, when the wager was being made, the deal was that the God who made the alter burn from nothing was the true God. Elijah doused his dry alter of wood with water three times. Physically, there is no way soaked wood can burn, yet he prayed “fervently,” James said, so that everyone would “know that you…are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Elijah prayed that God would be glorified in this matter. We can often pray that, but do we really mean it? We can say with our lips, “God, be glorified.” But do our hearts really want that, or do they want to be selfishly and fleshly satisfied? If we don’t mean that with pure intent, may we confess it to the Lord and ask for help to mean it.
Later on in that passage, the Lord sends rain after three and a half years of drought. Elijah, in 18:42, “bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” Elijah was in great reverence of God. He was passionately, enthusiastically, and affectionately prayer to his God. He went up to the top of a mountain-a secluded place where he could be alone with God. The position of our hearts is more important than our bodies, but does it not say something about our worship if we physically lie on the ground or get into the fetal position or bury our face in our hands when we pray to God? From the truths in our hearts should our affections be moved. That means that what we know from Scripture should influence our every action, thought, and affection.
Luke 18:13, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”
Here Jesus is telling a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector both praying in the temple. The Pharisee was loud and boisterous in the middle of the temple, acting righteous and high and might. The tax collector, on the other hand, was in a corner, repenting of his sin, groaning in his soul, “Be merciful to me! I’m a sinner!” All of his desperate and dependent affections were crying out to the living God for help. His inner spiritual realities were affecting his physical actions-he was so disgusted with his sin in his heart that he began to beat his chest in agony. We, of course, should not hurt ourselves-this man did not either-but do we have the same fervency in our confessions and requests?
Do we labor like that when we talk to the Lord? The man was not justified by the act of beating his chest and praying. He was justified because he confessed. The primary difference between non-believers and believers is that believers confess their sins to God. Jesus was trying to show that this man knew of his sin: arrogance, pride, selfishness, lust, greed, etc. Yet, the man knew there was a God who would have mercy if he asked for it. Because the man was justified, he was fervent in his prayers. Only God can justify; only God can give us the ability to be fervent in prayer.
Nehemiah 8:6, “Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”
In this passage we again see how the people physically positioned themselves so they could be reverent to the Lord. Though Christianity is a religion of inner, spiritual realities, we must understand that our hearts dictate our actions and sometimes we must physically humble our bodies when in prayer with the Lord. In this verse, we see the passion of the Jews as they are convicted of God’s law and moved toward repentance and worship of him.
This example is in public worship, as a community. Why do we not have times of public repentance and prayer with our heads bowed and faces to the ground? Perhaps the reason that Christians do not know how to pray, and pray well, is that the church does not instruct or lead its people in praying often and with fervency.
2 Chronicles 20:18 is a cross reference to this passage. There, Jehoshaphat bowed with his head to the ground to worship God, after Jahaziel promised victory in the battle against their enemies. This passage will also be used for a holy argument.