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“The coming revival must begin with a great revival of prayer. It is in the closet, with the door shut, that the sound of abundance of rain will first be heard. An increase of secret prayer with ministers will be the sure harbinger of blessing.”
“There is need of a great revival of spiritual life, of truly fervent devotion to our Lord Jesus, of entire consecration to His service. It is only in a church in which this spirit of revival has at least begun, that there is any hope of radical change in the relation of the majority of our Christian people to mission work.”
“Whole days and WEEKS have I spent prostrate on the ground in silent or vocal prayer.”
“Revival, no matter how great or small in its ultimate scope, always begins with individual believers whose hearts are desperate for God, and who are willing to pay the price to meet Him.”
by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813 – 1843)
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a nineteenth-century Church of Scotland minister revered for the depth of his piety. Upon hearing him preach, a listener once wrote, “I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before.”1 He served two churches, including St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, before dying at age 29.
Upon M’Cheyne’s death, ministerial colleague Andrew Bonar published a biography that included many of his manuscripts and letters. Taken from that work, this selection illustrates his determination to fight sin through spiritual disciplines. It shows the intensity with which this servant of God craved communion with his Heavenly Father.
I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, and then have family prayer, and breakfast, and forenoon callers, often it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ rose before day, and went into a solitary place. David says, ‘Early will I seek Thee; Thou shalt early hear my voice.’ Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre while it was yet dark. Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness; and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then, when secret prayer comes, the soul is often out of tune. I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see his face first—to get my soul near him before it is near another. ‘When I awake I am still with Thee.’
If I have slept too long, or am going [on] an early journey, or my time is any way shortened, it is best to dress hurriedly, and have a few minutes alone with God, than to give it up for lost.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Psalm 137:5–6)
Every Christian wants a deeper life of prayer in this new year. Who, after the close of one year, looks back over the time in his closet and thinks, “Yeah, I’d better cut back on all the praying this next twelve months”? We all want to grow, to enjoy richer fellowship with God — the question, though, comes down to how we think it will happen. Might it mean that we pray more consistently? Absolutely. Might it mean that we intercede more for others? Most likely. Might it mean that our petitions are more passionate? Maybe, depending on what we mean by passionate praying.
Passion Far and Wide
For some, passionate praying sounds like making more audacious requests. If we are really praying passionately, we are asking God to move mountains, to swing open closed doors, to bring something out of nothing. In one sense, this makes sense. Passion, boldness, and faith converge to petition God for the things that he alone can do. We are honoring the Giver by praying this way, right? We look out over our cities, over the continents of this world, and we should ask God to do mighty works. We find an unengaged, unreached people group and we pray, “Save them!” We learn about the Planned Parenthood centers in our communities and we beg God to shut them down. We think of an unprecedented high number and ask God for that many baptisms in our church the next six months.
Passion, in this sense, means we step back, look forward, and pray big. Most of us could use a little more of this God-sized dreaming in our prayers — but only if it’s not at the expense of another kind of passion.
Deeper still than praying with passion far and wide, is a passion of singular intensity. It’s a passion that starts in the beautiful posture of a heart not lifted up, eyes not raised too high, minds not occupied with things too great and marvelous for us (Psalm 131:1). It’s a passion that knows God can do whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6), that longs for his promised kingdom of unceasing peace and praise (Psalm 135:19–21), and that prays, face to the floor in earnestness, “God, don’t let me forget you.”
Passion Fierce and Simple
This is the passionate praying that, moved mountains aside, audacity put on hold, simply wants to remember God. The passion is seen not so much in the request itself, but to the degree that the one praying desires it. If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill, the psalmist petitions God (Psalm 137:5–6), and teaches us! “Jerusalem” stands for more than any old city. The vision here is the reign of God. To remember Jerusalem is to remember the promises of God and his coming rule. Said positively, the psalmist wants to know God and have him take the lead in his life. But he wants it so badly. Consider the rawness of his asking. The psalmist is talking about losing the use of his dominant hand, and therefore his livelihood. He is talking about his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth, and therefore starving. How in the world can he really pray this way? This seriously?
The psalmist prays this way because he cannot imagine a worse reality than what he is praying against. The worst place for the psalmist is being anywhere without God. Scariest to him is to forget God, to lose faith. And we understand what he’s getting at.
“In the evening I was favored with great faith and fervency in prayer. It seemed as if God would deny me nothing, and I wrestled for multitudes of souls, and could not help hoping there would be revival here.”
~ Edward Payson