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Bible Commentary Index
Necessity of Prayer Index
IV. PRAYER AND DESIRE
"There are those who will mock me, and
tell me to stick to my trade as a cobbler, and not trouble my mind with
philosophy and theology. But the truth of God did so burn in my bones, that
I took my pen in hand and began to set down what I had seen." -- JACOB
DESIRE is not merely a simple wish; it is a deep seated
craving; an intense longing, for attainment. In the realm of spiritual
affairs, it is an important adjunct to prayer. So important is it, that one
might say, almost, that desire is an absolute essential of prayer. Desire
precedes prayer, accompanies it, is followed by it. Desire goes before
prayer, and by it, created and intensified. Prayer is the oral expression of
desire. If prayer is asking God for something, then prayer must be
expressed. Prayer comes out into the open. Desire is silent. Prayer is
heard; desire, unheard. The deeper the desire, the stronger the prayer.
Without desire, prayer is a meaningless mumble of words. Such perfunctory,
formal praying, with no heart, no feeling, no real desire accompanying it,
is to be shunned like a pestilence. Its exercise is a waste of precious
time, and from it, no real blessing accrues.
And yet even if it be discovered that desire is honestly
absent, we should pray, anyway. We ought to pray. The "ought" comes
in, in order that both desire and expression be cultivated. God's Word
commands it. Our judgment tells us we ought to pray -- to pray whether we
feel like it or not -- and not to allow our feelings to determine our habits
of prayer. In such circumstance, we ought to pray for the desire to
pray; for such a desire is God-given and heaven-born. We should pray for
desire; then, when desire has been given, we should pray according to its
dictates. Lack of spiritual desire should grieve us, and lead us to lament
its absence, to seek earnestly for its bestowal, so that our praying,
henceforth, should be an expression of "the soul's sincere desire."
A sense of need creates or should create, earnest desire. The
stronger the sense of need, before God, the greater should be the desire,
the more earnest the praying. The "poor in spirit" are eminently competent
Hunger is an active sense of physical need. It prompts the
request for bread. In like manner, the inward consciousness of spiritual
need creates desire, and desire breaks forth in prayer. Desire is an inward
longing for something of which we are not possessed, of which we stand in
need -- something which God has promised, and which may be secured by an
earnest supplication of His throne of grace.
Spiritual desire, carried to a higher degree, is the evidence
of the new birth. It is born in the renewed soul:
"As newborn babes, desire the sincere
milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby."
The absence of this holy desire in the heart is presumptive
proof, either of a decline in spiritual ecstasy, or, that the new birth has
never taken place.
"Blessed are they which do hunger and
thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
These heaven-given appetites are the proof of a renewed
heart, the evidence of a stirring spiritual life. Physical appetites are the
attributes of a living body, not of a corpse, and spiritual desires belong
to a soul made alive to God. And as the renewed soul hungers and thirsts
after righteousness, these holy inward desires break out into earnest,
In prayer, we are shut up to the Name, merit and
intercessory virtue of Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. Probing down,
below the accompanying conditions and forces in prayer, we come to its vital
basis, which is seated in the human heart. It is not simply our need; it is
the heart's yearning for what we need, and for which we feel impelled to
pray. Desire is the will in action; a strong, conscious longing, excited in
the inner nature, for some great good. Desire exalts the object of its
longing, and fixes the mind on it. It has choice, and fixedness, and flame
in it, and prayer, based thereon, is explicit and specific. It knows its
need, feels and sees the thing that will meet it, and hastens to acquire it.
Holy desire is much helped by devout contemplation.
Meditation on our spiritual need, and on God's readiness and ability to
correct it, aids desire to grow. Serious thought engaged in before praying,
increases desire, makes it more insistent, and tends to save us from the
menace of private prayer -- wandering thought. We fail much more in desire,
than in its outward expression. We retain the form, while the inner life
fades and almost dies.
One might well ask, whether the feebleness of our desires
for God, the Holy Spirit, and for all the fulness of Christ, is not the
cause of our so little praying, and of our languishing in the exercise of
prayer? Do we really feel these inward pantings of desire after heavenly
treasures? Do the inbred groanings of desire stir our souls to mighty
wrestlings? Alas for us! The fire burns altogether too low. The flaming heat
of soul has been tempered down to a tepid lukewarmness. This, it should be
remembered, was the central cause of the sad and desperate condition of the
Laodicean Christians, of whom the awful condemnation is written that they
were "rich, and increased in goods and had need of nothing," and knew
not that they "were wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind."
Again: we might well inquire -- have we that desire which
presses us to close communion with God, which is filled with unutterable
burnings, and holds us there through the agony of an intense and
soul-stirred supplication? Our hearts need much to be worked over, not only
to get the evil out of them, but to get the good into them. And the
foundation and inspiration to the incoming good, is strong, propelling
desire. This holy and fervid flame in the soul awakens the interest of
heaven, attracts the attention of God, and places at the disposal of those
who exercise it, the exhaustless riches of Divine grace.
The dampening of the flame of holy desire, is destructive of
the vital and aggressive forces in church life. God requires to be
represented by a fiery Church, or He is not in any proper sense, represented
at all. God, Himself, is all on fire, and His Church, if it is to be like
Him, must also be at white heat. The great and eternal interests of
heaven-born, God-given religion are the only things about which His Church
can afford to be on fire. Yet holy zeal need not to be fussy in order to be
consuming. Our Lord was the incarnate antithesis of nervous excitability,
the absolute opposite of intolerant or clamorous declamation, yet the zeal
of God's house consumed Him; and the world is still feeling the glow of His
fierce, consuming flame and responding to it, with an ever-increasing
readiness and an ever-enlarging response.
A lack of ardour in prayer, is the sure sign of a lack of
depth and of intensity of desire; and the absence of intense desire is a
sure sign of God's absence from the heart! To abate fervour is to retire
from God. He can, and does, tolerate many things in the way of infirmity and
error in His children. He can, and will pardon sin when the penitent prays,
but two things are intolerable to Him -- insincerity and lukewarmness. Lack
of heart and lack of heat are two things He loathes, and to the Laodiceans
He said, in terms of unmistakable severity and condemnation:
"I would thou wert cold or hot. So
then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee
out of My mouth."
This was God's expressed judgment on the lack of fire in one
of the Seven Churches, and it is His indictment against individual
Christians for the fatal want of sacred zeal. In prayer, fire is the motive
power. Religious principles which do not emerge in flame, have neither force
nor effect. Flame is the wing on which faith ascends; fervency is the soul
of prayer. It was the "fervent, effectual prayer" which availed much. Love
is kindled in a flame, and ardency is its life. Flame is the air which true
Christian experience breathes. It feeds on fire; it can withstand anything,
rather than a feeble flame; and it dies, chilled and starved to its vitals,
when the surrounding atmosphere is frigid or lukewarm.
True prayer, must be aflame. Christian life and
character need to be all on fire. Lack of spiritual heat creates more
infidelity than lack of faith. Not to be consumingly interested about the
things of heaven, is not to be interested in them at all. The fiery souls
are those who conquer in the day of battle, from whom the kingdom of heaven
suffereth violence, and who take it by force. The citadel of God is taken
only by those, who storm it in dreadful earnestness, who besiege it, with
fiery, unabated zeal.
Nothing short of being red hot for God, can keep the glow of
heaven in our hearts, these chilly days. The early Methodists had no heating
apparatus in their churches. They declared that the flame in the pew and the
fire in the pulpit must suffice to keep them warm. And we, of this hour,
have need to have the live coal from God's altar and the consuming flame
from heaven glowing in our hearts. This flame is not mental vehemence nor
fleshy energy. It is Divine fire in the soul, intense, dross-consuming --
the very essence of the Spirit of God.
No erudition, no purity of diction, no width of mental
outlook, no flowers of eloquence, no grace of person, can atone for lack of
fire. Prayer ascends by fire. Flame gives prayer access as well as wings,
acceptance as well as energy. There is no incense without fire; no prayer
Ardent desire is the basis of unceasing prayer. It is not a
shallow, fickle inclination, but a strong yearning, an unquenchable ardour,
which impregnates, glows, burns and fixes the heart. It is the flame of a
present and active principle mounting up to God. It is ardour propelled by
desire, that burns its way to the Throne of mercy, and gains its plea. It is
the pertinacity of desire that gives triumph to the conflict, in a great
struggle of prayer. It is the burden of a weighty desire that sobers, makes
restless, and reduces to quietness the soul just emerged from its mighty
wrestlings. It is the embracing character of desire which arms prayer with a
thousand pleas, and robes it with an invincible courage and an
The Syrophenician woman is an object lesson of desire,
settled to its consistency, but invulnerable in its intensity and
pertinacious boldness. The importunate widow represents desire gaining its
end, through obstacles insuperable to feebler impulses.
Prayer is not the rehearsal of a mere performance; nor is it
an indefinite, widespread clamour. Desire, while it kindles the soul, holds
it to the object sought. Prayer is an indispensable phase of spiritual
habit, but it ceases to be prayer when carried on by habit alone. It is
depth and intensity of spiritual desire which give intensity and depth to
prayer. The soul cannot be listless when some great desire fires and
inflames it. The urgency of our desire holds us to the thing desired with a
tenacity which refuses to be lessened or loosened; it stays and pleads and
persists, and refuses to let go until the blessing has been vouchsafed.
"Lord, I cannot let Thee go, Till a
blessing Thou bestow; Do not turn away Thy face; Mine's an urgent, pressing
The secret of faint heartedness, lack of importunity, want
of courage and strength in prayer, lies in the weakness of spiritual desire,
while the non-observance of prayer is the fearful token of that desire
having ceased to live. That soul has turned from God whose desire after Him
no longer presses it to the inner chamber. There can be no successful
praying without consuming desire. Of course there can be much seeming
to pray, without desire of any kind.
Many things may be catalogued and much ground covered. But
does desire compile the catalogue? Does desire map out the region to be
covered? On the answer, hangs the issue of whether our petitioning be
prating or prayer. Desire is intense, but narrow; it cannot spread itself
over a wide area. It wants a few things, and wants them badly, so badly,
that nothing but God's willingness to answer, can bring it easement or
Desire single-shots at its objective. There may be many
things desired, but they are specifically and individually felt and
expressed. David did not yearn for everything; nor did he allow his desires
to spread out everywhere and hit nothing. Here is the way his desires ran
and found expression:
"One thing have I desired of the Lord,
that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the
days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His
It is this singleness of desire, this definiteness of
yearning, which counts in praying, and which drives prayer directly to core
and centre of supply.
In the Beatitudes Jesus voiced the words which directly bear
upon the innate desires of a renewed soul, and the promise that they will be
granted: "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be filled."
This, then, is the basis of prayer which compels an answer
-- that strong inward desire has entered into the spiritual appetite, and
clamours to be satisfied. Alas for us! It is altogether too true and
frequent, that our prayers operate in the arid region of a mere wish, or in
the leafless area of a memorized prayer. Sometimes, indeed, our prayers are
merely stereotyped expressions of set phrases, and conventional proportions,
the freshness and life of which have departed long years ago.
Without desire, there is no burden of soul, no sense of
need, no ardency, no vision, no strength, no glow of faith. There is no
mighty pressure, no holding on to God, with a deathless, despairing grasp --
"I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me." There is no utter
self-abandonment, as there was with Moses, when, lost in the throes of a
desperate, pertinacious, and all-consuming plea he cried: "Yet now, if Thou
wilt forgive their sin; if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book." Or,
as there was with John Knox when he pleaded: "Give me Scotland, or I die!"
God draws mightily near to the praying soul. To see God, to
know God, and to live for God -- these form the objective of all true
praying. Thus praying is, after all, inspired to seek after God.
Prayer-desire is inflamed to see God, to have clearer, fuller, sweeter and
richer revelation of God. So to those who thus pray, the Bible becomes a
new Bible, and Christ a new Saviour, by the light and revelation of the
We iterate and reiterate that burning desire -- enlarged and
ever enlarging -- for the best, and most powerful gifts and graces of the
Spirit of God, is the legitimate heritage of true and effectual praying.
Self and service cannot be divorced -- cannot, possibly, be separated. More
than that: desire must be made intensely personal, must be centered on God
with an insatiable hungering and thirsting after Him and His righteousness.
"My soul thirsteth for God, the living God." The indispensable requisite for
all true praying is a deeply seated desire which seeks after God Himself,
and remains unappeased, until the choicest gifts in heaven's bestowal, have
been richly and abundantly vouchsafed.
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Bible Commentary Index
Necessity of Prayer Index