Heavenly Violence in Prayer?
Posted at Reformation Scotland:
We are more likely to think of prayer as bringing peace and comfort than something which could be violent. It has a strange ring to it. Yet Scripture describes fervent prayer as wrestling and striving. Perhaps it sounds strange because we have become used to weak and cold-hearted prayers.
Samuel Rutherford wrote and preached a great deal about prayer. His letters alone contain almost 440 references to prayer. The following is one of them: “I think it easy to get anything from the King by prayer, and to use holy violence with Him”.
Fervour in Prayer
This holy violence arises from a fervent spirit expressing its desires to God. Rutherford helped to formulate that masterful definition of prayer in the Shorter Catechism: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will…” He emphasises that prayer is essentially vehement in character. “Lazy, cold and dead prayers are condemned. Many pray, and care not whether God hears them or no; they pour out, not their desired before the Lord, but naked single words, and do but take the name of God in vain”.
This should condemn distracting thoughts and wandering of spirit in prayer. Not only is the whole man and whole strength not set on work in these prayers, but not any at all of the spirit is there, but the heart gone a-whoring after thoughts of vanity. Now, can the man pour out that which is not within? The spirit is gone out after other lovers, in so far it is a non ens [non-entity], there is not a spirit of adoption within and therefore he cannot pour it out.
Vehemence and crying in prayer are both necessary and natural. Do we feel the need that we are expressing? Hunger and extreme necessity cannot afford to be modest or understated.
An arrow drawn with full strength has a speedier flight; therefore the prayers of the saints are expressed by crying in Scripture. Christ prayed with strong crying or war-shouts and tears. The cry adds wings to the prayer. It is effectual – ‘this poor man cried, and the Lord heard and saved him from all his fears’. Vehement prayer is importunate”.
In James 5:16 it is fervent as well as effectual, and this word fervent, as Rutherford explains, literally points to “prayer possessed with fervour of spirit”.