This is another excerpt from my new soon-to-be released book, Cleansing The Temple: Restoring The Glory Through Purity, Prayer, and Power.
Charles Finney, in his excellent book How to Experience Revival, compares the spirit of prayer to the great conviction sinners often feel. Sinners are especially convicted when they think about their sins. Finney equates this to a spirit of prayer that a Christian may obtain as he also thinks on the condition of lost souls. In other words, if the believer will cultivate a deep awareness by thinking on their state and cherishing the slightest impressions, he will come into a spirit of prayer for the conversion of sinners. He encourages Christians to go through their Bible and find verses of Scripture that describe the conditions of a world without God. “Look at the world, your children, and your neighbors, and see their condition while they remain in sin. Then, persevere in prayer and effort until you obtain the blessing of the Spirit of God.”
Finney explains that, with most Christians, this is a progressive and prolonged process. Gradually they cultivate a burden about something until it consumes them in sighing out their desires to God during their daily activities. He likens it to a mother who sighs as if her heart is broken because her child is sick. If she is a praying mother, her sighs are breathed out to God all day long. If she leaves the room where her child is, her mind remains on the child. If she sleeps, her thoughts are still on the child. She will even jerk in her dreams, thinking that perhaps her child may be dying. Her mind is absorbed with that sick child. Finney says that this is the state of mind in which Christians can enter into the real spirit of prevailing prayer for the lost.
This burden is the natural result of great benevolence and a clear view of the danger sinners are in. This is a reasonable sentiment, Finney says. He compares it to the average Christian witnessing a family shrieking with agony in a burning fire. He would become extremely burdened and moved to action to save them. No one would consider these actions strange but, rather, cold-hearted if there was no powerful response or reaction.
This depth of concern and burden for souls is thoroughly Scriptural. The apostle Paul was familiar with it.
“I tell the truth in Christ. I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh…” (Rom. 9:1-3 – KJV).
The psalmist of old was familiar with it.
“Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law” (Ps. 119:53). “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law” (Ps. 119:136 — KJV).
The Old Testament prophets such as Jeremiah also experienced great sorrow because of Israel’s sins.
“My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (Jer. 4:19 — KJV).
In light of these Scriptures, why should it be considered fanatical or abnormal when Christians become burdened this way and pray fervently unto groanings and travailings when they contemplate the wrath of God on sinners and the misery of those nearing eternal damnation?
Occasionally the Spirit of God may initiate a burden to pray, but more often than not, you must cultivate it and move into it by faith and learn to yield to the Spirit of God. It’s usually not all God, and certainly not all man, but a cooperative work between God and man. The Holy Spirit does not pray, but He helps us mightily in prayer.
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).
“As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Is. 66:8)
Groanings and travail of soul are elements of prevailing prayer. Persistence and perseverance are usually required. These elements of intercession are often extensions of praying in tongues. Finney believed and taught that this travail of soul in prayer was the only real revival prayer, and if anyone does not know what that is, he does not understand the spirit of prayer, and he is not in a revival state. That is, until he understands this agonizing prayer, he does not know the real secret of revival power.
We don’t learn to pray that way by just hearing about it or reading about it. As with most skills, we learn by doing it.
For example, you don’t learn to drive an automobile by reading the handbook on it. No — you must get behind the wheel and start driving.
You don’t learn to cook a delicious meal by just reading a cook book of recipes. You must actually prepare the food and various ingredients and cook the meal.
It’s the same way with prayer. Unless this spirit of prayer and certain elements of intercession are passed on by those who understand and operate in these dimensions, it will be lost to the next generation. This is probably the primary reason why we are no longer witnessing the great depths of revival and outpourings of the Spirit that was seen in Finney’s day. Let us consecrate ourselves to the Lord and cultivate the spirit of prayer. Perhaps God is calling some to make prayer your business and to labor fervently this way for the conversion of souls and true revival.
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