Praying is a crucial part of the Christian life, and we need communication with the Lord to flourish, so how do we pray with power and passion?
Most Christians have heard of Jim Elliot, and those who aren’t Christians are usually able to summon up a few details about him — “Isn’t that the guy who tried to contact a secluded native people group somewhere in South American and got killed?” — even if they view him as an anthropological disruption rather than a hero of the faith.
Far fewer people are as familiar with his wife, Elisabeth Elliot, and they should be.
Realistically, those in the Western church are not likely to have their lives threatened. They are far more likely to be faced with the daily choice of either personal comfort or patient consistency in our witness and the risk of rejection. We would do well to pay attention to her life which was driven by steadiness and the power of prayer.
“Prayer is the opposite of leisure,” Elisabeth Elliot wrote urgently. “It’s something to be engaged in, not indulged in. It’s a job you give first priority to, performing not when you have energy left for nothing else.
“Seldom do we consider the nature of our opponent, and that is to his advantage. When we do recognize him for what he is, however, we have an inkling as to why prayer is never easy. It’s the weapon that Unseen Power dreads most, and if he can get us to treat it as casually as we treat a pair of skis or a tennis racquet he can keep his hold.”
So how do we pray in a way that threatens the kingdom of darkness?
It’s Time for Dangerous Prayers
Craig Groeschel wrote in his book Dangerous Prayers, “I worry that for a lot of people prayer is like buying a lottery ticket, a chance at a life here on earth that’s problem free, stress free, pain free. For others, prayer is merely a sentimental routine, like reciting favorite song lyrics or a beloved nursery rhyme from childhood. Yet others pray only because they feel even guiltier if they don’t.
“But none of these prayers reflect the life Jesus came to give us….
“When we’re seeking to communicate with God in real, vulnerable, and intimate prayer, he’s not wrapping us in a bubble of spiritual safety. Instead he bursts our what’s-in-it-for-me bubble and invites us to trust him when we don’t know what he will do next….
“It’s time to stop praying safe. It’s time to start talking, really talking — and really listening — to God. It’s time for dangerous prayers.”
Echoing his sentiments, Vaneetha Rendall Risner mused on a common misconception that many believers have about the nature of prayer in hard times or over confusing, painful situations.
“Resting seems godlier, trusting that God will give me what I need without even asking. It seems more holy, more faith-filled, more biblical. Resting seems to indicate a more mature faith. But when I look at the Bible, I see a fuller picture of prayer.
“Wrestling with God is asking him for what we want, persisting in prayer, crying out to him for ourselves and others. There can be no detachment or apathy in wrestling; it involves direct and constant contact. When we wrestle, we believe that our cries and prayers matter. We have hope that our situation will change. We are fully engaged.”
The Bible has very few instances of someone not actively struggling with the realities of life in prayer with God.
Old Testament prophets regularly “cried out to the Lord,” language that doesn’t seem figurative when one studies their lives. David’s psalms detail some very tempestuous dialogues with his Lord. Jacob quite literally wrestled with the Angel of the God. The most noteworthy of them all, though, is Jesus’ sweating-blood-worthy conversation with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the Darkness of the Garden
All of the gospels pointedly demonstrate that prayer is not necessarily easy, restful or without anguish as they described Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane.
He had the purest and most intimate relationship with God, and he’d been sent for the purpose of dying, so why was he so distressed and repeatedly returning to the same topic of his death? Moreover, he knew that the cross was inevitable, so why ask God to take it away? Also, why didn’t God just grant him supernatural peace and equanimity with what he had to do the first time he asked?
In a detailed essay on this very topic, John Piper points to a specific verse in Hebrews. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7, ESV).
This verse clearly states that God didn’t ignore Jesus’ petition and wasn’t displeased either with these “loud cries and tears” before Christ’s march to the cross.
Jonathan Edwards, critical Great Awakening theologian, explains, “This was the greatest act of obedience that Christ was to perform. He prays for strength and help, that his poor feeble human nature might be supported, that he might not fail in this great trial, that he might not sink and be swallowed up, and his strength so overcome that he should not hold out, and finish the appointed obedience.”
Even as the Son of God, Jesus knew that the pressures of this world and his human body would all make following God’s plan extraordinarily difficult, and he turned to his Father to wrestle through what he was facing. He asked if his trial could be removed, but if that was not possible, he asked for strength to face it.
This is the most dangerous prayer and possibly the most important one in the Bible.
Faced with gruesome suffering and death, Christ gave full voice to his fears and mortal weaknesses. He submitted himself wholly to God’s will, and when God insisted that he walk through this fire, he fervently asked for the strength to obey.
As he did all of this, he left behind him one of the most intimate examples of communion with our Father and combat with the kingdom of darkness.
Setting Prayers on Fire
“Who stands fast?” asked German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his cell in Tegel Prison where he had been thrown for speaking out against the Nazi regime.
“Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.”
How else will we hear the question and call of God unless it’s in passionate prayer? How else will we answer this unless it is with the strength our Father grants?
How will we learn to pray this way until we are willing to engage seriously with prayer, spread out all of our messy emotions before God and then be willing to submit both them and ourselves to whatever he wishes? To even manage this much will require dedicated prayer.
Friends, let us pray with urgency and fire.