Excerpt from "Heaven Taken by Storm" begins here >>> The third duty wherein we are to offer violence to ourselves is prayer. Prayer is a duty which keeps the trade of religion flowing. When we either join in prayer with others or pray alone, we must use holy violence; not eloquence but violence in prayer carries it. Theodorus, speaking of Luther, once said, "I overheard him in prayer, but, good God, with what life and spirit did he pray! It was with so much reverence as if he were speaking to God, yet with so much confidence, as if he had been speaking to his friend." There must be a stirring up of the heart, first, to prayer, and secondly, in prayer.
First, a stirring up of the heart to prayer: "If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him..." (Job 11:13). This preparing of our heart is accomplished by holy thoughts and ejaculations. The musician first tunes his instrument before he plays.
Secondly, there must be a stirring up of the heart in prayer. Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and soul to God, which cannot be done rightly without offering violence to one's self. The names given to prayer imply violence. It is called wrestling (Gen. 32:24), and a pouring out of the soul (1 Sam. 1:15), both of which imply vehemency.
Affection is required as well as invention. The apostle speaks of an effectual fervent prayer, which is a parallel phrase to offering violence.
Alas, how far from offering violence to themselves in prayer are they who give God a dead, heartless prayer. God would not have the blind offered (Mal. 1:8); to offer the blind is as offering the dead. Some are half asleep when they pray, and will a sleepy prayer ever awaken God? Such as mind not their own prayers —how do they think that God should mind them? Those prayers God likes best which come seething hot from the heart.
How far are they from offering violence who give God distracted prayer? While praying, they are thinking of their shop and trade. How can he shoot right whose eye is quite off the mark? "Their heart goeth after their covetousness" (Ezek. 33:31). Many are casting up their accounts in prayer, as Hieram once complained of himself.
How can God be pleased with this? Will a king tolerate that while his subject is delivering a petition and speaking to him, he should be playing with a feather? When we send our hearts on an errand to heaven, how often do they loiter and play by the way? This is a matter of blushing. That we may offer violence to ourselves and by fervency feather the wing of prayer, let these things be duly weighed.
Consider the majesty of God with whom we have to do. He sees how it is with us in prayer, whether we are deeply affected with those things we pray for. "The king came in to see the guests" (Matt. 22:11). So when we go to pray, the King of glory comes in to see in what frame we are. He has a window which looks into our breasts, and if He sees a dead heart, He may turn a deaf ear. Nothing will sooner make God's anger wax hot than a cold prayer.
Prayer without fervency and violence is no prayer; it is speaking, not praying. Lifeless prayer is no more prayer than the picture of a man is a man. To say a prayer is not to pray; Aschanius taught his parrot the Lord's Prayer.
Ambrose said it well, "It is the life and affection in a duty that baptizeth it, and gives it a name." It is the violence and wrestling of the affections that make it a prayer, else it is no prayer. But a man may say as Pharaoh, "I have dreamed a dream" (Gen. 41:15).
The zeal and violence of the affections in prayer best suits God's nature. He is a Spirit (John 4:24), and surely that prayer which is full of life and spirit is the savory meat He loves, "spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God" (1 Pet. 2:5). Spirituality and fervency in duty is like the spirits of wine, which are the more refined part of the wine. Bodily exercise profits little. It is not the stretching of the lungs, but the vehemency of the desire, that makes music in God's ears.
Consider the need we have of those things which we ask in prayer. We come to ask the favor of God, and if we have not His love, all that we enjoy is cursed to us. We pray that our souls may be washed in Christ's blood, and if He wash us not, we have no part in Him. Such are these mercies that if God deny us, we are forever undone. What violence therefore we need to put forth in prayer! When will a man be earnest, if not when he is begging for his life?
Let it provoke violence in prayer to consider that those things which we ask, God has a mind to grant. If a son ask nothing but what his father is willing to bestow, he may be the more earnest in his suit. We go to God for pardon of sin, and no work is more pleasing to Him than to seal pardons. Mercy is His delight (Mic. 7:18). We pray to God for a holy heart, and this prayer is according to His will. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thes. 4:3). We pray that God would give us a heart to love Him. How pleasing must this request needs be to God! Thus, if anything may excite prayer and carry it in a fiery chariot up to heaven, it is when we know we pray for nothing but that which God is more willing to grant than we are to ask.
No mercy can be bestowed on us but in a way of prayer. Mercy is purchased by Christ's blood, but it is conveyed by prayer. All the promises are bonds made over to us, but prayer puts these bonds in suit. The Lord has told Israel with what rich mercy He would bespangle them; He would bring them to their native country and that with new hearts (Ezek. 36). Yet this tree of the promise would not drop its fruit till shaken with the hand of prayer. "I will yet for this be inquired of" (Ezek. 36:37). The breast of God's mercy is full, but prayer must draw the breast. Surely, if all other ways are blocked up, there's no good to be done without prayer. How then should we ply this oar and by a holy violence stir up ourselves to take hold of God!
It is only violence and intenseness of spirit in prayer that has the promise of mercy affixed to it, "Knock, and it shall be opened" (Matt. 7:7). Knocking is a violent motion. The Aediles among the Romans had their doors always standing open, so that all who had petitions might have free access to them. God's heart is ever open to fervent prayer. Let us then be fired with zeal, and with Christ pray yet more earnestly. It is violence in prayer that makes heaven's gates fly open and fetches in whatever mercies we stand in need of. Consider the large returns God has given to violent prayer. The dove sent to heaven has often brought an olive leaf in its mouth.
"This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him" (Ps. 34:6). Crying prayer prevails. Daniel in the den prayed and prevailed. Prayer shut the lions' mouths and opened the lions' den. Fervent prayer (said one) has a kind of omnipotence in it. Sozomen said of Apollonius, that he never asked anything of God in all his life that he did not obtain. Sleidan reports of Luther, that perceiving the interest of religion to be low, he Retook himself to prayer; at length rising off his knees, he came out of his closet triumphantly, saying to his friends, "Vicimus, Vicimus," that is, "We have overcome; we have overcome," at which time it was observed that there came out a proclamation from Charles V that none should be further molested for the profession of the gospel. How may this encourage us and
make us hoist up the sails of prayer when others of the saints have had such good returns from the holy land!
That we may put forth this holy violence in prayer, it is requisite there be a renewed principle of grace. If the person be graceless, it is no wonder the prayer is heartless. The body while it is dead has no warmth in it; while a man is dead in sin, he can have no warmth in duty.
That we may be the more violent in prayer, it is good to pray with a sense of our wants. A beggar pinched with want will be earnest in craving alms. Christian, review your wants; you want a humble, spiritual frame of heart; you want the light of God's countenance; the sense of want will quicken prayer. That man can never pray fervently who does not pray feelingly. How earnest was Samson for water when he was ready to die! "I die for thirst" (Judy. 15:18).
If we would be violent in prayer, let us beg for a violent wind. The Spirit of God is resembled to a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2). We are violent when this blessed wind fills our sails, "praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20). If any fire be in our sacrifice, it comes down from heaven.