In our home study, we spoke two weeks ago about knowing God. Is there a God? If so, is He knowable? And if He is knowable, what is He like, what does He desire, and how can He be known?
We discussed how the biblical principle of knowledge is as intimacy, “now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived,” (Genesis 4:1) and as eternal life, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Therefore we pursue the knowledge of God as our gift, our reward, and our eternal life. “Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You.” (Psalm 36:10)
In the midst of our pursuit, there will often be times of delays and extended moments of waiting. That’s why in our home study last week we compared hope deferred to desire fulfilled. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)
Hope, by definition, means something we do not have, or have not seen, “hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees.” (Romans 8:24)
So as we pursue the knowledge of God, seeking His face, we also continue on in hope - waiting expectantly with perseverance, eagerly looking forward to His answer, deliverance, restoration, intervention, mercy poured out, presence drawing near, and ultimately eternal life, the redemption of our souls.
“Do not lose heart!” An encouragement repeated to us four times over in the New Testament (2 Cor. 4:1, 16, Gal. 6:9, Eph. 3:13).
“Wait!” A command that can be found all throughout the Scriptures, notably in Habakkuk 2, “Though it tarries, wait for it, because it will surely come.” Proverbs 20, “Wait for the Lord, and He will save you,” and Psalm 37, “Those who wait for the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.”
There is a third thing as well - the subject of today’s letter.
As we value knowing Him above all other pursuits, and as we wait eagerly and confidently for a hope that may delay but never disappoint, we also must pray.
When we pray, God sees us, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to Your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6)
When we pray, heaven hears us, “From the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard.” (Daniel 10:12)
Our prayers move the hand of God, “And I have come because of your words.” (Daniel 10:12)
Our prayers are stored up in heaven and offered up before the Lamb, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
on the altar, “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne,”
and before the throne of God, “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4)
We must pray always and for everything.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 6:18)
We must pray because we are given so many Old Testament examples. 1 Samuel 23 is one such example. The story begins with David unsure of what step to take next, “Therefore David inquired of the Lord.”
As he rallies his men about the decision, they grew afraid, “Then David inquired of the Lord once again.”
And as one battle ends successfully, another threat comes upon him suddenly, so he once again inquires, “he said to Abiathar the priest, ‘Bring the ephod here.’ Then David said, ‘O Lord God of Israel, Your servant has certainly heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keilah deliver me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.’”
Three times David prayed, seeking help as he faced looming decisions, fears, and threats - “What do I do?” Three inquiries and three answers in response. David prayed, God responded, every time.
We must pray because Jesus prayed, “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day…He chose the twelve whom He also named apostles.” (Luke 6:12-13)
And when we pray, we must believe, “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:24)
Therefore, “let us continue to go and pray before the Lord.” (Zechariah 8:21)
Jonathan Edwards and His Humble Attempt
It was this passage, Zechariah 8:20-22, that Jonathan Edwards used back in 1746 to call the people of God, across all denominations, to unity in prayer. It began in 1744, with several ministers in Scotland, who “taking into consideration the state of God’s church, and of the world of mankind,” called those who, “have at the heart the interest of vital Christianity, and the power of godliness; and who, however differing about other things, are convinced of the importance of fervent prayer,” to a 2-year concert of prayer. (all of the following quotations are taken from Edward’s own work, named below)
This 2-year commitment was not to be entered into as, “absolute promises in any respect; but as friendly, harmonious resolutions, with liberty to alter circumstances as shall be found expedient.” What was the commitment? It was a harmonious resolution to pray every Saturday evening and Sunday morning, along with the first Tuesday of every quarter.
As these ministers finalized the details of the agreement, they thought to themselves how to communicate it. They decided it would be, “not by the press, but by personal conversation…and by private correspondence.” Thus the concert of prayer commenced, not by loud public declaration, nor through a grand one-night event, or even to the other extreme, as a legalistic keep your word or else. But as one people, though separated by location and in some cases particular denominational beliefs, they began to pray together every Saturday night, Sunday morning, and the first Tuesday of the quarter, for the next two years.
These prayers were not meant to simply be offered up in the setting of a church building, led by pastors, elders, and the specially qualified among them, rather the instruction was given for, “the time to be spent either in private praying societies, or in public meetings, or alone in secret, as shall be found most practicable, or judged most convenient, by such as are willing, in some way or other, to join in this affair.”
Whether in small groups meeting in houses or wherever you can find space, or in public gatherings, or in secret, locking yourself away to be alone before God, we must join together and pray. And for the next two years, pray they did.
The commitment was kept and the reception magnificent, therefore, it was decided to be extended, this time for another seven years, and notice given through broader means, especially the printing of a booklet titled simply, “A Memorial.”
It was this booklet that found its way to Jonathan Edwards, and it inspired him to write a booklet of his own, calling fellow believers to unite in prayer with their Scottish counterparts, titled, “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.”
Well, what was the result? Was it worth the time and effort? What came of all this united prayer?
These are the questions we tend to default to. And in seeking these kinds of answers, we dismiss our scriptures above and instead use other reasoning to determine when/if we will pray and for how long.
I could tell you that the groundwork laid in 1744, both in united prayer and the documenting of the efforts, did bear very real fruit, but not in a major way for another 40 years, once his booklet was republished in 1789. Edwards’, “Humble Attempt,” was picked up by men such as William Carey and by an association of Baptist Churches across Northampton and Leicester, who proceeded to pray every Monday night for at least the next 5 years. I could also tell how this, “Humble Attempt,” was used in the lead up to the Second Great Awakening and then again another ~50 years later during the Third Great Awakening.
I could tell you these things to prove to you why you should pray and never give up, but instead, I will tell you that even if this booklet never played a role in the second or third awakening, or if there was no tangible fruit realized and directly tied to the unified efforts of prayer, that still it would have been worth it a thousand times over.
Because there is no sweeter place, no more fulfilling communion, none more lovely. As we call out, “Let my beloved come to his garden,” He responds, “I have come to my garden.” (Song of Solomon 4:16, 5:1)
We must pray. We must commune. We must join together in united prayer.
The Lord Will Receive My Prayer
In closing, I do admit, prayer is a familiar topic, one easily dismissed. You may have even heard all of these Scriptures already. Yet you do not pray always and for everything? You do lose heart when the answer is delayed. You say your prayers, believing they are heard, but not that they will be answered. You lack the confidence of the psalmist, who boldly declares, “The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; The Lord will receive my prayer.” (Psalm 6:8-9)
Friends, when will this time be over? When will you put away childish pursuits, promising to get around to serious supplication one day? When you will finally dedicate yourself to prayer? Oh that the people of God would once again be known as a people of constant, persevering, believing prayer!