These words are addressed to those of God’s children who have been pierced with the arrow of infinite desire, who yearn for God with a yearning that has overcome them, who long with a longing that has become pain.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled – Matthew 5:6.
Hunger is a pain. It is God’s merciful provision, a divinely sent stimulus to propel us in the direction of food. If food-hunger is a pain, thirst, which is water-hunger, is a hundredfold worse, and the more critical the need becomes within the living organism the more acute the pain. It is nature’s last drastic effort to rouse the imperilled life to seek to renew itself. A dead body feels no hunger and the dead soul knows not the pangs of holy desire. If you want God, said the old saint, you have already found Him. Our desire for fuller life is proof that some life must be there already. Our very dissatisfactions should encourage us, our yet unfulfilled aspirations should give us hope. What I aspired to be, and was not, comforts me, wrote Browning with true spiritual insight. The dead heart cannot aspire.
In nature everything moves in the direction of its hungers. In the spiritual world it is not otherwise. We gravitate toward our inward longings, provided of course that those longings are strong enough to move us. Impotent dreaming will not do. The religious urge that is not followed by a corresponding act of the will in the direction of that urge is a waste of emotion. The awe-inspiring power of a discharge of lightning may dissipate itself in the atmosphere and accomplish nothing, while a flashlight battery may provide illumination for a miner hours on end. One is a dramatic display of immense power without direction and the other a quiet application of modest energy to an intelligent purpose.
It is my conviction that much, very much, prayer for and talk about revival these days is wasted energy. Ignoring the confusion of figures, I might say that it is hunger that appears to have no object; it is dreamy wishing that is too weak to produce moral action. It is fanaticism on a high level for, according to John Wesley, a fanatic is one who seeks desired ends while ignoring the constituted means to reach those ends.
Granted that the man who seeks revival has stopped thinking in plurals and has narrowed his faith down to one single individual, himself, what then? How can he find that after which his soul is yearning? How can he cooperate with his hungers to the end that he may indeed be filled?
He must rid his mind of the false notion that prayer alone will bring the blessing. Normally all transactions between the soul and God are carried on by prayer. It is right and scriptural and according to the testimony of all the saints that any spiritual advance on any front, any deliverance, any purification, any enduement of power, comes by the prayer of faith. Our error is that we try to secure these benefits by prayer alone.
The correction of this error is extremely difficult for it entails more than a mere adjustment of our doctrinal beliefs; it strikes at the whole Adam-life and requires self-abnegation, humility and cross-carrying. In short it requires obedience. And that we will do anything to escape.
It is almost unbelievable how far we will go to avoid obeying God. We call Jesus Lord and beg Him to rejuvenate our souls, but we are careful not to do the things He says. When faced with a sin, a confession or a moral alteration in our life, we find it much easier to pray half a night than to obey God.
Intensity of prayer is no criterion of its effectiveness. A man may throw himself on his face and sob out his troubles to the Lord and yet have no intention to obey the commandments of Christ. Strong emotion and tears may be no more than the outcropping of a vexed spirit, evidence of stubborn resistance to God’s known will. Jacob wrestled against the angel through one whole night. It was only after he had been defeated that he became the aggressor and refused to let go of God. Why did Jacob resist so long? Because he was ashamed to confess his name to the angel. When he finally broke down and admitted that he was the supplanter, the victory was won. He triumphed in defeat.
No matter what I write here, thousands of pastors will continue to call their people to prayer in the forlorn hope that God will finally relent and send revival if only His people wear themselves out in intercession. To such people God must indeed appear to be a hard taskmaster, for the years pass and the young get old and the aged die and still no help comes. The prayer meeting room becomes a wailing wall and the lights burn long, and still the rains tarry.
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Let any reader begin to obey and he will have the answer.
Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him – John 14:21.
Isn’t that what we want after all?
by A.W. Tozer