Why Casual Prayer Just Won’t Cut It

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Our kids still get wide-eyed when they recount that moment in the Charlotte airport. My wife, Karen, was corralling five middle-schoolers—our three plus two friends—through a concourse on their way to summer camp. In all the excitement between gates, the group began to break up and get away from her, with scenarios of missed flights and worse compounding in Karen’s mind by the second. As concern tipped over into desperation on a jam-packed moving sidewalk, Karen called out (our kids say she screamed!), “Thomas kids! Stop where you are!” Everyone else in proximity snapped to attention, too! And our now-high-schoolers love to give Mom a hard time looking back. But it was one of those moments when any kind of a laid-back, undisturbed request simply would not cut it.

Most of us can remember a moment when we have been called out to by a parent in such urgency, or when we have let the full force of our hearts be found in the intensity of our expressions. Such was the nature of prayer for awakening as great leaders of the past understood it. Charles Finney frequently quoted Jonathan Edwards here comparing travailing prayer for souls to how we might respond upon discovering our loved one caught in a burning building:

People may be allowed, from no higher a principle than common ingenuity and humanity, to be very deeply concerned, and greatly exercised in mind, at seeing others in great danger, of no greater a calamity than drowning, or being burnt up in a house on fire. And if so, then doubtless it will be allowed to be equally reasonable, if they saw them in danger of a calamity ten times greater, to be still much more concerned; and so much more still, if the calamity were still vastly greater. And why then should it be thought unreasonable, and looked upon with a very suspicious eye, as if it must come from some bad cause, when persons are extremely concerned at seeing others in very great danger of suffering the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God, to all eternity?

We get it—this way of praying is as we might shout for the help of a lifeguard upon seeing a friend in trouble in the pool, or how we would yell to a friend if we saw their toddler about to step unwittingly into a street teeming with rush-hour traffic. But if we look upon a need God sees as serious and respond casually, either we aren’t seeing it correctly, we aren’t being honest in our appraisal of it, our hearts aren’t in it—or some other disconnect is operating to impede the kind of prayer response that the love of God requires.

Prayer that leads to awakening is willing to be poured out in its longings. This is prayer that is prepared to be lowly and desperate, ready even to be misunderstood temporarily by some, as was my wife on that moving sidewalk. John Knox was considered immoderate in his petitions for echoing Rachel’s heart-cries for a child when he would pray “Give me Scotland, or else I die!”

Seeing the need of our day as God does stirs prayer for awakening like what burned in Jeremiah: “Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent . . .” (Jeremiah 4:19 [ESV]) Anything less just won’t cut it.

David Thomas is one of the hosts and speakers at New Room Conference this year. New Room Conference is a space to gather leaders and lay people who long to be part of a Great Awakening of God. Register here.

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Dr. David Thomas is a seasoned pastor, teacher, and expert on leading people in the practice of travailing prayer. His heart is to help awaken God's people through the preparatory work of prayer. He serves as a senior adviser to the New Room Conference and Network.

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