Does the call to a life of prayer and intercession seem daunting to you? Do you feel that an effective, consistent prayer life is beyond your reach? Have you tried to pray and intercede for others regularly but have failed miserably? I can relate to all of those sentiments and conditions at one time and another in my walk with the Lord. There have also been regular seasons in my life that have been marked by a deep, fervent, and abiding spirit of prayer and intercession. I’ve known both ends of the spectrum, and a wide range in-between.
In the drier times, I’ve felt like I have this little “match” of faith and desire and I place it up against these giant logs of prayer and intercession and all I get is a little puff of smoke. The match goes out and I’m done.
The fact of the matter, however, is that it only takes a tiny match to get a fire going that has the potential to not only set big logs on fire, but an entire forest. If all you and I have is a tiny match of faith and desire, we have all we need to start a fervent, consuming, prayer life. It’s simply a matter of what we do with that match that makes all the difference.
Natural Fire Building
When I build a natural fire, I gather the logs I want to burn, but I also include smaller logs, branches, kindling wood, and paper. I build it from the bottom up, from the most easily ignitable material to the least. I further make sure it is constructed with the right balance of proximity of materials to each other as well as needed space for airflow. I then take my match and only concern myself with lighting the most readily combustible material, the paper. If the paper catches, I might have to blow on it a little to get the kindling wood burning, but, eventually, the flames take over and the fire burns hotter and hotter until even the biggest logs are crackling and popping in the blaze.
Now, if I tend the fire regularly and keep feeding it when it begins to burn down, it’s not hard to keep the fire burning for hours and even days without having to start all over again from the beginning. However small or large a fire I may eventually obtain, however, it all is set on fire with just a single, tiny match.
Spiritual Fire Building
If we find that the fires of prayer and intercession in our life have burned down to mere ashes, or maybe were never kindled in the first place, we need to start at the beginning and build these fires on the hearth of our heart employing the wisdom gained through natural fire building.
To start with, we will need to make sure we have the right “materials.” These will include some “big logs” of our primary objectives in prayer and intercession, but we will also need to incorporate into our pyre of prayer some smaller logs, branches, kindling wood, and paper. Unless our prayer life is regularly fed and tended, we shouldn’t assume that the “big logs” will easily or automatically catch. We will most likely need to first build a “starter fire” under them consisting of the other, more readily combustible “materials.”
The first thing we will need, then, is the “paper.” In this analogy, may I suggest that the “paper” is representative of the Scriptures. As we begin our time of prayer, it is a wise and helpful practice to begin by meditating on and “praying into” a selected portion of Scripture. This can take various forms and can be focused on anything from simply one spiritually rich word from Scripture (“love”, “peace”, “holy”, etc.), a Scriptural phrase, verse, portion of a chapter, or an overview of an entire chapter. We should choose a portion that our heart is drawn to and focuses our thoughts and desires on God Himself, revealing something of His character, promises, purposes, wisdom, works, and/or ways. (The Psalms are an excellent place to draw from.)
As we meditate on and begin “praying into” God’s Word, we must engage not merely our mind, but also our heart, allowing our “match of faith and desire” to “burn up into” and “envelope” the portion of Scripture we are focusing on within our spirit. Through the quickening of the Holy Spirit, this uniting of faith and desire with the truth of Scripture will begin to ignite and generate increasing measures of both “light” (revelation) and “heat” (spiritual desire.) Thus our faith and desire will be further kindled and enflamed.
“For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you…”
(2 Timothy 1:6 NAS)
“While I meditated, the fire burned; ” (Psalm 39:3 NIV)
As these initial burnings of faith and desire begin to increase within our spirit through meditation, our first responses in prayer ought to be those of thanksgiving and praise. These expressions are the flames that are most readily kindled by the Spirit as we muse on God’s Word. The “kindling wood” which our thanksgiving and praise are fueled by are the character, wisdom, will, works, and ways of God revealed in the Scripture portion before us.
In order for this “kindling wood” to fully “catch” then, we should begin to express focused prayers of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord drawing from the portion of Scripture we are meditating on. Such expressions begin with words such as, “I thank You, Lord, that You are…”, “I praise You, God, for…”, etc… This is how we begin to “pray into” God’s Word. As these expressions of gratitude and exaltation begin to flow from our hearts and lips to the Lord, they further feed and fan the flames of faith and desire within our hearts drawing us deeper into prayer and praise.
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15 NKJV)
“Large Sticks and Small Logs”
As the fire begins to grow, the “large sticks” of confession and repentance ought to most readily catch next. As we lift God up with thanksgiving and praise, we, in turn will find ourselves coming into a greater position of humility before Him. As the light of revelation through His Word begins to shine brighter, we will find the areas of our hearts that yet harbor shadows and darkness will begin to be exposed. This will lead us very naturally to confession and repentance in prayer.
In the “light” and “heat” of our Scripture meditation/praying, we should ask the Lord if there is some aspect of our faith that needs to be increased in relation to His Word and some corresponding aspect of unbelief that needs to be confessed and repented of? A prayer such as is recorded in the Gospels is always in order, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
We should further ask if there is some aspect of obedience that is lacking in relation to His Word, and if there is some corresponding act or practice of disobedience that needs to be confessed and repented of? Confession humbles the heart before God and opens the way for a greater “wind” of God’s grace to blow in and fan the fires of prayer in our heart.
“For God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.” (Zechariah 12:10 NIV)
“Take words with you, And return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” (Hosea 14:2 NKJV)
In close proximity to the large sticks of confession and repentance are the small logs of supplication. Supplication by definition is a humble entreaty for oneself. As we humble ourselves before God in confession and repentance, we also humbly entreat Him for His mercy and grace that we may be forgiven, cleansed, and enabled to walk in a greater measure of faith and obedience. The deeper the humility, the greater the grace that is given and is able to be received. We should seek to sink very low before the exalted Lord if we desire the fire of prayer to burn brightly and intensely.
Through meditation on Scripture, exalting God through thanksgiving and praise, and humbling ourselves through confession and supplication, we are in the most fitting and “flammable” place for the spirit of prayer to then begin to ignite and consume the “large logs” of petition and intercession.
There are two related types of prayer that comprise the “large logs” of our prayer life: petition and intercession.
The word “petition” comes from a Latin word, “petere” which means “to make for, go to; attack, assail; seek, strive after; ask for, beg, beseech, request; fetch; derive; demand, require,” (Online Etymology Dictionary) In these descriptives, we see the intensity of the word “petition” as a focused and fervent beseeching of the Lord in prayer. In Scripture we are entreated: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 KJV.) We are further encouraged by the words of James, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16 NKJV.) Petitioning prayer is one of the greatest privileges and highest responsibilities we have as the children of God and when the fires of prayer burn hot, these large logs begin to burn brightly and feed the flames with substantial fuel and fervent heat.
Closely related to prayers of petition are prayers of intercession. While prayers of petition can be for ourselves as well as for others, prayers of intercession are strictly on the behalf of others. The word “intercede” comes from the Latin prefix, “inter” meaning “between” and “cedere” meaning “to go”. To intercede is to “go between” the Lord and another on their behalf in prayer. This is the essence of priestly ministry which is the high calling of every believer. It is, likewise, through intercession that we can most powerfully encounter and be conformed to the heart of Christ in His heavenly ministry as He who “always lives to make intercession for [us].” (Hebrews 7:25) There is very little in the spiritual life that is more effectual in decreasing the self-life and increasing Christ’s life within us than importunate intercession for others. This is the second type of large log that God desires our prayer lives to consume.
As with natural fire, our spiritual fire of prayer goes through stages. There is that which involves our intentional kindling of a “starter fire” through meditation, thanksgiving, and praise, followed by our willing cooperation to fan the flames through confession, repentance, and supplication, followed by our active participation to feed the fires the substantial and sustaining fuel of petition and intercession. As the fire of prayer transitions through these stages, the flames burn hotter and brighter, but they also build up within us a lively bed of red hot embers that continue to burn and throw heat long after the active flames have died down. Those glowing embers are the coals of intimacy with the Lord that are built up in the process, and as a consequence, of the active aspects of our prayer lives. Not only do these coals continue to burn in our hearts long after we have moved on from active times of prayer, they also become the hot bed upon which our next time of active prayer will be built and easily kindled afresh. As long as these burning embers are tended regularly with the fuel of meditation and active prayer, the fire will never go out!
This, indeed, is the key to building and sustaining an active, intimate prayer life with the Lord. It does not happen automatically, nor without intentionality and consistency, but neither is it beyond our reach. All it takes is the wisdom of natural fire building applied to our prayer life and a small match of faith and desire to get it all started. Before long, we will have a fervent, abiding spirit of prayer within us that not only consumes and radiates within our own hearts, but also warms and enlightens those around us.
I pray that you are encouraged “to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you…” even unto a consuming fire of prayer and intercession through the wisdom and grace He has given!
A Continuing Urgent Call to Prayer and Intercession
1857 Prayer Revival – Can it Happen Again?
A Short and Easy Method of Prayer – by Madam Guyon (free audiobook)
Prevailing Prayer: What Hinders It? – by Dwight L. Moody (free audiobook)
As an example of one way of “praying into the Scriptures”, I commend the following relatively short podcast episode by John Piper. As you listen, please notice the different aspects of thanksgiving, praise, confession, and supplication that are interwoven into his prayers related to the Scripture portion he is meditating on!