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Enjoying God Blog

The word “diligence” describes that devotion, urgency, and alertness in prayer that is so frequently urged upon us in the New Testament.

For example, lest we become careless or mechanical in our prayers Paul urged that we “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). Be on your guard against sloth. Be sleepless in prayer if circumstances should demand it. Be vigilant. Beware of lethargy. This holy devotion to prayer is spoken of on several occasions in Scripture (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; Rom. 12:12). We also see this sort of sleepless devotion to prayer in the life of Joseph Alleine (1634-68), about whom his wife once wrote:

“At the time of his health he did rise constantly at or before four of the clock, and would be much troubled if he heard [black]smiths or other craftsmen at their trades before he was at communion with God; saying to me after, ‘How this noise shames me. Does not my Master deserve more than theirs?’” (cited in Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 48).

Paul exhorted the Christians in Rome to “strive together” with him in their prayers to God on his behalf (Rom. 15:30). Some translations render this, “struggle.” But with what or whom are they (and we) to “strive” or “wrestle” or “struggle” in prayer? Is it the distraction posed by the world or Satan? Or perhaps it is with the weakness and lethargy of our own flesh that we are to wrestle, overcoming the natural tendency to give in too quickly. Could it possibly be God with whom we are to strive and struggle in prayer? Some authors would have us believe as much. Of course, there is a sense in which it may rightly be said that we “wrestle” with God in prayer. James H. Thornwell explains:

“We pray; but what is there of agony in our prayers? Who wrestles with God? Whose soul is burdened with the weight of a perishing world? Or who takes an hour from his sleep or foregoes a single meal in order that he may plead the cause of the millions upon millions that know not God? And are such prayers sacrifices? Are they more than breath? And can there be any wonder that mere breath should not move the Lord of hosts?” (Collected Writings, II:442-43).

Donald Bloesch cites an example from the prayers of Martin Luther, a man known for being forthright with both God and man. In one prayer of intercession on behalf of his friend and co-worker, Philip Melancthon, Luther cried:

“This time I besought the Almighty with great vigor. I attacked him with his own weapons, quoting from Scripture all the promises I could remember, that prayers should be granted, and said that he must grant my prayer, if I was henceforth to put my faith in his promises” (The Struggle of Prayer, 79).

This sort of striving with God or agonizing with him in prayer is proper so long as it does not degenerate into a conflict of wills. The function of prayer is not to bend God’s will to ours, as if we puny creatures vainly believe ourselves capable of overpowering the Creator or forcing his hand. C. E. B. Cranfield reminded his readers that “to entertain any notion of trying to exert pressure upon God to compel him to do that which he himself does not will to do or of mobilizing one’s fellow-Christians with a view to constraining him by a combination of forces is to lapse into paganism” (Commentary on Romans, II:777). Cranfield’s conclusion, with which I agree, is that “what Paul is entreating them to do is simply to pray for him and with him, not halfheartedly or casually, but with earnestness, urgency and persistence” (ibid.).

Therefore, let us be diligent, unswerving, unshakable, unrelenting in our prayers to God!

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