By Charles G. Finney
Prayer to be effectual must be by the intercession of the Holy Spirit. You can never expect to offer prayer according to the will of God without the Holy Spirit. It is not because Christians are unable to offer such prayer where the will of God is revealed in His Word or indicated by His providence. They are able to do it just as they are able to be holy. But the fact is that they never do offer such prayer unless they are so influenced by the Holy Spirit of God. There must be a faith, such as is produced by the effectual operation of the Holy Ghost.
Prayer to be prevailing must be persevering prayer. As a general thing, Christians who have backslidden and lost the spirit of prayer will not get at once into the habit of persevering prayer. Their minds are not in a right state, and they cannot fix their minds and hold on till the blessing comes. If their minds were in the state that they would persevere till the answer comes, effectual prayer might be offered at once, as well as after praying ever so many times for an object.
But they have to pray again and again because their thoughts are so apt to wander away and are so easily diverted from the object to something else. Until their minds get imbued with the spirit of prayer, they will not keep fixed to one point and push their petition to an issue on the spot.
Do not think you are prepared to offer prevailing prayer if your feelings will let you pray once for an object and then leave it. Most Christians come up to prevailing prayer by a protracted process. Their minds gradually become filled with anxiety about an object, so that they will even go about their business sighing out their desires to God....
Travail of Soul
Prayer is effectual when it is offered up with an agony of desire. The Apostle Paul speaks of it as travail of the soul. Jesus Christ, when He was praying in the garden, was in such an agony that He sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. I have never known a person sweat blood, but I have known a person pray till the blood started from the nose. I have known persons pray till they were all wet with perspiration in the coldest weather in winter. I have known persons pray for hours, till their strength was all exhausted with the agony of their minds. Such prayers prevailed with God.
This agony in prayer was prevalent in Jonathan Edwards’ day in the revivals that took place. It was one of the great stumbling blocks in those days to persons who were opposed to the revival, that people used to pray till their bodies were overpowered with their feelings. I will quote some paragraphs of what Jonathan Edwards says on the subject, to let you see that this is not a new thing in the church but has always prevailed, wherever revivals prevailed with power. It is from his Thoughts on Revivals....
“There is one particular kind of exercise and concern of mind that many have been overpowered by, that has been especially stumbling to some, and that is the deep concern and distress that they have been in for the souls of others. I am sorry that any put us to the trouble of doing that which seems so needless as defending such a thing as this....
“Men 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 was 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 a very great danger of suffering the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God to all eternity? And besides, it will doubtless be allowed that those that have very great degrees of the Spirit of God, that is, a spirit of love, may well be supposed to have vastly more love and compassion to their fellow creatures than those that are influenced only by common humanity.
“Why should it be thought strange that those that are full of the Spirit of Christ should be proportionably, in their love to souls, like to Christ, who had so strong a love to them and concern for them as to be willing to drink the dregs of the cup of God’s fury for them, and at the same time that He offered up His blood for souls, offered up also as their high priest, strong crying and tears, with an extreme agony, when the soul of Christ was, as it were, in travail for the souls of the Elect. Therefore, in saving them, He is said to see of the travail of His soul (Isa. 53:11).
“As such a spirit of love to and concern for souls was the spirit of Christ, so it is the spirit of the church; and therefore, the church, in desiring and seeking that Christ might be brought forth in the world and in the souls of men, is represented (Rev. 12), as ‘a woman crying, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.’
“The spirit of those that have been in distress for the souls of others, so far as I can discern, seems not to be different from that of the apostle, who travailed for souls and was ready to wish himself accursed from Christ for others. And that of the Psalmist (Psa. 119:53), ‘Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Thy law.’ And verse 136 of Psalm 119, ‘Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law.’
“And that of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 4:19), ‘I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war’ and so chapter 9:1 and 13:17, and Isa. 22:4.
“We read of Mordecai, when he saw his people in danger of being destroyed with a temporal destruction (Esth. 4:1), that he ‘rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry.’ And why, then, should persons be thought to be distracted, when they cannot forbear crying out at the consideration of the misery of those that are going to eternal destruction?”
I have quoted this to show that this thing was common in the great revivals of those days. It has always been so in all great revivals, and has been more or less common in proportion to the greatness and extent and depth of the work. It was so in the great revivals of Scotland, and multitudes used to be overpowered and some almost died, by the depth of their agony.
– From Revival Lectures by Charles G. Finney.