Frequently distracted, pressured for time or feeling prayerless: it may be that private prayer sometimes feels like an uphill struggle. Anything else seems easier. Few activities are more humbling. Yet what privilege could be greater than to have constant access to the throne room of heaven? We have boldness to enter into the holiest of all (Hebrews 10:19). What will help us to express ourselves in true holy boldness?
Christopher Love in his series of sermons on holy importunity in prayer gives some helpful counsel.
1. Get True Fear Towards God
Possess your heart with a lawful fear of Almighty God. This was the ground of David’s appeal in Psalm 5:3 and 7. You will find this holy fear at the bottom of it. David came to this duty with a strong sense of God’s greatness and dreadfulness. If we would serve God acceptably, we must do it with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28). It was said concerning Luther: “that he prayed with so much confidence as if he had been speaking with his friend and yet with great reverence, as one that considered the great distance between God and himself”. Someone who is fearless of God will quickly be careless in prayer (Job 15:4). Someone that casts off the fear of God soon ceases to pray to God. He that fears God most will certainly pray to God best.
2. Meditate on God
Collect your thoughts by holy meditation before coming to this weighty duty of prayer to God. We find meditation and prayer put together in Psalm 5:1-2. David’s prayer is ushered in with meditation. The same word in the Hebrew means both to meditate and to pray. Isaac went out into the fields to meditate, or as others translate it -to pray (Genesis 24:63). It is likely he meditated first then prayed. Be much in meditation, if you would have your hearts much enlarged in prayer.
(a) Meditate on the One into whose presence you come, what a glorious God He is, before whom you are to appear.
(b) Meditate on the name by which you are to come and pray, by whom you must have access to the throne of grace.
(c) Meditate on the main mercies you lack, and are to beg. Meditate on what grace you need strengthened, what lusts you need quelled, what doubts you need satisfied, what sins you need pardoned, in a word, what blessings you need God to bestow on you. Meditating on these things must stir up our affections in prayer.
3. Avoid Distractions
Recall your thoughts from worldly and distracting cares when you come to prayer. The apostle exhorts the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7:35 to free themselves from and rid their hands of the cares of the world so that they may attend upon the Lord without distraction. The cares of the world will eat out that good that is in the hearts of men. They will rob a man of that freedom and enlargement that otherwise he might have in prayer. You must labour to free your selves from these encumbrances. You must do as Abraham did, when he went to sacrifice, he left his servants and cattle at the bottom of the hill. So when you go to offer to God the sacrifices of prayer, you must get above the impediments and distractions of this present life.
4. Watch the Heart
“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). There is a watching to prayer, and a watching in praying. A watching to prayer is, when a man watches his heart and sees that he does not omit duties. There are four enemies that you must watch against in prayer.
(a) Watch against drowsiness of body. This is a great impediment of prayer, and we have great need to watch against it.
(b) Watch against a deadness and dullness of spirit and a flat and low condition, this is a great hindrance of importunity.
(c) Watch against the suggestions of Satan. Satan is always ready to assault you, he watches to disturb and molest you in your prayers. You need watch in order to counteract him.
(d) Watch against secular distractions.
5. Stir Up Your Affections
If you would get this holy importunity, you must labour to stir up all your affections when you come to pray. This was David’s practice (Psalm 103:1). See how he musters together all the faculties of his soul. He calls up all his strength, all that he is or can do to set forth the name of God. Peter exhorts those to whom he writes, to gird up the loins of their minds (1 Peter 1:13). A Christian going towards heaven is compared to a man going on a journey. He girds up his clothes so that nothing may hinder him in his journey.
It is also what a master says to a servant (Luke 17:8). God is our master, we are His servants and we are to do His work while we are in the world. Let us gird up our loins, let us gather our affections together so that we are more fit for and more vigorous in the work. An ungirt mind is not fit for prayer. Many pray but do not give attention to prayer. Many pray, as if they did not pray. If we will truly pray we must give attention to it, we must stir up all within us, to call upon the name of the Lord.
6. Store Up Material for Prayer
If you would get this holy importunity you must store your hearts full of material when you go to prayer. It is emptiness of spirit that causes deadness of heart.
7. Bemoan the Deadness of Your Heart
Bemoan your deadness and dullness of heart. This was the course David took (Psalm 38:9). God loves to hear His people bemoaning themselves (Jeremiah 31:18-19). God loves to hear His people mourning over, and bewailing their wants and weaknesses. Bewail your dullness. Without this holy importunity, prayer is like a messenger without legs, as an arrow without feathers, an advocate without a tongue. Bemoan your lack of importunity.