How to Develop Fervency and Compassion in Our Prayer Life

Bill Thrasher
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D. L. Moody, considered by most of his contemporaries as the greatest preacher of his day, said that he would rather teach one person to pray than ten people to preach. I certainly knew that I needed to be taught by God something more than that prayer was important and I needed to discipline myself to do it. I saw in the Scripture that when the Lord’s disciples cried out to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” that He responded (Luke 11:1). Just as He responded to His first-century disciples, He is eager to respond to us today as we ask Him to teach us to pray!

The Holy Spirit and Prayer

Jesus informed His disciples that He would send the Spirit to be with them and help them in any way they needed divine support. Five commands in Scripture are directly connected to the Holy Spirit:

  1. Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16)
  2. Be filled with Spirit (Eph. 5:18)
  3. Don’t grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30)
  4. Don’t quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19)
  5. Pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 1:20)

This fifth command got my attention in a special way. It teaches us that meaningful prayer is not something that God expects any of us to sustain by ourselves. We need divine help, and that is exactly what Jesus promised to send to His disciples (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit is called a “Paraclete” or “One called alongside to help.” This help is always available because He is promised to be with us forever and even to indwell us (John 14:16–17). Every true believer can count on Him to guide them into truth and enable them to glorify Christ (John 16:13–14).

The starting place to receive God’s help is to admit your need for it. Look at the many promises God gives to those who admit all their needs. Here are just a few of them:

1. Promises to the needy as we navigate family life

Psalm 72:4–5: “Save the children of the needy.” (I always felt my children qualified for this!)

Psalm 107:41–42: “But He sets the needy securely on high, away from affliction, and makes his families like a flock. The upright see it and are glad; but all injustice shuts its mouth.”

2. Promises to the needy as we seek guidance

Jeremiah 10:23: “I know, Lord, that a person’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a person who walks to direct his steps.”

3. Promises to the needy as we seek wisdom

Romans 1:22: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”

1 Corinthians 3:18: “Take care that no one deceives himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.”

James 1:5: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

    1. Promises to the needy as we seek to receive God’s gracious enablement

James 4:6: “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”

It was not hard for me to admit my desperate need of divine help regarding my prayer life. For that reason, I began the journey of asking God to show me what it meant to pray in the Spirit.

We Need Divine Motivation

One of the first things I learned was that I needed divine help to motivate my prayer life. I discovered that we must first confess the following truth, as unflattering as it is: “Lord, I confess that in and of myself, I do not really care about anybody but myself.” Apart from Jesus’ liberating work of the cross and the enablement of the Spirit, the only life anyone of us could ever know is one filled with selfish ambition and motivated by “what is in it for me?” We are not able to pray with Christlike fervency and Christlike compassion without His divine help.

As we read Scripture, we observe God’s loving rebuke to the one who does not “[stir himself to take hold of God]” (Isa. 64:7) and to those who only “[honor the Lord] with their lips, but their heart is far away from [Him]” (Matt. 15:8). How does this apply to praying believers? Jesus would rather the prayers of our hearts be without words than our words without heart. Jesus’ loving correction and empowerment can enable the believer to not be judgmental but rather shed tears of compassion for those who disobey God (Ps. 119:36) and pray with a fervent heart (Acts 12:5). How do we depend upon the Holy Spirit to develop this Christlike compassion and fervency in our prayer life? How can we be delivered from being involved in much praying where there is no true prayer? How can we be delivered from praying and not really meaning anything as we pray?

  • The first step is to open your life up to the Spirit and let Him enable you to realize a real need for which to pray.
  • The second step is to live with what you have been shown so that you begin to feel this need in a way that your heart is truly gripped by it.
  • The next step is to realize and admit your helplessness to do anything about it. We cannot ultimately change our own life, much less the lives of others.
  • These will lead you to the final step of surrendering the whole matter to God and crying out with the compassionate and fervent cry that the Spirit of God is developing in you if you get out of the way.

It’s a delusion to think that we cannot pray, because we can if we truly want something. It is not our eloquence or beautiful language that God responds to. But it is the cry that comes from the heart in which the Spirit of God has truly placed a compassionate prayer burden. To this cry, God delights to hear and respond.

Ask and Trust the Lord

Join me in this journey of trusting the Lord to “teach you to pray,” and remember that Jesus will respond to this request (see Luke 11:1). Know that He invites us to learn from Him and that He is a gentle teacher (Matt. 11:29). True prayer delights the heart of God (Prov. 15:8). I have so appreciated how God has even helped me unlearn things about prayer that were wrong. He is a living God who is infinite and can listen to your concerns and questions as if you were the only person talking to Him; this will not take His attention away from anyone else! The key is to be childlike enough to believe that if God gives you a command, you can trust Him to explain it to you in ways that you can understand it and to enable you to experience it in your life. If He commands something, we know it is His will. If we know it is His will, we can be assured that He will both hear and answer our prayer (1 John 5:14–15). You can be sure that as you keep reading and keep trusting God to understand and obey His command, He will answer you in His timing and way.

For Further Reading:

How to Resurrect a Dead Prayer Life

by Bill Thrasher

The battle for prayer—transforming drudgery into joy and life-giving intimacy with God.  We know that prayer is important—it’s the...

book cover for How to Resurrect a Dead Prayer Life