*Deny self to obey the Lord
Fervent in spirit…devoted to prayer.
Romans 12:11-12 NASB
Here is one who has not made shipwreck of the faith. He still has a measure of the Spirit of adoption, which continues to witness with his spirit that he is a child of God. However, he is not going on to perfection. He is not, as once, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, panting after the whole image and full enjoyment of God, as the hart pants after the water brooks (Psalm 42:1). Rather, he is weary and faint in his mind, and, as it were, hovering between life and death.
And why is he thus? Because he has forgotten the Word of God, which says that “by works faith is made perfect” (James 2:22). He does not use all diligence in working the works of God. He does not continue instant in prayer—private as well as public. He has slacked off communing at the Lord’s Table, or in hearing the Word, in meditation, fasting, and religious conference. If he does not wholly neglect some of these means of grace, at least he does not use them with all his might.
Why does he not now continue in prayer? Because in times of dryness it is pain and grief to him. He does not continue in hearing the Word at all opportunities because sleep is sweet, or it is cold or rainy. So his faith is not made perfect, neither can he grow in grace, because he will not deny himself and take up his cross.
*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
In this thirteenth lesson on prayer, Wesley cites from Roman 12:11-12. Let us read verses 9-13 to get a better context on the passage. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Rom. 12:9-13 NASB). This passage is amid the apostle Paul teaching about the multi-membered Body of Christ and a believer’s obligation to pour him or herself into whatever arena of service they find themselves called to with exuberance.
For Wesley, a lack of Christian growth over a period of many years in those who were baptized into the Anglican Church as infants was a travesty he found all too often. Always the pragmatist, Wesley realized that one cannot be guided on ideals alone but must add positive actions to make those ideals living. He once said, “Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things.”
Wesley understood “means of grace” as ways in which God works invisibly in disciples, quickening, strengthening, and confirming their faith. They should be employed by believers to open their hearts and lives to God’s work in them.
Means of grace, mentioned in this lesson, are prayer, the Lord’s Table, hearing God’s Word (at public worship), meditation, fasting, and religious conference, which, according to Professor Kevin Watson, is honest, direct, piercing conversation with other Christians that is intended to help the participants grow in holiness.
Wesley concludes by “Why does he not now continue in prayer? Because in times of dryness it is pain and grief to him. He does not continue in hearing the Word at all opportunities because sleep is sweet, or it is cold or rainy. So his faith is not made perfect, neither can he grow in grace, because he will not deny himself and take up his cross.”
As mature as we sometimes think we are, if we are honest, we will admit to occasional troubles in prayer and the other means of grace. It usually comes down to, as Wesley states, that we have ceased to make a priority of hungering and thirsting after righteousness, panting after the whole image and full enjoyment of God, as the hart pants after the water brooks. This brings up an obvious question. If we are not fervent in hungering and thirsting after the kingdom of God and His righteousness, what are we hungering and thirsting for?