I am often encouraged in my own intercessory “struggle by the example of others. Consider David Brainerd (1718-1747), missionary to the American Indians, who for a season lived in the home of Jonathan Edwards. Brainerd frequently wrote in his Diary of “wrestling” with God in prayer. The entry for Monday, April 19,1742, reads in part, “God enabled me so to agonize in prayer, that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade, and the wind cool. My soul was drawn out very much for the world; I grasped for multitudes of souls.”
On the next day, Brainerd wrote: “I think my soul was never so drawn out in intercession for others as it has been this night. Had a most fervent wrestle with the Lord tonight for my enemies.” Again, “I was enabled to cry to God with a child-like spirit, and to continue instant in prayer for some time. Was much enlarged in the sweet duty of intercession. Was enabled to remember great numbers of dear friends and precious souls, as well as Christ’s ministers. Continued in this frame, afraid of every idle thought, till I dropped asleep.
Joseph Alleine’s (1634-1668) wife once wrote of him: “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 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?’”
Martin Luther certainly knew how to “struggle” in prayer on behalf of other believers. Oh his intercession on behalf of his friend and colleague Philip Melanchthon he wrote, “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. “
On this point James H Thornwell once wrote: “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 forgoes a single meal in order that he may plead the causes of 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?
This sort of striving and struggling with God in prayer is proper so long as it does not degenerate into a conflict of wills. 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 combinations of forces is to lapse into paganism.”
That being said, when was the last time you had “a most fervent wrestle with the Lord” on behalf of those you know and love, not to mention those whom you have not seen face-to-face? Would that God might energize us in our intercession, and stir us to strive without ceasing in prayer for one another.
–Sam Storms on Colossians 2:1, The Hope of Glory