Agony in the Flames, Agony in Prayer
by Dan Vander Ark
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Two verses in the Gospel of Luke have had a major impact on my prayer life. One is found in chapter 16 in the middle of the story of the rich man and Lazarus and their fates after death. Verse 24 tells us this, "And he (the rich man) cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.' (NAS). The other verse is found toward the end of chapter 22 and it gives us a picture of the prayer life of our Lord. Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and He was only a few hours away from His crucifixion. Verse 44 says this, “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (NAS)
Agony in the flames…agony in prayer. The two words are different in the original Greek. In chapter 16 the word is “odunao” and it basically means to be greatly distressed, in anguish, to suffer intense pain. Words fail to describe the terrific and excruciating suffering that must be experienced by someone being burned alive. In Hell it goes on forever. It is an image of the severest pain that we know – so intense that the rich man asks for even the most momentary relief from his suffering (that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue). The doom and gloom and horror of this place can scarcely be imagined. It should be our prayer that that this scene be emblazoned upon our hearts.
In verse 44 of chapter 22 it is the Greek word “agonia” from where we get our English word “agony.” The agon was the place of a contest, the arena where the Greeks held their national games; hence the word came to mean any struggle or contest or battle or intense conflict. AT Robertson says of this prayer in the garden, “It was a conflict, contest…Satan pressed Jesus harder than ever before.” Vincent says of this word agonia in his Word Studies in the NT, “There was growing intensity in the struggle…having progressed from the first prayer [in Luke 22:41] into an intense struggle of prayer and sorrow.” Adam Clarke says in his commentary, “The word agonia points out the utmost anguish and grief of soul.” And Thayer defines agonia as “a struggle for victory, wrestling, severe mental struggles and emotions, agony, anguish.” It is the severest of emotional strains. As hard as it is to grasp the scene in Luke 16 (the horror of an eternal hell), so it is so difficult to grasp the depth of the anguish that Jesus went through in Gethsemane. In fact Jesus prayed so intensely that He sweat, and sweat great drops of blood!
Agony in the flames…agony in prayer. A realization in our spirit of the plight of the lost should have an impact upon our praying. We need to ask ourselves, “When was the last time that we spent more than just a moment or two on our knees for the lost? When was the last time our eyes poured out tears for our neighbors, our coworkers, our family, and our cities?” We long for God to move in dramatic ways. But are we willing to “pray the price?” Mary Gonyo, a dear saint from our church who has gone home to be with the Lord, said that intercessory prayer can wear you out. And Dick Eastman said simply, “Prayer is work!”
A couple of years ago I read that the average length of time that American pastors prayed each day was 17 minutes. 17 MINUTES!!! No wonder that there is such a lack of passion in the pew when there is such a deficiency of praying in the pulpit. One evangelist said, “Pastor, do you want to see your church grow? Set yourself on fire and people will come and watch you burn!” And we simply set ourselves on fire by sitting for extended periods of time in the presence of the One Who is a “consuming fire.” (Deuteronomy 4:24)
The enemy so easily distracts us, thus we lose sight of our mission, and thus we major in the minors. Issues with the music, issues with the color of the paint, issues with the length of the service, issues about the dress code, and issues about issues. And all the while souls are perishing. Many “issues” would be quickly resolved in our churches if Revelation 20:15 were inscribed upon the eyes of our hearts, “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Jesus knew of the reality of hell and the lost condition of mankind. It therefore translated into a difference in His prayer life. Read through the Gospels – frequently He was “slipping away into the wilderness to pray.” (Luke 5:16). In Hebrews 5:7 it says this of our Lord’s prayer life, “In the days of His flesh He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears…” I am not sure that we would be comfortable having Jesus visit our prayer meetings. We might say, “He’s too loud and emotional!”
I vividly remember seeing Marcus Bakke, our denomination’s district superintendent, weeping unashamedly for the lost before the gathered ministers. We need more men and women of God that have an intense passion for souls and who aren’t afraid to pour out tears for lost people. At the church that my wife and I are currently attending, there is scarcely a Sunday that goes by where the senior pastor’s eyes are not moist with tears as a result of his compassion for people.
Agony in the flames…agony in prayer. In the book of Job it says, “From out of the city men groan, and the souls of the wounded cry out!” (Job 24:12). I don’t know about you, but I am amazed at how quickly my own heart loses its flame of passion for the lost. My own heart naturally tends toward coldness and toward majoring on minors, but the Holy Spirit faithfully reminds me to continually seek the face of the One Who gave His life for sinners. Would that God give would give us tears and a genuine, overwhelming agony for souls!
What is it that is keeping you off from your knees? Has the path to your secret place of prayer overgrown with weeds? Is the flame of passion in your own heart down to a single, smoldering ember? Is the Holy Spirit tugging at your heart today to find a quiet place to pray and to seek His face? The time you spend on your knees can impact lives for all of eternity.
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