At the end of 2012, I wrote about the Rev. Nathanael Leonard, who ministered in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the 18th century, and wrote that:
We were sensible of an awful degeneracy, and kept days of fasting and prayer, year after year, that God would pour out his Spirit upon us; especially on the rising generation.
In like manner, in the following century, the Rev. James Haldane Stewart (1776-1854) was filled with a similar spirit of grace and supplications "year after year." Stewart, who ministered in London and later in Liverpool, traveled extensively and spoke and wrote frequently in order to stir up believers to pray for the Holy Spirit.
For eighteen straight years, from 1837 through 1854, Rev. Stewart wrote and published an "Invitation to Prayer on New Year's Day." These annual papers were exhortations to Christ's Church to gather together to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
However, it was actually years prior to this time when the Lord first began to impress upon Stewart the necessity to pray for Holy Spirit. In his diary on January 1, 1821, Stewart wrote:
After reviewing the past year, I may well call it a year of peculiar mercy. In every way I have received blessings from the Lord. Amongst many other marks of His kindness, I would notice .... giving me a blessing on my journey, putting it into my heart to excite Christians to prayer for the Holy Spirit, and blessing me in my endeavours. . . . . . My great desire at present is to carry into effect the uniting of all Christians in prayer for the Holy Spirit. This engrosses all my wishes; at least, it is the uppermost thought in my mind. It seems to me so great an object, that, though I may proceed but slowly, I shall be richly repaid in the end.
Source: "Memoir of the Life of the Rev. James Haldane Stewart" by David Dale Stewart, 95-96. (HT for the text: http://books.google.com/books?id=hT4BAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false) // Photo credit: Work found here / PD-100.
I love the story of Stewart for it is a reminder to us (to me!) that the God who calls us to pray for Him will surely be faithful to equip us (me!) year after year after year after year ... 35 years like Stewart ... or even more!
I Thessalonians 5:24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
(See also Hebrews 13:20-21; Philippians 2:12-13.)
To consider that Stewart continued to strive faithfully toward this object for 35 years until the year of his death in 1854 is a testimony to the power of God alone... Isaiah 26:12a ... you have done for us all our works. Psalm 115:1: Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
It was about five years ago that God first began to burden me to pray for revival in the Church. A year later, as I recounted that calling in my post here, like Stewart, I alluded to Nehemiah's words in Nehemiah 2:12:
And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. (See Nehemiah 2:9-16.)
At this point, I can only agree with Stewart that my desire for Christians to gather together in prayer is "the uppermost thought in my mind." If you had asked me over five years ago if I had any such desire at all in my mind, I would have had to honestly reply, "No."
I find these words of Stewart a great encouragement:
It seems to me so great an object, that, though I may proceed but slowly, I shall be richly repaid in the end.
As my eyes have been opened to see more clearly the current state of "Jerusalem" (i.e. - the Christian Church), I am increasingly grieved and filled with an even greater urgency to see believers uniting together in prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – and yet, all the same, I know that there is great wisdom to my proceeding but slowly, being wary that the work of the Spirit is never accomplished by fleshly devices (think Abram, Sarai, and Hagar!), and I am trusting the Lord will have mercy and pity upon His people and pour out of His Spirit once again in His appointed time. There will come a time when the Lord will arise again for the sake of His name – and surely the foretaste and precursor of His coming is when He begins to burden souls to pray for His return in mercy. Writing on Zechariah 3:5, Matthew Henry reminds us that "When God designs the restoring or reviving of religion he stirs up his prophets and people to pray for it, and does it in answer to their prayers."
Zechariah 1:12 Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ 13 And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. 14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. 15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. 16 Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. 17 Cry out again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”
Almighty God, as You strengthened Your servant James Haldane Stewart year after year after year to stir up believers to pray, strengthen me by Your Holy Spirit to persevere with joy in the good work You have appointed to me – for You alone know how often I feel like the desert owl, the lonely sparrow...
Psalm 102:1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread
and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger;
for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
13 You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
O Lord our God, may the reforming and reviving of Zion continue to be "the uppermost thought in my mind" until the appointed time comes for You to favor us!
Psalm 137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!