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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

Why Keep Praying When I’m Feeling Dull?

David Brainerd

David Brainerd was a missionary to the American Indians in the 1700’s.

He died from tuberculosis in his late 20’s.  After he died people found a private journal in which he described his spiritual life.

Here’s one entry that deeply impacted me regarding prayer:

30 Minutes of Dull Prayer — But Then

“I had been thus endeavoring to pray, though as I thought, very stupid and senseless, for near half an hour; then, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul.

“I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing.  Nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light somewhere in the third heavens, or anything of that nature; but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor anything which had the least resemblance of it.

“I stood still, wondered, and admired!  I knew that I never had seen before anything comparable to it for excellency and beauty; it was widely different from all the conceptions that ever I had of God, or things divine…

“My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that He should be God over all for ever and ever.

“My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other conceptions of God, that I was even swallowed up in Him…

“Thus God, I trust, brought me to a hearty disposition to exalt Him and set Him on the throne, and principally and ultimately to aim at His honor and glory, as King of the universe.

“I continued in this state of inward joy, peace, and astonishment, till near dark, without any sensible abatement.”

(from The Journal of David Brainerd, pp.69-70)

Take-aways

  • I should not stop praying when I feel dull.  I should confess it, ask the Father for help, and keep pressing in.  Who knows what God might do?
  • What Brainerd experienced sounds like Paul’s description of “beholding the glory of the Lord” (2Cor 3:18).  Not that it’s always this intense.  I’ve certainly not experienced anything like what Brainerd describes.  But reading what Brainerd experienced should make us thirst for more.
  • There is “nothing comparable to [God] for excellency and beauty.”  Our highest joy is beholding God’s glory in Christ.  So why set our hearts on lesser things?
  • Isn’t this the reason the psalmists thirsted for God (Psa 63:1), panted for God (Psa 42:1-2), waited on God (Psa 40:1-3)?  Let’s join them in this.

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7 Responses

  1. Susanne Schuberth (Germany) says:

    Steve,

    you’re absolutely right. We may not give up praying even when we’re feeling dull.

    Sometimes I’m sitting in my “praying wilderness” and any effort I make seems to lead nowhere. There were several years I often tried to give up praying (daily) in the morning and in the evening, because my prayers were dry as dust and my mind full of senseless thoughts, but “something” urged me to continue though I often felt nothing in my heart.
    There were some times when I felt better and so I hoped to experience “anything” with God but nothing happened. But there were also times when I figured on nothing but God decided to surprise me in unexpected ways.
    I never know in advance what will happen when and how, but I’m convinced that God will act from time to time in an unpredictable spiritual manner.
    That reminds me of John 3:8 that says that
    “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    David Brainerd was still a young man, when he had such a wonderful experience and I think what he did before was maintaining discipline which is essential for a godly life, otherwise we can be tempted to live outwardly (away from God) and more this-worldly orientated again.

    Brainerd died in his late 20’s as you wrote above and I can say that my first similar experiences took place when I was 29 (in 1995). The following five years I was praying every evening (and night) for hours and I was very happy at that time. I thought that this condition would continue forever, but soon after the “highlight” in 2000 (Sarah Edwards…) it stopped and I couldn’t pray the way I did before.
    Today I realize that the Holy Spirit was the One who prayed inside of me. Afterwards, in the fall of 2000, seemingly without Him, I felt absolutely “dead”. I saw that Christ alone brings life, faith, prayer, joy, love, peace,…
    Nothing I possess is mine – everything is a unmerited gift from God who even carried me through many dark years.

  2. Steve Fuller says:

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts, Susanne. It’s so encouraging to hear how God carried you through those dark years. What a merciful Savior!

  3. Bob says:

    Wow, I only realized who you were after reading your reply to Susanne above and saw your name! It’s the Tuesday after a retreat that my family went to in the Santa Cruz mountains that YOU taught at (I’m the tall guy that likes to talk). I was doing a search for the David Brainerd quote above that you used in your presentation and stumbled onto this site. Pretty funny. Anyway, I want you to know that, in a small way, I’ve been “fighting the fight”. I play a lot of racquetball and have found the game to be very revealing of idolatry in my heart, namely, I want to never make a mistake and be seen as this amazing 57 year old who can beat anyone there. When my plan is thwarted (by making a bad shot, using bad strategy etc.) I tend to get angry and yell…basically like any little kid in a candy shop who’s mother has just said “no” to, throwing himself down kicking and screaming. yep, that has been me. Well, today was different. I prayed that God would strengthen me to trust Him and His promises. When I played, I made mistakes, as usual, but I didn’t throw a tantrum. Anytime I felt the temptation to be angry, I just said to God, “but I’ve got YOU God!” I have God! I have the Treasure of Treasures! It made a profound difference. I never yelled, or even got angry at all. I was at peace. God allowed me to believe what I was saying. By the way, my game got better and better for the couple of hours that I played. I told the guy I was playing with (who’s used to my outbursts) what I had been doing and that it made me stay calm. Whether I win or lose, I can be a winner if I keep God in view as the purpose for doing whatever I’m doing. Looking forward to the blessings of fighting this fight! Thank you again!

    Bob

    • Steve Fuller says:

      I love what you write here, Bob. I’m so glad you found this site!

      Thanks for sharing your story,

      Steve

  4. Blake says:

    Thanks for that! A good reminder to press on, and that it’s not all about our feelings; we do what we are commanded to do, and the Lord blesses that.

    A note of caution, though: as I read this, and the comments that come from it, there’s a lot of talk about “experiences”… as if that’s what we’re aiming at. This entire discussion is relatively tricky, as it’s so easy to drift into mysticism. Let’s not forget that Brainerd was almost certainly Bipolar, which I think it’s safe to say contributed to these “highs” as much as the extreme lows he went through. Our aim should never be a certain emotional experience, but rather a greater appreciation for the person of Christ.
    A lot of those who seem fixated on these types of matters (Sarah Edwards, for one; but lately, Dallas Willard and others) are total mystics who need to be recognized as the dangers they are, and rejected.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Blake,

      Thanks so much for your comment and encouraging words.

      I agree that we need to be careful about mysticism — which I understand as the attempt to encounter God directly without regard to truth content.

      But I’m not so sure I’d categorize Sarah Edwards in that camp. She and her husband both had powerful experiences of God’s glory which were full of biblical truth. Check out the links HERE and HERE.

      Edwards said the aim of his preaching was to raise the affections of his hearers as high as he possibly could, provided that they were affected with nothing other than the truth of God’s Word. I think that’s right on target.

      I see two dangers. One is the attempt to experience the Holy Spirit or the presence of God without truth. That’s what I understand as mysticism. The other is to focus only on truth without any heart-affections or desires or satisfaction.

      I believe the biblical approach is to pray and meditate earnestly on God’s Word with the longing to meet Him in the truth of who He is.

      May the Lord richly bless you, brother,

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  5. jjchew says:

    Thanks, Steve, for this excellent reminder to keep on plugging along even during a season when my prayers feel worthless or ineffectual or without feeling. It is so easy to give up. Good words from such a young man.

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