For example, if you want to deliver a memorable, life-changing message, make sure you have tugged at your audience's heart.
Sadly, it is true that many a false teacher has manipulated the hearts of their listeners with ear-tickling, heart-moving stories, narratives and illustrations that have nothing to do with either Christ or the Word of God (trust me, ask any friend who attends a slappy, happy church what the message is about, and they'll likely rehearse a funny joke or moving story instead of a biblical truth).
However, many of us in the evangelical world, in trying to disassociate and distance ourselves from such homiletical chicanery, intentionally try to bypass the emotions and affections of our hearers altogether. We want to cold, hard facts. No stories. No emotions. Definitely no passion.
This (apparently pious) bypassing of the heart is often just as true for us when it comes to prayer.
I confess that I have been greatly turned off by so many of phony prayers filled with many tears and loud wailing that I experienced in my early Pentecostal days. The Puritans called this kind of "show" in prayer "affectation."
However, though the Puritans were strongly opposed to affectation in prayer, they were entirely supportive of strong affections in prayer (anyone who has ever read Jonathan Edwards' "Religious Affections" will recall his thesis that the ultimate "fruit" of conversion is a kindled affection for the Triune God).
This is precisely what John Flavel lists as his sixth help for those seeking assistance in prayer:
"Endeavor to engage thy affections to God in duty, if thou wouldst have thy distractions cured."What Flavel is simply saying is that the things that usually distract us will do so no longer if we have a greater affection for the One we are praying to.
This can be simply illustrated by the husband, who, engrossed in a football game, is impervious to the repeated summons of his patient wife telling him it is supper time. Of course, such a 'distraction' would undoubtedly occupy his attention were he watching baseball or golf, or needed to be cutting the lawn or fixing the gutters.
The difference: he is passionate for football. He cheers when the Colts score, and has to watch himself when Luck tries to force a ball, only to be intercepted (again).
His heart is in the event. Therefore, there is no need to cajole or trick him into spending more time in front of the TV if the game providentially goes into overtime.
Again, Flavel's words are helpful:
When the soul is intent upon any work, it gathers in its strength, and bends all the thoughts about it; and when it is deeply affected, it will be intent, the affections command the thoughts to go after them. Deadness causes distraction, and distraction increases deadness.
It is with the heart in prayer, as it is with those that dig for gold; they try here and finding none, try there; and so go from place to place, till at last they hit upon the rich vein, and there they sit down. If thy heart could but once hit the rich vein in prayer it would dwell and abide there with delight and constancy. "Oh how I love Thy law, it is my meditation day and night!" (Psa. 119:97) The soul could dwell day and night upon its knees, when once its delights, loves, and desires are engaged.
What is the reason your hearts are so shuffling, especially in secret prayer? Why are yoiu ready to be gone almost as soon as you are come into the presence of God, but because your affections are not engaged?Flavel doesn't immediately show us HOW to have our affections engrossed and engaged when in prayer.
The answer is simply this: we need to be more mesmerized by God's face in prayer than by a silly football game on Sunday (or whatever it is that has captured our heart).
When Christina and I were courting before we got married, there were few (if any!) "distractions" that could come between us. Spending time in her presence and talking with her was no chore because I was absolutely consumed with her.
May it be so with our Christ. May God by His Spirit afresh shed abroad in our hearts His great love for us in Christ as demonstrated in the gospel (cf. Eph. 3:14-19).
Oh that with the Psalmist, we would adore God as revealed in His Law and Gospel, and irresistibly meditate upon Him all the day!
Help us in this Father,
In Jesus' Name.
For Christ and His glory to the ends of the earth,