“. . . they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.” (2 Corinthians 9:14)
Oswald Chambers said, “The Bible indicates that we overcome the world not by passionlessness . . . but by passion, the passion of an intense and all consuming love for God.” Do we pray with such passion? Paul speaks of those who “yearn” after others in prayer. That’s a word we don’t use much anymore, or at least don’t stop to consider deeply when we do. What would a yearning- spirit sound like in prayer?
The Greek word translated “yearn” is a compound word. The root describes desire, anxiety, a wish for or to strive after something. The prefix intensifies the meaning so that the resulting word describes a deep, earnest affection for or longing after someone.
Listen to your prayers. Tune an ear to what you are able to hear others say to God. Are we yearning in prayer? Perhaps first we ought to decide what makes a person yearn at all, and only then how that might become true of our praying.
The word is used to describe Paul’s longing to see the Roman believers, whom he had never met, but about whom he had heard so much (Rom. 1:11). It describes the believer’s longing for heaven, where we will clothed with our heavenly bodies (2 Cor. 5:2). It is used of Paul’s desire from prison to be released and again share fellowship with the Philippians who have made such a tangible and sacrificial investment in his welfare (Phil. 1:8). This is an affection that originates in and comes from Jesus Himself. It described the desire of Epaphroditus to return to the Philippians who apparently had sent him to check on Paul’s welfare in Rome. He had become sick—nearly to the point of death—and he longed to let them know he had been touched by the Lord (Phil. 2:26). It describes the longing of the brand new believers in Thessalonica as they thought about the one (Paul) who had shared the life-changing message of Christ with them and then been run out of town by persecutors (I Thess. 3:6). It described Paul’s longing to see his son in the faith, Timothy, as he was in prison in Rome and anticipating his own death (2 Tim. 1:4). It describes the ravenous desire of a newborn baby after his mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2) and becomes a metaphor for how all believers should desire the truth of God’s Word.
How can such an intense passion pervade our praying? Interestingly, several of these passages speak of this yearning in connection with prayer (Rom. 1:10-11; Phil. 1:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:3- 4). There seem to be three things that energize our prayers to the level of yearning.
The first is the grace we have already received. Paul told the Philippians, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:7- 8). They’d both experienced the grace of God in the past. That made them yearn for it more, even for one another, now.
There is also grace yet to be received. There is grace to be had now through the truth of God’s Word that should make us yearn for it like a newborn (1 Pet. 2:2). Ultimately, however it is the promise of heaven’s grace that makes us yearn forward for His grace there (2 Cor. 5:2).
Perhaps the one thing that most infuses our prayers with yearning is the fellowship we share in Christ. It was the past relationship with the Philippians (who had given sacrificially to Paul) that ignited his yearning prayer for them (Phil. 1:7-8; 4:10ff). It was Paul’s brief, but powerful connection with the Thessalonians that made them long after him with such profound passion after his departure (1 Thess. 3:6). It was Paul’s long and intimate relationship with Timothy that made him so desire his fellowship in his final days (2 Tim. 1:2-4). Here in 2 Corinthians the yearning prayers of the poverty stricken Jewish believers in Judea will go out toward those in Corinth whom they have never met, but who will have sacrificially given to meet their need (2 Cor. 9:13-14).
A yearning-spirit of prayer is not, then, something that mysteriously settles upon us. It is something arrived at intentionally. If we are to yearn in prayer, it will take a better memory to reflect upon how we have tasted God’s grace, a deeper reflection upon all He has promised we will yet experience, and a more intentional fellowship with the believers to whom God leads us. Together these elements make up the soil from which the searching shoots of yearning prayer sprout. Then we will not be able to hold back our prayers and longings toward God and for one another.