Prayer and Praying: Part I
What is it?
This ten-part series: Prayer and Praying: What When How Why provides understanding on this vital but commonly misunderstood subject and means of grace. In its simplest form prayer is one means by which man communicates with God. It is the believer addressing God. Prayer is a function of who God is and who man is. God is the Revealer, Creator, Controller, and Redeemer of His creation and creatures. God is man’s environment – He is omnipresent. Man lives as a dependent creature in God’s world. There is no escaping God (Psalm 139). Every being acknowledges or suppresses the presence, power, and righteousness of God (Romans 1:18-23). Every person is aware of disharmony and strife in the universe and offers varying explanations and responses to it.
As the Revealer, God communicates with man. Man was created a revelation receiver, interpreter, and implementer. It is in the context of God’s self-revealing nature and man’s recipient nature that God speaks to man. God deserves, expects, and equips man to speak to Him. Graciously and intimately, God commands AND woos His creatures to communicate with Him – pray, often and without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Prayer and Praying is to be properly vertically oriented. It begins on earth from the believer and moves upward. It is man’s communication to God and with God. The prayer and praying of the believer is always addressed to God. Some prayers may be to God but simply a litany of man and his self-proclaimed goodness (Luke 18:9-14). His prayer and praying was to and for himself and about himself so God and others could hear. As we will see later, he was heard and not accepted. Prayer is relational and involves giving to God. Prayer is never divorced from praying and the one praying. Man as a child of God gives himself – his thoughts, words, time and effort – to God. In giving, man acknowledges, and hopefully rejoices that God is his Father and that He hears him.
Man praises God in the act of praying. Prayer and praying are linked. He should acknowledge God’s presence, power, plan, provisions, promises, and purpose. Therefore, man’s words are to be a fragrant offering to God who has given man the privilege of being known by Him and knowing Him (Ephesians 5:1). In that way he imitates Christ. Every believer has the promise of being heard and having his prayer answered in God’s time. As a man prays he is to give a good word to God for Who He is and what He has done as a privilege, blessing, and not simply out of duty. Prayer may petition God for something. The person should seek to know God intimately – His Person, goodness, promises, and power.
There are several Greek words in the New Testament that help form a basic knowledge regarding prayer. I am indebted to Dr. Jay Adams work in this area. The first word (proseuche) is broad; it is the most common word used for prayer. It has the general meaning of speaking to God. All other words for prayer include, in part or the whole, talking to God (Ephesians1:6).
A second word is deesis. Prayer includes asking. This word expresses a particular or specific request (Luke 1:13; Philippians 4:6; Hebrews 5:7). Prayer is an entreaty perhaps growing out of a particular need or assumed need for any number of things. Asking for God’s help and or wisdom for knowing God and applying His truth are such examples. God encouraged the believer to ask for wisdom without doubting (James 1:5-8). Another word for an aspect of prayer is eucharistia – thanksgiving. When the believer prays, he gives God a grateful acknowledgement of God’s goodness and power (2 Corinthians 9:11-12; Revelation 7:12). The word has the idea of looking back and remembering. Paul exhorts, even requires, the Philippians to pray thankfully rather than to worry, thereby acknowledging God’s sovereign goodness and control even if circumstances seem to indicate differently (Philippians 4:6). An unthankful believer is an oxymoron; ungratefulness and discontentment are partners leading to unrest, strife, and disharmony, all of which are attacks on God (Philippians 2:14-17).
Another word translated as prayer is enteuxis which is used only twice in the New Testament (1 Timothy 4:4-5; Hebrews 4:16). The word is multifaceted in its meaning and includes boldness, access, confidence, as well as intercession. The concept of access to God through Christ is an important redemptive concept. Access to God in salvation and life after salvation is Intratrinitarian: to God through the Son by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18; 3:10-12; Romans 5:1-5). Hebrews 4:16 speaks of approaching the throne of God and mercy confidently because of our great High Priest Christ.
Another word is aitema also used only twice in the New Testament (Philippians 4:6; 1 John 5:15). It carries the idea of request and petition. One other word to consider is hiketeria which occurs only once and carries a strong element of humility which characterized Jesus’ prayers (Hebrews 5:7).
The brief overview of prayer and praying would not be complete without mentioning confession and adoration (1 John 1:9; Psalm 103:20-22). Confession – agreeing with and saying the same thing about self and actions or inactions, desires and thoughts as God does. Confession of sin as well as the truthfulness about God is essential for the Christian to live as God’s kind of child and it honors God. Adoration is a biblical practice. In fact, it is the very essence – the soul – of prayer. Without it, God functions simply as a Giver at the service of the one praying. Rather, prayer that praises God for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do imitates Christ and moves people to a greater and proper understanding of God. In that way, God is praised.
1. Define prayer and praying.
2. What are the essential features of both?
3. How has your view of God and yourself influenced your prayer life?
Prayer and Prayer: Part II
The Greatness of God
I continue the series: Prayer and Praying: What When How Why. Prayer and praying is what believers do out of a desire for a closer fellowship and intimacy with God. Prayer and praying are to relational. By them, the believer graciously accepts God’s invitation to communicate with Him. Talking with God is a product of a growing relationship with Him. Likewise, a growing relationship with God fosters meaningful prayer. Dr. Jay Adams writes that “Without prayer, God is a picture on the wall” and “Without prayer, there is no vital connection with God…” (See A Theology of Christian Counseling). These short sentences highlight the necessity of prayer in the life of the believer. All believers are to be praying believer is an oxymoron. Any other kind of believer is a misnomer.
God hears and answers every prayer of the believer and even the unbeliever who may cry out as He did when the sailors prayed in Jonah 1:5, 14. Some people deny the fact that God hears and answers every prayer. This capacity is a reflection of His Tri-unity and His greatness. Often times the Triune-impact of hearing and answering prayer is missed. Prayer, in its doing and in its hearing, is Intratrinitarian. The Trinity is involved in every aspect of the believer including prayer. Believers are to pray to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit (John 14:13-17; 15:16-17; 16:14-15, 23-24, 26; Roman 8:26-27). While the unbeliever can never pray that way, God in His common kindness is involved in the life of every creature (Matthew 5:43-48; Acts 14:17; 17:24-31)
Heard and answered prayer is a reflection of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Because the Triune God is omniscient, He knows every aspect of the person praying and his situation. It stands to reason that since God is omnipresent, He hears all prayers from all His people all the time. Since God is omnipotent He responds to and answers every prayer. Prayer brings the believer face to face with the living God and His awesomeness. God is transcendent – His holy otherness – such that He is distinct from mere men. Yet He is immanent – God’s closeness to His creation and His creatures. God’s answers maybe no, yes, or wait. He answers in His time, His way, for His glory, and for the benefit of His people.
As Paul closes his first letter to the Thessalonians he gives several commands:
• rejoice always (5:16),
• pray always – without ceasing (5:17),
• be thankful in all circumstances (5:18),
• don’t quench the Holy Spirit (5:19),
• don’t despise prophecies (5:20),
• test everything (5:21),
• abstain from every form of evil (5:22).
Verses 16-18 form a trio (joy, prayer, and gratitude) regarding the believer’s mindset and attitude toward God and consequently others. They speak of the relationship of God to the believer and the value the believer places on it. Paul, as the psalmist did, is calling the believer to be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). The believer’s prayer life is a gauge of his view of God, of himself, and of God’s relationship to him.
1. Examine your prayer life in terms of when, what, and how often.
2. Examine your prayer life in terms of its content and intensity.
3. Define prayer and its place in your life. Compare and contrast your communication with your best friend/spouse and with God. What motivates both?
4. Determine what changes you need to make and your plans to make those changes.
5. Get busy implementing those changes and record how your relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit changes.
Prayer and Praying: Part III
One theologian terms prayer as the language of creative dependence upon that God from whom being itself is derived (B.M. Palmer; Theology of Prayer). Dr. Palmer draws attention to prayer as language and communication under three aspects.
First, prayer is the appeal of the creature to the Creator. The creature calls out/speaks to God out of creaturely dependence on Him as Creator and Preserver of all His creatures and His world. From this perspective, the believer unlike the unbeliever, acknowledges the Being and creative activity of God (Romans 1:18-23). The believer embraces natural revelation as proclaiming that all nature rings the beauty and majesty of God – this is his Father’s world and he rests on and takes solace in that fact (Psalm 24:1-2; Acts 4:24). Moreover, he acknowledges that he is the creature and knows his place in God’s economy. Lastly, the believer acknowledges that he is growing in his knowledge of God and his relationship with him. The believer humbly , joyfully, and graciously petitions and thanks God acknowledging His presence, power, purpose, plan, promises, and provisions. Rightly understood, prayer is an expression of the result of mining the depth of the multifaceted biblical truth about God, self, others, and life.
Second, prayer is the wail of the burdened sinner – his guilt and conviction of sin. From this perspective, the believer speaks the language of confession, repentance, and supplication. The believer is aware that repentance and confession are his friends because they honor God who forgives sin as Judge and Father.
Third, prayer is the worship of the informed, intelligent, and joyful person. The language is one of praise and adoration for who God is and what He has done and has promised to do.
The Triune God is the object of our praying and prayer. As in worship, God is the audience. The key is the God of prayer and not our prayers or even our faith (Romans 8:26-27). Prayer may be offered to each Person of the Godhead since God is one-in-three and one-in-three. Each person is God.
The goal of prayer must be proper. Since the ultimate end of all things is God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), prayer to any other end is not honored – it is lost. God will not be mocked. He guards His honor and glory. He will not share it with another (Isaiah 42: 8; 48:9-11).
The manner of prayer is also important (I am thankful Dr. Morton Smith and his teaching: .Systematic Theology, second volume, pages 697-706). Prayer has several features.
First, we must pray with understanding: 1 Corinthians 14:15. Since the believer has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5) and since saving faith is to be informed, intelligent, and active, God honors prayer that is biblically-derived and faith-based. Praying God’s thoughts and God’s words are a blessing and an encouragement. It pleases God. A right view of God, self, and others gives fabric and body to the believer’s prayer.
Second, we must pray believingly: Hebrews 11:6; Mark 11:24; James 1:5-7. God is trustworthy and His promises are yes and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). Praying with doubt dishonors God and attempts to cast a shroud over His trustworthiness and good control James 1:5-8; 4;8).
Third, we must pray warmly, fervently, and earnestly: James 5:16. The warmth of the prayer is in contrast to rote, ritualistic prayer. The intensity of our praying should be a reflection of our commitment to pleasing God and not how “badly we desire to have something.” An intense desire to imitate Christ will drive and secure a God-pleasing prayer life in form and frequency. We don’t pray to change God’s thoughts and desires. We pray to honor Him.
Fourth, we must pray constantly – without ceasing: 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 18:1ff. The Holy Spirit is encouraging us to pray regularly – that is, with a habit of seeking God’s presence one-on-one. Constant communion with God is a privilege and blessing but only for the believer. It is a reflection of God’s constant communion and fellowship with us by the indwelling Holy Spirit through the blood-bought relationship with Christ.
Fifth, we must pray sincerely: Psalm 17:1; 145:18. Covenantal faithfulness is a hallmark of God’s dealing with His people throughout redemptive history. A pure, undivided heart when coming to and speaking to God is a prerequisite for the believer’s daily faithfulness to God (James 1:8; 4:8). Our speaking to God is no match for God’s revelation to us and for God’s sincerity to His Son and to His people. We can’t outdo God especially in the area of communication.
1. Meditate on who God is and what He has done for His church and for you: see Ephesians 1:3-14 and Psalm 103:1-5.
2. Write out how your answers influence your prayer life.
3. Record the changes in your prayer life and the results.
Prayer and Praying: Part IV
Giving and Getting
Prayer and praying is a reflection of one’s view of God and His view of prayer. In prayer, the believer gives and gets. The believer is to give himself as he goes to God in prayer. Praying is an act of worship with God as the audience. It is a whole-person activity in which the person acknowledges that God is God and he is not – that it is God’s world and not his. When praying, the person acknowledges that God is good, trustworthy, and faithful. He may repent of doubting and acting contrary to those truths. The Triune God has the best interest of all of His children because His prime motivation is His own honor and glory and their good.
The person who prays to God also gets. He properly worships God when he begins with contentment and satisfaction based on a right view of God and himself. The believer has the blessing and confidence that he has been heard. Presenting praise and requests to God pleases and honors God. Rightfully, the believer expects an answer to his prayer. God has promised as such! Yet God is not bound by time, space, or even His creatures. God does answer in His time not ours (Psalm 31:15; 90:4, 11-12, 14-15). How is it possible that the infinite God relates to finite man and answers prayer? God lived and lives in a finite world in His incarnated Son and through the indwelling Holy Spirit. God meets the believer as the ever-present Triune God. The believer should be joyfully content with these non-negotiable facts.
Believers go to God in prayer, in part, in response to who He is and who they are – dependent creatures designed to be in proper sync with God. Fervent, regular prayer is one way that the believer manifests his proper relationship with God and its costs. The believer grows in his understanding of the cost for him to pray to God, to be heard, and to have his prayer answers. It cost the Triune God: the Father His Son; the Son His place in heaven and His humiliation on earth including the cross; and the Holy Spirit His place in heaven through His indwelling Christ the Messiah, the Church, and the believer.
Also, believers pray because God commands them to pray: ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-10; 18:1-8). These verbs express more than mere action. They express a habituated pattern of communication with God. They teach persistence – not selfish grasping. God answers according to His timetable and in His way.
Matthew 7:7-11 follows after Jesus’ exhortation and command to avoid hypocritical, pharisaical judging (7:1-6). Heavy stuff you might say. Hearing the strong exhortation recorded in Matthew 7:1-6 and command in 7:7-11, the disciples then, and perhaps you now, wondered. They must have asked themselves the source of their strength to first judge themselves honestly, fervently, and with a goal to remove hypocrisy. Jesus knew His people then and now. He answered His disciples when He taught them to come to Him in prayer (Matthew 7:7-11). The disciples and believers in all ages needed supernatural help! That teaching holds for the Church in all ages.
Similarly Luke 6:9-10 contains Jesus’ teaching regarding prayer. These passages follow Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (6:1-4) and on the tenacity and boldness of a person praying persistently (6:5-8). They precede Jesus’ teaching on the type of Father that believers have (6:11-13). In prayer, the believer is invited to plumb the depths of God’s Fatherly graciousness as the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:5-8, 17). God’s wisdom is manifested in His answer to prayer whether it is yes, no, or wait. Believers will never have an unheard or unanswered prayer. Scripture gives various reasons for God’s no – a seemingly unanswered prayer. I will consider several of those reasons in a later blog.
1. As you ponder the subject of prayer, consider God. He is your God who woos you and commands you to come to Him in prayer. What is the result?
2. What is your reaction to those truths and what are the reasons for your reaction to God’s invitation and command?
3. When you seek intimacy with God through prayer, what are your goals and your hopes?
Prayer and Praying: Part V
Praying according to God’s will
Prayer is a human endeavor. It is done by people believer or not. Only the believer can truly pray as we have defined prayer. In one sense, any activity is communicated to God. One may be tempted to say that only the prayer of the believer is blessed. That would ignore the sailors who cried out to their own god seemingly trapped in the storm (Jonah 1:5). Their crying out – praying – to a “higher being” is a testimony to one aspect of God’s creational design for man: man is a religious, worshipping and morally responsible being. They wanted help and they did not want to kill Jonah (Jonah 1:14). Apparently, their second prayer was addressed to Jonah’s God – to Yahweh (Jonah 1:14).
Initially, they were not interested in glorifying their god or the God of the universe. But they refused to throw Jonah overboard and seemingly to his death. However, their best efforts failed to turn the tide and rising waters. They heeded Jonah’s direction and threw him overboard praying to Yahweh, not to their god, to have mercy on them for their actions. They were saved from their physical dilemma by common kindness and perhaps because this was a moment of their conversion.
It is clear that God had other plans for Jonah, common kindness for unbelievers, and perhaps salvation for some or all of the sailors. Did these sailors pray in accordance with God’s will? In one sense, yes they did. What God ordained in eternity past came to pass and they demonstrated a moral sensitivity – don’t kill. In another sense, if they are unbelievers, they can’t pray according to God’s will because there is no change in their rebellious, arrogant, antigod nature and they reject biblical truth.
Moreover, In 1 John 5:14-15, John writes that we do have confidence that we can approach God (Hebrews 10:19-22). The Christian has boldness before God knowing that Christ has entered the Holy of Holies as the High Priest as his substitute and mediator (Hebrews 6:13-20; 10:19-22). John gives a requirement – knowledge of Christ and the significance of His work. He zeroed in on the believer’s confidence (also see 2:28; 3:21; 4:17). John highlights the believer’s assurance and freedom that God is approachable in Christ and the believer has access to the Triune God. Because of that, the believer can and should ask for anything but always according to God’s will. God hears us and answers. But the response is conditional. The believer must ask according to God’s revealed will and always in faith.
What does it mean, in His will or according to His will? Perhaps a more accurate term would be in accordance with His truth as revealed in the Word. God has given the believer His truth which expresses His will. Peter teaches that the Triune God in the Bible by the Holy Spirit gives the believer all he needs for life and godliness. God’s will is found in the Bible – not in reasoning divorced from biblical truth, feelings, signs, or hunches. God gives His will in terms of principles and precepts/commands and in terms of application. The principle is clear but the application may be manifold.
You may ask: Doesn’t God hear and answer every prayer? What does John mean according to His will? We know that Scripture reveals what God’s will is but how does that help us pray? Consider this example. Scripture commands the husband to love his wife. That is a non-negotiable truth. How he loves her is application and that is negotiable. Determining the how is also covered in Scripture. Peter calls the husband in the midst of hard time to know his wife (1 Peter 3:7). The husband is to listen, to learn to love, in order to lead his wife. These principles are clear but may have different applications.
The wife may pray that her husband would love her. Scripture commands the husband to love his wife. She can and should pray that her husband would be faithful to God by loving her. Again what that looks like daily and personally is one of application and even preference. If she takes it on herself to pray for another husband or simply that her husband would change because her husband is not God’s kind of husband, then she is not praying according to God’s will. She must grow in the situation that God has ordained.
Not only is it commanded in Scripture to pray according to the will of God in the name of Christ under the influence of the Holy Spirit , it makes sense to pray according to God’s will. Whose other will would you pray according to – yours? Therein is the problem. God is God and you and I aren’t!
In the Garden the night before He died, Jesus prayed to the Father through the Spirit. He counted the cost of the cross: separation and forsaken by the Father and going to hell on the cross; the costs were monumental and that is an understatement. Yet He prayed according to the revealed will of God when He prayed: not my will be done but yours to be done. He knew the Triune God reigned and that His Messiahship had been ordained in eternity past. Jesus prayed acknowledging to the Father, to the Spirit, and to Himself that the journey to the cross was impossible unless He was God and He had the indwelling Holy Spirit. He stayed the course of a God-pleasing Son and Servant because He knew it was God’s will. He fulfilled the God-given task that He had accepted graciously and that He knew He was privileged to have and to complete. Completing the task was His road to victory and glory (John 19:30; Hebrews 12:1-3). Running the race well and finishing it was a blessing for Christ and it is a blessing for every believer as it was for Paul (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Looking toward the finish line is a key for godly endurance (See my book: Endurance: What It is and How It looks in the Believer’s life). Any other way would disqualify Christ as the holy, harmless, undefiled Messiah, the Lamb and Lion of God. An aggressive and active prayer life was a means to help Jesus and Paul rightly focus on pleasing God.
Let’s digress and define God’s will. Theologians speak of God’s will from several vantage points. There is God’s secret/decretive will (known only to God, unrevealed until the thing(s) He has willed/decreed takes place in time and space. Obviously then God’s will is not secret any longer! No one can know God’s secret will until it becomes a reality. Consider the statement: “I know this is the person God wants me to marry.” The statement is not true. You can’t know God’s secret will. If you marry the person rightly or wrongly then it was God’s will. John is not speaking of God’s secret will (Deuteronomy 29:29).
There is God’s revealed/perceptive will. One of the major characteristics of God is His self-revelation. By nature, He is a self-revealing God. We know His revealed will from the Word/Bible and the Ten Commandments (initially written down on tablets but its essence is written on the hearts of all men: Romans 2:14-15). God has not left man in a position of ignorance. Rather, the Scriptures teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. In that way, God has simplified life for the believer.
In general every believer knows God’s will. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question one puts it this way: man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Matthew 6:33 puts it this way: seek first the kingdom of God. 2 Corinthians 5:9 says this: we are to make it our aim to please God. Now those are specific commands that focus on one truth that is non-negotiable. What that looks like in a believer’s life is spelled in other passages. So the believer is to pray with one end in mind: glorify God by becoming more Christ. The way you glorify God is to trust and obey motivated by the desire to please Him. That is God’s design. He has designed the believer to enjoy Him and pleasing Him (1 John 5:3-4).. The believer can and does have “a piece of heaven” here: the beginning of resurrection and eternal life with its contentment and satisfaction (Matthew 11:28-30; John 17:3; Romans 6:9-11). These come from being and doing what every believer was designed to do – become more like Christ (Ephesians 1:4).
The believer is required to ask properly as he prays in faith and in accordance to biblical truth. He seeks to discover what God’s will is before he prays as he searches the Scripture. He is looking for the biblical principles that are most relevant to him in his situation.
1. What does John emphasize when he speaks of confidence before God (1 John 5:14-15)?
2. What are the two kinds of God’s will?
3. Explain God’s will according to secret and revealed and according to precept/principle and application/preference.
4. What does “asking according to God’s will” mean? How do apply that truth in your prayer life?
Prayer and Praying: Part VI
Have you asked yourself that question? Many have. What is your answer? Some answers include: “I don’t know;” “God commanded it;” “It is my way to let God know my feelings;” and others may think and even say, “It is how I get something from God.” Many books have been written on prayer but the subject still deserves the believers’ full attention. Common trends or patterns in the books focus on the person praying, the prayer itself, the God of prayer, or all three.
Simply and lovingly, if you are not a praying person, you are the problem. Your view of God and yourself does not match biblical truth. If you do pray, what are your thoughts about the reasons you pray? These will be linked to your view of God, prayer, and yourself. Let’s begin with how you define prayer and then discuss the definition of prayer from several avenues.
Prayer is many things to many people. Basically, prayer is God-centered communication by the believer as he talks to God. In that sense, prayer is relational. Prayer, or the lack of it, expresses your view of your relationship with Christ. The relationship cost God His Son and cost the Son His place in heaven for a time. Payer is beneficial to you, and obligates you to please God. There is joy and comfort when you are in proper relationship to God. In essence, prayer is based on your personal relationship with God and you with Him. More accurately, prayer is a reflection of the importance and significance that you place on that relationship in contrast to the importance God places on it.
We know it is Christ-like to pray. Jesus developed the pattern of prayer in His own life. He carved out time to be alone with His God (Matthew 14:23; 26:36-46; Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:34,46). “Jesus-in-prayer” is a special theme of Luke. Jesus prayed often (Luke 5:16). And because we are in Christ and are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are called to imitate Christ. God-honoring prayer is one way believers do that.
God tells us in His Word that a right relationship with Him is of great worth and benefit to you. It also obligates you to please God not simply out of duty but as blessing and privilege. There is joy and comfort when you are in proper relationship to God. Life is simplified. Conversely, there is misery and discontent when you are not.
Prayer is relational in two ways: you to God and God to you. Your prayer is based on your personal relationship with God and its significance in your life. Prayer indicates the importance that you place on God’s relationship with you and how important you think God places on His relationship with you. .
We know it is Christ-like to pray. Jesus had the pattern of prayer in His own life. He carved out time to be alone with His God (Matthew 14:23; 26:36-46; Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:34, 46). “Jesus-in-prayer” is a special theme of Luke’s gospel. Jesus prayed often (Luke 5:16). Because we are in Christ and are new creatures in Christ, we are called to imitate Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Frequent and God-honoring prayer is one way believers do that.
Prayer audible or otherwise makes a statement about your view of God. As mentioned previously, God must be omniscient to know all aspects of every particular situation in order to answer every prayer. He must be omnipresent to hear every prayer that has been raised at any and all times and in all places. God must be omnipotent in order to respond to every prayer in a way that He wishes and has ordained and is best for the believer. By its very nature, prayer assumes a Triune God who is transcendent. Transcendence highlights God’s greatness and otherness. As such, He is powerful and good. It also assumes an immanent God – one who is in and with His people. He has come to His people in His Son and His Spirit.
Since prayer is commanded, it is doable, expected, and a blessing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The problem of not praying is you and your view of God and yourself. Consider some characteristics of Godly praying:
- It is God-centered – directed only to the Triune living God.
- It is relational: the believer seeks to communicate with God because he has a proper relationship with the Triune God who deserves to be prayed to; the believer was re-created for proper communication with God which includes prayer. Prayer is one way that the Triune God is honored.
- It expresses the significance of one’s relationship to God in daily life.
- It is a testimony to the divine fact that this is God’s world not yours (Psalm 46:10).
- It is commanded (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and therefore it is doable.
- The believer benefits as he tastes the goodness of God (Psalm 34:8).
- Prayer acknowledges your dependence on God in visible terms.
- Prayer is a matter of the heart (Proverbs 4:23) and your heart is the heart of the matter.
It is not easy post-Fall (Adam’s first sin and God’s judgment) to pray and to pray correctly. The believer still has the tendency to put self first (self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and self-exaltation). It still lingers in the believer as a legacy from previous membership in Satan’s family and kingdom and his remaining sinfulness. Prayer is a blessing. We must use it well!
1. Write out your view of God and prayer.
2. Give reasons for praying and not praying.
3. Read passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:9, 17; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:1-3 and answer:
4. How do the passages motivate you to pray?
5. Give reasons for that motivation.
Seemingly Unanswered Prayer: Part VII
I continue the series: Prayer and Praying: What When How Why. We have heard it and maybe even said it: “God has not answered my prayer.” The statement focuses on presumptions about God: His unwillingness to answer, His impotence, and or a presumed lack of hearing on God’s part for whatever reason. But we know that God hears every prayer. This hearing is attributed to His Triune nature. The answer moves us to a question: does God answer every prayer? There are places in the Old Testament that seem to suggest that God does not hear every prayer (Psalm 39:12; 54:2; 55:1-2; 66:18). Upon reading these passages one can conclude that God does not hear and therefore does not answer some prayers. However, the word hear can refer to more than the physical act of hearing; it may refer to heeding or paying attention to; or it may refer to hearing and answering unfavorably or favorably. No matter how one considers God’s response to prayer the issue remains: does God hear and answer yes or no or wait to every prayer?
It is non-negotiable truth: God does hear and answer every prayer. Any other answer denies the Triune God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. It denies God as God! Yet this fact does not mean that God grants every request in the way the one praying presented it. God does say no to the healing of a person in this life or to some other similar request. Seemingly the Father said no to Christ in the Garden (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; John 12:27-28). We must remember that the major tenet of Christ’s life was covenantal faithfulness. Christ did not pray against the Triune God’s plan even when faced with the cross: God’s wrath, forsakenness, and hell on the cross. Even then Christ prayed: not my will but thine be done.
The depth of Christ’s prayers was both natural and supernatural. In the Garden was a preview of the cross: its curse and for Christ, its hell-bound-ness. Throughout Christ’s life He had experienced inner-man angst. That inner-man angst reached peaked in the Garden. Christ willing and able to continue to the cross because of His relationship with the Father and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Christ’s intimacy with the Triune God spurred Christ to pray as He did and to leave the Garden as the Victor (Matthew 26:45-46; Mark 14:41-42).
God said no to Paul and gave His reasons (2 Corinthians 12:9-12). He said no to Job for some time before He gave Job a personal audience. He did not give Job reasons for his actions. He gave to him a clear perspective of Himself (Job 38-41). God does not grant every request in every circumstance in the way that the person would like (hopefully not demanded!). Scripture teaches that some prayers are not considered worthy of being answered in certain situations. The following is a partial list of some of those circumstances. Again I am indebted to Dr. Jay E. Adams for his insights. God does hear and respond unfavorably to prayer that has these characteristics:
First, it is hypocritical. In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist speaks of cherishing sin in his heart as a reason for unanswered prayer. The person praying dishonors God. David in Psalm 32 and 38 reflected the same truth. Unconfessed sin especially when the person is attempting to hide his sin dishonors God. The person by the act of unconfessed sin speaks loudly and clearly regarding his low and perhaps blasphemous view of the cross and Christ’s shed blood. The prayer is heard but God says no. Cherishing sin is a way of saying that the person says one thing and means another. He may be grieved by the consequences, but he does not have a proper vertical reference. God’s honor is not worthy of confession. Repentance is not his focus. However, God will not be mocked. A hypocritical prayer is a reflection of a hypocrite.
Second, it issues from doubt. The person praying is a doubter (double-minded – actually two-souled: James 1:8; 4:8) and his prayer is an unbelieving one. God says no to this type of prayer. In James 1:5-8 we learn that God is a generous Giver and Answerer of every sincere prayer. Believers are to pray without doubting because God is the Listener par excellence and He uses His power and goodness to answer in His time, in His way, and for His glory. Doubting denies the Being of God.
Third, it is resentful. The one praying is often a bitter grudge-holder. In Mark 11:24-25, we learn that asking God to give to you while failing to give to another – repentance and reconciliation – is a surefire means of unanswered prayer. God does not honor it. His no is emphatic. God will not be mocked. God is not a grudge holder, He shows no partiality, He cares for His enemies, and He expects His children to return good for evil (Romans 2:4, 11; Matthew 5:43-48; 18:21-35; Romans 12:17-21).
Fourth, it is pharisaical. In Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee’s prayer was public (see Matthew 6:4-5) and was recited to others and to himself. His self-recital was a litany of and to his greatness. Honoring God was not his focus. God was not impressed. The Pharisee did not go away justified. God says no to this type of prayer and He does not honor the one praying.
Fifth, it is self-centered and me-focused: James 4:1-3. Fights and quarrels – strife – result when believers are self-focused and motivated by “I want” and “I deserve.” James teaches that believers do not get what they ask for when it is wrongly motivated – to please self at the expense of honoring God and loving others (Philippians 2:3-5). Their prayer is an extension of their self-focus and is asking God to agree with their judgment of themselves.
Sixth, it is unbiblical: John 15:7. Prayer that is contrary to God’s revealed word or a prayer that is directed toward getting for self at the expense of glorifying God or a prayer for one’s own glory at the expense of the welfare of others is prayer that God does not honor. Included in this category are prayers that fail to ask for wisdom, that ask for blessing without emphasizing its privilege and the activity required to accomplish the request. These prayers are useless and even senseless. God does not honor these types of prayers. Rather, blessing comes in the praying and in the doing (John 13:17; James 1:22-25).
Seventh, it is self-addressed: Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee prayed in his name so that God would hear his recital. He moved in front of the synagogue and in front of God. He voiced his own merits and highlighted them before God. He was interested in his glory and his feelings. His heart was far from God. Rather, prayer is to be made in Christ’s name for the Triune God’s glory (John 14:13-14; 16:24-26).
Eighth: it is not accompanied with obedience to God’s revealed will: 1 Peter 3:7. Husband can’t expect their prayers o the prayers from the family to be answered if he is not living with his wife in a knowledgeable way. He has one woman to know – his way.
1. Review your definition of prayer, the subject of prayer, and your requests. Write them out.
2. Are you a non-praying Christian? If so why?
3. When was the last time you were faced with “unanswered” prayer? What was your response?
4. What changes have you made as a result of reading the blogs?
Fact: God Tells People Not To Pray: Part VIII
In the series: Prayer and Praying: What When How Why we come to an often overlooked fact. It may seem strange that God exhorts people to pray without ceasing and then tells some people not to pray for others (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The passages mentioned highlight the beauty, necessity, and trustworthiness of continued and regular prayer. Passages such as 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13 indicate that Paul practiced what he preached. He prayed continually – regularly – for his people (Romans 1:9-10).
One place we encounter Yahweh’s interdiction on praying is found in Joshua 7:10. After Israel’s utter defeat at Ai, Joshua thought he humbled himself before Yahweh and prayed. We are given part of the contents of his prayer: What then will you do for your own great name? Joshua was in danger of missing the point. The people were the problem. Idolatry was rampant in the people of Israel who had entered the Promised Land with great hopes and expectations. They had their marching orders but failed to honor Yahweh (7:3-5). In response Joshua tore his clothes (7:6) and asked Yahweh why they had been defeated (7:7).
Joshua’s why took his readers back to the Garden and Adam’s response: the woman you gave me (Genesis 3:12). Joshua’s why question blamed God for giving the Israelites into the hands of the Amorites. Yahweh responded by telling him to stop praying and get up – to get off his knees (7:10). Yahweh would have none of his arrogant blame shifting! Yahweh gave him the answer for the defeat (7:10-12). They had sinned against the first three commandments. They had worshipped themselves. Instead of praying they were to repent – consecrate themselves (7:13).
We read of a similar situation in James 4 and 1 Peter 5 (James 4:4-6, 7-10; 1 Peter 5:6). In those situations, the people had confused priorities. It is always good to pray but prayer is not to be alone. James and Peter pointed the congregation to the necessity of humbling themselves and repentance.
One reason for prayer that is interdicted and not honored is hypocritical prayer (See last blog and Psalm. 66:18). Such was the case with Joshua. The call for the Israelites as they entered into the Promised Land was given in Deuteronomy (1:6-9; 4:39-40; 6:1-3; 7:1-6). Praying when the Israelites should have been busy trusting and obeying is not a substitute for that which honors God or that God honors. In this case, a specific idolatrous culprit (Achan and his family) was found. But Israel as a nation remained an idolatrous nation.
God interdicted Jeremiah from praying for the people (7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12). A true prophet, among other things, prays for his people. Yet Yahweh told Jeremiah not to pray for them. Yahweh would not hear Jeremiah’s prayer. Certainly Yahweh heard the prayer BUT He told Jeremiah that He would not pay any attention to it. He gave the reason: unrepentant, patterned, self-pleasing idolatry. God desired and deserved to have Israel’s heart. Instead they lived and worshipped their way, for self, by self, and to self. Again God would have none it. There was no hope for this nation UNLESS they repented. Jeremiah continued to pray for the people but the nation as a whole was judged by God as idolaters (Jeremiah 18:20). God was calling Jeremiah to communicate to the people their drastic need for repentance – an about-face in thoughts and desires, which would usher in new and God-pleasing actions. Growth in Christlikeness for the individual and the church – the corporate community – was God’s design for His people. Prayer was never designed to be a solitary activity.
1. List some times in your life where prayer consumed you at the expense of using the situation to grow in Christlikeness.
2. What made it easy for you to pray rather than changing thoughts, desires, and actions according to biblical truth rather than according to feelings?
3. How will you use prayer as a means of imitating Christ and to encourage you to trust and obey?
4. How does confession and repentance fit into your prayer life?
Power of Prayer: Fact or Fiction: Part IX
Continuing the series: Prayer and Praying: What When How Why we face the concept of the power of prayer. I am sure you are familiar with the refrain the power of prayer. This saying seems to imply that there is power in prayer and praying. However, the emphasis is usually on the prayer itself. If so, to what power is the statement referring? How is that power made manifest? The phrase seems to imply that answered prayer my way is testimony to the phrase: there is power in prayer. The phrase also raises the question: how does God get things accomplished in His world? Do accomplishments occur only because of the power of prayer? How does the statement the power of prayer address the issue of unfavorable results (those not preferred by the one praying – for instance, God’s no)? How does the statement address seemingly good and pleasant times for unbelievers such as cures for diseases, financial gain, and improvement in his status in life and the opposite for believers who have been praying regularly and perhaps for relief?
Power in prayer may be a slogan to encourage believers to pray and to pray without ceasing. As noted in previous blogs, God commands and invites His people to communicate with Him via prayer regularly. God has a loving and caring relationship with His people. He delights to hear from them which in itself is quite remarkable. His people should delight in pleasing Him. Therefore, praying is a blessing and a privilege, not simply a duty or a means to get something. Enjoying and understanding the beauty of prayer comes from knowing and acting upon certain truths:
• You have a relationship with the Lord of lords and King of kings.
• The relationship was established in eternity past to be accomplished by the shed blood of Christ and its benefits applied by the Holy Spirit.
• The relationship was designed in part for greater fellowship with the Triune God in anticipation of eternity in His presence. Fellowship begins the moment one is regenerated and is experienced on this earth through prayer.
• The relationship is established by the Triune God and it is to be used and developed.
The God of prayer is the power of prayer. There is no power in prayer itself or in the person praying. Prayer is something a person does. Prayer does not “change things.” God changes things and He does not need prayer to produce effects. God does work through praying people who are often blessed in the praying.
God’s power is witnessed in the divinely ordered effects that God’s power produced. Some prayers seemingly have powerful effects and others less. The Triune God is the author of prayer and the God of every believer. The Father ordains and commands it, the Son intercedes for His children, and the Holy Spirit motivates and directs the believer as he prays and He is the believer’s and the Church’s Intercessor on earth.
The one praying is a sinner. Yes, a saved one but he is not God. He has a relationship with God because of God! The believer has a relationship with God and access to Him: His presence, power, promises, plan, purpose, and provisions which are made known and are made available through prayer. The person praying has no power in himself and his prayer has no power in itself. Otherwise any one could pray any prayer to any “supreme being” and expect it to result in an unleashing of some kind of power. The believer may think when he prays he is unleashing God’s power as if God needed our signal. God uses prayer because He has ordained to be a blessing for His people.
Consider these truths:
• God does not need the believer’s prayer to accomplish His ordained will – that which comes to pass.
• “Good” things happen to believers without a prayer being raised asking for them.
• Unbelievers experience God’s general goodness and kindness often without any prayer by others requesting or demanding it.
• “Good” things happen to all kinds of people whether prayed for or not: the rain falls on the just and unjust, the wicked prosper, and “bad people” – God’s enemies – are restored, and Yahweh restored Israel in spite of her prayer-less self (Matthew 5:43-48; Acts 14:17; Psalm 73:1-5; Jeremiah 1:9-10; 12:15; 48:47; 49:6, 39; Deuteronomy 30:1-10).
• God is generous and a liberal Giver – James 1:5-8. He gives Himself in His Son, Holy Spirit, Scripture, Church, fellow believers, and enabling, sanctifying grace. These blessings usually and often come as a result of godly praying. However, the quality of the believer’s prayer and the frequency of praying can never match God’s resources and generosity or force Him against His will. .
• The God of prayer – the Triune God, the King of kings and Lord of lords – and not prayer in general or a specific prayer in particular is the important fact. The God of prayer is the God of His people and prayer is His ordained means for His people coming into His very presence.
Godly prayer, godly praying, and the righteous person praying are a testimony to and for belief in the Triune God (James 5:16). The prayer of the believer has very powerful effects that may be visualized on this earth. Only the true believer has a correct view of God, himself, and prayer. Humbly the believer seeks the presence of the omnipresent and omniscient God in a most intimate way. He seeks, asks, and finds. He finds God Himself. Throughout Scripture and by the example of saints throughout history, the believer is graciously and powerfully exhorted and motivated to pray in God’s will, for God’s will to be known and followed. He is to pray confidently, humbly, and expectantly. The believer should appreciate the fact that Christ, the God-man, prayed regularly. He knew He was heard. He prayed for what He had been promised: His people – Jew and Gentile (John 6:37-43; 17:20-23; Isaiah 49:1-12), and the glory of the Triune God (John 17:1-5).
1. What are your thoughts regarding the power of prayer?
2. Is it an open sesame slogan?
3. When the results that God gives as He answers prayer are less than you desire, what do you think of prayer and its power? What do you think of God?
4. What changes should make re: prayer and the God of prayer?
How have you responded to God’s No and His Not Now: Part X
In our discussion Prayer and Praying: What When How Why we move to the believer’s response to prayer. The believer’s view of himself, God, prayer, and God’s providence (control) are key characteristics when considering a response to prayer. Some may assume that they deserve to have prayers answered their way and right now. Others may deny God’s goodness and pray doubting. Others may make praying without ceasing the defining characteristic of their life. The last sentence may contain thoughts that may be unnerving. How is it possible to pray too long or too much or too intense?
As in every aspect of the Christian life, balance, motivation, and knowledge are keys. Why do you pray? What motivates you to pray and to whom are you praying? Prayer as an expression of awe and gratitude and an outworking of fellowship bought with a price is a blessing for the person praying and a monument to grace and the God of grace.
One’s motivation for Prayer and praying is tied to a person’s response to God’s answer. If one approaches God in prayer with a high view of himself, the believer should expect God to say no. God’s no is a blessing but so often it is unrecognized as such and even rejected. God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). God’s no in any situation is best for God and the believer. The fact that the believer does not understand is not key.
A no answer to prayer is a time to reflect on the request, you the requestor, and God who answers every prayer. While not directly related to prayer Genesis 50:15-20 gives a succinct insight into God, His providence, and the believer’s response. Joseph seemed to be a pawn in God’s “hand.” Rather, he was God’s agent but no pawn. There were many times when Joseph could not figure out God. Yet he remained faithful. The end results and reality of God’s will had come full circle. The dreamer of Genesis 37 (verses 6 and 9) is the dreamer in Genesis 42-43 (verses 6 and verses 26, 28). Through the years Joseph was a praying man. He wept often and I assume he prayed often (42:24; 43:30; 45:2, 14-15; 46:29). In Genesis 50 (verse 15-20), he declared God’s wisdom in contrast to the wisdom of the brothers and also his. God meant – He purposed – their evil deeds to produce great and good things which would honor God and protect Israel and even Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph continued to believe and we suspect to pray. At some point, he came to the realization that God’s control is best. At some point, he increasingly acknowledged and enjoyed God’s control.
In 2 Corinthians 12, we encounter Paul, his vision, God’s revelation, and his physical malady. In response to the latter, Paul prayed earnestly (12:7-8). He beseeched God three times for relief. Paul thought the best situation for God, the Church, and his kingdom work was for him to have a body without the particular malady that God had given him (Galatians 4:13, 15; 6:11).
In contrast to God’s response to Joseph, God responded quickly. It was no and He gave a reason: God’s grace was more than enough for Paul to be all that God wanted him to be (12:9). One can only respond with a big WOW! But what follows is more amazing. Paul responded using unfamiliar words. Paul prayed for and delighted in more problems. How can that be? Paul was growing as a believer AND an agent of God. He understood that his reasoning was no match for God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-32; 2:1-6). He knew his self-dependence was a sin-burden. In contrast, when he was out of his own resources he was more motivated to rely on God and he prayed (1:8; 4:8)!
He understood that answered prayer is a given and a blessing. The answer is less important. He looked beyond the problem to the God of the problem. Therefore he delighted in God’s providence and His purpose – for Paul and every believer to become more like Christ. The ministry that had been given to Paul as a gift would continue and Paul rejoiced. Part of his ministry was demonstrating to believers how to properly respond to God’s no.
Everyone knows the story of Job. He was declared a righteous and blameless man by God (Job 1:1; 2:3). God used Job to demonstrate to Job, Satan, believer, and the world that He was King, Savior, Protector, and worthy of allegiance. Job thought he understood prayer and praying. He prayed regularly. Job was besieged by problems outside his body (1:1:13-19), with his body (2:7-8), and with his friends (chapters 3-31) who did not understand themselves, Job’s situation, or God and His control. Consequently, Job prayed for explanations, then relief, and ultimately he demanded that God explain Himself. Rather, God gave Job Himself. God’s perspective, not Job’s, was the key. In the end, Job got it. His prayer and praying changed.
Knowing chapters 1-2 of the book were not important for Job humbling himself and repenting before God. He received something far more glorious: God Himself. God had a humbled and repentant Job intercede for his friends who God then spared. Job was rewarded many-fold. Job was a type of Christ but he was not Christ. Unlike Christ, there was no voluntary submission to God’s will and Job did not initially humble himself before God. God’s presence and prayer was a burden (6:4; 7:20; 10:1-4, 8-17; 13:27; 19:13-23; 23:3; 30:16-19; 33:7). God answered Job but in His way and in His timing. Job grew to be grateful for God and His ways without a direct answer to his why.
1. Review the series: Prayer and prayer: What, When, How and Why. Focus on the God of prayer.
2. Interact with the truth that God answers prayers – His way, in His time, and for His glory and the benefit of the believer.
3. Compare and contrast your prayers and your response to God’s answer with those of Joseph, Job, and Paul. What do you learn?
4. List your prayer requests in order of priority, your motivation, God’s answer, and your response. What do you learn about God, self, and prayer?