Praying to God is one of the marks of true conversion. We recall that it is said of Saul of Tarsus a short time after he was saved, "… behold, he prayeth" Acts 9.11. Perhaps prior to this he had said prayers and had words associated with liturgy but it is doubtful if he really prayed. It is true that we all commenced our spiritual life with an inner longing and a prayer that consisted of a cry for salvation. Such was the commencement of the spiritual life of the publican in Lk.18.10.
Prayer is undoubtedly a Christian’s native air and yet it is something that is greatly neglected by many professing Christians. Others have come to appreciate the value of prayer. It was Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote in the nineteenth century, "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." E. M. Bounds, in the twentieth century records, "The more praying there is in the world, the better the world will be." Numerous quotations could be cited from the intervening period showing that many people from different walks of life had a grasp of the importance and power of prayer. In this chapter an attempt will be made to introduce the vast subject of prayer and lay a basis for the chapters that follow.
PRIVILEGE OF PRAYER
There are those who treat prayer somewhat flippantly. This can be gauged by the casual attitude adopted both in terms of irreverent language used and disrespectful postures. The fact that we approach "the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, Whose name is Holy" Isa.57.15, ought to regulate our manner of approach. In the Old Testament the privilege of priesthood that was granted to Israel nationally when they were redeemed from Egypt, Ex.19.6, was withdrawn and the tribe of Levi generally and the family of Aaron in particular were chosen to enjoy this privilege. It seems Aaron had access to God’s presence at any time but after the judgment of Nadab and Abihu, who "offered strange fire before the LORD" Lev.10.1, access was limited: "And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died; And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat" Lev.16.1,2. This highlights the reverential fear that is due to our God as well as the great privilege it is to approach Him.
In this present Church age God has recovered for the Christians what the nation of Israel lost, and now every believer is a member of the "holy priesthood" that has the honour of approaching "to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" 1Pet.2.5. All who have been born again are in this priesthood and there is no longer a distinction between those who may approach the throne and those who may not. The language is very clear and unambiguous, "For through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit unto the Father" Eph.2.18. It should be noted in that verse the whole of the triune Godhead is involved in opening access for us. Again, Heb.10.19,20,22, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh ... let us draw near." What an invitation; what a privilege!
PURPOSE OF PRAYER
The question may arise "Why should we pray?" In the life of a Christian there are two great influences, the Word of God and prayer. D. L. Moody said, "If we read the Word and do not pray, we may become puffed up with knowledge, without the love that buildeth up. If we pray without reading the Word, we shall be ignorant of the mind and will of God and become mystical and fanatical, and liable to be blown about with every wind of doctrine." Hence to have a balanced spiritual life we must have a place for both the Word and prayer and, in fact, in the Word we are constantly encouraged to pray. Paul makes it clear that prayer has to "be made" 1Tim.2.1. Thus prayer is not some day-dreaming, ethereal experience in which some airy-fairy notion is floated up to heaven. Prayer is intelligent communion with God in which we make "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks" 1Tim.2.1. This demands concentration and it is necessary to maintain our spiritual focus and so to shut out every distraction is likely the reason why we usually close our eyes when praying.
The Lord Jesus Exemplified Prayer
He, Who is our great Example in all aspects of life, was marked throughout His life by prayer. If He needed to pray how much more do we need to be saturated in this holy exercise? To select a few of many examples in the Gospels. He prayed:
at His baptism, "… it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened …" Lk.3.21;
at His transfiguration, "And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering" Lk.9.29;
in Gethsemane, "And He went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt" Matt.26.39.
Thus, He left the example that there are times when we need to get alone to pray, "And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone" Matt.14.23. He showed the validity of praying for an individual, "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not …" Lk.22.32. The prayer life of the Lord Jesus is further elucidated in chapters 10 and 11 of this book.
The Lord Jesus Exhorted us to Pray
"Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" Lk.18.1. This was the introductory comment for the parable of the widow who came to an unjust judge and received an answer because of her importunity: "Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me" or, as translated by J.N.D., "at any rate because this widow annoys me I will avenge her, that she may not by perpetually coming completely harass me" Lk.18.5. Thus we are taught not to become weary in prayer.
Is it not an amazing indication of His grace that the Lord desires to hear us pray to Him? "O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely" S of S.2.14.
He taught His own to pray: "After this manner therefore pray ye …" Matt.6.9. He encouraged them to pray for labourers to enter the Lord’s work: "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest" Matt.9.38. They were instructed that it is necessary for successful service: "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" Matt.17.21. They were to pray with faith: "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" Matt.21.22.
The Father Expects Prayer
All who have been born into the family of God can call God "Father". This is the address of those in proximity to and communion with God. The New Testament epistles never teach us to use the title "heavenly Father" in our approach to God. This is more suited to an earthly people, not to those who, in Divine purpose, are already seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Eph.2.6.
While with His own in the upper room the Lord Jesus taught, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you" Jn.16.23. He also taught the woman of Samaria whom to address in worship, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him" Jn.4.23. He frequently addressed His Father: "Father, glorify Thy name" Jn.12.28; "Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee" Jn.17.1; "Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done" Lk.22.42; "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do …" Lk.23.34; "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost" Lk.23.46.
We can hardly go astray by following His example and so it is a trait of Christians to "call on the Father" 1Pet.1.17. Paul declared, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" Eph.3.14, and then taught, "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" Eph.5.20.
The Spirit Expedites Prayer
Paul teaches us that when we received the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation we became sons of God and a proof of this is "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" Gal.4.6. This truth of the intimate cry of sonship is also taught in Rom.8.15: "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, "Abba, Father"." Such indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His full knowledge of our need allows Him to intercede when we cannot give expression to our thoughts: "we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself [Himself] maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" Rom.8.26.
The Apostle Paul Encourages Prayer
Many Scriptural references could be advanced to show that the apostle Paul encourages the believers to pray and shows this exercise to be an integral part of Christian experience. He enjoins us to "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" Phil.4.6; "… continuing instant in prayer" Rom.12.12; "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" Eph.6.18; "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" Col.4.2; "Pray without ceasing" 1Thess.5.17. He brought this to the sphere of the assembly prayer meeting when he wrote, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men" 1Tim.2.1.
Not only Paul but also James in Jms.5.13-18; Peter in 1Pet.3.7,12; 4.7; 5.7; John in 1Jn.1.9; 3.22; 5.14-16; Jude in v.20, encourage the saints in the matter of prayer.
The Work of God Elicits Prayer
Previously we have noted that the Lord Jesus required His disciples to "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest" Matt.9.38. This is reflected in the exercise of the apostles to know who ought to replace Judas: "… Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two Thou hast chosen" Acts 1.24. When persecuted, the resource of the saints was prayer: "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness" Acts 4.31. It was a necessary accompaniment to the ministry of the Word, "… we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" Acts 6.4. The apostle Paul acknowledged that the prayers of the Corinthians would be of help in the work of God, "… in Whom we trust that He will yet deliver us; ye also helping together by prayer for us …" 2Cor.1.10,11. Praying for the work of God in its various aspects can be seen throughout the Acts and chapter 12 of this book will expound this aspect of prayer more fully.
Requests to God Explain Prayer
As the prayers of the saints are considered they illuminate the whole issue of our prayer life and we can discern the following.
Prayer is An Expression of Helplessness
As we approach God it is incumbent on us that we acknowledge His greatness and our weakness. David knew that it was not his own power that delivered him from Saul, "In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears" Ps.18.6. Asaph wrote, "call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me" Ps.50.15. This truth is readily detected in Jonathan’s prayer, "Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few" 1Sam.14.6. Asa caught the same spirit when he displayed his confidence in God, "LORD, it is nothing with Thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go against this multitude" 2Chron.14.11. It was so with Hezekiah, "With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles" 2Chron.32.8. Isaiah encouraged the people when he wrote, "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength" 40.29. It is the same in the New Testament as Paul recorded the Lord’s words to him, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness ... for when I am weak, then am I strong" 2Cor.12.9,10.
Prayer Expels Hypocrisy
We can be hypocritical in preaching, teaching, in the display of good works; but not in prayer. In His presence we must be real and truthful. It is solemn to read, "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do" Heb.4.13. David instructed Solomon, "the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts …" 1Chron.28.9. The Lord said of Himself, "I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins" Jer.17.10.
Prayer Exhibits Priesthood
Sometimes men state that they cannot pray publicly because they are not as gifted as others nor can they express themselves so eloquently. This suggests that praying is a gift from God, as are teaching, evangelism etc. However, praying has nothing to do with gift; rather it is the birthright of all who are born again. As previously mentioned, the entire family of the redeemed has the right to address God as Father and enter His presence at all times and under all circumstances. Our only intermediary is the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, "… no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" Jn.14.6. Apostolic teaching is clear, "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" Eph.5.20; "… do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him" Col.3.17. Thus, in the present age, it is usual to address the Father through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need neither men, nor saints, nor angels to give us access to the Father. Every believer has "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" Heb.10.19.
Prayer Engenders Communion
Robert Murray McCheyne (1813 - 1843) is quoted as saying that prayer is the link that connects earth with heaven. This link, which depicts communion, is perhaps one of the greatest blessings that flow from prayer. It is not so much to ensure that the Lord answers when we ask for a worry-free and pain-free life, but it brings us into a closer relationship with God so that we can appreciate His sovereign workings in a more spiritually intelligent way. It is through reading the Word of God and praying that we ascertain His will and can therefore pray acceptably by requesting what is in harmony with His will.
Obviously, to enjoy God’s presence we must be in accord with His character and so holiness of life is demanded of all who will approach a thrice-holy God. This consideration will be expanded later in this chapter under the heading ‘Preclusions to Prayer’.
PERSISTENCE IN PRAYER
We are encouraged to show a degree of persistence when we pray. It is not a matter of asking once and never repeating that particular request.
The Teaching of The Saviour
The disciples came to the Lord Jesus with the request "Lord, teach us to pray …" Lk.11.1. He responded with the prayer, "Our Father Which art in heaven …". He then told a parable that contrasts the reluctant response of a man comfortably settled with his family in bed, with the response of a loving, gracious God. The children of God are encouraged by this to come with their requests and to persevere in coming. Thus the Lord Jesus said, "… Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" v.9. Rotherham catches the tenses employed as he translates, "Be asking, and it shall be given to you, Be seeking, and ye shall find, - Be knocking, and it shall be opened unto you." Such an attitude brings the promise of good things. A human father would not give a stone, which is hard; or a serpent, which is harmful; or a scorpion, which is hurtful. In contrast to the human father is the superlative goodness of God to His children.
Again, the Lord Jesus taught His own about the subject of prayerful persistence when He said, "And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint…" Lk.18.1. This passage is about a widow who wanted vindication, "Avenge me of mine adversary" v.3. While this is not the attitude of saints in a day of grace, the principle is being taught that we need to be persistent in prayer. This judge was uncaring, unfeeling and unconcerned about the plight of the widow, but she obtained her request by her continual coming. If one of such callous character responded, then can we doubt the response of our God Who is a just Judge and Who takes special care of the widows and the oppressed?
The Example of The Saviour
It would be difficult to find a more heart-rending sight than that of the Saviour bowed in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps the best way to appreciate this scene is simply to read Matt.26.36-44 with a worshipful spirit. For the purpose of this paragraph, note v.44, "and He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words".
The Example of The Apostle Paul
Paul was given a "thorn in the flesh" 2Cor.12.7. It is recorded, "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me" v.8. He received an answer, albeit hardly the one he wanted, "And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" v.9. Paul persisted until his prayer was answered and when he was made aware of the mind of God in the matter, that seems to have closed the subject. His attitude is one of the considerations that indicates that there are circumstances in life when we learn that prayer does not change the circumstance, but changes my attitude in the circumstance. Sometimes it is said that prayer changes things but in a case like Paul’s we can say that prayer changes me.
The Teaching of The Apostle Paul
The following Scriptures have been quoted already on page 5, but appear here to emphasise the value of persistance in prayer: "… continuing instant in prayer" Rom.12.12; "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit …" Eph.6.18; "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" Col.4.2; "Pray without ceasing" 1Thess.5.17.
The Example of Saints
We find that every person who has been in touch with God, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, had a consistent prayer life.
In the Old Testament Samuel said, "God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you" 1Sam.12.23. David wrote, "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice" Ps.55.17. It is written of Daniel "he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God …" Dan.6.10.
In the New Testament continuance in prayer was indicative of Christian fellowship. The last time we read of Mary, the Lord’s mother, is in Acts 1.14, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren". It marked the new converts, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized … And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" Acts 2.41,42. Paul stated, "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you" Col.1.9. He wrote of Epaphras, "… always labouring fervently for you in prayers" Col.4.12.
Thus we can pray in the morning, "My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up" Ps.5.3: or at night, "at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God …" Acts.16.25: or at any time of the day, we can emulate these very practical examples.
In those apostolic days the prayer meeting would never have been relegated to a gathering of lesser importance than other assembly gatherings. It is sad when the prayer meeting is the most poorly attended meeting of the assembly. If apostles, in days when God was working mightily, needed to pray; how much more do we need to lay hold on God in this, a day of small things?
PEOPLE WHO PRAY
Some give the impression that it is only the leaders, preachers, missionaries, Sunday School teachers and the like who need to pray. In the Scriptures we find the answer to the question, "Who prays?"
The young pray; Samuel prayed, "… Speak; for Thy servant heareth" 1Sam.3.10. The old pray; Anna, "And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God, with fastings and prayers night and day" Lk.2.37. Suffering men pray; "… at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God …" Act.16.25. Dying men pray; Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" Acts 7.59. As shown above, both men and woman pray. Hannah is an outstanding example of a praying woman, "… she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore" 1Sam.1.10. Servants pray; "…O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray Thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham" Gen.24.12. Leaders pray; Moses, "Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, shew me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight …" Ex.33.13. Prophets pray; Elijah prayed, "And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again" 1Kgs.17.21; Elisha prayed "He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD" 2Kgs.4.33.
These are but samples to indicate that every member of faith’s household is expected to pray. The ensuing chapters will deal with these and many more Biblical prayers.
PLACES OF PRAYER
Prayer can be exercised anywhere. An earthly sanctuary or ‘consecrated ground’ are not required. God is always available as we enter the heavenly sanctuary and enjoy our position as part of that holy priesthood, 1Pet.2.5. Examples abound and the following is merely a representative sample. Jacob prayed in a field, Gen.28.20; 32.9; Elijah in a bedroom, 1Kgs.17.20 and on Mount Carmel, 1Kgs.18.36; Nehemiah in the King’s court, Neh.2.4: Jonah in the fish’s belly, Jonah 2.1; Habakkuk in a watchtower, Hab.2.1; 3.1; it seems that Nathanael worshipped under a fig tree, Jn.1.49; the disciples were in a boat, Matt.8.25; Peter from sinking in water, Matt.14.30 and on a housetop, Acts 10.9-16; Paul and Silas in prison, Acts 16.25.
POSTURES IN PRAYER
In the Scriptures many postures are adopted by praying people. The usual posture is kneeling as displayed by David, "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker" Ps.95.6; Solomon was "kneeling on his knees" 1Kgs.8.54; Ezra said, "I fell upon my knees …" Ezra 9.5; Daniel "kneeled upon his knees three times a day …" Dan.6.10; Stephen, "kneeled down" Acts 7.60; Paul "kneeled down" Acts 20.36; the company "kneeled down on the shore, and prayed" Acts 21.5; Paul wrote, "… I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" Eph.3.14. Then there is the Great Exemplar, The Lord Jesus Christ Who, "kneeled down, and prayed" Lk.22.41.
There are others who stood. These include Hannah, "I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD" 1Sam.1.26; the Pharisee and the publican in Luke chapter 18, "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself" v.11; "… the publican, standing afar off …" v.13. In a general way the Lord Jesus taught, "when ye stand praying, forgive …" Mk.11.25.
Again there are those who prostrate themselves before God. Eliezer, "worshipped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth" Gen.24.52; Moses and Aaron, "they fell upon their faces" Num.16.22; a leper: "… fell down on his face at His feet" Lk.17.16; The Lord Jesus, "He went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed …" Matt.26.39.
There is an occasion when David sat, "Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD" 2Sam.7.18.
While there must always be a reverence in our approach to Deity, perhaps the attitude of heart is more important than the physical posture. Nevertheless, it will be recognised that the external stance is often an indication of the internal submission. However, situations may arise when we need to pray and it is not convenient nor would it be appropriate to adopt our usual praying posture.
PETITIONS IN PRAYER
There is no circumstance, no request, no problem that is too small or insignificant to bring to the attention of God. "Be careful [over anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" Phil.4.6. We sometimes think that God is only to be consulted about the big trials of life but because He cares for us we can come with every anxiety. Peter encourages us with the statement, "Casting all your care [anxious, distressing care] upon Him; for He careth [with a loving, sympathetic care] for you" 1Pet.5.7. When we discover His will in the matter and hence appreciate the answer, then "In every thing give thanks …" 1Thess.5.18. A practical consideration is to understand that we ought not to be involved in any activity or association for which we cannot pray. Thus the "every thing" is limited to every thing that is honouring to Him.
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.
The prayers of Elijah could have taken a chapter of this book but they were deliberately omitted, solely due to the lack of space. However, a brief consideration here will underline the variety and immensity of petitions we bring to God. It was through prayer that the rain stopped and then started again: "Elias … prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit" Jms.5.17,18. It was through prayer that the dead was brought to life again: "And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived" 1Kgs.17.21,22. It was through prayer that the nation was recovered from Baal worship: "… Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word ... all the people … said, The LORD, He is the God; the LORD, He is the God" 1Kgs.18.36-39.
PROHIBITIONS AND PRAYER
Prayer is addressed to God and so is vertical. Prayer is not horizontal nor is it advanced by verbosity or eloquence. To use the occasion of addressing God as an opportunity to preach at someone in the audience is an indication of carnality. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed or a relationship that needs to be adjusted, such ought to be done in a personal, dignified manner and not by a hypocritical and cowardly prayer. That must be most grieving to the Lord and His Holy Spirit.
Prayer is not an occasion for the suppliant to impress God, or the brethren, with his knowledge of the Bible; neither is it to display eloquence or articulation. Some of the richest prayers in the Bible are the shortest. David cried "purge me"; Peter’s cry was "save me"; the thief on the cross beside the Lord Jesus cried, "remember me". Perhaps the first prayer we ever uttered was not very long and yet that cry to God for salvation, coming from a repentant heart, has brought us into an eternal relationship with God. Multitudes have been saved by crying with repentance, "God be merciful to me a sinner" Lk.18.13, and with the publican, they received mercy on the basis of the sacrifice offered.
Despite what was taught above regarding bringing every thing to God in prayer, there are matters for which we do not need to pray. We noted above, "the ‘every thing’ is limited to every thing that is honouring to Him". Many practical examples could be identified but a few will indicate that when a Divine principle has been revealed there is no need to pray about the matter; simple submission and obedience are required. For example, supposing a Christian meets a non-Christian and begins a friendship that may develop into something more serious in terms of a business partnership or marriage. There is no need to pray for guidance in this matter since the Scripture clearly states, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" 2Cor.6.14. Again, a person gets saved and is confronted with the truth of baptism. They reply that they are praying about this matter. Obedience and not prayer is required, since the clearly revealed will of God is that He expects every believer to be baptised. Further examples involving the role of women in the church; the appointment and activity of elders; the acceptance of worldliness in the assembly etc. could be advanced, but it needs to be remembered that the Holy Spirit never guides contrary to the Scripture, and so in these matters prayer is unnecessary.
PRECLUSIONS TO PRAYER
A question that will have exercised the minds of many Christians is why prayers are not answered in the positive? The reasons given below are not intended to be exhaustive but may give a basis for further thought and exercise in His presence.
In his epistle James states, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not: and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" 1.5-7. The context is suffering and trial. This is not an open cheque to be used at any time. When we are in a trial we need wisdom to behave correctly and to find the will of God in the midst of it. Some would prefer guile to get out of the trial but the spiritual believer desires wisdom to go through it with God. The person continually comes to God and with a feeling of inadequacy and helplessness, begs God to give wisdom. He makes the request "in faith, nothing wavering" v.6. The Lord Jesus taught, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" Matt.21.22. Paul records "Abraham staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith ..." Rom.4.20. The great chapter of faith declares, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" Heb.11.6.
The Psalmist expressed this thought negatively and the apostle Paul did so positively.
Negatively: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" Ps.66.18.
If I constantly regard iniquity, that is to be absorbed with the wickedness that is deep seated in my being, in my heart, and I gaze at this so that it captivates me and dominates my thoughts, then prayer will not be answered. Instead of judging sin within my person I delight in it; "the Lord will not hear me".
Positively: "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" 1Tim.2.8.
It is important to appreciate that the apostle is here giving teaching about public prayer in the local assembly and he emphasises that ‘men’, aner, meaning the males in distinction to the females, pray publicly. The word anthropos meaning mankind has been used in this chapter in vv.1, 4, 5, indicating that aner has been used deliberately to highlight that public participation is the realm of the males only.
Yet not all males have the moral right to pray. They must be able to lift "up holy hands, without wrath and doubting". Lifting "up holy hands" implies that they must be in a right state selfward as the hands are lifted to show to God that they are not stained with any defilement. This is more a moral qualification than a physical posture although physically it was adopted by Moses who "spread abroad his hands unto the LORD" Ex.9.33; the Psalmist, "Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD" Ps.134.2; Solomon who "spread forth his hands toward heaven’ 1Kgs.8.22.
The men who pray must also be "without wrath", which is their attitude manward. There is no thought in the mind of having wrath smouldering and looking for an opportunity to take revenge. Nor must "doubting" mark them; such shows their attitudeGodward. They do not have any inward reasonings that attack faith and lead them to doubt that God can and will answer their prayers.
The Lord Jesus touched the thoughts of doubting and wanting revenge in the context of prayer when He said, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive …" Mk.11.24,25. Perhaps Peter thought he was being supremely forgiving when he said, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" The answer of the Lord Jesus would have come as a surprise, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" Matt.18.21,22.
We ought to display the character of God in the matter of forgiveness, "be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" Eph.4.32. Our relationships with each other must be right to have our prayers answered: "if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven" Matt.18.19.
James wrote, "From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" 4.1-3.
According to v.1 there were divisions among the saints and these were as a result of the flesh being active. The consequences of this are highlighted in v.2, "Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not". This verse may be better punctuated as follows, to give a balanced structure of two causes and two effects: "ye lust and have not so ye kill, and ye desire to have and cannot obtain so ye fight and war." In this context of strife and division it appears that the saints prayed and the Holy Spirit states, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" v.3. Were they praying that their clique in the assembly would prevail? Their motive was purely selfish and had no thought for the glory of God. Such motivation means God will not grant the request.
Uncontrolled by His Word
John seems to give us a wonderful blank cheque for prayer when he wrote, "whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him" 1Jn.3.22. Some dear saints extract such a phrase and then become very discouraged when their prayer is not answered. We must read the whole verse, "whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." There are two conditions set down for prayer to be answered. These are: i) "we keep His commandments"; and ii) we "do those things that are pleasing in His sight". These conditions are connected inextricably because if "we keep His commandments" we will "do those things that are pleasing in His sight". The converse is true that if we are disobedient we cannot be pleasing to Him and so our prayers will not be answered. The Lord Jesus taught the same truth: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" Jn.15.7. This is echoed in Prov.28.9 "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." If we reject the standards that God sets out in His Word then our prayers are loathsome and disgusting to Him.
Unsuited to His Will
John gave further teaching about having prayers answered in 1Jn.5.14, "this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us". This confidence is based on asking in His will absolutely and exclusively, which means that our will is totally excluded. God's Word defines God's will and so we are thrown back to the previous paragraph where we are controlled by His Word. Sometimes we would want to dictate the terms and have what we think is good for us, but He knows best. Even as helped by the Holy Spirit we learn that He "maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" Rom.8.27.
In 1Peter chapter 3, Peter addresses the situation in home life. At the beginning of the chapter he envisages a divided home where there is a saved wife and an unsaved husband, the wife having been saved subsequent to her marriage. The aim of the wife is to win the husband and this she does by spiritual means not by worldly decoration.
In v.7 he envisages a home in which both partners are saved and he addresses the husband: "ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." The husband is to dwell with his wife. He is not merely to be a lodger who is seen at meal times and bedtime. A man’s best friend ought to be his wife. They share life together, they confide in each other and there is an atmosphere of grace in their lives living together. If it is not so and there is an environment of strife and bickering then our prayers will be hindered. We cannot pray together if we are not on speaking terms and are displaying animosity one to the other. To bow together in the presence of God is a great preservative in marriage.
PROVISION FOR PRAYER
The Lord Jesus has at least three offices that encourage us to pray. These are as our great High Priest, our Shepherd and our Advocate. Each of these has a different focus. As our Great High Priest He shows compassion for our struggles in the wilderness; as our Shepherd He cares for us in the midst of all life’s anxieties and as our Advocate He restores communion when we sin.
Our Great High Priest: For Compassion
Our Lord Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest is a major theme in the epistle to the Hebrews and would be far too large a subject for the space available in this chapter. However, when we come to Heb.10.19 we leave the doctrinal section of the epistle and enter the practical section and it is just here that we have a lovely invitation: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" Heb.10.19-22. In these verses there are three possessions introduced by the word "having". Then in vv.22-24 there are three exhortations relating to faith, v.22, hope, v.23 and love, v.24. Each is introduced by the expression, "let us".
The three possessions are:
v.19: boldness to enter, "having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus";
v.21: a Great Priest, "And having an high [great] priest over the house of God;
v.22: sprinkled hearts, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water".
The teaching is that because we have been born again, v.22, we have boldness to go to the other side of the vail, right into the "holiest". This boldness does not permit irreverence but, because our sins have been dealt with righteously, we have the liberty to approach with freedom of expression. The way is new, v.20, that is freshly slain, and since the mighty work accomplished on Calvary will always be fresh to God and the Great Priest is alive for evermore, it is a "living way" which means those who enter the holiest are not under the threat of death, as was the case in the Old Testament. In keeping with the type, our Great Priest can take us where no other priest ever could have taken us – right to the other side of the unrent vail of the tabernacle. It took His blood, v.19, and His flesh, v.20, to give us access. What a blessed privilege this is, but how little we use it!
Shepherd: For Care
The Psalmist David expressed the glorious and often repeated words, "The LORD is my shepherd" Ps.23.1, and this sentiment has been a tremendous encouragement to many through the generations. It is in the context of dealing with shepherds that Peter wrote, "Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you" 1Pet.5.7. It is important to note that two different words for ‘care’ are used. The first means an anxious, distracting care that pulls in different directions, leaving us in such a state that we do not know what to do. Obviously, the Lord is never in such a state of distraction and so the second word means a sympathetic, loving care, which He displays as He bears the anxieties of His own.
Advocate: For Confession
John wrote: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" 1Jn.2.1. It is important to notice that John wrote, "if any man sin", not "when any man sin". Had it been "when" it would have indicated that he expected Christians to sin, but the word "if" shows that for a Christian, sin ought to be a rare occurrence. However, there is a resource for this rare event and it is in the office of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Advocate. This is the Greek word parakletos meaning "one who calls alongside". Thus, if we sin He calls alongside us to make us aware of the fact of the sin and effect restoration. His work is "with", or better "towards" (pros) the Father, not God. The person who has sinned is still in the family and so it is not a sinner approaching God but a child coming to his Father and he comes to confess his sin and know the blessedness of restored communion.
PERPLEXITY IN PRAYER
A long-standing question with respect to prayer has been, "Does prayer make God change His mind?" This introduces the exceedingly large subject of God’s permissive will and His inviolable purpose. There are obviously matters that God, in His sovereignty, has predetermined and these are unchangeable. The predetermined events are often the subject of Divine prophecy in both Old and New Testaments. These prophetic revelations have been defined as history revealed beforehand. Such include the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus, His death and glorification, His Church, the Rapture of the Church, the Tribulation, the restoration of Israel, the millennial reign that rolls on into an eternal kingdom, and many more instances besides. Over these matters we may write His own testimony of Himself, "For I am the LORD, I change not" Mal.3.6. Balaam said, "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" Num.23.19. Samuel said to Saul, "… the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent" 1Sam.15.29. Paul reminds us that He, "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" Eph.1.11. The wise man understood this, "The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" Prov.21.1. Perhaps the immutability of God is the reason why He frequently is called the "Rock". The poet seemed to be in the good of this truth when he wrote,
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou Who changest not, abide with me.
(Henry F. Lyte)
However, there are indications that God changes His attitude towards mankind when they turn to Him in repentance. "If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them" Jer.18.8. As an example, Jeremiah chapter 26 seems to contradict the above quotation that "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent". Note "If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent Me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings ... Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent Him of the evil that He hath pronounced against you … did he [Hezekiah] not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which He had pronounced against them?" vv.3,13,19.
Are these not indications that God acts according to His own character and they show the blending of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility? It may be that we find it difficult to unify these but that does not mean we reject either or both. Some, perhaps with an intellectual snobbery, desire to reduce God to the size of the human mind, but if we understood God, He would cease to be God. By faith we hold to the fact that He knows what He is doing and we trust in Him. James stated, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" or as translated by J. N. Darby, "known from eternity" Acts15.18. We must never imply that God did not know what was to happen and was taken by surprise and so had to change His plans. The Scriptures quoted above from Jeremiah, show that in accord with His holiness God turns away from and indeed judges sin, but where there is true repentance, He will, in accord with His righteousness and love, forgive and restore.
We conclude that prayer allows us to commune with God and as we become more intimate with Him we learn more of His will and so can pray in that sphere, which results in our prayers being acceptable to Him and so are answered positively. This provides precious encouragement to develop a deeper understanding of God and a closer intimacy with Him through prayer.