With the National Day of Prayer coming up, what better topic is there to write about? Praying certainly seems to be controversial lately. The NDOP has now been recently declared unconstitutional. I'm confused. Does that mean we can't all pray about the issues concerning our country on Thursday? I think I'm going to do it anyway. Wow, I am really living on the edge now!
I am sure you have seen the signs and bumper stickers that say "Prayer Changes Things". Is that true? Some of the common questions about prayer are, "Why do we pray and does it really matter? Doesn't God just do whatever He wants anyway? Doesn't He know what we are going to pray about before we pray, so what is the point?" These are legitimate questions because it is true that God is sovereign and will accomplish His will. He also does know what we are going to ask before we ask it. He even knows what His answer will be before we ask. So why do we pray? What is the point of it?
Well, I certainly don't have all the answers here. Perhaps I should feel bad that I don't know all there is to know about prayer, since I have been a Christian for almost forty seven years, but guess what, I don't. Theologians have been studying and writing about prayer for centuries and they don't claim to have all the answers either! Maybe I can share a few things that will help bring some clarity to these questions. The only place we can really get the correct answers to these questions is in the Word of God, so let's take a look at some passages concerning this subject.
An early instance of prayer that is seen in the Bible is in Genesis 20:7. God tells Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham and that Abraham will pray for him (Abimelech) to continue to live. Abraham does so and then prays for Abimelech's barren wife to be able to have children. God grants Abraham's requests.
This begins to give us insight into how God works in prayer. There is an amazing amount of information in this story. I suggest that you read the whole story, starting in Genesis 20:1. In verses 17 and 18 we see that God had already begun to work His plan by causing Abimelech's wife and slave girls to not be able to have children (a horrible fate in that culture). He also used Abimelech, by coming to him in a dream and telling him that he was as good as dead if he did not return Sarah to Abraham. God must have instructed Abraham to pray for Abimelech because we are informed that he did so and that God answered that prayer in a very exact fashion. So, what do we learn here?
- God is working before Abraham even prays
- Abraham is faithful to God's leading in his prayer, thus praying for God's will to be accomplished
- God's will is accomplished
Is this always the way it works? No, not exactly. We don't always get a direct order from God on what to seek in prayer. But it does give us one really important principle. If we want to see God work, we must seek to pray for things that are in accordance with His will. There are many things that we know are in His will and can pray for with great confidence. How do we know? He tells us in His word. For instance James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."(James 1:5) So then, it is in God's will for us to have wisdom. When we pray for it, He will give it, but James adds one more principle to the equation. (James 1:6-8) "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." So, we have another important principle. We pray in God's will and we believe that we will receive it.
Jesus says in John 14:13-14 "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." The phrase in my name means exactly the same as "according to my will". This is an amazing concept. Again I want to emphasize that our first priority, before we ask for something in prayer, is to seek to be in God's perfect will concerning what we are asking for. Then, we need to believe that God will do as He says He will.
By the way, did you notice another principle in verse 13? We ask in the name of Jesus, so that Jesus may bring glory to God the Father. This is the true purpose of all our prayer, that the Son may bring glory to the Father. That helps us decide what things we should ask for. We don't always know for sure what may bring God glory. For example, sometimes we pray for a person's healing, believing that it would certainly bring God glory. But, God might receive more glory for the person's attitude and behavior in spite of not being healed.
Well, we have just begun to touch the surface of the subject of prayer. In the next few entries, I hope to share more biblical principles concerning this enormously important topic. I pray that by the end of this series, you will have a better understanding of how prayer works in the life of the believer.
- Look up at least ten verses in the OT and ten in the NT concerning prayer
- Write down as many questions as you may have concerning those passages
- Email those questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pray for wisdom in seeking the answers, believing that you will receive it
As Dr J Vernon McGee would say, "Until next time, may God richly bless you, my beloved!" Coach