"Lord, Teach Us To Pray:" Who Has The Privilege?
Prayer to God almighty is one of, if not the greatest blessing
one possesses as a Christian. It is a blessing belonging basically only to such
as are in fellowship with Him. Even rebellious children lose the privilege of
prayer until and unless they humbly repent and return to the Lord's way. Isaiah
said, "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that He cannot save; neither
His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between
you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not
hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2; 1 John 1:1- 10). Also in the New Testament Peter wrote,
"For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto
their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do (practice) evil"
(1 Peter 3:12).
Generally speaking, it is as the blind man whom Jesus healed, stated; "We know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will, him He heareth" (John 9:31 KJV). No doubt God is aware of every prayer uttered. That is, He knows it is being prayed. In some cases we have on record, prayers came up before Him as a memorial, such as the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:4b). Still the fact is, prayer never did cause God to set aside His revealed will by which men come into covenant relationship with Him. Cornelius was told to send to Joppa for Simon who shall "tell thee words, by which you and your house shall be saved" (Acts 11:14). The Old Testament prophet wrote along this line, "He who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" (Proverbs 28:9).
Saul of Tarsus who "fasted and prayed" was waiting in the city of Damascus to hear "what he must do" to be forgiven for persecuting Christ, by attempting to destroy His people, the church (Acts 9:6; 22:10). He was told by the preacher sent from Christ, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). In essence, Saul was told stop praying and do what you are told. Today some are told "kneel and pray the sinner's prayer." Never did an inspired preacher tell anyone such. It is a perversion of the will of Christ.
God Is Glorified Through Christ Only In The Church of Christ (Ephesians 3:21)
Since one is a child of the devil prior to the "new birth" of the water and of the Spirit, for "all have sinned.." Romans 3:23. One is therefore a citizen of Satan's kingdom, and cannot approach a holy God until and unless one has come out of the kingdom of Satan and into the kingdom of Christ, His blood bought church (John 3:3-5; Titus 3:3-5; Colossians 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:22-25). The passage cited above in the heading reads, "Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (emphasis mine, ket). One who isn't in Christ's church can therefore do nothing to glorify God. Even one's good deeds prior to conversion to Christ count for nothing, spiritually speaking.
I wonder how many times folks have told me what a good person they are and have placed their hope of heaven on that fact? Sometimes they hope for heaven because they haven't done anything so bad. Not a one of us stand justified before God without forgiveness. We cannot do enough good works to put God in our debt. We must be washed in the blood of the Lamb by obeying the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). We must be "saved by grace through faith" not by "works of righteousness which we have done" (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
As It Was Then So It Is Now, We Need Teaching on Prayer
First of all the Christian who realizes what a blessing prayer is, will be one who exercises this privilege frequently. James wrote "The effectual fervent (impassioned) prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16b). Paul stated it thus "Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). Paul then said "... I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Following this he requested; "Brethren, pray for us. (VS- 23,25). When prayer is neglected by Christians, their (our) spiritual progress will cease and we will begin to lose our spiritual vitality.
The main culprit causing Christians not to pray as they should, is lack of interest in one's own spiritual well being and progress, as well as lack of concern for the activities of the local church of which one is a member. It is evidence of a weak faith when Christians fail to pray as we ought. Such an one will often whine because things aren't going as well in their lives as they desire. James addressed this as well when he wrote "You lust, and have not, you kill and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:2-3). Some brethren misunderstanding what is taught here, have said it wrong to ask for something for yourself. Read it again. Just the opposite is stated. He did say we should not desire to consume it upon our own lusts. That would probably be, not praying for our needs but praying in covetousness, with an overt desire for more "things." Covetousness is called idolatry in (Colossians 3:5b). We would probably say of such a person today, "they're just trying to keep up with the Joneses."
Many folks misunderstand a lot of things the Bible teaches about prayer. One of the first things one needs to know after having learned "who has the blessed privilege" of prayer, is for what should the Christian pray? John gives us an insight into this matter, having written "And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us: And if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him" (1 John 5:14-15). Some have misinterpreted verse fifteen to teach that if you ask in faith, it is as if you already have it, for it will be given. That isn't what the passage is teaching. Just above that verse is one saying that we must "ask according to His will."
I'm confident that Jesus asked the Father in faith three times, "...if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). It was an impossibility for us to have salvation (the remission of our sins) unless Christ paid the debt for us caused by our sins. (See Isaiah 53:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Romans 5:6-8; Hebrews 2:9; John 3:16-17; Romans 1:16-17; Revelation 5:6; 13:8).
God Answers Every Prayer
Surely you have heard the statement above, "God answers every prayer." It is true, He does. But He doesn't always answer the way we desire or when we desire it. (1). He often answers in a positive way, granting that for which we have petitioned Him. (2). He sometimes (perhaps often) answers "not now, wait awhile." (3). Sometimes He answers with a negative answer, He says No. You see, He knows what is best for us. Someone said "you had better be careful for what you ask, you just may get it." I doubt that is true, but it does point out the fact that we often "ask amiss." In a study such as this, I am doomed to failure before I begin if I think I am able to always tell us what we should and should not pray for. I do know some things for which we should not petition God. Likewise as we have seen already, there are some things concerning which we know we should petition Him. Many times religious people, and sometimes even brethren pray for things we ought not! Perhaps this is a good place in our study for us to look at some of the things for which we ought not to pray.
We should not pray for God to love us. He loved us sufficiently that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:9). Jesus Himself said "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). In another passage Jesus said "No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father" (John 10:18). In the face of such demonstrated love for us, it ill behooves us to ask the Father or the Son to love us!
We should not pray for God's grace. God's grace doesn't come to us through prayer. In (Titus 2:11) we are told plainly, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men..." Paul said "For by grace you have been saved through faith..." (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 6:1; Titus 3:7). To say the least it would be redundant. To say the most it would be an insult to ask God for what He has already so abundantly supplied.
We should not pray for faith. We may pray for an increase in our faith, but even this comes through what God has already supplied, His inerrant word! "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Christ ket)" (See Romans 10:14-17). The reason I said we may pray for an increase in our faith is only because the Apostles ask Jesus "...Lord, increase our faith" (Luke 17:5). This was during the apostolic age, now that we have the "written confirmed word" to produce faith (John 20:30-31; Hebrews 2:1-4), perhaps it isn't even in order today to pray for an increase of our faith. An increase in faith will come the same way our initial faith does, by reading and meditating on the words of our Lord as given by His chosen writers who were "guided into all truth" (John 16:12-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3; James 1:25; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
We should not pray for God to save us. Folks are still doing this today in denominations. They have modernized a bit, the old "mourner's bench" system isn't as much in use as it once was where folks gathered to try and "pray through" to use the Calvinist terminology. The gospel, not prayer is "God's power to save.." (Romans 1:16-17). Peter said folks purify their souls by obeying the truth and that is the everlasting gospel (1 Peter 1:22-25).
We should Not Pray the so called, "Lord's Prayer." This prayer was a model to be used by Jesus' disciples during His life, while He walked among them. It is found in (Matthew 6:9-14). He did not tell even them to pray this prayer, but "after this manner therefore pray ye." It was not meant to become a ritualistic prayer to be used in worship assemblies, at funerals, etc. It is not the "Lord's prayer" to begin with. His prayer is found in (John 17:17-21). This was as stated, a model for first century disciples. In this prayer they were to pray (among other things) "Thy kingdom come.."(V-10). The church or kingdom of Christ had not been established as yet. Christ's blood was still flowing in His veins and had not yet been poured out as the purchase price for His church (Ephesians 5:25; Acts 20:28; Matthew 26:28). Those who pray this prayer today, know not what they pray.
The Power Of Prayer
When we speak of "the power of prayer," we mean simply what is able to be accomplished through our prayers when we pray according to the restrictions already mentioned. Think for a moment of the power of God almighty! As the prophet said, "There is nothing too hard for Thee." The entire passage reads-"Ah Lord God! Behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee" (Jeremiah 32:17).
Paul wrote by divine inspiration, saying, "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think..."(Ephesians 3:20). Our finite minds can't quite grasp the ability of the Almighty one! He is only limited by the bounds of His own nature and will. Just because the days of miracles have ceased, doesn't mean that God has gone out of business. He limits Himself to working through natural laws today. He made those laws. We sometimes call them "the laws of nature." Certainly he can work within those laws to bring about anything that is in keeping with His will and not contrary to His nature, in answering the prayers of His children. In other words, the power that created the universe is at the disposal of children of God just for the asking! It literally boggles the mind! He not only "upholds all things by the word of His power.." (Hebrews 1:3), it is by Him that "all things are held together" (Colossians 1:17).
It is a shame the things which we do not get accomplished simply because of our lack of faith, or our failure to ask He who says to us, "...Ask and you shall receive that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and is shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).
Prayers of Thankfulness
If we aren't careful the bulk of our prayers will be petitions as we plead for things we want and think we need. Sometimes we fail to be as thankful as we should for answered prayers. Remember the case of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed? Only one returned to thank Him for his healing. He asked, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine" (Luke 17:11-17). The one who showed appreciation was quite demonstrative about it. "...and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving thanks: And he was a Samaritan."(V-15).
Jesus, Our Perfect Example (1 Peter 2:21)
When we approach any subject, we should look to the Master teacher and to His example for a perfect pattern. As regards prayer, not that we should pray exactly what He prayed, nor expect to be able to get the answers He got, or perform the feats he was able to perform; but to learn His habits regarding prayer. Jesus was one who put great stock in prayer to the Heavenly Father. I have often said, if Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son felt the need for prayer as He obviously did, surely you and I should feel it even greater. We can't begin to compare with the pure heart and motives with which Jesus served His heavenly Father and ours.
Jesus' Prayer Habits
He prayed fervently. Facing the ordeal of the cruel cross, Jesus prayed and agonized until it was recorded that "His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). I wonder, how many of us have ever prayed and agonized so fervently that our perspiration secreted out of the pores of our skin as if great drops of blood? Perhaps if we were facing what He faced we would do likewise. I wonder? Earlier in this study we referred to James' statement "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). Sometimes it seems that some prayers are kind of lackadaisical and perhaps ritualistic. This is just something we do as one of our five acts of worship in the assembly and we may not put enough thought and preparation into our prayers. We can change such if that be the case. We must just give it some thought.
He prayed prolonged prayers to the Father. "And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke 6:12). Remember we are talking about the Son of God almighty as He walked among us in the form of man feeling the need for prayer to the heavenly Father so acutely that He prayed all night long. Have you and I ever prayed all night long? I wonder? Sometimes it seems as if some brethren can't get though with a prayer quickly enough. It could well be that criticism from weaker members has caused our prayers to diminish in length and likewise in content. Not that I think a prayer should be used to preach a sermon, but some deep thought and emotion should go into our prayers sent to the throne of grace in my estimation.
He prayed before He gave the multitude food to eat that He multiplied from five loaves, and two fishes. (Matthew 14:18-19). Do you suppose some Christians fail to pray before they eat their meals? I hope not. I suspect there are some. What Paul wrote to Timothy indicates prayer before eating I believe. "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4). See (V-3 also).
Jesus prayed aloud at times. He told why He prayed aloud to the Father at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard Me. And I knew that thou hearest Me always: But because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent Me" (John 11:41-42). Paul and Silas were not ashamed to be heard singing and praying to the Lord (Acts 16:25). By the way, they were on their way to a place of prayer (V-16) when the damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met them, resulting in Paul (by the power of Christ) casting out the spirit. Which resulted in their being beaten and imprisoned at Philippi.
The Early Church Prayed
Under the guidance of Christ's Apostles, the early Christians "continued steadfast in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Later when Peter was imprisoned "...prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him" (Acts 12:5). He was released and "...he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. These brethren had a "prayer meeting" on Peter's behalf.
The first century church both fasted and prayed when important decisions were to be made such as sending out evangelist to preach the gospel of Christ (Acts 13:1-3). Should we not do likewise? Certainly we should. We should have special prayer meetings when considering the program of work in the local congregation. When we are to appoint elders and deacons. When we initiate a radio program or send support to a preacher in the field, etc. As Paul said, "pray without ceasing.." (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Much Physical, Not Enough Spiritual!
While I do not desire to be overly critical as we study this great subject, I must say, I fear we put much too much emphasis on physical things as opposed to what the church as the "pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15), should be obsessed with. Much is said in the New Testament about local churches as self edifying bodies, as well as being mission minded as we seek to save the lost. Let us read the following passages of holy writ: (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; 5:6-23; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 4:10-19; 2 Corinthians 11:8).
No List Of What To Pray For
To attempt to list all the things Christians should pray for would run this study much too long. Perhaps above all things we could mention (in addition to our daily bread and our thankfulness for every physical and spiritual blessing), we should not fail to pray for wisdom. God promises that He will grant wisdom to those who ask in faith (James 1:5). Perhaps this should have been at the head of the list of things we have discussed, but seeing how involved such a study may become, why not ask for wisdom to know better how to apply the knowledge you have learned from your own study as well as from this one?
Prayer can bring about a climate conductive to the Christian's ability to live a "quiet and peaceable life" as well as being able to reach and teach those about us. In conclusion let us read what Paul admonished Timothy about prayer. "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:1-4). Our prayers are important.
By Kenneth E. Thomas
From Expository Files 6.7; July 1999