There is probably more written material on the subject of prayer than any other aspect of being a Christian. Everyone seems to want to know how to get prayers answered, or some other angle on how to pray. Of course, the real goal of the natural man is to find a way to bring God on board with their plan or their goals and desires, and so they use prayer as that means. The result is that most of what is written and taught about prayer is oriented toward that end. There was a book that was published in the year 2000 and sold nine million copes called, “The Prayer of Jabez.” It was based on one verse of scripture in 1 Chronicles:
And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested. 1 Chr. 4:10
In this one verse “me” and “my” are mentioned five times. This was a completely selfish prayer without a mention of anything at all but his own comfort, peace, and happiness. God gave him what he asked for, all right, but that is the last mention of this man in the Bible. Those are the kinds of books that sell because that is what carnal people are looking for – a way to command God to satisfy their selfish desires. God also answered a selfish prayer for the Israelites when they lusted in the wilderness and gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul. (Psalm 106:15) This kind of prayer is simply another form of selfishness all dressed up in religious apparel. This is not really what prayer is about and certainly not what God meant for prayer to be. So it is no wonder that so many get discouraged with Christianity and quit when they find they are unable to gain control of God and get Him to do what they want. God does not heal every person who gets sick, even though many people pray that He will. God does not deliver every person from the brink of death, no matter how many godly people are praying for them. What do we do with our selfish ideas about prayer when this happens? How do we reconcile what we have said we believe about claiming God’s promises and God answering prayer with the reality that He did not do what we asked Him to? We must learn to pray in the Will of God, so Lord teach us to pray, and to pray like we should.
Prayer is based upon the Word of God. We cannot pray earnestly and effectively if we are not familiar with the Word of God. When we have little or no knowledge of God through his Word about all we can do is cry out to God in the darkness for help and hope for mercy. The Word of God reveals to us the heart and mind of God. It is through the written Word of God that we are introduced to what God’s character is like. It is the Word of God that teaches us what his disposition toward us is like, as well as his attitude toward sin and evil. We know what He has said and what He has promised and that tells us volumes about who He is and what He is like. This is absolutely necessary in order for us to be able to have communion with him in prayer.
Many teachers on the subject of prayer take these very truths and apply them in a dangerous and destructive way to prayer. You will seldom find a book or article on prayer that does not interject the idea of “claiming God’s promises.” Now we have just acknowledged that the promises of God are the foundation we work from in order to pray, but not it the way it is commonly presented. We cannot take a promise of God and hold it before Him as if we are putting him in a corner with it and forcing his hand on it. That is offensive to all people who would be treated that way. First, it seems to insinuate that He who made the promise is trying to avoid keeping it. Nothing could be farther from the truth with God. He delights to give his children the blessings He has promised. Second, this approach to prayer is not humble, but proud. It says nothing of being submitted to the Will of God, but it is an attempt by a mere mortal to stand in the face of God and force him to comply with their own will. To stand up to God and rail on Him with, “Now God, you promised, and I am here to claim it and so you must do this thing, and you must do it now” is to have exactly the same mind as Satan. His aim from the beginning of his rebellion has been to bring God and the universe under his control. This is absolutely the opposite of what prayer is designed to do to a person.
Maybe we can understand this a little better by considering how good, godly parents deal with their children. Many parents make promises to their children without leaving the promise as an open-ended obligation that the child can claim at any time according to their own discretion. For example, a parent might tell their child that they will get to go to the park and play sometime this week. The child now has the word of the parent that they will get to go this week, so they begin on Monday trying to claim the promise, but it is raining and the parent will not let them go. The child might claim that the parent has gone back on their word, but they haven’t. They made a promise but they still reserve the right to be the sovereign authority in the child’s life. It is raining and it is just not possible to go to the park today. The next day the child tries again, but the park is closed for repairs on the playground equipment, and so they still cannot go. The parent has not violated their promise but is exercising wisdom for the benefit of the child. All the child has in mind is his own selfish interests and desires, so he becomes frustrated and falsely accuses the parent of not doing what they said they would do. “But you promised!” That is the cry of the child and it is very ugly in the ears of all who hear it and have understanding. Yet this is how most people are being taught to pray and ask God for things. Later in the week the child does get to go to the park just like the parent promised, but it will be when the circumstances and timing is right according to the judgment of the parent –not the child.
Prayer is aided by the Spirit of God. (Romans 8:26-27) We must have the help of the Holy Spirit in order to pray like we should. According to these Scriptures we do not even know what to ask for as we ought. We are so wrapped up in ourselves and our circumstances and cares that without the help of the Spirit of God we cannot even get in the same room with God. We must have our mind and our will yielded to the Spirit of God for him to lead us. The Spirit of God will always use the Word of God to instruct us and to speak to us. So we go to God in prayer, with God’s promises and his loving words before us. We know what kind of God He is and how He loves us, so we come before Him with that knowledge as our guide. We all have had someone in our life whom we have always found to be easily entreated. Maybe it was our Grandma or Grandpa. We could go to them and ask them anything without any fear of being rejected or scolded or ridiculed, and we pretty well knew that they would give us what we asked for as long as it was not out of line or had the potential to hurt us. We never thought of approaching them with demands that they keep a promise they had made to us. That was completely unnecessary, but also an unthinkable way to commune with someone we loved and trusted. God is like this. The Bible tells us in James 3:17 that He is “…peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
Prayer, then, is about submitting to God more than it is about getting what we want from God. Prayer is about communion with God and becoming one with God – one in mind, heart, and will. Prayer, if it is the right kind of prayer, brings us into a confirmed state of agreement and oneness with God, and we are submitted to his Will, whatever it might be. The right kind of prayer leaves us with the right kind of faith. The wrong kind of prayer wrecks our faith.
Straight Paths Bible Church
March 8, 2012