Prayer … 1
Prayer is the most powerful asset that the believer has in his spiritual life. Prayer is an awesome privilege that brings every believer immediately into the throne room of God, into the presence of the creator of heaven an earth and all that is in them. Prayer is the believer's vital communication link to his heavenly Father. Yet, for all that, very few believers are engaged in real biblical praying. Prayer is one of the most misunderstood and often most abused aspect of the Christian life. One the one hand we find that many believers either neglect prayer or it is trivialized as a tool used to manipulate God, to somehow enter into a contract with God, to bargain with God, to try to get God to somehow conform His will to our will. The tragic result of this flawed approach to prayer is that most believers have superficial prayer lives at best and they aren't really sure that prayer does any good. And because of their ignorance that is probably correct. Their prayers often don't get any higher than the ceiling.
As we approach this study there are some goals and objectives that we hope to be accomplished. First of all we are going to delineate exactly what the Bible says about prayer. In the process we are going to separate the sense from the nonsense about prayer. A second thing we want to accomplish is a realization of incredible the power of prayer. We have lost sight of the fact today that when we go to the throne of grace that it is a tremendous tool that God has given us. It gives us awesome power in our spiritual lives. The third thing we will accomplish is to realize that prayer truly does change things. The Scriptures are clear that we have not because we ask not, that there are a multitude of blessings that God has in store for every believer that are contingent upon whether or not we come to God in prayer. Because we don't, because we neglect prayer, and we are not sure that God answers prayer, the result is that we do not experience those blessings that God has for us.
A word of warning. When words like "effective" and "successful" prayer are used in this study this does not mean payer that secures a yews answer from God. A successful prayer is a prayer that makes it to the throne of grace and may get a no for an answer, but it is at least a prayer that doesn't bounce off the ceiling. Most believers are articulating prayer that don't get any higher than the ceiling wherever they are. We want to at least present effective petitions that make it to the throne of grace. God always answers our prayers. He may say no, He may say maybe, he may say yes, but God always answers our prayers. And when God says no we need to quit praying about it, but for a while God just wants to see if we are really interested in what we are praying about, and He tests us in terms of our willingness to persevere in the subject of prayer.
Definition: Prayer is that grace provision of the royal priesthood whereby the church age believer has access and privilege to communicate directly with God. The purpose of this communication is to acknowledge our sin, express adoration and praise to God, to give thanks, to intercede for others, and convey our personal needs in petitions, and conduct intimate conversation with God.
Price described effective prayer as a mature believer's privilege to engage divine power in personal and historical circumstances.
So prayer is the weapon for the strong, not some expedient or crutch for the weak. Except for the prayer of confession which restores us to fellowship and recovers the filling of the Holy Spirit, all effective prayer must be offered in fellowship with God. Scripture says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me." We must be in fellowship with God. Whenever the believer sins we break fellowship with God and we lose the filling of the Holy Spirit. So except for confession we must pray in fellowship with God in order for God to hear us. Because the Father is the author of the divine plan and the designer of the spiritual life all prayer is addressed to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us, provided our salvation, and opened the door to the throne room of God to each and every believer.
Also, prayer can be either private or public. Public prayers can be divided into prayer meetings or prayers for specific functions. In terms of prayer for specific functions, such as dedication, invocations, benedictions, blessing the food at meal times, and prayers like that, each prayer should be short and to the purpose at hand. In prayer meetings some people just feel uncomfortable about praying out loud in prayer meetings. More often than not that is motivated by fear. They are scared, shy, they don't really want to talk out in front of people. One of the most common fears among all people is the common fear of getting up in front of people. If you are motivated by fear of anything in your life you are motivated by sin. So if you go into a prayer meeting with other people just try to overcome that fear—trust God, claim promises, but learn to be comfortable.
Matthew 6:2, "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." Jesus points out that there were many who pray publicly and the point is to impress people, that if they impress people they will impress God, that somehow by what they say in the brilliance of their articulation and in their prayerful oratory they are going to impress God and get God's positive, gracious response. We never earn grace. Grace is a free gift of God and man can do nothing to impress God by his own works.
Matthew 6:6, Jesus said, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet [inner room], and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." The concept that the Father will reward/repay is not that somehow you are earning something from God, but the contrast is to the reward that the hypocrite gets in 6:5, a self-reward. He is praying to be seen by men so he gets his reward. But here in verse 6, how does the Father repay you? He repays by listening to you. He does not listen to the hypocrites. So if we want to have a prayer that is effective, that is heard by God the Father, then it should not be motivated by a desire to impress God or to impress men but a desire to have private conversation with God the Father.
Today we must not confuse prayer with many of the mystical notions that are popular. Mysticism is one of those funny terms that is very difficult to define. Mysticism defines spirituality totally within subjective and emotional terms. Mysticism builds itself upon some sort of subjective experience that someone has that can't have any objective verification. "God just spoke to me." Well how do you know God spoke to you? "I just know it. Because it feels like it." How can you challenge that with any objective data? You can't challenge anybody's experience. Somebody had an experience. The issue is not what experience did they have? The issue is in their experience what they are interpreting it to be? You can never challenge a person's experience, you can only challenge their interpretation of that experience. Mysticism entices the undiscerning with empty promises of a deeper, more meaningful spirituality, a sense that they have come into the very presence of God, that God has somehow joined Himself or united Himself with the individual in some richer, deeper way that makes them feel so much better. Under this delusion mystics seek this closer union, this close, personal encounter with God. They often claim that God speaks directly to them, or that angels or divine beings appear to them. This false spirituality generates a lot of emotion that the mystic then uses to evaluate his own spirituality. They have this emotion and that then makes him feel so warm and fuzzy and good that everything after that is evaluated on the basis of having generated that same kind of emotion. So the mystic gets on the cyclical event where he continually tries to one-up his previous emotional experience and the focus then becomes his emotion, not what he is doing objectively with God.
Eastern mysticism has made tremendous inroads in recent years. There has been the rise of Hinduism, Taoism, the New Age movement, and all of this reduces God to an impersonal force. Think about this. If God is reduced to an impersonal force rather than a person, then prayer is no longer a conversation with a personal being. You are now having a conversation with nothing that is there, it is just an impersonal force. So prayer becomes merely a conversation with one's self. It is nothing more than self-reflection, the contemplation of one's own thoughts and experiences and emotions. Spirituality then becomes nothing more than the emotion generated by a person's own subjective experiences. Spirituality becomes associated with a feeling. It is subjectivism at its very worst. This is destructive to the individual and will ultimately destroy the fabric of our culture and society. Spirituality is no longer measured by objective things such as the filling of the Holy Spirit or a person's spiritual growth and knowledge of the Word of God, knowledge of doctrine and the manifestation of Christ-like character and the fruits of the Spirit. Christian mysticism sees prayer often as the elevation of the mind to God. It is used subjectively as a revelation of an interior illumination rather than the intervention of God into the very warp and woof of human history. So in this kind of a concept the mystic often talks about a ladder of prayer or stages pf prayer, and in that concept a petition is often considered the lowest stage. The highest stage is just some sort of contemplation where there is no real content to it at all, there is almost an emptying of the mind, and that is something that has more to do with Eastern mystical meditation than it does with the biblical concept of prayer.
Biblical prayer is conversation with God, not contemplation of one's own life. Contemplation is nothing more than subjectivity and that often in mystical environments culminates in ecstasy. Ecstasy is this subjective experience of elation that a person has and it is very prominent, especially in charismatic churches today. We see in charismatic churches the merger of mystical forms with Christianity, and that is why charismatics often end up espousing tongues as some form of prayer language. That is how they redefine what the Bible says about tongues. Tongues in the Scripture is speaking in known human languages for the purpose of communicating doctrine, and it was a temporary gift given in the early years of the church and had died out by 70 AD because its primary purpose was a witness to Israel that God was getting ready to take the Jews out under the fifth cycle of discipline.
Matthew 6:7, "But when ye pray, use not vain [meaningless] repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." This is often taken to mean that meaningless repetition is the idea of ritual prayer, where you say the same prayer over and over again. That is not what this word means. The Greek word here is BATTALOGIA [battalogia]—LOGIA, the word or to speak; BATTA is just a meaningless word that describes someone speaking gibberish. So this was a word that means to utter senseless sounds or to speak indistinctly and incoherently, to babble incoherently. Doesn't that apply directly to the whole concept of the prayer language of the charismatics? Jesus specifically forbids the use of gibberish in prayer. Jesus said, "…. as the Gentiles do." It was very popular at this time in the Greek and Roman world to be involved in what was called the mystery religions. In the mystery religions they would go up to some special designated site where there would usually be a lot of dancing and singing and the use of music, and they would work themselves up into a frenzy. At the very height of this emotional experience, this frenzy, they would have this ecstatic experience and they would claim that the god entered into them and they spoke in gibberish. This was viewed as the highest form of spirituality among these devotes of the mystery religions because at that point the god was using them to utter his truth. So if you came out of a Gentile background and came into Christianity and you weren't taught, you brought that idea of spirituality with you. That was the problem in the church at Corinth. Corinth was one of the centers of the mystery religions of the ancient world. So Jesus is making a specific point here: do not follow the example of the gentiles, especially in the mystery religions; do not get sucked into these forms of mysticism in your prayer life. Jesus warns specifically against subjective emotion dominating our prayers.
We must realize that to a certain degree prayer is a subjective experience. It is something that is very private, something that takes place in the privacy of your own soul, and often it involves a tremendous amount of emotion simply because at certain times in our lives we are caught up in difficult situations, a lot of pressure, perhaps in heart-breaking situations, and we are in an emotional state. But the focus in prayer in Scripture is never on emotion. We are not saying there is no emotion whatsoever, we all are emotional beings. It is not to let emotions dominate or be the focus, or even be the criterion of our prayer life. Just another word of warning here, when people start praying together someone always starts getting a little emotional and subjective. Many of us have been in prayer groups with other Christians where we have seen that sort of thing, and they start saying things like God is speaking to them, they just felt God lead me to do this or that, and they start putting an emphasis on how Christ is speaking to them in their heart. Always, when people start talking about Christ in their heart and how God is leading them in this way you always know that you are headed into trouble. Nowhere does the Bible use the word "heart" to refer to emotions. This is one of the common misconceptions. You hear people talking about, Well you shouldn't have just a head faith, you should have a heart faith. In the Scriptures the word "heart," which is KARDIA [kardia] in the Greek of the New Testament and leb in the Old Testament Hebrew, primarily refers to the innermost part of man. This is common even in English. According to the American Heritage Dictionary one of the meanings for "heart," other than the physical organ that pumps blood through the body, is the central or innermost physical part of a place or region. So when the Bible uses the word "heart" on many contexts it is never referring to the emotions, it is referring to the innermost part of a person's soul. The heart is the innermost part where one's true belief and thinking resides. When we are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and learn doctrine and accept it by faith and the Holy Spirit teaches it to us, it is transferred from GNOSIS [gnwsij] in the mind to the most inner part of our souls, the heart, where it then becomes EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij]. EPIGNOSIS is that doctrine that is usable and profitable for our own spiritual growth. The heart has nothing to do whatsoever with emotion, it has to do with the deepest part of our soul where thought takes place.
John 15:7, "If ye abide in me [in fellowship], and my words abide in you [understanding doctrine and having that as the deepest part of our soul], ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
We want avoid some extremes in the Christian life which are found to be very common. One is the neglect of prayer. This is the result of believers who get so caught up in the sovereignty of God, that God is in control, that God is omniscient and knew everything in eternity past, therefore God is going to do whatever is necessary, so I don't really need to pray because God already knows what I need. They take promises that God knows the desires of our heart and knows what we have need of even before we pray, so they say if God already knows it why should I pray for it? So they don't pray, they neglect prayer. On the other extreme you have the high emotionalism and subjectivity in prayer. We want to avoid that extreme. Then a third extreme is ritual prayer. Ritual prayer sometimes can be good. There is something positive about the written prayers that the old puritan prayers used because they put a tremendous amount of thought into what they were going to pray. If you are going to get into the very presence of God you don't just go in there and go off the cuff with God. We should make sure that if we want to present a petition to God that we are going to present a well-crafted, organized petition. We will see that is what biblical writers did as well. That doesn't mean that there is no room for spontaneous prayer. But often the puritans would take the time to really think through what they were going to pray for. And then the bad thing with that is they continued to pray the same prayer over and over again to where it lost its meaning. But today in the context of the rise of mysticism in many of our churches what happens is that the ritual prayer becomes another means of promoting that mystical experience. The same prayer is said over and over again until the mind just blanks out and one is elevated into this sort of ritual experience.
1) We should remember the definition. Prayer is the grace provision of the royal priesthood whereby the church age believer has access and privilege to communicate directly with God. The purpose of this communication is to acknowledge our sin and express our adoration and praise to God, to give thanks, to intercede for others, and to convey our personal needs, petitions, and conduct intimate conversation with God.
2) You do not pray to become spiritual, you pray because you are spiritual. Spirituality is the result of being filled with the Spirit in one sense, and in another sense if you are filled with the Spirit and learn doctrine and apply it in your life you grow. So there are two sense to spirituality. One is an absolute sense which refers to whether you are filled with the Spirit or not. You are either spiritual or carnal. Prayer is the result of spiritual growth, not a cause of spiritual growth. Prayer is a privilege of your priesthood, therefore to develop the ability to pray and to pray effectively you must first grow spiritually. Your prayer life is no stronger than your spiritual life. People always confuse the result of spirituality with the causes of spirituality. Prayer as a function of the priesthood of the believer, giving as a function of the believer's ambassadorship, witnessing as a function of the believer's ambassadorship, using your spiritual gift as a function of the believer's ambassadorship, are the results of spiritual growth, not the cause.
3) Prayer demands concentration and thought. Prayer is not a mindless activity. While emotion may be present that is never the focus or the issue in your prayer. Prayer relies on doctrine and fact, not on emotion and subjectivity.
4) Prayer should be the highest priority in your life after learning Bible doctrine. If intercession was the highest priority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit during this church age then we should make it a high priority in our lives.
5) As believers our prayers fail because we fail in our spiritual life. We do not understand the will and the plan of God. We do not understand the whys and the wherefores, the dos and the don'ts, that relate to prayer. We do not understand how to walk by means of the Holy Spirit. So because we fail in our spiritual lives our prayer has failed.
6) Prayer should be the highest priority of your spiritual life next to doctrine. That is because of the mandate in the Scriptures to pray. We pray because we are commanded to pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2; Romans 12:12. Prayer is no an option for the believer in his spiritual life but a mandate as part of his royal priesthood. Therefore the question we should be asking ourselves is not, should I pray? but, how should I pray? We shouldn't be asking the question, does prayer work? you should ask the question, how do I pray according to the Scriptures? Remember, God has given us precise instructions in His Word about everything in the spiritual life. Only a right thing done in a right way is right. So we have to pray according to the instructions of Scripture.
1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." This is the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament. The word for pray is the present middle imperative of the Greek word PROSEUCHOMAI [proseuxomai]. The present tense here indicates customary or habitual action. It is called a Gnomic present or customary present and it indicates customary or habitual action, an action that regularly occurs in an on-going state. This, combined with the imperative of command, a present imperative, indicates a command to carry on an action continually. It is the idea of making something a habit in your life. So this should be a regular action in your spiritual life. It is in the best interests of the believer to make prayer a habit. The word PROSEUCHOMAI is a general word for prayer or making a petition. Primarily in the Greek it is used only of prayer to God, and it carries the connotation of reverence and respect.
Colossians 4:2, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving," or, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving." The Greek word we have here is PROSKARTUREO [proskarturew], and it means to continue to do something with intense effort, and with the possible implication in the word of doing it despite any difficulty, to devote yourself to something, to keep on, to persist in it no matter what the obstacles might be. In other words, we need to make prayer a priority in our life. This is a present active imperative.
Acts 2:42, "And they continued stedfastly [were continually devoting] in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." The word for "continually devoting" is the word PROSKARTUREO, a present active participle. They are continually devoting themselves to prayer. This verse is not a list of four things, it is a list of two things followed by an appositional phrase. The two things they devoted themselves to were to the apostle's teaching, which is learning doctrine, and to fellowship—not fellowship with one another but fellowship with God. The term "fellowship" is further defined by the appositional phrase "breaking of bread [the Lord's table] and prayer. Both are fellowship with God. So we learn from the appositional phrase that the fellowship here is not fellowship with other believers because fellowship with man does not include the spiritual life. Fellowship with God is what includes the spiritual life. Fellowship here is specifically emphasize as communion—
the Lord's table—and prayer. So what were the priorities of the believers under the apostles' leadership? 1) The study of Bible doctrine; 2) Prayer.
Four principles in summary
a) Prayer is the result of spiritual growth, it is not the cause of spiritual growth.
b) Prayer is not an option for the believer, it is a mandate for the believer.
c) Prayer is to be habitual. This should be a regular habit, setting aside a specific time period on a daily basis in order to pray—not necessarily once a day but throughout the day, constantly shooting one-liners to the throne of grace.
d) The believer should pursue his prayer life with an intensity which overcomes any and all obstacles. Doctrine is your number one priority. You should organize your entire life in order that you can learn doctrine because only doctrine transforms you into the character of Jesus Christ and matures you spiritually. Prayer is the number two priority in your life.
The relationship of grace to prayer
Prayer is orientation to the grace of God. Or another way of putting this: how to approach the throne of grace so we don't get booted out. Before we go to prayer we have to make sure first of all that we are admissible to the throne room of God. Secondly, we have to see and be assured that our petition is valid.
Genesis 3:24, "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
Often when we study Scripture it is important to look at the first occurrence of a subject in order to gain a proper perspective of that entire subject. While prayer is intimate communication and conversation with God the Father it is often a one-way communication today. The first time we have evidence of communication with God is Adam and Eve when they were in the garden of Eden. One of the things that took place in the garden was that every day Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, would come and walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. He would conduct a Bible class and instruct Adam and Eve in a lot of different things. After the fall they lost their fellowship with God. They were condemned because of the character of God. The question then is how does sinful man get back into the presence of God?