Prayer … 6
John 14:13 reminds us of the purpose of prayer, which is the glorification of prayer, "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." Prayer should be God-centered and not man-centered, and one way in which we can keep our prayers focused in this way is to ask ourselves the question: Are our prayer requests designed to bring glory to God or to ourselves. In verse 14, "If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it," we have what is called a textual problem. Whenever there is a textual problem you never base a doctrine on it. This verse is not talking about asking Jesus specifically in terms of prayer.
Supplication is divided into two sub-categories. One is intercession where one person prays on behalf of another person, and the other category is petition where we have various requests for ourselves that we pray to God.
The intercession of Jesus Christ
Definition: The current ministry of Jesus Christ in heaven whereby He never ceases to petition the Father on behalf of believers, especially with reference to strengthening their weaknesses in time of temptation.
At the ascension Jesus Christ was seated at the right hand of God the Father and that is referred to by the theological term "session," and part of His role during His session as our high priest is to pray for us. So this is the current ministry of Jesus Christ in heaven at the right hand of God the Father whereby He never ceases to petition the Father on behalf of believers. So we know that right now Jesus Christ is praying for us as particular individuals, and every single day of our lives He is praying on our behalf. John 17:11, "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee, Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." And verse 15, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil [one]." So Christ prays for us, especially in relation to our weaknesses and our unity, and remember this: in Scripture when it says we are to be unified as believers it is not unity for the sake of unity, it is always unity in faith. And faith has two connotations in Scripture: the faith that we have subjectively, which is our belief in Christ or our belief in the Scriptures, and it also has an objective meaning referring to what is believed or doctrine. Unity is on the basis of faith, never at the expense of doctrine. Paul states in 1 Corinthians and other places that doctrine is always going to divide believers—those who are growing and maturing from those who just want to coast along and are not really concerned with the spiritual life. Unity in the body of Christ in this life on this earth is always on the basis of doctrine.
Christ's intercession is based on His finished work at the cross. Romans 8:34, is one of the key passages for the intercessory ministry of Jesus Christ. "Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." Another key passage is Hebrews 7:24, 25, "But this man, because he continues ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them." So Jesus Christ always lives to make intercession for us individually. If Christ is actively and continually involved in intercession for every believer, shouldn't we also make intercessory prayer a priority in our own spiritual lives? Prayer often is rationalized and neglected by believers and yet the emphasis in Scripture is that prayer is to be the highest priority.
Not only does Jesus Christ intercede for us but so also does the Holy Spirit. By way of definition: this is the ministry of God the Holy Spirit whereby He identifies the believer's weaknesses and petitions God the Father on behalf of the believer. Because of the Holy Spirit's omniscience He correctly translates and strengthens our petitions even when we are completely ignorant of what we ought to say or how we ought to frame our petitions. Romans 8:26, 27, "Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God." The word here for "infirmities/weakness" is ASTHENES [a)sqenhj], and its basic root meaning is that which is weak. In some contexts it refers to physical weakness or illness, as in the Gospels, although there is one passage where it refers to spiritual weakness. When Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane before He goes to the cross He is talking to the disciples and tells them not to fall asleep. He goes off to pray and comes back and they have fallen asleep. He said the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak—ASTHENES. It is not a physical sickness, it is a discouragement sometimes, a depression, a spiritual inability. "…for we know not what we should pray for as we ought." Often we know that this is the case. We just don't know what specifically we should be praying for in some matter, but nevertheless we should be praying. "…but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." There will always be some charismatic who will go to this passage as say this is a spirit language, but remember that this is a groaning that cannot be heard (like the groaning of creation, v.22), it is inaudible, it is talking about something that is too deep for words, something that is inarticulate. What is this describing is something that moves us very, very deeply, and we just don't know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit does and He prays for us, because He is the one in v.27 who searches the heart and knows what the mind of the spirit is. He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit does not take over the believer's responsibility for prayer, He merely improves the effectiveness of our prayer.
What are we to pray for?
1) We need to pray for personal needs. Philippians 4:6,7, "Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Worry is a sin. Quit worrying! What should be do when we start to worry? Pray, with thanksgiving. Express our needs, and the promise is: "the peace of God which passes all comprehension shall guard your hearts [innermost part of the mind] in Christ Jesus." There is another great promise in v. 19, "And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
2) We pray for our nation. We pray for national leaders, for state leaders, city officials, school boards, military personnel. 1 Timothy 2:1-2, "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." Note the purpose: "; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." Godliness is one of those 'holy' words in Scripture that sounds wonderful and makes us lift our eyes to the heavens because we are so spiritual, and nobody knows what in the world we are really talking about. The Greek word is EUSEBEIA [e)usebeia]. Probably the best way to translate this is "our spiritual life," because in our spiritual life we are emulating Christ—that is the goal, to become Christ-like in our character. So in becoming Christ-like we demonstrate certain attributes related to God. We pray for these people in order that we might be left alone, so that we can have Bible class freely, we can disseminate the Word, we can send missionaries out around the world, and that we can be unhindered by governmental interference. So the purpose of this prayer is basically so that Bible study, evangelism, and missionary activity all can be conducted apart from governmental interference. If government is not working correctly then believers will not have the freedom or the opportunity to grow spiritually. One example from Scripture is that we can pray for the conversion of rulers that are already in office, e.g. Nebuchanezzar who became a believer after seven horrendous years of divine discipline. Daniel 4:34, 35, "And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that lives for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" He recognized who God was and became a believer. Proverbs 21:1, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turns it whithersoever he will." God is in control. Passages which outline God's will for rulers are found in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. There we know that rulers should read and study God's Word daily. 1 Kings 3:7-9, "And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?" Other passages are Micah 6:8 and Jeremiah 23:4,5 where the emphasis is on he ruler and how he should act wisely and do justice in the land. We can pray for godly advisors to the king. Even if he has rejected the gospel we can pray that those around him would give him godly advice. Example: Joseph in Genesis 41 where he was elevated to the second highest position in the land of Egypt. He gave wise counsel to Pharaoh so that the nation was able to survive a horrendous famine. Nehemiah chapter two is another example. Philippians 4:22 gives us the example that there were various believers in Caesar's household. So we should pray that God would put godly men and women as advisors to political leaders.
3) We need to use prayer in our witnessing. We should not frame our prayers: "God, please make so and so a believer." That is asking God to do something He can't do. He is never going to violate the free will and individual volition of a person. We need to frame our prayers: "I pray that someone would bring the gospel and present it clearly to so and so. I pray that you would take them through certain circumstances in their life that would make them more receptive to the gospel." We need to be praying for those who are not saved.
4) We need to be praying for our enemies, those who dislike us, hate us, persecute us or mistreat us. Matthew 5:43-45.
5) The sick. James is the earliest of all the New Testament books. James 5:13, "Is any among you suffering? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing praises. Then we have one of the most confusing passages because it is so poorly translated from the Greek. "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." What is the word for "sick"? ASTHENES [a)sqenhj]. When we see this word we have to look at the context. Are we talking about a physical sickness, or are we talking about spiritual sickness/weakness? Let's think about the book of James for a minute. It starts off by saying, "Count it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Endurance will have its mature results." That states the theme of the whole epistle—endurance, HUPOMONES [u(pomonhj], perseverance, patience. Earlier in chapter 5 we have "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord." Then in verse 8, "Be ye also patient; strengthen your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draws nigh." Verse 10, "… as an example of suffering affliction, and of patience." Verse 11, "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the endurance of Job." What is the subject of James? Endurance, perseverance in time of difficulty. He hasn't said one thing in four and a half chapters about being physically sick, but he has said a lot about being spiritually discouraged and hanging in there when the going gets tough. So when it comes to James 5:14 we would suggest that the last thing he is thinking about is someone who is physically sick. He is talking about spiritual discouragement from testing. This is further exemplified in verse 15, "And the prayer offered in faith shall lift up the one who is sick." What is the Greek word here? It is KAMNO [kamnw] which has nothing to do with sickness. Note Hebrews 12:2, 3, "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross." What is the theme here? Joy and endurance in times of the tremendous tests [the cross]. . . . For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you grow weary [KAMNO] and faint in your minds." So the passage in James never means sick, it means weary. And that precise word in v. 15 tells us that the nuance of ASTHENES in v.14 is weariness: "Is any discouraged among you? let him call for the elders of the church…" Earlier, in chapter two, we are told (v.2), "For if there come unto your assembly…" There James uses the word synagogue. James does not have a later New Testament ecclesiology. He's talking about the synagogue. He is not talking about elders here in the sense that Paul uses it twenty years later in 1 Timothy. He is talking about spiritually mature believers: "…let him call for the spiritually mature believers of the church; and let them pray with him; anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." There are two words in the Greek New Testament that are used for anointing. One is CHRIO [xriw], the basis for CHRISTOS [xrisotj], a technical type of anointing, spiritual anointing. That has special ceremonial and religious connotations to it, spiritual connotations. The other is ALEIPHO [a)leifw]. Another reference top this is Matthew 6:17, "But you, when you fast, anoint [ALEIPHO] your head, and wash your face." The point is that if a person was depressed and discouraged they don't want to get up and take a shower, they want to stay in bed all day long. They may go two or three days when they don't take care of themselves because they are just really down. So what is happening here? The cultural analogy of comparison in James is that when someone is really down and out spiritually, and the spiritually mature believer comes over and prays for him, he needs to be encouraged to get out of bed, take a walk, take a shower, get cleaned up, get out and do something, and not to just sit around and wait for God to zap him with something to happen. That was how it was used, the concept of anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, at that time. They were praying for him. James 5:15, "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise [lift up] him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." This is an unconditional promise.
6) We are to pray for others that they do not do wrong. 2 Corinthians 13:7, "Now I pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is right, even though we should appear unapproved." We should be praying that others make good decisions from a position of strength, knowing doctrine.
7) We should pray that we might perceive the truth of doctrine so that we can grow to spiritual maturity. Ephesians 1:18, "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." The prayer is that we might understand all that God has given to us as believers, all of the incredible assets so that we can exploit what He has given us in our pursuit of spiritual maturity.
8) Then we need to pray that our love might abound and abound in real knowledge. Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9. Knowledge first, then production.
9) That out ministry might be effective. Colossians 4:3, "Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds." Ephesians 6:19, "And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel." 2 Thessalonians 3:1, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you."
10) We are to pray four ourselves. Luke 22:40, that we do not enter into temptation; that we do not become anxious over things, Philippians 4:6-7; for a better understanding of Scripture and how to apply it in times of trial, James 1:5.