Worship (VII): Prayer (2)
Having already discussed the Master as an example of the kind of prayer life which we should manifest, we are now ready to consider several other of the teachings of Jesus regarding prayer. Already we have noted the lessons derived from an examination of the Lord's Model Prayer. Let us consider some of the other things He taught us about prayer.
Incentives To Prayer
Today there are two extremes about prayer which we need to carefully avoid. Some believe that if we pray for something God will supply what we request, even if a miracle is necessary for that prayer to be answered. The other extreme is that God has so fixed this universe into a system that He does not directly intervene to answer the prayers of His children. In my view of prayer, one extreme is just as bad as the other. The one ends up with idea that the age of miracles is yet in existence; the other virtually removes any power from prayer. Hence, we need to begin this lesson with these facts about prayer:
1. God has a personal relationship with man comparable to that of a father and a son (Mt. 7:9-11). Therefore, we know that He is concerned with our wants and needs and will give precedence to things promoting our best interests. I must begin my prayers with this in mind. God is my Father in heaven; He loves me and cares for me.
2. God is conscious of us. "Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Lk. 12:7). My God is not so far removed from the affairs of this earth or so busy with other affairs that He is not interested in my needs.
3. God is the Almighty. His power is sufficient to grant anything that we need (Mt. 19:26; Eph. 3:20-21). That does not mean that He will give me anything that I request; rather, what it does mean is that there is nothing that I can ask of God which He cannot perform. For me to ask God for things He was not able to give would be foolish. However, since God is omnipotent, He has the power to grant anything that I might even think about asking.
4. God is willing to grant to us the things beneficial to us (Mt. 7:7-8). God is interested in my well-being; He wants the things that are best for me. Not all the things which I ask for are the best for me. Even as my children might ask me to let them play with the butcher knife and I would be forced to tell them "no," even so some of the things which men request from God are not good for them and God replies with a resounding "no." However, the things which we need for a physical and spiritual well-being, God is more than willing to grant.
Things For Which To Pray
Recognizing these things as reasons why we should pray, we next ask for what things can a Christian pray. I would ask you to review the material which we studied pertaining to the Lord's prayer as a means of learning the things for which Christians should pray. In addition to this, the New Testament shows that we can pray for those who despitefully use us (Mt. 5:44), that we enter not into temptation (Mk. 14:38), for the physical problems which we face in life (Mt. 24:20; Jas. 5:13; Acts 12:5), for civil rulers (1 Tim. 2:2), for the progress of the gospel (2 Thess. 3:1), for the lost (Rom. 10:1-2), etc. A person can further learn the things for which he should pray by getting a concordance and looking under "prayer" to see what the persons of the Bible asked for. Yet, in all of this, we should be reminded that whatever we ask for is contingent upon it being the Lord's will.
Things Which Negate
Though we have these precious revelations that God is concerned about us and willing to fill our needs, many prayers go unanswered because of things in our prayers and things in our lives which negate the prayer. Here are some of the things which will negate prayer:
I. Lack of faith. Jesus commanded, "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you" (Mk. 11:24). That faith that God can and will give what we ask, if it be according to His will, is necessary for that prayer to be answered is also seen from this passage: "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (Jas. 1:5-8). The prayer that is offered without faith is not going to accomplish very much. I have been with people in crisis situations in their lives. I suggested that they pray to God about their problems and ask for His help. On some such occasions, 1 have heard them remark, "Well, why not? What harm can it do?" Of course, such a prayer will do no harm but, then, it will do no good either. It is a grasping for straws type of effort; when nothing else will work, why not try God? Maybe He will come through. That type of attitude will not please God.
2. Asking amiss. James said, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (4:3). The word "amiss" is translated from kakos which means "with bad intent" or "for the wrong reason." The context shows that some asked in prayer for things after which they had lusted and over which they had fought, although they did not want these things for the right reason. So frequently, our prayers are filled with requests designed to fill our inordinate desires for material things. We ask and do not receive and wonder why! We do not receive because we ask for the wrong reasons.
3. Self-righteousness. The parable of the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican demonstrates that a selfrighteous attitude negates prayer (study Lk. 18:9-14). The Pharisee was a haughty man who acted as if his works justified him before God, failing to realize that all of us, no matter how righteous, are sinners before God (Rom. 3:23; Gal. 3:10). If we manifest a similar self-righteous attitude, our prayers will also be negated.
4. Failure to forgive others. The parable of the unmerciful slave (Mt. 18:21-35) shows that the man who refuses to forgive those who sin against him will not receive forgiveness from our merciful Father above. Jesus said, "But if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" (Mt. 6:14-15). Regardless of how men have treated us, we must love our enemies (Mt. 5:44) and leave vengeance in the hands of our just God (Rom. 12:19-21).
S. Sinfulness. The Scriptures teach that God will not hear the prayer of the man who habitually refuses to sub= mit to God's will. "He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Prov. 28:9). "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Isa. 66:18). "Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is his ear so dull it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear" (Isa. 59:1-2). The man who walks in darkness cannot enjoy fellowship with God (1 Jn. 1:5-10).
Abuses in Prayer
There are certain abuses which have always existed with reference to prayer of which we all need to be conscious and from which we need to abstain. Knowledge of these abuses should help us to offer more acceptable prayers to God.
1. Praying for a show. Jesus said, "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full" (Mt. 6:5). The word translated "have . . . in full" is apecho. The word was a technical term to refer to an account in business transactions which had been paid in full. What Jesus is saying is this: The man who prays to be seen by men has received full payment for what he has done when he hears mere men saying, "Brother-Piety surely can lead a beautiful prayer." We must be careful that we offer our prayers because of our devotion to God rather than to be seen of men. Our personal, private devotions to God are a safeguard to worship for show (Mt. 6:6).
2. Vain repetition. Again, Jesus said, "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words" (Mt. 6:7). Jesus did not condemn repetition in prayer; indeed, He instructed us to be persistent in presenting our requests to the Lord (Lk. 18:1-8). What He condemned was meaningless or vain repetitions. We must be careful that some of the cliches which we use in prayer not become meaningless (for example, "Thank you Father, for this another beautiful Lord's day," "May the speaker have a ready recollection of what he has studied," "Be with the sick the world over and especially those of the Household of faith," etc.). Most of our cliches are scriptural things to pray for; we must be careful, however, less they become mere meaningless repetition.
I am also reminded of some of the things those who are seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit are instructed to do as they pray for the Lord to baptize them in His Spirit. They are instructed to repeat over and over again certain sentences. This is a perfect example of vain repetition.
Other Instructions About Prayer
1. Prayer must be offered in Jesus' name. Jesus taught, "And in that day you will ask Me no question. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full" (Jn. 16:23-24). We must recognize that we can approach the throne of God to ask for favors, not because we are righteous in and of ourselves, but because Jesus shed His precious blood to atone for our sins. We approach God through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ. Through Him, "we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19). 1 dare not approach the throne of God without the mediatorship of Jesus nor in the name of another mediator (such as the virgin Mary).
2. Prayer needs to be offered constantly (Lk. 18:1-8). Study this parable to see our need to habitually offer to God prayers filled with our requests to Him. We must not become weary in prayer. Some day, it will be too late to pray (Lk. 16:27).
Inasmuch as prayer is such an important part of our daily life as a Christian, we need to learn the lessons revealed to us by the Son of God that we might offer it more acceptably to the Father. Even as we emphasize the need to restore first century Christianity with reference to the name, organization, and work of the church, we need to restore the characteristics of first century worship, including our own personal devotion to God in prayer.
Questions - Lesson VII
Truth Magazine XXIII: 44, pp. 708-710