By Leonard Tyler
The Christian’s life is founded upon two great and essential principles: (1) personal obligation, which necessitates responsibility and duty for every Christian within its own ability before God; (2) personal dependence upon God, which requires reliance and trust on the part of every Christian for that which transcends his own ability. One must never forget or neglect either of these. Regardless of one’s capabilities he is still incapable of saving himself. It is not within the power of man to save himself. (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12; 2 Cor. 3:5). Paul makes this very plain in Phil. 3:7-16 where he rejects “mine own righteousness” that he may obtain “that which is through the faith of Christ . . . . If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” This realization humbles man and forces him to become dependent upon God to supply those things which man cannot. It builds a desire within the heart of the believer to obey as well as pray.
Faith is the basis upon which one acts toward and depends upon God. Faith gives assurance, confidence and evidence for that which is sought. By faith we seek what we do not have in personal merit: to be acceptable, to be worthy, and to obtain righteousness. This confidence of faith gives one a desire to obey and pray. Faith prays with assurance that God is able to hear and answer (Isa. 59:1-2; 1 Pet. 3:12; 2 Cor. 9:8; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 7:25).
The strength of one’s faith is manifest by his desire and confidence in the all-sufficiency of God to supply his every need. In his obedience, God supplies the directives and instructions. In his dependence, God supplies his security. If one does not desire a thing, he certainly will not pray for it. If one did not have confidence that such could be had, he would not pray for it. If one does not feel dependent – if he feels that he can do it himself – he will not pray for it. I suspect, one of the great influences leading to our prayerless attitude is the lack of confidence that God will answer. (One lady said, “We pity the heathen in his praying to the idols; but, I tell you, we surround God with so many limitations that we make him little more to us than a heathen’s God is to him.”) Is not this the main reason we pray so little?
Some hurtful theories are discussed in Sound Doctrine, Vol. II, by brethren C.R. Nichol and R.L. Whiteside (pp. 69-72). The following is given and is worthy of our patient study:
Many theories, even amongst professed Christians, have contributed greatly to the present neglect of prayer. Rationalism has crept into the church, and the teaching of the Bible on prayer is either ignored or explained away. With some theorists the plain statements of the Bible cease to be convincing, but everything must be subjected to the test of human reason. Strange as ft seems, some of the most dogmatic of this class of rationalists are to be found amongst those who claim to take the Bible as their only guide. Their theories on prayer are not found in the Bible. On the subject of prayer, they do not ask, What does the Bible say? but, Is it possible for God to answer prayer?
1. God Is Unchangeable. It is argued that since God is unchangeable our prayers can have no effect. Such a conclusion is not found in the Bible. No inspired writer ever so argued. There are numerous examples of answered prayers. It does not meet the issue to say that all these occurred in the days of the miracles; for, if the unchangeableness of God prevents his answering prayer now, it would have prevented it then, for he was unchangeable then as now. He answered prayer then. That is certain. Being unchangeable he will answer prayer now. Thus the argument on the unchangeableness of God, instead of militating against prayer, is positive proof that God will answer prayer.
2. God Is Omniscient. It is contended that God possesses infinite wisdom and knows what we need before we ask him; that his nature being perfect, and his purposes always good, he will withhold no good thing from his children; hence, there can be no reason for praying. This view is the ground for many neglected prayers. It is not true that all were answered then! It is foolish to argue against a demonstration. Do not allow your zeal for argumentative ability to discredit the Bible.
3. Miracles Have Ceased. It is insisted that God cannot answer prayer without violating the law of nature, and that would be a miracle. Suppose that be true, if God says he will answer, are we going to subscribe to a theory that will make him a liar? Many who advocate this theory cannot define a natural law nor tell what a miracle is. How can one know that God cannot answer prayer without working a miracle? Do you know everything? If not, why make a statement which implies universal knowledge? If there is in all the universe one thing you do not know, that one thing may be how God can answer a prayer and not work a miracle. Do not make a fool of yourself trying to be smart.
A friend asks a favor, and you grant it. Did you work a miracle? The birds and beasts hear the cry of their young and bring them food – do they work miracles? We use the laws of nature every day to answer the requests or prayers of our friends and children. Cannot God do as much? Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” But the advocates of this God-dishonoring theory make it possible for man and beast to do what they claim it is impossible for God to do.
That God cannot answer prayer without working a miracle is a mere assumption supported by no Bible teaching. So far as we understand the laws of nature, it is as much a miracle for God to hear us pray as it is for him to answer a prayer.
By some we are told that reflex influence is the only benefit we derive from prayer. This makes prayer a sort of spiritual gymnasium in which we take spiritual exercise – and spiritual exercise is good, we are told! It is true that the reflex influence of a sincere prayer is good; but if prayer is only a form of spiritual exercise and reflex influence is the only good derived therefrom, then the heathen is as much benefitted by prayer as the Christian. Under what conditions are the reflex influences good? Would there be a good reflex influence if you pray to a post or stone? Your own heart answers: “No, the reflex influence would be bad.” Why? Because you know the tree or stone cannot hear or answer. Such prayer would be foolish mockery. ,But is it any less so to pray to God believing he cannot hear and answer? In the very nature of the case the reflex influence of prayer is good only when we sincerely pray to One whom we believe hears us and is willing and able to grant us the desires of our hearts.
God Answers Prayers
The foregoing theories are not supported by the Bible, and no advocate of such theories ever tries to prove them by the Scriptures. Such theorists depend on a process of reasoning, and not on what God says. Not one of them points to a passage or Scripture and says: “This teaches my doctrine.” They forgot that every Bible doctrine must be settled by what the Book says, and not by our reason. We should use our reason to learn what God says, and not to set aside what he teaches. Leave that to infidels. The proof that God answers prayer is too abundant to include all in this lesson, but we briefly call attention to:
The Bible Teaching On Prayer
Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Matt. 6:5-15), and said: “Thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.” “The eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry” (Psa. 34:15).
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, who; if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him”” (Matt. 7:7-11).
“The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working” (James 5:16). As an encouragement to prayer, James immediately adds: “Etijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again; and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brough forth her fruit” (James 5:17-18). This was a remarkable prayer and answer, and the answer seems to have come in a natural way. To the people it did not appear as a miracle. (See 1 Kings, chapter 17 and 18).
For What Can A Child Of God Pray?
He is told to.: (I) pray for his enemies (Matt. 5:44; Acts 7:60); (2) pray for a brother who sins but not unto death (1 Jn. 5:16; Acts 8:18-24; Jas. 5:16). (3) Pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty,” in fact, pray for all men (1 Tim. 2:1-2). (4) “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). “In everything” covers all of life’s problems and needs. If not, why not? Will God answer prayer? Christians are taught to pray (1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:8) and, if taught to pray, the answer must be forthcoming or there is no need to pray. “By prayer” means that God is pleased with the prayers of His children. He hears and responds to their supplications or else He would not expect man to pray. (5) Pray for sinners that they might be saved (Rom. 10:1-4). (6) Pray for wisdom (James 1:5). This does not nor does any of the other texts – mean to so pray without applying one’s ability. It means that as we apply all of our powers, we still need God’s help – pray for it. This is the more reason that a man of God recognizes his need to “pray without ceasing.” God will take care of the hows. He will not violate His will but He will fulfill every promise. Therefore, we should pray without fear and doubting. Always, if one loves and has complete faith in the allsufficiency of God, he will pray, “Thy will be done – not mine.” God’s child can be content with God’s answer.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 8, pp. 136-137
February 21, 1980