0f the many subjects which surround the individual in his quest for Spiritual truth, none is so abused or misused as is the subject of prayer. There is perhaps more superstition and tradition exercised in this realm than in any other area of the religious of an individual.
Prayer is something that is practiced by untold millions of people but understood by relatively few. An analysis of the prayer life of the multitudes who engage in it will reveal a confusing array of methods and motives for prayer. In my experience with church going people, I have found that fear is the largest single motive for prayer. Many [ray before eating, prompted by a deep seated fear that something tragic will happen if they should fail to do so. These same people have testified to me that they also fear going to sleep at night unless they have first prayed. This same fear is revealed in the traditional children's prayer, "If I should DIE before I awake, I pray the Lord my sul to take". Such a prayer indicates a lingering fear of death and implies a necessity of asking God each day to "save the soul". While the intentions of those who practice prayer in this fashion are not to be discredited, it is obvious that at least two problems exist: The true nature of God is not understood. and the Scriptural subject of prayer has not been digested.
To pray because of a "bodily" fear of God is indeed to pray with a false premise. While a fear of reverence is most necessary to a healthy Spiritual life, a cowardly fear would seem to remove the virtue from any act of worship. And as strange as it may seem to some, fear is one of the greatest . . if not the greatest single reason for most people who find themselves engaged in religious activity. During testimony meetings, in the church I once taught. I prompted my people to testify as to their primary reason for "attending church and serving God". With few exceptions, these wonderful people related that it was basically a "fear of hell". This is only a natural thing for man in his "self-love" and his quest for survival. But once a man has been exposed to God and to the Scriptures, the love and grace of God should then begin to rule in his heart and his self-love replaced by self denial, and his quest for survival placed in the hands of our Sovereign God.
Another major reason why people pray is their desire for "gain". Many pray for wealth, new cars, homes, even vacations. Being prompted by such verses as, "ask and it shall be given you", they realize one disappointment after another until they eventually grow to disbelieve in prayer altogether. A common topic of discussion is "prayers that are answered and prayers that are unanswered". Even the basis of such a subject is closely akin to being unscriptural, for it reveals a misconception of prayer and a lack of understanding of God's present purpose.
It is true that many events which happen, and are labeled as answered prayer would have happened whether they had been prayed about or not. Likewise, many things which are earnestly prayed about will never happen. These facts help to create the "mystery" concerning the subject of prayer and lead the average person to feel that it is a subject which he cannot comprehend. Consequently, he lives constantly in the "superstitious" realm of prayer because he does not understand it. To understand prayer and its relationship to man and to our Sovereign God indicates that it was never intended Scripturally speaking, to be used as it is used today.
When I was very young, I remember a plaque on my mother's wall which said, "Prayer Changes Things". I recall having seen these on the walls of many homes throughout the hills of West Virginia where I was born and raised. This little message is accepted as absolute truth by the masses of church people, even though their actual experience does not confirm this to be a consistent rule. In spite of the fact that they firmly believe this to be true, they still fail to realize the answers to many prayers and they never know if those things which do happen are answered prayer or if they would have happened anyway.
There are supreme illustrations on every hand to confirm this fact. The National and World Council of Churches has repeatedly prompted world wide prayer sessions to plead with God for Peace on earth. And yet, the situation around the world grows steadily worse . . . just as the Scriptures said it would. Our President, in the past, has admonished every American to participate in a National Day of Prayer . . . to beseech God to give peace to the world. And, it seems that the untold millions of devout believers who participated were fully ignored, for since that time thousands of our own men have died in battle on foreign soil.
The classic example of unanswered prayer is found in the efforts of Christianity to "evangelize the world". In the past several hundred years, literally millions of people have uttered untold billions of prayers, asking God to save the lost around the world. Accompanying these prayers have been the influence and power of hundreds of gigantic church organizations supported by millions of people who have contributed possibly billions of dollars to this task. Yet, we find more "unevangelized" people today than ever before.
Each of us at one time or another has experienced similar events, but possibly on a smaller scale. And, it is most likely that these situations which we have pointed out have crossed your mind before. In view of this it should encourage us to look again at the teachings of the Bible on the subject of prayer.
Because man is by nature a creature who enjoys peace and comfort, he would naturally enjoy a world in which total peace existed. But on the other hand, the Bible declares in many passages that this age will steadily grow more wicked until it is finally consumed in judgment. To think that the combined prayers of all the saints will result in God's changing His plan and purpose for this age is foolish. It is wrong to pray for something that God has plainly stated will not happen. Again, there is no Scriptural authority given to prompt us to endeavor "to pray a man out of hell into heaven". And yet these are two of the major subjects of prayer for millions of people. As long as we persist in praying for things which the Bible has already declared will never happen, we shall never know what a true prayer life is.
The Bible plainly states that God has already decreed His purpose for this age and the ages yet to come. To think that prayer will prompt God to change His purpose is to place the wisdom and will of man above the wisdom and will of God. Eph 3:ll tells us that God has a purpose already in mind. It is wrong to assume that He forms this purpose on a day to day basis, andchanges it periodically in order to oblige the saints as they pray. If He did this, He would be as unstable as man himself. And it would be so utterly confusing since equally sincere men often pray for opposite things. And how could a person ever be assured of anything if it were possible for a saint to pray and change the mind of God. In that case, even the Scriptures would be unreliable. But we need not fear for such verses as 2 Tim 1:9 plainly indicate that God formed His purpose before the ages began and verses such as Eph 1: 11 tell us that He is "working ALL things after the counsel of His own will". This is in spite of the prayers of the saints.
Let us assume a hypothetical case. Let us suppose a man, according to traditional theology, is lost. It is fully accepted by all those who believe in God that God has the power to save this man. It is also accepted that God loves this man and wants to see him saved. If God wants to see the man saved and He also has the power to save him, are we to believe that God will not save him unless the other saints pray for him? What kind of God would doom a man to "hell" just because no one asked Him to spare the man? If you had the opportunity to save the life of your neighbor, would you refrain from doing so justbecause your child did not ask you to save him? I can find no Scriptural evidence to support the idea that God will change His mind or alter His purpose for an individual or for a nation of people just because someone asked Him to do so. The traditional views of prayer are just as inconsistent as the traditional views of Hell. We should rejoice in the testimony of James 1:17-18 which tells us that God cannot change and that "by His own will begat He us". I would fear having my destiny determined by the prayers of saints who are of one mind today and of another mind tomorrow. Because of the views which I hold regarding the salvation of all and of hell, I once had a pastor instruct his congregation to "stop praying for me, and that it was God's will that they should do so."
I have read statements in devotional books which say that it is possible to wrestle with "God" in prayer until He changes His mind or His purpose. Just imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you lived in a society where the law changed from day to day. A realization of this should make us delight in the fact that God cannot be changed by prayer, for it is His steadfastness that gives us security.
Many of the views regarding prayer need to be revised. The attitude that seems to prevail is that we should ask God for something and then expect Him to grant it. This reduces God to the status of our slave or servant. Prayer was never a intendedas a means of having God cater to our desires or run our errands for us. This is a mis-leading and dishonoring conception. Such an attempt is directed at having God conform to our will rather than our conforming to His will. The supreme example is cited in the prayer of Jesus, "not my will but thine be done".
One of the best statements I have read concerning the Scriptural interpretation of prayer is quoted by John Gill, "When God bestows blessings on a praying people, it is not for the sake of their prayers, as if He was inclined and turned by them; but it is for His own sake, and of His own sovereign will and pleasure. Should it be said, to what purpose then is prayer? it is answered, This is the way and means God has appointed, for the communication of the blessing of His goodness to His people. For though He has purposed, provided, and promised them, yet He will be sought unto, to give them, and it is a duty and privilege to ask. When they are blessed with a spirit of prayer, it forebodes well, and looks as if God intended to bestow the good things asked, which should be asked always with submission to the will of God, saying, Not my will but thine be done".
This begins to shed much light on the subject of prayer. God has established a complete plan for the ages. This plan was completed before the ages began. The many facets of human experience were included in this plan. Some were destined to be born in "christian" America and some in the backward jungles, Some were destined to be Jews in the earthly calling while some were chosen to the body of Christ. The death of Christ was planned as the means of providing a salvation of all mankind. Everything is working according to His predetermined plan. It was His intention from the beginningto shower blessings on His creatures. What we must not lose sight of is that the means whereby He chose to give the blessings in many cases was through prayer. It is just as certain that some were chosen to pray as it is that some were chosen to receive certain blessings. Prayer is just as much a part of God's predetermined plan as any other part of the overall plan for the universe. It is just as much a part of His plan that some pray as it is for some to be Kings.
Since the Sovereign will of God is in full control of all the universe, including the actions of men, then we might ask justly, what is the purpose of prayer. Why was it designed at all? First of all, we may be certain that prayer exists because God willed it to be. And every time we pray, we are fulfilling His purpose which He designed for us. The proper attitude in prayer is not to beseech Him to do our bidding, or to have Him submit His will to us, but rather that we are fulfilling His bidding and submitting our will to Him.
We know that according to Scripture, all things are of God. "Of Him and through Him and to Him are 'all things'". If all things are of God, then why pray? This is the question asked by those who do not believe fully in the Sovereignty of God. If these critics feel that it is foolish for us to pray when God alone controls everything, and that our prayers can change nothing, we might ask them this question: "Why do they pray when God already knows what they need and what they are going to say? Why spread words and thoughts before God when He already knows what they are thinking? Why ask God for anything when Matt 6:8 says, ‘For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him' ?" From the standpoint of logic, both sides of this issue seem to be weak. But when we understand the purpose of prayer then neither side is to be discredited.
Prayer is not intended to "inform God of the things that we need". It is not intended as a means of "furnishing God withknowledge or information". He knows these things.
It is a means whereby we simply acknowledge to Him that we are aware of our needs. He is honored by our asking. It is not for His benefit that we pray, but for our own benefit. He is already perfect. Prayer is a spiritual exercise for us. God commands us to, "Pray without ceasing". 1 Thess 5:17. Luke 18:l says, "Men ought always to pray". However, these prayers are not intended to change God's purpose, nor to inspire Him to form a new purpose. God has decreed that certain things will come to pass. He has also decreed the manner "in which they will come to pass". He elected some people as members of the Body of Christ. However, He also designed the manner in which they would come to acknowledge this, that is, through the message of the Scriptures. He not only called the individual but He also selected the means whereby the individual would be called. The same is true with prayer. He not only decreed that certain things would happen, but He also decreed that many of them would come to pass through prayer. Prayer was as much a part of His overall plan as was the event itself. He has decreed the means as well as the end. It is comforting and wonderful to know that He is so thorough. Please observe this: If God did not control all the minute events of life . . . that is if they happened by mere chance, then prayer would be of no value anyway. Mere chance would cause things to happen or not to happen regardless of your prayers. But if God controls all things, then prayers do have a place in His Divine order of things.
In Ezekiel 36:36-37, we read of a supreme example of this truth. In verse 36, God unconditionally promises the future restoration of Israel. Yet in verse 37, He states that He is going to require that Israel pray for this restoration: "I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel". God's designs cannot be changed and they will be accomplished through the means which He ordains, in this case through the agency of prayer. This is the beauty of His purpose. We can pray with confidence because He has promised certain things.
Jer 15:l says that both Moses and Samuel prayed for that which God could not do for them. God's purpose cannot be changed by prayer. Jesus prayed in the proper manner. He prayed for things which He already knew would happen. See John 17, especially verses 5 and 11. See James 5:17-18 in conjunction with 1 Kings 17:l and 1 Kings 18:42 where Elijah, even though he knew it was going to rain, prayed for rain anyway. In 2 Cor 12:7-9, Paul prays three times for the thorn to be removed from his flesh and he is denied.
Other verses of Scripture that illuminate us on the subject of prayer can be cited. James 4:3 mentions that some prayers are not answered because the wrong thing has been asked. John 16:23 says that whatever is asked in the name of Jesus will be given. Some people use this verse as a means of asking for anything and everything. While this verse has primarily an application to the Kingdom age, much truth can still be found regarding prayer. What is it to ask something in His Name ? To ask in His Name is to ask according to His will. It means that He represents that which we ask. The request must be in keeping with what He is and what He wants. It is to set aside our will. If you were an ambassador for the United States to a foreign country, and you were to speak in , the "name" of the United States, you would have to speak only in the area of that which the United States wanted and could fulfill, or was willing to fulfill, else your words would be of no meaning at all. It is necessary that we know what it means to ask something in His Name. It means more than just saying the words. In fact, the Scriptures illustrate themselves: 1 John 5:14 explains this point very well, "If we ask anything according to His will He heareth us". You see, we can only, at any time, ask the Father simply what Christ would ask.
Prayer is primarily an act of worship and honor to God. It is meant to ascribe Glory to Him. If your prayers follow this simple pattern, keeping this one simple thing in mind, I believe your prayers will be Scriptural. A guide verse to follow is Isa 42:8, "And I will not give my Glory to another."
When I was a student in Bible School, I found myself very perplexed on the subject of prayer. It was more common, indeed, to realize unanswered prayer than it was to realize answered prayer. We discussed the subject diligently in class to approach a reason for this. The discussions resulted in my compiling a huge list of reasons. It included such things as open sin in the life, hidden sin in the life, sins of omission, sins of commission, lack of full dedication, selfishness, a lack of witnessing, a lack of Bible study, love for the world, not praying long enough or hard enough, unconfessed sin, and on and on. The list grew so involved and so long that I once asked my instructor how any human being could ever perform all these requirements at the same time, especially when he was not aware of most of these problems existing in his life. The answer I received was that I should spend more time in prayer and God would eventually point out the things I lacked so that I could eventually find myself "on praying ground".
It was not until I discovered the model prayers of theApostle Paul in Ephesians 1:15-23 and 3:14-21 that I began to understand the subject of prayer for today. I direct you to these two prayers. Observe the manner in which Paul offers praise and thanksgiving for what God has already done for us rather than to make a list of requests. If we fully believe that God controls us, and our destiny, we can only praise Him for what He has done. It leaves little else to be desired. And if we request anything at all, let it be for wisdom and under-standing of His calling for us as Paul relates in Eph 1: 16-17. This type of praying is Scriptural and it is Spiritual. It is the pattern that is to be followed in this present day.
This subject is far too large to cover in a single article and therefore, you will know of several thoughts and verses which we have not covered. However, we trust these devotional thoughts will be helpful to you.