The Bankruptcy of Natural Theology………………………….……………
The Biblical Material………………………………………………………..
John Bunyan on Prayer …………………………..…………………………
The Sovereignty of God and Prayer…………………………………………
Thirteen Rules on Public Prayer……………………………………………
How to Have a Day of Prayer and Fasting………………………………….
One of the most important requests recorded in the Bible is found in Lk. 11:1.
And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”
Several things should be pointed out:
First, the disciple called Jesus “Lord” to acknowledge His Lordship over all of life – including prayer. This means that you must submit to what the Bible teaches on prayer. You must not “lean on your own understanding” (Pro. 3:5-6).
Note: The first step to learn the art and skill of true prayer is to bow in submission to the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of your life (Rom. 12:1-2; I Pet. 3:15). If He is not the undisputed Lord of your life, then you will never learn the secrets of true prayer. Stop right now and affirm the Lordship of Christ over your life.
Lord, I acknowledge your Lordship over all of my life. I rededicate myself to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. Teach me the secrets of the art and skill of effectual prayer
Second, notice that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray. We are not told how or in what way he taught them. But that he did so is clear from the disciple’s request. If he had to teach his disciples in the art and skill of effectual prayer, how can modern pastors excuse their failure to teach their people about prayer?
Note: If you are a pastor, were you ever taught the biblical doctrine of prayer? Have you taught your people how to pray? I do not remember anyone, including pastors, who taught me to pray. Everyone assumes that everyone will figure it out all by themselves. After I researched the issue in church history, it was clear that ignorance is the root cause of prayers to Mary and the Saints, the “blab-it-grab-it” prayers of prosperity preachers, and the vain repetition of biblical prayers.
Third, the disciple asked Jesus to teach “us” to pray. Notice that he put it in the plural “us” instead of the singular “me.” Why? He wanted Jesus to instruct all the disciples in the art and skill of prayer because ALL of them needed instruction on this subject. No one is so smart that he does not need Special Revelation on prayer.
Note: Be prepared for a wicked backlash when you try to correct the false and vain prayers of professing Christians. Most people do not feel anyone has the right to correct their prayers.
After a young man publicly prayed in an unbiblical way, I took him aside in private and tried to instruct him in the biblical rules of public prayer. He became angry and shouted, “How dare you correct my prayers!”
The word translated “to pray” is a proseu,cesqai.. It is a present middle infinitive. The grammar of this verb indicates several things.
a. The present tense indicates that the disciple wanted instruction in prayer right there and then. He had just witnessed Jesus praying and this motivated him to ask Jesus how to pray.
b. The infinitive indicates that he was not asking for just one lesson on prayer. He wanted Jesus to make prayer a regular Chapter of His discipleship program.
Note: I am not aware of any seminaries or Bible colleges that have courses on the theology of prayer. Theological schools dropped such courses before the Civil War along with instruction in the fear of God. Since a prayer-less ministry is a power-less ministry, could the lack of teaching on prayer and the fear of God be the reasons why the Church is so weak today? We think so!
c. The middle voice indicates that he wanted Jesus Himself to do it, not just some other disciple. “Lord, you yourself teach us to pray.”
Note: There are insights on prayer that you cannot get from books or lectures. Only Christ Himself can personally teach you these things while you spend time in prayer with Him. Thus prayer is experiential as well as academic. Ask the Lord to teach you about prayer.
We need to learn how to pray according to the Bible because when it comes to prayer, ignorance is not bliss! God demands that we approach Him the way He commands in Scripture. When people in the Old Testament broke this rule and offered “strange fire,” divine wrath came upon them. The New Testament in Heb. 10:29 warns us that divine judgment today is worse, not less, than under Moses!
The Bankruptcy of Natural Theology
Prayer demonstrates the bankruptcy of Natural Theology because it cannot tell us anything about prayer (Isa. 8:20). Natural Theology is the heresy that teaches that we do not need the Bible to tell us about God because we can look within ourselves to our own reason, experience, feelings or faith to tell us how to pray. Man, not God, is the Origin of truth, justice, morals, meaning, beauty, and prayer!
According to the Bible, God is the Origin and Source of all true knowledge and wisdom. True prayer is thus not intuitive, self-evident or universal. It must be revealed! This is why Natural Theology always developed false views of prayer. Left to his own sinful reason, experience, feelings and faith, fallen mankind always developed false views of prayer. One shudders to think of the blasphemous prayers uttered by heathen priests as they ripped the hearts out of helpless victims or the monotonous chanting of bald headed priests as they turn their prayer wheels. It breaks your heat to see people on their knees praying to Mary and the Saints. Such idolatry surely breaks the heart of God.
Let this lesson be learned well. When confronted with a conceited Natural Theologian who thinks he is so smart that he can figure out everything by “reason” alone, ask him to show you just one pagan theologian or philosopher who through human reason alone understood and taught the truth about prayer. If Natural Theology actually worked, then surely some pagan thinker somewhere got it right on prayer. But if prayer is totally dependent on Special Revelation, then sola ratione is a complete bust.
This also means that your understanding of prayer must be based upon Sola Scriptura (1 Cor. 4:6). If your understanding of prayer does not come from the Bible alone, you will end up with all manner of false and heretical ideas on prayer. To understand how to pray in such a way that God will listen to you,
a. Do not look to your feelings to tell you about prayer. God has told us in Scripture what He feels about prayer. Those are the only feelings that count!
b. Do not look to your reason to tell you about prayer. Infinite Reason, i.e. God has told us in Scripture what to think about prayer.
c. Do not look to your experience to tell you about prayer. God’s experience with prayer far exceeds our experience and He has told us in Scripture what is acceptable and unacceptable prayer.
d. Do not look to your faith to tell you about prayer. What you believe is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what God believes about prayer and He has revealed this in Scripture.
Rationalism, empiricism, mysticism, and fideism cannot tell us anything about prayer. God in Scripture alone tells us how to come into His presence in an acceptable way. God has REVEALED everything we need to know about prayer in the Bible alone (2 Pet. 1:3).
The Biblical Material
Revealed Theology is superior to Natural Theology in that it gives us:
ß certainty instead of probability
ß revelation instead of speculation
ß truth instead of lies
ß confidence instead of doubts
ß absolutes instead of relatives
It is thus our task to define, document, and defend the biblical doctrine of prayer
against all the heresies and false teachings on prayer that abound today. Why? To come into the presence of God with acceptance and see our prayers answered, we must pray according to Scripture.
1. What are the irreducible elements of true prayer? There are two essential
elements of prayer that if either one is missing, prayer cannot happen.
a. First, prayer is communication between man and God. It is verbally expressing to God what is on your heart. Thus if you are not speaking to God directly, then you are not praying. This is why prayer in the third person is not true prayer. Don’t pray like one man I heard:
We pray that God will bless Fred. And that the Lord will bless the service. May Jesus help us today. Amen.
Notice that he did not address God directly. He talked about God in the third person. This meant he was actually talking to the people around him and not to God per se. He was merely talking about God instead of talking to God.
Why would someone pray in the third person? The root cause may be an unregenerate heart. You can only talk to God if you know God. If you do not know Him, then all you can do is talk about Him.
Talk to God directly in your prayers.
I love You Lord. I lift up my voice to You and worship You for You alone are God. You alone are the Savior. I come into Your presence with boldness through the blood of Messiah. I ask that you hear my prayer because it will glorify You and bless your people.
b. Second, prayer is communion between God and man. True prayer is a two-way street in which God is communing with you while you are communing with Him. If God is not responding to you during prayer, no true prayer is happening.
c. Third, prayer is thus mystical and experiential in that it is an encounter with the living God. This is why prayer is called “fellowship” with God (I John 1:3). Do you practice listening to God while you pray?
2. What are the different kinds of prayer found in the Bible?
a. Invocation: Calling upon God to hear you; to arise and come to you; to listen to you, answer you, incline His ear to you; look at you: Psa. 4:1; 17:1, 6; 25:18; 27:7; 28:2; 30:19; 31:2; 39:12; 54:2; 59:4; 61:1; 64:1; 71:2; 80:14; 84:8; 86:1; 88:2; 102:2; 102:1; 119:53, 149; 130:2; 143:1
b. Thanksgiving: To thank God for His goodness: Psa. 7:17; 9:1; 30:4; 33:2; 52:9; 86:12; 105:1; 107:1
c. Lament: complaints, challenges, questions: Psa. 10:1; 22:1; 42:9; 43:2; 44:23, 24; 74:1, 11; 80:12; 88:14
d. Penitential: confession of sin, failure: Psa. 25:18; 32:5; 51; 79:9
e. Anxiety: expressions of suffering, fear, pain: Psa. 25:2; 27:1, 3; 31:13; 42:5, 11; 43:5; 56:3f
f. Petition: presenting your needs, requests to God: Phil. 4:6;1 John 5:15
g. Intercession: petitions for the needs of others: Num. 21:7; Isa. 53:12; Rom. 8:26-27, 34; 1 Tim. 2:1
h. National: praying for a crisis facing the nation: Neh. 1:5-11; 2 Kgns. 19:10-19
i. Benediction: blessings and cursings: Gen. 48:9-49:28
j. Vows: oaths, promises: Gen. 28:20f; 2 Sam. 15:8; Psa. 61:5,8; 76:11
k. Doxological: spontaneous outbursts of praise: Rom. 9:5; 11:36; 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Pet. 3:18
l. Submissive: submitting to God’s will: Psa. 40:18; Mat. 6:10
m. Contemplative: thinking through an issue while in prayer: Ezra 9:5-19; Psa. 116:12-14
n. Praise: all praise is a form of prayer: Psa. 22:22; 30:12; 34:1; Rom. 15:11; Heb. 13:15; Rev. 19:5
o. Effective: prayers are effective when they actually accomplish their desires: James 5:16
3. What are the requirements of prayer?
a. You must be a child of God: Job 13:16; Psa. 34:15; Pro. 15:8, 29;
b. You cannot have a conscious controversy with God: Psa. 66:18; Pro. 28:13
c. Your sins need to be forgiven: Psa. 24:5-6; 130:3; 1 John 1:9
d. You need the righteousness of Christ: Zech. 3:1-5; Eph. 1:6; Phil. 3:9
4. What is the origin of prayer?
a. True prayer is not the work of man but the work of the Holy Spirit in man: Zech. 12:10; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 3:3; Jude 20
b. The Spirit’s intercession on our behalf is a great mystery: Rom. 8:26-27
c. God must work in you the “willing and the doing” of prayer: Phil. 2:13
5. What is the basis of prayer?
a. The atoning blood of Christ forms the legal basis of our prayers: Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:14; 10:19; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 7:14; 12:11
b. The intercession of Christ gives us immediate access to the Father: Isa. 53:12; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25
6. Who is the object of prayer?
a. God alone is the one to whom we pray: Exo. 20:3-5; Psa. 62:1-6
b. Prayers to Christ reveal His deity: Acts 7:59-60; Rom. 9:5; Rev. 22:20
7. What are the means of prayer?
a. God never ordained the use of pictures, icons, statues, prayer beads, bells or wheels to be used in prayer.
b. He expressly forbade the use of these things in Exo. 20:4-5.
c. We must also condemn New Age visualizations of God and Christ as an aid to worship.
d. Lifting your hands and eyes to heaven are the only means of prayer sanctioned by Scripture: Psa. 28:2; 63:4; 121:1; 123:1; Lk. 18:13; John 17:1
8. What are the results of prayer?
a. Divine guidance comes from prayer: Gen. 24:12-27; Acts 13:1-3
b. The anointing of the Spirit comes during prayer: Acts 1:14; 2
c. Consciousness of sin: Isa. 6:5
d. Power to proclaim the gospel: Lk. 24:49
e. Casting out demons: Mat. 17:21; Mk. 9:29
f. Deliverance from persecution: Acts 12:5
g. Salvation of sinners: Rom. 10:1
h. Blessing on the food: Mat. 26:26; 1 Tim. 4:5
i. Healing: James 5:15
j. Forgiveness: James 5:16
k. The peace of God and Christ in the heart: Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15
9. What is the goal of prayer? To enter the presence of God, with His approval, in order to receive answers to our prayers with submission to the will of God (Psa. 16:11; 95:2; 1 John 5:14-15).
10. What is the value of prayer? Prayer bends and conforms our will to the will of God (Mat. 6:10; Rom. 1:10; 12:1-2; 15:32; James 4:15).
11. What is the biblical practice of arguing in prayer?
a. Job used arguments in his prayers: Job 13:3, 6,15; 23:4
b. The psalmists used arguments in their prayers. These arguments are indicated by such words as “because,” “since,” “according to,” etc.
c. Other biblical authors used arguments in their prayers: Eph. 1:16-21
12. What is the purpose of giving arguments in prayer?
a. These arguments are not given to overcome the reluctance of God to bless us (Isa. 59:1-2).
b. They do not inform God (Psa. 139:2-4; Mat. 6:8).
c. They do not change the mind of God (Num.23:19; Mal. 3:6).
d. Their purpose is to strengthen our faith (Mat. 17:20; James 1:6 )
e. They make us think through whether we have biblical “warrant” for our prayer requests.
13. Why do we need “biblical warrants” for our prayer requests?
a. Prayer is not a blank check that we can fill in any way we want.
b. We must have a legal warrant from Scripture that tells us that we have a divine right to ask for something.
c. This limits our prayer requests to such things as are promised in His Word or for the good of the church or to fulfill some principle given in Scripture: 1 Cor. 10:31; 14:33; Phil. 4:8; 1 John 5:14..
d. This explains why selfish prayers do not get answered (James 4:1-3).
e. Children need to understand this truth because they wonder why their requests for ponies and other childish things are not granted.
14. What kinds of arguments are used in biblical prayers?
The authors of Scripture appeal to many things to give them warrant for what they ask. The following citations illustrate the arguments used in the Psalms.
1. “Since…” we are afflicted and needy: 40:17
2. “Because of…”
a. Our enemies: 5:8
b. God’s lovingkindness: 6:4; 63:3
c. God heard the voice of our supplication: 28:6
d. God sees our affliction and knows the trouble of our soul: 31:7
e. We trust in his holy name:33:21
f. We take refuge in God: 37:40
g. Our sin:38:18
h. God’s chastening hand upon us: 39:10
i. God’s judgments: 48:11; 102:10
j. God helped and comforted us before: 86:17
k. God’s name: 109:21
l. God’s truth: 115:1
m. He inclined His ear to us in the past: 116:2
n. God’s righteous ordinances: 119:62
o. We wait for His Word: 119:74
3. “according to…”
a. Our just cause: 7:8
b. Our integrity: 7:8
c. God’s righteousness: 7:17
d. The cleanness of our hands: 18:20
e. God’s goodness: 25:7
f. The greatness of God’s compassion: 51:1
g. God’s lovingkindness is good: 69:1
h. The greatness of God’s power: 79:11
i. The days God afflicted us, and the years we have seen evil: 90:15
j. God’s Word: 119:25, 28, 41, 58, 65, 76, 107, 116, 154, 169, 170
k. God’s ordinances: 119:91
l. God’s excellent greatness: 150:2
15. What other arguments can be used in prayer?
a. God attributes
b. God’s works
c. God’s words
d. The covenant
e. The atoning work of Christ
f. The death of Christ
g. The resurrection of Christ
h. The intercession of Christ
i. The pain and suffering of Christ
j. The blood of Jesus
k. The work of the Spirit
l. The glory of God
m. The good of the church
n. The defense of the faith
o. The heresies and cults today
p. The need for revival
q. The need for sanctification and holiness
r. Evangelism and missions
s. The misery and lost condition of mankind
t. Our own misery and sinfulness
u. Our enemies coming in like a flood
v. The attack and devices of Satan
16. What are the theological challenges to prayer?
Prayer is said to be in conflict with the following things:
p. The omniscience of God: If God knows everything, including what we need, why should we bother to tell him about our needs in prayer?
q. The sovereignty of God: If God’s sovereign will has already predetermined what will happen, why bother to pray?
r. The immutability of God: If God is immutable, then prayer cannot change his mind or will. If so, why bother to pray?
s. The eternal decrees of God: If everything has already been decreed from all eternity, then why bother to pray?
t. Predestination and election: If God has already decided who will be saved and who will be damned, then why bother to pray for the salvation of sinners?
u. The scientific laws of the universe: If the universe is like a huge machine that runs according to inviolate laws of nature, then why bother to pray as if your prayer can overturn the laws of nature?
v. Chance and luck: If the universe is ultimately based on luck and chance, i.e. pure contingency and chaos, then why pray?
w. The free will of man: If God cannot violate man’s free will, then why bother praying for God to save anyone?
x. The free will of Satan and his demons: If the devil and his demons have free wills that even God cannot violate, then why pray to be protected or delivered from them?
y. Human responsibility: If man is responsible for what he does, then why pray as if God can take over and do what man should or ought to do?
z. Evangelism and missions: If everything is already set in stone, then why pray for the salvation of sinners?
Thinking through WHY God should answer your prayer is not for God’s sake but for your sake. Prayers that are selfish or vindictive or cannot glorify God will fall to the ground unanswered. Ask yourself, “Why should God do this or that for me? Will it make me godlier or bring great glory to God or expand the kingdom of Christ? Will it bless the people around me?”
Prayer is not a blank sheet of prayer and you can put down whatever you want. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that there are wrong ways to pray (Matt. 6:5-15; James 4:2-3). If you want to pray effectually for things, you must pray according to the Revealed will of God (1 John 5:14-15).
John Bunyan on Prayer
John Bunyan developed the best over-all definition of prayer.
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.
What are the essential characteristics of true prayer? It is:
1. Sincere: (Josh. 24:14; 1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 15:15; 2 Chron. 25:2; Acts 2:46; 2 Cor. 1:12; Phil. 1:10; Heb. 10:22) Hypocritical prayer is insincere prayer in which you pray to God with your lips while your heart or mind is on other things (Mat. 15:8-9; Mk. 7:6). Thus you must pray sincerely from the heart and not just mumble rote prayers (Isa. 29:13).
2. Sensible: You need to engage your emotions in prayer so that you sense the presence of God, the reality of sin and forgiveness, and the joy of the Holy Spirit. This is the opposite of praying with a cold or hard heart that senses nothing.
3. Affectionate: When you truly pray, you are going to your heavenly Father in an affectionate and filial manner (Mk. 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Prayer does not have in view a distant God who is far away. You are a child going to your dad.
4. Pouring out of the heart or soul: In true prayer, you seek God with all your heart instead of half-heartedly (1 Sam. 1:15; Job 30:16; Psa. 42:1-2; 84:1-2; Jer. 29:12-13)
5. To God: True prayer cannot be directed to anyone or anything other than the one true Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Prayer is never given to the Patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles or to angels (Rev.19:10).
6. Through Christ: Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6; Eph. 2:18)
7. In the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit: True prayer is born out of and carried on by the work of the Spirit. (Zech. 12:10; Eph. 2:18; 6:18; Phil. 3:3; Jude 20)
8. For such things as God hath promised: The promises of God tell us what to ask God. ( 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Cor. 7:1; 2 Pet. 1:4)
9. Or according to the Word: Scripture is the only guide we have to true prayer (Psa. 119:25, 28, 41, 58, 65, 76, 107, 116, 154, 169, 170).
10. For the good of the church: If what you are praying for is only in your own interests and will not edify the church, don’t think you will get it (Rom. 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:29).
11. With submission: The modern fad of demanding that God submit to your will instead of you submitting to His will is heresy and indicative of either an unregenerate heart or gross ignorance (Mat. 6:10; Lk. 22:42; James 4:7; 1 John 5:14-15)
12. In faith: If what you praying for is promised to you in Scripture, then you can pray in faith that God will keep His word (2 Cor. 5:7; James 1:6; 5:15).
13. To the will of God: Prayer is conforming our will to the divine will. It is not forcing God to do what we want (James 4:14-17; Rom. 12:1-2).
Bunyan’s definition encompasses most of the salient points of true prayer. We
would do well to give heed to his meditations on prayer.
The Sovereignty of God and Prayer
One of the most difficult biblical topics with which I have ever wrestled is the subject of prayer. Why? Prayer is so difficult to deal with because, in the final analysis, only the Holy Spirit Himself can teach us what it is really to pray. We may read all the books written on prayer and hear great sermons on prayer and yet these things will never teach any believer the secrets of true prevailing prayer. The Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit alone can teach us what it is to pray truly.
Men of prayer in ages past all point to the absolute necessity of the Spirit’s assistance and guidance in prayer. Listen to some of their testimonies:
Prayer is an art which only the Holy Spirit can teach us. He is the giver of all prayer.
There is no man, nor church in the world, that can come to God in prayer but by the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
It must be acknowledged by the spiritual mind that all true prayer is of the leading of the Spirit; that He is the author of all real approach of the soul to God. All true prayer is put into words by the Spirit. He is the Author of prayer in the soul.
Without the Spirit, prayer is impossible. To pray acceptably to God, to pray with power, one must pray in the Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no true prayer.
God gives us the Spirit as our teacher in prayer, to tell us what is right and to temper our emotions. We should seek such aid of the Spirit.
Pray for prayer—pray till you can pray; pray to be helped to pray and give not up praying because you cannot pray, for it is when you think you cannot pray that you are most praying.
When we study the person and work of the Sovereign Spirit of God, we soon discover that He is called “the Spirit of grace and supplication: (Zech. 12:10). The apostle Paul tells us in Eph. 2:18 that it is only by the Spirit’s assistance that can have access through Christ to the Father. And again, in Eph. 6:18, he commands us to be continually “praying in the Spirit” as part of the armor of God which protects us from the schemes of the Devil. Jude also tells us in his little epistle that one of the keys to keeping ourselves in a living awareness of God’s love is to pray “in the Spirit” (v. 20). Thus, in Rom 8:26-27, we are told that it is the distinct ministry of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our infirmities in our prayer life. It is His ministry to teach us what to pray for and to stir us up to groan our infirmities to God.
The Several Aspects of Prayer to Be Considered
Now the subject of prayer involves many different things and, therefore, we cannot hope to plumb the depths or scale the heights of this aspect of the unsearchable knowledge and wisdom of God. But I do wish to emphasize those aspects of biblical praying which should be most searching to our consciences and most helpful in our daily lives.
The first question we need to answer is: “What is prayer?” Prayer is the soul’s automatic response to the Spirit’s work of regeneration; or to put it in other words, all true Christians are characterized by the life of prayer.
According to the Word of God in Gal. 3:6, once a man, woman or child has been born again, regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, they become children of God. The Spirit then functions as the Spirit of adoption and causes the believer to cry, “Abba, Father” from the very depths of his heart. As the indwelling Spirit of adoption, He bears witness to our spirit that we are the children of God and leads us to seek the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5, 13-16). John Bunyan comments:
If the grace of God be in him, it will be as natural for him to groan out his condition as it is for a sucking child to cry for the breast. Prayer is one of the first things that discover a man to be a Christian.
And, along this same line, Richard Hooker adds, “Prayer is the first thing wherewith a righteous life begins and the last wherewith it ends.”
This leads us to several questions. Are you living a life of prayer: Do you find yourself constantly at prayer throughout the day? Is prayer something natural for you or is it something forced? Let no one fool himself, even if you have all the theological knowledge in the world, if you are a prayer-less man, woman or child, you are not a Christian. I did not ask you if you were a church-going person. I asked “Are you a praying man?” How did Ananias know that the violent persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, had now become a Christian? “Behold, he prays” (Acts 9”11) Listen to some men of old on this important point:
He who does not habitually pray to God, cannot be a Christian.
A prayerless man is, of necessity and thoroughly, irreligious. There can be no life without activity. As the body is dead when it ceases to act, so the soul that goes not forth in its actions towards God, that lives as though there were no God, is spiritually dead.
You then are not a Christian if you are not a praying person. The promise is “that everyone that is righteous will pray.” You then are a wicked wretch if you do not pray.
In the light of these things we would be fools to assume that prayerless people have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. If the subject of prayer is of little interest to you and your mind would rather dwell on the attempts to cut the Gordian knots of the Calvinist-Arminian debate, then you have grounds to question your salvation. The true Christian is vitally interested in prayer. Is your life characterized by prayer?
Having established that all true Christians pray by virtue of the indwelling of the Spirit of supplication, we need to examine the inner motives which prompt us to pray. What are these evangelical motives?
First of all, there must be an awareness of our absolute dependence upon the grace and mercy of God as given to us through the redemptive work of Christ. We must pray as those who trust in Christ’s righteousness alone. This is the essence of what it means to pray “in the name of Christ.”
Secondly, we should pray because we want to, because we love to and because it is as natural as our breathing. Our love to God, Christ and neighbor; which arises from our hearts in response to God’s prior love to us (I John 4:10), should constrain us to prayer.
Therefore, we must beware of legal motives for prayer because they indicate an unregenerate heart. The children of God cry, “Abba, Father” through freedom in Christ, not as those in bondage to the elements of the world (Rom. 8:14-16).
Questions for your conscience: Why do you pray? Do you pray because you are supposed to: Is it merely a habit with you? Do you pray because you cannot do otherwise? Do you love to pray? Does the love of Christ constrain you to pray?
We should conform and construct our prayers according to God’s revealed will in Holy Scripture. We should never attempt to conform our prayers to the ultimate purposes of God, which are unknown to us (Deut. 29:29).
Prayer is a pouring out of the heart to God, through Christ, in the strength of the Spirit, for such things as God has promised. Prayer must be within the compass of God’s Word; it is blasphemy or at best babbling, when the petition is beside the Book. David therefore in his prayers kept his eye on the Word of God: “My soul cleaves to the dust; quicken me according to your Word”; “Remember Your Word to Your servant, on which you have caused me to hope.” Indeed the Holy Spirit does not immediately quicken and stir up the heart of the Christian without, but by, in and through the Word. The Spirit by the Word directs the manner as well as the matter of praying.
What is it to pray according to God’s will? When we pray for things which are agreeable to God’s will, i.e. His revealed will; we should ask for nothing but what He commands us…for those things we have warrant to pray.
Realizing that we should have biblical warrant for our petitions should cause us to be more careful and serious in making our requests to God. It should cause us to prepare for prayer. But on the other hand, if we foolishly try to conform our prayers according to God’s secret will, then we will soon cease to pray for anyone or anything. Thus, some have abandoned believing prayer as being unprofitable. They sneer at days of prayer and know little of agonizing in prayer because they think that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is opposed to effectual, believing prayer. In their minds they view prayer as the enemy of divine sovereignty.
It is no wonder that some people complain that if God is sovereign and if everything is preordained, then prayer is useless at its best and blasphemous at its worst, for it we pray for something which ultimately is not God’s decreed will, we appear to be fighting against God. We seem to be sinning against God by rebelling against His sovereign will.
Timothy Dwight dealt with the exact problem in a sermon on Job 21:15, “What profit should we have if we pray to Him?” In this sermon, he quotes those who hold to the false theory that the doctrines of grace are opposed to believing prayer and then he goes on to tear this theory to pieces. I would like to quote part of a statement in which he quotes the objections raised against prayer.
Prayer is fruitless or in the language of the text, unprofitable, because all things are determined from everlasting by an immutable God and will, therefore, take place according to His determination. Hence our prayer, making no alteration in anything, must be an idle, perhaps an impious, service; idle, because they can effect nothing; impious, because they are expressions of our desires for blessings, which God has not chosen to give. If God has determined to give us these blessings, we shall receive them without prayer. If He has determined not to give them, we shall not receive them, however fervently we may pray. So far, then, as we pray for things which God has determined to give, our prayers are useless. So far as we pray for those which He has determined not to give, our prayers are directly opposed to His pleasure.
I think that all of us have either thought of these objections in our minds or have had Arminians hurl them at us as objections against the doctrines of grace. But there are several solid biblical arguments which refute this position.
1. Since the Christian is to do whatever the Bible commands him, he must pray because he is commanded to pray (I Thess. 5:17). And since God commands us to pray, it is obvious that it is not useless or stupid, but of great profit and efficacious in procuring the blessings of God. For example, God revealed His purpose to send rain, yet Elijah prayed and his prayers stopped and started the rain (I Kings 18:1, 42). Thus, James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Payer cannot be unprofitable for it avails much.
2. All prayer is to be exercised in an attitude of submissiveness to God, in which you really desire God’s will as to what is best and good: “Your will be done.” (Matt 6:10b) Thus, there is no impiety in prayer because we are not demanding that God do as we ask. We want His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
3. This objection, if true, would apply equally to all activities of life. It would mean not only no more praying, but also no more preaching, witnessing, working, eating, no more anything. All activity would be paralyzed because all is determined.
4. This objection is based on ignorance of the fact that God ordains the means as well as the end. Prayer plays a part of the outworking of God’s decree. God has decreed that we have not if we ask not. He has predetermined to hear our prayers and answer them. He has decreed that His eternal plan of salvation be worked out through the effectual, fervent prayers of righteous men, women and children.
5. The doctrines of grace should strengthen and provoke believing prayer because they point us to the absolutely sovereign God who can do what we ask. The God addressed in prayer is mighty to save, mighty to deliver, and mighty to sanctify. Pray for God to save sinners and to revive saints. On the other hand, it is actually the Arminian who should give up prayer, for his god is too small, too weak and too flabby to answer prayer. If God is not sovereign and man has a “free will” which even God cannot tamper with, why pray (a) for the lost or (b) for protection from enemies, either human or demonic? What comfort can be derived from a Deity who is biting his fingernails over whether or not men will “let” him do something?
6. Historically, the doctrines of grace, rightly understood and applied to the Christian life, have always produced men of prayer, as any honest survey of church history would reveal. In days gone by, most men of prayer were thorough-going Calvinists.
7. Therefore, if your theology has led you to abandon prayer and to sneer at the concept that prayer is vital and necessary, then your theology is not biblical.
Obviously, volumes have been written on the subject of prayer. I trust that the aspects covered in this study will stimulate you to “pray without ceasing.”
Thirteen Rules on Public Prayer
One of the great blessings of the gathered people of God is public prayer. Throughout the Old and New Testaments God’s people have met to pray together. Most churches still have a Wednesday night “Prayer Meeting” as a legacy of the last great revival in 1904. Yet, the art of public prayer has fallen on hard times. The following suggestions are intended to enrich the public prayers of God’s people.
1. Do not have private devotions during public prayer: When people use the prayer meeting as a time to confess their personal sin and to catch up on personal needs, they are usually guilty of neglecting private prayer. The prayer meeting is not “your” time to catch up on personal devotions.
2. Do not confess the details of personal sin. Public prayer is primarily the time to lift up the united needs and concerns of the Church and the nation. It is not the time to confess your dark deeds. No one can pray “with” you in such prayers.
3. Do not use singular pronouns: When you pray in public, you are representing all the people. The use of such singular pronouns as “I,” “me” and “my” means that you are leaving everyone else out of your prayer. In public prayer, you are leading the people in prayer. If you pray with singular pronouns, everyone ends up “listening” to “your” prayer instead of joining with you in praying.
4. Do not wait for your turn to pray: When someone prays with singular pronouns, the other people “wait” for their turn to pray instead of praying along with the person. Public prayer is to be the united prayer of God’s people. Enter into the prayers of others.
5. Do not repeat requests: People who “wait” for “their” turn to pray repeat the same request all over again because they were only listening to others pray. They did not enter into the prayers of others. So, they ended up repeating the same requests over and over gain. But God is not deaf and once something has been publicly prayer for, it need not be repeated. You should lead the people in prayer for a new request.
6. Be specific in your requests. A public prayer request must be specific in that it is attainable: Do not pray for something you cannot get in this life. For example, do not pray for perfection. Do not promise God that you will never sin again. Prayers should be
measurable: People should be able to ask you next week if your request was answered; Prayers should be Scriptural: We should pray for those things found in Scripture. If a request does not have any biblical warrant, then it will not be answered (I John 5:14).
7. Do not pray for vague generalities. Do not ask God for “holiness” “humility” or any other such vague terms as if God was going to send it down in a bolt of lighting. Those who are most proud are usually the first to pray loudly for “humility.”
8. Do not pray in a “funny” voice. You should talk to God in the same way you talk to anyone else. Use your normal speaking voice and not some “churchy” tone. Be yourself.
9. Do not use “thee” and “thou” unless you are too old to change. There is nothing sacred about 1611 English.
10. Do be brief in your prayer. Do not drone on and on as if God and everyone else will be impressed by your much speaking.
11. Do not use plural pronouns: When you pray say, “We thank you, O Lord’ instead of saying “I thank you, O Lord.” The use of “we,” “use” and “our” allows people to pray with you. Fake language and fake prayers tend to go together.
12. Do include praise and thanksgiving in your prayers (Phil 4:6) Do not approach prayer as a “shopping list” for God to magically grant. We should thank God for what we have before asking for more.
13. Learn to think through biblical arguments to use in your prayers. A close examination of the prayers recorded in Scriptures reveals that the saints of old filled their mouths with arguments when presenting their petitions to God. They buttressed their requests with biblical arguments. They pleaded with God in terms of His Word, His glorious names, His covenants of promise, and His plan of redemption. In short, they presented their prayer requests like a lawyer who skillfully presents his arguments to judge and jury.
Pleading with God in prayer and presenting reasons to God why He should grant our requests is a lost art today. It was even a lost art in George Mueller’s day, as his biographer points out:
As this time of need…this man who had determined to risk everything upon God’s word of promise, turned from doubtful devices and questionable methods of relief to pleading with God. And it may be well to mark his manner of pleading. He used argument in prayer and at this time he piles up eleven reasons why God should and would send help…He was one of the elect few to whom it had been given to revive and restore this lost art of pleading with God. In his sermon on Job 23:3-4, C.H. Spurgeon commented: The ancient saints were given, with Job, to ordering their cause before God. Not filling the mouth with words nor good phrases, not pretty expressions, but filling the mouth with arguments…When we come to the gate of mercy, forcible arguments are the knocks of the rapper by which the gate is opened…When a man searches for arguments for a thing it is because he attaches importance to that which he is seeking.
Now, to be sure, we are not to suppose that the arguments we present in prayer are given to convince or to inform God as to what course He should take in His administration of the universe. Rather, the arguments focus on the strengthening of our faith.
Of course God does not need to be convinced; no argument can make any plainer to Him the claims of trusting souls to His intervention, claims based upon His own Word, confirmed by His oath. And yet He will be inquired of and argued with. That is His way of blessing…We are to argue our case with God, not indeed to convince Him, but to convince ourselves.
To this Ezekiel Hopkins adds:
Now, although it be true that all the arguments that we can urge and all the reasons we can allege, cannot alter the purposes and determinations of God, as to any event that He has ordained, yet there is this two fold use and necessity of pleasing them. First, because by considering the reasons we have to pray for such mercies, our desires will be the more earnest and fervent in the obtaining of them…Secondly, because reasons in prayer do mightily conduce to the strengthening of our faith and give us great encouragement to believe that we shall certainly obtain what we have so much reason to ask…
Or again, as C.H. Spurgeon put it:
Why are arguments to be used at all? The reply is, certainly not because God is slow to give, not because we can change the divine purpose, not because God needs to be informed to any circumstance with regard to ourselves…The arguments to be used are for our own benefit, not for His. Our use of arguments teaches us the ground upon which we obtain the blessing…Besides, the use of arguments is intended to stir up our fervency…
Now, it is important to ask, “From what shall we construct our arguments? Where can we find weighty reasons to lay before God? Where can we derive arguments from which we can present weighty reasons along with our petitions?”
1. God’s attributes. Spurgeon put it like this:
You and I may take hold at any time upon the justice, the mercy, the faithfulness, the wisdom, the long-suffering, the tenderness of God and we shall find every attribute of the Most High to be, as it were, a great battering-ram with which we can open the gates of Heaven. For example, we can argue from I John 1:9 that God’s faithfulness and justice are grounds for forgiveness (cf. Psa. 51:1-3).
2. The promises of God. Spurgeon observes. “If you have a divine promise, you need not plead that with an “if” in it; you may plead with a certainty” (cf. I Kings 8:56; I Thess. 5:23-24).
3. The names of God. When in need of strength, should we not cry out to Elohim, the God of power and strength? When seeking a blessing from the New Covenant, should we not argue from the name Yahweh, which is God’s covenantal name? When appealing to God’s sovereignty, Adonai should be upon our lips. When confronting satanic forces, the Lord of Hosts should be our shield and high tower.
4. The sorrows of God’s people. The present condition of the church is a weighty argument for our need of revival (cf. Psa. 80:4-7; Psa. 12:1). We should also plead our own unworthiness, weakness and poverty of spirit (cf. Psa. 25:16; Luke 15:18-19).
5. The history of redemption. God’s mighty acts in past history provide a foundation for our trust in God (cf. Psa. 30:11; 143:1-6).
6. The atoning life, death and intercession of Christ. Spurgeon observes:
When you plead the name of Christ, you plead that which shakes the gates of Hell and which the hosts of Heaven obey and God Himself feels the sacred power of that divine plea. You would do better if you sometimes thought more in your prayers of Christ’s griefs and groans…Speak out and tell the Lord that with such griefs and cries and groans to plead, you cannot take a denial.
The end result of using argument in prayer shall be a strengthened and energized prayer life. Faith will be emboldened to go to God’s throne and secure the petitions inquired of God. Thus we will rejoice in seeing our prayers avail much.
If the Holy Spirit shall teach us how to order our cause and how to fill our mouth with arguments, the result shall be that we shall have our mouth filled with praises. The man who has his mouth full of arguments in prayer shall soon have his mouth full of benedictions in answer to prayer. (Spurgeon)
At this point, we must apply the principle of argumentation in prayer to our own lives. Do we have much of a prayer life? Do we agonize before God, groaning out our requests? Has our understanding of the doctrines of grace revolutionized our prayer life for the better or for the worse?
The Prayer Meeting has fallen upon hard times and has either been abandoned all together or reduced to a few elderly people. This is due in large part to the fact that most Prayer Meetings are boring and tiring because people droned on and on praying for the same thing using archaic KJV language that impressed only the one praying. But if we once again observe the thirteen rules given above, it can become a dynamic and refreshing time.
How to Have a Day of Prayer and Fasting
One mystery that confronts modern Christians is that the Reformers and our Puritan Fathers spent hours in prayer, sometimes spending entire days or nights in prayer. I remember shaking my head in amazement when I read of this being done. I could not last an hour in prayer, much less a day in prayer! How in the world did they do it? Would it not become boring to repeat a prayer over and over again? Would this violate Jesus’ prohibition of “vain repetition”?
Thankfully, as I read more biographies of the great men of God in the past, I discovered that they did not repeat themselves endlessly or run out of things to pray about. The Puritans were the greatest men of prayer in church history and they organized their times of praying and fasting.
A study of the prayers in the Bible reveals that the saints of old—and even our Master—set apart whole days or nights dedicated to prayer. When something great was requested from God or whenever the situation was desperate and important decisions were soon to be made, the saints of old would give themselves to fasting and prayer.
When we examine the lives of men of prayer in every generation, we find that they too would set apart whole days for prayer and fasting. Is it any wonder that they often witnessed the power of God in their own day? Is it any surprise that they attained to great measures of holiness in their lives? Perhaps one reason why we are not seeing a mighty revival of the doctrines of grace moving in this country is because we do not desire it enough. We really do not believe that God can do it in our own day. We study much and pray little to our shame and confusion.
As an aid to organizing a day of prayer and fasting, I would like to share the following suggestions (not rules). Of course, I would point out that fasting is not a virtue in and of itself; it simply means that we engage ourselves in prayer instead of eating and drinking.
1. In setting up a day of prayer, be very selective about whom you ask to join you. An “Achan in the camp” can destroy the spirit of the day. Choose a few men or women who you know can abandon themselves in true fervent prayer and who are concerned with God and His glory more than with their impression on others.
2. Do not talk about prayer or boast around others that you are having a day of prayer. Be secretive about this as Christ commands in Matt. 6:5-18.
3. When you gather together for a day of prayer, do not waste time talking with one another, for you are there to talk to God. A day of prayer is not a Bible study or testimony meeting. Foolish jesting and too much talk can ruin the day because this grieves the Author of prayer, the Holy Spirit.
4. Structure your day carefully to make sure that you do not wander aimlessly in your prayers or repeat yourself. There are enough issues in life to pray about. I suggest the following divisions, not as the only way or even the best way, to structure a day of prayer. You may arrange your day in any way you please, but it should be orderly. However, the following basic procedure has been a source of great blessing:
1. Invocation—Call upon God to hear you.
2. Confession—Confess your sins to God.
3. Worship—Praise and worship God.
4. Petition for your own needs.
5. Intercession and supplication for others.
If you allow 30 minutes for each section, three hours will be required for your day of prayer: But as you grow in your understanding and skill in prayer, you will spend an hour or more in each section. The essential thing is to pray effectual, believing prayer, patterned after the prayers recorded in God’s Word.
There is a hunger for revival today. Seminars, programs, meetings, and the accompanying gimmicks and cheap tricks have produced nothing. Millions of dollars have been wasted in promoting city wide “revival.” Stadiums have been filled with crowds listening to rock and roll bands, rap music, soloists, and Christian celebrities. All of this has been a total waste of time and money. It produced only shallow sensationalism and its effect was over as soon as people drove out of the parking lot.
In my own personal experience, true revival always takes place on your knees. Not only does spending extended times in prayer deepen your own personal walk with God; it can also revitalize the life of a local church.
Once a month, in the churches I pastored, we would set aside a Night of Prayer. The people were first trained in the art and skill of public prayer and learned how to use biblical arguments in prayer. As a result, we spent hours on our face before God in wonder, awe, and praise. It produced times of refreshing and revival from the Lord. The tears we shed over our sins, the joy of forgiveness, the singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs were rich experiences that we will remember forever. If you want revival, begin with prayer and end with prayer.
© 2004 Copyright by Dr. Robert Morey
All biblical citations are either the author’s own translation or from the New American Standard Version