Prayer: God & Prayer
Words of Life!
Volume 4, Number 2, April-June 1993
A Publication Ministry of Word of Life Baptst Church
I'm not sure, but I think it was A.W. Tozer who said, "All mistakes about prayer are mistakes about God." That is, how we pray is a direct reflection of how we think about God.
For example, in our last issue we looked at the matter of prayer in relation to God the Father. We saw that He is able to answer prayer. We saw that He is good and generous and so wants to answer our prayers. And we saw that He isomniscient: he knows all of our needs even before we ask, and so He is fully prepared to answer our prayers.
Now, if we don't think prayer is a valuable resource, then that is a reflection of our failure to rightly apprehend these truths about God. We forget to pray only when we forget Him. We minimize the value of prayer only when our thoughts of Him are too small.
And so at least one reason for our too-often prayerlessness is a failure to think in terms of God-- who and what He is. If we held these truths in our minds (or better, if these truths held us!) then prayer would be much less a duty and more an enjoyable Christian privilege.
We are happy for the enthusiastic response to the last issue of Words of Life!, and so we want to continue our study of Prayer as it relates to God.
Prayer & God the Son
In Jesus' Name
On occasion we find in the Bible examples of Christians praying to Jesus. For example, in 1 Timothy 1:12 Paul offers a prayer of thanksgiving to Christ. In Revelation we find John offering a prayer of praise to Him. At his martyrdom Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:59). And in John 14 Jesus instructs his disciples, "If you shall ask me anything in my name I will do it."
And well we should pray to Him--He is God!
But the usual pattern of prayer seems to be a bit different: we are to pray to the Father in the name of the Son.
Now what does that mean? "In Jesus' name" sometimes seems a mere preface to the "Amen"--a kind of concluding formula to make the prayer seem more official. But what is its intended significance?
Significantly in the three passages which instruct us to pray "in Jesus' name" (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-28) we find some common themes. There is the idea of "doing greater things" in service for God. There is the idea of "glorifying the Father" also. And there is the idea of expectancy: "whatever we ask" will be done. "If we ask anything" he will do it. The teaching itself seems also to be closely associated with Jesus' ascension--"I go to my father." And perhaps most significantly is the matter of access: Jesus is instructing us that we may go freely to God ourselves and ask what we will.
The suggestion in all this is that Jesus had come to inaugurate a new order of things--to establish a relationship with God which would enable us to have a new confidence in approaching Him. Having completed this work, Jesus was returning to His Father and leaving us with this new privilege. That new privilege is: 1) Access, 2) Freedom to address Him as Father, 3) Confidence before Him in expectation that He will hear our prayers. "My work here is done," Jesus says in effect. "You now can freely go to the Father yourselves and confidently ask what you will in my name, and it will be done."
In other words, then, praying "in Jesus' name" is praying through Jesus Christ our mediator. It is availing ourselves of the new access opened up by the Lord Jesus. It is praying by means of and on the basis of Jesus' person and work. It, very simply, is to go to God conscious that we are able to go only because of our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Because of our closeness to Him through His Son, we can pray with confidence and in expectation. Praying "in the name of Jesus" is praying by His authority.
Think about it. How is it you expect God to listen to you when you pray? Why should He? Do you deserve it? Are you really worthy of the privilege? Of course not. Why should He care about us at all, let alone want to do what we ask? Answer: because we come in the person of His Son, and through Him God loves us.
Imagine this, by way of illustration. Suppose I am at the amusement park with my family. My son, Jimmy, while standing in line for a ride sees a friend who wants to ride with him but has no ticket to get on. So Jimmy sends him to me to ask for a ticket. The little boy comes up to me--a complete stranger--and asks for a ticket. I'm not in the most generous mood and quite frankly don't like to help brash and presumptuous strangers, and so I refuse. I am under no obligation whatever to give him anything--he's not my responsibility. Then he goes back and tells Jimmy that I wouldn't give him a ticket, to which Jimmy responds, "Did you tell him I sent you?" "O, I forgot!" So back he comes and says, "Jimmy told me that I could come and get a ticket from you." And all of a sudden the whole situation changes, and he returns with ticket in hand to Jimmy in line for the ride.
What made the difference? He came "in the name" of my son! The little boy had no basis of approach by himself, no adequate standing. But coming to me by means of my son, he had access and found a ready ear.
So with God. None of us has claim on His grace. In fact, by our sin we deserve only His judgment, not His favor. But when we go to Him through Jesus Christ, the one in Whom we believe unto salvation, we are given a favorable standing and find love and a ready and willing ear.
And so to pray "in Jesus' name" is no mere formula. It is an attitude of mind and heart that recognizes the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the basis of Him, God's Son, we may go freely to God and ask what we will. To repeat the phrase is really incidental, except as it serves to remind us that we pray expectantly only because of Christ.
But that is an awesome privilege! Think of the many people who bother themselves with prayers to priests and dead saints--it misses the whole point! We can to directly to God ourselves through the only High Priest, Jesus Christ. And acting on that privilege, we go in confidence that He will hear us and will answer our prayer.
The Sympathizing Son
Listen to the words of Hebrews 4:14-16. "Seeing then that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Clearly, the writer here is speaking of Jesus' priestly ministry. Through Him we may go to God directly and ask what we will.
But there is more. He is speaking of the priest Himself--Jesus. And in particular he is emphasizing Jesus' humanity. Now we know well what it is to be human. We experience it all day long. There is (among so many other things) thirst, hunger, anger, disappointment, grief, fatigue, pain, loneliness, and so on. Jesus has felt all that too. He is God, but He is also man, and his humanity is as real as ours.
Now the point here is simply that because Jesus came as a man, as one of us, and because He then endured all that we endure, He is able to sympathize with us. He is a high priest Who can feel and understand our expe riences --not because He studied it in a book but because He experienced the same Himself. The writer is emphasiz ing that we can never find ourselves in a situation which is unique to us--The Lord Jesus has been there too. The particular item may be different, but the circumstance and setting are not unique. "He was tempted in all points like as we are."
When you go through struggles with loneliness, misunderstanding, opposition, pain--however you find yourself, no matter how difficult, recall that our high priest has suffered the same. And because of that He is able to sympathize with us. He can feel what we feel.
Notice that the writer points out that Jesus not only experienced the same. He experienced the same suc cessfully."Without sin." And this is emphasized to strengthen the point: because Jesus did not sin in those same temptations, He is all the more able to sympathize with us.
Think about that. When we are tempted, what happens? At some point in the process we break. We give in, and so the temptation ends. But because Jesus never gave in, the temptation never let up! It came on him with fuller force than any of us can know! And as a result He understands the power of evil in a way that we never will!
Can He then understand us? Can He really sympathize with us in our temptation? Of course! He endured all of it and more!
And this is what we need and want--not someone who like us is weak, whose record is one of failure. We need and want One who having been confronted with the same temptations emerged victorious over them! That person knows well what we feel and how to help! And Jesus is that person.
But then comes the point of application. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace and help in time of need." "Go to the throne of the high priest," he says, "and there find One who has been right where you are. One who feels what you feel and knows well what you are now experiencing. And there find also one Who is able to supply the particular grace that you need."
Are you facing death, perhaps, and feeling all the emotions that come with that? Are you perhaps concerned about the grace you will need as you face it? Our Lord Jesus Christ has been there, and He will give you that grace as you need it.
Are you forced to endure ridicule--from family, perhaps, or those at work? He's been there too.
Are you concerned over approaching difficulty--of whatever kind? He's been there.
Do you feel the pressure of those around you--to conform with the majority perhaps? He's been there too.
Or is there temptation to sin? Our high priest has successfully endured even that, and He therefore knows well the exact need we have and is able to supply that particular grace which is needed to sustain us.
"Let us therefore come boldly" to his throne! This is the place to which we should eagerly run! It is, after all, the "throne of grace!" And is occupied by One who is one with us in all of our struggles. And so there we may expect to find "mercy...and find grace to help in time of need."
Our slowness to prayer can only stem from a failure to grasp these things. What a wonderful incentive!
Prayer & God the Holy Spirit
Let's look now at the involvement of the third Person of the Trinity in prayer.
He Informs our Prayer
Romans 8:26 speaks to this issue clearly. "Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
Notice four basic points the apostle makes here.
1) We have weaknesses--spiritual weaknesses.
And, may I add, they are many. We have a terrible problem of short-sightedness in relation to spiritual things. We have problems with self-righteousness, pride, self-sufficiency, selfishness, ignorance, to name only a few. These are things which hinder our walk with God--and our prayers in particular.
2) These weaknesses are revealed in our prayer. "We know not what we should pray for as we ought."
That is to say, we lose sight of the privilege of prayer, the duty to pray, the proper objects and subjects of prayer, the will of God for our lives, what prayer is, and so on.
What Paul is emphasizing is not the form of our prayers but their substance or content. Our weakness in prayer is not demonstrated in the way we bow our head or close our eyes or fold our hands. But our ignorance is abundantly demonstrated by the fact that we don't even know "what we should pray for as we ought."
You've been there, I'm sure. Those times when you are asked--or you volunteer--to pray for someone, and then when you go to do it you wonder how! It can be frustrating. Perhaps the man is sick to the point of death-- very old and full of a disease that seems incurable. How do you pray? He is a believer, suppose, and so death is not (for him) a difficult prospect. But what do you say to God about Him?
Really, that scenario is easy. We pray for his comfort and for an increased sense of God's care and love in these difficult times.
The real ignorance is displayed more in prayers for ourselves. We think we know what we need, and we think we know how our problems should be solved, and we think we know how best our lives should be lived and what experiences should await us. And one lesson God continues to give us and which we are so slow to learn is that we really don't know any of that very well at all. And it shows when we pray.
Paul's third point gets to the issue at hand. 3) It is the Holy Spirit's work to help us with precisely these things. He is given to convict us of our selfishness and sinful motives in prayer. He is given to enlighten our minds to understand the true state of our souls and to understand what our true needs really are. He (being God) also knows very well the will of God for our lives in every situation. He is never confused as to the morality of a given choice. And He is never confused with selfish or carnal motives. He is then well able to check our attitudes and make us feel our stubbornness or our ignorance, and so bring us to sense our need of Him.
If we think of this in terms of the available privileges of grace it is the same. "No eye has seen and no ear has ever heard" the glorious blessedness of these things. The great benefits of Christ to us in the full supply of our every need--the Holy Spirit is given to make us aware of these, and being aware of them we are thereby encouraged to more prayer and brought to see how needful we are of them and how perfectly suited they are to us as sinners.
This is part of what is meant by "praying in the Spirit." It is praying with His enablement and with His direction. By His help the right objects of prayer are made more clear, and our wrong motives in prayer are checked and countered.
But there's still more. 4) The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.
The idea here is that He prays with us and through us as we pray. The Spirit's "groanings" which Paul speaks of here indicate simply that He verbalizes, as it were, to God the Father the thoughts of our hearts which fail to find adequate expression.
Have you ever been frustrated over a given situation and prayed simply, "Lord, help me!" That's rather general, isn't it. God the Spirit is well able to take our general pleas and make them specific in relation to a particular need.
Or perhaps we simply don't know what to pray for at all. A given situation is confronting us, and we just don't know what we should ask God to do in light of it. Or perhaps we're confused as to what course of action is right.
The point here is simply this: in those times when you feel frustration over your ignorance in prayer, you should not be dissuaded from praying. Because of the great ministry of the Holy Spirit to us, even our ignorance is no hindrance to effective prayer.
He Incites Prayer
Have you this week felt the need to pray? Have you felt the desire to pray? Where did all that come from?
There are several passages of Scripture (Zechariah 12:10, for example) which inform us that it is the Spirit's ministry to incite us to prayer. He shows us our need of going to God in faith and in worship and in petition.
But there is more. He not only calls us to prayer. He also assures us in prayer. "For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15).
Contrary to public opinion, not everyone has the right to say that God is his Father. To be sure, He is everyone's father in the sense that He created us all. But insofar as we speak of "father" as a term of loving relationship, it is not a term just anyone can use in relation to God.
The reason, of course, is our sin. Our sin has separated us from God, and by our sin we have displayed not love but enmity toward God. For sinners to speak of God as their father would be presumptuous. They have no right to approach Him in such a familiar way.
One thing that was so startling to the disciples was the way Jesus prayed. He addressed God as "Father" (Mark 14:36). What was especially startling was that Jesus instructed them to address God in the same way (Matthew 6:9). He was informing them that by their association with Him they were made God's children and so had the family privileges which that implies. We can go to the holy, eternal God, and with the confidence of a child, say "Father." That is what Paul says the Holy Spirit has come to assure us of when we pray.
The following verse expands on the same thing. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Romans 8;16).
So by our identification with Christ, God's Son, we are children of God. But the point here is not just that. Paul is emphasizing not that the Holy Spirit has come to us to show us that by virtue of the Lord Jesus we can address God as Father. His point is that the Holy Spirit has come to make us feel that we can call God our Father! The difference is great. It is one thing to tell your children that they can come to you and ask what they will. It is quite another to make them feel that they can. The Holy Spirit, Paul says, "bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." he has come to assure us that through Jesus Christ we have full acceptance before God-- perfect access, an open door.
Significantly, Paul speaks not just of "saying" Father, but of "crying" Father. The word implies a frightened or painful shriek of some kind. The idea, it seems, is not that of resting serenely in comfortable assurance--although that is surely a part of the family privilege! Rather, he is speaking of a child who is frightened by some danger and who instinctively and impulsively responds to that danger by screaming, "Daddy!"
It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to direct us in prayer to the God of heaven with that very same confidence and affection. In times of danger or frustration or even temptation--and yes, even failure--He ministers within us so as to drive us immediately heavenward and say, "Daddy, help me!" And He gives us a sure knowledge that God hears and welcomes that cry, because, after all, He is our Father, and we are His children.
What a privilege. The man of the world runs into trouble and immediately shouts, "God!" We face trouble, and say, "Father!" What a difference.
In all of this, we can only conclude that our prayerlessness is simply foolish. We neglect prayer to our own loss.
The only thing that remains after examining these wonderful truths about God is to simply take advantage of the resource! Pray! Out of duty? No--out of a sense of privilege and love.