The Power of Prayer (pt. 2)
The simple summaries Jesus gives are designed to encourage us to pray. We have not, he said, because we ask not. The pattern seems simple. We are to ask and we will receive. Elsewhere the New Testament expands the conditions, giving us a fuller view of what is involved in effective prayer. Below are five texts with the conditions that qualify the statements Jesus gives.
1. John 9:31—”We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”
(REVERENCE & OBEDIENCE)
2. John 14:13—”Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
(IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST)
3. John 15:7—”If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.”
(MUTUAL COMMUNION WITH CHRIST)
4. 1 John 3:22—”And we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
5. 1 John 5:14—”And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
(ACCORDANCE WITH THE WILL OF GOD)
As these passages reveal, there is more to receiving what we desire from God than the mere asking. Trust in God is not enough. There must be proper reverence for God, obedience to his will, and an ongoing communion with Christ. The request must be made in accordance with the revealed will of God, in accordance with the nature and character of God.
The Bible enjoins us to pray “in the name of Jesus.” The invoking of Jesus’ name is not a magical incantation; its significance lies deeper. In the culture in which the Bible was written, a person’s name indicated the sum total of his attributes and character. To ask for something in Jesus’ name is not to tag on a phrase at the end of a prayer. Rather, it means that we believe that our request is what Jesus himself would ask for. We are showing that we are so closely aligned with the mind of Christ that we can make our request in his stead.
We have seen that there are certain prerequisites we must follow as we pray. If we ask anything, we must trust in God, knowing that our request is in accordance with the will of the Father and the nature and purpose of Christ. We must have a proper reverence for God as well as the assurance that we are being obedient to what he has revealed to us. We must maintain continuous communion with Christ. After all of these prerequisites have been met, we may have confidence that our prayer will be answered. The crucial thing to notice here is that if we are meeting these prerequisites, we will not ask for anything out of the will of God.
Another reason our prayers are not always answered as we desire is given to us in James 4:3. We are told that we don’t have because we ask with improper motives, asking in prayer things in the pursuit of wicked pleasures. God is not going to give us the things we would misuse. Nor is he going to answer those requests made in ignorance, which would prove disastrous.
Moses is a prime example. In Exodus 33:18, he prays, “Show me thy glory.” Moses has talked with God, seen God do various miracles: the burning bush, sending the plagues, parting the Red Sea, but now Moses wants the big one: “God, those other things were great, but now let me have it all. Let me see your face!”
In verses 19 and 20, God says:
I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But… you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.
God was doing Moses a monumental favor by refusing to honor his request. If God had granted Moses his wish, it would have cost him his life. No man can see God and live. Moses should have rejoiced that God said no.
Another reason that we fail to see the desired answers to our prayers may be because we are praying for things we already have in Christ. In John 4, Jesus is speaking with the woman at the well. He tells her that if she realized to whom she was speaking, she would have known what to request. The same is true of us. If we really knew who God is and all that he has already given us in Christ, our prayer lives would be far different from what they are.
We ask God for his presence, yet he has promised never to leave us or forsake us. We ask God to give us peace, but Ephesians says that Christ is our peace. Imagine sitting down to a marvelous Thanksgiving feast, a table overflowing with foods of all kinds, and asking the hostess for something to eat. It is possible to pray ourselves right into a state of unbelief by continuing to pray for those things we already have in Christ.
This is part fifteen of R.C. Sproul’s small book Does Prayer Change Things?. Over the past week we have been posting the complete text of this short but profound and practical book right here at the Ligonier Ministries blog.