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  • Writer's pictureEric Cline

The power of prayer in your daily life

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

At first blush, prayer is simply asking God for something or thanking God for something. A simple conversation. The advice to new Christians should be to “pray simply but pray”. Prayers can take many forms with much literary and poetic verbiage. Prayers can be filled with much anxiety. How does my prayer sound to God? Should we worry about how our prayers sound to others? Too long? Too short? Why pray at all? Did God really honor an old testament prophet’s prayer to make the sun stand still? Prayers can be a cry for help or a cry for joy. Prayer is the easiest privilege that we take for granted and, therefore, it is also too neglected. Does God answer all prayers? What about prayers of unbelievers? The Bible is all about God, and the centrality of prayer is foundational to a life of communion with God. We have the Almighty God on “speed dial” and we must discover more about prayer.

Prayer Growth

Similar to Psalms, our prayers are full of request and thanksgiving and there is nothing wrong with that. Maturity in prayer means working more from prayers of Request (complaint/petition) to Gratitude (thanksgiving/praise) and through Empowerment (participation/collaboration).[1] Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Christian prayer turns from request and gratitude in the biblical Psalms (speaking to God) to empowerment in the biblical prophets (speaking for God).[2]

What do the prophets say when speaking for God? Two passages capture the overall intention: Isa. 33:5, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness” and in Jeremiah “I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (9:24). The prophets seem to insist that God does not want prayer, ritual, liturgy or sacrifice, but wants instead that righteous justice rule all the earth. Prayer and prophesy are not at conflict with each other. God often speaks of rejecting prayer in the absence of justice (“So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.” (7:16) but God never speaks of rejecting justice in the absence of prayer. Like two sides of a coin, prayer and justice cannot be separated and exist as a unity. On a coin, the distinction can be made between heads from tails, but they cannot be separated and remain a coin.[3] We pray to the God of justice to be empowered by that God for justice. We do not pray for empowerment, we are empowered by God to pray.[4]Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity,” (Heb. 6:1). We cannot pray by ourselves or from ourselves but only by, with, and through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift by accepting Christ and is immediately available for prayer. Paul tells us in Romans, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (8:26-27). God commands us to pray and the only prayer Jesus ever taught was what is known as the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9-13). "None of our three master teachers of prayer, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, developed their instruction primarily based on their own experiences. In each case, what they believed and practiced regarding prayer grew mainly out of their understanding of the ultimate master class in prayer—the Lord’s Prayer. Each of these three great theologians expounded the Lord’s Prayer at length in more than one place, not only in biblical commentaries and exegetical works, but also in pastoral and theological writings.”[5] The Lord’s Prayer never mentions Christ, church, Sunday, the inspired inerrancy of the Bible, miracles, resurrection, heaven or hell. It is prayed by Christians who emphasize what it never mentions.[6] If the Lord’s prayer is prayed by God’s Spirit within and through us, to whom and for what is that prayer uttered? Are we praying for God’s intervention, or is God praying for our collaboration?[7] Paul tells us in Romans, “… the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ… (8:15-17). Children have parents. Can God therefore be Parent? Here, a closer look at the Lord’s Prayer, also known as “Our Father.” Our Father in Heaven How can the Lord’s prayer open with a male-oriented title and patriarchal mode of address? Why give God a humanlike and male-only name? God is never described with sexual characteristics in the Scriptures, but He does consistently describe Himself in the masculine gender.[8]What if we look at God as being the householder as Protector, and householder as Provider, while observing one example where this woman, Babath, could certainly be referred to as householder. Jesus (not the Messiah) was an orphan. Two male guardians were appointed guardianship when his Jewish mother, Babatha, became a widow and lost her patriarchal “protection”. But this story is not about Jesus (Joshua), son of Jesus and Babatha, but more importantly about his wealthy Jewish mother from Maoza, on the southern tip of Israel’s Dead Sea coast. Babatha inherited some money upon the death of her second husband, Judah, was financially competent, and years after her death in the Cave of Horrors, her legal archives were found. Babatha’s archive is an extremely important resource for many issues, especially on the question of householder. In their marriage contract, Judah’s debts become part of her liability, indicating a financial equality. In 128 CE, a legal document shows that Judah took a loan without interest from Babatha, showing that she had control of her own money despite the union. The money was being paid back at half the normal interest rate and even though she took it to court, she never got her way in the patriarchal world of Roman law.[9] Think of her among single mothers and single fathers, widows and orphan, patriarchal bias and exclusive language, and whenever our biblical texts speak as if the only competent householder is a father or at least a male.[10]Consider God as a metaphor, looking at the role and power of metaphor in general. God is referred to as warrior king, as just judge, and many others. Why “Father”? Metaphor is seeing as; it is imagining and describing one thing as if it were another. What was the meaning and content of “Father” then and how should we interpret it today?[11]John the Baptist indicates Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). We are certain that Mary did not have a little lamb just as “heart of gold”, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” and “We are the clay, and You are the potter” should not be taken literally. The point is, in the biblical tradition, before the New Testament and its Lord’s Prayer, is the title “Father” intended to be exclusive (male) or inclusive (all)? Consider the rest commanded for the Sabbath day:[12]“Six days do yourwork, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.” (Ex. 23:12, NIV)“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of youranimals, nor any foreigner residing in yourtowns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.”To whom are these commands addressed? Certainly, it cannot be a traditional male-dominated society. If so, in “…the Lord your God”—is it not her God as well? Why would mothers and the wives be excluded? Perhaps the singular “you” and “your” should be taken inclusively for father and mother, parents, but more notably, householders.[13]Additionally, in Acts 1, Luke notes that the Twelve were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women as well as his brother. But, in the following verse, Peter addresses the crowd as brethren. This is intended as inclusive language—why would he exclude the women from his address? The common reader does not require such neutralized language in order to see that in many places where the word “brother” is used we might also add “sisters.” There is no decent linguistic argument for “brother or sister” or “sibling” as a translation for the singular adelphos. The word clearly means “brother”, not “sibling,” because there is no attestation for a gender-neutral usage of the word. An individual female is never referred to as an adelphos in Greek; she is referred to with the word adelphē “sister”, and if a writer wishes to inclusive, he must use the expression such as adelphos kai adelphē “brother and sister.”[14]Is God more masculine, more male, more paternal than feminine, female, and maternal? Humans originate in the very nature of God. The image of God in us (imago dei) is not less feminine than masculine. The feminine/masculine of God is a circle of relationship, a spectrum, not a polarity.[15]God is neither male nor female. He transcends all such categories. For creation, God established positions for male and female; His clearly articulated and intentional design for the two sexes. Women is one in nature with man ("bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh") and every bit as much an image-bearer of God as man (Gen. 1:27). Gender distinctions are not abolished by Gal. 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”If we consider God as “divine Householder" and recall what we might think when we visit another person’s home, we make observations regarding the upkeep and cleanliness. In the ancient biblical world, we examine the fields and flocks, servants and dependents, slaves and aliens, married and unmarried members, and so forth. How does it look? If all is well, we praise the name of the householder—job well done.[16]And so it begins with “Our Father”. Hallowed be your name.Hallowed Be Your Name God is our model for holiness.[17] Therefore, His name is hallowed. “The Lordsaid to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” (Lev. 19:1-3). Recall from earlier, the divine Householder is a model for the human householder or, as the Lord’s Prayer says, “on earth as in heaven.”[18] The rest of Lev. 19 multiplies examples of what wemust do to be holy. “Keep my commands and follow them. I am the Lord. Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 22:31-32). We hallow the name of God when we keep his commandments. We profane the name of God when we break his commandments.[19] God and His hallowed name is operative for the whole world and His kingdom.In the words of St. Augustine, "This is prayed for, not as if the name of God were not all holy already, but that it may be held wholly by men; that God may so become known to them, that they shall reckon nothing more holy, and which they are more afraid of offending."[20]Your Kingdom Come Three times Daniel mentions the kingdom of God, brought down from heaven to earth by a transcendental Human One who has been entrusted with it by God, the transcendent Ancient One. From the Book of Daniel:“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (7:14)“But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.” (7:18)“Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” (7:27)That is the positive aspect. However, the four proceeding empires represent beasts “up out of the sea” (7:3) and are those of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Macedonian Greeks. The Babylonian Empire “was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle…[It] stood on two feet like a human being”; the Median Empire “looked like a bear… [It] had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill”; the Persian Empire “looked like a leopard…[It] had four wings…four heads, and it was given authority to rule. The Macedonian Empire was dreadfully different and Daniel states as much three times:“…a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns….the fourth beast, which was differentfrom all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left…The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it (7:7, 19, 23).We can be grateful for God’s kingdom. However, “God’s kingdom did not, could not, and will not begin, continue, or conclude without human collaboration.”[21] That is why the first half of Matthew’s Abba Father Prayer is the divine: “name”, “kingdom”, and “will” and the second half is the human: “bread”, “debts”, and “temptation”. Again, like the coin—it has two sides and while we can focus on either the head or the tail, we certainly do not want to focus on only one half of the prayer. “They come together or never come at all.”[22] The climax, and the most difficult of the first half of the Lord’s Prayer, is God’s will.Your Will Be Done Did God will the execution of Jesus and is that at least implicitly included in the Lord’s Prayer itself?[23] Or did Jesus will himself to die on the cross? Certainly, he loved his friends and, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13) God is the Word and, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14) God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood— (Rom. 3:25). Why did religions come up with blood sacrifice? Why did religions decide that God or the Gods wanted dead animals or dead people?[24]God willed the execution of Jesus. He sent his only Son to endure his own wrath against us. It is the will of God for justice and righteousness, which became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. To forgive without punishment or consequence would mean that God is indifferent to evil and that is impossible for a just God. One could argue that the will of Christ was the same as the will of God, he died not inescapably, but only of his own power—not as a substitute but as sacrum facere, Latin for sacrifice, “to make sacred.”[25] When Jesus sent his disciples into the world to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it does not say “in the names”. The one divine being shares one divine nature.[26]It is a common practice to offer gifts or have a meal with our friends, especially to maintain good relations or restore them, if broken. In the beginning was the sacrifice, established by God in Lev. 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” “Every martyr needs a murderer and God’s will allows such events as the positive and negative results of human freedom. God “wills” our human freedom. All else is consequence.”[27] When “heaven” (“name”, “kingdom”, and “will”) comes down to “earth” (“bread”, “debts”, and “temptation”), will the earth be sacred ground?On Earth as it is in Heaven This second half of the "Jesus Prayer" or the Lord's Prayer is focused on our needs and begins with "on earth as it is in heaven." The Shekinah glory will cover the earth and earth will become sacred ground just as was Mount Sinai during Moses' encounter with God as well as when Joshua encountered sacred space when he entered Jericho.[28] Hab. 2:14 says, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Will we then break bread with the Father?Give Us Today Our Daily Bread Augustine reminds us that “daily” is a metaphor for necessities rather than luxuries. Calvin views it similarly and Luther sees a social dimension in that “Give us…” means all of us. For all to get daily bread, there must be a just society and because the request is not exclusively “give only us,” it opposes the wanton exploitation to deny others.[29]There is a trail of bread and fish from Mark 6 to John 21, from before and after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus appears to his disciples in the desert at the Sea of Galilee. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples…(Mark 6:41). There is a departure from the pattern of “take…thanks/bless…. break…. gave” in John 21:13 at the lakeshore where: “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. Perhaps the missing “thanks” and “break” is not in fact missing. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after his blessed self was raised from the dead; after his body (the bread of life) had been broken. Luke records the succeeding meal after the walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, “Whenhe [resurrected] was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” (Luke 24:30).Mark uses that same fourfold verbal sequence took, blessed, broke, and gave during the Passover meal: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brokeit and gave it to his disciples… Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. (Mark 14:22-23). Passing the common cup emphasizes, as does breaking the common bread, that the symbolism is about sharing communal food and not just consuming individual supplies.[30]From bread-to-fish to bread-and-wine, it is always about God’s food in God’s world for God’s people. The Lord’s Supper is already present in the Lord’s Prayer. There is no “and” within the first “divine” half of the Lord’s Prayer because each of those involved the other. God’s name cannot be hallowed except through the coming of God’s kingdom, which results in God’s eternal will being done on earth. The last “us” half, bread and debt and temptation, is cumulative, not one orthe other. “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches but give me only my daily bread” (Prov. 30:8). Enough food for today must involve no debt for tomorrow.[31]Forgive Us Our Debts as We Have Forgiven Our Debtors Jesus tightly links our relationship with God to our relationship with others. Unresolved bitterness is a sign that we are not right with God. The exceptional outstanding debt is the debt of love. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Are we to forgive literal debts or metaphorical debts? Metaphorically, “debts” mean “sins”. Mark 11:25 says: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Although Matthew uses “debts” twice in his version of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12), he follows up the conclusion of the prayer with: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (6:14). It appears that divine forgiveness is conditional— if we do not forgive others of their “trespasses”, (KJV uses “trespasses): “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (6:15). However, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). If we harbor unforgiveness, we are limiting our communion with God and fruitful relationships with others. Clearly, sin must be confessed to obtain forgiveness. Except for blasphemy, “… but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit [emphasis added] will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (John 3:29), the only unpardonable sins, are those of unrepentance. It is important to clarify blasphemy, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man [emphasis added], it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10). Is it even possible for any human being, conscious of a “higher power” or remotely worried about committing the unpardonable sin, to be guilty of such?Note in the previous paragraph, the progression in terminology from “debts” to “trespass” to “sin”, and that the sequence is divine forgiveness and then human forgiveness.[32] Christ on the cross changes the conditional—he died for our sins, brought divine forgiveness, and led the way for human forgiveness. The case for metaphor is solid until we read a parable about literaldebt in Matt. 18:24-25: “Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’”“Debts” was originally intended quite literally. Recall earlier in this chapter: “Enough food for today must involve no debt for tomorrow.” Matt. 18:32-35 uses the parable of two debtors, included here to illustrate use of metaphor and literal debt: “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Metaphorical “debt” also means “sin.” Debt is an act that can lead us to sin and that is a temptation.Lead Us Not into Temptation but Deliver Us from Evil Temptation is an enticement to act contrary to God’s will. In Rev. 12:10, John calls Satan the accuser: “For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” The description of Satan as an accuser accords with the opinion of the ancient Hebrews regarding Satan’s character. Satan’s unfounded accusations might cast suspicion on all who worship God, a temptation Jesus conquered. Three times Jesus was tempted in by Satan: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread… If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down… “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me” (Matt. 4:3-9). Jesus’ triumph over Satan’s temptation shows us that our Savior’s work, in the form as man, redeems us from the curse of sin and death. Through the Spirit, our love for the things of God supersedes our love for the temptations of the world.[33] Jesus had to succeed where Adam failed. Adam met Satan in paradise, where life was easy. Jesus met Satan in the desert wilderness where the environment was hardly friendly. Adam failed even though he had everything going for him, but Jesus succeeded even though, humanly speaking, the odds were stacked against Him (Gen. 3; Matt. 4:1–11). “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Rom.5:17). Reflect upon the Lord’s Prayer—the Abba Prayer—and the analogy of the two-sided coin. One side of the coin has the divine name, divine kingdom, and divine will; the other side declares enough human food for today, no human debt for tomorrow, and the absence of human violence always. Just as a circle has an inside and an outside, the coin needs both sides to remain a coin. The divine comprehensiveness of the Lord’s Prayer as a whole, gives a summary of the gospels and of the Christian faith.Why Pray?If God knows what we want before we ask, why ask? “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). The simple answer is because He said so. Throughout scripture we are commanded to pray. There are over 360 verses in the Bible regarding prayer. Compare that to over 1,000 more verses regarding sin. With or without a direct correlation, prayer, not sin, remains the decree. Pray because Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray. Through prayer, he healed, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”) (Matt. 21:13), was transfigured with the divine glory as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22). Sometimes he prayed all night (Luke 6:12). Even when he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. He prayed for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He died praying! Prayer is “Gods breath in man returning to his birth.”[34]Prayer is a heart-to-heart, spirit-to-spirit relationship. We do not develop an intimate relationship with people without spending significant amounts of quality time with them one on one. And we will not develop much of a relationship if we do all the talking. Conversation goes both ways. Prayer conversation goes both ways. In Prayer we offer ourselves to God and seek his guidance. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). The two Greek terms translated "word" in the Scriptures are "logos" and "rhema".[35]We read the word of God “logos” and we hear the word of God “rhema”. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The core of praying, when it is truly relational, erodes barriers to openness and honesty.[36] Prayer opens the way to intimacy with God.[37]Do the Deaf Hear?Do the deaf "hear" the word of God? The simple answer is, "yes, God cares for all of us." While we physically see and hear the word of God, we (including the physically deaf) also spiritually hear the word of God. "My sheep will hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). Lev. 19:14 instructs, "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord." It is important to understand the figurative and literal use of deaf and blind. For example, in Isa. 43:7-8, the words are used figuratively for those people's formal spiritual conditions. "Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made. Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears." On that day of judgment, the blind will see in the death will hear. Physical deafness is one thing, but spiritual deafness leads to death.Aside from the religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, other religions use prayer. Prayer is one of the most common phenomena of human life; a global one, inhabiting all cultures and involving most people at some point in their lives. After all, all human beings are made in the image of God. John Calvin wrote of the divinitatis sensum, the sense of deity that all human beings have. “There is with the human mind and indeed by natural instinct, and awareness of divinity and therefore the seed of religion is planted in all.”[38]Later in this section, the views of prayer by evolutionists and Easterners will be explored briefly. Are they unbelievers?Does God Answer the Prayers of Unbelievers?First, we must consider if God even hears the prayers of the unbelievers. In James chapter one where he is speaking to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, James tells the brethren to count it all as joy when they fall into various troubles. He tells them to let patience have its perfect work. If you lack wisdom, ask God because God will give liberally and without reproach. But if you pray to God with doubting, you are like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. James writes, "For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double minded man unstable in all his ways." In that regard, therefore, God in fact does hear the prayer; however, the unbeliever may not receive anything from God.Another answer may be found in Jonah 3 where God relents and does not destroy the city of Nineveh. God relents because the people of Nineveh respond with genuine repentance by covering themselves in sackcloth and ashes along with fasting. Another example is in 1 Kings 21 where Gods relents bringing disaster to the wicked king of Israel Ahab (because Ahab "tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body, and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning" v.27)) and his wife Jezebel because they steal vineyards from Naboth the Jezerite after Jezebel orchestrated having him stoned to death. Ahab maintained a palace in Jezreel alongside a major international route. If this were Canaanite country, Ahab as king could seize property at his pleasure. Because the vineyard was in Israel, God owns the land and by giving away Naboth's gift from God, indeed his inheritance, he would then cut off his descendants. Ahab's demand disregards God's law. In both examples, God “yields” because the unbelievers humbled themselves and turned from their evil ways. Jesus told a story with a similar ending in the New Testament, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. At the end of the parable, the elder brother finds it difficult to understand how the father (God) can possibly forgive the wickedness of the younger brother, perhaps a likened response to the attitude of Jonah being angry at the Lord’s compassion (Jonah 4:1).Yet, king Ahab “did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30) and his wife Jezebel was a pagan. And Nineveh continued in wicked ways. It is worth noting that, in these examples, neither escaped the wrath of God. Nineveh eventually fell to the Babylonians and Medes and dead king Ahab’s blood was licked up by dogs (21:38) as prophesized (21:24). Scripturally, God withdraws his hand when people turn from their wicked ways, (shows mercy, Deut. 13:17), and gives us everlasting life (by grace, Eph. 2:8-9) through faith—which was missing from the inhabitants of Nineveh and the core of Ahab.Finally, in Acts 10, God heard the prayers of the centurion Cornelius. The significance of this Roman centurion coming to faith in the crucified and risen Christ in response to the preaching of the apostle Peter is indicated by its being narrated twice (10:1-48; 11:5-17) and then mentioned by Peter a third time (15:7-9), as well as its links to the Spirit's descent at Pentecost (10:44-47; 15:8,9).Why Did Jesus Pray?Jesus is God—why would Jesus need to pray? Jesus is also Shepard who leads us as His flock. A good leader will model example. Jesus prayed as an example to His followers. And we continue to learn from His examples. Jesus Incarnate was both divine and human. As a Jewish believer, it is precisely why He would pray. Jesus is within the Trinity and as God the Son, Jesus would communicate with the Father. Recall that Jesus cried out three times to God the Father from Gethsemane “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:36-44).Types of Prayer M & MManipulative and meditative types of prayer best describe those coming from the Substantive classification and the Functional classification of religion. The substantive (or essentialist) approach is a speculative enterprise, the dicey abstract. Here, the focus is on the theoretical, rather than the practical, trying to understand ourselves or the world. If people believe in something sacred, they have a religion, otherwise they do not have a religion. Some of the first modern theorists were evolutionists Edward B. Tylor and James Frazer. According to their Darwinian model, humans prayed to adapt to their environment, to get control of the forces of nature.[39] Religion and magic merely enticed the gods to bring down rain or bring up the sun and since they viewed magic in similar regard as science, the necessity of prayer would eventually wither away. The functionalists, generally atheists or agnostic, see religion as performing certain functions for society, and include theorists Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Their theory on prayer mirror that of the Substantive. From the manipulative and meditational, magical and scientific, came the mystical versus “prophetic” prayers.MysticalMystical [self-salvation through meditation (wordless contemplation)] prayer tend toward the loss of boundary between the self and God. Twentieth century psychologist Carl Jung viewed prayer as more of a turning inward rather that reaching outward. He, and Easterners, believed we no longer talked to God—we are partof God as a cosmic life force. We earn grace to save our own souls.[40]Prophetic“Prophetic”, as viewed by German scholar Frederick Heiler, is without meditation. It does not have the serene, calming of mystical prayer. Prayer is outwardly focused and is not for our discovery but rather God’swork in man. In this view, prayer leads to a much greater sense of the difference between self and the transcendent God outside and above us with an awareness of sinfulness, a cognizance of sin, where grace is givenby God.[41]What if portions of the mystical and aspects of the prophetic were merged? Mystical Prophetic. Meditation (wordless contemplation) on the words of God in the Scriptures, could get one beyond predication and rational thought, and bring about a genuine personal encounter with God. Prayer then is ultimately a verbal response of faith to a transcendent God. God’s word and grace could be a wonderous, mysterious, and prophetic experience.[42]The essence of prayer goes beyond definition and is here simply referred to as prayer. Prayer is an instinct, a gift; a conversation, an encounter; with listening and answering.[43] The Bible is all about God and the centrality of prayer is foundational to a life of communion with God. As an instinct, prayer is a response to the knowledge of God (recall earlier reference to Calvin’s divinitatis sensum) but because knowledge of God is too vague, real conversation with God comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Instinctive prayer is like an emergency flare in reaction to a general sense of God’s reality.”[44] Faith thrives in an atmosphere of prayer.[45] Humility heightens our encounter with God and God puts a great price on humanity of heart.[46] Recall God’s exchange with king Ahab and Nineveh. If king Ahab and the inhabitants of Nineveh had truly listened, their outcome would have been very different. E. M. Bounds writes that the goal of prayer is the ear of God and that prayer is not learned in the classroom but in the closet. When listening and answering are reciprocated, communication materializes immeasurably. “The Holy Spirit executes the whole gospel through the man by his presence and control of the spirit of the man.”[47]Prayer is Essential He who does not pray, robs himself of God’s help. God’s movement to bring Israel from Egyptian bondage had its inception in prayer. The prayer ministry is an all-engaging force. In Acts 6:1-8, the apostles are overwhelmed with their responsibilities and feared neglecting prayer. They appointed seven to take over the daily distribution of food so that the apostles could give attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. How many workers in today’s churches are looked upon as religious and are appointed official positions not because they are people of prayer, but because they have the financial ability to run church finances or they are “well connected”? Are they aware or concerned in a similar way as the apostles in Acts? The Jewish race might have ceased to exist if Moses did not pray to change God’s plan to destroy Israel when Aaron had been swept away by the strong popular tide of unbelief and sin regarding the golden calf.[48] It is indisputable that prayer is essential to life with the living God. This is even more critical when we are entrusted to lead others as was the awestruck, archetypical leader, Moses.Prayer and Praying MenThe Bible is filled with accounts of praying men and how prayer altered events and history. In Josh. 10, the Lord listens to Joshua and makes the sun stand still and stopped the moon to give Joshua’s army more daylight to defeat the Amorites. Jacob was not a straight arrow. Although Jacob had a heart for God, when he was about 70 years old (old enough to know better) he deceives his father, Isaac. He steals his not-so-spiritual brother’s birthright and flees from home fearing his brother Esau (Gen. 25). The Holy Spirit reveals his wicked heart, he repents to God and vows to make things right with his brother by amassing gifts. When Esau approaches (unaware of the gifts), Jacob finds himself in Esau’s grateful arms and they are reconciled (Gen. 33:4).[49] Once barren Hannah prayed and gave birth to Samuel. Samuel was a man of God, a prophet, a teacher, and Israel’s last judge. Samuel warned of God’s punishment to Eli’s two wayward sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who did not repent and were consequently slain (1 Sam. 4:11). Samuel warns Israel of God’s punishment if they do not put away their false idols and faithfully turn their hearts back to God. Samuel gathered the people, and they fasted that day, repenting of their sins. Then Samuel prayed on behalf of all the people. The outcome was that God gave them a miraculous victory over the enemy (1 Sam. 7:5-6, 9-10).[50]Samson, also born of a once-barren woman, is somewhat of a paradox when we examine his religious character. However, Samson knew the God who hears prayer and he knew how to talk to God. Samson abandons his God-assigned mission, to begin the deliverance of Israel from Philistine oppression (Judg.13:5), and lusts over Delilah, a heathen woman. Delilah connives with the Philistines, cuts his hair (strength), and the Philistines put out his eyes and mistreat him. Samson finally realizes his utter dependence upon God and prays for God to strengthen him, that he may be at once avenged of the Philistines and with that he brings down the house full of Philistines. He slays more in his death than he slew in his life (Judg.16).[51]The Tip of the IcebergThe chapter abridges over 1100 words in some 20 or so pages and if this chapter was 2000 pages, it would still just scratch the surface of prayer. We cannot access powerful prayer by using "magic formulas." Our prayers being answered is not based on the eloquence of our prayers. We do not have to use certain words or phrases to get God to answer our prayers. In fact, Jesus rebukes those who pray using repetitions, "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:7-8). Prayer is communicating with God. While we cannot explore all of God’s attributes here, one final note: God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is supremely in charge of everything that happens in His universe. Nothing happens in our lives without the knowledge of God. And chances are, we may not understand His actions! “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). Yet, the divine comprehensiveness of the Lord’s Prayer as a whole, gives a summary of the gospels and of the Christian faith. It is appropriate to conclude a chapter on prayer with a prayer. From Num. 6:24-26:The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

  1. [1] John Dominic Crossman, “The Greatest Prayer” Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 27 [2] Ibid., 13 [3]Ibid., 20 [4] Ibid., 24 [5]Timothy Keller, “Prayer”, (New York: Dutton, 2014), 108 [6] John Dominic Crossman, “The Greatest Prayer” Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 1 [7] Ibid., 28 [8] Ibid., 31 [9] Ibid., 29,30 [10] Ibid., 31 [11] Ibid., 32-35 [12] Ibid., 38 [13] Ibid., 38 [14]Ian Howard Marshall, “Brothers Embracing Sisters?” Technical Papers for the Bible Translator 55/3 (July 2004), p.308 [15] W.M. Paul Young, “Lies We Believe about God” (New York: Atria Books, 2017), 73 [16] Ibid., 52 [17] Ibid., 59 [18] Ibid., 52 [19] John Piper, “Hallowed Be Thy Name: In All the Earth” Missions Week, 1984, Retrieved November 27, 2018, from https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/hallowed-be-thy-name-in-all-the-earth [20] Augustine, Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, According to Matthew, 2.5.19, trans. William Findley, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st ser., vol. 6, ed. Phillip Schaff (repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), p.40 [21] John Dominic Crossman, “The Greatest Prayer” Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 94 [22] Ibid., 94 [23] Ibid., 103 [24] Ibid., 110 [25] Ibid., 110 [26] Timothy Keller, “Prayer”, (New York: Dutton, 2014), 67 [27] John Dominic Crossman, “The Greatest Prayer” Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 115 [28] See Josh. 5:15 "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy" [29] Timothy Keller, “Prayer”, (New York: Dutton, 2014), 114 [30] John Dominic Crossman, “The Greatest Prayer” Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 135 [31] Ibid., 140 [32] Ibid., 160 [33] Bryan Chapell, “Praying Backwards” (Grand Rapid, MN: Baker Books, 2005), 79 [34] Timothy Keller, “Prayer”, (New York: Dutton, 2014), 29 [35]James Strong, “Strong’s Concordance”, (Nashville: Nelson Inc., Thomas ,2010), 4487 [36] Kate Braestrup, “Beginner’s Grace”, (New York: Free Press, 2010), 97 [37] Timothy Keller, “Prayer”, (New York: Dutton, 2014), 40 [38] John T. McNeill, ed. “Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1960), 43 [39] Zaleski and Zaleski, “Prayer: A History”, ( Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 27 [40] 40Timothy Keller, “Prayer”, (New York: Dutton, 2014), 38 [41]Ibid., 40 [42]Ibid., 41 [43] Ibid, 44-48 [44]Ibid., 46 [45] E.M.Bounds, “On Prayer” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 21 [46] Ibid., 87 [47] Ibid., 280 [48] Ibid., 372, 373 [49] Ibid., 498 [50] Ibid., 498 [51] Ibid., 500Notes - Chapter Three - Hermeneutics


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