Effective, Fervent Prayer

    September 28, 2020 | Prayer | Spiritual Disciplines by Jamie O'Brien

    Prayer is a vital part of every Christian's life. It enables us to communicate with God through our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. We are privileged as believers to be able to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). God tells us, "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). Scripture provides many examples of the prayers of those who have gone before us and found our sovereign Lord to be faithful and true to His unchanging, eternal Word (Simcox, Thomas C., "Six Elements of Effective Prayer," Israel My Glory, March/April 2011, 22-21).

    Below are five key passages that can help us reflect on a theology of prayer.

    2 Kings 19:15-19

    "And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, "O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God of Israel, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made the heaven and the earth." Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God (16). Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands (17) and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them (18). Now, O Lord our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God" (19).

    In the fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded Judah, threatened Jerusalem, and blasphemed the God of Israel. Sennacherib proclaimed that just like the gods of other nations could not rescue them from his strong hand, so the God of Israel would be unable to rescue Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:28-35; 19:8-13). Sennacherib's claim that the God of Israel was no different from other nations' gods was a verbal attack on God's uniqueness and holiness. When Hezekiah received a letter from Sennacherib's messengers, he read it and went up to the house of the Lord, spread out the message, and prayed to the Lord (2 Kings 19:14-15). Hezekiah looked beyond his throne and the throne of the "great king" Sennacherib and focused his attention on the throne of God, "Who was enthroned between the cherubim" (19:15). King Hezekiah here gives a great example to follow when we pray about life's problems. When we focus on the Lord and see how great He is, it helps put our difficulties in perspective. 

    The king's chief burden was that the God of Israel be glorified before the nations of the earth. Sennacherib had blasphemed the Lord, and Hezekiah asked God to act on behalf of Judah so that His name would be honored. "Hallowed be thy name" is the first request in the Lord's prayer (Matt. 6:9). Hezekiah knew that the gods of the defeated nations weren't gods at all. He asked the Lord to save Judah's people, not for their sake but for the glory of His great name. Hezekiah was a man who sought the blessing of the Lord on his people. He sought to know the Word of God and the will of God, and this gave him power in prayer. Blessed is the nation whose leaders know how to pray. 

    Psalms 51:1-4

    "Be gracious to me, O God. according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions (1). Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin (2). For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (3). Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge" (4). 

    "Be gracious to me, O God" is the prayer of a man who was appealing to God's love and compassion as he petitioned the LORD to forgive him by grace and cleanse him from sin. David asked for mercy according to God's "lovingkindness." This is God's hesed, His unfailingly loyal, covenant love and mercy. The verb "be gracious" was a prayer for God to act with compassion according to His nature. David also recognized that he did not deserve forgiveness. God's forgiveness is by grace alone: "Be gracious to me ("Have mercy upon me") according to Your lovingkindness." When David said, "my sin is ever before me," we need to remember that his confession came about a year after he had sinned with Bathsheba (his young child died about a week after his confession; see 2 Sam. 12:13-18). In verse 4, David openly accepts responsibility and acknowledges his sins and vindicates the Lord (Ps. 51:4; 1 John 1:9-10). Paul quotes verse 4 in Romans 3:4 as part of his argument that the whole world is guilty before God. 

    Acts 4:24-26

    "And when they heard this they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them (24), who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David, Your servant, said, 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things" (25)? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ" (26).

    When the Sanhedrin had summoned Peter and John and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, they answered them and said, "We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). When Peter and John were released from the Sanhedrin's custody, they returned to the community of believers and told them what happened. What followed was one of the genuinely great prayer meetings recorded in the Bible, and a great example for us to follow today. They were united as "they lifted their voices to God with one accord," acknowledging Him as the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth; and God was pleased to answer their requests. Their prayer was based solidly on the Word of God, in this case Psalm 2. In His Word, God speaks to us and tells us what He wants us to do. In prayer, we talk to Him and make ourselves available to do His will. True prayer is not telling God what to do but asking God to accomplish His will in us and through us (1 John 5:14-15). They did not pray to have God change their circumstances. Instead, they asked God to empower them to make the best use of their circumstances and accomplish what He had already predetermined (Acts 4:28). 

    Matthew 6:9-13

    "Pray then in this way: 'Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your Name (9). Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (10). Give us this day our daily bread (11). And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (12). And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]" (13).

    Here Jesus gives us the perfect example of how to pray. We are all familiar with this prayer known as "The Lord's Prayer," but it could just as well be called "The Disciples' Prayer." Jesus did not give us this prayer to be recited over and over again. Reciting this prayer does not take the place of heart-felt conversations with your heavenly Father. We are to use these instructions for prayer as a pattern, not a substitute. The purpose of prayer is to glorify God and accomplish His will on earth. Jesus begins by calling God His Father. If you have put your faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, then you have been adopted into God's family. You, too, have the right to call Him Father. Then Jesus praised His Father's name, and praise is the best way to begin a prayer because it honors God. Next, Jesus prays that His kingdom would come and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then Jesus asked for our daily physical needs to be met, for the forgiveness of sins, for guidance, and protection from evil. "And do not lead us into temptation," does not mean that God tempts us (James 1:13-17). In this petition, we ask God to guide us so that we will not fall out of His will and into temptation (1 John 5:18). 

    John 14:13-14

    "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father (12). And whatever you ask in My Name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (13). If you ask Me anything in My name I will do it (14). 

    The phrase of assurance: "whatever you ask in My Name, that I will do," is qualified by all that God has revealed in His Word about prayer, and "that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). The phrase "in My name" is not a magical formula that we attach to our prayer requests as a guarantee that God will answer. It is both a guarantee and a limitation on our requests. He will only grant requests that are consistent with His character and purpose. In prayer, we call on Him to work out His purpose, not merely satisfy our desires. To know God's name is to know His nature, what He is, and what He wants to do. God answers prayer so that His name be glorified. That means prayer must be done in His will: "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1 John 5:14). The first request in the Lord's Prayer is, "Hallowed be Thy name" (Matt. 6:9). When we pray according to His will, we must pray in faith and obedience. We do not obey the Lord simply because we want our prayers answered. We obey Him because we love Him, and the more we obey Him, the more we experience His love. To keep His commandments means that we value them, treasure them, and do them: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). The main reason we pray is that God has commanded us to pray (Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:6-8). If we are obedient to His will, then prayer must be an essential part of our life in Christ.