PRAYER: LESSON THREE
The old hymn, What a friend we have in Jesus, is so relevant today. It is true we bear needless pain by failing to take “everything” to God in prayer. But no longer is it very fashionable or taught to remain on one’s knees (literally or figuratively) until one has ‘prayed through,’ even should it take all night as with Jacob when he wrestled with God. I believe failure to persevere in fervent prayer, at least in part, is related to a false concept of grace. Grace is the most compromised if not demonically distorted word in scripture. For years I attended a theologically unsound church where grace was defined as ‘receiving what one did not deserve.’ But both OT and NT teach we do receive what is deserved or God would not be righteous and just. Those failing to live by faith in Noah’s days faced condemnation as did Ananias and Sapphira in the early church. And Jesus Himself tells us in this regard:
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth: they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:28,29
Is Jesus saying those who do evil shall enter heaven without repentance? Or that those who have done evil shall come forth to the resurrection of life? Of course not! The NT contains exhortations and warnings about not only hearing the Word of God, but putting into practice what Jesus teaches. “Not every one that says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Suggestion that grace is covering for sin is a serious deception. Satan began to distort the meaning of grace in the early church, leading Paul to write, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!” (Romans 6:1,2). Some were saying grace excuses sin and the apostle was appalled. Jude is another who proclaims a warning about perversion of grace, perversion widespread today with the doctrine of Balaam better known as eternal security.
“It was needful for me to…exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. For….certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness…” Jude 3,4
Jude is saying beware of those who interpret grace as being a license to sin without any consequences. They’re everywhere today, “false apostles” who are masquerading as ministers of righteousness by dressing in “sheep’s clothing” as Jesus describes them (Matthew 7:15). Bible schools and seminaries are ordaining such persons after they are taught what is contrary to scripture. Because they have the ‘credentials’ required by their denominations, they are given responsibility to teach those who seek the face of God. But there’s no mistaking what Jude says. Error about grace is a threat to the gospel by teaching what is really false security. It is heresy taught by the same persons who deny a continuing work of Holy Spirit with miracles and divine healing, having been influenced by seducing spirits and doctrines of devils (1 Tiimothy 4:1).
A further discussion of eternal security as a ‘grace mistake’ is available in the lesson on this website called Grace. In brief, the NT Greek translated as “grace” is charis (#5485 in the Strong’s Concordance). The primary meaning of charis is God’s divine influence on the heart as reflected in life. This is contrary to that which is commonly taught, namely that grace is ‘unmerited favor.’ The latter definition is nowhere found in Strong’s Concordance. The emphasis of grace is that of divine influence upon a heart so one’s thinking and, as a consequence, behavior is changed. This is in full harmony with the definition of grace in Paul’s letter to Titus.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Titus 2:11
Grace is God’s influence on a heart that not only convicts of sin and brings one to a place of repentance leading to salvation. It also teaches us to leave unrighteousness behind and live as a “new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). In addition, God’s influence on the heart inclines one to fervent persistent prayer although one can resist grace, refusing to humbly bend the knees in humility. Let us not fail to recognize prayer as a major avenue by which the grace of God is appropriated. Jesus as the “firstborn among many brethren” (see Romans 8:29) was totally dependent on prayer as a means of receiving grace poured upon Him without measure. As a man He turned to His heavenly Father in prayer for direction in every matter, for strength to prevail in the constant face of rejection and opposition, and for power needed to resist temptation of every imaginable kind.
Once we recognize grace as divine influence on our heart, prayer is viewed in such a different light. The grace resulting from prayer is recognized as essential for walking the narrow road that Jesus says leads to life which is not only eternal but abundant. We appreciate why Paul was inspired to write by the Spirit, “We, then, as workers together with Him [Christ], beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Is it possible to receive grace in vain? That is what Paul warns!. Prayer is an essential ingredient to live “in Christ” because we must have a continuous flow of divine influence on our hearts. There are those who would teach that salvation means perfecting the spirit, leaving only the soul to be sanctified by renewing the mind. They have not read the scriptures sufficiently by the Spirit to recognize the error of such thinking.
“Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1
Paul is not saying man’s spirit is perfected at salvation. Were such true, Satan’s kingdom would not have access to the mind of men with thoughts, impressions and feelings that are contrary to the will of God. Just as God speaks to us Spirit to spirit, so evil spirits speak to us spirit to spirit. As Paul explains, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against evil forces. Were the spirit perfected at salvation, a kingdom of spiritual wickedness would not be able to tempt us except by matters of flesh and blood. It is spirit speaking to spirit, be it from the Holy Spirit or from that kingdom ruled by Satan against which we wrestle (Ephesians 6:12). So it is Paul exhorts us to always pray, for if one succumbs to the grace mistake of eternal security, he sees little need to put on the armor of God to stand in times of evil (6:13). But Jesus warns us today exactly as He did the disciples at Gethsemane:
“Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41
To have victorious life in Christ, we must both be watchful and pray to discern good versus evil (Hebrews 5:14). Discernment is a spiritual gift, not a natural sense common to man (1 Corinthians 12:10). For discernment to operate well, there must be daily communication with Him from whom we receive discernment. If sending space ships to the moon requires communication with the space center in Houston, so communication with the Father by prayer is a necessity to live victoriously. Yet that is where many fail. Due to false teaching, they do not view life as probation during which there is opportunity to choose blessings or curses, life or death, submission to the lordship of Jesus or to the ways of Satan. We’ll protest that we’d never submit to Satan and his ways. But let me challenge you to examine yourself as I do myself. There are times when it isn’t clear that I am serving Christ in the way I think, or speak, or treat others.
“If we say that we have no sins, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8
Here I’d like to share a testimony concerning prayer. I suffered with rejection from early childhood into adulthood. Performance and perfectionism were expected, very likely playing a role in becoming head of my specialty at the major cancer research center in America. Still feelings of rejection persisted and contributed to my abuse of alcohol and divorce from the mother of our four children. In time, the feelings of rejection and being unloved would manifest through physical rejection. At age sixty-five, there was explosive onset of an autoimmune disorder that is known as Sweet’s disease. This rare condition first manifested as lupus, progressing to include rheumatoid arthritis and eventually multiple sclerosis. Immunosuppressive drugs in high doses resulted in some temporary remissions, but relapse followed discontinuation of treatment.
Life was a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs marked by steady decline. It was at the ministry of Be In Health in Thomaston, Georgia, that the dots were connected between feeling unloved and rejected and having a disease wherein my body began to reject its own tissues. Teachings of Dr. Henry Wright was like turning on a light bulb in recognizing that spiritual issues like rejection could manifest by diseases which had the body reject its own tissues as is the case with all so-called autoimmune disease. And that it can happen to one who is blood-bought, born again, and baptized in the Holy Spirit was a revelation.
It was here prayer became a powerful agent of healing. After recognizing as well as taking responsibility for not fully appreciating and being grateful for my heavenly Father’s love, I asked forgiveness and renounced the lies Satan had used against me, praying daily for the grace to resist thoughts of being unloved or rejected. I rejoiced in having been redeemed, thanking God for using me as an instrument to destroy the works of the devil. Not only am I told my countenance has changed. All symptoms of autoimmune disease gradually went into remission so there is no longer any need for daily treatment with toxic drugs having serious side effects.
It was a new experience to have prayers for myself answered, even after seeing many diseases healed by prayer alone including cancer, blindness, diabetes, end-stage Lou Gehrig’s disease, and issues of unhealing wounds, not to mention witnessing a dead man with liver and kidney failure restored to life with both liver and kidneys functioning again after prayer of faith. To have answer to personal prayers for myself seemed almost beyond imagination. Yet all things are given in response to prayer in the scriptures. And the most precious aspect is the fellowship I enjoy with Abba through what the Son has done on our behalf. But grace needs murturing by prayer, our ordained way of communicating with God. Whatever blessings result from prayer are to glorify the One who says, “Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things which you know not” (Jeremiah 33:3).
In the early church, there was greater certainty of answer to prayer than seen today. Many profess Christ while denying the Father continues to work through the power of the Spirit in the name of Jesus. Those who don’t believe God is the same today as yesterday are not a part of the NT church. Such are little more than a cult, lacking in faith and removing the supernatural from the gospel of the kingdom. Paul says those preaching a different gospel than did he are “accursed” (excommunicated) from the church (Galatians 1:8). For divine healings and miracles in response to prayer still take place, and they reveal the love and compassion of God for a suffering humanity. Strip away work of Holy Spirit that operated through the man Jesus of Nazareth and operates today through those of faith, and one is left with a gospel unconfirmed by the power of God. The apostle prophesied such would take place in later years, namely “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). Paul described such people as “lovers of their own selves,” “false accusers,” “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:2-7).
Despite heresy, the name of Jesus and the power of Holy Spirit have never lost their effect with prayer: “All things are possible to him that believes” (Mark 9:23) is a divine promise found throughout all the gospels. We can choose to live in unbelief or believe what Holy Spirit inspired men to write. And if we choose to believe, prayer is the means by which promises are appropriated, providing lives are lived with help of the Holy Spirit in obedient faith. One only need look back to OT times to see abundant miracles. Saints of old were familiar with God’s power in response to their prayer. And we have the same record in the early NT church. Hearing about Dorcas’ death, Peter put everyone out of the room, and then kneeling to pray, restored her to life. The church was schooled in prayer when Peter was imprisoned following James’ murder. “Prayer was made without ceasing” and led to an angel being sent to rescue Peter (Acts 12:5).
The force of prayer in God’s government has never diminished. Not only must forces of evil yield, but natural laws as well. What we call laws of nature were put into place by God who created nature. Just as the sun and moon stood still following Joshua’s prayer so enemies might be defeated, should we doubt natural laws can once again be suspended if it serves the purpose of God? A difficulty is that few are willing to serve apprenticeships in the school of prayer in order to graduate as men mighty in prayer to a listening Almighty God. Scripture reveals at least four reasons for not repeatedly seeing the fulfillment of what Jesus tells us:
“He that believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also.” John 14:12
The first reason is not believing God continues to be a worker of the miraculous in Jesus’ name through the power of Holy Spirit. This applies to the majority of those who profess belief in Jesus today. The next two reasons are conditions mentioned earlier, i.e., failing to pray according to the known will of the Father and failing to live in obedience to His revealed will. The fourth reason is the subject of these lessons, namely lack of persevering and fervent prayer. We’ve become a microwave society. Immediate results are expected in many ways apart from frozen dinners. There is an expectation of instant gratification in many so avenues of life. Absence of patience, let alone self-control, is reflected by such as ‘road rage’ and eagerness to end marriages when everything isn’t exactly as one expected.
Nowhere is this mentality seen as dramatically as with prayer. We’re encouraged by Jesus to press our case in prayer to our heavenly Father, but we fail to do so. In telling a parable about the widow who prevailed against the judge who feared neither God nor man, Jesus ends by saying, “Shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry out to Him, though He bear long with them?” (Luke 18:7). God bearing long implies our not being persevering in prayer for an extended time, but only praying for a few minutes when we think about it. A fearful battle is ongoing and nothing other than obedience to God’s will and prayer is going to mobilize forces of heaven needed on our behalf. If the Son of Man couldn’t carry out His ministry short of extended prayer, how can we expect victory against the world, flesh and the devil. Serious prayer has been reduced to near oblivion in the lives of many believers, not to mention playing ‘second fiddle’ to preaching in most American churches.
I believe God is more willing and anxious to answer prayer than we are to ask. God realized in advance that such would be the case when the Spirit inspired James to write, “You have not, because you ask not” (James 4:2). Through scripture we are given examples of prayer having unlimited potential. As Jesus told the blind man, “According to your faith be it unto you.” This can be paraphrased, “According to your measure of faith in asking as demonstrated by perseverance in prayer shall it be given unto you.”
If we believe the Word of God, then we believe prayer is heard by God and has effect on Him. When Jesus declares the incredible possibilities of prayer by telling prayer involves “all things whatsoever,” we should rejoice. Remarkable things can come to pass with prayer as described in the book Hooked on Hope available to read on this website. Greater stress on prayer, both fervent and persistent, is going to be necessary for the church to carry out the task given by its Bishop. Spiritual success will follow churches given to serious prayer, while defeat awaits non-praying churches irrespective of much preaching is done, how many Bible studies are held, or how many people attend the Sunday and mid-week services, or how many evangelistic missions.
When Paul wrote to Timothy about the primary things people of God are expected to do, prayer was placed first among essentials: “I exhort therefore, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1). Supplications are intense prayer associated with an urgent personal need, pleading at the throne of grace. Intercession is enlarging or expanding prayer from oneself to others so the fullness of God’s will is done in specific individuals and in the church universal.
Just as gravity holds things in their proper sphere, so prayer is far-reaching in effect within the government of God. In fact, the major emphasis in teaching God’s Word should be that God hears and answers prayer. Any teaching that fails to stress that point lacks proper orientation, yet such stress isn’t always evident. God wants to manifest Himself by the power of Holy Spirit in and through the lives of believers. But in the absence of intimate communication with the Father on a consistent basis, manifestations of the Spirit cannot reasonably be expected.
Prayer has been a cardinal principle in every dispensation, and with faith must be a cornerstone in the foundation of Christian life today. Prayer is to be seen not just as a duty or obligation, but as a privilege in every sense of the word. Prayer is a channel established by God for receiving blessings and for aid in all situations. More than that, prayer stirs the spirit of a pray-er to those holy purposes for which we are created. Many books are written on prayer, techniques of prayer, purposes of prayer, various positions in prayer, and so forth. What is not always emphasized is that the kind of prayer which moves God comes from a heart of worship. There can be pomp, and all kinds of exhibition, shouting, and lying on one’s face without true praying. Of need is coming to God in true lowliness of spirit and with clean hands and purity of heart. The Father is more concerned with our heart attitude than anything else.
If we can grasp the desire of God to bless His children, we’ll spend far more time in a closet communing with Abba, not only in petition but in worship and being blessed by His presence. In such a way, man’s emptiness is filled, and not just with more bread. Poverty is filled with riches far exceeding material possessions. Paul tells us to come with a spirit of thanksgiving so that we may have a peace passing all understanding (Philippians 4:7). When prayers are perfumed with devotion, they ascend with such special aroma and a spirit of adoption as children of the Father (Romans 8:15). But prayer with the heart is rarely taught. Consumed by materialism and comfort. Memory has faded about Jesus saying our hearts and true homes are where our treasures are found (Matthew 6:21).
Prayer is not only a privilege one is invited to attend. Prayer is an obligation that we must attend if we really belong to God. A believer is never required to be famous or wealthy, or even to find basic comforts in life (Hebrews 11:35-38). But one is obliged to pray in loyalty to God. Prayer is said to hold the seed of life, and is needed to germinate that seed and to cultivate growth. Jesus’ command is not whether we pray, but “When you pray….” One may have received the gift of Christ at one point, but like any gift it can be received in vain. God waits on prayer to order His ways in our life, and prayers said in the closet are what offering incense represented in Jewish temple worship centuries ago.
Jesus is honored and the Father glorified by prayers and supplications, especially by requests for the kingdom of heaven to be manifested in greater measure. Our lives require sanctification, cleansed from contamination of the flesh and spirit to be effective agents of reconciliation for the lost. Until our lives are in close harmony with God’s will, we can hardly expect to be like cities high on a hill shining forth the light of the indwelling Christ in a dark world under Satan’s rule. One is to represent the Father in thought, word and deed as a soldier in the army of Christ. This includes showing the world that God answers prayers. Preaching should prove authentic by confirmation with signs and wonders as instructed by Jesus Himself (Mark 16:15-18). But preaching today is usually directed by the intellect instead of having boldness inspired by the Spirit and confirmed as in the early church by the miraculous (Acts 4:29,30).
Jesus spoke of abiding in His Word as a condition for answered prayers (John 15:7). So it is Jesus said He only speaks and does what His heavenly Father says and does. In other words, Jesus of Nazareth as a man lived in harmony with God the Father by the power of the Spirit as a role model for us. And it’s critical to realize the means by which directions came that He might be a role model and show us the Father (John (14:9). It was as John the Baptist said: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). As man, Jesus depended on daily prayer to receive guidance from the Father. What He received would then be acted on in the power of Spirit, a model for our lives. There has never been one like Jesus of Nazareth who so perfectly demonstrated the importance of prayer in living according to the Father’s will.
So this might be accomplished, Jesus promised to send another exactly like Himself to dwell not only with us but in us so we might be able to continue the work of His Father on earth (John 14:16). Such is “abundant” life the Son of God was sent to bring a world that had strayed from what God intended at creation. I confess there is no place where I fall so short of living a life of obedient faith than in practicing a command, “When you pray…” Is it any wonder that men, having inherited a fallen nature from the “first man” Adam, fall so far short?
We fail to follow the example of a “second man” Jesus of Nazareth who came in our likeness so that we might have an acceptable role model (1 “Corinthians 15:47) and be empowered by baptism in the Holy Spirit to live our lives in obedient faith. We must determine to find refuge from the dazzling crowns offered by the world, all destined to burn in the fire of judgment. But such will never materialize without much time in the prayer closet. Need for praying men and women has passed a critical point. As prayer was necessary for the Son of Man to fulfill the purposes of God, only in the same way shall we say in our hours of trial, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”