As one begins his search for Truth buried within the pages of Holy Writ, his humanity and finiteness abruptly comes into focus when confronted with the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom. God revealed this truth to the prophet Isaiah when he said:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa.55:9)
With this attitude and perspective ever reminding us that “we see through a glass, darkly”, we will now attempt to discern the intricacies of prayer. The elements of prayer which this writer will highlight are not definitive, but merely suggestive and introductory to the multi-faceted aspect of God’s will.
There are seven fundamental essentials of prayer for believers that must be appropriated before our petitions will be answered.
The first prerequisite for answered prayer is that the petitioner must have a clean heart before God. That is not to say that he does not sin, but it intimates that there is a constancy about his walk with God. Just as soon as he falls into sin, he is immediately convicted in his heart and expresses sincere remorse before God and finds solace and total remission in the blood of Jesus. He is continually submitting the totality of his being to become fashioned and formed into the image of the Son of God. The very force which gives him impetus is that desire to do God’s will. To the degree that we thus fulfill the Father’s will, to that same degree will we receive those requests we ask of Him.
While our vertical relationship with God is important, it is not altogether exclusive. The Bible also demands that our horizontal relationship with our fellow man be in harmony. In fact, the so-called unconditional promise of Mark 11:24 has within its context a definite stipulation.
“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25,26)
The Scriptures are replete with verses which declare to us the veracity of this vertical-horizontal relationship which God has, in his omniscience and Divine will, ordained every believer to emulate. The apostle John, in his first epistle, brings this thought succinctly into perspective.
“If we say that we have fellowship with him (God), and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (I John 1:6,7)
The second prerequisite for answered prayer is the desire, motive, or will that prompts the prayer must be in accord with the will of God. This promise is found in I John 5:14,15.
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
From the study of the Bible, we find that there are at least four elements of God’s will as it relates to man.
First, we know that it is God’s will that mankind be redeemed back to God. This is known as the doctrine of justification.
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Secondly, we know that it is God’s will for all Christians to take on the nature of Christ. That is, we should strive to walk in love and holiness. This is known as the doctrine of sanctification. Sanctification is that work of God in the believer, through the Spirit and the Word, which changes him progressively into the image of Christ.
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29)
“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.” (I Thessalonians 4:3)
The third aspect of God’s will concerns itself with presumption. That is, we must always take into account that the future belongs to God alone. We cannot presume to any future activity without taking God’s will into consideration. In the fourth chapter of James, this truth is clearly seen.
“For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” (James 4:15)
The fourth element centers upon the individual believer to the corporate Church. In other words, God does not view the individual Christian as a lone entity, but incorporates him into the Divine scope and plan of the entire body of Christ.
“Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” (Romans 1:10)
“That I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.” (Romans 15:32)
“But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.” (I Corinthians 4:19)
In Acts 16:6, we read where Paul was forbidden by the Spirit to go into Asia to preach the Gospel. This was not because God did not want the people in the province of Asia to be saved, but it just was not in God’s timing and Divine plan at that time. Paul later received the “Macedonian call”, a directive from God. We cannot begin to understand the reasons for this, but it can be inferred that in some way the prospect of the future body of believers was in the Mind of God. Who can fathom the wisdom of God?
We engaged in this short study of “God’s will” with the purpose of better understanding the “according to his will” clause found in I John 5:14. As we begin to “walk in Christ”, then our desires will also be the desires of the Spirit because we are allowing ourselves to become new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17).
The third prerequisite for answered prayer is that we ask in his (Jesus) name. Jesus said that when we do things in his name, we are doing them as unto Christ himself. The phrase, in the name of Jesus, points to and emphasizes the person of Christ and his ministry of reconciliation. So, when the Bible commands us to do all things, whether word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus, it teaches us that we are doing it for the edification, glory and honor of the person of the Lord Jesus.
Too often Christians use this phrase almost as a magical quote thinking that there is power in the words themselves. The power is resident in the work and ministry of Christ and to the motive/purpose in which the believer utilizes these words. In Acts 19:13-17, we read of the seven sons of Sceva who tried to use this phrase upon a demoniac. Since they were not followers of Christ, they had no authority or right in invoking the name of Jesus. Consequently, the demoniac overcame them to their wounding.
The fourth prerequisite for answered prayer is having that very essential element of faith.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not…it shall be done.” (Matthew 21:21)
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering…” (James 1:6)
The teaching of faith is much like other topics taught within the Christian church, it is either stressed too much or too little. It is either too far to the right of the scales of truth or too far to the left. Too often, I believe we are guilty of using the phrase “if it be God’s will” without ever putting our faith on the line.
[Just a thought: Have you ever noticed how many references to “right and left” are in the Bible, life, or politics? Especially interesting is the fact that “right” seems to always be good and “left” is always bad.]
The fifth prerequisite for answered prayer is compassion. This is the heartbeat of God. When we pray for someone who is sick, we must truly have compassion and empathy for them.
“So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.” (Matthew 20:34)
“And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.” (Mark 1:41)
“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.” (Luke 7:13,15)
The sixth prerequisite for answered prayer is importunity. Importunity entails an evincing earnestness, a faith that takes no denial, and especially a perseverance that continues to intercede until the request is granted.
“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” (Luke 11:5-8) [See Luke 18:1-5 as another example of importunity.]
The seventh prerequisite for answered prayer is unity. This element is necessary when there are two or more praying together. This is the prayer of Jesus in John 17:22 when he said, “that they may be one, even as we are one.” When there is unity of purpose among believers, then we are fulfilling God’s will.
“These all continued with one accord in prayer…” (Acts 1:14)
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple…” (Acts 2:46)
“And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.” (Acts 5:12)
In concluding this short study on prayer, I am going to cite a passage of scripture from the book of James. In James 5:14-16, we find all seven of these prayer essentials within just these three verses. I want the reader to try and identify all seven essentials.
“Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Confess your faults one to another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:14-16)