Subject Eleven: Prayer

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Questions by S. W. Royes; answers by H. P. Barker.
Is There Any Special Reason Why You Have Chosen the Subject of Prayer to Immediately Follow Our Dialogue on the Holy Scriptures?
Yes. In the spiritual life of the believer the two things — the Word of God and prayer — must go hand in hand or shipwreck will be the result. In Luke 10:3939And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. (Luke 10:39), we find Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, hearing His word. She is commended for the good part she chose, and we learn from her case how right it is that we should desire to know the Lord’s Word. But immediately following on this an incident is recorded from which we learn the importance of prayer, and we see from the close conjunction in which the two scenes are placed on the sacred page how intimately connected the two things — the Word of God and prayer — are.
In order to keep a fire burning, a constant supply of both fuel and air is necessary. Deprived of either, the fire would die away. In the same way, two things are needed if the fire of joy and communion is to be kept burning brightly in the believer’s soul — a constant application of the Word to his heart and the constant exercise of prayer.
To Whom Should Prayer Be Addressed?
To God, and to Him alone. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a trace of any such thing as prayer being addressed to the Virgin Mary or the saints. It seems rather late in the day to have to press this and fight the battle of the Reformation on this point again. Yet the practice of invoking the dead is becoming prevalent in circles which were once avowedly Protestant. God is thus robbed of the honor which belongs to Him alone; creatures are exalted at the expense of the Creator; dead men and women are adored and invoked instead of the living God.
Of course, in speaking of God as the only One to whom our prayers should be addressed, I do not for a moment mean that we must not pray to the Lord Jesus. He is God, equally with the Father, and equal honor belongs to Him (John 5:2323That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent him. (John 5:23)). We find Stephen praying to the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit. Paul, too, prayed to Him concerning his thorn in the flesh.
We cannot define, in any cut-and-dried way, the occasions when prayer should be addressed to the Father and when to the Son. Generally speaking, we turn to God our Father with reference to our needs as His children here on earth; we turn to the Lord Jesus in connection with His service in which He graciously permits us to engage.
It only remains to be said that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the blessed Trinity, is never presented as the object of either prayer or praise. He is on earth, dwelling within us, to indite, not to receive, our prayers and praises.
Has God Promised Always to Give Us What We Ask for?
He is too wise a Ruler and too loving a Father for that. What earthly parent would undertake to grant every thoughtless request that his child might ask? There are many precious promises, gleaming on the page of Scripture, which assure the believer that his prayer, under certain conditions, will be heard. But whether God, in His love and wisdom, sees fit to grant any particular request or not, there is one thing on which we may always count. Philippians 4:67 will illustrate what I mean. God pledges His word that, in every case, His own peace shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Infinite love may deny us the thing which we ask for, but the keeping of our hearts in the serene atmosphere of God’s own peace will never be refused to the one who brings his requests to Him.
What Conditions Are There That Ensure Prayer Being Answered?
We will turn to the Scriptures and see. Look first at Psalm 66:1818If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: (Psalm 66:18). “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” If we would have our prayers answered, we must be right with God in secret. Our private life must tally with our public profession. Sin concealed, like a serpent in the bosom, takes all vitality from prayer. A bad conscience is a certain barrier in the way of our petitions being granted. God will not pour His blessings into unclean vessels. So the first condition for prevailing prayer is a good conscience.
Now read James 4:33Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:3). “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” From this we learn that those who ask anything of God for a selfish reason will assuredly be disappointed. God will not be a party to self-gratification. The prayers recorded in Scripture, to which such wonderful answers were given, were prayers on behalf of others or prayers that had God’s glory in view in connection with those who uttered them. A second condition, then, is a pure motive.
Then see James 1:67. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” Unwavering confidence is necessary, then, if we would have our prayers answered. To doubt is to dishonor God and to deal a death-blow at our own petitions.
Look now at 1 John 3:2222And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (1 John 3:22). “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Obedience on our part is another condition. We are not left in ignorance as to what things are pleasing to the Lord. But it is not enough to know them. We must do them if we desire to receive of Him the things we ask.
Once again, turn to John 16:2323And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. (John 16:23). “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.” Here is a fifth condition. If prayer is in Christ’s name it will be answered. What is it to pray in His name? It certainly does not mean to pray about any and every thing that we please, and then wind up by saying, “All this we ask in the name and for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It means that what we ask for must be something to which the name of Christ can truly be attached, something which He would ask for were He in our circumstances. This calls for spiritual discernment, which can only be acquired in nearness to the Lord. So asking for anything in His name implies that we are in close communion with Him.
Since God Knows All Our Needs, Why Should We Pray to Him About Them?
It surely is enough to know that God would have us pray. Scores of scriptures might be cited to show that prayer is acceptable to God. Nobody imagines that we pray in order to inform God of what He does not know, nor do we pray in order to secure His interest or His love. The saint who prays intelligently realizes that he is speaking to One who knows his every need far better than he does himself, whose interest in all that concerns His people is unbounded, and whose love could not possibly be greater than it is. The object of prayer is that dependence on God might be expressed, that our souls might be brought into touch with Him about what we pray for, that in waiting on Him we might learn His mind, that utterance might be afforded for desires which the Holy Spirit has wrought within us, and that when the answer comes we might be conscious that it is indeed from God that it comes.
Should We Pray for a Thing More Than Once?
No definite rule can be laid down with regard to such a matter. In some cases we are made to feel that our petition, for some wise reason, will not be granted and that we are not at liberty to continue asking. Instances of this may be rare, but most assuredly they occur. Moses, when he prayed that he might be allowed to enter Canaan, was forbidden to repeat the request (Deut. 3:2626But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. (Deuteronomy 3:26)).
On the other hand, sometimes when asking the Lord for a special thing, an overwhelming sense that one is heard and that the petition is granted comes upon one, and one feels that to ask again would be presumptuous.
But these are exceptional cases, and, generally speaking, the Lord would have us go on praying for a thing that is on our hearts. He often keeps us waiting for months, and even for years, before giving an answer, in order to test the reality of our desire and to prove our faith. He would have us persistent about what we seek of Him and thus show that we are really in earnest. This is the lesson conveyed to us in the parable of the traveler who applied to his friend for bread at midnight (Luke 11). He was heard because of his importunity. Another parable —that of the injured widow (Luke 18) — enforces the same truth that men ought not to faint or grow weary in prayer.
It is not that God is a hard and unwilling Giver, but that persistence is a test of earnestness and faith.
Is It Desirable to Have Stated Times for Private Prayer?
Most certainly it is for the great majority of Christians. Anything that is left for odd moments is often neglected altogether, and I am persuaded that the lack of having regular times is the reason why there is so little prayer among us. The saints of old had stated times. “Evening, and morning, and at noon,” said David, “will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice” (Psa. 55:1717Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. (Psalm 55:17)).
Daniel, too, cultivated the same habit, and nothing could prevent him from kneeling down in his chamber three times a day and praying and giving thanks before his God (Dan. 6:1010Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. (Daniel 6:10)). What trivial things we permit to rob us of our time for prayer!
Call the practice “legal” if you will, but I wish there were much more of such legality abroad! I earnestly commend to every young believer the habit of reserving a certain time every day for private conversing with God. Early in the morning is the best of times and immediately before retiring at night.
But besides having regular times for prayer, of which nothing should be allowed to deprive us, we should seek always to be in a prayerful, dependent spirit, ready at a moment’s notice to turn to the Lord about any difficulty or in any emergency. We have a charming instance of this in Nehemiah. He was the king’s cupbearer, and while in the performance of his duty, he was suddenly asked a question by his royal master which he felt utterly unable to answer without reference to the Lord. Divine guidance was urgently needed, but the king’s question must have an immediate reply. The immediate reply was forthcoming, but in the hardly perceptible interval between the asking and the answering, Nehemiah was able to turn to the Lord in prayer. “I prayed to the God of heaven, and I said unto the king” (Neh. 2:45). Would that we were always near enough to the Lord to be able to consult Him and seek wisdom and guidance at His hands as readily as Nehemiah did!
Would You Recommend Any Special Form of Prayer?
I would not. The Holy Spirit is here to form our thoughts and desires on the lines of God’s will, and He lays on our hearts the right subjects for prayer and enables us to present them before the Lord. We are thus exhorted to pray “with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,” and to pray “in the Holy Ghost” (Eph. 6:1818Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18); Jude 2020But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, (Jude 20)).
It is true that, left to ourselves, “we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” but in the Holy Spirit we have the best of teachers, and we may safely leave it to Him to control and direct us in our prayers.
Do You Believe in Long Prayers?
Yes, so long as they are uttered in private and really come from the heart. We can never be too much or too long on our knees in secret. The Lord Jesus on one occasion continued a whole night in prayer, but the mere fact of a man continuing long in prayer does not secure him a hearing. No one is heard for his much speaking. Reality and deep reverence should mark us in addressing God.
But I presume your question has reference to public prayers. If you will look up the prayers recorded in the Bible, you will find that the longest of them—that uttered by Solomon at the dedication of the temple —took less than ten minutes, however slowly and reverently pronounced. It has been well said that when one really wants anything, very few words will suffice to convey his request. It is when one has nothing in particular to ask for that the prayer takes twenty or twenty-five minutes.
The Lord Jesus Was Omnipotent and Was the Creator of All Things. Why, Then, Was There Any Need for Him to Pray?
It is true that the Lord Jesus was what you say. He was “over all, God blessed forever.” But He came to earth to walk the pathway of a dependent Man, and everything that God looked for in a man was found to perfection in Him. Obedience, truth, righteousness, confidence, dependence — all these were seen in Christ. And it was as a Man, in the lowly pathway into which His grace had brought Him, that we find Him again and again in prayer. In all this He has left us a bright example. May we follow faithfully in His steps! In Luke’s Gospel, where we see our Lord in a special way as a Man, I think we find Him seven times in prayer.