Bowling Green, Kentucky
Prayer is "an earnest entreaty addressed to God"(Webster). In order to pray, man must have certain concepts about His God. The recent surveys which I have read bout the prayer life of Christians and the personal contact which I have had with Christians lead me to believe that Christians are not spending very much time in prayer.
I am convinced that some of this is caused by an erosion of our faith in God. Have we over-reacted to Pentecostalism's teaching that God is presently working miracles to such an extent that we are convinced that asking God to heal a sick man is useless at best, and at worst an ignorant disregard of His expressed statements that miracles have ceased? We pray for the doctors and nurses who are attending the sick, but rarely do we ask the Lord to heal someone among us who is sick.
We may be approaching the deistic concept of God. Deists incorrectly say that God's relationship to the universe can be compared to a man who wound up a clock and set it on a shelf to run down. Have we a deistic concept of God? Do we imagine Him so far removed from the day-today operation of the universe that He will not intervene in the affairs of man? Do we conceive of Him as being willing to change His planned course of action as a result of our prayers?
In order for man to pray effectively, his concept of God must be such that he believes that praying makes a difference. If man reaches the conclusion that prayer will do no good, that he prays out of duty but with a sense of futility, he will not pray in faith. Because of these misconceptions about God's reaction to man's prayers, let us explore these attributes of God which make prayer reasonable.
The Prayer-Hearing God
David addressed God as follows: "O thou that hearest prayer" (Psa. 65:2). Even as Jehovah is described as the Almighty (Gen. 17:1-2), the God who provides (Gen. 22:14), the God who sees, and other names, He is also known as the God who hears prayer. The Lord is immutable; the psalmist wrote, ". . thou art the same" (Psa. 102:27). Even as God has not changed in other aspects of His character, He is also unchanged in respect to hearing prayer.
The belief that God does hear prayer demands the following concepts to be accepted:
1. That God exists. There is no use to pray if there is no God. Prayer is not soliloquy-man talking to himself. Prayer is man addressing God. If there is no God, there is no reason for man to pray. Some men do not pray because they have become atheists and agnostics. Before a man prays, he must believe that God is and that He is the rewarder of them who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
2. That God hears. Not only does man believe that God exists, he also must believe that God can and will hear prayer. The concept that God will hear my prayer demonstrates man's faith in God's omniscience. Millions of people from various places on this globe are lifting their voices to God in prayer. He hears every individual's prayer. My concept of deity must be one that believes in a personal God who hears man's prayers. An impersonal "force" or power does not respond to prayer.
3. That God cares. To believe that God will answer my prayer, I must believe that God cares for me. Jesus taught, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Lk. 12:6-7). ". . . for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things" (Matt. 7:32). The Lord in heaven is aware of you and your needs; "for he careth for you" (1 Pet. 5:7). Why would I cast my petitions on God unless I was convinced that He cares for me?
Frank E. Graeff (1860-1919), Methodist preacher, wrote "Does Jesus Care?" while experiencing severe despondency, doubt and physical agony. The words of this song reassure us that Jesus does care for us, a thought so essential for one to be habitual in prayer.
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?
Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades
Into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?
Does Jesus care when I've tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong,
When for my deep grief
There is no relief
Tho' my tears flow all the night long?
Does Jesus care when I've said "goodby"
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?
O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
4. That God is able. For me to pray to God, I must believe that He is able to do s6mething to relieve my need. This implies that God is omnipotent, the Almighty. Paul assures us that God is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph. 4:20). To take my petitions to one who has no ability to answer my needs is useless. In that case, about all one can do is to have sympathy and pity. My friends can extend sympathy and pity. However, God is able to act to change my conditions and situation.
5. That God will act. For me to pray, I must believe that my prayer will have an impact on God, motivating Him to act in my behalf. Jesus said,
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him (Matt. 7:7-11).
In response to Israel's cry because of the oppression in Egypt, God raised up Moses to deliver His people (Ex. 3:9). In response to Elijah's prayer, the Lord withheld rain from Israel for three and one-half years; in response to another one of his prayers, he sent rain to Israel (Jas. 5:18). In response to Hezekiah's prayer, God added fifteen years to his life (2 Kgs. 20). In response to the church's prayer, Peter was released from Herod's prison (Acts 12). God heard these prayers, cared about the plight of the people, and acted to relieve their suffering. I must believe the same God cares in the same way about me and will act in response to my prayers. If this is not true, why pray?
6. That God has infinite wisdom. I come to God in prayer, like Jesus who said, "Not my will but thine be done." I recognize that I do not always ask what I need. The God to whom I pray will exercise the wisdom to decide how to answer my prayers, not always giving me what I ask, but always giving me what I need.
This was scribbled almost a century ago by an anonymous soldier of the Confederacy:
I asked for help, that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked God for strength that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for — but everything I hoped for.
Despite myself, my prayers were answered. I am among all men, most richly blessed.
When Jesus gave the parable of the unjust judge (Lk. 18:1-4), He was teaching us that "men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Lk. 18:1). When He concluded the parable, He said, "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Lk. 18:8) Men will not pray unless they have faith.
My brethren, if we are not praying, we lack faith. We need to go back to our fundamental concepts of God and reaffirm our commitment to them. Let us not be so subtly influenced by the infidelity around us that we reach the conclusion that prayer does no good and quit praying.
Having faith in God, let us join together in offering our petitions to him in prayer. "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:19). "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas. 5:16). Do you believe these statements? If so, should we be spending more time in prayer and less time worrying?