Tom: You’re listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him.
For the last two weeks we’ve been discussing prayer, which is one of the most important aspects of our lives as Christians. And we began the topic with a question from Dave’s book In Defense of the Faith, and that led us to a number of other questions about prayer which we are still addressing.
But let me pick up with the next question from Dave’s book: “It is my understanding that Christians should pray ‘according to God’s will.’ Why doesn’t God just do His will without being advised how to do it? And if He knows everything, why does He need anyone to tell Him what needs to be done? If God ‘cares for His own,’ as I have so often heard preached, then why do ‘His own’ ever have to cry to Him to supply their needs?”
Dave: Tom, I don’t remember where that question came from, who asked it (this is some time ago), but first of all…
Tom: But it’s a question, I’m sure, on a lot of people’s minds. People have thought about it from time to time, so it’s a good question.
Dave: Right. First of all, we don’t advise God what to do. That’s what some people think. That’s the idea behind positive confession: just decide what you want and make a positive confession about it. Or they will even try to be biblical: “Well, God will give you the desire of your heart, so express the desire of your heart. And if you express it positively and you say it over and over, then God will give it to you.”
Tom: Well, Dave, that error even pushes out to a degree that we work the same way God works. We’re little gods under God, and as He works, this is what we do.
Dave: “We can bring it into existence by repeating it,” so that’s not prayer at all. That’s an affirmation; this is what it’s called in the occult. No, we ask God for things. “Ask and you shall receive. You receive not because you ask not,” James said.
However, that doesn’t mean that everything we ask we will get. It would be bad if we did. If a parent gave a child everything they asked, that would be a disaster, because then they can have anything they want. They can run the show. In other words, it’s no longer asking, it’s demanding. “Your wish is my command.” So we’re going to have God that says that to us.
Tom: Yes. And, Dave, I think about, regarding children, how much of a problem this can be. I remember a cartoon—I think it was “Barry’s World” or something. It was just one cell, and you saw a little 3 or 4-year-old standing there holding a placard, and on the placard, it said, “Instant gratification ain’t fast enough!” So that’s where we get to sometimes.
Dave: Yeah. On the other hand, a person could ask a question—it’s a logical question—"Well, if I’m to pray according to God’s will, then what’s the point of praying? Isn’t God going to do His will anyway? So why not just wait for God’s will to be done?”
Well, prayer…let’s say I have a friend in need, or someone needs healing—they’re ill, or they need a job, whatever it is…
Dave: Yes. I like the way William Law said it many years ago. He spoke of a certain pastor who, he said, learned the infinite value of souls by appearing on their behalf so often in God’s presence.
So, number one, prayer can be an exercise of my heart. It exercises my compassion, my love and concern for others. It also teaches me God’s will. It teaches me patience. I’m coming to Him as my heavenly Father. I’m not demanding, I’m asking. And in the process of maybe not answering, or maybe it’s not God’s will at the moment—maybe this is not His time, or His way—He has other ways of bringing these things about. I don’t know, but I’m positioning myself to learn something about the heart of God and the ways of God.
Tom: So, Dave, in Philippians:4:6 where it says, “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” But God knows beforehand what we’re going to bring, but nevertheless this is His command.
Dave: Yes, whatever the circumstances—well, first of all, I put myself in God’s hands. I want His will. I’ve gone through many situations like that, so I’m not just speaking theory.
I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I was given the management of hopelessly bankrupt corporations. Checks had been mailed out that would overdraw the bank accounts by about a $100,000 within a couple of days when they hit the bank. They owed about $80,000 in back payroll taxes. They shut you down for that. And it took about $15,000 a day to keep the doors open—nowhere to get the money. And I went through three years of relying on God totally, and saw Him do many miracles. On the other hand, He never did it just the way I wanted it, but He always came through in this particular situation.
I’ve taken things behind the Iron Curtain and seen those guys go after that car, taking it apart, undoing everything, ripping the lining out of my wife’s purse. We had a suitcase full of Bibles. They handled every suitcase many times—never opened that one. Amazing! I don’t think I’ve said it over the radio…I remember—I probably told you, Tom—but I remember little John, our youngest (I think he was seven at the time). And as we are stuffing the suitcases back (we had a VW bus, back in the back of the VW bus), the guys have gone through them except for one. And he said in a loud voice, “Did they look in the brown suitcase?” I’m trying to hush him up, but anyway, they never looked in the brown suitcase.
Tom: And there were Bibles in there?
Dave: Bibles, right, for Romania actually. But we’ve seen the Lord’s hand in many, many ways. But that doesn’t mean that He is our servant—He’s just doing things for us as we want them. No, He is teaching us and guiding us.
But prayer, we are told to travail in prayer. We are told to pray without ceasing. We are acknowledging our total dependence upon our heavenly Father, and He’s going to give us what He knows we have need of rather than what we want.
Tom: Dave, this idea of “pray without ceasing”—now, does that mean we’re trying to wrestle God over a certain issue? What does the Bible have in mind here when it says (I think there’s a term, “importune”) that we are to bring… Now, again, let’s say we have something that we keep praying about and keep praying about and keep praying about. I mean, God knows. What are we doing there?
Dave: Tom, I don’t think it means ask again, and again, and again, and again. Because Jesus says that’s what the heathen do. “Vain repetition as the heathen,” Jesus said. “Don’t use it over and over and over.” The Tibetans think the more times they can spin the prayer wheel, the more likely it is the gods will hear them.
Tom: Yeah, nichiren shōshū, or their different Buddhist approaches to it.
Dave: But, Tom, I can say I pray without ceasing. I’m praying right now! No, I’m in an attitude of prayer before my heavenly Father. “Lord, please help us with this radio broadcast.”
Sitting next to someone on the airplane: “Lord, I don’t know how to approach this person. If this person is open to Your Word and You want me to talk to them, then work it out.” Circumstances. And I’ll sort of make a little approach or something, a nice friendly gesture.
So I’m continually praying. I get on an airplane: “Lord take us safely.” But it’s not that we’re anxious. It’s what that scripture says: “Don’t be anxious, don’t be careful. Be careful for nothing, be anxious for nothing, but in everything….” So I’m not worried, but I commit everything to my heavenly Father. We should be in an attitude of prayer before God at all times.
Tom: So if I’m thinking about my family and I’m praying every day for protection, that’s not vain repetition?
Tom: Even though God knows the first time I pray that one prayer, He remembers. It’s not like, “Oh, I forgot, Tom prayed this and now he reminded me.” That’s not the way God works. But He does want us to continually bring things before Him. Again, this is not for His sake, right? It’s for our sake.
Dave: Well, Tom, let’s be honest, and let me make a confession of my own here: I know people right now that have needs. I have a very dear friend of many years with prostate cancer. I have other friends with various needs. I have to confess I don’t show my concern for them as much as I should by coming before the throne of grace on their behalf. So I think this is part of what the Lord is talking about. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul says. I should continually have these dear people on my heart and mind.
And, you know, I think of Paul. He was a very busy man. I think I’m busy, but he was far busier. He said he had the care of all the churches, “beside those things that come upon me daily.” The man knew he was going off to the next town—not in a Mercedes, not in a Lear jet. He’s walking there, and he knows the reception he’s going to get. They will hear him for a while, and then he’s going to be rejected, beaten, put in jail or in prison, scourged, and so forth. But besides all of that, he’s writing epistles. He wrote most of the New Testament.
But what I am really impressed by—he names so many people at the ends of his epistles. By name he’s talking about them, and he says he’s praying for them always. And then he asks that they would always be in prayer for him. He even asks that “utterance may be given to me,” Ephesians 6, “that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.” When you think of Paul, why do you need to pray for Paul to have boldness and to be able to speak out? You would think no one was so forward, so energetic and conscientious and concerned to do that as Paul.
So we don’t take anything for granted, Tom. It’s another thing about prayer.
Dave: “I don’t have confidence in the flesh,” Paul said, and I find that, Tom, as well. Prayer is expressing to God my continual leaning upon Him, committing myself to Him—that without Him, I can’t draw a breath, and we forget that.
Tom: Dave, there are also many scriptures that deal with conditions for God hearing our prayer. I want to go over some of these. Psalm:80:4 says, “O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?” I think of the example of the defeat at Ai for Joshua, and…
Dave: Yeah, he got on his face.
Tom: Well, dust, sackcloth, and ashes, the whole thing. And what does God say to him?
Dave: “Get up. This is no time for that sort of thing. We need repentance. There is sin…”
Tom: “There is sin in the camp.”
Dave: Right, yeah.
Tom: Well, let me give you some more of those because, again, I want to underscore that if you think that you can just pray and God is going to answer your prayer no matter what, well, you better look to His Word.
Proverbs:15:8 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.”
Proverbs:15:29: “The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.”
Psalm:66:18: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me….”
Proverbs:28:9: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.”
Dave: It’s like—well, I don’t know that it’s a perfect illustration, but I often try to get the heart of children and young people. What good does it do you on Mother’s Day [if] you give your mother a nice card and tell her how much you appreciate her and so forth, but the rest of the year you disobey her? (Or on her birthday or whatever.) God expects some consistency in our lives. Why should He reward my disobedience and my disregard of His will and of His Word? Why should He reward that with answered prayer?
Tom: Not even reward—reinforce an attitude that’s upsetting to Him. It would be an abomination.
Dave: That’s right. That’s what it would mean if He rewarded me for—He’s just encouraging me to be the way I am, and many parents are that way.
Of course, this whole world, Tom, is lacking discipline. I see it more and more and more, even in Christian families. Well, we just heard a case the other day—this happened to be a divorced couple and she has custody, but he has them certain times (every other weekend or whatever), and she doesn’t discipline them. And he’s trying to bring them back in line, and he, I guess, just spanked one of the little boys, and [the little boy] reports it. The Bible says, “He that loves his child disciplines him betimes.” That if you spare the rod, you spoil the child, and Proverbs says that, but you can’t do that anymore. And he told a teacher, I guess, that his daddy hit him.
Tom: This is the child.
Dave: Yeah, his daddy hit him. And the teacher then reports it, and now the father is investigated and he has to go to some kind of therapy because he dared to discipline a little boy who needs it badly, who just defies his parents.
Well, that’s the world we live in, and I’ve often expressed it. Some of these 2- and 3-year-olds that I see, they ought to have an emperor’s crown on their heads. They run the show, and the parents and everyone else, they’re afraid to cross them [because] they’ll throw a tantrum.
So when we pray, it’s a family relationship we have with our heavenly Father. And of course, if you’re out there listening and you do not have that relationship, you haven’t received Christ as your Savior, your Lord—you don’t love Him, you don’t know God—it’s not going to do you any good to pray. You might as well recite a mantra.
Get into the New Age if you want. Try to make some positive confession. Try to believe that you can control your destiny with your mind, you can create reality with your mind. Go ahead, try that route if you want. But if you want the God who created this universe to be your heavenly Father and to guide your life, then you have to come to Him through Jesus Christ who died for your sins, paid the penalty for your sins. And then we approach Him as our heavenly Father. “Father, You know best. But, Father, I have this need, or my friend has this need—we’re asking You in Your wisdom if You would do this. But if in Your wisdom that’s not Your will, we want what is best.”
Tom: Dave, I remember saying to somebody, and they took my head off for it, that God doesn’t answer the prayers of an unbeliever except that an unbeliever cries out to Him for salvation.
Dave: Right, mm-hmm. But we can’t make a hard and fast rule. He could for some reason, to bring that person to Himself. But anyway, prayer is not vain. The Scripture says it is not a vain thing to call upon the living God. But it’s not that we are telling God what to do, and why should we bother, because He already knows what He’s going to do? Or, “Why should we pray according to ‘thy will?’”
People like Hagin and Copeland and so forth, Benny Hinn, they say, “Well, if you do that, you are expressing your unbelief.” No, we are not. We are expressing our desire that our heavenly Father’s will would be done.
So prayer is tremendous. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” It is not a vain thing, but it’s not an “open sesame.” It’s not a magic formula to get what we want, but it is an expression of our submission to the Lord, and it’s part of the…
You know, Andrew Murray wrote a book way back there, a hundred years ago—more than a hundred—titled, With Christ in the School of Prayer. It’s a school where we learn our Father’s will.
Tom: Dave, the verse that you just quoted from James: “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man…” We’re talking a righteous man, a righteous woman, a righteous child, and that’s reinforced by—I just want to go over two other verses…
Dave: First John. You’ve got a good one there probably in chapter…
Tom: Go ahead.
Dave: Well, but you’ve got them all laid out there before you. I would just be going by my faulty memory.
Tom: Well, give me that one, because I don’t have that one written down here.
Dave: Well, “We ask and we receive because we keep His commandments and do those things that are well pleasing in His sight.”
Tom: Well, let me add two to that. Isaiah:1:15, it says, “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: [this is the Lord speaking] yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.”
And that sounds like an extreme case, but Isaiah:59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
Dave: Right, yeah.
Tom: Those are not chilling, but they’re sobering verses about my prayer life and my relationship with the Lord.
Dave: Well, Tom, I think one of the greatest needs in churches, on Christian TV, and let’s say Christian radio for us as well, and in our individual lives and our families, is to realize who God is. There’s not much…well, the Scripture says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This God is so awesome, so great, and that we would even dare to ask Him anything could only be because of His grace and because of what Christ has done for us. I only come into His presence in the name of Jesus Christ and through the blood of Christ that was poured out on the cross for my sins. No other basis.
And we approach God too casually. Some TV programs, you almost get the idea that they’ve got God by the tail. And, “Oh, wait a minute,” stop and then, “oh…” I mean, God says something to them, “Oh yeah, okay…” Wait a minute, you are not on that casual basis of a relationship with God. This is a very solemn, even a frightening…I often tell God, “I’m afraid, Lord. I’m afraid to come into Your presence.” We need a little revival of the fear of God based upon who God really is, and I think we’ve forgotten that. And that is what prayer would do for me. In other words, it ought to, because I should come to God with that attitude of heart.
Tom: Mm-hmm, and that’s our encouragement. Look, the verses that we’ve gone over, the encouragement we have for our listeners out here—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, fear of God is important, but He said, “Come to me all ye who…”
Dave: “…all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Yeah, He loves us. He’s the lover of our souls, He’s our friend, and yet He’s awesome.