Why does God make us wait for some of our prayers? ie Abraham having a child and Hannah having a baby. It seems patience and long suffering are a theme in the Bible, but why?
It's all about faith. If we always received everything we wanted, the way we wanted it, and immediately, it wouldn't take much faith to be a believer in Jesus Christ. It also would not test us or train us or develop our faith. When we have to wait, we develop long-suffering, patience, persistence and perseverance. We also glorify God in so doing, because only those who really trust Him are willing to endure in patience when all the world says we are crazy and everything our eyes see or our ears hear tells us that God will not rescue us. But if we do trust Him, and if we do persevere, we not only grow closer to Him in the process, but we witness to the world the power of faith and glorify Him thereby: He can and does rescue all who put their faith in Him, both eternally and also temporally.
Hope this finds you well. Sometimes a seemingly trivial question can catch one off guard.
A colleague asked me what he should really pray about. He said that it occurred to him that God knew everything anyway so telling the Lord about it seemed superfluous. He pointed out that if the Lord had our best interests at heart it seems ludicrous that God would wait for us to ask Him before He actually acted. Also he said that it seems to him that we have to ask repeatedly and somewhat pleadingly so that we get a response. He said it makes him feel that God is playing a sort of power game with us. I must be honest that I was a bit speechless. However some of what he says is true. God does know what we need before we ask but I have never quite looked at it that way.
After I thought about it a bit I must say that much prayer is full of " I want; I need; please guide; please do, etc." Not really a typical conversation in a typical close relationship.
I looked again at the Lords prayer model which Jesus described in answer to the disciples request for Him to teach them to pray. Doesnt really help me answer him.
I am not really sure how to approach this issue. Ideas?
Good to hear from you (apologies for the delay; messages with images sometimes don't forward to my main account and I only find out about them later as in this case).
It's an interesting question but is it a question, really? When the Sadducees asked Jesus which of her seven husbands on earth would be the woman in question's husband in eternity, they weren't really looking for an answer. Indeed, they thought they had found a way to "stump" our Lord and demonstrate the folly of believing in a literal resurrection. Our Lord, of course, smashes their hidden argument with the truth (the resurrection is different from this physical life in important ways, absence of marriage and procreation being two of them), and with scripture (God is called God of the Patriarchs which means they are not dead because He is God of the living, not the dead). I come across this sort of thing all the time often indirectly just such "Sadducean Questions" (see the link), that is, questions which are not really questions but merely clever rationalizations designed to defend one's own faulty approach and also to take down other people's correct view. In terms of how one would answer such a question(s), the motives of the person asking doesn't make any difference to the underlying doctrinal principles, I suppose, but it is very important for genuine Christians here in the devil's world to keep their balance in the face of just such conversations which may not be for informational purposes but may really be subtle attacks. After all, the serpent wasn't making an honest attempt to get information from Eve and if she had realized that she would have been on better footing and perhaps less willing to be persuaded out of her original beliefs.
As to the substance, yes indeed of course it is true that God knows everything. It is also true that He knows everything before the fact. Indeed, nothing could happen in this world unless the Lord had already decreed it. And of course that decree includes all decisions of all free-will moral actors. The devil couldn't have rebelled if it were not in the decree. You and I could not have been saved were it not decreed for Christ to die for us and for us to accept the gracious offer of salvation made possible thereby through our faith. Nothing good that happens, and nothing bad that happens, could happen without God's decree based on His foreknowledge of all things. This profound truth does not, however, remove our free will rather, it enables our free will. There could be no free will without God's decree (just as there could be no universe, no time and space). God could have made us automatons; instead He gave us the most astounding gift, the image of God, the ability to choose. When we choose for Him, it is always an act of faith, for faith is the way in which we appropriate the grace He offers us. We believe "that He exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Heb.11:6 NIV). If we choose to pray, that is a decision. If we choose not to pray, that is a decision too. Only what we actually decide to do and what we actually do has been entered into His decree. If we choose not to pray, we cannot pretend and, much more importantly God will not pretend that it is just the same as if we had chosen to pray.
It well may be that God will take care of us even if we do not pray. But we are commanded to pray, all of the great believers in the Bible pray diligently, and for any of us who have ever made a practice to pray in "earnest seeking" of Him, we know that praying is very good for us too: it concentrates our thinking on the only One who can really solve our earthly problems, rather than looking exclusively to human means, to worldly solutions. Prayer builds our relationship with the Lord, bringing us closer to Him, helping us to remember that He is our Rock and source of all good things. If and when we pray correctly, moreover, we are fulfilling part of our role in the plan of God, responding to His WILL, acting in faith. But if we refuse to pray, if we refuse to carry out this part of our mandate as believers, if we refuse to spend time with the Lord in this way, well, God knew this in eternity past and entered our refusal, reluctance, failure into His decree. He not only knows what we need, but much more importantly He knows, He knew what we would choose at every step along the way in our life and in our Christian walk. And we are responsible for what we choose, for what it was we chose. Prayer is an essential part of our daily Christian decision-making, and it is difficult for me to envision any Christian gaining and retaining spiritual maturity without it. Indeed, to take things the other way around, in the history of the world there has probably never been a believer who reached spiritual maturity and who did hold onto his/her status of one who walks with Lord without a rich and consistent prayer life.
If your friend feels that praying for oneself too much is somehow greedy, it is certainly permissible to spend most of one's time in prayer praying for others (something else we are commanded to do) and also to focus on offering prayers of thanksgiving and praise for all the Lord has done for us if we did nothing else from here to kingdom-come we would still not have done justice in our prayers of thanks to the gift of eternal life we have received in Jesus Christ.
God is not manipulating us. God is helping us. He could have made us without the image but we would not then resemble "us" in any meaningful way. We would not be creatures (like the angels) who make such morally significant choices such as whether or not to pray, but only creatures (like cats and dogs). It is a wonderful thing to have the power of substantive choice, and choosing to accept the truth of the scriptures, and to respond to the guidance and commands of the scriptures is part of that choice or should be for any Christian who wants to honor the Lord and grow spiritually in this life so as to earn a good reward. No doubt there are all manner of marginal Christians who will be saved anyway. One quarter of the gates of New Jerusalem are reserved for those who did not win any of the three crowns. They will still be in heaven and will have won the victory of faith, but their application in this life will have been somewhat lacking. The Holy Spirit works with all of us to lead us on the better path. And it is inevitable that whenever we are convicted of some deficiency that we will "feel bad" about it. We can then respond by working on that deficiency . . . or we can ignore the Spirit. If we do the latter, it is always tempting in order to make that still, small voice go away to come up with some such rationalization (as those of your acquaintance) for ourselves and others as to why what we are doing/failing to do is not only "good" but possibly even "better" than the course we know in our hearts we ought to take. If we do sort of thing this long enough and loud enough, we will come to really believe it. Such behavior hardens the heart, impedes real spiritual growth, and may have even worse consequences down the line.
So on the question of prayer, if we ask God's opinion, He tells us to do it (e.g., 1Thes.5:17; 1Tim.2:8; cf. Matt.5:44; 6:9; etc.). If approach the "problem" theologically, we can see that since only what we actually did ended up in the decree, we need to actually do the things we should do (as in actually believing in Christ so as to be saved) in order for these good actions to have been entered into the plan of God and for us to receive the benefit from them. And if we approach the problem practically, prayer is an essential part of our efforts to grow closer to Jesus and walk with Him in a powerful and productive way which we all should want more than anything else. The fact that "how we pray" may not be perfect at first (or even at last) is no more of an argument against praying than the fact that we may not be perfect at first (or even at last) in refraining from certain types of sins is any sort of reasonable argument against trying to do so. We will get better at prayer (as with everything else in the Christian life) through practice, consistency, and through learning more of God's truth. If we start by only "asking for things we want but don't need", we will learn to ask for needful things and for things for other; if we start by only "pleading", we will learn that we can be heartfelt in our prayers without failing to take God's perfection, goodness and foreknowledge fully into account; if we start by having doubts, about God's motives or anything else, as we grow up spiritually and learn more about the truth of the Word through making it our own by faith learning more about Him and His wonderful love thereby we will eventually cast aside all such childish notions as our faith in Him and His perfect character grows in truth and in our experience of that truth day by day.
But if we don't pray at all, if we don't grow in the Word at all, if we aren't really working at walking with Jesus at all, no such rationalizations will be of any genuinely helpful use now and they are likely to be brought up to our shame at the judgment seat of Christ as constituting false works which are burned before our eyes (while we ourselves as believers are saved through God's grace by the blood of Christ: 1Cor.3:10-15). Honestly, if people spent half the time learning and actually accepting the truth of the Bible as they spend on such philosophical wrangling, there would no doubt be many more crowns given out on that great day of days than is likely to be the case.
The Lord's prayer is, in fact, a very good model, though there is much more to it than often meets the eye. The fact that we pray for God's WILL to be done and how could it not be? is a pretty clear indication of what we have been discussing here: by our prayers we indicate our faith in what God is doing and in what He will do, we acknowledge that He is the only One who can do what we need to have done and what needs to be done, and we express our gratitude to Him for all this. We also come away closer to Him, solidified in our faith, and with our minds and hearts refreshed to the truths we have committed to our spirits by faith but might otherwise not have in the forefront of our thinking as we walk along in this noisy, complex world.
Here are a couple of appropriate links you may find helpful as well:
The Lord's Prayer
Essentials of the Lord's Prayer (in CT 7)
The Will of God and Prayer
Praying for Wisdom
Prayer and our walk with Jesus
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Thanks for the detailed response. Once again I will need to go through it carefully . You raise a number of points, some of which were sort of sloshing around in my mind. Your works have allowed them to gel, as it were and become considerably more accessible. This is truly and amazing gift the Lord has given you.
My friend gave his life to the Lord a few days ago after a good bit of discussion. I feel like a new dad all over again. It seems the prayer issues were a bit of a tactic of the evil ones to distract him.
I must say that I was a bit rattled by the question since I had not really ever considered the matter so coldly. Some things, one is so grateful for (that we can indeed come to the Lord so personally) that one forgets that others might struggle. It is again a small miracle that you did not answer since it forced me to struggle with him in answering other questions and instead of giving a good answer such as you have now provided. I was forced to rather give an account of my own prayer life and how describe my personal relationship with the Lord and this was a major blessing in this instance. As you said "was it really a question "
We have a new baby brother in Christ and I will do my best in this.
Thanks again for the answer.
That's terrific news!
It's also a testimony to the fact that God works all things out together for good.
I will certainly say a prayer for your friend's rapid and solid growth in the Lord.
In Jesus our dear Savior,
p.s., got this message right away.
Thank you sir for all your good words and admonition. I have many questions; as I had been, I will be presenting them one after the other then make use of them to correct any error in the walk with our Lord. Next question. The ways and manner we worship, praise and pray to God here is in audible way with instrument and thereby entertaining ourselves because I feel is all entertainment. Also in prayer we scream like Blind Bartholomew, bind, cast the unseen devil; that is how we pray. Please, I want to know how perfectly to worship, praise and pray in description. Thanks in advance.
You are most welcome. I am very happy to be of some help.
As to your latest questions, worship and prayer are areas of application of the truth for which there are some models and some guidance in scripture, but in many respects we have to use our spiritual common sense. For example, our Lord gave us the "Lord's prayer", and that is one model we should embrace and employ daily; but while there is much information about prayer in scripture, both in terms of prescriptive statements and examples, yet we still may have many questions about it. When it comes to public prayer, such as you are speaking about, here we have an area where abuse is very possible. If we are praying to the Lord individually, we are more likely to do so with some objectivity. But when we pray publicly, it is more difficult to keep our egos out of the mix. That is to say, people become concerned (and sometimes more concerned) about how other people will receive the prayer than how God will receive the prayer.
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."
Matthew 6:5-7 NIV
I would add that while genuine emotion may be legitimate, working oneself up emotionally and attempting to work others up emotionally does not only not make the prayer somehow more "holy", but may very well invalidate it to the extent that the motivations are compromised thereby. I think probably most Christians from every corner of the world can sympathize with you and identify with your comments here from performances such as this that they have seen in their own countries. If public prayer is appropriate, the right approach would be somewhere between dead, half-asleep traditional liturgy that is just going through the motions, and the sort of worked up hyper-emotionalism that reminds us of pagan practices. In the case of the former, we can expect the Lord to hear real prayers we are really praying but to the extent that all that is being offered up is rote repetition I would be less confident of an answer. In the case of the latter, we should not assume or make it appear by our actions that we are going to be rewarded with an answer because to the degree that we project verbal and physical animation in a display of emotion, or that somehow our Lord needs to be awakened by our frantic expressions in order for our prayers to be heard:
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
1st Kings 18:26-29
Here are some links on prayer generally which you may find helpful.
The Lord's Prayer
Essentials of the Lord's Prayer (in CT 7)
The Will of God and Prayer
Praying for Wisdom
Prayer and our walk with Jesus
Holding up "holy hands"
Length of prayers (and other issues)
As to "worship services" in general, while I have nothing in principle against music being employed in praise of God, I would absolutely agree with you that in our day and age we are in danger of music taking over and becoming little more than entertainment (and entertainment being the draw and the effective purpose of assembling instead of teaching the Word of God). I have written about this before and will give you the links below. Suffice it to say here that the purpose of Christian assembly is for learning the truth of the Word of God and for the mutual encouragement the truth of scripture brings to all. Everything that distracts from that main purpose is a hindrance not a help. I have no problem with groups that want to use music in moderation to praise the Lord and as an encouragement, but what we have in most churches nowadays are mostly musical "worship services" which have replaced the primary function of the assembly entirely (with most of what is not musical being filler and a "sermon" which is also entertainment rather than teaching the Word). On top of that, most of the words in Christian music that I have ever heard almost always get something wrong, doctrinally speaking, or at least set a false tone or give a false emphasis (so as to be more misleading than truly edifying, no matter how good they may make a person "feel" at the moment). And since music, like all art, affects us emotionally more profoundly than words spoken in teaching, it often has a disproportionately negative effect when there is an error, large or small. Even if truth is being taught for, say, half of the service (and that would be a very rare church in our day and age), we are apt to leave with the catchy melodies of the music buzzing around in our heads carrying lyrics which are often counter to what the Bible actually has to say not necessarily directly opposed, but often just slightly "off", and enough so as to erode spiritually rather than edify. After all, most of those who write music and lyrics are not trained pastor/teachers but artists whose understanding of the truth will only be as good as the ministry under which they are studying. And since for the vast majority of those who are writing such music today the fact will be that they are not sitting under any teaching ministry worthy of the name at all, and the product will suffer as one may expect. As true followers of Jesus Christ, we should evaluate such things not by how much fun they may be nor by how "good" they seem in an artistic or esthetic sense, but by whether and to what degree they really do contribute to spiritual growth. The latter is not possible if the message inside the music is wrong or warped.
Here are some links for these matters.
Assembly of the local church
Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.
Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.
Red Hot or Lukewarm?
The Meaning and Purpose of True Christian Assembly
Problems with Christian music
Negative effects of bad Christian music
Emotionalism in music
More negative potential of bad music
Keep standing for the truth, my friend. The essence of true leadership is to stand up and do the right thing even when it is unpopular or even dangerous. This is also the only way to give those who are looking for something better someone to follow.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Hello again Dr. Luginbill, I pray all is well and that you are enjoying the holidays. I had a bunch of questions I was hoping you could help me out with.
Why did David stop praying for his child after the child died? God could have brought him back to life, no?
Good to hear from you again. Here's hoping you are having a good holiday too. As to your questions:
It is certainly not impossible for God to do anything. However, resuscitating the dead is something that only a few prophets have been given the power to do and only a few times in history. Of course our Lord Jesus did so on several occasions. And it seems to me that when all of the other biblical cases are considered the prophets in question knew that they had been given this unique power at that special time in question. As a prophet himself (with the gift but not the office of prophecy), David would surely have known if God had given him that power. The Lord had told him that the child would die, and the child did die. If this had been one of those special occasions, David would have known through his gift, in my estimation.
How often should we pray a petition and how can we tell if it is a yes, no, or not right now answer from God? Paul made request for the thorn in his flesh to be taken away, but Jesus told is disciples to pray without ceasing
Paul no doubt would have continued to pray except for the fact that he received a verbal answer from the Lord: "My grace is sufficient for thee". Absent such an unequivocal direct response, I would continue to be persistent in prayer as our Lord told us to be.
Why do we present our request to God? Why does God want us to pray for things that he will not grant?
God wants us to pray for everything for which it is legitimate to pray, and He faithfully answers all legitimate prayer perhaps not in the precise way or at the exact time we would wish and expect. He is faithful. Delays in response, and answering in accordance with what is best for us and not with what we specifically ask for are tests of our faith, but He is always faithful. However, if we doubt Him or if we ask from incorrect motivations, then we should not expect an answer (Jas.1:6; 4:3).
What's the meaning of uplifted hands in prayer?
Thanks again in advance
Hebrew culture, especially in Old Testament times, was very physically expressive. In prayer and praise it was common not just to pray and praise with the tongue but to express one's godly attitude by lifting up the hands or even dancing (cf. 2Sam.6:14). The Hebrew word for praise and thanksgiving comes from the root meaning "to throw" (yadah), and seems to do so though this very connection of throwing one's hands in the air when so doing. It is important to note that in the case of such Old Testament saints, their physical behavior was a reflection of their genuine love for the Lord. Much modern-day imitation of these practices seems to this observer to be only "skin deep". And, in any case, it is what is in the heart that counts. If we are truly thankful to the Lord, it doesn't matter if we dance or not; if we are truly moved to pray, it doesn't matter if we throw our hands into the air or not. Indeed, if we do these things in a studied way then we are probably acting out of hypocrisy. The point is that in the ancient world it was a culturally natural thing to do. Not the case today. Indeed, much of the worship regime of the Old Testament was physical and only symbolic of the spiritual realities it foreshadowed but now we have Christ come in the flesh, and the cross a reality explained in scripture, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In other words, now we are truly free to worship "in Spirit and in truth" as our Lord wants us to do. That comes from our responding to the Spirit's teaching of the truth of the Bible, not from physical posture, physical expressions . . . or anything physical at all. That comes the heart.
I hope these responses are of some help to you in your search for the truth. Keep seeking Him and serving Him. In this there is great reward.
Best wishes for a wonderful 2013!
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Why do some prayers require fasting for answers? What is it about fasting that gives us more access?
Good to hear from you again. As to your questions, first, on the issue of fasting, please read the answers to Questions 7 and 8 at the link: Fasting. There is nowhere in scripture where fasting is required to receive an answer to any prayer, at least as far as I am aware (i.e., Matt.17:19 is a late interpolation and not part of scripture, and the words "and fasting" do not occur in the original in Mk.9:29). As I say at the link and have remarked elsewhere as well, while there is value in proper, biblical fasting, "doing it wrong" is both very easy to fall into and also worse than "not doing it at all".
Leaving to God the when and how of His answers to our prayers is something we all have to learn to accept in faith. The scriptures promise us that God will hear us. That is the truth. And we also know that He is good and loving and fair. We also know that He is working all things out together for good for those who love Him. Therefore if we really are walking with Jesus, we ought always to have faith that God is both listening and will bring us timely deliverance in response to our prayers, regardless of what the world says or even what our ears hear, our eyes see, and our feelings feel. That patience and trust when the Lord seems to be lingering too long for us to bear is what develops true spiritual maturity.
Brothers, when you are being beset with all manner of trials, take pains to be joyful. For you should keep in mind that this testing of your faith develops perseverance. So let your perseverance develop fully, that you may become fully mature and entitled to a full reward, having been found lacking in no respect.
I ask for your prayers in these matters. I sent my Dad a text explaining my thoughts on the pre-trib rapture. He's a Thiemite, and I ask your prayers on this. I fear he and I will experience the tribulation, and I worry about my mom. I hope she's solid, but I worry. I fear their reaction to the times to come, and if you've seen Patton I feel you "have a pathway to the Almighty," like the chaplain who prayed for good weather. Keep up the eternal rewards, in Our Savior,
I also want to send encouragement. I admire the way you handle questions, I can tell how much you use Christ and the apostles as a guide. It's quite the guidance we believers need, keep fighting the good fight. Hold firm, I'm with you in Christ. Angels and humans are admiring your conduct.
Good to hear from you as always. I remember you telling me about the situation with your father, and have been keeping you and your dad in my prayers and will continue to do so. As believer priests (Rev.1:6; cf. 1Pet.2:5; 2:9), of course, we all have access to the Father through the Son and directly to the Son (Rom.5:2; Eph.2:18; 3:12), so all of our prayers are important and God hears them all. That is something it is sometimes hard to remember, I know, when they seem to be bouncing off a sky of bronze (Lam.3:44; cf. Job 19:7; Lam. 3:8), but in fact not only are they heard, each and every one, but God also made specific provision for answering them before He made the world. We have to let "patience have its perfect work" (Jas.1:4), trusting in Him to bring us timely deliverance in the time of need (Heb.4:16).
Thanks ever so much for the encouragement. I fear you grossly overestimate my role; nevertheless as believers we all do have a role in the Plan of God and every single one is important and every single one has the potential of earning top rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is something on which we should all set our caps, even if we are nowhere near the level of those great believers of the Bible.
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Good day Sir
I hope this mail meets you well, in good health as the Lord wishes for all His children.
If one has a problem of the foot or finger being cut off by a factory machine and if he prayed by himself in faith that God should make it grow back. Can't God answer and make it grow? As a writer has referred in your mail response 'Christmas Trees, Nimrod, and miracles' to seeing a foot grown, can either a true believer or a pastor do this?
Thanks in advance.
Always good to hear from you, my friend. I am praying for your protection and deliverance and for that of your family. As to your question:
God can certainly do anything: nothing is impossible for the Lord. And He does answer prayers prayed in true faith. But that does not mean that He will answer precisely what we want, in the way we want, and certainly not when we want. Christians have to learn to accept the will of God when that will does not match up with our perceived needs "right now". So I would never tell anyone not to pray; what I would say is that the closer we adopt and adjust our thinking to God's thinking and our will to His will, the more effective our prayers will be in every way (1Jn.5:14-15). If we are asking for something to happen which has never happened before, what is our motivation? Even if it is legitimate, it may be God's will for our actual needs to be met in a different way. What you ask about is only precedented in scripture as far as I know in two instances, and both had very clear purposes which fall outside the scope of normal healing: 1) when our Lord healed the ear Peter had precipitously cut off (Lk.22:51), and 2) when God answered the prophet's prayer to heal the king's hand which had just that prior moment been shriveled (1Ki.13:4-6; n.b., in the second case do we have something missing "growing back", and it is possible from the way the Greek is phrased that the same is true of the first case). So, as I say, God can do anything, but as believers we have to understand that He does not always see things our way; our job is to grow in the truth so as to see things more and more His way day by day. That is why as I allude to in my response to the question you read that if I heard someone say this I would not doubt God's power or His goodness, but since it is a biblically unprecedented thing I would be disinclined to accept the claim at face value.
Yours in Jesus Christ,
Hey Dr. Luginbill,
First, thank you for your thorough response(s). I know I ask non-stop questions. It's just that you're like a walking encyclopedia. I'm the type to read an encyclopedia through, even though that's not how you're supposed to use it. There's an analogy somewhere in there (haha).
How do you keep from becoming obnoxious? You're so gracious with your responses and knowledge. Every time I learn something new, I can't wait to run out and tell someone they're wrong. Of course, I try to restrain it now that I've realized that about myself. I've actually been trying to not say anything at all about doctrine since I know how I am. I just like to debate about things. It entertains me. The other reason I try not to talk doctrine is that much of what I say is likely wrong.
Can you explain to me how to pray? I'll admit that I hardly pray at all. I think it's because it feels awkward. I never seem to know what to say. I usually pray because I have to. I don't want it to be like that. I close my eyes to pray only when I can avoid it no longer, and try to get it over with as painlessly as possible. I want to learn to love prayer. I want to be able to talk to God. It's disheartening that I can't pray for people. That's the reason why I've never offered to pray for you. I can hardly pray for myself.
That brings me to my next point. The church I'm attending has prayer meetings every Wednesday. The members put forth prayer requests, and we pray for everyone right down the list. We can do prayer requests on behalf of people also. If you want, I could do a prayer request for you. That's actually another reason why I need to learn to pray. The members lead the prayer requests, not the pastor. I do like it that way. The only thing is, I'm afraid they'll ask me to pray. The pastor also regularly asks members to close out in prayer at the end of Sunday services. He hasn't asked me to yet. I think the longer I stay at that church though, they might ask me to lead in prayer. I'm sure you can see what the problem with that is. Even when I'm praying alone, I draw a blank. Could you please just teach me how to talk to God?
I'm happy to help. Also, I think the fact that even at a relatively young age you are exercising exceptional prudence and common sense in tempering how you relate to others in these matters speaks very well for your growing spiritual maturity (the kind that really matters the most for any Christian).
As to prayer, I would liken it to having a conversation with someone you really love and completely respect. The more you know about this person, the more you learn about this person, the more time you spend with this person, the more informed, meaningful and genuine the conversations you have with this person will become. As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, we say that we love Him more than anything in this life, and to some degree I am sure that is true of all who have placed their faith in Him for life eternal. But those who like yourself are actually doing the necessary work of building up their relationship with Him by drawing closer to Him the only way that is really possible, namely, through His truth, the Word of God, are the ones who have the best chance of developing a deep and meaningful prayer-life.
My first piece of advice, therefore, would be not to try to force it. Please don't beat yourself up about not yet being where you want to be in prayer at this point. It will happen in good time as you walk closer with Jesus day by day. Second, it's also important not to let the traditional way other people may be doing something define how you feel about it. Just because other people pray a certain way doesn't mean that's the only way to pray especially when what you are comparing yourself with is "public prayer". Most of the public praying I have heard in my life in all manner of churches and venues leaves me quite cold, to be honest. You will find just the right "voice" for your own prayers as you grow in Christ. Third, prayer is not just about "asking for things", even selflessly for other people. Prayer is also about appreciating God the Father and what He did for us in sending us His Son, and appreciating Jesus and what He did for us in delivering us from death. Everything we have, in fact, we have from God, and each and every one of us has many things for which we ought to be thankful in this world besides. Thanksgiving is a wonderful thing, and it is prayer too. A simple "thank you!" is certainly not out of place at any time. Fourth, as with all truly important things, it's more important in my opinion to be consistent in little things than to try for things beyond one's power and be inconsistent or fail entirely. That is not to say we should not all strive to be the best we can be indeed we should. But it is the case in all matters wherein capacity, strength, knowledge, what have you have to be developed, that a slow, steady approach is usually more likely to be satisfying and successful than wildly gyrating inconsistent behavior. So it is better, in my view, to spend five minutes in prayer every day at the same time in the same place thanking God and praying for basic things that are important to you than to "fast and pray" all day one day out of thirty. Fifth, rather than taking contemporary practice as a model, I would suggest the Psalms. The Psalms are, essentially, prayers to the Lord. They are heartfelt and powerful, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Your old NIV-84 Bible is a wonderful place to read the Psalms. That translation is one of the best, in my view not the new 2011 version (which is far inferior), but the older one which you have. Sixth, of course our Lord when asked by the disciples how to pray gave them "the Lord's prayer", and repeating that prayer day by day is certainly worth doing - - and all the more so if one understands it. There is a lot to it:
"Our Father": God the Father really is our Father; we have been born again into His family and will be with Him as His children forever.
"in heaven": Life is more than what we see; the spiritual dimension is more important than what we can touch or see or hear or taste or smell.
"Thy Name be sanctified": God is the Ruler of the universe; He is bigger and more powerfully . . . and more loving and gracious and good than can possibly be understood in this life. His Name is His reputation and represents His perfect Person. Every believer should consider that Name, that Person "Holy", "sanctified", set apart in perfection, for that is what it is, that is what He is, untouched and untouchable by anything evil or foul.
"Thy kingdom come!": God's kingdom will come, and that is what we are waiting for. What we see and have to experience right now is only temporary. The Day will come when we will be resurrected into perfect bodies, and when we will be rewarded for our faith and for our service to Jesus Christ here on earth. The day will come when the New Jerusalem descends from heaven and we believers take up eternal residence with the Father and the Son in this eternal city. In this perfect and blissful eternal future we have faith, and this is what we wait for, being together with Jesus, the One we love, in the blessings of the new heavens and new earth which will never end, all these "old things" that plague us now having then passed away.
"Thy will be done!": We know this too is true. It is God's will that is being done and we revel in that. Nothing can happen without His say-so, and in spite of all of the evil in the world, seen and unseen, the Plan of God is progressing perfectly. We strive to give ourselves over to that will, to the guidance of the Spirit, to offer up our members as weapons of righteousness to the Lord Jesus (Rom.6:13), knowing that His victory is already in place, and the future has been entirely written in indelible divine ink.
"... on earth as it is in heaven": God reigns in heaven, and is working out everything together for good on earth for those who love Him (Rom.8:28); the day is coming soon when there will be no doubt and no distinction between the two; heaven will "come to earth" with the advent of the Father to New Jerusalem when every enemy has been put at last under Christ's feet.
"Give us this day our bread for the coming day": God takes care of all of our needs, and we can count on Him doing so; we do not need to worry, for our needs for the coming day have already been met. Today, therefore, is an opportunity to serve Jesus Christ.
"And forgive us our sins as we forgive others who have sinned against us": As long as we are walking in the will and love of God, forgiving others, we do not have to worry about the past either, for Christ has washed away our sins in His blood. Yesterday may be forgotten, except to remember and be grateful for what Christ did for us.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one": Whatever may come tomorrow, we also do not have to worry about it, for the Lord will not bring us into anything that is unnecessary, and He will be with us through whatever we must face for our spiritual growth and to glorify Him. As long as we are walking with Him, all that happens will be for good, even if painful at the time, and will result in His glory, if we only but take care to hold His hand tight and He will not let the evil one touch us.
There is more to say, of course, so here are some links which may be helpful in this regard:
The Lord's Prayer
Essentials of the Lord's Prayer (in CT 7)
The Will of God and Prayer
Praying for Wisdom
Prayer and our walk with Jesus
Imprecatory Prayer and Blessing by Association
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
I have peace on that other question I asked you about now, and more insight on how easy it is to close a door, and how hard it can be to keep that same door open.
I do have another question. I am visiting different places of worship, and feel conflicted between the public prayer(s) that are encouraged by leadership, and the way I have been taught to pray, in Matthew 6.
That we remain only in Christ,
The way group prayer is conducted in the average Christian church nowadays is just one item on a very long laundry list of problematic behaviors, at least in my view. Sometimes it is not so much a matter of the prayer or the fact that it is being done in a group setting but rather something about the tone. I feel about church-sponsored group prayer as it is often conducted the way I feel about hymns: there may be some good there, but it is usually somewhat "off-center" and there often is something negative. Prayer is something all believers should do. When a pastor stands up and prays for the congregation, this seems to me to be taking away to some degree the privacy and the initiative we all should have in prayer. During the 1905 prayer revival, individuals did the praying and in an orderly way, each in turn. Listeners were then certainly free to pray whatever they wished in response. When it comes to making petitions in particular, these seem to me in scripture to be individual matters and matters sometimes "agreed to" by others in response to requests. Taking up time in the church service for this does not seem to be something the apostles had in mind. It seems rather to be the Protestant equivalent to lighting a candle (and at time of writing Protestants are lighting more candles than ever for more "reasons" than ever). As I say, this is one of those things which is not out and out "wrong", but which is part of the misplaced emphasis in the church-visible and which is usually accomplished in a less than satisfactory way on top of that. Put together with all of the other wastes of time and downright abuses, we have the situation in the church-visible with which we are all only too well familiar: doctrinal confusion arising from virtually no teaching of the Word of God (and wrong teaching to the limited degree that there is teaching).
Thanks for your continued interest in God's truth. In Jesus our dear Lord,
Thanks Robert. PLEASE do not stop praying for me.
You're very welcome.
No worries it's hard to get off this list.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
Sorry Robert, but I don't know what you mean "it's hard to get off this [prayer] list" of yours?
It just means that I am pretty persistent about praying through my list and have had some people on there for many, many years.
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord,
Wow, that's frightening that it takes that long to see results sometimes. Scary. Can I ask you to clarify this?
People need prayer. I am sure I will need it until the day I die.
And some problems do take time. Abraham had to wait until he was 99 for the solution to his biggest problem lack of an heir he desperately wanted. But God is faithful, and in due time at just the proper time, He worked everything out together for good.
So it always is for those who persevere in their trust of the One who made them and died for them, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Obviously God says 'No' to many of our prayers (and for His higher purposes) but I was wondering if there is a biblical precedent for God saying 'No' to a prayer request/question but it was only for a season. As in, God was keeping the door shut because it wasn't the right time for the door to be opened, but, after a season, it became the right time and the answer became 'Yes'?
I personally can't think of one and in the absence of this could one assume if God says 'No' (a definitive 'No' not 'wait') then it is 'No' forever?
Very good to hear from you. There are many cases in scripture of God answering prayer in a great variety of ways, and very often not immediately. No doubt Job prayed to the Lord for relief many times. It did not come . . . . . immediately, that is. And the reason for the delay is obvious to us with hindsight, namely to demonstrate Job's great patience, and to teach us all so many wonderful things through the discourse that later took place between Job and his sorry comforters. Daniel's prayer for enlightenment was delayed three weeks because of angelic warfare which neither he nor we could see or adjudge (Dan.10:13). But perhaps the most famous example of a temporary "no" becoming an emphatic "yes" after a long interval of waiting is the birth of Isaac, the child of promise. Abraham had been waiting for Isaac's birth and praying for an heir no doubt since he married Sarah, but he was 100 years old when the child was finally born.
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Hebrews 11:11-12 NIV
Learning how to and being able to wait on the Lord is a big part of spiritual maturity, and it is hard to find a spiritually great person, inside of the Bible or out, who has not mastered this technique of absolute trust that the Lord will bring about everything in its good and proper time. Naturally, there are some "no's" which never become "yes", but as we grow up in Jesus Christ, these become fewer and fewer as we begin to be able "to discern what God's will is" for us (Rom.12:1-2; cf. Phil.1:9-11).
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, "In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. "There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ' Give me legal protection from my opponent.' For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.'" And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? "I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
Luke 18:1-8 NASB
God's timing is perfect, and with Him a "day is as a thousand years". Hang in there and be persistent in your prayers for all things good and decent. He is most certainly listening to you and will grant you your petition in just the right way even if in an unexpected way - - and at just the right time even if at an unexpected time.
Please also see the link: "Persistence in Prayer".
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
Thanks Bob (or 'Shokran' as they say where I currently am - in Egypt).
I've seen some grim things in recent months but also some truly amazing things done by the Big Guy behind the scenes (real stuff to tell the grand kids about). It's also been strange because while I am here on missions and seeing doors open (to the vision He gave me) in ways I have never seen before, so too have I come under constant attack, across a range of areas...it's been unrelenting and, well, while I am better prepared for it thanks to earlier tough times, it's still been tough. But I don't think I've ever before simultaneously been experiencing incredible victories on the one hand at levels never before seen (which fuel my faith because I realise I am doing His will) as well as these other ongoing blows to the soul and body (physical illness has been one of the areas). The season of testing has been like no other in many ways.
But probably the hardest area has been interpersonal conflict, losing friends of many years standing through misunderstandings and also not-so-great choices/decisions on the parts of others (though I accept as a fallible human being myself I've contributed my fair share to proceedings).
Anyway, I sense God has been putting his hand on another major part of my life He seeks to redeem/refine through all of this and so that is a good insight. But when these watershed moments come, as with ten years ago, I often return to basic assumptions I have about the faith and ask myself what I believe and whether it is actually the correct thing (such as how God answers prayer).
So thank you for your email. It has been helpful especially as, in such a frame of mind, one can find it hard to see the proverbial wood for the trees.
I hope you are keeping a low profile over there, all things considered!
Thanks much for sharing your testimony on this. It is certainly true that God is ever training us for bigger and better things, and that there are no limits to the Christian life except for the ones we place on ourselves.
On that score, one example of a "no" prayer which ended up being answered in a completely different way a definite "no" becoming "yes" in its own way, did come to mind:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2nd Corinthians 12:7-10
So much of the lives of exceptional believers like Paul are filled with exactly this sort of mental reversal of physical reality through applying spiritual reality. Clearly, God can create these reversals physically, turning stones into bread, dropping manna from the heavens, healing our sicknesses, even raising the dead. But for the really great ones like Paul, the Lord expects for this reversal to take place in our hearts. Instead of us waiting on a tangible miracle, He is tapping His foot waiting for us to let Him perform a spiritual one in our inner person.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 NIV
After all, we do now possess eternal life, only we can't yet feel it. We do now have an inheritance beyond the wealth of this world secure in the heavens, only we can't now make use of it. We do now have a relationship better than anything in this world being wed to Jesus Christ, only we can't yet see Him. But while our physical senses cannot appreciate, utilize, or contemplate all the wonderful things that are ours, as mature believers in Jesus Christ we certainly ought to be able to enjoy them through faith more than we would what we can see and hear and taste and touch.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4 NASB
How can trouble and suffering be joyous? Only when we learn to perform this reversal of perspective, seeing with the eyes of faith the blessed things which are eternal in place of the very temporary troubles our physical eyes behold. This is part and parcel of the imitation of and walk with Jesus Christ which is so critical for all who would serve and honor Him well to master.
I have set the LORD always before me: because [he is] at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Psalm 16:8 KJV
And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
1st Peter 1:8 NASB
By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
Hebrews 11:27 NIV
None of this is automatic. It takes prior growth, much truth in the heart, learned and believed, and a good deal of persistence and practice. Sometimes when we are being hit with "practice", aka testing, it is easy to forget to turn the trouble into joy by throwing that switch in our heart, moving it from the "temporary" position to the "eternal" position. But, after all, the only way finally to conquer fear and worry and undue concern for the things of this world is to eventually get to the place of being able to see things for what they really are, that is, to see them from God's point of view (Ps.49:5; cf. Ps.23:4). That is why is it so important to get to know Him as well as we can through His Word, because as I read scripture it seems to me that only those who were completely focused on Him, having come to know Him wonderfully well through the truth He has revealed about Himself, have ever been able to pull off this "reversal" of the normal human perspective from the human viewpoint to seeing things as God sees them instead effectively, consistently, and, especially, when the chips were down.
And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
Daniel 6:23b NIV
In Him whose love is wider and higher and broader and deeper than we will ever be able to imagine this side of heaven, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Yeah thanks for that Bob...this is the sort of season when the 'rubber hits the road' of faith. As Job said, if you can't praise God when the chips are down then how fake is one's praise when all is well. In truth, some of the chips are up but many are down. But I'm still here. No plans to voluntarily go anywhere else for the foreseeable future.
Prayers are always appreciated: specific prayers would be a job (there is a potential one and I need it to get a work visa to stay here long-term), an apartment (again, there is a potential one but there have been countless hold-ups on getting it for the past 10+ weeks); general ones would be endurance, freedom from self-centredness (which still 'inspires' me to do things that help the Enemy do his job for him), and doors continuing to open with regard to the vision He blessed me with.
You're welcome, and I will keep you in my prayers.
My best wishes for all your efforts for our Lord Jesus,
I just finished my weekly habit of learning from the most recent email posting in Ichthys and joining you in special prayers for our brethren (at the link).
I am in great need of your prayers for strength, protection, providence and deliverance, as I struggle to say "Thank you Lord!" in all that I face.
Thanks once again for being my brother in Christ and for your ministry. Ichthys continues to be an anchor in my daily battles with my sinful nature, personal sufferings and failures in the pursuit of spiritual growth and love of our Lord and Savior.
My prayers for you and yours and Ichthys.
Your brother in Christ,
P.S. I love to keep in mind these words taken from one of your answers to a correspondent: "From a true Christian point of view that shares God's point of view, 'what is your race, nation, culture, history, family, address' means nothing; the only question that really matters is 'what think ye of Christ'." May your eternal rewards abound!
I am glad to hear from you, even as I feel anguish for your troubles and trials. I have added a prayer request for you at Ichthys and let me also express my deep gratitude to you for your prayers for myself, this ministry, and for others in need. The Body mourns with every part and rejoices with every part even as one part helps another: we are all here for each other even as our Lord Jesus has appointed us to be.
Hang in there, my friend. Jesus is at your right hand. He knows your sorrow and your needs better than you know them yourself, and He will see you safe through to the other side. Only hold tight to your faith, and keep pushing forward up the hill to Zion a great reward awaits.
Your fellow soldier in the fight.
Thank you so much for your reply.
I was just praying to the Lord for comfort and guidance about two hours before I opened your email and I can't help but believe that this is God's grace and mercy at work. Your kind gesture in mentioning my need for prayers to our Christian brethren in Ichthys means so much and I am deeply grateful for the same. I feel so much better already with your encouragement/reminder of my membership in the Body of our Lord Jesus (one of those things that one can lose perspective on when feeling out alone in the cold in the fight that is our faith).
Again, thank you so much, my dear Bible teacher brother in Christ. As I pray for you, yours loved ones and Ichthys, I join you in prayer for our brethren as well who are soldiering on in the faith amidst many trials and tribulations to reach the Kingdom.
Yours in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,
You are most welcome thanks so much for all your good words.
I hope you are staying safe over there in the P.I., and have found / will find a good Christian fellowship where the Word of God is taught correctly and deeply . . . and you remain in my prayers day by day.
You are always welcome here on-line at Ichthys no matter what, of course.
In Jesus our dear Lord,
You wrote: Prayer: As children of God, we have access to the Father through prayer on account of Jesus' sacrifice for us (Rom.5:2; Eph.2:18; 3:12; Heb.13:10; cf. Heb.6:19-20).
Could you please clarify the inclusion and meaning of Hebrews 13:10: "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat."
The earthly altar was where all of the blood sacrifices under the Levitical code were rendered, and the Levitical priests had the right of eating many of these offerings, a means of support but also a picture of fellowship with God (communion is meant to be analogous to this picture of faith through partaking of God's Sacrifice). The priests could "come near" the altar and fellowship, indicating a closer relationship to the Lord than others enjoyed. They also acted as go-betweens between the Lord and the people in many other respects as well. That distinction between the holy few and the profane many no longer exists. Christ has removed that barrier with His death on our behalf. There is now, therefore, no special priesthood; instead, all believers are part of Christ's "kingdom of priests" (Rev.1:6; cf. 1Pet.2:5; 2:9; Rev.5:10; 20:6; see the link). An important part of the new priesthood is the direct access we have now to the Father without the need of any sort of intermediary means, whether individuals or ritual sacrifices ( Eph.2:18; 3:12; Heb.4:16; not true of Old Testament believers: cf. Heb.9:7-8; see the link). This is, I believe, the main point Paul is making at Hebrews 13:10, namely, our direct fellowship (and concomitant direct prayer access) to the Father and the Son through the Son's victory over sin and death.
You wrote: (often preferring His communion with the Father to His necessary sleep: cf. Matt.26:36-46; Lk.6:12-13; Heb.5:7-9)
Did you include Heb.5:7-9 ("He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death") because it refers to Matt.26:36-46? If that is the case, why does the passage later say 'He was heard', if our Lord had to die and died?
I take Hebrews 5:7 to apply to our Lord's entire life ("in the days of His flesh" NKJV). So the fulfillment of Jesus' prayers applies likewise to His entire earthly life. However, our Lord certainly was heard in terms of His prayers in Gethsemane as well. His expression of a desire to be spared the most difficult thing anyone has ever done it is not too much to say that our Lord's suffering in the darkness for the sins of the world exceeded the entirety of all human suffering throughout all of history combined to an infinite degree was given and recorded for our benefit that we might have some small inkling of what it was He had to do for us to be saved. But His prayer, "thy will be done" was indeed fulfilled, and fulfilled in the perfect way that resulted in our deliverance and His:
Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
Psalm 31:5 NKJV
I've got two questions on prayer:
a) Firstly, although there are some intentions for which I pray daily and feel strong desire to do so (yourself and your ministry being one of the most important and one with which I start my petitions to the Lord), there are some which I find more difficult to keep. For example, my relative, like I mentioned to you already, is now a Muslim, shows very little desire to know the truth, if any at all. Similar attitude is shown by another relative, for whom Catholicism is everything spiritually and wouldn't accept any arguments I presented. I'm aware that we need to be persistent, and these two examples show how people make their decisions and feel happy about them, showing no interest to question their beliefs. I need to say that just as for some intentions I pray with a lot of belief, whereas others are a challenge with that respect, to the degree that I don't even know whether it is biblical for me to constantly include them.
b) And linked to it is the matter of selection - we all meet many people on our way and how great it would be if they would all be saved. Although it is not feasible to include all these people in daily prayer and hence I wonder, how to pray. I feel a much stronger desire to pray for those who show the desire to know the truth than for those who keep rejecting opportunities that come their way and feel happy the way they are. Do apart from including specific intentions you include some general ones too, for example, praying for the unbelievers to open their hearts to the truth?
We are told to "pray without ceasing" at 1st Thessalonians 5:17, and our Lord prayed to the Father to "take this cup away from Me" yet added, "nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done" (Lk.22:42). Since it is good to keep praying and acceptable to pray for good things even if we know they are virtually impossible (as an expression of our feelings), surely it is good to pray for things that look unlikely from the human point of view: nothing, after all, is impossible for God (and cf. Lk.18:1-7).
I think that praying for specific unbelievers to open their hearts so as to be saved is a fine prayer, and find nothing in scripture to speak against it. As you say, we have limited time and energy. One of the things that has always impressed me about our Lord's approach and, to a lesser degree, that of the apostles, is the very large amount of time spent in prayer. Every prayer we offer from a pure heart is important and is most definitely heard before the throne of God. It is to our credit to pray and it is beneficial for those for whom we pray, and both of these things are true even when, as is often the case, we do not know precisely how or when our Lord will answer. We can be sure, however, that He does answer. So prayer is also a matter of faith, and a matter of choice, as all good things in this life are. On that great day of days we won't regret a single prayer we have offered in faith but if we could regret anything on that day I'm sure it will be that we didn't pray more.
I find myself struggling to address an issue similar to one I told you about some time ago. I find it hard to make a judgment whether I should carry on praying for some of the members of my family and for my friends who in all probability don't believe. Is a prayer for open heart legitimate (it would seem to be most fitting for the circumstances)? Those of my close ones who do not believe don't show much desire to get to know the truth and are entangled in a number of lies, I find it hard to discern what to do.
I would never give up on prayer. We cannot know when (or if) someone will respond. We hardly know our own hearts how can we hope to discern what is really going on in the hearts of others? Those who smile and seem to respond may just be being polite; those who seem hard as rock may actually be hiding inner turmoil as the Spirit woos them gradually toward the truth. If we were to pray for a loved one every day and night for fifty years, and the result was that the person accepted Christ on his/her death-bed, wouldn't that be worth it? My advice is to pray, and leave the details to the Lord.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1st Thessalonians 5:16-8 NKJV
A question came up in our bible study that no one had an answer for. "Is it written, or where is it written in the bible that we are instructed to pray for the lost? We are instructed to pray on all occasions but specifically for the lost even Jesus did not pray for them. Any ideas?
Good to make your acquaintance. Here is something Paul famously wrote:
Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
Romans 10:1 NIV
Since those for whom Paul prays were not saved, we can certainly take this as an indication that praying for unbelievers is a good and legitimate thing to do, even when, as in this case, as Paul knew full well (cf. Romans chapters 9-11), that most of his fellow countrymen were not going to turn to Christ.
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message".
John 17:20 NIV
Here our Lord Jesus prays for those who are not yet saved but who will be, so this prayer is most definitely directed towards those who while they "will believe" are not yet believers.
So I suppose the question is what is meant by "the lost". This is a common enough term in contemporary Christian usage but not necessarily easily linked up with the Bible. Jesus mentions going to the "lost sheep of Israel" (Matt.10:6; 15:24) again, an effort to save those who are not believers (though it deals not with prayer in particular but evangelism). But I don't find the Bible talking about "the lost" in the way we commonly use the term as if that state were unalterable. Perhaps that is because, from the biblical point of view, where there is life, there is hope. Anyone still living who is not a believer still possesses free will and will find God and His solution in Jesus Christ "if they but grope for Him" (Acts 17:27). Therefore no one is, strictly speaking, "lost" in the sense of irremediably condemned until this life comes to end:
And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
Romans 11:23 NIV
It is true that we can probably make some very informed judgments in many cases about those who are not only unbelievers but who will not under any circumstances come to Christ. However, one never knows. I am sure that the first century believers of Judea were absolutely convinced that Saul had a special place reserved for him in hell, so vigorous was he in persecuting the early Church. But of course the Lord did turn him around 180 degrees (that is what salvation is, after all), and though he was previously "lost", he became one of the greatest believers who ever lived.
(12) I am [so] thankful to the One who empowers [us], Christ Jesus our Lord, for considering me faithful and putting me into ministry, (13) although I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a man of outrageous insolence. But I was shown mercy for the things I did in ignorance and unbelief. (14) For the grace of our Lord has been poured out super-abundantly [associated] with faith and with the love which is in Christ Jesus. (15) The saying is true and worth careful consideration: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am among the foremost of them. (16) But it is for this very reason that I was shown mercy, that is, so that in me first and foremost Christ Jesus might demonstrate the full measure of His patience [toward unbelievers] as a pattern for those who are [likewise] going to believe in Him for eternal life."
1st Timothy 1:12-16
So by all means we should pray for those who have not yet received Jesus Christ He wants all to be saved (1Tim.2:4). They are not lost unless they choose to be.
For more on this subject in general please see the link: God's Plan to Save You.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,