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Friday, February 19, 2016

PRAYER (part 2): Who is the Effective Pray-er

Introduction 

Last week’s Bible study, Prayer (Part 1): What, Why, and How, began a multi-part series on the Bible’s teaching on prayer and the pray-er. In the New American Standard translation of the Bible, over 132 verses speak on the pray-er and on praying, calling out, supplicating, asking, and requesting from God. The first part of this study on prayer and the pray-er covered three areas:

·         What is prayer?
·         What do we do when we pray?
·          How do we/are we supposed to pray?
This second part of the pray-er/praying Bible study series will cover what the Bible teaches on the pray-er - the person who prays.

      If we can grasp the magnitude of prayer that prayer is not just a conduit to God’s help or a wish list, but a way of growing to know God better - of being in relationship with Him - then we will understand the importance of prayer in our lives. We may start our Christian life praying as a Christian discipline. Over time and with deeper devotions, prayer becomes an everyday desire to be with the Lord. Prayer is a way to stay in a continual and growing relationship with God. By it, we grow more Christlike, too.

What is expected of the Pray-er 

Many people think prayer is acceptable to God from anyone. We do not realize since prayer is part of the foundation of our relationship with God that specific requirements of the pray-er are necessary for God to hear prayers. The Bible mentions twenty-nine attributes, actions, and attitudes necessary of the pray-er. These group into eleven categories of attributes, actions, and attitudes of a person from whom God will listen to and answer prayer. I will strive to note these in descending order based on the number of times mentioned in the Bible though no one of them is more or less important to the pray-er than any other. As a quick reference, these categories break out this way – righteousness, belief, praying in solitude, watchfulness and alertness, ceaseless prayer, fervency and enthusiasm, approach of God, self-control, love of people, acknowledge and love of Jesus, and pray in agreement.

Righteousness. 

One of the most famous men in the Old Testament known to be righteous is Job. Even though he endured testing by Satan at the permission of God, Job never denied the Lord nor gave up on Him. He believed God listened and answered his prayers. In the midst of going through the trials Satan aimed toward Job, Job prayed to God. In Job 16:17-19, he expressed that though his prayer was pure, and it appeared he would sink in the darkness, he had a faithful and listening witness in heaven. Job recognized the need for purity and righteousness of the person praying. In Job 42:8 God recognized Job’s prayers as acceptable and righteous as opposed to those of his friends. In this verse, God spoke to Eliphaz (Job’s neighbor). He told Eliphaz twice that Job was His servant. God recognized and pointed out Job’s righteousness compared to Eliphaz’s lack of righteousness. He told Eliphaz what made him unrighteous in His sight – speaking against Him.

      Besides these two verses on Job, eleven other verses in the Bible record God hears and answers the prayers of the person who is righteous. Righteousness comes from God to His believers. He gives righteousness through belief in Him and forgiveness of a believer’s sins when that person confesses and repents of his or her sin. God continues to give righteousness each day to a believer when that person chooses to live by the power of the Holy Spirit He put within the person on his or her day of saving belief in Jesus Christ. For Abraham, Moses, Job and others of the Old Testament, their saving faith came when they believed God and He counted it as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Job 1:8, Hebrews 11). Because this attribute is important in the person who prays, I will give the verse and references concerning righteousness and the pray-er for your reflection. Consider the following verses:

Ø  Psalms 17:1 – “Hear a just cause, O LORD, give heed to my cry; Give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips.”
Ø  Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Ø  Proverbs 15:29 – “The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.
Ø  Isaiah 56:17 – “This says the LORD, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed.”
Ø  Acts 10:1-2– “Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout (godly, pious, like God he was righteous before God) man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.”
Ø  Acts 10:31 – “And he (Peter) said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.”
Ø  1 Timothy 2:8 – “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” (coming before God righteous as a right relationship with the Lord makes us)
Ø  James 4:3 – “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (Wrong motives, James noted, come from selfish desires and jealousy. These are not righteousness.)
Ø  James 5:16 – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (God will answer the prayer of a righteous person.)
Ø  1 Peter 3:12 – “For the eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”
Ø  1 John 5:14-15 – “This is the confidence which we have before Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” (God hears and accepts prayers that are in accord with His will. Our faith in Him means we can know He will answer our prayers made in accordance with His will.)
      The Bible teaches the other side of this, too. It says in Proverbs 28:9, “He who turns his ear from listening to the Law, even his prayer is an abomination.” “Abomination” comes from the Hebrew word tow’ebah and means disgusting, wicked, and abomination[i]. A person who turns away from following God is sinful and wicked. God will condemn wicked people on judgment day. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:12, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” God will listen to the prayers of the righteous, those who seek Him. Jesus stated this to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:14 when He spoke regarding their actions. He said God would not listen to their prayers because of their evil actions and unrepentant hearts. God would condemn them.

      God will listen to the righteous, those who genuinely seek Him and want to be in a relationship with Him. He will not attend to the prayers of the unrighteous - those who do not follow the Lord and who live and pray with selfish motives.

Belief. 

Belief in God is the attribute second most spoken of by the Bible in a believer who prays. The Bible writers most often stated it as “having faith in God.” In this category, five Bible verses speak on “prayer” and two regarding “pray” and “ask.” Jesus noted faith was necessary. He said belief brings receiving that for which you ask in prayer. Paul has great confidence in the faith and prayers of the Philippian Christians. He stated the believers of Philippi could pray with thanksgiving knowing God would listen to and answer their prayers. James stated the prayer of faith would restore the sick. Mark noted for a pray-er to receive that for which he or she asked, they had to believe. John speaks of this same belief necessary for a child of God. He said that because the Father loves believers, He wants to give them what they request. Each of these men spoke of belief in terms of the Greek word pisteuo. Pisteuo means to think to be true, to be persuaded and place confidence in God and Jesus Christ because of a conviction and trust in the triune God. That trust aids in obtaining what is needed or prayed for, and in receiving salvation[ii]. The Bible speaks through seven verses of the pray-er needing to have faith or belief. Below are those verses.

Ø  Matthew 17:19-21; 21:22
Ø  Mark 11:24
Ø  John 16:26
Ø  Philippians 1:19; 4:6
Ø  James 5:15

Pray in Solitude. 

The third most common teaching in the Bible concerning the attribute, action, or attitude of the pray-er necessary for effective praying regards where to pray. Five times in the New Testament the disciples recorded Jesus teaching or modeling prayer in solitude. Jesus told people to go to an inner room. He contrasted this solitary praying with that of the Pharisees whom He called hypocrites. Four other times, Matthew and Luke record Jesus went to a lonely, quiet, and solitary place to pray. You will notice when you read these passages that Jesus took those dearest to Him, the disciples. He modeled prayer for them and He wanted them to pray to the Father, too.
Solitariness solely for isolation was not what Jesus taught. He taught this so people understood the intent of the pray-er’s heart was what God listened to and saw. That intent, be it righteousness or showmanship, determined if God would attend to and answer prayer. Jesus taught this lesson so people understood a pray-er must get away from distractions to commune truly with the Father. A quiet place allows a person to focus on God so the pray-er can approach God with reverence. That person can have an honest conversation with Him that enables two-way communication. This private conversation gives the pray-er solitude so he or she is not swayed to push his or her sins, for which confession should be made, under the rug. Solitude allows focus, genuine communication, and sincere repentance and confession.
The verses of the New Testament that teach this action and attitude of the pray-er are:
Ø  Matthew 6:6, 14:23
Ø  Luke 5:16, 6:12, & 9:28

Watchfulness and Alertness. 

In the four verses that teach a pray-er should be alert or watchful, the writers of those verses used two Greek words watchfulness and alertness – gregoreuo[iii] and agrupneo[iv]. Both these words mean to stay awake to avoid the snares and deceptions of Satan. Agrupneo is an alertness in a believer’s character that keeps laziness and forgetfulness from becoming part of the person’s character, which would allows temptations to overtake him or her. It derives from the word used to speak of a shepherd abstaining from sleep to watch for the safety of the sheep. Agrupneo speaks of an active watchfulness and alertness. It describes being spiritually awake and alert as opposed to being spiritually indifferent. (This alert is aorist imperative.) The writer uses this “alert” as a command/imperative. Agrupneo is an action a believer is to do based on his or her character. If a person is truly a believer, then he or she will be alert. The character is of being a Christian, which should impel an active watchfulness. Luke and Paul use agrupneo for the English word “alert” in Luke 21:36 and Ephesians 6:18.

The second word used for alert and watchful, gregoreuo, has its emphasis on the action of being watchful, not the character of the person. In its original usage it referred to being careful as one stepped on moss-covered stones, not being careful as a follower of God. Gregoreuo is an action and agrupneo should be part of the character of a believer. Over time, the usage of both came to mean the same thing – being watchful and alert. Matthew and Paul used gregoreuo in Matthew 26:41 and Colossians 4:2.

The important thing to remember regarding these passages is the call to be actively watchful and alert. For a person to be an effective pray-er, one who God hears, that person must be alert and watchful not to be tempted and deceived to follow a way other than God’s way. When people walk away from God and remain unrepentant, they are not righteous and their prayers go unheard by God. When a genuine seeking of God occurs by a person, God hears and will answer prayer.

Ceaseless Prayer. 

A person who seeks God in prayer should pray ceaselessly. In Luke 18:1, Jesus taught His disciples to pray always and not give up. He taught the Father would listen to the prayers of His children who cry out to Him ceaselessly day and night. He is the just King and brings justice for His people. The other point Jesus made with this passage came as a question. He asked, “Would the returned Christ find faith like this on earth when He returns?” Will people who call themselves believers have continual faith in crisis and calm and still follow Him?

Paul taught on ceaseless prayer, too. He said the pray-er should pray at all times and without ceasing in Ephesians 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. He modeled this unceasing and faith-filled prayer in Colossians 1:9.

These verses remind us prayer is about being in relationship with the Father, not just an emergency lifeline. Prayer should happen in good times and bad. Besides this, the pray-er should align his or her request with God’s will. By doing that, the pray-er will join with God seeking the best and He will answer the prayer. The pray-er should be in such a close relationship with the Lord that his or her prayers are ceaseless (at all times), persevering, and in agreement with the will of God.

Fervency and Enthusiasm. 

Along with ceaseless praying, the Bible instructs pray-ers to approach the Lord in prayer with what is on his or her heart. When a pray-er does this, the person is fervent, passionate, and enthusiastic concerning that for which he or she prays be it a petition, confession and repentance, or adoration and thanks. The word “fervent” comes from the Greek word ektenos and means earnestly, fervently, and intensely[v]. When a person genuinely approaches God in prayer, the person speaks with enthusiasm (fervency) and not with meaningless repetition. The Bible speaks on these in four passages.

The Christian church prayed fervently for Peter’s release from prison in Acts 12:5. No earthly powers would intervene for Peter. The followers of Jesus knew God’s power could provide release for him. Jesus gave believers a model of fervent praying. Luke recorded in Luke 22:44 that Jesus, in agony, prayed with fervency as noted when His sweat was like drops of blood on the ground. James said Elijah prayed in earnest that it would not rain and it did not for three-and-a-half years, until he prayed for rain (James 5:17).

Earnestness comes from the heart. This prayer is not a rote prayer learned as a child. It does not come from repetition, but as a heart’s cry to the Lord almighty. Jesus stated the Gentiles prayed meaningless repetition to their gods, and those supposed gods remained silent. Their prayers went unanswered (Matthew 6:7). Instead, Jesus taught His believers should pray to God regarding what is on their hearts. Be earnest.

Approach of God. 

In last week’s Bible study on prayer (Prayer part 1: What, Why, and How), we learned from the Bible we are to approach God recognizing His existence, mercy, power, faithfulness, and righteousness. Because of these, we are to approach Him with reverence, pray to Him only, and ensure our prayers give testimony of God. The question this current part of our study answers is the physical/spiritual action required when praying. Five verses in the New Testament teach us how to approach God.

Ephesians 6:18 tells us to pray in the Spirit. Romans 8:26 says this, too. It says, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” This Spirit is the Helper Jesus promised His followers (John 14:16). Jesus added in John 14:26 the Father would send this Helper, the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name (with Jesus’ power). This means when we pray in the Spirit, we are communicating and communing with God through the Holy Spirit He puts in each believer when he or she professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This Holy Spirit gives us access to the Father for communicating and utters things too deep for mere human words. By the Spirit, we commune with Him on a spiritual level.

Besides praying through the Holy Spirit, Paul taught we are to pray with our spirit and mind. If what we pray is not understandable to our physical/mental being, it will not affect our resultant actions and thoughts. Prayers need to come from the mind. Yet if our prayers are just mental and we do not commune with God with our spirit, too, then praying is rote discipline and does not affect us spiritually - growing us to be more Christlike, heeding God, and truly communing with Him. Prayer brings and nurtures our relationship with God. If only one part of our self prays to God then true relationship building and bonding does not occur.

Besides approaching God through the Holy Spirit and with our whole being – heart, mind, and soul, we must approach Him acceptably with our physical self. We must speak acceptably to the Lord. David expressed this in Psalm 19:14 when he said, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” David recognized prayer occurs from the physical self and the heart.

God taught the Israelites to love the LORD with all their heart, soul, and might in Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus taught His followers to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength (might), and mind in Luke 10:27. Jesus understood to be in a relationship with God, humans had to love Him with their whole being – spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional. To love someone with the depth of one’s being means a person must communicate and relate to another on each of these levels. Relationship and communication are more than speaking (action). Communication with the Lord is more than thinking your prayers to Him, too. Relationship with God involves physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual connection.

Self-Control. 

Added to the areas above the person who prays, to be an effective pray-er, must be self-controlled. What does that mean? Just as we love the Lord with our whole being – heart, soul, mind, and strength – we are to bring the parts of our self under control while seeking to be one with God, build our relationship with Him, and become more Christlike. Part of that self-control is being humble. David spoke of this in Psalm 35:13 when he expressed his loyalty to Saul and his family. We must approach God with humility that includes in prayer. Solomon humbled himself before the Lord in 1 Kings 8:28 when he referred to himself as a servant of the LORD God.

Peter added to humility in prayer. He taught, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” This “sound judgment and sober spirit” he spoke of is self-control and humility. Besides that, when he said a person must approach prayer with a sober spirit, he meant the pray-er must be calm and collected in his or her spirit, temperate and dispassionate[vi]. To approach the Lord in prayer requires the person praying to be humble, self-controlled, calm, and collected. Building and deepening a relationship needs peace to occur. Frantic-ness is inevitable, but is not conducive to meaningful communication and growth.

Love of People. 

When approaching the Lord in prayer, a person must harbor no ill will – wrath and bitterness – toward another person. Jesus taught this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:23. He said, “Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your offer.” Jesus taught that interpersonal relationships can hinder our relationship with God because our emotions get in the way. If a person is fraught with negative emotions those emotions carry-over into other spheres of life including our relationship with God.

Peter and Paul both taught people need to be understanding and caring toward other people so they can approach God in peace and without anger, bitterness, or fretting. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter spoke regarding husbands and wives, the closest human relationship. He said, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman, and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” By harboring anger or a grudge against a person, we do not honor him or her. Bitterness takes root in a heart and prevents genuine communion with God. Paul told Timothy, “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” He taught the same thing Peter did. One’s hands cannot be lifted in prayer if they are lifted in anger toward another person.

Our relationship with other people affects our relationship with God. These relationships include the husband and wife relationship, other familial relationships, and encounters with friends and other people within our sphere. We must honor, care for, and love other people. That was the second part of the greatest commandment Jesus taught. Love of other people is the second part of the Ten Commandments God gave Moses for the Israelites – love one another. The first part is to love and honor God.

Acknowledge and Love Jesus. 

This should be obvious based on the myriad other teachings to people who pray. Yet we must include it lest someone say he or she did not know. Because Jesus Christ is the Son of God and one person of the triune Godhead, when Jesus told His followers and God told His children – Israel - to love the LORD with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, They meant for all God’s children to love Jesus Christ with their whole being, too. In John 16:26-27, Jesus told His followers because His followers love Him, the Father loves them and will listen to their prayers.

Jesus said one other thing in this passage. He said to ask in Jesus name whatever you will and the Father will give it to you. John 16:23-27 says this. Does that mean those words, “In Jesus name” are a magic formula like “abracadabra?” Do. By saying them, you recognize and acknowledge that Jesus is your Savior and has the power to answer your prayers. Jesus said this more than once. He meant it. Jesus said it again in John 14:13 when He said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” He said it in John 15:16, too. He said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” Notice what asking anything in Jesus’ name means.

·         It means He is your Savior. You identify with Him and suffer as a Christian as He suffered while on earth.
·         Asking in Jesus’ name means the Father gets the glory. If that for which you ask will not bring God glory, Jesus will not ask the Father and your request will go unfilled.
·         Asking in Jesus’ name means you are a Christian bearing fruit, growing towards perfection in Christ, and that for which you ask leads to more fruit, a harvest that testifies about God.

Pray in Agreement. 

Though this is the last listed attribute, action, or attitude expected of the one who prays to God, it is not the least important. Upon it hinges harmony, love of other people, and love of God. Without these, a person cannot be an effective pray-er. Without these, one does not grow toward righteousness, genuinely seek to be in communion with God, and grow toward Christlikeness. 

The author of Acts, most likely Luke, wrote concerning this attribute of an effective pray-er three times. In Acts 1:14 the disciples were of one mind and continually devoted to prayer. Luke said in Acts 16:13 Paul sought a place of prayer to be with other like-minded believers seeking to be with God. In Acts 20:36, before Paul left Ephesus for the last time, he cherished time to pray with the Ephesian Christians.

·         Praying with other people requires agreement for that which each prays and, therefore, unity.
·         Praying is important enough to seek other people with whom to join in harmony and seek the Lord.
·         Praying with other people is effective when each person praying in the group agrees on what he or she says to God in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and/or petition. Jesus taught this, too.
Jesus taught His followers to pray together, too. In Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus said, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in their midst.” When more than one Christian communicates with God regarding the same thing, most likely those people are praying what the heart of God wills.

      The question arises: Does praying with other people make prayer more effective? In practicality, it does not because whether one person prays according to the will of God or several people pray, God hears and answers the prayers of a righteous person. With more than one person praying in concert, prayers in unison rise before God for the same thing. The urgency of heart among the people each seeking God’s on a specific request gladdens His heart and perhaps makes the answer to prayer arrive sooner. He might rain down His blessings sooner.

Recap

Does God hear our prayers? The answer is yes if the pray-er is righteous. Righteousness comes from being in a right relationship with God. Throughout the Bible, the different authors inspired by God agreed upon eleven things that made a pray-er effective. The first is the most important and leads to the others occurring. Without the first, some of the other ten are missing and God will not listen nor answer prayer. For prayer to be effective - for God to listen to and answer a prayer – the person praying (the pray-er) must genuinely seek the Lord and His will. If that occurs, God promises He will hear from heaven (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Relevance and Conclusion 

Do we approach prayer as an item on our daily to-do list? Do we treat it as just a Christian discipline? Prayer is not just a wish list or a get-out-of-jail-free card. Genuine prayer comes from a person seeking to grow in his or her relationship with God – to know Him and His will – and to grow more like Christ each day. The Bible records eleven attributes, actions, and attitudes of a person who is seeking a growing relationship with God. None of us is perfect. Each of us needs to grow in at least one of these areas. In which area are you weakest and do you need to grow?

·         Righteousness
·         Belief
·         Praying in Solitude
·         Watchfulness and Alertness
·         Ceaseless Praying
·         Fervency and Enthusiasm
·         Approach to God
·         Self-Control
·         Love of People
·         Acknowledgement and Love of Jesus
·         Praying in Agreement
      This question and its answer is between you and God. Take it to God and ask Him to show you where you need to change so your relationship with Him can grow and He will be glorified in your prayer life and public life. James said true wisdom and understanding from God results in righteousness (James 3). Maybe today is the day for you to ask God for His wisdom and understanding regarding your prayer life.

What will you do today?




[i] Brown, Driver, Briggs, and Gesenius. “Hebrew Lexicon entry for Tow’ebah “The NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon.” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/towebah.html).
[ii]Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for Pisteuo.” The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/pisteuo.html).