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Friday, March 11, 2016

PRAYER (part 3): When, What, and Expectations



Introduction

This Bible study series began as an earnest endeavor to understand what exactly the Bible says concerning praying and the pray-er. This study, using the New American Standard translation of the Bible, found one hundred thirty-two Scripture passages that spoke on the pray-er, and praying, calling out, petitioning, supplicating, asking, and requesting from God.

Ø  The first part of this Bible study series covered three areas.
·                     What is prayer?
·                     What do we do when we pray?
·                     How do we/are we supposed to pray?
Ø  The second part of the series covered what the Bible teaches on the pray-er – the person who prays. What the Bible teaches is expected of the pray-er.
·                     Righteousness
·                     Belief
·                     Prayer in Solitude
·                     Watchfulness and Alertness
·                     Ceaseless Prayer
·                     Fervency and Enthusiasm
·                     Approaching God
·                     Self-Control
·                     Love of People
·                     Acknowledge and Love Jesus
·                     Praying in Agreement
Through this series we learned something greater occurs in prayer than just giving God a wish list - a “gimme” list – or asking for His help. Prayer is a way of growing to know God better by being in a continual close relationship with Him. You may have prayed, when you first learned of it, as a rote discipline. Over time and with deeper devotion, prayer becomes an everyday desire or irresistible urge to be with the Lord. Through it Christians mature in their relationship with God and grow more Christlike.

In part three of this series, we will try to understand three teachings from the Bible. The first addresses when we should pray – morning, night, any time, and/or ceaselessly. The second addresses our expectations for God answer our prayers. Is it too much to ask God to listen to and answer our small human prayers when He is so great and busy keeping the created universe in order. Is God imminent and transcendent? The final part of today’s study shows us what the Bible says happens when we pray? We have each heard of God providing a person his or her necessities, but more than physical help occurs when God enters a situation with a person. Remember, prayer affects the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual part of a person if a genuine relationship/communion with God exists. A person is changed in these areas when God is part of a person’s life. Let us begin our study now.

When Should We Pray


Night and Day.

Old Testament 

First, we should consider the occurrences in the Bible that speak specifically on prayer and when it should occur. The first time the New American Standard translation of the Bible records prayer at a specific time of day is in Nehemiah. Nehemiah 1:6 states, “Let Your (God’s) ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for Your servants, the people of Israel.” Notice here Nehemiah stated he prayed day and night to God. David, in Psalm 5:3, declared the LORD listened to his prayers in the morning when he prayed to Him. Other places in the Old Testament we note people praying at different times of day. Hannah went to the temple during the day and cried out to the LORD for a child. Jacob communed with God through a dream at night. Daniel prayed to the LORD God in the mornings to stand strong and not eat the food from the king’s table and got down on his knees three times a day to pray and give thanks before God before being thrown in the lion’s den. Abraham arose early and went to the place where he met with the LORD before (Genesis 19:27). Moses approached God and stayed in His presence on Mount Sinai forty days. He communed with God day and night. Do these people contradict what teachers taught us in the past – to rise early and begin our days with devotion, Bible study, and prayer? They do not.

New Testament 

Consider the New Testament teachings of Jesus and Paul. Jesus modeled prayer at  different times of day. He rose early and went to the garden to pray (Mark 1:35-38, Luke 4:42-43). Jesus prayed at night, too. After he fed the 5000 people on the hillside, Matthew recorded Jesus went to a mountainside to pray by Himself (Matthew 14:23). The next verse records this happened at night. Even Paul prayed at night. When he was in Athens, but could not get away to Thessalonika, he sent Timothy to encourage and teach the people. When Timothy returned and gave a report to Paul, 1 Thessalonians 3:10 records, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” For Paul, prayer was not only a morning or only a night time occurrence. Prayer was a natural outflow of his faith in God. Because of that, it occurred any time of the day or night. Remember, we learned in the first part of this series, prayer is more than a “gimme” list. It is praising, rejoicing, adoring and exalting God, thanking Him, confessing and repenting, and petitioning God for help. Many times in Paul’s writing, we read of his imprisonment, but yet he rejoiced and sang praises to God. His circumstances did not dictate when he prayed or what he prayed. He prayed because of His close relationship with God, just as Jesus modeled for the disciples. Prayer is part of building and being in a relationship with God.

Ceaselessly. 

Several Scripture passages in the Bible speak on praying ceaselessly. We touched on these in the second part of this prayer series. Luke 18:1 records Jesus instructed the people to pray always and not give up hope. God hears the prayers of His children who cry out ceaselessly day and night. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Christians are to pray at all times, without ceasing. Paul added to this by modeling unceasing and faithful prayer in Colossians 1:9.

Dedicate a Time for Prayer.

The Bible teaches two other things regarding prayer and when it should happen. First, it says, through Luke’s writing in Acts 10:9, we are with intent to dedicate a time for prayer. People become so busy with their lives, schedules, work, sports, and hobbies they often forget to schedule time with God into their lives. Because of this, many Bible teachers teach people to begin their days with prayer and Bible reading. By doing this, making God the first part of each day, it becomes hard to forget your personal quiet time with God. He is the first priority of a person’s day. This teaching is a great way to begin your Christian discipline of prayer. We notice that as we grow, our prayer life grows. It becomes a continual, ceaseless stream of communion with the Lord throughout the day as Jesus, Paul, and James taught (Matthew 14:23, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Ephesians 6:18, and James 5:13).

Pray before Service. 

The second thing we must note as we finish this section on prayer is before going out to serve the Lord, we must pray. Luke records this occurring in Acts 13:1-3. The disciples laid their hands upon Barnabas and Saul setting them apart for the service of the Lord, asking God’s blessing and anointing on them for the power of the Holy Spirit to work through them while keeping them safe, too. Before Jesus sent His disciples out to minister, He taught them, prayed over them, and empowered them to do His work. Jesus empowered them with His authority (Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1). Praying before going out appears like an obvious thing to do, but people leave their homes each morning to face the world in their jobs and daily life without praying for God to use them and fill them with His Spirit so they can be an effective witness for Him to the people with whom they come in contact. Yes, every Christian is a witness and minister for the Lord. Jesus did not tell a few disciples – Christians – to go into all the world proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). He commanded every Christian do this. That means every Christian, each morning before they begin their day, should pray for God to guide their steps, make them aware of where He is working, and empower them to speak a positive witness for Him into the situations they face that day.

From these examples and Bible verses, we learn prayer can and should occur during good times and difficult times. Prayer is not limited to either morning or night, but should and can occur ceaselessly. To be equipped in full by the Lord for the day, prayer should begin the day. Prayer comes from being in a close, personal relationship with God. The Bible teaches people should persevere in prayer.  This perseverance in prayer is ceaseless praying which comes from and builds a greater relationship with God and grows the pray-er into greater Christlikeness.

Should We Expect Answered Prayer

Along with continual prayer and perseverance in prayer, God’s Word teaches He will listen to and answer prayer. Yet we each have known of a person whose prayer went unanswered and questions arose of God’s faithfulness or the rightness of the pray-er. Should we expect God to answer prayer? The answer is yes. Should we expect Him to answer everything we call prayer? No. The Bible teaches God hears the prayers of a righteous person, but of the unrighteous and abominable to God He condemns, turns His face away, and does not answer (Proverbs 28:9, Jeremiah 7:16, Jeremiah 11:14, Lamentations 3:8, Matthew 23:14, and 1 Peter 3:12). Why is that? From the Bible, we read, too, of people who are righteous requesting God’s help and none appears to come in time, according to human standards. Let’s review what we have learned.


In Psalm 5:3, David expected God to answer His prayer because God earlier answered him. In Exodus 32:1-14, the Israelites made a golden calf while Moses communed with God. When Moses descended from the mountain, he saw the abomination of the Israelites worshipping a manmade god while at the base of God’s mountain where His presence rested. He understood God could not allow the people to go unpunished and went before Him pleading for the lives of the Israelites. By doing this, Moses showed he expected God to listen to and answer him. He did not assume to perceive what God’s answer would be, but he believed God would answer. Another example of a person expecting God to answer was Hannah. She went before the LORD in 1 Samuel 1 crying out to Him because she had no children. God attended her cry and recognized her heart for Him. He promised her a child before she returned to the temple for the festival the following year.

Each of these people had a relationship with God. They each trusted Him to be faithful to them and to His character of faithfulness and love. Each person had a heart for God and sought Him and His will. This showed God their righteousness, their choosing His way over their own way, and, by that, not sinning against Him. Because of their understanding of God and their relationship with Him, they expected He would answer their prayers. They did not realize in what way God would answer, but they believed He would. We each can expect God to answer our prayers if we are in a right relationship with Him. The way God answer prayers may not be the way we think it ought to be answered, but God, in His sovereignty, always knows what is best for us. Because of this, He may answer our prayers with a “No.”


Still, we each have heard of at least one person for whom God did not answer his or her prayers though he or she was righteous before Him. How can that be? Pastors, ministers, and teachers of the Bible speak of instances like these. When God does not answer a prayer, they say, we must understand our timing is not God’s timing. He knows when best to answer prayer. Job’s time of trial by Satan speaks of this. Job was a devout and faithful man of God. Satan challenged God and said Job was only faithful because God blessed him (Job 1:9-10). He asked God for permission to put him to the test. Satan began the trials by killing his cattle, children, and wife. Before her death, she advised Job to curse God and die (Job 2:9). He destroyed his crops and his wealth. When it appeared Job had nothing left to lose, his friends advised him God was punishing him and that he must repent and ask forgiveness. Job explained he was innocent and had done nothing wrong against God or His Law. He explained to his friends he misunderstood the reason God tested him, but he refused to speak against Him. Job said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless, I will argue my ways before Him” (Job 13:15). Job chose to continue his relationship with God. He did not give up on God; he was faithful to Him. If the trials he was going through were not his own fault because of sin, then he implied they were God’s fault. This thinking meant Job judged God and His power and the rightness of His actions though he did not mean to imply that. God chastised Job on this in Job 40:8. Job realized his error in judging God in Job 42:1-6. He admits aloud God is almighty and nothing and no one can thwart Him. Job understood better now. He had a deeper relationship with and appreciation of God after this season of trial. The purpose of God allowing Job to be tried was to bring him into a closer relationship with Him. Job knew how he wanted God to answer His prayers, but God knew best. He knew Job needed to grow more. Later God restored Job and gave him more children with a new wife, more cattle, more grain, and more wealth than he had before the time of trial. God not answering your prayers now may be His driving you to deepen your relationship with Him. God is still God – almighty, faithful, and loving. He will provide your needs. At the time He does not answer your prayer, your greater need may be for spiritual growth – growth in your relationship with Him. Stay faithful to Him and grow from your situation. God will always be faithful to you.

It could be, too, that God’s answer is negative. When you do not receive a different word from God, you continue doing what He last told you. Though a person prays and thinks he or she needs God to answer in a particular way, God knows best and may not answer the prayer or may answer it in a way completely different than the pray-er thought or requested. We need to realize God knows best and when He does not answer that non-answer is the best way for the need of which we spoke to Him in prayer to be met.

Yet that is not always the lesson when God initially says no or does not answer. Jesus taught the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. In this parable a man was taking advantage of a widow. Widows in the first century had no rights, but God told the Israelites from the beginning of Him calling them His nation they were to take care of the widows, orphans, and foreigners. In this parable, the judge refused to listen to her case and rule in her favor. The widow persistently sought the judge’s intervention in her case. Finally, in exasperation, the judge attended to the widow and ruled in her favor because, as he said, “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” (Luke 18:4b-5). In this parable, Jesus taught people persistence, earnestness, and faith in prayer. He assured the people God will be gracious to them. Keep the faith. God is just, unlike that judge. He loves His people and will avenge the unjust person while giving what is needed. While the person, the widow in this case, is waiting for God’s answer and action, this waiting causes the person to persevere and grow in faith, too, while growing in his or her prayer life and relationship with God. God’s seeming delayed answer is not necessarily a “No.”


If a person is not a believer, but sincerely seeks the Lord, God said that seeker will find Him. God wants every person to come to know Him through the redemption He provided through His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:4-6). In Jeremiah 29:13, when God spoke to the Israelites, He told them if they turned from their wicked ways and sought Him with their whole heart, He would be found by them. God wants all people to come to Him and become His child. He will draw near to the person and listen to him or her. If what that saved person seeks does not come from selfish motives (James 3), but seeks to help someone or themselves in genuine need, and God knows in the person’s heart He will receive the glory, God will answer the prayer. Seeking God and His will is a primary reason God will answer prayer.

Besides righteousness, persistence, fervency, and faith, the Bible teaches what is expected and required of the person who prays. We learned these things in part two of this prayer study series. The attributes, actions, and attitudes of a pray-er whom God will heed and answer includes the eleven attributes listed in the introduction of this Bible study. What God seeks in a person is a genuine relationship with Him that shows itself in faithfulness, righteousness, love, and obedience. Jesus summed it up with the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:36-40. Should we expect God to answer our prayers? Yes. Can we expect Him to answer them? That depends are your relationship with Him and your genuineness to be with Him and His divine will. It depends, too, on His purpose for the pray-er. Will a “no” answer or a delayed answer to prayer grow the pray-er stronger in his or her faith and relationship with the Lord? If so, then that may be the answer to a prayer. In answer to prayer God can say yes, provide what is requested, say no, say wait, or delay and answer. This leads to what happens when a person prays.

What Happens When We Pray

What then happens when people pray? This carries over from our last topic. Yes, we can expect answers to prayers. The Bible, in forty-eight verses, repeatedly tells people God hears, and answers or helps people because of their prayers.

Growth of Relationship with God. 

Foremost, when people pray to God, as stated in the first part of this series on prayer, the pray-er grows in his or her relationship with God and grows more Christlike. Prayer begins as a discipline a believer is taught to do. Over time that discipline becomes a desire to be in God’s presence and know Him better. Prayer is one way to do that. To prayer, add Bible study, meditation/reflection on the Word, and listening to biblical teaching. These each add to our relationship and communion with the Lord. These help us know God better and grow more like Jesus Christ. From this growth in relationship and Christlikeness, we bear spiritual fruit that fruit that gives testimony and glory to God. Relationship growth with God and personal spiritual growth are the most important results from praying.

God’s Intervention. 

As a secondary result, prayer brings God’s intervention in a person’s or a group of people’s lives. This occurs when the people have a relationship with God. Because the people of the Bible had a relationship with God, they expected to experience God answer their prayers. David begged God to listen to his cry and prayer in 1 Kings 8:28. He prayed for Jerusalem in Psalm 122:6. David would not have expected it nor pleaded for it from God if He did not believe God heeded and answered prayer. He believed the LORD is near to everyone who calls upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). David had a close relationship with God.

Daniel believed God cared for His people and prayed to Him for the sin of the Israelites (Daniel 9:20). He prayed for the people to be released from bondage to their captors and to sin. Daniel’s relationship with God was a growing and genuine relationship with God.

Jesus taught that the Father who is in heaven will give good gifts (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13); so expect to have God answer prayers. He expressed this again in Mark 11:24 when He said, “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted to you.” Jesus taught His disciples to ask from the Father in His name and He would do what they ask so the Father would be glorified through the Son (John 14:13). He even said because He chose you to be His disciples, whatever you ask of the Father in His name He would give to you (John 15:16, 16:26). When a person asks for something of God in Jesus’ name, it shows the faith and relationship of the pray-er and Jesus. Their relationship shows a growing trust and understanding that leads to greater love of God and other people, and obedience to God. Jesus taught a believer who genuinely seeks God and His will can expect God to attend to and answer his or her prayers.

James said a prayer offered in faith (by a person who trusts in Jesus) can restore a sick person (James 5:15-16) so do not doubt, but believe and pray to God for the sick person. Added to these verses, the person from whom prayers for healing are made must seek forgiveness for sins, too.  He added the person who prays to God must ask in faith without doubting for the doubting person should expect to receive nothing from God (James 1:5-7). In addition, James taught a person who prays should do so with fervency and enthusiasm for the Lord and His will, and God will answer – that for which the person prays will happen (James 5:17).

Each of these people expressed God hears the prayers of the pray-er. Besides these, other people throughout the Bible in a multitude of Scripture passages expressed God hears prayers. Consider these verses –

·         Job 22:25-27
·         Psalm 18:6, 65:2, 66:20, 102:17, 118:5
·         Proverbs 15:29
·         Jeremiah 29:12
·         Luke 3:21
·         Acts 10:31
·         2 Corinthians 1:11
·         1 Peter 3:7, 12
·         1 John 5:14-15

God’s Love. 

Believing God hears our prayers shows great faith and trust in Him, and depth of relationship with Him. God does more than hear prayers; He answers them. If that were not so, the people who prayed would not expect it so readily. Their relationship with the Father had grown to such maturity they knew because of God’s love for them, He would intervene.

God’s intervention is part of relationship. In a relationship of two people, helping, being with, guiding/teaching, and encouraging is part of a growing relationship. That is community and care. The relationship people have with God and He with them is no different. The relationship of one person to another is based on the perfect relationship God offers people. God wants to help people because He loves them. That explains how the people could have such faith in God that He would answer their prayers (a part of communing with Him). God helps people because of His love for them and because of their relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. He helps/answers because of our prayers to Him and because they are in alignment with His will. Consider the following eighteen verses –
·         Job 22:25-27
·         Psalm 66:20, 118:5
·         Daniel 2:23, 9:20
·         Matthew 7:11, 21:22
·         Mark 11:24
·         Luke 11:13
·         John 14:13, 15:16, 16:26
·         Acts 10:31
·         2 Corinthians 1:11
·         James 1:5-7, James 5:16-17
·         1 Peter 3:12
·         1 John 5:14-15

What God Does. 

How or in what way does God answer prayer? There are a myriad of ways we ask for prayer to be answered and God often answers and helps us in ways we could not conceive of ourselves. First Timothy 4:5 tells us God sanctifies every created thing by His Word and prayer. He heals people, too, as James 5:15 states. God makes life occur in Genesis 20:7. He forgives because of prayer (James 5:15). God provided a king for the Israelites because of their petitioning Him. He gave children to Sarah and Hannah because of their prayers. A host of instances exist throughout the Bible that tell how God answered the prayers of the righteous who called out to Him.

These are just a few examples of what happens when we pray. The important thing to remember is God seeks to be in a close love relationship with each person. He created each person because He wants to share His love with them. Because of His love, God provided a way for sinful people to return to a right relationship with Him. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live as a man and be tempted, though not sin. God allowed Jesus to be persecuted and crucified as the payment/substitution for our sin death penalty due. He did not stop with Jesus’ crucifixion. God resurrected Jesus to life again because as part of the Godhead, death has no power over Jesus. By rising from the dead, Jesus defeated death. By dying on the cross an innocent man, He paid the price for the sins of all humankind. God calls to each person his or her whole life hoping he or she will accept His gift of grace to have his/her sins washed clean and being given eternal life in His kingdom. God does not stop calling people because He wants no one to be lost permanently. This love of God, this desire to love us so deeply, is why we pray. We pray to be in a growing and close relationship with the God of love, mercy, and grace. We pray to commune with – be in the presence – of God.

Recap 

Prayer is an active part of intentionally seeking God and growing closer to Him. Through it we come into the presence of God. When we come to Him in prayer we recognize –

Ø  God is to be revered
Ø  God’s mercy
Ø  God exists
Ø  God’s power
Ø  God’s faithfulness
Ø  God is almighty
Ø  God deserves all the glory and praise

Added to these, prayer involves every facet of relationship we expect with one other – adoration (reserved exclusively for God). We can remember these things by using the acronym,  A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication). When we petition, we request God’s help for ourselves and other people, including the people who persecute us.

The Bible teaches people who pray have expectations that God will listen to their prayers. The primary requirement is the person will be righteous – be in a right relationship with God - which comes by continual confession and repentance of sin, being cleansed from sins daily and fulfilling the Greatest Commandment as taught by Jesus to His disciples. The other ten attributes, actions, and attitudes of a person whose prayers God listens to include –
·                     Belief
·                     Prayer in Solitude
·                     Watchfulness and Alertness
·                     Ceaseless Prayer
·                     Fervency and Enthusiasm
·                     Approaching God
·                     Self-Control
·                     Love of People
·                     Acknowledge and Love Jesus
·                     Praying in Agreement
Prayer, to be a conduit to a growing relationship with God, should occur regularly each day, ceaselessly as Jesus and Paul stated. It can occur during the day or night. Prayer can be voiced by one’s self or in conjunction with other people. The main point of prayer though is communion with God, not seeking self-importance and showmanship, like the Pharisees.
As in any loving relationship between people, we can expect that God wants to answer our hearts’ cries. If we are in a true and sincere relationship with God, then our will is aligned with His will. We will pray for that which God already knows and agrees with us. Therefore, He desires to answer the prayer requested, or the need voiced. When God answers prayer healing happens, salvation and sanctification occurs, forgiveness is given, life is given, and love is shared from Him to the people who call to His heart.

Relevance and Conclusion

            Each person on earth must decide for him or herself if he or she will accept God’s love gift - grace and mercy given through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. When a person accepts Jesus Christ, prayer is a conduit available to connect God’s heart to each person’s, so that person grows in his or her love relationship with Him. The person’s dedication to God shows in the fruits of the person’s actions, attitudes, and attributes. We each must stop and determine the depth of our relationship with God if we have one. We must assess whether we are in a genuine and growing relationship with God and are becoming more Christlike. If the result of our assessments shows we are not Christians or have not grown beyond infancy in Christ, earnest and fervent prayer to God can bring salvation and growth so we become united with the Father and He can lavish His love upon us as we live to love and obey Him.

It comes down to love:
            Will you accept His?
            Will you give Him yours?
Prove it. Pray.