With the last two weeks’ Bible studies, What is it and How do We approach God and How Should We Pray to God, a multi-part series on the Bible’s teaching on prayer and the pray-er began. 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 parts of this study on prayer and the pray-er covered three areas:
· What is prayer?
· How do we pray?
· How should we approach God?
This third 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 be willing to listen to 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. (Note, I did not say “can” listen to, but to whom God chooses to listen.) 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 in 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 praying in agreement. For this third part of the Bible studies on prayer, we will study the first category – righteousness.
When God will hear and answer prayer
One of the famous righteous men of the Old Testament known was Job. Even though he endured testing by Satan that God permitted, Job never denied the Lord nor gave up on Him. He believed God listened to 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 used the word zak as the word we translate into “pure.” Zak means pure, clean, and righteous. Job recognized the person praying needed to be pure and righteous because only a pure/righteous person could pray a pure prayer. In Job 42:8 God recognized Job’s prayers as acceptable and righteous as opposed to those of his friends because he proved himself faithful to God. In this verse, God spoke to Eliphaz (Job’s neighbor). He told Eliphaz twice that Job was His servant, His child because of righteousness. 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. Job’s faithfulness showed his righteousness and reflected he prayed pure and righteous prayers. God accepted and listened to Job’s prayers because of his righteousness.
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, Enoch, Elijah, 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).
In these passages, the writers of the Scripture used the words “righteous” and “upright.” Righteousness in Genesis 15:6 comes from the Hebrew word tsedaqah meaning righteous as a ruler, as God, and ethically, and justified and saved by God. God’s gave them righteousness through His justification and salvation of each of them and every believer. For these men, their righteousness came through great faith in God, which showed in their obedience to Him and His laws. In Job, the word “upright” is used to refer to Job. “Upright” comes from the Hebrew word yashar. It means right, correct, straight, pleasing to God, righteous, and proper. This term comes from the actions of obedience to God and His laws that came out of faith in Yahweh God. In the Hebrews 11 passage, the writer used the Hebrew word dikaios for the English word righteous. Dikaios means righteous, observes divine laws, virtuous, innocent, guiltless, and acting according to God’s will. Notice each of these terms that speak of righteousness are defined in alignment with God’s characteristic of righteousness. When a person is righteous as God is righteous, given to him or her by God, then that person is right with God and God says He will hear and answer his or her prayers.
Because the attribute of righteousness 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.” Remember, the person from whom God hears and answers prayer is righteous because He made the person righteous by His power and the person’s faith in Him. The person, though sinful, returns and repents to God each of his or her sins and God makes him or her clean and righteous each time. Here David begged God to hear his request and noted he was not asking for it for his own purposes, but because of God’s will. When we pray, our spirit joins with God’s Spirit and we recognize the will of God.
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.” The word “acceptable” comes from the Hebrew word ratsown, which means pleasure, delight, favor, and acceptable. When we pray according to God’s will – for His purposes and glory – the prayer is acceptable to Him.
Ø Proverbs 15:29 – “The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.” Here “righteous” comes from the Hebrew adjective tsaddiyq, which means just, lawful, and righteous as justified and vindicated by God. It expresses the person is righteous because of God’s action toward and for him or her. Remember, vindicate means to clear of blame or suspicion; to show or prove to be right, reasonable, or justified. God hears the prayers of the people whom He made righteous.
Ø Isaiah 56:1 – “This says the LORD, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed.” The “righteousness” spoken of by God here comes from the Hebrew noun tsedaqah. This same word God used about Abraham in Genesis 15:6. God commanded the people to do right according to Him and His laws, and by the righteousness He put in them because His salvation, the Messiah, was soon to come. Here, through Isaiah, God foretold of the Messiah He would send among them. He commanded them to obey Him and His laws.
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 in the presence of God) man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.” Cornelius revered and was in awe of God; he feared Him and was devout, showing his faithfulness to God by obeying Him though he was not an Israelite. The salvation from God is for everyone, not just Jews.
Ø Acts 10:31 – “And he (Peter) said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.” Here we hear God’s judgment of Cornelius. Peter told him God remembered his righteous deeds and so listened to and answered his prayers. The people of Cornelius’ family and household all believed unto salvation that day and Peter baptized them.
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). “Holy” here comes from the Greek word hosios, which means undefiled from sin, free from wickedness. Note hosios is not the usual word used for “holy” in the New Testament. Normally the Greek word used for “holy” is hagios. Hosios is used only eight times in the New Testament.
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. “Wrong motives” comes from the Greek word kakos, which means improper, wrong, and evil. James meant if you pray for something with evil or improper things in mind, God will not answer your prayer. God knows the intentions of a person’s heart. He knows when people are righteous or unrighteous and so when prayers are made with wrong or right motives.
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.” The word “righteous” here comes from the Greek word dikaios, which was previously defined on page three. God will answer the prayer of a righteous person. God is the One who makes a prayer from a righteous person effective. Through God’s will and power, prayers are answered, yet God distinctly says in the next section, He will not listen to or answer the prayers of an unrighteous person. He considers them an abomination.
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.” The Greek word for “righteous” here is diakaios. The word “evil” comes from the Greek word kakos. God seeks, listens, and attends to the prayers of righteous people, but is against evil people. He will not listen to or answer them. This passage comes from Psalm 34:15-16 originally. Peter appropriated it for his teaching of the Jews in 1 Peter.
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 God’s will through His Spirit who lives within each believer. When we ask/petition God for what is His will, we can know He will answer our prayers.
When God will not hear and answer prayer
The Bible teaches the other side of this, too. I call it a negative response or reaction by God to prayer. Three verses in the Bible speak about people for whom God will not answer prayer.
Ø Proverbs 28:9, “He who turns his ear from listening to the Law, even his prayer is an abomination.” When Solomon used the verb “turns from,” He used the Hebrew word cuwr, meaning departs from. This reflects our understanding of being unfaithful to God and turning away from Him to sin and rebel against Him. The word “listening” comes from a commonly understood Hebrew word, shama’, which means to hear, listen, and obey. In Jewish thought, one could not hear something without acting upon it either for good or evil. “Abomination” comes from the Hebrew word tow’ebah and means disgusting, wicked, and abomination. So this verse states the person who turns away from and rebels against God by not hearing, listening to, and obeying God cannot expect Him to listen to or answer his or her prayers. That prayer is an abomination to God because it comes from a wicked heart.
Ø 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.” Once again, the word “righteous” comes from the Greek word dikaios meaning observes, divine laws, righteous, virtuous, innocent, guiltless, and acting according to God’s will. “Evil” comes from the Greek word kakos meaning improper, wrong, and evil. Peter said here God will not turn toward, hear, or answer the prayers comes from evil people, but he will for the righteous people.
Ø Matthew recorded Jesus in Matthew 23:14. He said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” God will listen to the prayers of the righteous, those who seek Him. Jesus addressed the actions of the Pharisees, the men designated to be the religious leaders of God’s people, Israel. He said God saw their hearts and actions and knew the show/pretense of holiness was just that. Jesus said their actions of taking the homes of widows and casting them out was evil. He said God would not listen to their prayers because of their evil actions and unrepentant hearts. God would condemn them because they did not seek His righteousness through true faith and cleansing of their sins by Him.
Throughout the Bible, God teaches He will listen to the righteous - those who genuinely seek Him, want to be in a relationship with Him, and whom He forgives and cleanses from sins. 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. God considers the evil (kakos) person and his or her prayer and abomination.
Relevance and Conclusion
God wants to have a love relationship with each person. He created each person for a purpose just as David said in Psalm 138:8. To provide a way for permanent forgiveness and eternal life with Him, God sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to be born as a man, live a perfect life, die a cruel death, and then arise from the dead as conqueror of death. Each person who acknowledges Jesus Christ is the Son of God, believes in Him as his or her Savior, and confesses his or sin, God will forgive and accept him or her into His family. He will make him or her righteous. Besides being eternally forgiven and having eternal life, each believer can know God will hear and answer his or her prayer if asked without evil intentions and with a clean heart. Just as David recognized his sinfulness and asked for God’s forgiveness (create a clean heart) and for God to renew a right spirit in him (Psalm 51), each day believers should confess and repent to God asking Him to forgive and cleanse them from sins. This forgiveness by God makes a believer righteous before Him again.
We each must come before God today, if we want to be in a right relationship with Him, asking for forgiveness. God said if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
v Do you want to be in a right relationship with God?
v Do you want God to hear, listen to, and answer your prayers?
God wants to be in a relationship with you. Sin breaks our relationship with God and God will not be in the presence of sin; it is an abomination.
v Pray today for God’s forgiveness and re-experience a right relationship with Him.
v Know today when you pray, God will listen to and answer your prayers to Him.
Remember prayer is the communication side of relationship with God. It grows our relationship with Him and makes us more Christlike.
Will you come to God repenting and being made right with Him again?
Renew your relationship with God and open your communication with Him.