Prayer Is Partnering with God
Thomas E. Trask, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, often has said, "Prayer is what moves the hand of God." John Wesley stated this idea similarly: "God does nothing except in answer to prayer." Prince Guneratnam, former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Malaysia, when asked why we need to pray since God already knows what we need, replied, "Prayer grants God the moral right to intervene in the affairs of man." Prayer is vitally linked to the outworking of God's kingdom purposes in our lives and in our world.
Of course, it is well within God's power and prerogative to do anything He wishes, at any time He wishes, in any way He wishes. Yet, He chooses to accomplish His will and purpose largely through human agency, through people like you and me. And much of the outworking of His purpose has been and continues to be initiated, energized, lubricated, implemented, and empowered by the prayers of millions of believers, past and present. Prayer releases God's power and moves Him to accomplish what we could never do on our own.
Yet prayer is not manipulation; it is collaboration. We cannot manipulate God to do anything; but we are privileged to collaborate or partner with Him to accomplish Kingdom purposes. Therefore, in order for God's blessing on our lives, our families, our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world to increase, our prayers must increase. That is the only way things will happen—the only way things will get done in God's economy. This is a spiritual law as reliable as the natural law of gravity. The law of gravity says what goes up will come down. The law of prayer says what ascends to God in Spirit-led, believing prayer will bring down God's answers and blessings. How vital is prayer? Our spiritual well-being and the outworking of God's kingdom purposes depend on it.
Prayer Is Required of All
Since the outworking of God's will and purpose is so vitally dependent upon prayer, we can further conclude that prayer isn't optional for the believer in Christ. To see God's purposes accomplished, we must pray.
Everyone must pray.
Prayer isn't a discipline relegated to only a few people. A risk in having prayer teams (though they are important) is that some people might conclude, "That base is covered, so I don't need to pray." Prayer isn't an office some believers hold to the exclusion of others. In Paul's listing of the offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers in Ephesians 4, "pray-ers" is not in the list. Also, in Paul's overview of ministry gifts in Romans 12, where he writes "If it [a believer's gift] is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach" (verse 7), you will not find "if it is praying, let him pray." Prayer is conspicuous by its absence in these lists because the underlying understanding is that Christians "should always pray" (Luke 18:1). As Paul states in 1 Timothy 2:8, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer."
Furthermore, prayer is not to be an occasional practice. As Jesus began teaching His disciples about prayer in Matthew 6, before He gave them the Lord's Prayer, He instructed, "When you pray, don't do this," "When you pray do this," "When you pray, say this." It was always "When you pray," never "If you pray."
Prayer is for everyone because it is so vitally connected to our spiritual health and well-being. Praying well provides strength to the spiritual life just as breathing well provides strength to the physical life. While a student in junior high, I contracted a serious case of bronchitis and was unable to attend school for nearly a month. It was a frightening time as I battled constant congestion and literally fought to breathe at times. If I had not appreciated it before, I quickly realized then that breathing well is a good thing. Unable to breathe well, I felt weak, helpless, and afraid. The same is true on the spiritual level. A prayerless Christian often is weak, helpless, and afraid.
Gaining victory over life-controlling issues, fears, habits, or whatever else creates bondage, requires seeking God's help through prayer and becoming a person of prayer. There is power in prayer. There is deliverance from every kind of bondage through prayer. Forgiveness and peace come through prayer. Help with life's decisions comes through prayer. Healing comes through prayer. Provision for life's basic needs comes through prayer. Restored relationships with God, a spouse, children, or coworkers will come about through prayer.
Proper praying is balanced by attention to the Word of God. True, believing, Spirit-led prayer is always rooted in the Word—its teachings, doctrines, truths, promises, and principles. E. M. Bounds, in his powerful book On Prayer, states, "Prayer draws its very life from the Bible, and has no standing ground outside of the warrant of the Scriptures. Its very existence and character is dependent on revelation made by God to man in His holy Word." That is why praying and reading Scripture should be combined in our devotional life.
If praying well gives us spiritual strength as breathing well gives us physical strength, it could be suggested that reading well in God's Word gives us spiritual strength as eating properly gives us physical strength. We must observe both disciplines—prayer and Bible reading. They are integrally interwoven and crucial to our spiritual strength and well-being.
Prayer is vital also because it keeps us in alignment. We are prone to get out of alignment spiritually. Prayer matches our will with God's will. God is a constant; He never moves. We do. We tend to be all over the place. However, if we pray regularly and ask forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings, and sincerely seek to know and follow God's will, our lives will line up with His will and purpose. As humans, we have to practice this process of alignment regularly. Perhaps that is one reason why Paul admonished us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When we are continually in communication with God, we will stay in alignment with His will and purpose. It's a matter of practicing His presence—daily. When we stay in continual communion with God, we will not wander off.
Prayer Connects Us with God
Prayer is about connecting with God. Prayer is our connection with God; it's the link, the open line. The problem many of us face is that oftentimes there is so much on our minds that when we go to prayer, we rush to petition, waving the shopping list of things we need God to do for us and for others.
As people enter the prayer room of Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, they see the "God wall" on the opposite side. A cross is positioned before it, and printed on the wall is Psalm 145:18, "The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."
Prayer room partners who choose to take a "prayer journey" are encouraged to begin by focusing on God—where we always should begin our prayers. The God wall is a reminder to slow down, to take time to reflect on His presence, His nearness, His goodness, mercy, love, grace, favor—all of the marvelous attributes that make Him God. It is taking time to "be still and know that He is God" (see Psalm 46:10) and appreciate whom we are addressing. No doubt, in our rushing to petition, God strains to hear words like, "I love You, I worship You, I adore You, I magnify Your name, You alone are worthy of praise and adoration!" He longs to hear that! As we sincerely bless His name and give Him the honor due Him, He is pleased to hear our petition and to grant us His favor.
Scripture presents an intriguing and important phrase relating to our approach to God in prayer. One place the phrase is found is in 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (emphasis added). Psalm 105:4 also carries this instruction, "Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always" (emphasis added). What does it mean to "seek God's face"?
In Scripture, the mention of the face of God is a reference to His manifest presence. Genesis 32:30 tells us that Jacob saw God's face, and called the place Peniel which means "the face of God." Interestingly, the Hebrew term for the "bread of the Presence" (Exodus 25:30) that was kept in the Old Testament tabernacle could also be translated "bread of the face." It was symbolic of God's presence.
"Seeking God's face" means that we desire to have audience with God, to enter His presence. It is more than casualness or familiarity. When we are invited in Hebrews 4:16 to boldly or confidently enter God's presence, we must understand the God we are approaching—and ascribe to Him the honor, glory, and praise due His holy name. How casual and even demanding we sometimes can be. We must take care that we not cause God to turn His face away from us through these sins, but through sincere praise and adoration cause Him to turn His face toward us. For as His face is turned toward us, we have His attention and He is attentive to our heart's cry.
When our son John was a small boy, his mother needed to give him some instruction, as mothers must often do. Occasionally, however, she could tell that the message was not getting through. His active mind was elsewhere. So at times, after repeating the instructions over and over to no avail, she would take his little face in her hands and turn his face toward hers, lock eyes, and repeat the instruction. She knew then that he had heard.
Far be it from me to suggest that we mere mortals can take the face of God in our hands and demand His undivided attention, but perhaps there is at least some parallel. When we approach God with intentionality and sincerity in our praise and adoration to Him, and as we move from there to voice our petitions—sometimes with great intensity—there comes a sense deep within our hearts that we truly have entered into God's presence and that He hears us. As we continue in prayer and linger in His presence, we sense that we have laid hold upon Him, His face has turned toward us, and our eyes spiritually have locked with His. Deep inside we know that He understands our need and will respond according to His sovereign purposes. We have that assurance because there is a release, a lifting of the burden we are carrying as His face turns toward us in response to our cry. We have connected with God!
Prayer Connects Us with Others
Prayer also connects us with each other. Through prayer we connect with others too, whether through intercession for people we do not even know, or praying directly with a person.
Acts 2:42 tells us that believers in the Early Church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." The writer adds, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (verses 46,47).
Something wonderful happens when the body of Christ comes together and prays together, whether personally, in groups, or around the altar. May we not lose that in our churches today! Something wonderful can also happen when we pray with people we have just met. The unique thing about prayer is that it provides a divinely ordained relational dynamic unlike any other mode of human interaction. When we pray for another person, directly or indirectly, we purposefully enter a sphere of relationship with that person that requires of us a heightened level of concern or compassion for that person. There is a connectedness that happens when we pray for one another that dissolves barriers and binds us together in godly love.
A few years ago, my wife Jan and I did door-to-door visitation through part of our neighborhood to get to know our neighbors, to see if they had a church home, and to offer prayer. In every instance when we offered to pray for someone, no one refused. In a world where many people are reluctant to allow others inside their "bubble," prayer provides an acceptable means of interaction that "pops" the bubble and provides opportunity for acceptance, relationship building, restoration, and even salvation to take place. Non-Christians have no similar relational dynamic in their lives. The world offers no substitute for it relationally or spiritually. Prayer is a unique, God-given connector that forms bonds and brings about life-transforming change in lives for time and eternity.
Think about it: Multiplied thousands of total strangers from across the country call a 1-800-4-PRAYER prayer line each week to ask total strangers to pray with them because they are hurting physically, emotionally, or spiritually. They call because they believe prayer is helpful; but prayer is also a powerful, universal connector. Prayer opens doors. Prayer is an awesome avenue for ministry. That's why we are instructed to "pray for each other" (James 5:16).
The dynamic relational connectivity of prayer makes prayer a powerful tool for evangelism as well. Though some people might be reluctant to mention a need for which they need prayer, most people will respond positively to an offer such as, "Before we go our way, would you mind if we have a word of prayer together?" It is then that the Holy Spirit can help direct our thoughts and words as we pray that something may be touched deeply within the heart of the other person. Such an opportunity should never be used to "preach-pray," attempting to exhort the person along a certain line, but to sincerely seek the direction of the Holy Spirit in our prayer and let Him do His work in their heart.
While tracts and other gospel literature or witnessing programs might be rebuffed, an offer to pray is often accepted and will linger long in the heart and mind of the recipient. God's loving, compassionate, caring nature is conveyed to a person through sincere prayer. Afterward, we should pray that God will send others to water and tend the seed that has been planted.
Prayer Connects Us with God's Purpose
Each person has an awesome purpose in God's eyes. Prayer helps connect us to that purpose. Paul summarized our overall purpose as believers in Ephesians 2:10 where he stated that we are "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." He added in 5:1,2 that we are to be imitators of God and live lives of love, "just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." That summary presents a large purpose. Essentially we are to be Christ's representatives in our spheres of influence and bring others to Him.
Purpose cannot be fulfilled without prayer. There is little reason, in fact, to put one foot in front of another to accomplish divine purpose without first bathing it in prayer. At the same time, prayer must be coupled with action. While prayer can, and often does, marshal the forces of heaven to act in certain situations, we must be ready always to act on what we are praying about.
Paul often requested that believers pray for him that he might accomplish the mission God had sent him to do. "Pray also for me," he said, "that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19). "Pray for us . . . that God may open a door for our message" he asks in Colossians 4:3. Then in 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12 he writes, "We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
We have much to do to get the work of the Kingdom done. The task can be overwhelming; even discouraging, to the point of wondering if God is even engaged in helping us fulfill His purposes. In those times we can be most grateful, as Paul no doubt was, that there are intercessors praying that God's purpose will be fulfilled in our life.
At the end of my freshman year of college, a friend, Cliff Scheline, now a pastor in Idaho, asked if I would travel with him that summer in evangelistic work. God also had been dealing with my heart about ministry, so I accepted. Though fledgling evangelists, somehow we managed to schedule ten revival meetings in Idaho and Oregon during those summer months.
In most communities we stayed in the pastor's or a parishioner's home. One dear couple living on a farm in eastern Oregon made an impression upon me that I will never forget. Our first night there, Cliff and I were jolted awake by voices coming through the wall very early in the morning. Not sure what was taking place, we sat up to listen. As I rubbed slumber from my eyes, I began to hear one of the sweetest sounds as our dear hosts stormed the gates of heaven in prayer. They were praying for us, for the services, for their church, for their family, and I am sure they prayed all around the world before they finished! This common, unheralded couple on a nondescript little farm had learned the treasured secret of unleashing God's purpose through the power of prayer.
E. M. Bounds states, "The prayers of God's saints are the capital stock in heaven by which Christ carries on His great work upon earth. The great throes and mighty convulsions on earth are the results of these prayers. Earth is changed, revolutionized; angels move on more powerful, more rapid wing, and God's policy is shaped as the prayers are more numerous, more efficient."
Only eternity will reveal what "great throes and mighty convulsions" were wrought by the prayers that soared heavenward from that little farmhouse! Perhaps more was accomplished by those prayers than by some greatly publicized crusades and outreaches; and God's policy was shaped in the accomplishing of His purposes on earth.
The beauty about prayer is that it matters not what one's station or title is in life; it is an equal-opportunity means by which every believer, young or old, rich or poor, well-known or obscure, can move the hand of God to bring about His purposes for time and eternity. Let's pray all the more!