Prayer: Taking Hold of God’s Willingness

[This is an excerpt from a small section of Chapter Twelve of our book Don’t Blame God!]

We do not believe that faith is the only variable in the “equation” of life. A study of the Word of God shows that prayer, the intensity of the spiritual battle, and the help of other believers are also variables that affect what happens in our lives. The prayers of God’s people play an important part in the will of God coming to pass, because prayer is a catalyst for change—in people and in circumstances. No one knows how much sin and suffering could be avoided if Christians everywhere developed strong prayer lives. It seems that the power of prayer has been vastly underestimated. Prayer is not just reciting what someone else wrote; it is communion with God and the Lord Jesus Christ.1

Jesus himself had an extremely powerful prayer life. He spent hours alone in prayer to God. Surely that shows the value and importance of prayer. Commands (not suggestions) to pray are found all over the Bible. “Devote yourselves to prayer…” (Col. 4:2), “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17), “be…faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12), “…pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…” (Eph. 6:18). And these are just a few. Paul knew that our prayers make a difference between success and failure in one another’s lives: “…On him [God] we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers…” (2 Cor. 1:10b and 11a).

Many Christians have made resolutions to pray, but then quit when they did not see immediate results. Christ addressed this tendency: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). The parable is about persisting in prayer. Jesus gave us “the Lord’s Prayer” to show us the essential components of proper prayer, and He taught us to be bold, persistent, and specific when we pray.

Nothing is more vital to a Christian’s cooperation with God than prayer. He needs us to become fellowlaborers with Him in writing “His‑story.” Through prayer, we can participate in events that otherwise would not have occurred. In his excellent book on prayer, And God Changed His Mind, Brother Andrew talks about how the false premise that God is in control of everything going on in the world, and its corollary fallacy that whatever happens is God’s will, so dilutes a Christian’s prayer life as to render it useless. He writes:

The fatalist’s attitude seems to reflect tremendous faith: “I refuse to question the will of God,” he will say with pious humility. But does he actually mean that whatever happens in the world is all right with him—including war, famine, oppression, the breakdown of the family and society, the exploitation of the innocent and weak, and the degradation of all that is holy and pure? “If God allows it, there must be a reason,” he will say, “and I can’t hope to understand God’s reasons with my small mind, so I accept what He does by faith and praise the Lord anyway!” And ignorant listeners to this kind of talk will respond admiringly, “What faith!”2

The truth, as he also writes, is that:

The boundaries of evil are expanding every day, and fatalistic apathy is enabling those boundaries to grow because it offers no resistance. But Christians must oppose evil [which first requires a recognition of it and that God is not the cause of it]; we were born for battle! Every Christian is a soldier, a “member of the resistance” in God’s army, taking part in spiritual warfare. The moment we lose sight of this, we become aimless in our actions and fuzzy in our focus. We forget why we were born, forget what we have been trained and equipped to do on the battlefield, and we die without knowing why we lived. Most importantly, we never complete the mission we were sent to accomplish. Score one more for the Devil.3

Faith in the Word of God is the only firm foundation upon which a Christian can build his prayer life. As Jesus stated in Mark 11:24 (NKJV), “…when you pray, believe [have faith]….” Prayer and faith in God’s Word go hand‑in‑hand. Whatever God has promised in His Word, we can, with faith, pray for. This is yet another reason why it is so vital for each Christian to know the written Word of God, because it is our basis to know what is available through prayer, and what is the right attitude to have when we pray.

Regarding the power of prayer and the problem of evil, Boyd waxes both logical and inspirational: “When we rid ourselves of any lingering suspicion that evil somehow fits into the eternal purposes of God, we are more inclined to do something about it. Jesus spent his entire ministry revolting against the evil he confronted. He never suggested that any of the physical or spiritual afflictions he confronted somehow fit into his Father’s plan. Rather, he confronted these things as coming from the Devil and carried out the Father’s plan by healing people and delivering them. We who are Christ’s disciples should follow our Master’s lead. We are to pray that the Father’s will would be done (Matt. 6:10), not accept things as though his will was ‘already being done!’”4

Someone once said that “prayer is not forcing God’s reluctance, but rather it is taking hold of His willingness.” God’s posture toward man is clear from Him giving His only begotten Son. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, God is always reaching out to give to His children “Every good and perfect gift…” (James 1:17). Prayer, based upon a knowledge of God’s Word (which reveals His will and His willingness), is a primary way that a son of God can take hold of His many promises.

In regard to prayer and its importance in the risk model that God and Scripture sets forth, Sanders writes the following:

God removes certain plagues at the request of Moses (Exod. 8:13 and 31)…[Continuing on, he then cites the record of King Hezekiah and how his prayer to God allowed God to give him fifteen more years of life. In regard to these and many other biblical characters, Sanders continues]: They received because they asked. In the risk model, it is quite possible for us to miss a blessing that God desires to give because we fail to ask for it (James 4:2 and 3).5

[Quoting Abraham Heschel]: “To pray means to bring God back into the world…to expand His presence…His being immanent in the world depends on us.” [Sanders goes on]: Allowing for overstatement, Heschel is correct that God takes our prayers seriously and weaves them into purposes and actions for the world. God desires a deep personal relationship with us and this requires genuine dialogue rather than monologue…[People in Scripture] dialogued with God in order to determine together what the future would be.”

God wants us to be His partners, not because He needs our wisdom but because He wants our fellowship. It is the person making the request who makes the difference to God. The request is important because God is interested in us. God loves us and takes our concerns to heart just because they are our concerns. This is the nature of a personal, loving relationship. This relationship is not one of domination or manipulation but of participation and cooperation wherein we become co‑laborers with God (1 Cor. 3:9). It did not have to be this way. It is so only because God wanted a reciprocal relationship of love and elected to make dialogical prayer an important element in such a relationship.

Biblical characters prayed boldly because they believed their prayers could change things—even God’s mind. They understood that they were working with God to determine the future…God has open routes into the future, and He desires that we participate with Him in determining which ones to take…When we turn to God in prayer, we open a window of opportunity for the spirit’s work in our lives, creating new possibilities for God to carry out His project. Dialogical prayer affects both parties and changes the situation, making it different than what it was prior to the prayer…[Quoting Peter Baelz]: “Our asking in faith may make it possible for God to do something which He could not have done without our asking.”6

In this vein, the importance of each Christian’s free will cannot be overemphasized. The biblical truth about the rewards that each of us will receive from the Lord validates God’s appreciation of our individual response to His Word. He gives us credit for doing our part as fellowlaborers with Him. Many Christians refuse to take credit for their efforts, and often reject other people’s heartfelt appreciation, saying things like, “Give God all the glory.” Scripture, however, clearly shows us that the way we truly glorify God is by recognizing the power He has given us, and using it to obey Him (see Rom. 16; 1 Cor. 16:17 and 18; 2 Tim. 4:7 and 8; 3 John 12).

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1. Hear our audio teaching: Let Us Pray.

2. Brother Andrew, op.cit., And God Changed His Mind, p. 18.

3. Ibid., p. 23.

4. Boyd, op cit., God of the Possible, p. 102.

5. Sanders, op.cit., The God Who Risks, p. 271.

6. Ibid., pp. 272 and 273.

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