There is a double entendre in that title. It is both something of a definition and the intent of this post. One complaint I have often had as a Christian is the amount of time spent talking about and teaching upon prayer versus that of actually practicing it. I think there would be less misconception if more labor were spent upon the actual task of prayer. Less of the complicated abstracts of man’s convoluted thinking would find footholds in that case.
After I make the case for what prayer is and perhaps touch on how it works, I hope to give you some further quotes and thinking on the topic. For now, I hope you, the reader, will act as the Bereans did, and study it out for yourselves; but not only study, go further into the practice of prayer with a whole new focus of allowing the Holy Spirit teach you what mere essays never can. Because that is where the real classroom of prayer begins: on ones knees.
Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs wrote a piece on prayer, What prayer is and isn’t. I admit to anger upon reading it, but that has given way to a desire to look at the scriptural foundations of what prayer actually is, and hopefully move to the cloud of witnesses testimony( in another post) in order to elucidate what is often a confused approach to something that, for the Christian, should be as instrinsic to our being as breathing.
First, the list of things in which I agree with Dan Phillips:
- prayer is talking to God
- It might be talking in the form of praise, petition, confession, supplication, exclamation, or a host of other forms
- Scripture constantly urges believers to pray, in both covenants
- if you want to hear God speak to you, go to His Word in faith, and He will
- “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, Even his prayer is an abomination” (NAS). Such prayer is appalling to God.
- wonderful things can happen in response to prayer
- The weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God
The trouble is, of course, that there were acute instances of error, and these demand a response.
Prayer is not a dialogue. Prayer is not a conversation. Prayer has no intrinsic power, whatever.
To this statement I answer:
- Genesis 1:8
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
- Genesis 15- the whole account of Abraham is full of conversation between God and man
- Deuteronomy 5:24
We have seen this day that God speaks with man
- Isaiah 1:18
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.
- Isaiah 30:
19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.
20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
- Job 23:5
I would know the words which He would answer me,And understand what He would say to me.
- Job 42:7
And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job
- John 8:47
He who is of God hears Godâ€™s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.
- 1 Corinthians 12:8
for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit
In all these scriptures, and in the whole of scripture which tells of the interaction of God with man, we have words which implicate conversation and dialogue. From Genesis to Revelation. Not all prayer is dialogue with God, but all prayer in which we wait upon God for an answer and in which we receive answer is dialogue. As the book of Job states there are many ways in which God speaks to man, and all them can be called communication. There is the communication of communion between the spirit of a man and God’s Spirit. This itself is an established sacrament within the Church. It may involve the written Word of God, but it also involves the person of the Logos directly; God speaks with man. It is in prayer that this happens, and why we are enjoined to unceasing prayer. If prayer were only asking for our needs we should soon cease, but because prayer is a constant spiritual communion it makes sense for the apostle to word it as “prayer without ceasing”.
In the idea of communion, communication, and conversation, how is it that something of such vital importance to humans, something that sets man, made in the image of God, apart from all the rest of the creatures of the world is somehow missing from man’s communication with God? How is it that man is tied to a physical book only to hear from God? And how is it that does not work on the basis of someone studying that book as the entirety of their act of gleaning communication from God? If it were so, then the Pharisees would not have been on the wrong side of this communication. And we would have no caveats of “dead religion”. Plenty of dead religionists pray their requests, look for their answers solely within the Bible, and yet do not know God and cannot communicate with God. They, do, however, come up with many teachings of error. There must be more to being “those who have ears to hear”. And more to hearing God than reading and studying only. Not everyone who errs is a dead religionist, or we could probably all at some time be labeled that way, but the point is that not everyone who goes sincerely to the Word of God is able to hear from it, either. Why is that?
There is a living spiritual communion that takes place within the life and soul of the believer in Christ Jesus. It is the “abiding” of the word of Christ in all its forms and sense. Prayer is the vehicle for the flow of that living communion, and so I would say that while we cannot say that prayer is always dialogue or conversation or the conduit of power, we may say that, in turns, it can be…. upon the basis of relationship, expressed within the terms of “Father” and “sons”. It is -at times- expressed in those ways, and at times, not. To Dan’s declaration of what prayer “is not” I do not answer “is”, but, “can be”. It is always a part of dialogue that both parties decide whether and when they will speak, but the Bible plainly illustrates that it is the habit of God to desire dialogue with man. I can’t imagine how someone could deny that.
With that I come to the next statement:
If He talks directly to me, unmediated, I am a prophet, or a seer. And I’m neither; nor are you.
This, as stated, has many problems for the Protestant believer. And is poorly formed for the Catholic. That word, “unmediated”- just what is Dan expressing in that? In the Nicene creed we say we believe in One Mediator, Jesus Christ ( 1 Timothy2:5 )…. that is one through whom we meet with God in any type of meaning. We also say that Jesus Christ is very God of very God…. we believe that when we fellowship with Christ we are directly in communication with God. There is neither man nor object through which God and man are mediated except Christ, and we are told we will hear his voice, not read his book. This in no way takes away the importance of reading the scriptures and studying them for direction and instruction, it simply does not inflate them to something more than they are, the Bible was never meant to substitute for Christ Himself.
The prophet and seer are specific functions in which what is seen and heard is for a certain purpose outside of an individuals communication with God. King David was both a prophet and he had times he had to hear from prophets, and there were times he notably did not hear. This is how God interacts with man, Sovereignly. The place wehere Dan stumbles is in his belief that there is no prophecy of this sort today… and so extrapolates this to God no longer speaking to man directly. I believe in this he greatly errs, to think that the New Covenant affords less rather than more of relationship with God than those of the Old.
By contrast, Scripture never urges believers to pray and then wait for God to speak back in that prayer, expecting (demanding?) that God engage us in conversation as a regular facet of normal Christian living. (I am using “conversation” in the strict sense: I speak, then God talks back, unmediated, verbally). Scripture never directs us to an Eastern-style emptying of the mind and listening in and to the [More Biblical image of prayer than many] silence, for an imaginary “still, small,” never-promised “voice” of God.
To strengthen his case, here is an example of the black and white dilemma. If it were a matter of Christians being advised to understand that they can neither demand answer from God nor should they be led to expect to always “hear” in communications of words, then I would not protest. But the fact is that there are times throughout the history of the confessing Church that believers have heard the voice of God, they knew within that God had communicated and they heard in terms of a verbalized answer. But there are so many myriads of forms and functions of this that we can’t formulate a measure of how God is expected to relay His message to us, what we can expect…. and this is what I believe and hope Dan most meant by his remonstrations, is that we may hold everything we believe we have heard from God against the written Word in the Bible and judge it by that rule and standard.
There are times in the Bible when we are to experience the presence of God through a posture of silence and awe. It is not an Eastern “nothingness” to quiet oneself before God and seek to either “hear” or “acknowledge”. Our silence opens us to being able to hear without the constant inner dialogue we tend to carry on in our minds. There are many voices that we hear in our mind, and we can be perfectly sane and normal with those noisy thoughts – but there is also the voice of God which godly men have had occasion to hear.
That those who trust in God are called to wait upon him, in prayer, has many examples. It is an attitude of the spirit, not coming to a stockstill wait in the physical sense. The word “wait” in this sense is the word,’Qavah’ ( often translated “hope”) or the word,’Chakah’ in Hebrew.’Meno’ is the Greek, along with some of its variations. The meanings of all have the thought to wait for, expect, endure, patiently tarry, or abide. These are attitudes in prayer, but attitudes of what? Of hearing an answer. That Someone is expected to get back to us.
Prayer, if you will, is depressing the button on the walkie-talkie, and talking. No more, no less. It has been described as a soldier in the field calling for supplies and reinforcements, and that’s not bad. Prayer is you, talking…….Not only is prayer not the be-all and end-all; in fact, sometimes it is positively wrong to pray.”He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, Even his prayer is an abomination” (NAS). Such prayer is appalling to God.
One of the names of God is Yawehyireh, “God provides”, so this is one way of communicating with God. But to reduce it to this …how is the view of God as Commander of Supplies any different than that of Santa Claus or Sugar Daddy? Yes, God wants to meet our needs and is ready to hear our cries, but that is not all of it, and probably not even most of it when we speak of prayer and communing with God.
The later statement only defines the propositions of prayer. There are times when what we think of as prayer will not qualify with God, and will not even make it into the throne room for a hearing: deliberate sin is the separation between God and man, it must first be dealt with and is why Jesus spoke of leaving your gift to God at the altar and making amends with your fellow man first. God has qualifications to be met for interaction. This has been taught from those first chapters of Genesis, onward.
Now, if you want to hear God speak to you, go to His Word in faith, and He will (Proverbs 6:20-23; Hebrews 3:7ff.; 2 Peter 1:19-21, etc.).
This is one very important way of hearing from God, but this is not prayer. And it doesn’t negate the fact that prayer is another way in which we may hear from God. But we need to go on in Dan’s statements to see more of what prayer is and is not.
An Interesting Case of Conflation
When prayer is expressive of a relationship with God, and in accord with God’s will as revealed in the Bible alone, prayer can accomplish much (James 5:16; 1 John 5:14). But of course, in these cases, the prayer itself is of no power, whatever. It is the God who hears prayer — He is the powerful one.
Think about it. When the bully is beating you up, and all you can choke out is “Dad!”, what dooms your tormentor isn’t the power of your word, your “prayer” — it’s the big, angry man who loves you, hears your voice, and comes running.
So is it prayer per se that really strikes terror into demons’ hearts in this spiritual battle of ours? I do read some detail about the armor of God, crafted in Heaven to equip us for that battle (Ephesians 6:10ff.). I do somewhere around there of prayer, and I do read of a weapon.
But the weapon isn’t prayer (Ephesians 6:18). That’s just us talking to God. Our words are without intrinsic power. I don’t think that us talking, per se, scares demons.
In order to derive this viewpoint, Dan had to build upon his basic premise that prayer is no more than us talking, albeit to God. He adds a teaching on the attributes of God, that God is all powerful, and comes to the idea that “the prayer itself is of no power, whatever”. Then gives the opinion that our words are without instrinsic power. Again, he has erred.
This time, however, it is not on the point that God converses or communes with men, but upon the point of authority. The authority of which he speaks is resident within the name of Jesus Christ. That is where the power resides, but those delegated to use that power are the believers who call upon the name. Us. That is one reason why our prayers can have power, not by who we are, or our own virtue, but within the representation which we present to the spiritual world. We are hid within Christ, and in Him we use His name…. and it has no less authority than in the time of the apostles. There is authority in the name of Jesus Christ, that name above all other names, and it is within that name we pray. There is power in that. It isn’t magical incantation- but the decided use of the name in calling upon God, in speaking out blessings, and in uses other than prayer as well: casting out demons. So, yes, demons tremble at such speech- it was with a word that Jesus cast them out. We are given the authority of His name. [Mark 16:17 many references in John 14-16.]
God moves and works through His Church, the assembly of believers in Christ Jesus. This is why our prayers are of utmost importance in the affairs of men, it isn’t some exercise in futility- some sort of ringing the bell so we can get the door of provision to open or the angry man to come out and teach everyone a lesson. We have purpose and meaning in our prayers to a hearing God, who speaks and acts upon our behalf and on the behalf of those whom He has shown through scripture-recorded history that He cares about: mankind in its confusion and affliction. We are now entered into that compassion which He desires to give to the inhabitants of the earth. Thy Will be done in earth as it is in Heaven.
The weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). God’s Word sent Satan running from our Lord (Matthew 4). It will do the same for us.
Yes, and Amen. But there are weapons of our warfare, plural, and prayer is indeed one of those in defeating evil in the earth and manifesting the good of God’s gospel through Christ His Only Begotten Son.