When you spread out your hands,Isaiah 1:15
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
How often have you heard someone say, “God answered my prayer, he just said, No!” Well, maybe he said no, or perhaps he didn’t answer your prayer for a Biblical reason. There are times when God simply doesn’t answer prayer, but there is always a reason because God delights in answering our prayers. It gives him joy the same as answered prayer gives us joy. So, what is the path to more answered prayer?
First, let’s look at a couple of broad reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers.
Practicing Empty Religion
The context of our text of Isaiah 1:15 is God’s chiding Israel because they are living wickedly and yet still coming to him with their sacrifices and religious practices and expecting God to bless them in spite of their wickedness. The practice of their religion is empty. God further chides Israel through Isaiah.
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,Isaiah 59:1-2
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
Another version of Empty Religion is religion that does not ascribe to God his due in power and majesty. He is God Almighty, the resurrected King of kings, the one who created all that is and holds together all that is. Without Jesus Christ, the world could not exist. What men call the laws of science are actually the unwritten law of God manifest in nature. He spoke, and all things were made and currently hold together.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8
The principle in James 1 is not limited to the request for wisdom alone, but all prayer. We must ask in faith, nothing doubting. How can I not doubt? Pray in accord with God’s word. When he has stated a clear and direct promise, we can trust him and pray accordingly. James makes it quite clear; the doubting pray-er must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord. Is this a hard saying? Yes, but it is God’s word. The solution will be addressed in a few paragraphs.
James adds to his instruction regarding unanswered prayer.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.James 4:1-4
James is writing to Christians, not unbelievers who have never believed the gospel and repented from their former lives. These are Christians who have sinful problems in their lives. In this case, they still love the world. They have not yet recognized that they have “found the pearl of great price.” The greatest treasure anyone could ever gain. When you obtain the greatest treasure, how can you want something less? But, that is precisely what these folks are doing, lusting after this world that will perish when they already have eternal life and all the treasure that goes with it. Prayer that is motivated by a lust for this world is doomed not to be answered because it is prayed from the wrong motivation: the practice of empty religion.
Some walk with the Lord in a manner that I might characterize as less than zealous. These folks have been truly redeemed, and we will share the New Heaven and New Earth with them, but they are not benefiting fully from the New Covenant because they do not give themselves to the zealous practice of “all that Jesus commanded us.” Here are a couple of examples of what happens when Jesus-followers pray earnestly.
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.Acts 12:5
Because the church prayed “earnestly” for Peter, he was miraculously delivered from Prison.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.James 5:17-18 NIV
Elijah’s prayer wasn’t answered just because it was Elijah. Elijah prayed “earnestly” while being a human being, a man of flesh and blood like all of us, and God granted a miraculous answer to his prayer. People who are practicing empty religion, don’t pray earnestly.
Married couples can wreak havoc with their prayer life if they are not careful. I think I have a little bit of authority to speak to this issue since I have been married to the same woman for almost 55 years. When we allow ourselves to become alienated from our spouse, we also alienated ourselves from God. I don’t mean we lose our salvation. When we get into a spat without spouse and alienate one another, we are still married but aren’t getting along at the time. We must understand that the same thing happens to our relationship with God that occurs with our spouse when we alienate ourselves from our spouse. One quick marriage lesson here free of charge. Learn how to resolve spats with your spouse quickly. The faster, the better. If you leave them to fester just to prove that you were right, you will not only lose some joyful time with your spouse, but you will also kill your joy in Jesus because you have alienated him at the same time.
Why does this happen in marriage? It will happen to some degree in any relationship, but it is especially potent in marriage because of what God is demonstrating in marriage. Your relationship with your spouse is to illustrate the relationship between Christ and his church. When our relationship with Christ is broken, we should not expect to have a powerful prayer life. We need to submit to him and allow him to heal our broken relationship.
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.1 Peter 3:7
James connects the confession of our sins to answer to prayer.
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.James 5:13-16
In this case, the object of prayer is the healing of a sick person. It implies that in at least some cases (not all cases), sickness may be linked to unconfessed sin which, when confessed along with the prayer of faith by the Elders, results in healing. From this, I extrapolate that holding on to unconfessed sin creates a barrier to answered prayer of any sort. In Isaiah 59:1-2 above, we see that “your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
So, we see that there are at least two broad categories of reasons for unanswered prayer, practicing empty religion, and broken relationships. These reasons are ones we can do something about. Repentance on our part and the confession of sin can heal the breach and open the gates of heaven. There is, however, another reason that we can do nothing about.
The Sovereignty of God
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,Romans 9:15-16
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
This passage is not speaking directly to prayer, but it does set out a fundamental understanding of the God with whom we have a relationship. When we talk about the sovereignty of God, we must be careful. God’s sovereignty is such a broad, grand, and glorious topic and such a magnet for controversy. I do, however, want to point out that we do not always know God’s secret will. There are some things that God has planned that he doesn’t reveal to us. If we are praying for something that would thwart that will, guess what, he won’t answer us with affirmation. God has something else in mind that will better accomplish his purpose and glory and consequently, our good. Some things he has clearly revealed in his word and those we can pray for with confidence and certainty. That is God’s revealed will. It is important to recognize these two categories of God’s will and do our best not to waste our time praying against God’s secret will.
The Solution: One Thing
I know it can seem depressing to see many reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers. So, what are we to do to enter into a powerful, fulfilling prayer life in which we can see the power of God moving and actively expanding his kingdom? I am reminded of the movie City Slickers in which the character Curly, played by Jack Palance, was asked his secret. His answer was always, “One thing,” and he would hold up one finger.
Can it be that simple? Ask yourself this, would God make prayer so complex that the most simple believer could not enter into powerful prayer with Jesus? I believe not. Walking with Jesus is both simple and complex beyond comprehension. After all, we are talking about the infinite and compassionate, loving God.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.John 15:7-11
The whole of John 15 is so rich that it is hard to take it all in. But, the “one thing” Jesus says is necessary for answered prayer is that we abide in him and his words abide in us. That is the “one thing,” reciprocal abiding.
Reciprocal abiding eliminates all expressions of empty religion and broken relationships. Reciprocal abiding also introduces us to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit in our prayer life that will lead us away from prayers that will be thwarted by the secret will of God and lead us to pray in the Spirit, i.e., the will of God. How does one abide in Christ? That is the subject for another writing or a dozen or so writings. Another day. For a starter, meditate carefully in John 15. If that is all you do, you will learn a great deal about abiding in Christ.
Here’s to a glorious, powerful, sweet, world-changing prayer life. May his kingdom come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. 2 And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3 And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” 4 And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” 6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. 7 Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”Zechariah 4:1-14
8 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”
“These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.” 11 Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” 12 And a second time I answered and said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?” 13 He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” 14 Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
Human effort will never produce the Kingdom of God.
This fourth chapter of Zechariah contains questions with answers that seem initially to not be answers to the questions asked. But they are. For example: Regarding the two olive trees, the angel asked Zechariah, “Do you know what these are?” Zechariah answers, “No, my Lord.” Then the angel explains, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. 7 Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” What does that have to do with who the two olive trees are? Later (v. 13), the angel again asks Zechariah (regarding the two olive trees), “Do you know what these are?” and again, Zechariah answers, “No, my Lord.” Now we expect the angel is going to give us a definitive answer, but instead, he provides an enigmatic response, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” The words, “the two anointed ones” literally mean “sons of new oil.” What does that mean? Well, while there is lots of speculation, no one has a definitive answer. It remains one of God’s mysteries as to the specific identity of the two olive trees or sons of new oil. We know that they represent the constant source of fresh olive oil to keep the lamp burning. This, in turn, is a symbolic representation of the work of the Holy Spirit producing the Kingdom of God.
Context is king, and this context in which Zechariah prophesied is the restoration of Jerusalem after completing the prophesied 70 years of captivity of Judah in Babylon. The pagan king Cyrus had given permission and provision for the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem as prophesied by Isaiah. Zerubbabel was a priest who was sent to oversee the rebuilding of the temple under hostile and challenging conditions. It did require lots of hard physical labor. The population was discouraged, and the prophet had to encourage those doing the work to keep to it and not lose faith.
There are two keys to this chapter. The first key is in verse six, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Here, God is making it clear that the completion of the work is not dependent on human effort, but on the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as God gave gifted men under Moses to construct the original tent of meeting in the wilderness and later the temple in Jerusalem, he is now providing special skills to the workmen to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of human beings dedicated to God. Not by might nor by the power of human effort.
The second key, akin to the first key, is found in verse seven, “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!” In Zerubbabel’s case, the great mountain references the many obstacles that were always before him in the form of hostilities and opposition. God declares that that mountain of enemies to the Kingdom of God would become a plain, an easy bit of real estate to march over. The top stone, which is the final step in construction, is to be laid by Zerubbabel amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!” The completion of the temple is a work of God’s grace and not human effort alone.
The points of the story are the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. Did the people only have to sit back and watch God produce a temple, a finished work, a place to worship him? No. Many blisters and callouses were worn on the laborers’ hands who were privileged to be co-laborers with Zerubbabel and the Holy Spirit to complete the work. But they would not have had the ability to complete the task without the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Faith to continue would not have been sustained without the Holy Spirit’s constant flowing from the two olive trees, the sons of fresh oil.
Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God has come, the King is now reigning in heaven, and through his church, he is reigning on earth. We, the church, are God’s agent for extending his Kingdom on earth until he comes to finalize the Kingdom in the New Heaven and New Earth. Meanwhile, like the laborers who worked alongside Zerubbabel, we are co-laborers in the Kingdom, hewing out living stones to be added to the true temple, the body of Christ, the New Jerusalem, that will last forever in which the true King sits on the throne of David. Do we have opposition? Certainly. Jesus promised it. Can the mountain of opposition become a plain? Absolutely, as long as we do not depend on human might and power, but rely on the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. Then we will not labor in vain.
There are many examples of human effort to bring into being the Kingdom of God. But I don’t want to focus on those specifics. Like Zechariah, I want to focus on the main points, let us be sure we are being filled and relying entirely on the Holy Spirit and the grace of God to see the Kingdom of God produced amidst the darkness of this world. Millions of people are far from God. They are, at the moment, enemies of God. But they are also the raw material from which we as co-laborers are to hew out the new living stones to construct God’s temple.
The most critical work of labor that we can do, and every Christian can engage in this work is the labor of intercessory prayer. The proclamation of the word of God is required because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. But, it is the work of intercession that empowers the proclamation to do its most effective work. Think of yourself as a prayer missionary. You go, during intercession, into the presence of lost people and pray them into the Kingdom. Then, the Lord of the harvest, at the behest of intercessors like you and me, send laborers into the harvest to harvest the souls of people who are far from God. Jesus declared that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send laborers. This is a specific prayer request of Jesus; let us be obedient to pray that prayer daily in reliance on the Holy Spirit and the grace of God.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”Matthew 9:35-38
WIG Take. That’s an abbreviation for “What’s it going to take? Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gave a charge to go and make disciples of all nations. If we take a look at Jesus’ methodology, it becomes clear that one man, even a God-man, cannot do the task alone. Jesus took upon himself human flesh and thus limited himself to acting as a man, a man full of the Holy Spirit and unhindered by sin, but a man nonetheless. I know I am treading on thin theological ice when making such statements but stay with me. He was fully man and fully God. But, he still made it clear that it is better for us that he left us than if he stayed on earth with us. Why? Because until he left here and was glorified with the Father, he could not send the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower every man and woman who becomes a Jesus-follower.
Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has distributed himself through every Jesus-follower on earth. Distributed empowerment is critical to the completion of the mission he gave to us. If Jesus had stayed on earth, he would have been limited to preaching/teaching to those who were in physical proximity to him. He would have been limited. He left so he could empower and release into the harvest every Jesus-follower on earth. This task is not relegated to professional religious leaders with Seminary or Bible College educations. In fact, they are subject to much the same limitations as Jesus would have been, along with a few more. These Bible College and Seminary graduates are not men who walk in perfect, sinless fellowship with the Father as Jesus did. They are subject to the failures of the flesh the same as every other Jesus-follower. They are just called to give themselves to equipping the rest of us to do the work of our ministries.
In the northern part of the county in which I live (North San Diego County), there is a population of just under a million people. Reasonable estimates are that only 10% of those are real Jesus-followers, leaving 90% far from God. The professional religious people currently living in this area cannot reach that 90% of the population with a personal proclamation of the gospel. What I mean by “personal proclamation” of the gospel is when the gospel is presented to someone by someone whom they know, have a relationship with, and trust. That is a friend, colleague, or family member.
Why won’t television broadcasts by excellent Bible preachers or literature distribution efforts do the job? Because Jesus commanded that we make disciples, not make converts. Television shows and literature aren’t equipped to do Biblical disciple-making. That can only be done in the context of a personal relationship person to person. Many disciple-makers are required to disciple the people from among the approximate 900,000 people in North San Diego County who are now far from God.
Jesus’ only prayer request that he submitted to his church is that we pray for laborers. That is because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I certainly agree with Jesus that the laborers are few. Unfortunately, many Jesus-followers are not following Jesus in the process of disciple-making. So, Jesus’ answer to the problem is not a recruiting effort. It is a prayer effort. Pray the Lord of the harvest that he sends laborers into the harvest. The exciting part about praying that prayer is that you will probably become part of the answer to your own prayer. You will become a laborer in the harvest, taking the gospel to your own set of social contacts.
Another exciting thing about obeying Jesus and praying this prayer is that he will answer it. Some people have a hard time thinking Jesus will listen and pay attention to their prayers. But, do you think Jesus will ignore you when you pray the very prayer he has commanded us to pray? I don’t think so. Of this, I am confident, when I spend my time earnestly praying for laborers for the harvest, Jesus is busy working in the hearts of those whom he is calling into the harvest.
Jesus did qualify the request by labeling our effort in prayer as “earnest.” He didn’t ask us to do rapid fly-by prayer for laborers; he said we are to pray earnestly for laborers. This prayer request is to be high on our priority list of supplications we consistently bring before the Father.
The task is great, but I have learned a slogan, “start small, dream big.” You have a social network of people where you live, work (or go to school), and play. You are the laborer God has called to minister to them, maybe not the only one, but they are your mission field. Start small, focus your gospel efforts on your social network (not your online social network, but your in-person social network). And continue to pray earnestly for more laborers for the harvest.
The greatest need in the American church is to equip and release the members of the body of Christ into the harvest to reach those far from God. Don’t wait for someone else to lead the way. Obey Jesus and begin to love your neighbors with the intent to share the gospel with them as the greatest act of love you can give them. I’m not advocating harsh presentations to everyone in your network, but I am advocating engaging meaningful and spiritual conversations that can lead to a natural gospel presentation.
Let us earnestly pray for laborers. If we do, we won’t be alone in the harvest. Lost people for whom Jesus died will be found, and we will all be rejoicing.
I am reminded of an illustration my Pastor shared a while back that really struck a chord with me. You wind up coming before the Lord at the end and are stepping up for judgment (for reward, not for salvation). When you see Jesus face to face you are so excited to see him but even more excited to tell him as you point behind you, “Jesus, look who I brought with me!” There, lined up behind you are the people who became Jesus-followers because of your prayers and because of your personal gospel sharing with them. And then there are the one’s they brought with them. You get a lot of joy from the disciples they bring with them as well. What a happy time.
Multitudes of laborers are needed. Pray earnestly and be an answer to your own prayer.
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23
Paul prays for the Ephesians for three things:
- That you may know the hope to which he has called you
- What are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints
- What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe
These are powerful subjects, and I may treat them in a different post, but for now, I want to put the emphasis elsewhere.
Recently I was speaking with a brother who shared with me and some others that he had heard from some who said they intellectually really understand the gospel but find they don’t have the passion and emotional attachment to it that many others talk about.
I am currently listening on Audible to Jonathan Edwards’ classic book The Religious Affections: How Man’s Will Affects His Character Before God. I will undoubtedly be simplifying his statement, but here goes. True religion (speaking of Christianity in 17th century American English) always affects our emotions and has an emotional component to it. If we are not moved emotionally by the gospel and by God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, then the reality of our Christianity is questionable. I know, this gets really dicey telling someone that if they don’t have an emotional experience they aren’t saved. Well, that’s not what I am saying, and I’m not sure what Edwards is saying about that; I am still in the early parts of the book.
What Edwards is saying is that powerful emotions are normative for a believer. Consider the deeply emotional passages written by David in the Psalms. How about Paul’s exultations over Christ in the epistles? There are many others.
I want to encourage any readers who find their emotional life with God lacking. I’m not writing that everyone should be “falling under the power,’ or dancing through the congregation every service. I am saying; you should have an emotional connection to Jesus Christ that is apparent to you and on occasion to others.
So, if you have an academic grasp of the gospel, but don’t have the emotional component (Which I am assuming everyone wants to have, how would it be to be in love with your spouse and feel no emotions?) there is an aid Paul refers to in his prayer. He prays for the Ephesians that God “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” It’s a heart thing. Knowing in your head isn’t the same as knowing in your heart. The Holy Spirit is the agent who brings Jesus to your heart from your head. He comes as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. He allows us to see with the eyes of our hearts, in addition to our physical eyes.
So, what is my solution to the problem of not having an emotional experience of God? Pray this prayer for yourself that Paul prays for the Ephesians. And don’t just pray once, memorize this Scripture and pray it every day. If you pray this from your heart, you will experience it in your heart. Of this, I am sure.
But I do caution, don’t gauge your experience by that of anyone else. Some of us, like me, are more on the quiet side of life. While I have been known to shout exuberantly in response to the preached word, I am generally more sedate than some of my friends. Two responses will mark the answer to your prayer; love and joy. These are the works of the Spirit that dwell deep in your heart.
Father of glory, grant to me the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ. Open the eyes of my heart. Enlighten me that I may know the hope to which you have called me. Enlighten me to know what are the riches of your glorious inheritance in me, and enlighten me to what is the immeasurable greatness of your power toward us who believe, according to the working of your great might that you worked in Christ when you raised him from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And you put all things under your feet and gave Jesus as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Make this your genuine prayer, and you will soon know the emotional joy and love that accompanies the gospel. The eyes of your heart will be enlightened to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John5:13-14
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5
I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11
…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy… – Colossians 1:9-11
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:16-23
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. = Psalm 90:14
Every Christian parent aches for their children to have a deep and abiding faith in Christ more than anything else. Am I pollyannaish about this? I don’t think so.
I do realize that when things are going well, we tend to be more superficial. That is natural. But when the going gets rough, we tend to move toward the things of true value. Then our true desires for our children come to the forefront. We want them to truly know God and have that deep abiding faith that will carry them through the tough times in this life and on to the joys of the New Heaven and New Earth where righteousness dwells.
Whether your children are young or adults, we as parents still have a priestly duty to pray for them. When they are very young, our prayers are more prophylactic. We want to protect them from the ravages of sin and see them walk with God their whole lives. Many of us experience the pain of wayward children who are adults. We watch their unnecessary pain brought on by foolishness and sin. Our prayers for them, however, aren’t much different. I believe the most powerful prayers are those saturated with the Word of God. Pray the Word for your children.
I want to share a “sample prayer” with you. You may want to take this as is and begin to pray this way for your kids. You may see the pattern and have other Scriptures that better apply to your situation. This isn’t a formula but an example of how to pray the Word over your children.
THE JOY OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND YOUR PRAYERS
For some of us, it seems the sovereignty of God precludes prayer. On the contrary. The sovereignty of God facilitates powerful praying. Because God is sovereign, I can have the confidence that he can and will change my wayward child’s heart. If I didn’t have confidence in his sovereign control, how could I pray in faith that he will change a heart to love God and walk with him? “And this is the confidence that we have toward 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 that we have asked of him.” God’s sovereignty is my comfort.
If you’re not sure how to pray for your children, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Father, for my children, I pray:
Strengthen their hearts with power by your Spirit in the inner man so that Christ will dwell in their hearts by faith. Being rooted and grounded in love, may they comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and be filled with all the fullness of God. I trust you to do this because you are “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
May their love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that they may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
May they be filled with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to you. May they bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.
May you give them the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God, having the eyes of their hearts enlightened, that they may know what is the hope to which you have called them, what are the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of your power toward us who believe, according to the working of your great might that you worked in Christ when you raised him from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
May my children be fully satisfied every morning with your steadfast love so they can rejoice and be glad all the days of their lives.
I pray these things for my children’s good and God’s glory in Jesus name, Amen.
Read this prayer over, and you will see that it applies equally to bringing up young children as well as older prodigal children. Remember, “For the promise is for you and for your children…” (Acts 2:39)
PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER
Parents, join me as we take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for your children. (Ephesians 6:17-18) I know you will find faith growing in your heart as you pray God’s word over the lives of your children even if the circumstances appear hopeless. Nothing is hopeless with the sovereign God who turns the hearts of kings. He can turn our children’s hearts just as easily.
Parents, I pray that you will be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy as you stand steadfast for your children.
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.Ephesians 1:15-23
Do you want your prayers to make a huge difference? Do you know how to pray powerful faith-filled prayers? Where would you go to learn to do this? It makes sense to me to go to a pro, someone who has experience with powerful praying. Where do I sign-up for that kind of coaching? How much will it cost? Only the cost of having a Bible and then the cost of using it effectively.
Too often, we Western Christians think the purpose of the Bible is to gain knowledge. Knowledge is certainly part of why God gave us the Scriptures. But it goes way beyond that. We are intended to put it to work in our lives with God. Faith must be mixed with the word for it to produce the intended effect in our lives. Consider Abraham.
In Genesis 22, God calls to Abraham and commands him to take his only son, Isaac, to a predetermined mountain and sacrifice him. Remember, God has promised Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, and those descendants would come through Isaac. Now God is telling Abraham to kill Isaac.
What impresses me greatly is that the next verse after this command (v.3) it reads, “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and his son Isaac.” Abraham did not hesitate but immediately obeyed God’s word to him. One of the implications of his obedience is that he believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill his promise to Abraham. He heard God’s word, believed God’s word, and acted on God’s word. That is the nature of faith.
One of the most effective ways of bringing power to our prayer lives is to pray the word of God. I find it incredibly delicious to pray the prayers of Scripture. There are many of them scattered all through the Bible. The book of Psalms contains many short one verse long prayers that are powerful.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.Psalm 90:14
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.Psalm 86:11
Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things out of your law.Psalm 119:18
Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain.Psalm 119:36
These are short and powerful prayers. Pray them regularly with sincerity and see the changes that will happen in your life and the lives of those for whom you pray. This kind of praying makes prayer fun. I find it always fun to watch God work in my life and the lives of those for whom I pray.
Let’s go back to Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 1. I am recommending that we borrow Paul’s words because they are Holy Spirit inspired words that express God’s will. One key to answered prayer is to pray in God’s will. Right? So, praying valid inspired prayers means we are automatically praying God’s will. Let’s look at the components of this prayer.
Paul asks God to grant a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. This is key. The knowledge of God that will transform us into the image of Jesus does not come as an intellectual exercise. A seminary M.Div. Degree does not mean that the graduate has a heart knowledge of God. It also means that we who do not hold an M.Div. Degree are at a particular disadvantage from having an in-depth heart knowledge of God. What is required is the work of the Holy Spirit imparting to us himself as wisdom and revelation of God. I know for some the word “revelation” is scary, but that is what the Scripture says, so I will just go with it. And, I will say that revelation of the knowledge of God is not dependant on academics, but on the Holy Spirit.
Paul identifies some specific areas in which he wants the spirit of wisdom and revelation to function. He wants our hearts to be enlightened in:
- Knowing the hope to which we are called
- What are the riches of his glorious inheritance in us
- The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe
The hope to which we are called includes being conformed to the image of Jesus. Hallelujah! We are not stuck in our currently miserable condition but are guaranteed that we will be more and more like Jesus as we walk in the Spirit day by day. This truth of hope makes the tough times of life bearable and allows us to have joy during the darkest days. It also includes the hope of the New Heavens and New Earth in which righteousness dwells. What a glorious hope. We will be able to hang out with other people who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, who no longer have any trace of sin in their lives, and neither will we. That is a great hope, that is an assured but future promise.
The riches of his glorious inheritance in us is hard to get our minds around, let alone our hearts. I think one of the easiest ways for us to get a bit of a handle on this is to understand that we are Jesus’ bride. What groom isn’t excited about being united with his beautiful new bride? We who are of the male persuasion may have a more difficult time understanding what it feels like to be a bride since we only get to be a groom. But, do your best, guys. Jesus sees us as his glorious bride; we are his inheritance. He wants us to have that heightened view of who we are in Christ. I dare say the only way we get there is through the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. This is way beyond academics.
Finally, the point that Paul takes pains to declare is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. I think we in the Western Church need a special dose of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation when it comes to our realization of the greatness of God’s power toward us as believers. The prayer lives of many of us remain impotent because we really have no clue about the power of God toward us that he demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in heavenly places. That place is described as being far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, the various levels of demonic power that Satan intends to use against us. After his resurrection, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth is given unto me, go, therefore…” He who has all authority and power has commissioned us, and we are to go into this world under that authority. He also instructed us to ask in his name, the name of the one with ALL authority and power. If he has it all, then that means that his enemies have none. May the Holy Spirit grant us an understanding of this truth.
What better prayer to pray for yourself, your family, and especially new believers in Christ who know little of him but need the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ in all three of these areas?
May we grasp God’s truth and immediately act on it, in Jesus’ name.