Tag Archives: prayer

The Golden Rule Applied to Prayer

Prayer is not the primary duty. The greatest command is not, “Pray to God.” Rather the greatest command is “Love God wholeheartedly.” Prayer, then, is simply a reflection of this prior duty working itself out. Because I love God, I communicate to him my love for him and my need of him. This is the essence of prayer: loving God.

Likewise the second great command is not, “Pray for your neighbor.” Rather, the command is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet one of the clearest reflections of this love is our praying on behalf of one another. Paul states the Golden Rule in fresh terms, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Again, let this principle be applied to our prayers. Our prayer should be guided not by our own interest, but by the interests of others.prayer together

Such praying directed toward the needs and interest of others is most often called intercession, and this type of prayer is pervasive in the Bible, even when it doesn’t go by that title.

Jesus prays for Peter, “Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). And Jesus prays no doubt similarly for all who follow him: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).

These two passages (Luke 22 and Hebrews 7) shed light on one another. Jesus is able to save completely, because he always lives to make intercession. And his making intercession has a protective effect regarding our faith. At those points where we may be weakest in faith—where Satan is most likely to launch his offensive—it is at those points that Christ makes intercession for us. His prayer for us is that our faith would hold strong against the onslaught of Satan’s advance.

His praying is the means; his saving is the end.

Thus if we want to be like Jesus in our praying, then we should pray for others. And as we pray for others, our prayers should be targeting those areas in which they may be weak in faith. As we are aware of their characteristic besetting sins, tension-filled relationships, despair-inducing circumstances, we should target our prayers at their maintenance of faith through these things.

Tim Keller makes this observation about the prayers of the apostle Paul: “It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances” (Prayer, 20). Rather than praying for change in circumstances, Paul prays that their faith in God and love for God would grow through suffering, not apart from it.

There is no better way to love a brother or sister in Christ than to make intercession for them, specifically that their faith would not fail when under assault.

Giving God Arguments

J.I. Packer says, “Hallowed be your name…is the basic petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the global ideal and desire that all the other petitions are actually spelling out and specifying in one way or another” (Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight). Thus, all prayer is really a matter of reasoning with God as to how we would like to see his name honored and exalted (“hallowed”). Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) called this giving God arguments:

Our praying…should consist of arguments for God’s glory and our happiness: not that arguments move God to do that which he is not willing of himself to do for us…as though the infinitely wise God needed information, or the infinitely loving God needed persuasion, but it is for strengthening our faith in him. All the prayers of Scripture you will find to be reasoning with God, not a multitude of words heaped together; and the design of the promises is to furnish us with a strength of reason in this case: Dan 9:16, “Now according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thy anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem.” He [Daniel] pleads God’s righteousness in his promise of the set time of deliverance; after he had settled his heart in a full belief of the promise of deliverance, he shows God’s own words to him. The arguments [in this and all biblical prayers] you will find drawn from the covenant in general, or some promise in particular, or some attribute of God, or the glory of God.”

(Charnock, Works, 4.8)

Does Prayer Make a Difference?

There’s an apparent incompatibility between praying for God to take a specific course of action when we know that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3) If what he does is based on what he pleases, then how could it be based on what we pray?

C. S. Lewis reflects on this very question:

Can we believe that God ever really modifies his action in response to suggestions of man? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or an inanimate. He could, if he chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, he allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to cooperate in the execution of his will. “God,” says Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to his creatures the dignity of causality.” But it is not only prayer; whenever we act at all, He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so.

C. S. Lewis, The Efficacy of Prayer