11. Prayer: A Foretaste Of The Judgment
The experience of answered prayer is a strong confirmation that we are on the right track to the Kingdom. Prayer is spoken of as entering before the judgment throne of God, as if the prayer is a symbol of the one offering it, and is judged by God enthroned in glory, and then a sentence / judgment is passed by God which the Angels operationalize (Ps. 7:6; 17:2; 35:23; 54:1,2; 109:7; 143:1,2). This is all reminiscent of the last day judgment. Indeed, the Hebrew word for 'intercede' means also 'to meet'; every prayer is a meeting with God (Job 21:15; Is. 47:3; 64:5; Jer. 7:16; 15:11). Phinehas " executed judgment" or, as some translations, 'prayed / interceded' for Israel (Ps. 106:30). Judgment and prayer are linked. The " breastplate of judgment" enabled the High Priest to bear the names of all Israel before the Lord in mediation- and their judgment was carried by him, as it is by Jesus, in the process of mediating for them (Ex. 28:29,30). Romans is full of legal language, of interceding, pleading, finding a favourable verdict etc., and refers this to the judgment and also to the cross. But Romans 8 uses these very ideas in relation to prayer, for in coming before the throne of grace now on account of the Lord's sacrifice, we come in essence before judgment. Coming before the throne of God in prayer (Heb. 9:24; Ps. 17:1,2) is the language of the judgment seat. If we become before His throne and are accepted, it follows that this is a foretaste of the outcome of the judgment for us, were we to be judged at that time. Our boldness before the Father in prayer will be the same attitude we have to Him at the judgment throne (1 Jn. 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14 all use the same Greek word). Job 33:26 LXX describes the prayer of the righteous like this: “He shall enter [God’s presence] with a cheerful countenance, with a full expression of praise”. This is really possible for the conscience cleansed in Christ.
Those who insincerely say " Lord, Lord" now, will say the same then, with the same lack of reality (Mt. 7:21,22). The publican went home after prayer " justified rather than the other" . It has been suggested that this reflects " a Semitic idiom which describes…an anticipation of his aquital in the final judgment" (1). When we call on the Father, we are judged according to our works (1 Pet. 1:17). Rachel felt that God hearing her voice was Him judging her (Gen. 30:4). The prayer of the poor is judged by God in His response to them (Ps. 10:7,8). Coming boldly before the throne of grace in prayer is again judgment seat language (Heb. 4:15). Our attitude to God in prayer now will be our attitude to Him at the judgment; we are 'bold / confident' before Him now, and we can be 'bold' then (1 Jn. 2:28). Before the throne of grace we find grace to help (Heb. 4:16); whereas we will “find” [s.w.] mercy in the day of judgment (2 Tim.1:18). Each time we receive grace to help before the throne, we are anticipating the judgment day scenario.
Mt. 6:4-6 makes it clear enough that our prayers “in secret” will be ‘rewarded’ “openly”; but the language of ‘open reward’ is used by the Lord in reference to the judgment: “For the son of man shall come in the glory of his father with his angels; and then he shall reward [s.w.] every man” (Mt. 16:27). In that day the workers will be ‘rewarded’ for their work (s.w. Mt. 20:8; Rom. 2:6; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12); yet Mt. 6:4-6 says they will be rewarded for their prayers. Prayer will only ultimately be answered when the Lord returns; hence Mt. 6:4-6 leads on to the Lord’s prayer, with its emphasis upon requesting the coming of the Kingdom, forgiveness etc rather than petty human requests. Here again we see a connection between prayer and the final judgment.
Marital strife results in prayers being " hindered" (1 Pet. 3:7), the same word translated 'hewn down' (Mt. 7:19) in a judgment day context. The evidence that the experience of answered prayer is an indicator of God's pleasure with us is quite compelling- even if the answers aren't at all what we expect:
- " These things have I written unto you...that ye may know that ye have eternal life...and this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us" (1 Jn. 5:13,14). Answered prayer is the confidence that we have eternal life. Answered prayer means that our joy will be full (Jn. 16:24).
- God's face looks at the righteous if He accepts them (Ps. 11:7; 13:1)- and God turning His face toward men is a very common idiom for Him answering prayer (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:11). Thus acceptability with God and Him answering our prayers are related.
- Conversely, unanswered prayer is associated with God's rejection. " If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps. 66:18). Thus Nehemiah pleaded for God to unstop His ears and hear the prayer of the repentant remnant (Neh. 1:6).
- The Kingdom prophecy that " Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Is. 65:24) is applied to us now (Mt. 6:8)- as if answered prayer is a foretaste of the Kingdom life. Thus we must believe that we received what we ask for already (Mk. 11:24 Gk.).
- " Thou answerest them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them" (Ps. 99:8) again associates forgiveness / acceptability with God and answered prayer.
- Answered prayer is paralleled with being given the Holy Spirit, the token of God's acceptance (Mt. 7:11 cp. Lk. 11:13). The prayer of the Philippians for Paul is likewise linked with " the supply of the Spirit" (Phil. 1:19). Having spiritual fruit is therefore associated with answered prayer (Jn. 15:16), as is the possession of the Comforter (Jn. 14:14; 16:24 are in this context). Many passages imply that God's hearing of our prayers is proportionate to His perception of our spirituality. He will not respond to the prayer of those whose way of life is contrary to His word: Ps. 66:18; Pro. 1:24-28; Is. 1:15; 59:2; Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:10-12; 29:12; Lam. 3:8,44; Mal. 1:7-9; Mk. 11:25; Jn. 9:31; James 1:6,7; 4:3; 1 Pet. 3:7,12. But He will hear the prayer of the righteous; and 'hearing' is an idiom for 'answering', it doesn't just mean that God takes cognisance of the fact the righteous have prayed: Ps. 6:8,9; Mt. 7:7; 18:19,20; Jn. 14:14.
- Both David and Christ panicked when they felt their prayers weren't being answered; they felt that this meant they had sinned (Ps. 22:1-4; and consider too 17:15; 24:5; 27:4,8). Clearly they understood answered prayer as a sign of acceptability with God. Christ knew that God always heard him (Jn. 11:42). When apparently God didn't hear his prayer for deliverance on the cross, he for a moment supposed that he'd sinned and therefore God had forsaken him.
- The parable of the friend at midnight is surely to be interpreted like this: Friend coming = unexpected crisis; going to friend to get loaves = going to the Father in prayer; fact it is grossly inconvenient (children sleeping etc.) suggests that only because they are good friends will the man get up and give his friend the loaves (Lk. 15:5,6). This very nicely describes the way in which our answered prayers (for others' needs, in the parable) are a statement of the degree to which God counts us as His respected friends.
- Christ is a mediator between God and His people. The fact He mediates successfully for us means that we are His people. We know not what to pray for, but the Lord Jesus intercedes for the right things for us. Often we may pray for something, not receive it, and yet receive what is clearly Divine intervention in another way. This is proof that our prayers are being heard and Christ is mediating for us, even if we don't fully know God's will. Therefore this is proof positive that we are God's people.
The experience of answered prayer is therefore part of the upward spiral of
confidence and spirituality experienced by the believer. God’s generosity
to us in answering us “above all we ask of think” should be reflected
in our doing things for others over and above what they have requested
(Philemon 21). " What things soever ye desire, believe that
ye [did] receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mk. 11:24 Gk.)
can be read as meaning that we should remember how we received things
in the past, and therefore we should have faith that the things
we now desire really will be likewise granted. It is for this reason
that the prayers recorded in the Psalms constantly look back to
previous experiences of answered prayer as a motivation for faith
and Hope: Ps. 3:4,5; 44:1-4; 61:5; 63:7; 66:18-20; 77:4-16; 86:13;
94:5,7-19; 116:1; 120:1,2; 126:1,4; 140:6,7. Jeremiah likewise (Lam.
3:55,56). And even the fact other believers had received answers
to prayer inspired David's faith in prayer (Ps. 74:11-15; 106).
When the disciples prayed “Look upon their threatenings…” (Acts
4:29 RV), they were surely inspired by the praying of Hezekiah in
2 Kings 19:16 using the same words. And these examples ought to
specifically fire our prayer life, too. " Nevertheless"
, despite the fact God answers prayer, " when the Son of man
cometh, shall he find faith?" (Lk. 18:8). The implication is
that the experience of answered prayer ought to develop
faith, but such will be the spiritual perils of the last days and
the lack of serious prayer, that there may well be no faith in the
Ps. 54:1,2 parallel the ideas we have been discussing: "Save
me... judge me... hear my prayer... give ear to the words of my
mouth". David saw the hearing of his prayer as the receiving
of a judgment from God, which meant salvation. For him, God's hearing
of prayer was a foretaste of the judgment, and an encourgement that
he would likewise receive his desire for salvation even then. Despite
our experience of prayer not being answered as we would wish in
our humanity, the fact that we can all surely witness to God hearing
and responding to our prayers is one of the most wonderful encouragements
that our salvation likewise will be granted in the last day.
Probably all readers will now be in a state of doubt; because they will know the experience of answered prayer, but also that of unanswered prayer. But let's remember the above reasoning; answered prayer really does indicate our acceptability with God. The unanswered prayers must therefore be the result of:
- Praying for the wrong things, i.e. those things about which we do not know God's will for sure
- Praying without faith, without really intending to receive the answer.
There is the repeated Bible teaching that what we ask for, we will receive. God hearing prayer is an idiom for Him answering it; and this is not just the inference of an isolated verse. Consider the parallelism of Ps. 6:8,9:
" The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping
The Lord hath heard my supplication
The Lord will receive my prayer" .
Hopefully we will all have had the experience of a crisis where we have prayed, really prayed, and the answer has miraculously come. Yet this is what real prayer is; and yet we simply can't sustain the intensity. The only real way out is to fall back on the fact that the Lord Jesus intercedes for us with that kind of intensity (Rom. 8:26). We have shown elsewhere that Biblical prayers rarely request things; if we ask according to God's will, we will receive (1 Jn. 5:14); and yet if God's word dwells in us, we will ask what we will, and receive it (Jn. 15:7). Thus if our will is purely God's will, we will receive answers to every prayer. And yet our will is not yet coincidental with His; even the will of the Son was not perfectly attuned to that of the Father (Lk. 22:42; Jn. 5:30; 6:38), hence the finally unanswered prayer for immediate deliverance from the cross. Yet as we grow spiritually, the will of God will be more evident to us, and we will only ask for those things which are according to His will. And thus our experience of answered prayer will be better and better, which in turn will provide us with even more motivation for faith in prayer. The Lord Jesus is the great example in all this. He tells the Father in prayer: “I will that they…be with me” (Jn. 17:24) and yet elsewhere in the same prayer He says “I pray that…” (Jn. 17:9,15,20). Our will is essentially our prayer, just as His will was His prayer. The implications of our will becoming God’s will, of the sacrifice of our natural will, are enormous. Our will is the thing we cling to the most, and only give up at the very last. Our will alone is what we truly have, our dearest thing- and we are called to sacrifice it. I see in the OT significance of the blood poured out far more than merely our physical life force- rather does it further symbolize our essential will.
We earlier pointed out that the judgment will be the time when God 'requires' of us our behaviour. And yet the Hebrew word is used about our enquiring / searching to God in prayer now (Gen. 25:22; Ex. 18:15; Dt. 4:29; 12:5; 1 Kings 22:5), as well as His 'requiring' / searching of us at the last day (Dt. 18:19; 23:21; Josh. 22:23; 1 Sam. 20:16; 2 Chron. 24:22; Ez. 3:20; 33:6,8). There is a mutuality between a man and his God. We must keep and seek for His commandments and He will seek / search our hearts in response (1 Chron. 28:8,9- the same original words are used). The wicked don't seek for God because they don't think He will require their deeds of them; but because He will require them, we should enquire / seek for Him (Ps. 10:4,13,15- the same word occurs three times). We enquire of Him and He enquires of us, both now and in the last day. This entering into 'enquiry' with our God is what goes on in prayer. In it we have a foretaste of judgment to come.
(1) F.F. Bruce, The Message Of The New Testament (Paternoster, 1994 ed., p. 30).