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Prayer Duncan Heaster  
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4-4 Prayer Changes Things

Quite simply, we have to believe that prayer changes things. God can change the course of a nation's destiny, or even in a sense the whole course of the universe, because some finite, ignorant, sinful human being has the neck to fervently ask Him to. We are encouraged by the Lord to persist in prayer (Lk. 11:5-13). Elijah had to pray for rain seven times before the cloud came. Daniel prayed 21 days before an answer came. Why doesn't God answer immediately? Is it not simply because He sees it is for our good to develop this habit of knocking on Heaven's door with the same same request? And I ask: do we really persevere in prayer?

Believe that you really will receive; avoid the temptation of asking for things as a child asks for Christmas presents, with the vague hope that something might turn up. Be like Paul, who fell upon the smashed body of Eutychus with the assurance: " Trouble not yourselves [alluding to his Lord in the upper room]; for his life is in him" (Acts 20:10). Remember how Elijah heard, by faith, the noise of rain even before he had formally prayed for it, and when there was no hint of rain (1 Kings 18:40-44 cp. James 5:18). The widow woman shut the door and started to pour out the oil into the vessels (2 Kings 4:5); the way the Lord alludes to this implies that she prayed before she started pouring, and yet she was sure already that it would happen (Mt. 6:6). This should inspire a spirit of soberness in our prayers. Moses cried to Yahweh to take away the frogs, " and Yahweh did according to the word of Moses" (Ex. 8:12,13); the requests of prayer become almost a command to God; by His grace, we will ask what we will and He will do it for us (Jn. 16:23). W.E.Vine makes the point that the Greek here implies a superior asking an inferior to do something. Not only is this an essay in the humility of God's self-revelation, but it surely shows how if we seriously believe in the power of prayer, what we request really will be given. " Thou shalt also decree a thing (in prayer) and it shall be established unto thee" (Job 22:28). Rev. 9:13 portrays prayer as a command to the Angels. The prayer of command is to be found in the well known words of Ps. 122. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, David exhorts. And the response [made so much clearer when the Psalm is sung]: “Peace be within thy walls…I will now say, Peace be within thee” (Ps. 122:6-8). The way peace is ‘commanded’ to be in Jerusalem by those who pray is because they so believe that the answer will surely come.

The Attitude Of Jesus

Jesus believed that He had already raised Lazarus back to life and so He was now asking him to come out of the grave. Presumably there were just seconds in it- He raised Lazarus, and then, invited Lazarus to come out. Jesus spoke to Lazarus as a person speaks to another living person. He didn't invite the immortal soul of Lazarus to reunite with the body. He raised Lazarus from the dead- that was the miracle. Jesus said that He 'awoke Lazarus out of sleep' (Jn. 11:11)- not reunited a 'soul' with a body. Jn. 11:42 is instructive- Jesus prays: "And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me". What was it that Jesus "said" or commanded of the Father? The preceding context doesn't seem to record Him saying that much. It seems to me that Jesus had asked / commanded / said to the Father to resurrect Lazarus. Jesus believed that this had happened. And so, in utter faith, he thanks the Father for raising Lazarus- even though Lazarus was still silent in the grave and there was at that point no actual physical evidence Lazarus had come back to life. But then Jesus says, believing so firmly the prayer had already been answered 'OK Lazarus, well, come out and see us then' [my paraphrase!]. The whole point was to demonstrate that "I am the resurrection and the life", to confirm Martha's faith that indeed there would be a resurrection "at the last day" (Jn. 11:24,25). It wasn't to demonstrate that Jesus could reunite 'soul' and body- it was to prove a resurrection. The same calm and total faith was seen when the Lord took the young girl by the hand and said "Talitha cumi, which is, My child, I say to you, Get up" (Mk. 5:41). "Get up" there isn't from the 'anastasis' group of words which are used about the 'rising up' of dead people in resurrection. It's egeiro, which more literally means 'to get up'. 'Honey, it's time to get up now' was what the Lord was saying- not 'I command you to resurrect'. He had raised her, given her life, and He knew that. In fact, He'd done it a while beforehand. For He told the mourners: "The girl isn't dead, she's only sleeping" (Mk. 5:39). He raised her even before going into the room- and He knew that. And so when He finally saw her, He took her hand and gently asked her to get up out of bed. His gentleness, His faith, His calmness, His certainty that the Father heard Him- are all wondrous.

The Lord's utter confidence in the power of prayer is reflected in the way He speaks to lepers, to waves of the sea, to blind eyes and deaf ears, commanding them to do things. Yet clearly this was a result of His own prayer to the Father. Yet He was so confident that what He had requested would really come true. And in Mk. 11:23 He challenges us to tell mountains to be removed. He doesn’t tell us to ask God to move a mountain; rather does He teach us to talk directly to the mountain. It’s been observed that Biblical Hebrew has no word for ‘yes’; instead, in order to show agreement, the preceding words of the speaker are repeated. Examples are in Esther 5:7 Heb. and Gen. 18:15 (1). Seeing that Biblical Hebrew reflects to us something of the mind of God, it seems to me that we’re being taught by this to believe that what we ask for from God, we will receive; our request is the nature of the answer. Hence the need for care in formulating what we ask for, believing that God’s ‘yes’ will be effectively a repeating back of our words to us.

This should all provoke a sober, deliberate spirit in prayers of request. We will not use " vain repetitions" (Mt. 6:7); the Greek means literally 'to stutter / stammer with the logos'. We know what the man with a chronic stammer is trying to say before he actually finishes saying it. To hear him saying the same syllables again and again is a frustration for us. It's a telling way of putting it. God knows our need before we ask (Mt. 6:8). Say it, if we have to be explicit, and mean what we ask. And leave it there. 'Don't keep stammering on in your prayers' is to be connected with what comes a bit later: " Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek)...but seek (i.e. pray for, Is. 55:16) the Kingdom of God, and His (imputed) righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mt. 6:31-33). We are not merely to believe that what we ask for we will receive. But Mk. 11:23 RV goes further: the Christian must " believe that what he saith cometh to pass" - present tense. He is to visualize the immediate fulfilment of what he asks for in the court of Heaven. Compare the RV and AV of Ps. 92:11 in this connection: " Mine eye also shall see [RV 'hath seen'] my desire…and mine ears shall hear [RV 'have heard'] my desire" . The confusion in the tenses is surely intentional- David really felt he had already received that which he prayed for. He shows this again by the way in which he uses tense moods perhaps purposefully ambiguously in Ps. 56:13. The AV has: “Wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling…?”, whereas the RV renders it: “Hast thou not delivered my feet from falling?”. Another example is in Ps. 18:44,47: “The strangers shall submit themselves…God [right now, by faith in prayer] subdueth the peoples”. David perhaps perceived that the requests of prayer must also be some sort of statement that the prayer was answered already. The Lord showed the way in this when He spoke to the corpse of the widow’s dead son as if it were already restored to life: “Young man, I say unto thee, arise” (Lk. 7:14). David could have sorrow in his heart all day, and yet also sing in his heart to the Lord because he believed that God “hath dealt bountifully with me”, i.e. his prayers he considered as already heard (Ps. 13:2,6). Hannah is a great example. After praying for a child, she went her way “and her countenance was no more sad” (1 Sam. 1:18) because she truly believed she would soon become pregnant.

In line with all this, remember that true prayer really will be heard; God 'hearing' is an idiom for Him answering (e.g. 1 Sam. 7:9; Is. 30:19; 65:24). Indeed, “hear me” in the AV is often translated “answer me” in the RV (e.g. Ps. 60:5; Mic. 3:4)- there is an intentional double meaning in the Hebrew word. There should be real comfort for us in knowing that prayer really is ‘heard’; the hearing is, in a sense, the answer / response, with which a man should be content. Therefore David desired to praise God even before the answer was received; the knowledge God was really hearing him gave such confidence (Ps. 108:1-6; 109:30). Don't hide behind the excuse that unanswered prayer just means that God has heard but not answered. If the prayer is not answered, we have asked amiss (James 4:3); either we lack faith, or we lack a true understanding of God's ways, and have not allowed ourselves to be guided enough by His word. In either case, we have a problem.

Ask, believing that you will receive. Otherwise, prayer becomes just a conscience salver, rattled off to calm ourselves rather than meaningfully request something from the throne of Heaven. Recall how the believers held a prayer meeting for Peter's release; but when it was answered, and he was there knocking at the door outside, they mocked. Or think of how Abraham's servant prayed that the girl who came to meet him, gave him water and then offered to water his camels was the one to marry Isaac. This happened, just as he had prayed; but, initially, he didn't believe it had happened: " The man looked stedfastly on her (AV 'wondering'); holding his peace, to know whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not" (Gen. 24:21 RV). We are so similar. It is in those moments that we realize just what a momentous thing it is, to ask something of God, to be performed on this earth. And to realize it actually happened. He did it, for me, a little ant crawling on the surface of a small planet that is hurtling through space, in a remote part of His universe…

Realize that prayer may be answered in totally unexpected ways. Paul prayed that he would have " a prosperous journey" in coming to see the Romans (Rom. 1:10). Little could he have realized, sitting in Corinth as he wrote, that the answer would involve many months of imprisonment in Jerusalem, a shipwreck that lead to an ecclesia in Malta…and so much other grief. But from God's viewpoint, the prayer was answered.

Open Faith In Prayer

If we’re really confident in prayer being answered, we won’t be shy to openly state to others that we’ve prayed about something and expect the answer to be coming. Paul even asks Philemon to prepare his bedroom for him, because he’s so confident that prayers will be answered, and he’ll be able to come to him. Another example would be how Hezekiah prays to be ‘delivered’ (Ps. 120:2) from the Assyrian invasion. Rabshakeh had heard of this even in the enemy camp, and warned the people of Jerusalem not to trust in Hezekiah’s promise to them that his prayer would be answered and therefore “the Lord will surely deliver us” (Is. 36:18). Another lesson from this latter example is that prayerful attitudes spread- for Hezekiah had prayed for God to ‘deliver’ “my soul” (Ps. 120:2)- and yet the people therefore came to believe that the Lord would surely deliver “us”, i.e. all of them and not just Hezekiah personally as he had initially prayed.

Bear in mind a simple point. Prayer should preceed action. We pray, then act. Not act, and then pray as a kind of insurance policy taken out after the event. Analyze your prayers from this perspective. If they are the prayers of faith, then we will be praying before acting. If we believe that prayer actually changes things, then we will not use it as an after-the-event insurance policy.


(1) See E.A. Speiser, Genesis (Garden City: Doubleday, 1964) on Gen. 18:15 for more on this. The structure of the Hebrew language seems to reflect something of God's way of thinking. In Biblical Hebrew, there's no term for "yes" in replying to a question. Instead, the person answering repeats the question. Thus in Gen. 24:6 Jacob asks: "Is he well?"; and the shepherds reply "Well". God's way of saying "Yes" to our prayers / requests is to repeat back to us as it were our requests; and thus the form and wording of our prayers becomes in some sense important; for what we ask for is what we will receive back, if He answers positively.