You can get to links to previous parts of this series here.
Prayer is a basic spiritual discipline in and for the Christian life: Bible reading or study, church attendance and involvement, and prayer. So we want Christians, our church members, including baby believers, to understand what prayer is and how to pray. On the other hand, who cares? Just pray whatever you want, and leave it at that. We don't want to get too technical, because then people may not pray. So just go ahead and have them pray however they want without criticism. If they get criticized for their prayers, they might just stop praying. If someone is in fact a Christian, he will want to know how to pray. The disciples asked Jesus how to pray. Believers want to know.
Does what I've been writing here clash with historical teaching on prayer? Am I inventing something new here? I recognize that what sticks out in this series is how we pray for the sick and how we pray for the lost according to scripture. How do we see this presented as we move back, for instance, before keswick to examine commentary on prayer? I'm going to offer some quotes here that support what I'm saying, but the better overall approach here is to see what men taught about these things in general. When churches are praying today, they are praying for particular lost people to be saved and specific people to be healed. Is that a common teaching of old?
The Sacred Books of the Old and New Testament, Recited at Large, written in 1739, says on p. 934:
By the prayer of faith, we must necessarily understand prayer accompanied with a persuasion wrought by the impulse of the Spirit, that God would raise up sick: not with that faith only which is a persuasion of the general promises of God made to the whole church; since there is no such absolute promise in the Gospel, that God would grant health to the sick upon our prayer. . . . [A]s I said before, prayer grounded upon the belief of the promises of the new covenant, or upon that faith which is common to all Christians, cannot warrant the obtaining of health, or of any other temporal blessing in particular.
I've read this as a common historical interpretation of James 5:13-16, that is, that the healing of this passage is within the realm of a sign gift, a miraculous healing not for the age in which we live. I'm not saying I agree with the interpretation, but the passage is not used as a proof text here for a prayer for healing. The belief is that there is no promise for a prayer for healing, so there is not basis for a faithful prayer for healing. What is written in the above quote is exactly what I've been writing. The following is a prayer for the sick compiled by William Paley in 1823:
O ALMIGHTY God, merciful and gracious, who in thy justice didst send sorrow and tears sickness and death into the world, as a punishment for man's sins, and hast comprehended all under sin, and this sad covenant of sufferings,-- not to destroy us, but that thou mightest have mercy upon all making thy justice to minister to mercy, short afflictions to an eternal weight of glory; as thou hast been pleased to turn the sins of this thy servant into sickness, so turn, we beseech thee his sickness, to the advantage of holiness and religion, of mercy and pardon, of faith and hope, of grace and glory. Thou hast now called him to suffer. Lord, relieve his sorrow and support spirit, direct his thoughts and sanctify his sickness, that the punishment of his sin be to him school of virtue.
This is a prayer for the sick that is not a prayer for healing. Historically, Christians prayed like this for the sick and depended on God's providence for healing. Again, I've not said that they didn't pray for the sick. Ezekiel Hopkins wrote a practical exposition on the Lord's prayer, and in praying for daily bread, in 1710 he wrote the following:
[We pray for] All the means that God's providence hath appointed to preserve life and health, and to recover health when it is decayed and impaired.
I would ask you to notice the words, "the means that God's providence hath appointed." This is not a prayer for someone to be healed, but for God's providence. You may think that God's providence will occur anyway. That's true, but God still wants us praying in these times and this is how you pray.
Thomas Mangey in his practical discourses on the Lord's prayer in 1717 wrote:
In short, we should so pray for the conveniencies of a frail mortal life, as to receive them from God's Hand with thankfulness, and to give them up with submission and in both together imitate holy Job; the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
So we pray to give them up the conveniencies of a frail mortal life with submission like Job did.
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) wrote the following about prayer in A Body of Practical Divinity (p. 302):
If God hath promised you the thing prayed for, you may believe that you shall receive it: otherwise your particular faith is a fancy, or a believing of yourselves, and not a believing God that never promised you anything.
In the same book (p. 303), the following is recorded about praying from Baxter for a particular lost person:
A godly man may pray for wicked relations or others with more hope than they can pray for themselves, while they remain ungodly: but yet not with any certainty of prevailing for the thing he asketh; for it is not peremptorily promised him. Otherwise Samuel had prevailed for Saul, and Isaac for Esau, and David for Absalom, and the good people for all the wicked; and then no godly parents would have their children lost; no nor any in the world would perish, for godly persons pray for them all.
Thomas Watson wrote, "To pray in Faith is to pray for that which God hath promised; where there is no promise we cannot pray in faith."
If you look at all the passages about prayer, you see that the faith is based on knowledge that God will answer, that He will give you what you are praying for. Faith is based on knowledge. You know because He has promised. The knowledge is in the Word of God. And so you pray for what you read in scripture that God wants you to pray for. The Bible is sufficient. It is good enough for prayer. Perhaps the better question is, do we want what God wants? Are His desires our desires? Do we really trust Him?
Several books were published between 1500 and 1830 on the Lord's prayer. When you scour those books, you don't read, "Pray for individuals to be healed," or "Pray for individual men to be saved." No. You do read what I've been proposing here in this series on prayer. It was in the late 19th century and 20th century that we get the explosion of the types of prayers that fit with a Charismatic understanding of prayer, praying for things that God has not promised He would provide or answer. These are the prayers that I have labeled the full court heaves for which people have invented the "no answer."
It has been intimated that with this series I have somehow swerved outside the bounds of Christian teaching, that this is a far cry from what others have said in the past. It is just the opposite. What I'm saying is the tenor and direction and instruction of the past. More so, it is gleaned from the exposition of scripture. However, history does not clash with what I am saying, but with the modern way of praying that must have arisen from something other than scripture and church history.