Related to this series on prayer, as I better understand the other primary position, one different than my own (the scriptural one :-D ), I am getting a handle on the various iterations of that position, and I'd like to talk about that. In general, the position is that we pray for what we have faith that God can do. If we do that, He might hear us and He will answer us with a no, maybe, or yes. "Praying in the will of God" is praying for whatever God might permit. It just can't be a wrong prayer, a sinful one, and if it isn't, it is in the will of God. So you can and really should pray for whatever you want, as long as it isn't wrong and you believe God can do it. And God can do anything. As I read through this presentation thus far, I can see why prayers aren't criticized very much, because that position leads to a very wide latitude.
Now as someone reads the first paragraph, he might say that it isn't the actual position. But using the very argumentation of the ones who would say it isn't, you get that as the position. However, the iteration that modifies it slightly in a way that will fit Mark 11:24 is the following. You are allowed to pray for whatever it is that God gives you the faith to pray for. This is what I'm hearing. Now, perhaps because I am not well read and I don't get out much, I had never heard that view in my entire life. But I have a question for this most conservative version of the other viewpoint. How do you know that God has given you the faith to pray that prayer and it isn't just something you want to pray for?
What I am saying is there is absolutely no means of verification of whether God has given you that faith or not. As I see it, it is the sister or brother of God speaking to you. What is the verification that God is speaking to you? When a pastor says, "God told me," how do you know that God told him? You just have to take his word for it. And perhaps there are some experiential manifestations that authenticate his experience, which he can list off.
So. The reason these men don't pray for the two blind men in our church to see is because God hasn't given them the faith to pray it. However, God evidently has given him the faith to pray for his child with leukemia or the person in his church with a brain tumor. You can't question it. It just is what it is. You've got to go with that. I don't see this as faith, but as mysticism. It is entirely subjective and can't be questioned because it is beyond criticism. There is little objective criteria for evaluation, only it isn't wrong to do, it's permitted to do. You couldn't pray to sin, but outside of that, it is permissible. And if he doesn't pray for every sick person in the hospital, his out on that is that God hasn't given him the faith to pray for those things. Subject over. You'll have to assume he got that message from God.
"Faith" in this case is a form of extra-scriptural revelation. Giving you the faith to pray is giving you the knowledge of who to pray for, that is, telling you who to pray for. You aren't going to pray for everyone who is sick, so you've got to depend on God giving you the faith to do it. Jesus said God has the power to move mountains, but how many people are praying for the men whose legs have been blown off by an improvised explosive device? It's not that God can't replace those, so why not?
What I also see is that there is something on the degree of answer to prayer in which these who think that almost anything goes themselves will stop. In many cases, they would say that they don't pray for new legs for a man, because that is of a category that is not normative in the era in which we live. You can pray for a barren (infertile) woman, but she has to be in the right age category for God to answer that or give you the faith to pray it. And all of these are God telling them what faith is and what is not. Do you see the problems here?
Someone might say, "You can't pray to consume it upon your own lusts." OK. But what is a prayer request that is in the category of "your own lust"? This is almost impossible to determine when accompanied by an appropriate explanation. Let's say you need a new car. Can you pray for a Mercedes or are you left with a Ford Taurus and an older year of one of those if it's not "your own lust"? I want to take people to an African country to preach on a weekly basis, so I want a passenger plane and fuel for every week. That isn't for me. It's for a gospel work. It's not my own lust. So why is it that is not a permitted prayer? This is where we might get back to, "God hasn't given you the faith to pray for that." The president and his surrogates fly all over the world on someone else's tab, so it might not even be a "miracle."
Are we limiting God by asking for some of the little things we ask for? This is where the Charismatics come through. They do ask and suggest that everyone ask for lots of big things. What is holding me back from praying for a church of 1,000? But, really, why stop there? Why can't I have a church the size of the state of California? Is that not possible with God? He created the world. The answer: God hasn't directed in that way. Why? No explanation. He just hasn't. On the other hand, the Charismatics would be proud of me if I said I wanted a church the size of Joel Osteen's. Way to go!!
And if we do venture out in a prayer that goes beyond what medicine could do (which God created, so He did that too), if it doesn't get answered, what difference does it make? You got a no answer. Again, the no answer doctrine, gleaned from 2 Corinthians 12 by those who take this view. You can't hardly pray a prayer that is not in the will of God. And faith is diminished to something based on what you were moved to do through some mystical feeling that you had.
There are many reasons why I have pointed out the trajectory of this other view, not my own, and one I see as unscriptural, from revivalism and Keswick theology. It fits right with those. Nudge it a little further and a person will be Charismatic. But there are acceptable forms of revivalism and Keswick to varying degrees, sometimes heap fulls of it, among independent Baptists and fundamentalists. Some would say that it for sure isn't that with them, because they are opposed to revivalism and Keswick. And yet I see extra scriptural revelation and mysticism.
All of what I've talked about so far would be tempered the exact right amount by Jesus' model prayer. I have none of those problems when I use His outline, as if what Jesus would say about prayer would be sufficient. What other passage in the Bible do you have that actually tells us how to pray? Jesus says some things about it. The Apostles say some things that are not and could not be in disagreement with Jesus. But then we have a few scattered examples, which don't have complete information. I am one to assume those are not going to contradict the other passages.
Some have asked, "If we're praying for what we know we'll receive, how does prayer make any difference?" James said that scriptural prayer avails much. It does make a difference. When I pray for wisdom, I get wisdom that I would not have already had, because God gives it to me in answer to prayer. When I'm in temptation and I pray, I get help that I would not have received if I had not prayed, to keep me from sinning. When I pray for those in authority, God works in a manner in which I have a more quiet and peaceable life. When I pray for boldness in evangelism, I get boldness that I would not have had if I had not prayed. These are God's will in the sense that He will answer them. I know He will, and I based that on scripture.
Scriptural prayer avails much. That particular point in James 5 describes what occurs when one prays like I'm explaining. The unsure, uncertain prayers do not avail, even if they look like it. I would contend that most of the unsaved people "prayed for" with these prayers do not get saved and of those with deadly diseases, they don't get healed. I think the statistical analysis would be something not much better or worse than the statistics for Charismatics. Something is wrong with a prayer that does not avail. All of my scriptural prayers avail. How do I know? They are based on scripture and God doesn't lie. He isn't going to heal everyone and He isn't going to save everyone, but He will do all the things He said He would do, that are a basis for our prayers.
What about the backslider? That question was posed. When you pray for his love to abound, does it abound? Is he filled with the knowledge of God's will? The backslider is a sort of keswick category of carnal Christian. When that term is used in the Bible, it's an unsaved person. Is there a saved backslider, a sort of Christian who lives for long periods of perpetual carnality? Sometimes we don't know how to pray as we ought. This is not speaking of someone who just ignores scripture. This is talking about someone who is struggling through the categorization of a particular person. Is he weak, feebleminded, unruly? Has he crept in unawares? Does his disobedience represent the inability of an unsaved person or the struggle of a saved person? What I'm describing in this paragraph is one reason why the Holy Spirit prays for us, because He does know, when we don't. I pray sometimes for a better understanding of how to pray, to know better how to pray. This is not because I don't know what scripture says to pray, but because I don't know the specific need of a particular individual. Sometimes these types of problems are because we are depending in an unscriptural way upon prayer. Not everything is solved through prayer. Paul kept praying for the removal of the minister of Satan sent to buffet him, but the right thing was to take care of it himself -- God's grace was sufficient. God wasn't going to do it for him. He was going to have to obey the means by which God accomplishes these things.
Some may want to extrapolate from the previous paragraph that it represents an uncertainty that opens the door to pray without assurance. What we pray, we should know the Lord will answer. We know what God said he would do. We have the Bible. To pray with wisdom, you pray for wisdom. He'll give it if you desire it and ask for it, but the wisdom might require you to do something other than pray. Sometimes prayer is a cop-out, not the intended path of obedience. That is why you are uncertain and why you can't ask in faith, believing. Prayer isn't a brainless activity. You've got to think about praying as you ought. Scripture is sufficient to supply the knowledge you need, but you've got to apply it.
Surely you won't always pray a right prayer. It won't fulfill scripture or it won't be prayed with the fulfillment of scriptural prerequisites. Sometimes you won't pray in faith, sometimes you won't pray with the knowledge that you will receive what you are praying for, sometimes you won't pray according to God's will, sometimes you will pray to consume it upon your own lusts, and sometimes you will pray like a Pharisee, who stands on a street corner praying to be seen of men. Sometimes you just won't pray. However, doing it the wrong way doesn't justify more wrongdoing. That people don't pray as they ought is not license to mimic them.
Like some depend on experience and myticism to determine what to pray for, they also decide what constitutes an answer. To some, when a believer prays for men in authority in order to obtain peace and quiet, if he doesn't reach 100% peace and quiet, then the prayer wasn't answered. If the prayer wasn't answered, well, then prayer is uncertain. And if prayer is uncertain, then pray for whatever you want, except to sin, with permission. A fraction more peace and quiet is an answer to prayer and the prayer was worth it. I assume it. I don't look for some external measurement, but sometimes I "see" what I believe is the answer. The Supreme Court gave Christian businesses an opportunity for peace and quiet with the Hobby Lobby decision. That looked like an answer to prayer to me. My belief that God answered is not dependent on obvious measurables. When I look for answers, I might see answers that aren't even answers, but I see them, because I want to see them. Sometimes I think I see them, but my basis for believing they occurred is because God said they would.
The above consideration goes the other direction. I've heard many stories about the prayer for power. People pray for power, and then they go about doing things that evidence power. The evidence they produce authenticates the power. They didn't get any more power, but they testify they did. This allows experience to become authority. This is why, again, you believe it based upon what God said, not based upon your own witness. Can we say that we have seen answers to prayer? Sure, but what you rely upon is scripture.
More to Come