Monday, July 21, 2014

More About Prayer II

Related Links to this Post So Far -- Here, Here, Here, Here,and Here.

For what I believe about prayer, Jesus' model prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 holds a tremendous amount of weight for me.   When we go to examples in the New Testament, we shouldn't expect a contradiction.  These point-blank tell us what Jesus wanted us to pray.  We have a strong position to harmonize examples elsewhere with what we read there. The absence of praying for healing and praying for the lost there in Jesus' model prayer should be tell-tale to us.  I say that in part because I'm quite confident that if you examined the prayer lists of churches across the country, they are filled with a long list of names of selective sick or dying to be healed and then as long a list of unsaved people to be prayed by name to be saved.  Neither of those two, however, are in the model prayer.

I remember myself laying the prayer list before me, many years, and praying for name after name after name for hours and days and weeks without thinking whether that was a biblical prayer or not.  I assumed it was because I thought I saw others doing it and heard others encourage it.  Since I have been a pastor, I have been invited many times to pray for a very sick or dying person. There is no more difficult prayer, because I have zero model in the Bible as a basis for praying it.  It is like wandering through a jungle in pitch darkness.  I have no scriptural guidance for that prayer.  I have compared it to a full court heave.  I have seen people leave the hospital and I have seen them die. Both.

As a person analyzes the above prayer, they would pray the prayer, because they would say it is God's will to heal.  Then when the person dies, they would say that God didn't heal because it wasn't in His will to heal.  So which is it?  Is it His will or is it not His will?  One might say that thankfully at that time, few to none ask that question later, give it too much analysis, perhaps taking as God's will the verse, "it is appointed unto men once to die."  They are not thinking about God's will.  They just want someone healed.

Prayer in these situations is a "try."  It is worth a "try."  People praying are "trying to see if God will heal someone."  Now if He doesn't, they say it was a "no answer."  Should the people whose relative died perhaps breathe a sigh of relief over getting an answer from God, the "no answer"?  That's actually how they found out God's will, was in the death.  But aren't we supposed to know before the death, when people are still praying?  Or do we always find out God's will afterwards?  Scripture says "pray according to God's will," but you can't know it, so you just pray the prayer anyways, and then find out later if it was God's will.  He lived, "God's will"; he died, "not God's will."  This is not how the passages read, which is why I don't believe we see this prayer in the model prayer or in any prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed in the New Testament.  Neither did Paul say to pray for people to be healed in all of his teaching.

I mentioned that faith is based on knowledge, so faith is certainty or assurance.  I talked about notitia. Again, I'm preaching through John right now, and word after word, line after line, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, is providing evidence to believe.  As I write this, tomorrow I start to preach three short vignettes in the second half of John 2 that point to the power and omniscience of Jesus in actual, concrete examples to evince His deity.  The religious leaders reject the evidence and require more from him, something astronomical, even as they are evil and adulterous.  Someone reported in a comment that notitia is all about saving faith.  Other faith does not require that knowledge.  Someone else said it was just faith in what God could do.  You don't know that He will, just that He could.  The knowledge for faith comes from scripture and we base what we pray for on scripture.

This brings me back to the model prayer.  The model prayer, again, is about what God wills.  It centers on God.  It aligns us with God.  How do we know what He will do?  Notitia.  We have knowledge of that.  Prayer has become for awhile more about our feelings than about God's will.

I want to start with the prayer for healing, move to the prayer for an unsaved person to be saved, from there go to faith and the will of God and prayer, again, and last explore a little history.

The Prayer for Healing

The prayer for healing centers on five arguments that I can see.  If you google prayer for healing, you will hardly stop getting Charismatic sites telling you all about it.  The five arguments I saw from those who would profess not to be Charismatic are (1) the command to pray in everything, (2) Old Testament prayers, (3) Zacharias, (4) Paul's thorn in the flesh, and (5) James 5.

(1)  We should pray "in" everything.  When someone is "in" sickness, he should pray.  When "in" the midst of others who are sick, we should pray for those people.  That doesn't require praying for someone to be healed.  This is very weak.

(2)  People have given examples of Hezekiah and Hannah.   Hezekiah could be a whole paper.  He was dying "young," and he got a longer life, i.e., he was healed.  I see this OT example as related to quite a few Old Testament promises that make it a unique situation that doesn't apply to us.  It is unique in the Old Testament, and as a king in his position, he based that prayer, I believe on passages like Deuteronomy 4:39-40 and Psalms 26 and 34.  At that moment, Hezekiah had no one to set on the throne of David.  There was something unique to the era, the nation, and the king.  I don't believe it is normative.  We can't use the same reasoning for a prayer to add 15 years to our own life.

For Hannah, the list is longer:  Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Manoah’s wife, and Hannah.  I would add a ditto to some of what I said about Hezekiah, and in addition, Numbers 5:28, Deuteronomy 7:14-15, Psalm 113:9, etc., with the nature of barrenness in the nation Israel.   The repeated fulfillment of these prayers for and from barren women point to the ultimate restoration and bounty of the nation and land of Israel (cf.  Isaiah 49:21; 54:1).  Again, I don't see the prayer for a child to be normative for the age in which we live.

God made promises to the nation Israel.  He would bless them, make them a great nation.  Bearing children was related to the covenant.  They weren't becoming a great nation without multiplication. We see this with Eve when she said that she got a man from the Lord.   A corollary to the Abrahamic covenant is the Mosaic covenant, which promised physical blessing to obedience.  Women bearing miracle children becomes a part of the Old Testament story.

This long list of barren women having children stems out of the very first, Sarah.  Her child birth was an obvious fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.  This was not normative.  These were all special situations with children that play a unique place in the nation Israel.  You can add John the Baptist. These were part of the story of God's sovereign and providential hand with His nation, His people, fulfilling His covenant.  These are unique situations.  These are not some kind of guarantee or promise to someone in the era in which we live that we have a similar interest or promise.  We are not building up the nation Israel to make it like the sands of the seashore.

Does God promise these child births to the church?  No.  Does He promise these child births to America?  No.  Could an infertile woman or couple have a child?  I'm sure God could, has the power, to do that.  He did it in scripture again and again.  The question here is if we should pray that prayer without the same promises that God gave Israel?  I don't see that taught in the New Testament.  That doesn't mean that God doesn't care for today's woman, who wants to have a child.  The couple should do everything they can do and leave it in the hands of the Lord.  God does care for them, but there is no biblical basis to expect a child will be born.  Some might think that sounds cold. God is a good God and His providential hand can and will move for child birth and sometimes against it.  We are content with what He does.

(3)  I would argue Zacharias very much like (2) above and the barrenness of Old Testament women related to the nation Israel.  I'm not saying they didn't pray, but the Old Testament promises differed.  For (2) and (3), I could still preach on scriptural prayer, but that the same prayer is no longer scriptural for us.  Daniel would not defile himself with the king's meat (Daniel 1).  The same meat would not necessarily defile us today.  However, the application stands.

The temple is a house of prayer.  I consider 2 Chronicles 6:14ff and Solomon's prayer in the temple for God to hear the people of Israel there in prayer during times of physical need.  Solomon's prayer was for prayers to be heard in these physical situations that do relate to the nation Israel.  The language of "thy prayer is heard" (Luke 1:13) hearkens to Solomon's prayer.  As a true believer and repentant, God heard the prayer of Zacharias at the temple.  Obviously this was also a fulfillment of prophecy with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, as well, entering an era of miracles from the birth of John to Jesus through the Apostles.

(4)  I believe Paul's "thorn" (in 2 Corinthians 12) was a stake in his unredeemed fallenness ("the flesh") to keep him humble from the pride over trips to heaven and such.  This tool of humility, as is often the case, was a messenger from Satan, a false teacher that was allowed in the church of Corinth. One can creep in unawares (Jude 1:4).  Rather than God just removing this person, God gave Paul the grace to do that himself. He outlines how he will do that later:  call on the person to repent and if not visit and then practice church discipline.  We aren't taught to pray for healing in 2 Corinthians 12.  Even if the "thorn in the flesh" was sickness, God said that His grace was sufficient.

(5)  I've already dealt with James 5 in a separate post.  For most, this is actually their proof text for praying for healing.  Even if it did teach that, which I'm going to help us understand that it doesn't, this is very, very much not an emphasis in the New Testament.  Paul didn't pray for Timothy to be healed when he was sick.  He didn't pray for Trophimus or Epaphroditus, but left them sick.  He didn't ask people to pray for them to be healed, when they were sick.  Curious if this is what we're taught to do in the Bible.  I'm going to try to add a little to the James 5 post I've already linked to, without overlapping too much.  At the outset, however, again, if James 5 is talking about praying for healing, it talks about prayer for healing in a different way than it is even practiced in most churches.  Even in churches where prayers for healing were practiced, what I read in James 5 wasn't, if that is what is happening.  It likely is in some places, but I never saw it once.

At the beginning of James 4, we are not to look at prayer as a way of getting things, fulfilling our own desires.  This also fits with the model prayer.  As the chapter and the next (James 5) move along, we submit to the Lord and wait on God for the results, not presumptuous, saying, if the Lord will, I will live or die -- in essence recover or not recover.  The world lives for now and we live for eternity, waiting our way through this life's difficulties.  The world kills the just, accepting it's reward in this age, but the believer, like a farmer, waits for the next, like the prophets, suffering through affliction. When this affliction comes, like Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 12, we don't pray for it to disappear, because we know better.  His grace is sufficient.  When it doesn't come, we sing.

You can read the linked article above.  The word "sick" in "the prayer of faith shall save the sick" is kamno, a word used two other times, translated "wearied" in Hebrews 12:3 and "fainted" in Revelation 2:3, both contexts of going through hard times and difficulties for doing work for the Lord, which also fits the context of James 5.

In v. 15, the person is raised up spiritually, delivered to a place where he is whole spiritually, whatever sins were there are now confessed and repented of and forgiven.  The effects of his affliction are over. He has been saved from that.  This man was encouraged and delivered from a bad spiritual condition in part through a means of prayer.  Prayer availed here in this case.  Someone spiritually parched received spiritual sustenance by means of prayer, like the rain came from the means of Elijah's prayer.

I've read over 15 different total interpretations of James 5, like I've read even more of Paul's "thorn in the flesh."  We should not be conforming the rest of the New Testament to these passages, but fitting them into the rest of the New Testament.  We shouldn't be finding something new and unique from them that isn't a regular teaching of the rest of the New Testament.  I'm not saying they can't be understood.  I am saying that we should look at the less easier understood in light of the more easier understood.

We pray for the sick.  But what would that prayer look like?

Dear Father,

We ask that your mercy would be exalted.  You are a merciful, good, and loving God.  We don't deserve another breath. If we received what we deserved, we would be in hell right now.  Every breath we draw is because of your mercy.  Our brother or our sister is in pain.  He or she is suffering.  You are an omniscient God. You know all, the very secrets of our heart, the very hairs of our head.  You know this sickness.  We depend on you.  We ask that you will be glorified and exalted through his or her life in this time of sickness.  If this is the time of his or her departure, you have been good.  We pray that you will be exalted for your love and goodness and graciousness.  We resign ourselves to your will.  We pray for your will to be done.   We trust you -- your wisdom, your love, your strength.

Help our brother.  Help our sister.   Strengthen his or her faith.  Help him or her in this time to testify to your mercy, to be filled with your will, not his or her own.  I pray that his or her love for you would grow through this testing.  We trust your purposes.  You know best.

We pray that the love of our church will grow in its concern for our brother or sister in this time of sickness and suffering.  We ask that you would work on behalf of our brother or sister in the lives of the other church members.  We pray for his or her family, that.....

I'm not saying that's all there is to it, but it is an example of praying for the sick without praying for physical healing.  I believe God will answer the above prayer.  I believe that when I pray it, I will receive that for which I have been praying.  The prayer centers on God and it is according to His will.


d4v34x said...

Can one pray for the salvation of one's children, for if they are not of the elect, we have no surety they will be saved?

Can one pray for his unsaved neighbor to believe?

A few posts ago, you answered my objection, which was based on Christ's prayer in the garden, by saying the "let this cup pass" was not the request but rather the "thy will be done". Having thought about that, I think you are mistaken. "Let this pass" is more than an expression of anguish, it is a request, I would say THE request in the prayer. The "thy will be done" is an expression of submission to the will.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm going to write about these two questions above, probably in the next post (on Wed). Thanks.

If you look at Matthew 26:42, the grammar, which I think is most important in interpreting the verse, the request is "thy will be done."

The sentence is a combination of two conditions, and then the request. The conditions are part of the statement. The first condition, "if this cup may not pass away from me," is a first class condition, ei with the indicative, a condition of reality, assumed to be true. Jesus is not saying there is a possibility the cup will pass from him, but that it is reality or truth that it will not pass from him. That is why I say it is as a lament or anguish, the word you used.

The second condition is "except I drink it," which is a third class condition, and that is ean me, which means it is yet to be determined.

The condition part in a sentence is called a protasis, and the consequence is called the apodosis. The independent clause is "Thy will be done." And the form in the Greek is the form of a request. So when it says he prayed, and then you look for the request, there it is.

Thanks D4!

d4v34x said...

Thanks for the response, I look forward to your next post.

I also want to add that, in general, I agree many would pray about their desires only, rather than pray His will be done as promised, that some kingdom out of their own imagination be advanced rather than His kingdom.

And to head off any objections some might raise about my use of "the elect" above, I'll just point out that regardless of one's Arminian/Calvinist/other leanings about what election is, the number was fixed before any of us were created, so we would obviously preach the Gospel to all in order to reach those who will be saved.

d4v34x said...

Also, maybe you could adress the grammar in Luke 22:42 and Mark 14:36. Thanks in advance.

Joe Cassada said...

I don't understand the tremendous amount of rebuffing that Kent is getting with this series. I'm not sure if it's out of misunderstanding or vehement disagreement or something in between.

To me it is simple. We are to pray according to the will of God. The Bible shows us the will of God, therefore we pray according to the word. Anything else is a "let's try it and maybe God will say yes." The Bible paints the prayer closet as a place of confidence, of knowing, of certainty, not of hope-so's or it-doesn't-hurt-to-ask's.

Many folks look at praying according to the will of God as simply some perfunctory mantra we tack on the end of our wish list - we say "I want this and that and the other...if it be you will." Well is it or isn't it? Do we determine God's will by whether or not an answer is given, or are we supposed to discern God's will through his Word before we pray? I think the latter.

Though we may see examples of OT saints who prayed for this or that and received it, I think the Christian is guided by NT teaching and the Savior's example above all.

Others may wish to continue to pray for things not promised by God in his word, but I for one refuse to let my prayer closet become some Christian version of the Magic 8 Ball.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi D4,

This is a new comment, because someone emailed me, and I admit that I was quickly looking at Stephanus 1550, and there was one textual variant not in anything else there. Let's not make that a discussion. I know there are minor differences between Stephanus, Beza, and then Scrivener. It doesn't change the meaning of Luke 22:42. It was a matter of two letters, which does radically change a word from an infinitive to an aorist imperative. I would take Luke 22:42 the same as the parallel in Matthew because of the protasis of a conditional sentence. The imperative of request is "Be done," at the end, literally, "let your will be done." We know what the Father's will is, because Jesus said it again and again, and even confronted Peter harshly when Peter opposed it.

The Mark 14 passage says it very differently. Because of the "all things possible" and the other passages, I believe Jesus was looking at the 2nd person imperative as a hypothetical. Take this cup away from me is possible, since all things are possible. "Nevertheless." It is alla, a very strong adversative, indicating that this hypothetical wasn't what he wanted, in strong contradiction to that, and an emphatic, I myself want what you want.


d4v34x said...

Quite thorough of you to address textual variants I did not know existed. And thorough of your emailer.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kent,

So what about Philippians 4:6,

"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."

To paraphrase the old saw, "every means every, and that's everything every means." Eh?

Another question (may have been addressed earlier and I missed it): what does your view of prayer do with Romans 8:26-27,

"Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."

At the very least, this would seem to suggest something somewhat incongruent with what you're saying, which is that we often *don't* know how we ought to pray, yet the passage seems to suggest that we are to anywise, and that the Spirit of God will lead us in finding God's will (which would not be needed if we already had an absolute knowledge of God's will)...?

If someone is sliding over the edge of a cliff, should they then not offer up a quick, silent prayer as they are scrambling for a handhold that the Lord would help them to do so, since they don't know for sure if it is God's will that they be saved from plummeting to their death?

Kent Brandenburg said...


Why did Jesus give us anything to pray, any kind of model, if it was just a free for all as you seem to indicate? And did you read the actual post, because your one example here was answered as the first argument? "in everything" (en panti) not "for everything"

Just because the Holy Spirit knows everything doesn't mean that you can pray anything.

The instruction wasn't, "Just pray. Whatever's fine." You're not really dealing with things here, Titus.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kent,

Well, I didn't actually say that. Keep in mind that there's a difference between the "extent" of prayer and the "content" of prayer. One can pray for healing of a loved one's sickness (content), without praying that their cancer will miraculouslly disappear when someone waves a coat at them (extent), to allude to the concerns about Charismatism that you've expressed earlier.

I did see your comments earlier about "en panti," I just wasn't convinced by them since I think they beg the question. If you're to pray "in everything," then how could you help BUT pray FOR everything, when the everything is being defined coextensively?

One can pray "in sickness," and be praying for healing of their sickness while "in" that sickness. Paul did it (and yes, I saw that you addressed that earlier too, but was similarly unconvinced by that). He wasn't answered, though he prayed three times for his affliction to be removed. Kent, I don't see how it can get any plainer than that. Paul prayed three times. The Word of God is clear on that. God did not answer Paul's prayer by healing him. The Word of God is clear on that. God then reassured Paul that His own strength would be made perfect in Paul's weakness, and *consequently* ("oun") Paul would glory in His infirmities - the acceptance of God's will in that circumstance. Paul made that decision AFTER He learned that God would not heal him, but rather use that affliction to His own glory. This is not something Paul knew beforehand. Paul did not pray in this case with a surity of knowing absolutely God's will. I'm sorry, but that much is plain and apparent from the passage. That cannot contradict other passages dealing with prayer either directly or tangentially.

The Lord's prayer is ONE element in the Word of God's instructions about prayer. It is not all of that instruction, however. Nor does your particular interpretation have to be the one that is accepted by those desiring to understand God's Word better on this issue.

My concern here is not because I am "emotional" about prayer, but because I fear that this sort of teaching in churches could affect the prayer ministries of churches in the same way that Calvinism has affected evangelism. I am not accusing of being a Calvinist, but it seems from other comments above that this might be a similar concern for others as well.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I would have to be very naive, too much so, I think, to believe that you read my argument about "in everything," when you bring up the verse like I said nothing about it. It's the kind of thing, among others, that has my thinking that you're not open to be convinced on things anyway, that you're rather a free agent, hovering above authority, except when it fits what you like.

I'm not begging the question, a logical fallacy, when I'm taking the verse at face value. It says "in everything." It doesn't say "for everything." But you say, "No, it means "for everything too," and I'm the one begging the question. OK? Someone is begging here, and it isn't me.

You say you read my dealing with 2 Corinthians 12. Perhaps some reading comprehension issues here, because I said the thorn in the flesh wasn't sickness. But I know, you already knew that, but just disagreed. So why deal with what I said like I was talking about it being Paul's illness? I don't think it was illness. Paul wanted the messenger from Satan removed, but that wasn't how God would accomplish that. But I did say, even if it were an illness, you can't make a proof text something we know wasn't God's will for Paul to do.

Titus, is it possible for you to be convinced on anything about which your mind is already made up? Do you operate on your own standards with your own authority and choose what suits you? For instance, what's bigger to you -- you or the church? Do you think you are the pillar and ground of the truth?

I wouldn't characterize the explicit, propositional teaching on Jesus to be just another instructional element for prayer. It is a classic location for understanding how to pray. It is priority. "My interpretation"? OK. Well, that's what we're talking about, is what it means. But the words have meaning, whether you or I lived or died or ever existed. They mean what they mean.

Scriptural prayer, you think, hurts evangelism? So praying that you will boldly speak as you ought to speak, you think, will douse out evangelistic fervor? OK.

On the other hand, if you pray for a person to be saved, that aids your evangelistic fervor in what way? If you just let go and let God do it, take care of that issue, he's more likely to get saved? Think about it, Titus.

d4v34x said...

Since Titus raises it, I'll interject that being a Calvinist inclines me along a similar line of thinking as what Bro. B. advances here. Not exactly the same, but similar. I will say it has not hindered my prayer life at all. That is not the necessary consequence of Bro. B.'s theology of prayer. At all.

Tyler Robbins said...

This is a good, common sense article.

I don't pray, "God, please heal Mrs. Smith!"

I pray, "God, please help Mrs. Smith get better if that is your will. You're in charge and you'll do what's best. Please comfort and strengthen Mrs. Smith and help her to grow closer to you and glorify you through this time."

It seems like common sense to me, because who knows if God wants Mrs. Smith to be healed!? Maybe He doesn't! The woman with the issue of blood suffered 12 years (Mk 5)! The man born blind suffered even longer (Jn 9). Poor Lazarus suffered even worse (Jn 11). He is the potter; we are the clay.

Good article.