I should perhaps just call this series "prayer," because that what it's about. A couple of points before I dive into this again. One, people aren't interested in prayer. People don't buy books on prayer. My wife mentioned the book Prayer of Jabez, and, yes, that is a popular book on prayer, something that 'unleashes power to make you rich.' Part one of this series received no comments and as few hits as I get (I know, it's because I'm a bad writer). Two, people are touchy about prayer, even though, I believe it should be one of the most criticized areas of Christian life. Matthew 18:19 gives a prerequisite of agreement. Agreement requires evaluation. Agreement suggests possible disagreement. Agreement isn't agreeing to disagree. It is in fact agreeing.
One of the most life-changing events of my life came when I preached the first time through the Lord's model prayer. Prayer is important in the Bible and to God. Knowing how Jesus said we are to pray, then, is very important. Jesus said, "Pray after this manner" (Matthew 6:9) and "When ye pray, say" (Luke 11:2), and the requests of that prayer contain zero mystery. Jesus' model prayer contains nothing that we are not certain we will get.
Only one of the requests in Jesus' model is physical. Daily bread. Do Christians already know that they will get daily bread? Do they already know God is going to take care of them and meet their physical needs? I think so. In the Old Testament, Psalm 37:25 says, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." In the New Testament, I remember Philippians 4:19: "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 6:8 defines "need" nicely: "And having food and raiment let us be therewith content." God will supply food and raiment. And yet Jesus taught believers to pray, "Give us day by day our daily bread" (Luke 11:3). They are already going to get it, but they are still to pray for it. You know you're getting bread and yet you pray for bread. You are expressing your dependence on God about something you know you will get when you pray. You know.
Faith and evidence go together (Hebrews 11:1) [talked about in part one]. This is where the "will of God" and prayer go together. The will of God is something we know. Praying for what we know fits with Jesus' model prayer. Add to this 1 John 5:14: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." A prerequisite to God hearing our prayers is that we ask according to God's will. This can't be talking about something we don't know. God doesn't ask us to do something about which we can't be certain. We've got to know what God's will is in order to be sure to pray it. So again, we pray for what we know, for what we are certain.
Scripture isn't going to contradict itself. God doesn't deny Himself, so whatever request is in scripture, the person praying it must have been certain about it. There are explanations for those passages. We've talked about Paul wanting Philemon to pray for him to get out of prison in Philemon 1:22, "But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you." That prayer won't contradict the teaching about praying in faith and according to God's will.
We can believe what we know God will do. I don't know if God will save someone. I don't know if God will heal someone. The not knowing of either of those two explains why we don't see them as prayers in the New Testament. It doesn't mean that we don't pray for unsaved people or that we don't pray for sick people. We pray what we can believe that God will answer. Again "faith" and "the will of God" coincide.
Praying for what God will do is not the same as praying for what God can do. We know that God can do anything and we should rejoice in all that God does. I rejoice He can do anything. I praise Him for His wisdom, knowledge, and power. He can heal people. He can save people. Do I know if He will save or heal a particular individual? I don't. So I don't pray that prayer.
For a moment, I want us to think about this in a practical way. If God saved everyone we prayed to be saved, then we should pray for every person on earth to be saved with the confidence that God will save every person. If God healed everyone we prayed to be healed, we should pray for every person on earth to be healed with the confidence that God will heal every person. We have two born again blind men who are members of our church, both about 60 or so. If God will heal in answer to prayer, then I should pray for them to see. I've asked those who believe in praying for healing if they would pray for these two men to be healed. They won't.
The practical ramifications of the teaching of praying for physical healing reminds me of the Charismatic movement. I can't see how they are different and I'm open to any ideas. People without limbs can't count on getting new limbs by a Charismatic healer. Jesus can do that. Jesus put Malchus's ear back on. But the Charismatic healers aren't doing that kind of thing. They expose their fraudulence. Let's turn this over to prayer for healing. How do men know what diseases and injuries to pray for? Do we pray for someone to walk again who has had his limbs blown off by an improvised explosive device? Why not? What is the biblical basis for God not doing that today? Today people will pray for a young lady to bear a child, but why not a 65 year old who would love to have one?
What about Old Testament prayers? The prerequisites don't change. However, God made promises to Israel that Israel could then pray for. Read 2 Chronicles 6 and Solomon's dedicatory prayer for the temple. He prayed that God would hear their prayers of repentance in the temple. God answered the prayer in 2 Chronicles 7 with a familiar passage. Yes, if His people did humble themselves and pray there, God would hear and forgive and heal. When someone prayed that kind of prayer, like Jehoshaphat does later in 2 Chronicles, God in fact hears on those very terms.
Some scriptural prayers for the Apostle Paul were prayers not in God's will for us. He knew things that we don't know. But the common ground is scriptural prayers. We follow what scripture says about prayer. I know that this is where the discussion should form. Certainly we pray in everything. Whatever situation we're in, whether sickness or in other difficulties, we should pray. But what we pray should be scriptural.
Do we see New Testament prayers for healing and do we see New Testament prayers for God to save someone? I believe the answer is "no." We don't see a prayer for someone to be healed and for someone to be saved. These are not scriptural prayers. We have no basis for those prayers, so we shouldn't pray them.
In many cases, relating to this discussion, people ask about examples from history. Any record of events from history holds no authority over what we should pray for. The usual argument for a "prayer for revival" comes from the history of revival. Someone evinces prayer for a "miraculous birth" with an illustration of a "miraculous birth." It's fine to talk about history and prayer, but history is not an authority for prayer. People ask about historical examples: "If that's true, then how do you explain Jeremiah Lamphier and his prayer revival in New York City?" Or, "how do you explain the prayers of George Mueller?" I'm happy to explore an explanation to these types of questions, but we should start by understanding that the examples themselves are non-authoritative.
I really do not find much difference between the historical or experiential examples people use and those also used by the Charismatic movement. Hundreds of times I have entertained these stories at someone's door, and I find myself arguing about a story instead of someone relying on scripture. This is how false doctrine grows and spreads. People place these experiences over scripture. If you argue against personal experience, the people very often get very upset or angry.
When I get sick, I start by thinking I'll get better. I do the physical things that it takes to get over the illness: drink more water, take vitamin C, get more rest -- those types of things. If I still don't get better, I go to the doctor. I did this recently with a bad case of poison oak. I got a shot and it improved quickly and dramatically. I think I'm going to get better. Part of my thought is that I have a good God. I trust in His hand, in His providence. He is sovereign. He knows I'm sick. He knows what His purpose is. If he wants me to get better, I will. If He doesn't, I can be fine with that too. I expect I will get better, as I meditate on His mercy.
I also consider how sickness and difficulty will help me grow or be purified. I explore how God is allowing or causing to conform to the image of Christ. I struggle to keep the right spirit and disposition that will be a good testimony for the Lord. If any one of these got worse, and I was dying. There was seemingly no cure. I would then count myself to have been greatly blessed with the life I did have and still do have, joyous in my eternal salvation, knowing that I would be going to a place far better. I see that as the attitude of the Apostle Paul. He desired to depart. Departure isn't the end for a believer. I don't want to act like it is.
I had jury duty this last week. After most of the day, and I didn't get on the jury, the rest of us, who didn't make it, were dismissed. We had to turn in our badges, and I was walking behind a man with artificial knees. He was walking very slowly. If anything hurts on me, it's my hip. My brother, three years younger, already has an artificial hip. Maybe I'll have one some day. But the man apologized for slowing me down, and I said, "That's OK. I'll probably be there soon."
If I want to slow down the process toward getting an artificial hip (not saying I'll ever get one), I lose weight by changing my diet and exercising. I don't feel hip pain and pray to be healed. I don't.
I started into this incursion into prayer off a post about making Acts normative. I still see the problem as coming out of revivalism. The proof is first experience and then making the wrong application from a biblical prayer out of this dispensation. You hear a wrong usage of the word "miracle." I'm convinced now that we shouldn't be using miracle to apply to providential events today. I'm not saying that providence is less powerful than a miracle. It could be more powerful, but a miracle suits a particular purpose, as a sign. Providence represents God's supernatural working in the age in which we live.
Further, since prayer is, as I said, a touchy subject, people go on with unbiblical prayers without criticism. Even if they were biblical, the prayers should be analyzed, chiefly to see if they're the will of God, if they're scriptural.
A good starting place for everyone is to follow the model of Jesus. If you follow that model, you won't go wrong. If Jesus wanted us to go further, why didn't He add to that? The other propositional teaching of the New Testament fits with the model. Organize your prayer life around Jesus' model prayer.