In John 17:20-21, Jesus prays for His future church: “I do not pray for these alone, but for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one , as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
If we come to prayer as the means by which we get what we want, then, yes, most prayer is a colossal failure. If, however, we see prayer in a more biblical light, we will see that prayer is much more of a partnership. While teaching a hermeneutics class, I asked my students why they thought God used man to write His Word. Wouldn’t it have been far more effective and less risky to just let His Word in its perfection drop from the sky (preferably in a dramatic manner with lots of witnesses)? It’s not like God needs us to accomplish this. To answer this, we, as a class, considered how God has consistently worked with creation–He enlisted Adam’s creativity in naming animals, He gave Him responsibility to look over the garden and all creation, He chose Abraham to be the beginning of a nation, He raised up Moses to be His spokesperson, He sent out the disciples (and us) to be witnesses to the end of the earth, and He encourages us to read and obey His Word. Do you see the pattern? God wants involvement from us! He can surely do it all without us, but He requires our participation! When we finished discussing this, it was easy to see why God used man to write His word. He was acting consistently from the beginning of time. He wanted us involved! And He still wants us involved–the very works of our faith are dependent upon a partnership with God. We read God’s Word, but His Holy Spirit unlocks it for us. We share God’s truth with others, but it is His power working in people to bring them to salvation. We bring our needs to God, but it is His actions that change things.
In Ephesians 1:17-19, Paul prays, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.”
Paul’s prayer is detailed, passionate, and hopeful. His desire is for believers to really know God and then, as a result of truly knowing Him, to understand the great future and great hope and great power available to us who believe. Now this is prayer!
When we pray, our goal isn’t to give God a list of requests. It’s not to moan about our failures (which is really self-absorption anyway). It’s not to dutifully lift up the needs of others without any real hope or expectation. When we pray, the very power of God becomes available. We are, in some amazing way, conduits of God’s power on earth.
When Jesus prayed for unity for His church, He knew that He was releasing the power of God to work among us. Now that power requires something of us. As noted before, God is interested in a partnership. Our prayer is not the end of the story but only the beginning. As we lift something or someone up to God in prayer, we need to make ourselves available to be a part of the answered prayer. Can you imagine the difference this kind of attitude in prayer would make in the church? In the world?
As a recap,
1) True prayer is accompanied by an expectation of God’s involvement
2) True prayer realizes that God is making His power available right now as we pray
3) True prayer ends with believers making themselves available to be a part of the answer to prayer.
Tonight, my children and I got on our knees and prayed for Iraq. Thinking about these things inspired me to pray with more passion and with hope that God is and will be moving in that country. I have a responsibility to pray. The church has a responsibility to pray. There’s a world out there in desperate need of prayer–let’s get to it!