Revelation in the Bible addressed to the Church of Jesus Christ is filled with information concerning the Christian's communication with God in the Dispensation of Grace. The Spirit of God placed it there for Christian practice as a distinct entity from other revelation for other believers in other Dispensations. Other passages in other revelation may be used to understand the linguistic concepts of the words used but they are not for grace practice.
It is a real blessing to teach the doctrine of grace communication with God accurately to Christians. Early in my Christian life, in my "read your Bible, pray and witness and you'll be spiritual" days, I had an ongoing interest in "prayer." I studied the subject and read books which merely led to personal confusion. I went to Bible college and wrote my first college paper on "the sin of prayerlessness." All-night prayer meetings were a part of becoming a better Christian. Even so I knew there were contradictions and the results weren't what I expected. This often led to the question of how much faith I had, because I didn't receive many of the things that I asked for. In seminary I learned what it meant to take the Scriptures literally and how to apply the rules for literal interpretation. That eliminated many of the contradictory passages. Then I was exposed to elements of grace communication with God in classes. I had the privilege of taking a class in my ThM program on grace communication with God. Everything became so clear. After seminary graduation I became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in El Sobrante, California. It was a small church and it was necessary that I work full-time. In the first year of my ministry there, I began a series of studies on communication with God for Bible study on Wednesday nights with prayer meeting. I stopped the studies at page 261 of the notes that I passed out because there were many new people in the services that hadn't been in the studies long enough to have the background. Ever since those studies I have continued research on the subject with the possibility of writing a set of books on communication with God. I continue to research.
I would prefer that a Christian study NT grace revelation before he or she reads one book on "prayer." Most books on "prayer" are filled with error and misapplication of Scripture. They continue to lead many Christians into erroneous behavior by ruining the distinctions that are natural in the Bible. Previous study of grace revelation will make it possible for the Christian to see the heresies for what they are. The experience oriented theology of most of these books can ruin the joys of Christian communication in the way God designed it.
In the history of Christendom "prayer" teaching is founded upon subjective feelings. In some cases it is a panacea for all spiritual problems and needs. In these cases, "praying" brings salvation. It keeps one saved. It makes one spiritual. It keeps one spiritual. It cures spiritual ills. It changes things. It changes God. It brings benefits that would not otherwise be received. One's doctrine of "prayer" can be a litmus test for how he treats God and His Word. That doctrine demonstrates one's respect for the Word of God and its literal interpretation. Taking "prayer" promises from other Dispensations marks disrespect for God and His Word. Grace believers have a far better relationship to God in Christ Jesus than any individual in any Dispensation. Too many "prayer" promises taken from the Old Testament and from Kingdom revelation deprive the true Christian of the blessings of grace communication with God and of the grace Christian life. The result is a "sanctified" imagination with no basis on grace revelation for the Church of Jesus Christ. Bad doctrine produces delusional Christian behavior. Faulty premises manufacture a fantasy "prayer life."
Many have questions about "prayer." Yet few approach the subject as it is presented in grace revelation for Christians. Philip Yancy introduces his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? with the following paragraph.
Prayer is to the skeptic a delusion, a waste of time. To the believer it represents perhaps the most important use of time. As a Christian, I believe the latter. Why, then, is prayer so problematic? The British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the confusion: "Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are a part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity we call prayer."1 Yancy further asks his own questions and common questions concerning prayer in the next paragraph.
I write about prayer as a pilgrim, not an expert. I have the same questions that occur to almost everyone at some point. Is God listening? Why should God care about me? If God knows everything, what's the point of prayer? Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent, even capricious? Does a person with many praying friends stand a better chance of physical healing than one who also has cancer but with only a few people praying for her? Why does God sometimes seem close and sometimes faraway? Does prayer change God of change me?2
The purpose of this segment of this seminar is to review the general subject of communication with God for the believer. One of my goals is to provide some information concerning how to research the subject and how to systematize it. It is only through careful personal study that one can make this subject his or her own. This is necessary for intuitive knowledge. Faulty intuitive knowledge will always lead faulty practice. Good and accurate intuitive knowledge doesn't guarantee experiential knowledge. Communication only works in God's way when one is emanating the things of the Spirit and manifesting the character of Christ. It is on this basis that the Father hears and responds to the communication of the saint from the Right Hand. It is important to recognize that God doesn't "hear" our communication unless we a in a right relationship to Him. Grace communication is very much a part of the spiritual believer's fellowship with God.
INTRODUCTION One of the greatest privileges for grace believers is personal communication with God. Sad to say the revelation of Scripture concerning communication with God is one of the most abused by professing Christians in the New Testament. Concepts of "prayer" swing from nonsensical chatter toward God on one extreme to a form of idolatry that makes "prayer" more powerful than God. A doctrine that should be supremely practical has been made confusing by human teaching by which preachers and teachers establish premises for prayer. They go anywhere in the Bible to find a verse to support their presuppositions. There are major areas of ongoing confusion concerning the subject that have simple, forthright answers in grace revelation. Jesus Himself, in the Upper Room, provided pre-crucifixion revelation of post-ascension practice for the Church as it was established with the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
A. The Ongoing Confusion Concerning "Prayer."
There are six major areas of confusion concerning "prayer" and its practice by the Christian.
1. Concerning What It Is. This involves the matter of how one "prays." Doe God hear one's "prayer" any better if it is peppered with "Thee" and "Thou?" Is there a sacred language that one must use to address God? Does it take years of maturing in order to communicate with God in a proper way? Is it the simple, normal communication of a saint with his or her God as in normal conversation?
2. Concerning Sources of Revelation. Where does a Christian find revelation of divine expectations and provisions for prayer in the Dispensation of Grace? Is it proper to take prayer promises from other Dispensations? If God doesn't change, why are communication promises so different in each dispensation? Prayer promises change even more than dietary instructions from dispensation to dispensation.
3. Concerning Its Purpose. A common teaching in evangelical Christendom is that communication with God is asking and receiving. This position completely counters the clear revelation of the Christian's unique privileges provided by the grace of God. Is communication with God designed to permit Christians to change the course of the universe? In reality that is a logical conclusion that comes from some "prayer" teaching.
4. Concerning How It Is Done. This involves matter of position in prayer, place of prayer, presentation of prayer and proper petitioner in prayer. Does a believer need a "prayer closet?" Do we need two or three believers to be gathered in order for God to hear us? Is it true that the more people who pray the more likely God is to give us the answer we want? Is it necessary to use the "in Jesus name" formula in order to be heard by God? Does prayer communicated with physical action (as raising hands) more audible to God?
5. Concerning When It Is Done. Is Sunday at church the best time for the believer to "pray?" Are believer's prayers better heard in "prayer meeting?" Is "prayer" only a divine provision ready in case of emergencies? Is prayer a major antidote for crises? Is grace communication rather an ongoing conversation with God during the spiritual believer's waking hours?
6. Concerning What Is Expected. Is "prayer" provided to force God to pay attention to His children? Is it designed as a mechanism for Christians to get something from God? Is importunity necessary to get what one wants from God? Can "prayer" change the plan and order of God? Does every "prayer" get an answer? Will the answer be one of three: "yes, no or wait awhile?" Does God hear every "prayer" a Christian "prays?" Does God hear the communication of a carnal believer?
7. Concerning the Person of the Godhead Addressed. Many Christians address their communication to "Jesus" or the Second Person of the Godhead. It is very clear that most NT revelation concerning communication is addressed to the Father through the Son. There is a problem concerning the use of "thanks" toward the Son in 1 Tim. 1:12 where it appears to be very forthright. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry. Notice the Greek text which should literally be translated "I have grace (or favor) from the One empowering me, our Lord Jesus Christ, because He counted me faithful . . . ." Ca,rin e;cw tw/| evndunamw,santi, me Cristw/| VIhsou/ tw/| kuri,w| h`mw/n( o[ti pisto,n me h`gh,sato qe,menoj eivj diakoni,an.
The questions can go on and on. This is very much a short list of questions that illustrates the ongoing confusion in Christendom concerning grace communication with God. Beyond these questions are the apparent contradictions in revelation of "prayer" doctrine.
B. The Characteristics of the Approaches to Communication with God for the Christian. Many books and articles have been written about "prayer." The approaches vary. Far more are subjective rather than objective documents. I believe that several approaches dominate "prayer" literature. Many have the premise that praying will make a Christian spiritual. This view reverses the provisions of grace in revelation for the Church of Jesus Christ. Communication with God is provided for a spiritual believer to share objective information with God. The only form of communication with God that can be made (and heard) to God from a carnal believer is confession which is but a part of what is necessary for him or her to become spiritual. The following is a list of literary and teaching approaches to communication with God.
1. Devotional Approach. The devotional approach attempts to stimulate spirituality by "prayer." This is typical of the Roman Church and its approaches. Devotion is manifested by one's "prayers." Points are made with God. How many "Hail, Marys" does it take to get into heaven? Prayer is made a work for earning salvation. These writings are designed to appeal to the unsaved soul. They encourage feelings of penitence, unworthiness, joy and human merit. Throughout Christendom this approach is based on one's recognition of personal guilt and failure. Many find solace in written "prayers" as a mechanism for earning merit in some way.
2. Anecdotal Approach. These are stories of how "prayer" accomplished certain results and changed lives. Prayer becomes a spiritual medicine for healing human needs. Illustrations often become the structure rather than Scripture. "I prayed and this happened to me and if your pray, it will happen to you." Often there is no biblical foundation for these stories. God just doesn't do some of these things in response to "prayer."
3. Pick and Choose or the Buffet Approach. This approach attempts to develop a doctrine for Christian practice from the whole Bible. There are substantial contradictions in communication with God from one dispensation to another so it is necessary to pick and choose the concept or the story that fits one's theology of "prayer." The result is that "prayer" teaching is doctrine for Christian practice (didach,) from any part of the Bible whether or not it is written for Christians.
4. Distinctive Approach. The distinctive approach can be seen in two areas.
a. Loose Doctrinal. This approach takes words for communication with God and attempts to develop some kind of theology for "prayer." This approach often violates an essential rule for Bible interpretation: Similarity is not identity. This occurs in comparing NT Greek words with OT Hebrew words. Some appear to be similar or identical yet careful study will show significant differences between the OT and NT concepts. Law communication and Kingdom communication in the Gospels are often seen as sharing identical concepts with grace revelation. Jesus Christ was offering the Kingdom while living under Law. Communication with the earthly present Christ was definitely different though illustrative of the meanings of some of the words used in the NT.
b. Specific Doctrinal. Revelation concerning communication addressed to the Church is primarily found from Jn. 13 through Rev. 3. The specific doctrine of Christian communication with God is derived from this specific part of divine revelation. It is doctrine for Christian practice (didach,). Deductive study finds eight Greek roots that describe a believer's communication with God in these passages. The goal of these sessions is to help Christians know how to study the text and systematize (or check systematization) of these awesome truths for our Christian practice.
A literal approach to "prayer" discovers a wealth of teaching that is clearly for Christian practice. It prevents one's taking "prayer" truth from groups of people that never were nor will they be Christians. We seek to objectively discover what God has provided for us as Christians for our communication with Him. This is a supremely blessed subject when taken literally. It frees the saint from the contradictions and confusion resulting from misapplying revelation addressed to other groups of believers.
C. The Contradictions Concerning "Prayer." When a non-literal approach is made to the Bible, there are a multitude of conflicting teachings (some of which are antipodal) that result. What happens is that those who abuse the literal meaning and the literal recipients of the "prayer" teachings pick and choose to organize their theology of "prayer." Mail theft of revelation addressed to different people at a different time in the Bible always produces error and faulty practice. This directly will affect one's view of God and his or her relationship to God.
1. Kneeling or Any Position?
2. Temple or Any Place?
3. Closet or Any Place?
4. Ask and Receive or Ongoing Communication?
5. Harass God Over and Over or Ask Once?
6. More Than One Believer or the Individual Believer?
7. Yes, No or Wait a While or According to His Will?
8. Toward Temple in Jerusalem or Any Direction? D. The Change in Reasons for Communication in the Dispensation of Grace. Grace believers have a relationship with God that has never existed in the universe. Great OT saints lived with provisions of God's grace that were not close to the provisions of grace for the simplest and weakest Christian living in the Dispensation of Grace. Heavenly citizens have heavenly privileges that did exist in the Old Testament.
1. The Christian Is a Believer-Priest with Direct Access to God in the Third Heaven. A statement I have used for many years in teaching, preaching and writing is "The Church doesn't have a priesthood, it is a priesthood." On the other hand, though Israel was offered the possibility of becoming a priesthood in Ex. 19:4-6, they wanted to work for God's favor rather than simply believer His covenant with Abraham in Gen. 15. Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel (Ex. 19:4-6). Because of her presumption at Sinai, Israel did not become a priesthood but rather had a priesthood which was 1/13th of the tribes.
The Christian immediately becomes a priest at the moment of his or her salvation. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house into an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pe. 2:5). Every Christian shares in the provisions of grace mentioned in 1 Pe. 2:9. But ye are a chosen [elect] generation, a royal [or kingly] priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar [uniquely possessed] people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Rev. 1:6 further indicates that each grace believer is a priest. And hath made us kings and priests [lit. a kingdom of priests] unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
With this priestly privilege comes provision for priestly communication with God. A good example of this is the offering of the sacrifice of praise. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks [lit. confessing his name] to his name (Heb. 13:15).
2. The Christian Has a Single Mind in Relation to God by Grace Provisions. Grace communication is an element of present tense salvation by which the saint focuses his or her frame of mind on the positional provisions of grace in the Third Heaven. Reflective thinking has a direct tie to one's mental attitude in communicating with God. If [Since] ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.Set your affection [frame of mind or reflective thinking] on things above, not on things on the earth.For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-3). When one's mind is where it should be, it is easy to understand that one's communication to the Father is heard from His right hand rather than from earth.
3. The Christian Can Cast His or Her Care on the Father – 1 Pe. 5:7. It is through grace communication that a believer can cast or throw care on the Father as mentioned in 1 Pe. 5:7. Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. The word "care" can be translated "anxiety." My translation of this verse is "Be humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, in order that he may exalt you (pl.) in a proper time. While casting all of your anxiety on Him, because It matters to Him concerning you (1 Pe. 5:6, 7)." Notice that all of these are second person plural forms which include all believers who read this letter. This is how the believer handles the imperative of Phil. 4:6, 7. Be careful [lit. be anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Notice the relationship of communication to removing anxiety and casting it upon the Father.
4. The Christian Can Directly Confess His Sins to the Father – 1 Jn. 1:9. Confession is essential to having fellowship with God the Father. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Confession is the agreement with God concerning acts of sin by saying the same thing God does about sins calling the action sin. Confession sets the stage for the Christian to determine to set his or her reflective thinking on his or her position in Christ at the right hand of the Father and so to get out of the way so that the Holy Spirit can fill him or her permitting the person to be spiritual. Confession is not asking for forgiveness as is popularly preached. The verse says that if a believer confesses an act of sin, the Father will forgive.
5. The Christian Can Communicate from a Preoccupation with God – 1 Cor. 1:31. An understanding of the provisions of grace involving all three Persons of the Godhead should preoccupy the believer's thinking with God. The Father receives the credit. There is a direct link with the believer's position in Christ in 1:30. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:30, 31). The word translated "glory" is actually the word "boast." Paul generally cites Jer. 9:23 in verse 31. When the Christian's mind is preoccupied with God, communication with the God in which he or she boasts is received by as the willing recipient of all communication.
6. The Christian Can See the Relationship of Each Person of the Godhead in Communication with God. A whole paper could be written of the specific roles of the Persons of the Godhead in the communication process of the believer. God the Father is the focus of most communication. Confession, worship, praise, thanksgiving, asking, intercession, supplication and a vow are all primarily focuses on the Father. "Asking" communication provides a pattern in that the Holy Spirit works in the heart of the saint so that the believer can communicate in the character of the Son. The will of God the Son is central in the provision of the thing asked. The Son shares the asking with the Father and they in turn accomplish the thing asked. Jesus Christ is our High Priest who is the agent by which our communication is made to the Father from the Father's right hand.
7. The Christian Can Share in the Outworking of the Divine Decree through His or Her Communication with God. All communication with God is framed in the divine plan of our omniscient and omnipotent God. What great blessings exist in our participation in God's outworking of the decree! We are not parties to changing the plan of God for if we could do so through "prayer," our "prayers" would be greater than an infinite God and we would have a kind of control over the whole Godhead. This position perfectly conforms to the definition of blasphemy. "Prayer changes things" makes God a servant of prayer in relation to His creation (at least on earth).
The first thing that must be considered is the whole picture concerning grace communication as it is revealed in the NT.