Bruce Hills, WOI Leadership Development Director, confidently makes this bold declaration: God answers prayer!
One of the foundational reasons why we should pray the scriptures is because God has revealed himself as the prayer-answering God (Psalm 91:15).
Now, he doesn’t always answer in the way we may expect or desire. God has eternal plans and purposes that transcend human understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9). The shape and timing of answered prayer depends entirely on the purposes, prerogative and providence of God.
In the scriptures there are a number of verses suggesting that some answers to prayer are assured. In each case, however, there are very clear conditions mentioned that govern answers to prayer. In investigating particular conditions necessary for answers to prayer and the relationship to praying the scriptures, four main references stand out.
The first condition to answered prayer is located in the wonderful promise written by the apostle John in 1 John 5:14-15 that ‘if (and it is a big ‘if’) …we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.’ In this context, answers to prayer are contingent on them being aligned to God’s will.
One of the profound mysteries of prayer is summed up in the question, ‘How do I know what I am praying is the will of God?’
God’s will and God’s ways are recorded in his word; that is, the scriptures prescribe the way the Lord wants us to live and how he wants things done. If our prayers are based on the clear teaching of a scripture, it is more likely to conform to God’s will.
As someone has well said, ‘All true prayer is an adaptation of the one prayer: “Your will be done”.’ Therefore praying the scriptures is a way of aligning our prayers with the will of God.
This second condition to answered prayer is found in Jesus’ teaching that (John 15:7) ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you’ (cf. 1 John 3:24).
Employing the allegory of vine, branches and fruitfulness, Jesus said that we would receive answers to prayer if we…
- Live reliant on the indwelling life of Jesus in the same way as a branch draws nutrition from a vine
- Obey, apply and feed on the teachings of Jesus.
Using scripture as a basis for our prayers is one of the ways in which Jesus’ words become part of us. If we ‘live in him and his words live in us’ we can have the confidence that our prayers will be listened to and acted on.
A third condition is found in another place in John’s first epistle where he wrote that (3:22) ‘…we receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him…’
John states that two things will bring confident answers to prayer:
- Obeying God’s commands, which, in context, are not just his commands in general but the specific ones to believe in Jesus and to love other Christians (v. 23)
- Our motivation in obeying these commands is to please the Lord.
Phrased differently, if the inner drive of our life is to honour and glorify God by following Jesus and loving his people, we are positioning ourselves for answered prayer.
Mark 11:24 tells of Jesus standing before the fig tree that had been cursed and addressing his astonished disciples by saying, ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’
A fourth condition for answered prayer is ‘faith.’ To understand the pathology of the nature of faith described here, we must trace back to the teaching found in the previous verses.
In verses 22-23 Jesus told his disciples that:
- The object of their faith – the person they were to put their faith in – must be God alone (v. 22 ‘Have faith in God’). As we have previously seen, faith is a response to the revelation of God in Christ and the scriptures.
- Faith must be verbalised (v. 23 ‘…if anyone says to this mountain…’). Faith is not just evidenced by what we believe in our hearts but also by what we say!
- Importantly, Jesus added that any inner doubt or unbelief must be subdued and silenced (v. 23 ‘…and does not doubt in his heart but believes…’)
- Faith must be vocalised through prayer (v. 24 ‘…whatever you ask for in prayer…). Prayer is a primary way we express our faith in God.
- Faith must be filled with an anticipation of imminent divine answers (v. 24 ‘…believe that you have received it…’)
- The combination of faith-filled prayer expressing faith-filled words from a faith-filled heart will see the result: (v. 24) ‘…it will be done for him.’
We must see this verse in light of all the other scriptures which teach on prayer. Obviously not all prayer has this absolute certainty of answers.
Some prayer is asking, petition, seeking, knocking or desiring. Many times we just don’t know what the answer or outcome will be because we surrender our prayers to the sovereign will of God. This is where praying the scriptures comes into the equation. Prayer saturated in scripture is more likely to produce authentic faith which fills us with a hope-filled expectation of answers.
Bruce Hills is International Leadership Development Director, World Outreach International, a non-denominational missions’ agency whose mission is to ‘impact least-reached people groups with the good news of Jesus Christ.’ Operating in over 85 countries, WOI is at the forefront of engagement in frontier missions. Links: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.world-outreach.com