The Doctrine of Prayer
Tim Temple

Introduction

We cannot begin to exhaust all that the Bible has to say about prayer at this time, but we want to have a general overview and introduction to the doctrine of prayer. Maybe you have heard the story of the two Christians from different towns who ran into each other at a convention and as they were talking about their respective churches, one said to the other, “What night do you have prayer meeting at your church?” The other fellow said, “Actually, we stopped having prayer meeting at our church.” The other one said, “What does the congregation think about that?” The first guy said, “They don't know it yet.” That really is a telling little story. I think I made the comment recently that if we were to stop having prayer meeting at our church, some of the people who would be the most vocal in their opposition to that would be people who never come to prayer meeting. My point is I am afraid that, in terms of practice, there are many Christians who really don't put very much stock in prayer. Certainly you don't have to be in prayer meeting to pray. I don't mean that at all, but I am afraid that prayer is something that is not a very important part of the lives of many Christians. It is important for us to recognize that prayer is a very valid part of the Christian life.

There are those who call themselves Christians who really don't believe in the validity of prayer at all. An Episcopal bishop said in an interview with the Associated Press a few years ago, “No, I do not believe that God answers prayer in the sense of granting special favors to particular people.” Another supposedly Christian leader, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, said, “I do not believe that the religion of tomorrow will have any more place for prayer than it will have for any other form of magic.” Those are men who claim to be Christians. Granted those are extreme statements, but there are many Christians who, although they would never make statements like that, really don't believe in the validity of prayer either if practice is any evidence of belief. Among Christians today, there is a lot of talk about prayer, but I am afraid there is not nearly as much practice as there is talk.

One reason may be confusion about what prayer really is or ignorance of what the Bible has to say about this doctrine, so it is very important in a series of studies of basic Bible doctrines to look at this particular subject of prayer. We want to think about three things. First, the definition of prayer; second, the demands for prayer, and by that we mean the reasons for prayer; then the dividends of prayer, the results of prayer.>

Open your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 6, verses 5-13. In these verses we have Jesus' own teaching about prayer, not only the teaching He did, but a very specific series of statements about prayer. Notice as we read beginning in verse 5:

Matthew 6:

5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11Give us this day our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The Definition of Prayer

Let's think about the definition of prayer although a definition of prayer might seem unnecessary. We all know what prayer is, but it is obvious that prayer is sometimes not used properly. Jesus tells several ways in which improper prayer can be made, so I want us to think about what prayer is not from Jesus' statements here in Matthew, chapter 6. These are some things God does not intend prayer to be.

First, prayer is not to convey information or to give exhortation to others. Look at verse 5 once again:

Matthew 6:

5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

What is the purpose of their prayer? It is to communicate information about themselves. “Look at me. Look what a godly person I am.” Prayer is not to convey information about myself or about some little piece of gossip that I really wouldn't have the gall to share with somebody just out front, but just to insert a piece of gossip into prayer is not legitimate prayer. Jesus said, “Do not pray so that people will get a glimpse of you or get some information about you or about anything else. Prayer is not for the purpose of conveying information to other people.

Then in verse 7, prayer is not just a formula to solve some unexpected problem or to mark some special occasion. Notice verse 7 again:

Matthew 6:

7But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Notice the phrase, vain repetitions. That is not a reference to praying about something over and over again. Sometimes people have taken that to mean that we shouldn't repeatedly pray about things, but vain repetitions is actually the idea of empty words, meaningless words. In Matthew, chapter 26, verses 39-44, we have Jesus praying in the garden just before His death, and we read that He prayed the same prayer three times almost word for word. It records the text of the prayer and it is three separate prayers, even though it was during one particular period of prayer. So vain repetition is not saying that we shouldn't repeat a prayer.

In fact, Jesus taught in Luke, chapter 18, that men should pray continuously, and in Thessalonians we read that we should pray without ceasing, so vain repetition is not the idea of repeated prayer, but the idea of praying without any real thought to the meaning. For example, in the Catholic Church, there is the practice of counting the Rosary and using prayer beads. Each bead that is counted stands for a certain prayer. It is a shorthand kind of prayer. That doesn't mean anything to God because there is not any real attention to communicating with God. But you know Protestants make that same kind of error. How many times do we pray on a particular occasion and we are not really interested in the content of the prayer. It is just what we do before we eat or at the beginning of some kind of meeting.

I am a member of a service club here in town and it is interesting to me, and I don't know how much longer it will continue, but every meeting begins with a prayer and some of the most godless men in town are in that club. Some very fine men are in that club, too, but so much of the time, prayer is just a formality. It doesn't really have any purpose except it is just what we do at that particular time. This is possible even within our own families. If you think about the prayer you give at mealtime, many of us would find that we pray the same prayer every meal. That in itself is not bad if we really are thinking about what we are saying as we are praying and if we really are communicating to the Lord, but it is very easy to just get into a little ritual prayer that we rattle off at the time of meals or as we go to bed at night, particularly as we teach our children, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and that kind of thing. It is really easy to get into vain repetition—any kind of prayer that can just be recited without giving any thought to the meaning of it. We need to be careful about that.

As I say, there is nothing wrong with using the same basic pattern in our prayers, though we do need to be on the alert that it doesn't become vain repetition just because we tend to say it the same way every time we pray. Vain repetition is just a mindless mouthing of words. Those are some of the things that prayer is not, some of the things that Jesus told us not to allow our prayers to become.

Now let's think about some things that prayer is. Turn with me to Psalm 55, verses 16-17, and notice:

Psalms 55:

16As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me.
17Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.

Then with that verse in mind, turn over to I Kings, chapter 8. This is the prayer of dedication that Solomon prayed when he dedicated the temple that he built. They had this huge ceremony and Solomon prayed this prayer of dedication. We won't take the time to look at the whole thing although the whole thing is very interesting and educational, but down in verse 28, he said:

I Kings 8:

28Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee to day:

Let's think about these two verses. They are just two isolated verses in Scripture, but I think they communicate very clearly what prayer is. If we consider these two verses together, we can say that the definition of prayer is simply a direct address of and communication with God. That is what prayer is. You see, genuine prayer has to do with our intention. Any other intention than of communicating with God is not legitimate prayer. If we are praying so that people will notice how eloquent we are, if we are praying so that people will notice that we have our head bowed, if we are praying to make an impression physically or mentally, that is not legitimate prayer. Prayer is communication with God.

I think if we would realize that prayer is a direct contact with the God of the universe and if we would remind ourselves of that more often, it would probably make a real difference in the way we pray. It is such a privilege to pray and most of us take advantage of it so often that it is easy to forget about what a supernatural thing this is that we finite human beings have the privilege of coming directly into the presence of God. You can't talk to the governor of this state without going through a great deal of red tape. You can't even talk with the mayor of this city without going through a great deal of red tape unless you happen to run into him on the street. You certainly can't talk to the President of the United States and yet, we can talk anytime we want to the God of the universe. I am afraid that too often we take that for granted, and we don't stop to analyze what a fantastic thing that is. Prayer is communication with God Himself. That is the definition of prayer. The definition of prayer is a direct address of and communication with God.

The Demands for Prayer

The second thing we want to think about is the demands for prayer. Why should we pray anyway? What are the reasons for prayer? The subject of prayer is full of philosophical questions and if we let our minds go in that direction, we can ask a lot of questions that would seem to nullify prayer. For example, if God knows everything, then why do we need to tell Him anything? If someone is sick or if someone is in financial need or someone has a decision to make, doesn't God know that already? If I have a problem in my life, why should I pray about it? God is omniscient. He knows that already. Those are good questions, aren't they? But we can communicate with God without really having to give Him any new information.

One of the ways to think about prayer and often a good parallel is how we communicate with our children and how they communicate with us. God often styles Himself as a Father, as you know, and sometimes it helps in our relationship with God and understanding our relationship to God to think about our relationship with our children. God often uses that parallel. How many times do we have a conversation with our children and they tell us something that we already know or they ask us about a decision that we have already made up our minds about what we are going to do, and yet we wouldn't want them to stop communicating with us, would we? We wouldn't say, “Unless you tell me something that I don't already know, then there is no point in talking to me.” When they get to a certain point in life, we discover in most teenagers that there are a great many things that they might tell us that we don't already know, but basically, in a general sense, it is a mistake to think that there is no reason to communicate with God unless we can tell Him something that He doesn't already know. That nullifies prayer altogether.

We have to look at communicating with God differently than communication with any other being. On the one hand, it helps us to think about God in terms of looking at our communication with other people; on the other hand, we have to be careful that we don't limit our concept of prayer to our concept of communicating with any other creature because communication with God is a tremendous privilege, but it is different than any other kind of communication.

Going back to Matthew, chapter 6, notice verse 8. The last part of the verse says:

Matthew 6:

8…for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Then skip down to verse 32 where we see a very similar statement in the last part of the verse:

Matthew 6:

32…for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

You see, God already knows what we need, so prayer is not just a matter of telling God something that He doesn't know, and the fact that He does know everything should never stand in the way of our communicating with Him. We have other reasons for prayer than just informing God of something, and I really believe that sometimes people don't pray about things because they think that God already knows that, so why tell Him anyway?

Another reason for prayer that sometimes a philosophical question arises about is, if God is never changing, then why should we ask Him to do anything? Can we change God's mind by means of prayer? James, chapter 1, verse 17, speaks about the matter of God's unchangeableness. Notice as we read:

James 1:

17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

Prayer for the Believer's Encouragement

We can't change God's mind by means of prayer, and we can't talk Him into taking some course of action that He wouldn't otherwise have taken, so people think that if they can't tell God anything that He doesn't already know and if they can't change His mind about something they want Him to do, then why pray? Prayer is not for God's information or for God's direction, but rather prayer is for the believer's encouragement. We have to remember why God allows us prayer. Does He need our information? No, He doesn't need our input. With children, sometimes there are things that we need to know from them that we don't already know, but that is never the case with our Heavenly Father. He knows everything that He needs to know about us and a lot more than we know about ourselves, so prayer is not for God's benefit. Prayer is for our benefit. Prayer is for our encouragement. Let's look at some passages of Scripture that tell us this. First, in this passage that we just looked at in James, we talked about from the standpoint of God's unchanging, but notice in verse 16, He says:

James 1:

17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

We focused on the last part of verse 17, but think now about the first part of it. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights…” When we ask for anything from God, we need to remember that God is the giver of everything. When we have a need, we can come to Him because He is the giving God. James has several things to say about prayer in his letter and he says earlier in verse 5:

James 1:

5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Literally the translation from the Greek could be: “Let him ask the giving God…” So prayer is for our benefit. It is to bring us to God. Sometimes He says no. We will talk about that in a minute, but even though He may not give it to us, it certainly is an encouragement to us to know that we can bring to Him our desires and our needs, and it encourages us to know that we can talk to Him about those things. Actually, prayer is a matter of acknowledging the sovereignty of God. When we come to Him in prayer, we acknowledge that He is the One Who can meet our needs, solve our problems, and give us what we need. So prayer is just a matter of reminding ourselves of that and acknowledging to God that we know that He is the giver of every good and perfect gift, that He is the Sovereign of the universe.

There is a very familiar passage in Matthew, chapter 7, beginning with verse 7, where we read:

Matthew 7:

7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
9Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
10Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
11If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Here is one of those places where He draws the correlation between us and our children and God as our Father and we as His children, and notice that verse 11 specifically says that God knows how to give good gifts. If we being evil—that is, we who have a sin nature, we who are not perfect—know how to give gifts to our children, and we know that we all desire the best for our children and we are concerned about their needs, how much more is our perfect Heavenly Father interested in our needs. He knows how to give good gifts to us.

As we saw in Matthew, chapter 6, several places He said that God knows what we need before we even ask Him, but at the same time, chapter 7, verse 7, specifically teaches us to ask. Look at that again, as we read:

Matthew 7:

7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

That is a command. That is a direct statement from God. “Ask and it shall be given you.” So the fact that He already knows should never keep us from coming to Him in prayer. The point is that God knows our needs and He wants to meet our needs. He acts toward us in love, but sometimes He waits to meet our needs until we ask Him. There are many things that He does do for us without our asking. He causes the sun to come up and He causes the earth to keep rotating and the seasons changing. He keeps the oxygen content in the atmosphere around us just what it needs to be and there are a great many things God does for us every day that we never give any thought to and we never ask Him about. But there are some things that He does not do for us until we ask.

The broadest example of that is our salvation. Why do people get saved? Do we get saved because we beg God to save us? Does someone else get saved because we beg God to save them? No. We don't get saved because we ask God to do it; God saves people because Jesus Christ paid for their sins. But that payment is not applied to our hearts until we ask, until we express to Him our faith in Jesus Christ. The payment has been made. God desires that no one should perish, but until one comes to repentance, God does not grant that salvation. He has done everything that is necessary for salvation. He desires that we have it, but He waits until we ask before He gives it to us. That is the broadest possible example. There are other things that God does not give until we ask. James says, “If you lack wisdom, ask of God.” Sometimes God gives wisdom without our asking and in a general sense He gives wisdom, but there are times when God is waiting for us to ask before He gives that wisdom.

James says in chapter 4, verse 2:

James 4:

2…ye have not, because ye ask not.

In fact, James, chapter 4, verse 1, is a very good description of this day in which we live. He says:

James 4:

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
2Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Our tendency as human beings is just to go out and meet our own needs, to do whatever it takes to get what we want whether that is physical or mental or emotional or whatever it is, and yet, James says, “You have not because you ask not.” So you see, prayer is for our benefit; it is not for God's benefit. God already knows what He is going to do, but He arranges things in such a way that we need to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is for our encouragement and to bring us to the place of our acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God and of our need of His work in our lives.

Peace in the Midst of Problems

Basically, we have already seen two reasons for prayer. One is to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and another is to acknowledge our readiness to see Him work. He is waiting until we acknowledge our readiness. There is a third demand of prayer and that is to obtain the peace of God in the midst of trying circumstances. Turn to Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6-7. These are familiar verses if you have studied the Bible very much. We talk about them often here in this church:

Philippians 4:

6Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Notice again that He does not say that He will remove the problems if we pray about them. He does not say that in time of need if you pray about it, God will solve the problem. Sometimes He does right away. Sometimes He doesn't, but what He does say is that He will give us peace in the midst of the problem. There are two things I want to point out about verse 7. First, if we will pray about our problems, we will have the peace of God and that will work whether you think it will or not. So often I have used this promise in counseling and people will say, “You just don't understand my problem. You are just over-simplifying.” I like to point out to them, “Look , this says it passes all understanding. Whether you understand how it will work or not, it is a promise of God.”

Then notice also, it is the peace of God which will keep or guard you hearts and minds. In the Greek it is a word that could be translated garrison. “God will post a guard around your heart and your mind. He will post a sentry around our hearts and minds.” This is a wonderful promise and another reason for prayer. It does not have to do specifically with the solution to the problem, but it has to do with guarding us as we go through the problem. There are some problems that God deliberately brings into our lives and keeps in our lives for a period of time and He has a period of time in mind. In fact, we are warned not to try to squirm out from under the problems, but rather to remain under the testing so that God's purpose can be accomplished.

God doesn't meet our needs the moment we pray in some cases. Sometimes He does, but not always. There is a great deal of false teaching being done about that right now. In fact, next weekend in our city we are going to have a false teaching explosion and they have already been advertising. It is not God's will for everybody to be healthy every minute. It is not an indication of something wrong with you if you are sick and God doesn't heal you, and let me tell you something else since I have digressed already. You cannot be trained to heal somebody else. You do not receive the gift of healing by going to some kind of cockeyed seminar and being taught how to heal. That is blasphemous. That is totally unbiblical. Sometimes it is God's will for the problem to continue and He does not promise that He will always take it away, but He does promise that He will always give us peace in the midst of the problem. What better reason could we have for prayer?

Something else about these verses establishes that our posture and our location for prayer are really irrelevant. Sometimes we think that it is not really all that it ought to be unless we are on our knees or sometimes we think it is really not all that it ought to be unless we are in some quiet place. Now it is true that Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your closet,” but if you look at that verse in its context, you will see that what He is talking about is, “Don't pray publicly.” In the verse just above that He said, “Don't pray on the street corners so that people will see what you are doing. Don't pray to show off.” Then He says, “When you pray, pray to your Father in secret.” Some people have taken that to mean that unless you are in some kind of prayer closet, it doesn't do any good.

There is nothing wrong with praying in a prayer closet and I have a favorite place to pray at my home. When I am having my time of devotion, there is a certain place I go in my house to do that. That is all right, but it is not required. If we are going to pray about everything that we worry about, then we are going to pray in the car, we are going to pray in the shower, we are going to pray on the golf course, we are going to pray in the gym, we are going to pray anytime and we are not going to have time to go in the closet and kneel down. You look in the Scripture and you will find people lying prostrate on the floor to pray. You will find that they prayed standing with their hands raised and they prayed on their knees. They prayed with their face bowed down while they knelt down, and all of those things are fine. Any posture that you want to assume in prayer is perfectly all right, but don't think that you have to have that particular posture or be in a particular place before you can pray. Philippians, chapter 4, verse 7, is one of the best places that establishes that.

Basic Structure of Prayer

The Lord's Prayer in Matthew, chapter 6, demonstrates the basic structure of prayer, and as we conclude our study, let's look quickly at that. In this chapter the Lord taught His disciples how to pray and, as I have pointed out before, we erroneously call this The Lord's Prayer .” If anything it is The Disciples' Prayer. It is a model prayer. It is not a prayer to be chanted. The Lord's Prayer can become one of the greatest vain repetitions. I think that most of the time when The Lord's Prayer is prayed in public, it is a perfect example of a vain repetition. We just chant our way through it, without thinking about it at all.

Jesus never intended it to be used that way. He said, “Here is the way to pray. Here is an example of what our prayers ought to include.” In verse 9, we have adoration: “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” Then in verses 10-11, we have the petition section, the requests that are made. Then in verse 12, we have confession. Any good prayer ought to include confession of sin. Technically speaking, confession needs to come first because in this age in which the Holy Spirit indwells us, we can't be in fellowship with the Lord unless we have confessed our sins first. I don't think that Jesus had in mind that we should pray in this order. He was just giving a list of things that ought to be included in prayer. Really, the order of things ought to be confession of sin if we have any unconfessed sin and then adoration. If we have unconfessed sin in our heart, God doesn't hear whatever adoration we profess anyway. So the first thing that we need to do is to confess our sin and then profess our adoration. So many times a prayer only consists of a request. Prayer for so many of us just consists of petition. Petition has its place, but there is also a place for worship and adoration. Confession is a prerequisite if we haven't already confessed our sins.

If you like to think in terms of acronyms, you could think of a prayer as CAPS: confession, adoration, petition, then supplication, which would be prayers of a more general nature such as Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6-7—things that don't have to do with a specific request.

Dividends of Prayer

The last thing on the list is the dividends of prayer. There is really one response to prayer, one dividend to prayer and that is a response from God. God always answers prayer. Now listen carefully to what I am saying. I am not saying that God always gives us what we are asking for. A few years ago Dr. John R. Rice wrote a book called Prayer, Asking and Receiving . There are those who would say that it is a mistake to say that John R. Rice is mistaken, but I will tell you that is not a legitimate concept of prayer. God always answers prayer even when He says no. What would you think of a little brother and sister where the brother says to the sister, “Go in there and ask Mom if we can have some cookies.” The sister goes in and says, “Mom, can we have some cookies?” Mother says, “No, it is too close to supper. You can't have the cookies.” The sister comes back and the brother says, “What did Mom say?” The sister says, “She didn't answer me.” We are that way about our prayers sometimes. We ask God to do something and He doesn't do it and we assume He is saying no, or we can assume that He is at least telling us to wait. Yet so many times we say, “God didn't answer my prayer.” Listen, no is a legitimate answer from parents and from God. The dividend of prayer is that we always get a response. Sometimes that response is no. Sometimes it is to wait, but we always get a response from our prayers.

Responses of Prayer

There are four categories of response to prayer. First, there is the request granted. In Luke, 23, verses 42-43, the thief on the Cross said:

Luke 23:

42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

That is a perfect example of a prayer that was granted immediately. God said yes to that prayer, and sometimes God says yes to our prayer and He does it very quickly. That is a legitimate response to prayer. However, sometimes God says no. II Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 7-9, says:

II Corinthians 12:

7And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God did not say, “Go to a healing seminar.” God said, “No, I will not remove the thorn from your flesh, but My grace is sufficient for you.” Sometimes God says no, but even when He says no, two things are true. It is because He knows what is best for us and He gives us the grace to accept that answer. A very clear category of prayer is God sometimes says no. God sometimes closes doors. He sometimes lets someone else get that job that we were asking Him to give us. He sometimes does not supply that money that we are asking Him to send in. He sometimes does not let that loved one get well that we are asking Him to heal. God sometimes says no, and II Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 7-9, is an example of that.

Sometimes He says to wait. In Revelation, chapter 6, verses 9-11, a very obscure little passage that is part of John's vision of some martyrs who were under the altar in Heaven. It fascinates me. When I was a kid, I used to hear my dad and other Bible teachers talk about that, and I could picture all these guys crouching down under the communion table. Anyway, that is trivia, but they prayed in Revelation, chapter 6, and they said, “Lord, how long before our deaths are avenged?” They had died as martyrs during the Tribulation. God said, “Keep waiting. There are others who are going to have to be martyred, but eventually your deaths will be avenged.” In other words, “Eventually I am going to bring the Tribulation to an end and usher in the Kingdom.” God said, “Wait,” to those Tribulation martyrs in Revelation, chapter 6, verses 9-11, and God sometimes says that to us.

I think the rule of thumb is when God has not yet said no or closed the door, that is how you know God is saying to wait, and the rule of thumb is to keep on praying until God definitely says yes or definitely says no. As long as God hasn't done what we are asking Him to do or has not definitely done something else, then it is legitimate to keep on praying about it. When God is saying to wait, you keep on praying. You will know when the door is closed or you will know when the prayer is answered, but in the meantime, keep on praying.

This is kind of an obscure category, but I really think it is a specific category and that is that the request is granted in a way that we didn't expect or different than what we asked about. In Genesis, chapter 18, you remember the story of how God came to Abraham and He said, “I am going to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah.” Abraham's nephew, Lot, was in Sodom. He said, “Lord, if You find fifty righteous men, will You spare the city?” He kept bargaining with God. What did Abraham really want? He wanted Lot's life to be spared, didn't he, but he thought maybe God was too sophisticated for that, so he had to reason his way through it. He thought God would see through what he really wanted and he could kind of disguise his selfish requests to God and so he prayed this pious prayer about all the righteous men. All he wanted was for Lot's life to be spared. God said yes to that request, even though Abraham never really said it that way.

The lesson we can learn from that is, let's decide what we really want God to do and then just have the boldness to say, “God, will you spare Lot's life?” Much of the time we have this pious generalized prayer request, and we don't want God to really know what we want and we don't want other people to know how selfish we are, so we have this intricate request and God grants what we are asking, the real essence of what we need and what we want, but He doesn't really grant the thing that we prayed about. So sometimes the request is granted in disguise and that is really just an example of God's grace. He goes ahead and gives us what we really want even though that is not exactly what we prayed for.

Conclusion

These are the answers that God gives to prayer. The response from God is the dividend of prayer.


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