Prayer doctrinally and dispensationally considered
A study by Stuart Allen
In the following studies we intend to dwell upon practical truths which the Scripture indicates should be in the lives of all who love the
Lord and the high calling He has so graciously given us. We have the young believer specially in mind, and while some aspects of the truth presented may be elementary to those who are more advanced along the Christian pathway, we ask such to bear with us so that those who are younger in the faith may grow in grace and that we may all not only be rooted in Him (Eph. 3:17) but exhibit that fruit of the Spirit which is so well pleasing in His sight (Gal. 5:22).
To the believer who is going on to spiritual maturity, there can scarcely be a more important subject than that of prayer. Its importance can be gauged by considering the pattern given to us by the ascended Lord Jesus, viz. the great Apostle of the Gentiles and his ministry (1 Tim. 1:16)
Even a casual reading of Paul's epistles cannot fail to disclose the large place that prayer occupied in his life and witness. It is no overstatement of truth to say that these were literally steeped in prayer. No less than six times in his letters does the Apostle declare that he prayed "without ceasing". On the surface this appears to be an exaggeration. How could a man write such a passage as 2 Corinthians 11:21-31, describe his sufferings for Christ, his tremendous responsibilities, his untiring work, that could have left little time for what we call
leisure, yet declare that he never left off praying?
If we limit prayer to drawing aside in secret upon our knees, and pouring out our hearts to God, it is obvious that the Apostle could have had very little time so to do. But prayer, in its essence, is an attitude of the new nature and the renewed
mind to God. It is one that is constantly in touch with Him in fellowship and communion, and that in spite of all extern pressure of circumstances.
Paul could therefore declare in truth that his prayer life was continuous and uninterrupted, and those who follow him eves as he followed Christ, will ever desire to know in daily experience such a blessed spiritual condition.
In considering this vital subject, let us look at the words use (by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament that are translated
Deomai occurs 22 times and is rendered in the Authorizes Version "pray" 12 times, "beseech" 9 times and "make request" once.
Its root meaning is to be in want or need, and this expresses one of the basic conceptions of prayer, a consciousness, on the part of the believer, of his weakness and insufficiency, and a desire to come into living touch with the Almighty One Who declared "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18).
Euchomai, to wish strongly, occurs 8 times and is translated both "pray" and "wish". Its compound
proseuchomai is of more frequent occurrence, 87 times in all, 83 of which are translated "pray". Here prayer is the expression of a strong desire to the Lord, either personal or in respect of others.
Erotao to interrogate, to ask. Out of 58 occurrences in the 4 New Testament, fourteen times the word is rendered pray".
"It implies familiarity, if not equality; hence never used of our prayers to God, while it is used of Christ's prayer to the Father" (John 14:16; 16:26; 17:9,15,20). (Critical Lexicon and Concordance to N.T., E. W. Bullinger, D.D.)
It is the word that is consistently used in the Gospel of John which stresses the Lord's Deity.
Parakaleo, to call beside or near, in order that the person concerned may assist. The word is used 105 times in the New Testament. Among its usages three times it is rendered "entreat", six times "pray" and 43 times "beseech". Again the conception behind the word is one of need and the calling to out side of the Lord to help and strengthen. It comes over into our language as paraclete and is applied to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16 Comforter) and to the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1 Advocate).
To the foregoing Greek words must be added the word enteuxis-intercession. The word means a falling in with or coming together, and then to intercede, specially with relation to the needs of others. This is perhaps the highest conception of prayer, where self is relegated to the background and the welfare of others is put first and foremost.
In 1 Timothy 2:1 the Apostle says, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications
(deesis from deomai), prayers (proseuche from proseuchomai), intercessions
(enteuxis) and giving of thanks (eucharistia) be made for all men". This covers prayer in a wider sense and gives us an indication what our prayer life should he like, and the range it should cover.
At this juncture we may well pause to ask ourselves, What is the purpose behind prayer? Is it a means of extracting something from God that He would otherwise be unwilling to give? Or is it its effect upon us in some way?
As we survey the evangelical world, we find a multitude of conceptions existing among believers. Some talk of "prayer warfare". Are we justified in regarding prayer as an offensive weapon? The answer to these and all other spiritual problems is only found within the range of inspired Scripture. Ephesians six is the passage generally alluded to in
connection with this idea. Here we have a description of the "whole armour (panoply) of God" which is for the believer with a view to the "evil day" (Eph. 6:13). A careful reading will show that this armour is sixfold, five pieces being for the defensive, and only one offensive weapon and that is not prayer, but the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit. Prayer does not occur at all in the symbolism of the armour, but follows on in verse eighteen. We do not deny that the believer who has taken to himself the whole armour of God, will also use to the utmost the privilege of prayer, but this does not of necessity turn it into an offensive weapon. Rather is it more protective than offensive.
Let us consider what prayer does for the believer and we may then appreciate something more of its supreme importance in our daily lives. We may remind ourselves to begin with that there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. If we have waited upon the Lord for a certain thing, and in His wisdom it is not granted, the answer is "No", and "No" is as much an answer from Him as "Yes". Paul himself learnt this lesson. Three times he earnestly prayed and asked the Lord to remove his "thorn
in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:8). The Divine answer was "No" but the glorious experience of the added grace and strength imparted to him more than compensated for the negative answer
to his prayer. Wise are we if we can take the Lord's refusals without being offended, and have a complete trust in His
matchless wisdom and love for each one of us, a love that will not allow Him to grant us things that would be to our harm.
True prayer gives access to the Father
To appreciate this properly, we should put ourselves back into Old Testament times. Do we realize that, prior to the all-sufficient Offering on Calvary, no believer ever enjoyed access into God's
presence? Jehovah surrounded Himself with barriers of sacrifice and priest-hood to impress upon His people the fact that sin
eternally separates Himself from fallen man and until the One Offering for sin had been made and sin righteously put away,
there could be no possibility of access in the fullest sense to Himself. Let us consider the following verses:
"The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was
not yet made
manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing" (Heb. 9:8).
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19).
We may point out, in passing, that the right to enter into the holiest of all did not confer upon believers of the Acts period the tremendous privilege of dwelling there for ever. To enter there by prayer is one thing, but to be seated there in Christ Jesus, to have one's permanent homeland there, is quite another (Eph. 2:6; Phil. 3:20 R.V.). This is the exclusive privilege of the One Body and it is revealed in all its
fullness in the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians.
Every time we pray, we are able to draw near to God in a sense that no Old Testament saint was able to do, and this fact alone should remind us of the inestimable privilege that prayer confers upon us. It should prevent us from thoughtlessly rushing into the Lord's presence.
In praying we are coming into the audience chamber of the King of Kings, but lest this should daunt us, we remember that this glorious One is also our Saviour and our Head.
True prayer gives fellowship and communion with God
When believers speak of fellowship, they usually mean spiritual intercourse with one another, and this is a beautiful feature of the Christian life. The Apostle John, however, reminds us of a far more important aspect of fellowship: "Truly our fellowship
(koinonia) is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).
The Greek koinonia means something that is shared or one has in common with someone else, so leading to the thought of communion. Thus, in a wonderful way, prayer brings us into communion with our Heavenly Father and we have the joy of talking with Him at any and all times. God forbid that we should ever regard prayer as a Christian act to be engaged in only when we want something, but rather learn, in a practical way, what day by day fellowship with the Father means, its wonder, privilege and joy.
Just as breathing is the natural expression of physical life, so should prayer be the normal and continuous expression of our spiritual life.
True prayer puts God first, others second, and self last
In the prayer which our Lord taught His disciples, which is a model prayer for the subjects of the earthly kingdom, the Lord commences with: "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done..." Thus we have four references to God before we reach "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:9-11). Likewise the recorded prayers of the Apostle Paul abound with concern for others (see Rom. 1:9-12; 1 Cor. 1:4-7; Eph. 1:16-23; Phil. 1:4-11; Col. 1:3-6; 1 Thess. 1:2-4). These references not only make this clear, but also contain the element of thanksgiving which is most important. As long as we are conscious of the Lord's abiding goodness to each one of us, we are not likely to stray from the path of His revealed will. It was when Israel of old ceased to be thankful that they forgot God's
loving kindness and wonder-working on their behalf, and their heart turned back to Egypt (a type of the world) and its allurements.
It was also true of the nations at Babel. They knew God yet glorified Him not as God, neither were they thankful (Rom. 1:21), and thus started the terrible declension that the remainder
of this chapter reveals. A thankful mind is a great preservative against evil, and we are not ever likely to weary the Lord by a
including it continually in our prayers in a heartfelt manner.
True prayer rests upon and claims God's promises
It is a significant fact that all the outstanding characters in Scripture have been men and women who knew how to pray, and a careful study of their prayers will show that these are based upon the Word of God and the promises contained
We think of Elijah. James, in his epistle, brings forward Elijah as an example of effectual praying (5:17). He prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. He prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit (verses seventeen and eighteen). Now this was remarkable indeed, and on the surface it looked as though the prophet had some extraordinary power to accomplish this miracle. But
it should be remembered that this prayer was based upon the Word of God.
"And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently ants My commandments which I command you this day . . . that
I will give you the rain of your land in his due season . . . Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye
turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and then the Lord's wrath be kindled against you, and He
shut up the heaven that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit . . .' (Deut. 11:13-17).
Elijah, in a time of Israel's apostasy, was simply asking the Lord to carry out His Word, His written threats as well as
His promises, in order to bring back the sinful nation to repentance
Or let us take the case of David. After thanking God for al His gracious revelation of His purposes concerning himself hi says, "Therefore now, Lord, let the thing that Thou hast spoke concerning Thy servant and concerning his house be establishes for ever, and do as Thou hast said" (1 Chron. 17:23). God love to be reminded of the promises of His Word, which are ours
If our praying is to be effective, it must be likewise based upon the unchanging Word, but to this we must add the injunction of 2 Timothy 2:15. If we base our prayer upon Scripture or
promises relating to a calling other than that to which we belong, can we expect God to hear and answer? Most assuredly not in the affirmative, unless those promises are true for all time and all the callings of the redeemed. Right division is eminently practical in this respect as in every way. We must get to know our Divine calling before we can begin to pray properly. Many children of God are asking Him for all kinds of things pertaining to Scriptures that do not apply to them or which belong to another time period, and they are disappointed and frustrated because they have a silent heaven. Let us search our prayer life and make sure we are not perpetuating the same error.
True prayer watches and waits for the Lord's answer
The prophet Habakkuk not only prayed, but stood upon his watchtower to see what the Lord would say in reply (Hab. 2:1). The Lord Jesus not only exhorted His disciples to pray, but to watch as well as pray (Mark 13:35-37; Luke 21:36). In the last reference the word translated "watch" is
gregoreo, which literally means to be sleepless or to keep wide awake. Can it be that we sometimes pray to the Lord and then, as it were, go to sleep and forget? Did not many of the Pentecostal Church do this very thing? They were concerned that Peter had been imprisoned by Herod. "Peter was therefore kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him" (Acts 12:5). God was graciously pleased to answer this
prayer and release His servant, who thereupon came to the house of Mary the mother of John, where "many were gathered
together praying" (verse twelve), and knocked at the door of the gate. When the damsel Rhoda, who recognized Peter's voice,
ran to tell them, they said to her "thou art mad" (verse fifteen). "But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the
door, and saw him, they were astonished" (verse sixteen).
Now this was praying, but it was certainly not watching and praying, for when the answer came, they were unprepared for it. However, we have no stones to throw at these believers, for how many times in the experience of both the writer and reader has this not been repeated? May God keep us wide awake to recognize immediately His answers to our petitions.
"Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2).
True prayer has an intensity and earnestness behind it
We know little of Epaphras and his ministry, but of two things we can be certain; his keenness and practical love for the saints at Colosse and Laodicea (Col. 4:13), and his vital prayer life.
"Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God" (Col. 4:12).
"Labouring fervently" is a translation of the Greek word agonizo. While it would be going too far to translate this word "agonize" as some have done, it has in its composition the word
agon meaning "a race or contest", and it brings before our mind the fact that effective praying has behind it an intensity of effort compared to an athlete running a race. Does this characteristic truthfully describe our praying? An apathetic or spasmodic prayer life accomplishes nothing, and often we may be convicted of laxity in this respect.
True prayer is offered to God the Father in Christ's Name
In the New Testament prayer is always directed to God the Father (Eph. 3:14), offered in the name of the Lord Jesus (Eph. 3:21) and interpreted by the Holy
Spirit, (Rom. 8:26). How often have we heard in public, prayer finished with the phrase "for Christ's sake, Amen" and so rushed over as though it was of little importance and merely a formal or correct way of concluding. Do we realize that it is only because of the Lord Jesus Christ and His precious redemptive work that prayer is possible at all? If we do, then we shall be very conscious of this supreme fact as we pray and ask that all His fragrance should be cast over all our spiritual breathings to God.
True prayer is protective
The Lord Jesus, looking ahead to Peter's denial of Himself, says to him: "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed
for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke 22:31,32). Literally the words read, "I have prayed
(peri) around thee". Peter was, as it were, surrounded with a wall of protective prayer by the Lord and in spite of his weakness
and failure, his faith was preserved thereby. No wonder he was so soon to be smitten with remorse and turn back to Him, from his grievous fall, with true repentance.
The Lord uses the same expression in John 17:9,20. "I pray for (peri) them, I pray not for
(peri) the world" (verse nine). "Neither pray I for (peri) these alone, but also for
(peri) those who shall believe on Me through their word" (verse twenty).
Paul, in his concern for the Thessalonian and Colossian saints uses the same thought (2 Thess. 1:11; Col. 1:3). Do we uphold in
prayer those who are in special need in this way? It may be that distance separates such from us, but prayer can annihilate the
greatest distance and protect them from harm and danger.
True prayer makes doctrine real and experimental
In Ephesians 1:3-14 the Apostle Paul covers a tremendous sweep of doctrine, revealing the magnitude of the Father's will, the Son's redemptive work and the Holy Spirit's present witness. But this did not exhaust what he had to teach the Ephesian saints. Before he proceeds further, he begins to pray that the truth so far given may become real and experimental to each of his readers (verses 15-23). Every public Bible reading and every private reading of the Scriptures should send us to our knees and make us realize the increasing responsibility that every revelation of Truth brings, and the need that we should not only receive it as Truth (Eph. 1:17), but practically acknowledge it in our walk and witness day by day. Reading about our inheritance in Christ, is like viewing it afar off. Prayer brings it near and makes it our own possession.
"And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us" (1 John 5:14).
True prayer will conform to the will of God
On reaching this point, we have come to the center of the purpose of all prayer, that is, to bring each one of us into conformity to the Lord's will, whatever that may involve. Alas, so many of us journey such a long way along the road of Christian experience before we reach this point. When we can honestly and truthfully say we long for nothing so much as His will in our lives, whatever that may cost, and when our wills are completely submerged in His, we have progressed far towards the goal of spiritual maturity. We shall not reach this stage until
we know something of the deception, frailty and sinfulness of our own hearts, and, at the same time, the boundless love and infinite concern for our eternal happiness that exists in the heart of our Heavenly Father towards each one of us. Then, and not till then, can we say as the Saviour did, "Thy will, not mine, be done" (Luke 22:42).
CONDITIONS THAT GOVERN THE ANSWERING OF PRAYER
At this point it may be good to realize afresh from God's Word what are the conditions for obtaining affirmative answers to our prayers.
There must be an abandonment of all known sin in our lives
The Old Testament saints had to learn this lesson.
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps. 66:18).
"Bring no more vain oblations: incense is an abomination to Me . . . your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth . . . and when ye spread forth your hands
I will hide mine eye from you: yea, when ye make many prayers,
I will not
hear, your hands are full of blood" (Isa. 1:13-15).
"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save: neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you,
that He will not hear" (Isa. 59:1,2).
Both John and James, in their epistles, stress the same truth:
"Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments,
and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22).
"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
Members of the Body of Christ are warned against giving place to the Devil, thus grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:27,30), and causing prayer to be disregarded by God.
There must be a practical realization of the truth of Sanctification
The root meaning of sanctification is separation, with its twofold aspect of being separated
from the world and separated to the Lord, for the fulfillment of His will in daily service.
When the judgment upon the cities of the plain was impending, there were two believers who figure largely in the story. One was
inside the city of Sodom, namely Lot, and one was
outside the city, namely Abraham. Although Lot was vexed every day by the sin which surrounded him (2 Pet. 2:7) we have no record of any prayer on his part on behalf of Sodom, and finally we know that God had to drag him out that he might not be involved in its doom. He is a type of the believer who is not only
in the world but of the world and knows little of sanctification in practice. It was left to Abraham, the separated one, to intercede for these wicked cities (Gen. 18:16-33).
It is impossible for a believer who has too close a contact with a world which is under the domination of Satan (Eph. 2:2,3) to pray effectively. We must, in practice, be
outside the enemy's camp if we wish to accomplish anything for those who are still inside it.
There must be no self-motive in prayer
"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3).
The Greek word hedone translated "lust" is elsewhere rendered "pleasure" and is used in the parable of the Sower to describe those who fall among thorns and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life and bring no fruit to perfection (Luke 8:14). Sometimes it is a good thing to take stock of ourselves, searching our hearts and asking whether the things we constantly ask of God are for His glory, the blessing of others, or are they for the gratification of our desires? Is He and His service first and last, and self excluded?
We have before commented on this very prevalent source of denied petitions. If dispensational truth means anything at all it will have a
practical bearing upon every phase of our life including our praying. We must learn to pray
in harmony with our calling. It is not sufficient to quote any verse from the Bible and expect it to be a sufficient basis for the Lord to answer our requests. How many believers have claimed such promises as Matthew 21:22 "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive", only to reap disappointment which has staggered them! It is easy to explain the failure by reading into the promise conditions which are not there. The
answer to the problem is to be found, not in tampering with the Lord's words, but in rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Again, if instead of a slavish adherence to the "Lord's Prayer", the magnificent prayers of Ephesians one and three were used by God's people more frequently, would there not be a greater growth in grace and a deeper appreciation of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and also of His will?
There must be perseverance with our praying
The Apostle Paul exhorted the saints at Colosse to continue in prayer (4:2). The word here is
proskartereo. It occurs in Mark 3:9, "And He spake to His disciples, that a small ship should
wait on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him". Just as the purpose of this little ship was to be put at the Lord's disposal and wait for Him to use as He willed, so the believer, when he reaches the point in his spiritual growth where he earnestly longs for God's will, will likewise wait upon Him by continued prayer and watch for every indication of His hand to this end.
However, we must utter a word of warning. Persevering prayer to know our heavenly Father's will is one thing, but persistent praying that is outside His will may bring an answer that is terrible in the extreme. We think back on Israel's experience when, not satisfied with the gracious provision of the manna, "angel's food" as Scripture terms it, they longed for flesh such as they had in Egypt. The whole of Numbers chapter eleven should be studied in this connexion. Did God answer their prayer? Yes, indeed He did, but with dreadful consequences as the context indicates.
The Psalmist's comment is:
"They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul" (Ps. 106:14,15).
Here was a terrible answer, consequent upon their determination to get something that was outside the will of God. Let us ever remember that He is always more ready to answer than we are to pray, and that persevering prayer is necessary, not because He is aloof and unwilling, needing constant worrying that the answer may be wrung out of Him, but rather that the waiting time is for our spiritual growth, discipline and appreciation of
His goodness. Let us not interpret beseeching as though it were
besieging. Just as a wise and loving parent makes every provision for the needs of his child, yet he trains that child, to ask for these things and say "please", and "thank you" when they are granted. Likewise our Heavenly Father deals in His grace and lovingkindness with us and teaches the true reason for prayer, to realize our utter dependence upon Him for all things necessary to Christian life and service, and a desire to be filled with a knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Col. 1:9).
This lesson is not peculiar to the dispensation of the Mystery. Through the prophet Ezekiel God had made known His will to Israel and showed what He was willing to do for them in restoration and blessing (Ezek. 36:24-36). But, although this was true, the earthly people had to learn the lesson of prayer:
"I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them" (verse 37).
There are two opposing schools of thought among believers regarding prayer. One stresses the fact that God is sovereign and is working all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11) and that nothing can hinder the
fulfillment of His plans. To such, prayer cannot forward or retard His purposes and is likely to be under-valued. The other lays stress upon the responsibility of the believer and the fact that unbelief limits the Holy One of Israel (Matt. 13:58). Such will talk of God being unable to work because of prayerlessness and of true prayer "moving the Hand that moves the world". It is very much like the arguments for free-will set up against election. The truth lies, as it so often does, midway between these two extremes. It is important to realize that God has a glorious plan for both the heavens and the earth, and that, finally, this plan cannot possibly miscarry. Not to appreciate this would cause utter despair and make mockery of all Christian effort.
At the same time, if redemption means anything at all, it signifies that the believer is not only
alive spiritually, but
free; free to choose the way of the flesh and self-gratification as well as the will of the Lord. And it is here that the supreme importance of prayer becomes manifest. If God is working to a plan and chooses to use redeemed human lives to carry it out, then the question arises as to what part each of us is going to play in
its unfolding. The importance of this can hardly be overemphasized. Does it not mean that we must go to the Throne of Grace constantly and ask "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). We are assured by the Apostle Paul that it is according to the "effectual working in the measure of
every part" that the Body grows (Eph. 4:16), and this will only take place when every member of the Church is doing just the work intended by our Heavenly Father and none other. What this involves can only be discovered
by prayer and waiting upon
As there are no useless members in the physical body, so there should be none in the spiritual Body. That prayer
does make a difference, the following Scriptures make abundantly clear.
"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified . . . and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men" (2 Thess. 3:1,2).
Now it could be argued that it was obviously the Lord's will that His Word should run unhindered and be glorified. If so, then why the need for prayer? But the Apostle knew how easily the human factor could enter in and the flesh and the Devil intrude, and so hinder God's work.
"Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds" (Col. 4:3).
The same thought occurs here, but this time Paul is thinking of himself and any possible failure on his part to make known the great Secret.
"For I know that this shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:19).
Whether we take salvation to mean Paul's deliverance from prison or in a much deeper sense, his salvation with
age abiding glory (2 Tim. 2:10), is not our concern at the moment. It is clear that the suffering he was undergoing in his Roman prison was for the Lord's gain and the furtherance of the truth, and the prayers of the Philippian saints contributed a vital part to this great end.
Whether this would have happened if the church at Philippi had not constantly remembered the Apostle in prayer, it is idle to speculate, but it is quite evident that Paul took them as a factor to be reckoned with in the outworking of the Lord's will
"But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you" (Philem. 22).
Here, quite obviously, the Apostle is contemplating the possibility of his being set free from prison and in a position to visit Philemon; and this possibility is inextricably woven with Philemon's intercession for his release. If prayer makes no difference to the daily happenings in our lives, why should Paul say, "I trust that through, or, on account of (dia) your prayers, I shall be given unto you"? (22).
"Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together
(sunagonizomai) with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in
Judea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed" (Rom. 15:30-32).
Here Paul asks prayer for four important things concerning himself and mentions God's will regarding them. If the
fulfillment of this will was automatic, there would be no need of such prayer, but it is evident that the Apostle did not so regard it, but rather that the petitions of the Church at Rome could materially help forward the
fulfillment of his desire.
We trust that careful consideration of these passages will impress upon the mind of both writer and reader how vastly important our daily prayer-life is and how it can very practically affect not only our own Christian service but also the service of others.
From time to time we come across believers who are exercised about their sphere of service and witness for the Lord. They are rightly concerned about these things. It is not our province to direct the conscience of such, but this we can say that here is a supreme ministry we can all engage in, namely that of intercession. It will cost us something in time and perhaps in other ways, and we shall get no human commendation for it, as it is a thing only known to us and our Saviour.
Just as in our physical bodies there are organs like the heart and lungs doing vital work, yet are never seen like the external members as the hands and feet, so believers who engage in this vital activity behind the scenes may be doing as much in the Lord's sight as those whose service is in the open and manifest to all. The reader will remember the wonderful type given in
Exodus 17:8-13. Joshua and his men were fighting strenuously with Amalek in the valley, but it was
the man unseen at the hill top who controlled the battle, namely Moses.
"When Moses held up his hand . . . Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and
Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and
his hands were steady until the going down of the sun" (verses 11,12).
Do we who value dispensational truth and the glories of the dispensation of the Mystery, uphold our leaders like this in prayer? Oh, the need today for many like Aaron and Hur! As we look around us we see a growing apathy to spiritual things in general and to our calling in particular. Christian walk and witness is getting more difficult as the weeks and months pass. We may put this down to the increasing apostasy and declension which marks the end of the age and we may be right in so doing. But can it be that we have not yet fully realized the possibilites latent in a vital prayer-life and that the lack of results which we deplore may be due to the fact that we have sown the seed of the written and spoken word and then forgotten to water it by the ministry of prayer? Only then can we expect the increase or growth that God alone can give (I Cor. 3:6,7).
When John in his Apocalyptic vision sees the twenty-four elders before the Throne, he tells us that each one had a golden vial
"full of odours, which are the prayers of saints" (Rev. 5:8). So, in symbol, the prayers of God's people ascend to Him as something inexpressibly precious and fragrant. What encouragement we have then to come constantly to the Throne of grace
and share in this wonderful ministry of intercession!
Persevering prayer along the lines of the will of God does make a difference, and if our studies on this subject come as a challenge to each of us as we consider the poverty of our prayer life, may God give us grace to use, as we have never done
before, this matchless privilege, and so be blessed of Him increasingly in making known His transcendent riches of grace and glory in
the saving, calling out, and upbuilding of those chosen in
Christ before the overthrow of the world, to inherit the Heavenly
holiest of all for all eternity.
. . "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2).