The Mechanics of Prayer
James R. Aist
“Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” – (Matthew 6:10)
In the model for prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples, Jesus said “…your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” That is a powerful prayer that all born-again Christians can agree on. Won’t it be wonderful when that prayer is fully manifested on the earth, when Jesus comes and removes all wickedness and all evildoers? But, what are we to do in the “here and now”? Is there some way that we can call down the will and the power of God to deal with our needs and troubles in this fallen world until Jesus comes again? The answer, of course, is yes, we can pray. Many true and helpful things have been said and written about prayer, but, out of all that, what I want us to focus on for a few moments is the mechanism of prayer, or, how prayer works. And there are some very clear prerequisites for effectual prayer given in the Bible.
The most overarching prerequisite for effectual prayer is righteousness. James declared that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much” (James 5:16). And John strongly confirms this point: “We know that God does not listen to sinners. But if anyone is a worshipper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). So, be diligent to obey the will of God in your daily life. That brings us to the second prerequisite for effectual prayer.
Concerning God, John wrote, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). For our prayers to be effective, we must pray according to God’s will, which He will reveal to us if we are listening. We really wouldn’t want it any other way, would we? To pray effectively, then, we must pray with the heart and the mindset of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Next, let’s consider some things Jesus had to say about effectual prayer.
In Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus said this to His disciples “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are assembled in My name, there I am in their midst.” Thus, praying with at least one “prayer partner” is the third prerequisite for effectual prayer.
Now, let’s turn to something Jesus said to His disciples that speaks more directly and instructively about the mechanics of prayer per se. He said, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). When one reads this verse in the immediate context of Matthew 17-19, it becomes obvious that in verse 18, Jesus is giving us an insight into how prayer works: we continue the process by praying to God in heaven (binding and loosing on earth) according to His revealed word to us; then God answers from heaven (binding and loosing in heaven) and accomplishes on earth what we prayed for. Moreover, we see this same insight concerning binding and loosing on earth identified as “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16:19, where Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus’ use here (Matthew 16:19) of the exact same phraseology that He uses in Matthew 18:17-19 identifies this binding and loosing on earth as relating specifically to prayer.
What, then, are “the keys of the kingdom of heaven”? They are not hand tools (keys) by which the gates of heaven are locked and unlocked, as some have imagined. Rather, in view of Jesus words referenced above, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are best understood to be insights into to the mechanism by which God’s will is to be accomplished on earth. Put another way, this is how we can get the will and the power of God applied to our earthly needs. So, taken together, these verses indicate that, in order for us to have God’s power applied to our needs on earth through prayer, we should 1) discern the will of God as He reveals it to us, 2) enlist at least one other believer to agree with us in prayer, and 3) pray according to God’s will. Then God in heaven will do on earth, for us, whatever we asked. And this, according to Jesus, is how the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The critical – and, perhaps, most insightful – aspects of all of this for our present consideration is that God initiates the process by revealing His will to us, and He has given it to us to then respond with prayer so that His will is done on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:10)!
But what happens when we don’t know God’s will in a particular matter of concern to us? Do we just refrain from praying altogether? Or, has God made provision for us to pray effectively anyway? Yes, He has. Paul states in, Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Here, Paul explains that, when we don’t know how to pray as we ought about a matter, the Holy Spirit (in us) intercedes for us with groanings. Jesus, who searches the heart (Revelation 2:23), knows what the Holy Spirit is groaning about concerning the matter, and He intercedes for us (Romans 8:34), conveying our concern to the Father, according to the Father’s will. So then, when we don’t know for sure what the Father’s will is in a matter, we should pray anyway, knowing that the Holy Spirit and Jesus will partner to convey to the Father a request from us that is in accordance with God’s will.
To summarize briefly, God first reveals His will to us. In response, we pray to God for help, according to His will. From heaven, God hears and responds to our request, unleashing His power on earth on our behalf. In this way we cooperate with God in accomplishing His will on earth. We have the very “keys of the kingdom of heaven” in our hands, and it is up to us to follow through with prayer, as Jesus taught us to do. God never leaves us to fend for ourselves, but is “… our refuge and strength, a well-proven help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). So, let’s be sure to do our part in this process; that is, listen and pray.
Nee, Watchman. 1995. The Prayer Ministry of the Church. Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA. pp. 35-37.
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