The Mechanics of Prayer

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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 back, removes all wickedness and all evildoers, and makes “all things new?” 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 worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). So, be diligent to obey the will of God, especially to accept God’s invitation to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. 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)! Pastor Adrian Rogers put it this way: “True prayer must be mandated by heaven. I’m convinced that the only prayer that gets to heaven is the prayer that starts in heaven. We close the circuit when we pray in faith in the name of Jesus.”

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.

Finally, I will share with you a very important, but often overlooked, instruction of Jesus about prayer, which is gleaned from John 14:13; 16:23-24, 26. Jesus said, “On that day you will ask Me nothing. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. On that day you will ask in My name. I am not saying to you that I shall ask the Father on your behalf. Truly, truly I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you. I will do whatever you ask in My name.” In other words, make your needs known directly to the Father, not to Me, for I will not ask the Father on your behalf. Ask the Father in My name, and He will grant your request, but I will do it. So, according to the words of Jesus, the mechanics of the prayer of supplication are as follows: 1) in the name of Jesus, ask the Father to supply what you need; 2) the Father will then grant what you need; and, 3) Jesus will then supply what you need.

To summarize briefly, God the Father first reveals His will to us. In response, we pray – in Jesus’ name – to the Father for help, according to His will. From heaven, the Father hears and grants our request, then enlists Jesus to unleash His power on earth on our behalf. In this way we cooperate with the Father 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 to the Father, 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 then pray to the Father, believing that Jesus will do it, as He said He would.

Recommended reading:

Nee, Watchman. 1995. The Prayer Ministry of the Church. Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA. pp. 35-37.

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE)

Free Will: What It Is and Is Not

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Free Will: What It Is and Is Not

James R. Aist

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They shall all be taught by God.’  Therefore everyone who has heard and has learned of the Father comes to Me.” – John 6:44-45

Unfortunately, “free will” is commonly misunderstood and inadvertently misrepresented in Christian circles today. So, I will discuss in this article the true nature and limitations of “free will”, primarily as they pertain to our relationships with God, including the mechanics of salvation. I do not believe that one can rightly understand the mechanics of salvation, as correctly represented in the Bible, without a clear understanding of what “free will” is and is not and what it can and cannot do.

What Free Will Is

There are four components of “free will” that must be present for it to be exercised. These same four components of “free will” are also present and operative in the numerous choices we make every day, whether or not they have any moral implications or ramifications. First, there must be an ability to choose. In mankind, this ability resides mainly in the soul, or mind. God gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose which trees to eat from. Second, there must be a license to choose. God gave Adam and Eve permission to choose which trees to eat from. Third, there must be two or more options from which to choose. God gave Adam and Eve the option to either obey or disobey His instructions concerning which trees to eat from. And, fourth, in order for “free will” to be exercised, there must be a desire to make a choice. Satan gave Adam and Eve the desire to disobey God, and they did; Satan’s influence outweighed God’s influence in this case. We may conclude, therefore, that “free will”, much like language, is nothing more than a God-given ability that we possess, with the God-given permission to use it.

What Free Will Is Not

Free will is not an inalienable right. I can illustrate this fact very easily: 1) none of the people who have lived and died without any opportunity to even hear of the God of the Bible or of His Son, Jesus Christ, were given the right to believe or not believe the Gospel; and 2) in the end times, “…every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11), and yet all of those who have not already accepted the Gospel will not have the right to do so at that time, but will be permanently assigned to hell no matter how strenuously they may object.

Free will is not a guarantee of options. After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, “…at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned in every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Although they we capable of choosing to return to the garden, God forced them to live elsewhere; they had no option.

Free will is not irrevocable. When Adam and Eve sinned, their God-given right to eat freely of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was rescinded. Although they were still capable of eating of that tree, their license to do so was revoked.

Free will is not sovereign. Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” When we “deny ourselves” and “follow Jesus”, we freely and willfully forfeit our right to make choices that are not in accordance with “…the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2); we substitute God’s will for our “free will.” Otherwise, we do not really become His disciples. According to John 6:44-45 (see above), the Father himself has so influenced our will that we have become eager to hear and to accept His invitation to be saved. And so, we are born again. Moreover, in Ezekiel 36:27, God says that after we are born again, God will cause us to walk in obedience to His will, not ours: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

Free will is not an explanation. A man can invoke “free will” to assert that he can, in fact, make a choice to either accept or reject the Gospel. But, to claim that “free will” is all there is to it is to “beg the question”, because “free will” only asserts that you can choose, not why you chose “this” option over “that” option. The question of “why”, therefore, remains unanswered. The primary ramification of this failure of “free will” to actually explain why one makes the particular choice they make in response to the Gospel is that it compels us to search the Scriptures for the identity and source of the influences that do, in fact, cause us to accept or reject the Gospel. And, the Bible is far from silent on this point, as we will see in the following section.

Why Most People Reject the Gospel

Now, I believe there can be no reasonable doubt that God created mankind with the authority and the capacity to make certain decisions by exercising what is commonly referred to as “free will.” This fact can be verified adequately from the creation account in Genesis 1:26-3:24. From this same passage of Scripture we can conclude also that God holds mankind accountable for the decisions made using “free will.” But, just how free is this “free will” in practice? In Genesis 3:1-7, we see that the will of Adam and Eve was originally aligned with the will of God to be obedient to Him until the serpent (Satan) sufficiently influenced their original will to obey God as to misalign it into a will to disobey God. So, we see that, while they were still free to choose, the choice they made was so greatly modified by an outside influence (i.e., lies of the devil) as to turn it 180 degrees.

And so it is today concerning our exercise of “free will” in making the myriad of choices we make on a daily basis: we are still free (allowed) to make choices, but the choices we make are largely determined by outside influences, rather than by innate characteristics of our will. This modification of our will that determines the choices we make is eminently obvious in the making of moral choices today, just as it was with Adam and Eve “in the beginning.” The mere fact that we are allowed to make choices does not mean that the choices we make are “free” of outside influences. In fact, quite the contrary is true; every choice we make is heavily influenced by outside factors of one kind or another. In other words, there’s a reason why we make every decision we make, but that reason is never “free will.” As I pointed out above, “free will” refers only to our God-given authority and capacity to make decisions, but it says nothing about what it is that has led us to choose one alternative over another. So, it is critical to recognize and understand this important distinction before attempting to discover the role of “free will” in the mechanics of salvation.

In the spiritual world – of which, we are all a part – the influences of God (the lover of our souls) and of Satan (the enemy of our souls) are constantly at war, with our minds as the battlefields. And our eternal destiny is the spoils of this great battle, the outcome of which will be determined largely by who is able to exert the greatest, and final, influence on our will to either accept or reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Adam and Eve chose, of their own “free” will, to believe Satan instead of God, they took on a “sin nature” (Colossians 3:8-10), or a predisposition to sin, that has been passed down to all subsequent generations, including ours. We have inherited, so to speak, from Adam a “sin nature”, an inborn desire to reject God’s provision and follow our own path in life. This sin nature can also be aptly described as an ever present readiness to do evil (i.e., disobey God).

This predisposition to sin is so pervasive as to render us, in our “natural-born” state, in rebellion against, and at enmity with, God. Paul described our natural-born, fallen, spiritual condition like this, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among them we all also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:1-3), and “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). In fact, our natural-born, spiritual condition is so depraved that Paul declared “…there is no one who seeks after God” (Romans 3:11) and “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). Moreover, the Bible clearly says that men reject the Gospel because God hardens them (Isaiah 63:17; John 12:40; Romans 9:18), and because Satan blinds their minds (2 Corinthians 4:4) and takes away the word from their hearts (Luke 8:12). And when God said, “I was found by those who did not seek Me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for Me” (Isaiah 65:1; quoted by Paul in Romans 10:20), He was making a statement about the mechanics of salvation, saying in effect, that because men do not seek Me or ask for Me, I will take the initiative and reveal Myself to them. That’s why Jesus declared, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44). In other words, in his natural-born, fallen, spiritual condition, a man is so spiritually depraved that he cannot, of his own volition, believe and accept the Gospel. He must have God’s help (i.e., intervention) to be able to make that choice.

Thus, according to the Bible, we start out in life with a will that is already misaligned and predisposed to obey Satan and disobey God (Acts 26:17-19); there is something terribly wrong with our “heart.” And this is why, without the supernatural intervention of God in our lives, we are “without hope” in the world. Somehow, our natural-born, misaligned will has to be realigned to be obedient to God and disobedient to Satan, if we are to be transformed from “children of wrath” into children of God, and if we are to remain transformed. But, how does the Bible say that God intervenes to save us and keep us? I have addressed this question elsewhere and invite you to check it out for yourself (click HERE).

Conclusions

Where our relationships with God are concerned, “free will” certainly seems to play a vital role in enabling Christians to please God by choosing to obey His will instead of their own. But, “free will”, while almost always present, can also be limited, conditional, mutable and even revocable when it conflicts with God’s sovereign will. Moreover, one cannot invoke “free will” to explain why some do and some do not accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To explain that, one must invoke the manner and extent of the Father’s influence on the one who accepts the Gospel, because, as Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and has learned of the Father comes to Me.” (John 6:44-45). One simply cannot come to Jesus of one’s own volition. The ones who are not so drawn by the Father will simply, and sadly, continue to be “…strangers to the covenants of promise, without God and without hope in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). And they will perish because all have sinned, and because the wages of sin is death. Finally, God not only causes us to want to be saved, but He also causes us to live in obedience to His will after we are saved (Ezekiel 36:27). So, our salvation and our subsequent life of obedience to God’s will are both the result of God’s will, not ours, being asserted.

(To read more of my articles on biblical teachings, click HERE)

Does God Have Amnesia?

Does God Have Amnesia?

 James R. Aist

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)

Introduction

I have heard many Christians say that this and related verses are saying that when God has forgiven our sins, He has forgotten them, as if God has amnesia and cannot remember our forgiven sins. After all, it does say that He blots them out, does it not? But, is that what this and related verses really mean? Does God really have amnesia, or is there a more accurate and correct understanding of “blots out your transgressions” and “remembers your sins no more”? Since we are living under the New Covenant, let’s go there for answers.

First, let’s check out what Hebrews 10:16-18 has to say in this regard: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” Here, we see clearly that “remember no more” is indeed referring to forgiven sins that no longer need a blood sacrifice (because Jesus paid the price for them with His own blood). But, it does not say that God cannot remember them (i.e., has amnesia); it says that He will not remember them (i.e., by choice).

And, Romans 4:8 says, “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” Once again, we see that it is God’s will at work here, not amnesia. And it clarifies the matter for us by explaining that the Lord will never “count our sins against us.” So, we see that when God says that He will “remember our forgiven sins no more”, He is not saying that He will forget them in the sense of amnesia, but that, by an overt act of His sovereign will, He will, intentionally, never again bring them to His mind and count them against us. That, in effect, blots them out from our “record” in heaven. And, my friends, that’s even better than amnesia!

Conclusion

When God says that He will “remember our sins no more”, He is not saying that He will forget them in the sense of amnesia, but that, by an overt act of His sovereign will, He will, intentionally, never again bring them to His mind and count them against us.

(For more of my Biblical teachings, click HERE)

 

 

 

The War of the Wills within Us

The War of the Wills within Us

James R. Aist

Introduction

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:21-23). Paul is speaking here of various “laws” at work within him (and, by extension, within us). And, like us, he senses that there are opposing forces within us that are at war against each other. How can we make sense out of these inner struggles, and how can we turn a better understanding of them to our advantage as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”? 

The Wills within Us

Perhaps it would help if we first try to identify and define the different “laws” at work within us. To do this, I find it useful to think of them as “wills” instead of “laws.” If we subscribe to the idea of the triune nature of man as spirit, soul (mind, will and emotions) and body, then we can identify three different wills of man by re-examining the structure of Romans 7:22-23 in a slightly different way, as follows: For in my inner being I delight in God’s law (will of my spirit); but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind (will of my soul) and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me (will of my body). This analysis suggests that everyone is born with three wills: the supernatural will of the human spirit, the natural will of the human soul and the natural will of the human body. Each of these wills is able to influence what we do and don’t do in life (i.e., our behavior), and we can easily get a sense that they are often at war with each other when we are tempted to do something that goes against our “morals” or “ethics”, regardless of how we may have come by them. If this is, indeed, the “order of command” in a person — spirit commands soul commands body — then, for example, the will of the body may be to get drunk on wine because it feels good, the will of the soul may not think it is a good idea to get drunk because it is harmful to your health, and the will of the spirit is left to mediate between these warring wills and make the final decision. Inevitably, one of the warring wills will lose out.

Enter Even More Wills!

Unfortunately, because of the fall of man, our natural inclination is to do evil all the time (Genesis 6:5); we are born with a fallen conscience and are at enmity with God (James 4:4). But God has come up with a remedy for this problem: we call it “salvation.” In the process of being “born again”, we receive a new human spirit from God (click HERE), a spirit that is morally pure, delights in the things of God and is not at enmity with Him. But wait, it doesn’t stop there. We also receive the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 2:38) who takes up residence within our new human spirit and has His own will. Now we have not three, but four, wills within us: the supernatural Holy Spirit of God, the supernatural will of our new human spirit, the natural will of the human soul and the natural will of the human body. And the order of command now becomes Holy Spirit commands human spirit commands soul commands body. This is, of course, the way God intends for it to work, and to the extent that we are obedient to the Holy Spirit within us, it does so. But, unfortunately, the “old man” doesn’t give up easily, and so we have to go through a process of “sanctification” to align our wills with the will of the Holy Spirit living within us. Thankfully, it is the work of the Holy Spirit living in us to sanctify us (2 Thessalonians 2:13) and to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Summary

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)