A study of the Biblical bases of prayer.
You are free to download this article provided it remains intact without alteration. You are also free to transmit this article and quote this article provided that proper citation of authorship is included.
Christian people have long struggled to understand prayer and to participate in prayer in a meaningful way. Many have viewed prayer as if it were
Much of the misunderstanding of prayer stems
from legalistic, mystical and superstitious misconceptions fostered
by religion. There is a dire need among Christians to establish
a Christocentric theology of prayer that will serve as a foundation
for practical participation therein.
Christian prayer, as distinguished from general and religious concepts of prayer, is necessarily predicated upon and connected to the life and work of Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ's historical work and the continuing function of the risen Lord Jesus there is no such reality as Christian prayer.
Jesus Christ lived the perfect life as God intended for man here on earth by deriving all that He did from God the Father. "I do nothing of My own initiative" (John 5:30; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10), Jesus said, "but the Father abiding in Me does His works" (John 14:10). Jesus lived the life of the Perfect Man2 for every moment in time for thirty-three years by constantly living in the prayer of faith. He chose to be receptive to the activity of God the Father in all that He did and said. Karl Barth explains,
Living in faith and praying in faith Jesus expressed the character of God in all that He did. In so doing He was "obedient unto death" (Phil. 2:8) on behalf of all mankind. His perfect life of faithful prayer was not for the purpose of providing a matchless example, but that He might become the spotless sacrifice, vicariously taking the death consequences of men's sin in order that He might provide mankind with His limitless life.
By His redemptive payment He became "a merciful and faithful high priest...to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). He was the High Priest who offered the ultimate offering for all sin in the sinless sacrifice of Himself, and has now "taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Heb. 8:1). He is "the one mediator between God and man...who gave Himself as a ransom for all" (I Tim. 2:5,6). On the basis of His High Priestly mediation, Christians who receive Him and His work by faith are "reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Rom. 5:10; II Cor. 5:18). Such a reconciled relationship between God and man allows the Christian to approach God directly and immediately in prayer. "We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19), "drawing near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb. 10:22). In the most intimate of personal relationships, we can address God "as sons, by which we cry out 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
The redemptive payment not only allowed for a reconciled personal relationship with God through Christ, but served as the basis for the restorational provision of God's life restored to man, so that man could function as God intended. Jesus came not only "to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28), but "that we might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). That life is His life, for He said, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). The Christian life is the life of Jesus Christ; "Christ is our life" (Col. 3:4). The living Lord Jesus is to be the basis of all that we are and all that we do as Christians. He has "granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). "All things belong to us" (I Cor. 3:20,21) in Jesus Christ. "Every spiritual blessing in heavenly places" is ours "in Christ" (Eph. 1:3); the "summing up of all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:10). All that Christians do in their Christian lives is to be the functional expression of the indwelling Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus prompts and empowers our Christian behavior and Christian ministry; our worship, our intercession and our prayer.
The Christian life is not what we do, but what He does in and through us. Everything in the Christian life is Jesus Christ in action as we derive all that we are and all that we do from God in Christ by His Spirit. Since Christian prayer is an essential part of Christian life, it must be concluded that the living Lord Jesus is functioning in our prayers. Norman Grubb indicates that "prayer is the product of our union with Christ. He in us is the Pray-er."4 T.F. Torrance explains,
Somewhat more philosophically and with less Christocentric emphasis, C.S. Lewis writes,
Only when Christians recognize their spiritual identity in Jesus Christ, that "Christ is their life" (Col. 3:4) and that as "Christ lives in them" (Gal. 2:20) He must of necessity "pray in them," will they begin to develop an effective Christocentric theology of Christian prayer. Otherwise their orientation to prayer will always have a somewhat deistic separated concept which over-emphasizes the transcendent distance between God and man, failing to recognize the immanence of Christ's indwelling and the Christian's spiritual union with the Spirit of Christ.
When Jesus Christ serves as the Pray-er of Christian prayer, we allow Him to express adoration and praise to God the Father through us. We have "been filled with the fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11) "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Heb. 13:15).
Since Jesus is "the High Priest of our confession" (Heb. 3:1), He continues to serve as the Confessor who prompts our confession in Christian prayer. As He is one with the Father He agrees and concurs with God to "say the same thing" (homologeo) about our sin and His sufficiency. "Through Him...our lips are confessing to His name" (Heb. 13:15).
Likewise, the Spirit of Christ expresses thanksgiving to God in the prayers of our lives. Christians "thank God through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:8; 7:25), recognizing the "good grace" (eucharistia) of God in all that He does.
Christ in the Christian also serves as our Supplicant in prayer. Martha was quite convinced that if Jesus asked for us, God would undoubtedly hear and grant such requests. "I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You" (John 11:22). Karl Barth was also convinced of such:
Not only as our Supplicant in personal petition, but also in intercession for others Jesus serves as Intercessor in our Christian prayer. "The Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and 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" (Rom. 8:26,27).
The indwelling Lord Jesus Christ who is the basis of our Christian lives is the Pray-er of Christian prayer. Jesus is both the subject and the object of Christian prayer. Christian prayer is not an activity that we initiate by human effort, but is prompted by the One who lives in us as our Life in response to the personal invitations of God to avail ourselves of His grace.
With this Christocentric understanding of prayer in mind we can better understand what Jesus meant when He said, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7). As we remain, reside and settle-in to the reality of Christ being our life, then our supplications will be His supplications through us and certain to be enacted as His will. This also explains other comments in the Upper Room Discourse when Jesus said, "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do" (John 14:13,14; 15:16), for we are praying in His Person, as the expression of His Being in Christian prayer, and He is certain to act consistent with His character and desires. This is also the best interpretation of "praying in the Holy Spirit" (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20), for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and in Christian prayer we are praying by means of the Spirit of Christ operative within us. When James refers to praying "according to His will" (James 5:14), we can be assured that the expression of Jesus Christ is always the will of God, and when Jesus Christ functions as Pray-er in our Christian prayers He will prompt only that which is consistent with Who He is.
Jesus is not only the subject and the object of Christian prayer, but the answer to such prayer as well. God answers all prayer with the activity of His Son Jesus Christ, who always serves as the expressive agency of God. The answers to our prayers will be but the manner in which God wants to apply the life of Jesus Christ in our particular circumstances.
The complete provision of God for man is in Jesus Christ. God has nothing more to give than what He has given and is giving in Jesus Christ. If God had more to give than Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ is insufficient. If God could express Himself other than by Jesus Christ, then Jesus "died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21). If God had any answer other than Jesus Christ, then Jesus is superfluous. God forbid that we should think that there is anything to be added to the work of Jesus Christ. This was the basis of the great Reformation plea for sola Christus; Christ only and Christ alone as our "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption" (I Cor. 1:30). We are "complete in Christ" (Col. 2:10).
The gift of God is in Jesus Christ (John 4:10; Rom. 5:15; 6:23; Eph. 2:8;). The love of God is in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 5:5; II Tim. 1:13). All the blessings of God are in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3). The grace of God is realized through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). The will of God is Jesus Christ. The answer of God to all prayer is Jesus Christ.
When Christians pray for wisdom, as they are instructed to do (James 1:5), they are praying for what they already have in Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:24,30). When Christians pray for discernment, they pray for what they already have by the Spirit of Christ (I Cor. 12:10; I John 4:1). When Christians pray for patience, gentleness, kindness or love, they are praying for what they already have in the character fruit of the Spirit of Christ (Gal. 5:22,23). When Christians pray personal petitions for perceived needs in their lives, the supply for such is already promised in Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:19).
(but the) Christian has not yet realized in what fullness the divine gift and answer is already present and near to hand, and with what joy he can avail himself of it, and in what thankfulness he can acknowledge the fact."11
Using the familiar acrostic of A.C.T.S. representing prayer as
we can further explain how Christ is the answer of all Christian prayer.
In our prayers of adoration and praise we recognize and affirm, "I am not righteous, good and holy; only You are righteous, good, holy, perfect, pure, etc. We express our appreciation of God's nature and character, and the activity that derives out of that character in Jesus Christ. Both verbally and behaviorally we are concerned about expressing the "worth-ship" of God's Being, Person, character and Name in the worship of Christian prayer, as Christ functions through us.
Our prayers of confession recognize that "I can't be or do what I am designed to be or do; only You can manifest Your character in me. I can't glorify You God for I am inadequate, insufficient and sinful; only You can cause me to be what You designed me to be, allowing Jesus Christ to be my sufficiency (II Cor. 3:5) in order to manifest Your character unto Your glory." Thus we "say the same thing" (homologeo) as God about our sinfulness (I John 1:9), and about our identity and sufficiency in Jesus Christ.
Prayers of thanksgiving are those in which we recognize that "I do not take credit for what has taken place; it is only what You have done by Your "good grace" (eucharistia) in Jesus Christ. I have not worked or performed meritoriously; only You have done and are doing what is of any value in my life, for Jesus said, 'Apart from Me, you can do nothing.'" (John 15:5). Therefore we seek to "give thanks for all things" (Eph. 5:20) and "in everything" (I Thess. 5:18).
Christian prayers of supplication take the form of both personal petitions and intercession for others. In these prayers we are saying, "I seek, ask and request about these particular needs and wants, both for myself and for others; You have "supplied all of our needs...in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19)." We "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16), recognizing that such mercy and grace are realized in Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
In all of the forms of prayer the Christian recognizes that Christ is the answer to all Christian prayer. We see our inadequacy and His sufficiency. We recognize and affirm that our only response can be the prayer of faith that responds to God's grace in Jesus Christ.
It is not that there is any inherent power in the ACTS of prayer, or that prayer ACTS, but prayer causes us to continue to recognize and assent to God's ACTS in Jesus Christ. Over and over again, moment-by-moment, "without ceasing" (I Thess 5:17) we remember and recognize the grace/faith relationship in which we function as Christians.
We are encouraged to persistence and perseverance in prayer because God wants Christians to ever remain in the context of that grace/faith position, wherein the dynamic of God's grace in Jesus Christ is applied to everything. Nothing is impossible in God's responses to our prayers of faith (Matt. 17:20), when we allow the divine dynamic of God's activity in Jesus Christ to be applied to such. On the other hand, "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Heb. 11:6), for we disallow the activity of Jesus Christ both in us and in the situation.
Since so many of the Biblical statements and admonitions represent prayer as supplicatory asking, requesting or petitioning (Matt. 7:7; 18:19; Mk. 11;24; Lk. 11:9,10; John 14:13,14; 15:7,16; 16:24,26; Rom. 1:10; Phil. 4:6; I Tim. 2:1; James 1:6; 4:2; I John 3:22; 5:14,15), Karl Barth and others have regarded such as central to the understanding of Christian prayer.
The supplication of our personal petitions and intercessions for others constantly keeps us in the faith frame of mind, wherein we repeatedly recognize that it is not what we do, but what God does, that comprises the Christian life.
Christian prayer provides the connectivity of obedience and faith in the entirety of the Christian life. That can only be understood, though, when we have a correct understanding of both obedience and faith. Jacques Ellul explains,
Obedience in the Christian life is not to be understood in the context of a legal and juridical framework. We are not obeying an externalized Law which demands that we are to love or to pray. Such a conception casts prayer back into a self-effort to please God, for which we are most inadequate. Christ is the end of the forensic law (Rom. 10:4), for the law and character of God is placed within our hearts (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). The primary Greek word for "obedience" in the new covenant literature of the New Testament is hupakouo, meaning "to listen under." We obey when we listen to God's direction in our lives, expressed by the Spirit of Christ, and respond in faith, the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5: 16:26). Thus "keeping His commandments, we ask and receive from Him" (I John 3:22).
Likewise, faith must be redefined from its popular misperception of "mental assent to the veracity of propositional truth." The "prayer offered in faith" (James 5:15) is the prayer in which we respond to God in "our receptivity of His activity" having obediently "listened under" His personal and individualized commandment to us. When we pray "believing" (Matt. 21:22), and "ask in faith" (James 1:6), we are receptive to God's activity in Jesus Christ and "believe that we have received" (Mk. 11:24) for we understand that God truly wants to give us everything in the Christian life. Barth notes that when
Prayer is the breath of the Christian life. "The prayer of the Christian to God is the basic act of the obedience engendered in faith."18 Christians engage in prayer because it is the only way to live the Christian life constantly aware of our receptivity of His activity in faith and obedience. Ellul cautions,
Prayer is the continual process whereby we live in faith and obedience. It need not even be expressed in the verbalization of words, for it becomes a lifestyle of prayer.
Some have objected that such a view of Christian prayer can lead to passivism. If we are living in the awareness of our grace/faith relationship with God, and affirming the Lordship of Jesus Christ by saying, "Yes Lord; not my will, but Thine be done" (Matt. 26:39), does this cause people to cease to pray? On the contrary, it should cause them to "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17), for we need constantly to recognize that it is not what we do, but what God does, that constitutes and enacts the abundance of life (John 10:10). It should be noted, though, that an appeal to a perennial attitude of receptivity in a lifestyle of prayer should not be used as an excuse to refrain and abstain from particular occasions of prayerful intercourse with God. In both our specific times of prayer and in the general receptivity of a constant lifestyle of prayer, we continue to recognize that the Person and activity of Jesus Christ is God's answer to all Christian prayer.
The foregoing explanation of Christocentric prayer necessarily forms a denial of the general or religious forms and ideas of prayer that are so prevalent today. A brief listing must suffice to explain that:
Christian prayer is NOT an activity in which we engage in order to please and appease God. God is pleased and appeased by the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and what He has accomplished in His "finished work" (John 19:30).
Christian prayer is NOT a meritorious performance or "work" that God expects of us. Christ's performance and work on our behalf is the sole basis of our being credited, imputed and imparted with righteousness.
Christian prayer is NOT something that we do for God or offer to God. God needs nothing done for Him. He "lacks nothing."
Christian prayer is NOT a duty or an obligation based upon a legal concept of obedience, wherein our self-effort proves our sincerity or "earns points" before God.
Christian prayer is NOT an exercise designed to make us better, stronger, more knowledgeable, or more "spiritual." Jesus Christ is the basis of our strength, knowledge and spiritual maturity.
Christian prayer is NOT for personal interest and pleasure (James 4:3), or for the self-aggrandizement that makes us "look good" before God and others. God knows our hearts!
Christian prayer is NOT for the purpose of developing subjective "good feelings" and emotions which prove cathartic or therapeutic in psychological adjustment.
Christian prayer is NOT a process of psychological gymnastics whereby we work ourselves into a subjective state which we might think is "faith" which will insure the granting of our prayers.
Christian prayer is NOT self-instruction whereby we gain a knowledge of ourselves and God's will. Such is anthropocentric prayer, rather than Christocentric prayer.
Christian prayer is NOT a means of eliciting or soliciting more "blessings" or "benefits" from God. "God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3).
Christian prayer is NOT a means of presenting God with information. We must not deny the omniscience of God, for "your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:32).
Christian prayer is NOT asking God to "engineer" a situation to the particular plan that we desire to see enacted.
Christian prayer is NOT an evasion of the problems and anxieties of contemporary existence here on earth. We want to see how Christ is working in the midst of such.
Christian prayer is NOT a superstitious, mystical or magical trance, wherein we seek to enter into a spiritual fusion of oneness and unity with God.
Christian prayer is NOT a "power tool" that always works when we push the button of the inexorable "law of prayer" or employ the "power of prayer."
Christian prayer is NOT a "discipline" or devotional exercise that will in and of itself lead us into godliness.
Christian prayer is NOT a method, program or system, the techniques and procedures of which will guarantee results.
Christian prayer is NOT an instrument that we use, such as a "heavenly telephone" with a "hot line" to God.
Christian prayer is NOT man "laying hold of God" and demanding of Him or commanding Him to act.
Christian prayer is NOT a persistent and "shameless" (Lk. 11:8) haranguing of God until we get we we want.
Christian prayer is NOT an expression of undue care or anxiety for oneself or others. We are to "cast all our cares and concerns upon Christ."
Christian prayer is NOT external actions that are pretentious and ostentatious "in order to be seen by men" (Matt. 6:5,6).
Christian prayer is NOT the verbosity of "meaningless repetition" (Matt. 6:7) in the saying of "long prayers" (Matt. 23:14; Mk. 12:40).
Christian prayer is NOT the mechanical ritual of repeating rote formulas, somewhat like spinning the Tibetan "prayer wheel." C.S. Lewis noted that "simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well." 24
Christian prayer is NOT an activity that can be executed "on command," as a form of social convention in litanies, rosaries, invocations and the like.
Christian prayer is NOT event-centered in a prescribed place, at a prescribed time, utilizing a prescribed procedure.
Christian prayer is NOT a communicational language or discourse that can be analyzed by the content of the words. It does not depend on our ability to speak the language (Romans 8:26).
Christian prayer is NOT pedagogical, polemic or proclamatory. It is not prayer if it is addressed to anyone other than God.
Christian prayer is NOT passivism, acquiesence or inertia that concludes that "God is going to do what He's going to do anyway; Thy will be done!"
Christian prayer is NOT resignation, avoidance or indifference which says, "Go your way; I will pray for you" (James 2:15,16).
Christian prayer is NOT limited to a punctiliar "point in time" or an existential "affair of the moment." It can be the constancy of a lifestyle wherein we "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17).
These denials should serve to refocus our understanding of Christian prayer as Christocentric prayer. The dynamic reality of the life of Jesus Christ makes Christian prayer radically different from all forms of religious prayer. Christ is the basis for the divine/human intimacy of Christian prayer. He is the Pray-er of Christian prayer as the Spirit of Christ activates and empowers all that we do as Christians. He is the answer to all Christian prayer, for all that God does He does through Jesus Christ.
The words of Jacques Ellul serve as a fitting conclusion to such a study on Christocentric prayer.
Joining with the disciples, our petition might be, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).
Norman, God Unlimited. Fort Washington: Christian Literature
Crusade. 1972. pg. 158.