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by Ted Schroder

Jesus teaches us it is necessary to ask before we receive, seek before we find, knock before the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9) God is waiting for us to pray before he will act. God does not have a fixed plan that he is going to put into action whether or not we cooperate with him. As a father raises his children, by taking responsibility and initiative for their lives, so God expects us to pray if we are to receive what he wants to give us.

Asking God for anything in prayer is to assertively petition God, as the friend does of his neighbor (Luke 11:5-8). Requesting God for anything in prayer is necessary in order to release God's willingness and ability to act. God is willing and able to give us anything he wishes to bless us, but he deliberately chooses to wait until we ask, until we seek, until we knock.

By praying we tap into the power and willingness of God. Why is prayer necessary, because God will not act until we ask. He chooses to wait, until we are willing to seek his help. Therefore we will not receive what we are meant to have until we learn to ask for it. Failure to pray specifically for our needs results in missed opportunities. It condemns us to live below God's expectations for us.

God will not act until we realize that we cannot make it on our own. God will not do what God desires to do until we come to see that we desperately need God's intervention in our lives. As long as we erroneously think that we can handle life's situations on our own, God simply stands aside.

This strikes at the heart of our self-sufficiency. Prayer is in part the struggle to admit our dependence. It is the struggle to overcome human blindness and pride. It is the struggle to realize and acknowledge our deep need. This acknowledgement is precisely what lays hold of and releases God's resources. Prayer has as its purpose to open our hearts to receive all that God is willing to give. Prayer is crying to God for help, based on an awareness of dependence on God. It is the cry of those who realize that only the breaking in of God's reign can remedy the challenging situations that we face.

"Prayer is the language of a man burdened with a sense of need. It is the voice of a beggar, conscious of his poverty, asking of another the things he needs. Not to pray is not only to declare that there is nothing needed, but to admit to a nonrealization of that need." (E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer, p.106)

Affluent, successful man is repelled by this understanding of prayer. No person likes to think that they have to beg for anything. All of us prefer to earn what we want. That is why prayer is so difficult for us. We are content to settle for less because we don't want to lower ourselves to the position of a supplicant. We would prefer to go without rather than to have to ask God or anyone for help.

Prayer resembles faith. Like faith, prayer is opening our empty hand so that we might receive God's provision for us. But prayer not only expresses dependence, just as faith admits it must trust; prayer also expresses our belief that God is willing and able to act if we ask, seek and knock. This is the connection between God's action and human faith. The New Testament repeatedly reminds us that God will not act unless human beings believe that God can do so, and will do so when we pray. Such faith brings results. Jesus said to the woman who anointed his feet with perfume: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:50) When two blind men came to him, he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this." After they expressed their belief in him, he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you." And their sight was restored. (Matthew 9:29,30) The Gospel records that when he went to his hometown, Nazareth, "he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." (Matthew 13:58) He told his disciples that if they had faith and did not doubt they would receive whatever they asked for in prayer. (Matthew 21:21)

Prayer has to do with the coming of God's kingdom. In prayer we ask that "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven." We are asking that God's future kingdom will come into the present. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is coming. We believe that, whatever might seem to the contrary, history is moving toward that great day of the kingdom of God. God has the ability and intent to overrule all evil for good in the future. But even now, evil is partially overruled in the situations of life. Paul reflected that perspective in Romans 8:28 - "in all things God works for the good of those who love him."

We can experience in the present a foretaste of God's future demonstration of victory over evil. Prayer brings results because we pray in the context of the coming of God's kingdom. As we pray, we are working to spread the presence of the kingdom in that area of life for which we are praying. As we pray, we become the instruments of the Spirit in opening the situation we face, or the person for whom we are praying, to receive the breaking in of God's rule in the present.

This understanding of prayer is grounded in a specific outlook toward the nature of reality. Jesus teaches us that God has seen fit to involve us in the enactment of his purpose. He invites us to participate in the fulfillment of His purposes.

The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the role of human action in effecting God's purposes. God wants to act in the world. But in certain areas God has decided not to act apart from prayer. God has decided that his action will come only in response to prayer. "God has voluntarily made himself dependent upon our prayer." (O. Hallesby, Prayer, p.167)

Prayer becomes the expression of a holy discontent with the present, an unwillingness to leave things as they are. In this way, even our own outlook can be transformed by means of prayer. God invites us to become partners with him by working, by evangelizing, by being Christians in the world - and also by praying. In this way, God brings about his kingdom.

"For in prayer you align yourself to the purposes and power of God, and He is able to do through you that He couldn't otherwise do. For this is an open universe, where some things are left open, contingent upon our doing them. If we do not do them, they will never be done. So God has left certain things open to prayer - things which will never be done except we pray." (E. Stanley Jones, The Way to Power and Poise, p.325

When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, he commanded the onlookers to take away the stone that had been rolled in front of the entrance. He, by himself, had the ability to command the stone to move away from the tomb. Yet Jesus asked the bystanders to take that action themselves. He also asked them to take off the grave clothes from Lazarus and to let him go. Why? He wanted others to participate in his resurrection work.

God wants us to get involved in bringing about his purposes. God has ordained that we play important roles in the accomplishing of his intentions and goals. This includes participating in the task of prayer. As we pray we become agents of the answer. Prayer becomes the occasion for us to ask: am I willing to be part of the answer to my own prayer. Am I at God's disposal for the accomplishing of my prayers?

Why is prayer necessary? Because it makes a difference in the universe; it makes a difference in my life - in the life of the pray-er; it makes a difference in the lives of others for whom we pray; it enables things to happen that otherwise would not happen. It makes all the difference in the world.

(Much of this material was taken from Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom, Stanley J. Grenz, 2005)

Amelia Plantation Chapel,
Amelia Island, Florida

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