I currently work at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and part of my job responsibilities consist in praying for people who are calling-in for spiritual help and prayer. It is a great privilege that I have learned to cherish, unfortunately not without its temptation for mundane repetition, but nonetheless a gracious blessing.
It did not take me long to realize that there is a serious problem. For one, despite professing to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, many of these people were calling-in for prayer because they themselves did not know how to pray. Secondly, they did not understand the reason for prayer. Thirdly, and most tragic, they presumably thought that my prayers were somehow better than their prayers, supposedly deducing that if someone works for the BGEA, they have a better connection to God.
That is why I have made it my aim to establish some very important truths about prayer for each of my callers, and I do this by making sure that I hit certain points in my prayer with them. Now, this is not a model to personal prayer. I do not pray like this every time I pray, and certainly do not do so during my ‘daily devotion’ time (that is a discussion for another time). Rather, I have composed this as a ‘tool’ that is evangelistic towards the unbeliever and instructive towards the believer. So here are the points I try to navigate to every time I pray with people on the phone. (This is simply the way I have it mapped out in my mind.)
1. Praise God. You would be surprised at how many people immediately address God with what they need. They go right into their problem and their prescribed solution for God to sign-off on. As to rid myself of this self-centric view of prayer, I begin by exulting in the glory of God, thanking Him for who He is and that He has graciously revealed it to us. And I do this by proclaiming two major categories of who He is: 1) His goodness and 2) His greatness. This permits us to see God’s love, justice, mercy, power, etc. all at once, so that we do not find ourselves praying to a caricature of God rather than God Himself. I then progress into the fact that God’s goodness and greatness was most manifest in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Gospel. There, God’s goodness was seen in that He sent Jesus Christ to die for those who were unrighteous – to justify ungodly people (Rom. 5:6-8). But also, we see God’s power in that even death was subordinate to His word. It is because of this full picture of God and His sufficiency that we bring our requests to Him. We trust that He is powerful enough to handle our request, and we trust that He is good enough to use His power out of benevolence.
3. Sonship. But the fact is we are not worthy of God’s benevolence. We are not worthy to bring our requests to the Lord of the Universe in His infinite holiness, having sinned against Him, and expect Him to hear us. God’s word says that He answers the prayers of the righteous (Prov. 15:29; 1 Pet. 3:12), and we must humbly admit our failings. Yet, here is hope: Christ knew no sin and became our sin, so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, as God’s word also declares that He hears the prayer prayed in faith (Matt. 22:21), and that it is by faith that we are made to have Christ’s righteousness imputed onto us (Rom. 5:1), we can present our request boldly as God’s sons and daughters, and God as our Father, being made to be so through Christ (Rom 8:15). We are praying as children of God, not merely as His creatures. God is not merely our creator; He is also our Father, and there resides our confidence to pray. It is in this sonship, being in Christ, that we express our greatest praises, because in Christ:
- We have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3)
- We are made to be not merely victorious, but more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37)
- We have all things, because Christ has all things (cf. 1 Cor. 3:21-23)
- We are complete (Col. 2:9-10)
- We have all we want (Philip. 4:11).
4. Gratitude and Humility. This firmly grounds us in nothing but the utmost gratitude and humility. God has been so gracious and we have been so undeserving, thus we must pray with this perspective fashioned on our hearts. I like to mention that ‘we are not asking for God to give us more than He has already given us in the gospel, we are simply asking to be specifically equipped to live in a manner worthy of that Gospel as to spread God’s fame to the world.’ Given the position we have been given through justification by faith in Christ, our ultimate satisfaction is quenched in Christ alone (Philip. 1:20-21); and in that the culmination of our praise to God is found in our expressed gratitude for Jesus Christ.
Points 1-4 constitute a circle of praise to God, and it functions in two ways: 1) primarily, to direct our focus off ourselves and onto God; and 2) secondly to honor the great price that our prayers were purchased by – the Father’s sending of Jesus Christ to become a man, live a perfect life, die for our sins, and then raise Him to life the third day. If we find ourselves taking our prayers for granted or treating them as some magical formula to get our way, we ought to impress in our hearts the great price the Father provided through Jesus Christ becoming our mediator.
5. God’s Will. I then start to progress towards the person’s specific request, whether that be financial blessing, healing, salvation of a loved one, growth in holiness, etc. I ground these requests, however, upon a solid foundation – i.e. the Christian’s desire for God’s glory to be manifested. In all of these things, we desire for God to answer our requests only inasmuch as He receives the praise for their answering. This is the chief end of all things, and therefore, it is God’s ultimate will. We trust that however He answers our requests, God is working ultimately towards that aim; and in that accomplishment, we can be most satisfied. So our requests flow from a primary delight in God, and therein we have confidence that God will give us the desires of our heart. “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it” (Psalm 37:4-5). Secondly, we must first seek those things God has already called us to do. We recognize that God’s will is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3) – that we only live in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27) – so we see our requests as streams from this fountainhead. We long for God to work things these things in a way that urges us forward in what He has already explicitly called us to do in His word.
6. Promise. As in my own prayer life, I seek God’s answering by means of declaring His promises. For example, if I seek financial provision, I declare the promise of Philippians 4:19 – that He will supply my every need according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus; or if I seek physical healing, I declare the promise of 1 Peter 2:4 – by His wounds I have been healed – whereby I was healed of the greatest spiritual disease; or if I feel far from God, I declare the promise of John 14:18 – He will not leave me as an orphan – whereby He adopted me as a son in Jesus Christ; and so on and so forth. Now all of these promises instill confidence in that they have already been accomplished in Christ. “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). As we seek God’s provision in our life, we declare His promises; and as we declare His promises, we realize that they are ‘yes’ in Christ. Therefore, we realize that our specific requests will only be answered by finding Christ all the more satisfying, seeing Him as all the more sufficient.
7. Holy Spirit. We want more of Jesus in all of our requests. We want to find Him as our greatest treasure so that we can count everything as loss compared to knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8). The means by which we do this is through faith in Him, being united to Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the Helper who points us back to Christ and testifies to who He was and what He taught (cf. John 14:26). We realize that God accomplishes prayer through grace, and grace is not merely some passive external force; grace is an active empowering of the Spirit in the life of the believer. So I usually conclude with Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” The emphasis is apparent: God is able to do far more than we even ask of Him, but He accomplishes this ‘according to the power that works within us.’ God answers prayer by the Spirit, and the Spirit is at work in us. Therefore, as we seek a greater satisfaction of Jesus Christ, we can thus strive to ‘work out what God works in’ (cf. Phil. 2:12-13). We can actively pursue God’s answering of our prayer, all the while giving God all the glory. Amen.