Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 23: Catholic Epistles)

Looking for a biblical theology of prayer? You’ve found the right series! I’m going through Genesis to Revelation to see what the Bible says about prayer. Up until now, I’ve covered Genesis through Paul. Now, it’s on to the General or Catholic Epistles—Hebrews through Jude. Article after the jump.

Looking for resources on prayer or on the Catholic Epistles? Here are some options! Purchasing through the links below helps to support this blog.

(I included Hebrews here. That could be debated. Some link it to Paul. Others do not.)

Hebrews 5 shows that Jesus prayed—offering prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears—making requests to be saved from death.

In Hebrews 13, the audience is exhorted to pray for the author(s).

James 5 says that those who suffer should pray. It doesn’t say what to ask. But then it says to pray over the elders of the church, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. It also says that the prayer of faith will save the sick, exhorting everyone to pray for each other so that they may be healed. It culminates, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (v. 16), and it uses Elijah as an example, who being a human who prayed ferbently was able to stop the rain for 3.5 years; and when he prayed again to release the rain, it worked.

In 1 Peter 3, Peter exhorts the husbands to be considerate towards their wives, paying honor to them so that their prayers are not hindered. He says that the Lord’s ears are open to the prayers of the righteous.

In 1 Peter 4, Peter says to take serious the discipline of their prayers because the end of all things was near.

In 1 John 5, the readers are exhorted not to pray for mortal sin. But, instead, pray for non-mortal sins on behalf of others. It’s an asking and interceding.

In 3 John, John prays that all may go well with his recipients, that they would be in good health.

In Jude, the recipients are commanded to pray in the Holy Spirit.

There is not a lot here in the Catholic Epistles about prayer. We see it as a request. It’s often asking God for things. Asking for help in suffering. Asking for health. Asking for forgiveness on others’ behalf. Sometimes it is done for leadership with the laying on of hands and with anointing with oil. And prayer is done in the Spirit.

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Theology of Prayer (Part 22): Pauline Epistles

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In Rom 1, Paul says that he makes unceasing remembrance of his recipients in his prayers. Here we see prayer as remembrance. It’s also a request. He goes on to say that he asks God to help him come to them because he longs to see them and share with them.

In Romans 8, Paul says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know hot to pray as we ought. He says the Spirit intercedes on our behalf with sighs too deep for words. This does not sound like the Spirit gives us the words to speak so much as we speak and he talks or sighs on our behalf.

In Romans 10, Paul says that he prays for his fellow Jews to be saved. Here, prayer is a desire.

In Romans 12, Paul commands his recipients to “persevere in prayer”. It is part of a behavioral set list of things Christians should do. Christians are to devote themselves to prayer—to be busy with or busily engaged in prayer. It’s a constant engagement.

In Romans 15, Paul requests his recipients to pray on his behalf to rescue him from the unbelievers in Judea and that his ministry to Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints with the result that he would be able to join up with the Romans. Here, prayer is a request.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul commands that marriage partners devote themselves to prayer if they are to abstain from sex temporarily. Again, we see the idea of busy engagement with prayer, except now it has to do with leisure time.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul makes the argument for culturally sensitive behavior in prayer, saying that a woman must pray with her head veiled. How one prays in public matters because it reflects back on God. Prayer is not to be done in a contentious way.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul says that those who speak in a tongue must pray to be able to interpret what they speak. Why? Praying in a tongue means the spirit prays but the mind is unproductive. Paul instructs his recipients to pray with the spirit and with the mind also just like singing with both spirit and mind. Here we see that prayer is a request, but we also see that prayer is to be done both with the spirit and the mind.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul reports on the suffering endured in Asia, and he states that the recipients helped them through it by supporting them with prayer. Prayer for others is a blessing and a help.

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul says the leaders are praying for the Corinthian recipients. Prayer for others.

In 2 Corinthians 13, Paul expresses the desire that he hopes they did not do anything wrong. Prayer as desire. That desire ultimately as that the Corinthians would be made perfect.

In Ephesians 1, Paul says that he does not cease to give thanks as he remembers the Ephesians in his prayers. Prayer with thanksgiving; prayer as remembrance. He also prays or requests that God give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation.

In Ephesians 3, Paul says that he prays that the Ephesians would not lose heart over his sufferings for them. He also says that he bows his knees before the Father. Here’s an example of prayer on one’s knees. He says that he prays that God would grant a strengthened inner being through the Spirit and that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith. He says that he prays that they would comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge and be filled with the fullness of God. These are a series of requests in prayer.

In Ephesians 6, Paul instructs them to pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication, keeping alert to persevere in supplication for all the saints. Here we see that prayer is to be done in the Spirit to be alert and ready to persevere in supporting each other. Paul also requests that they pray for him to be able to speak with boldness. Again, we see prayer as request.

In Philippians 1, Paul’s constant joyful prayer for his recipients is that their love would overflow with knowledge and full insight.

In Philippians 4. Paul instructs his recipients not to worry about anything but to take requests to God through prayer and supplication. Prayer here is all about releasing anxiety and bringing requests, petitions, and thanksgiving to God.

In Colossians 1, Paul says that through prayer he thanks God for the Colossians’ faith in Jesus and the love for the saints. Paul says that he and his companions had not ceased praying for them, asking that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will to help them lead lives worthy of the Lord. Prayer as remembrance. Prayer as request.

In Colossians 4, Paul commands his recipients to devote themselves to prayer and thanksgiving. Again, we see the idea of being busy with prayer. And, yet again, we see thanksgiving associated with prayer. Paul also requests prayer that God would open up the door for the word and to preach Christ. It is prayer as request. Even Epaphras wrestles in prayer on their behalf, says Paul. Prayer as wrestling.

In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul says that he and Silvanus always thank God for the Thessalonian recipients in their prayers, constantly making remembrance of them for their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in Jesus. Prayer with thanksgiving and remembrance.

In 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul says they pray night and day, hoping to see the Thessalonians face to face.

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to rejoice, pray, and give thanks—a three-fold “will of God” for them. Again, we see prayer and thanksgiving together but with the addition of rejoicing. He then asks them to pray for them.

In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul says that he prays for the Thessalonians, asking that God make them worthy of his call so that the name of Jesus may be glorified in them.

In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul asks for prayer so that the word of the Lord may spread.

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone for national and world leaders. And men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. Paul’s desire was that men pray with a peaceful style.

In 1 Timothy 4, with respect to abstaining from certain foods, all food is created by God and is good and not to be rejected but instead it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer. In this sense, praying over food is a thanksgiving prayer.

In 2 Timothy 1, Paul says that he constantly remembers Timothy in his prayers. Again, prayer is associated with remembrance.

In Philemon 4, Paul says that he remembers Philemon in his prayers and thanks God because of him. Prayer with remembrance and thanksgiving.

In Philemon 6, Paul says that he prays that the sharing of Philemon’s faith may become effective when he perceives all the good that they may do for Christ. This seems like prayer as desire, although it could be a request. But Paul also states that he remembers Philemon in his prayers and thanks God for him. Prayer with thanksgiving. Prayer as remembering others.

In Philemon 22, Paul says that Philemon’s prayers for him to be restored is approaching fulfillment, i.e., that Paul would join up and visit with Philemon soon. Again, prayer as request.

Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 6: Psalms 1-41)

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Psalms

As for the Psalms, it is noteworthy that they have been used for Jewish cultic worship. They serve a liturgical purpose, and they also provide both Jews and Christians with a collection of prayers that show how to pray to God. It is filled with models or examples that teach us about praising or making requests to God. But if the Psalms were inspired by God, then it is fair to say, in this sense, that God has indeed given us prayers to pray back to him. However, these prayers are not requirements; rather, they are examples or guidelines to follow. Therefore, we will go through the Psalms and examine what each of them show us about prayer.

Psalms: Book 1 (Pss 1-41)

In Ps 1, an introduction to the book of Psalms is given. It provides us with the two ways: righteousness and wickedness. It tells us that the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. 

In Ps 2, an introduction to the first book (Book 1 = Pss 1-41) in the Psalms is given. (It is possible also that Ps 2 functions as the introduction not only to book one, but also to book two, Pss 42-72.) This psalm discusses how the nations seek to destroy the king, the anointed one, but God laughs at them, for he has placed the king, his son, on the throne. It calls the kings of the earth to serve the Lord.

In Ps 3, which is attributed to David, we have a prayer. The psalmist, regardless if it was David who actually penned this psalm (herein we will only reference the author of an individual psalm as “the psalmist”), declares to the Lord that he has many foes. Yet, the Lord is his shield. (While we do not know if the psalmist was male or female, for the sake of simplicity, we will default to masculine vocabulary, but it is at least possible that female authors could have been involved in composing individual psalms, although no female was ever attributed to any of the psalms.) He understands that the Lord answers his cries. He understands that the Lord sustains him. What does he ask for? The psalmist asks for deliverance from his foes. Promptly on the heals of this request, the psalmist makes a declarative statement: deliverance belongs to God. Here we see that prayer can be at once both a request and a declarative praise. But the psalm ends with a request, for the psalmist asks for the Lord’s blessing to be on his people.

In Ps 4, the psalmist begins and ends the prayer with a direct statement to God. First, the psalmist asks for God to answer him when he calls. Last, he declares to the Lord that it is He alone who makes him to lie down in safety. In the middle of the prayer, he speaks as though it were to the people. Yet, he says, prior to his last declarative statement, that the Lord has put gladness on his heart. Here we see that prayer can be at once both communication with God while also communication with others. 

In Ps 5, the psalmist requests for God to hear him on the basis that He does not delight in wickedness. The psalmist is crying out to God because of his enemies. He requests for guidance. He requests further that his enemies will bear the result of their transgressions. He requests also, in the end, for the Lord to provide divine protection. The psalm ends with another declaration, that the Lord covers the righteous. It is interesting, however, that in Ps 5 the protection is in the house of the Lord. It is a temple psalm. The wicked will not be allowed to enter the house of the Lord, whereas the psalmist will be able to, and as a result will be under the Lord’s protection. Again, we see that prayer can be a mixture of request and declaration. As far as requests are concerned, seeking protection and divine retribution are valid.  

In Ps 6, the psalmist is clearly grief-stricken and is pleading to the Lord for relief. He requests that the Lord not rebuke him in anger and he asks for grace. The psalmist is asking for healing. He asks for deliverance and that his life would be spared. Furthermore, he commands the wicked ones to leave him alone on the basis that the Lord has heard his cries. He understands that the Lord has heard him and accepted his prayer. As a result, the psalmist declares that his enemies will be put to shame. Here we have an instance where prayer involves grief. Requests are made for healing. But there is an understanding at work: the Lord hears the prayer. Those who are of the Lord, meaning, those who belong to the Lord and are his, that is, the righteous, can rest assured that the Lord hears their prayers. 

In Ps 7, the psalmist declares at the outset that he takes refuge in Him. Also, he asks for deliverance from his pursuers, lest they tear him apart. He makes an odd request: if he has sinned by harming his allies or his foes without warrant, let him be repaid by being harmed by his enemies. He must assume that he has not, for in the next section of the psalm, he asks the Lord to rise up and judge his enemies and asks for himself to be judged according to his righteousness. He asks for the wickedness of the evil come to an end; he asks for the righteous to be established. He declares that God is his saving shield and righteous judge. He realizes that God is mighty and will punish those who do not repent of their wickedness. But he ends the prayer with thanksgiving and praise, for the Lord is righteousness. Again, we see that prayer can be a combination of request, declaration, and here also praise and thanksgiving. Prayer is multifaceted.

In Ps 8, the psalmist praises God for his majestic creation. In conclusion, after contemplating God’s creation, he declares that the Lord is sovereign. Here we see an pure example of prayer as praise.

In Ps 9, the psalmist declares that he will give thanks to the Lord and declare his wonderful deeds, that he would give praise to His name. Why? Because the Lord has overcome the psalmist’s enemies and has judged and avenged. Then the psalmist asks for grace. He declares that he is suffering. He declares that the nations have dug their own pit into which they have fallen, and the psalmist asks of the Lord to put the nations in their place: they are the created ones and are not the judge. Here we have a mixture of praise and thanksgiving with request and declaration. 

In Ps 10, the psalmist utilizes blunt speech. He asks the Lord point blank, “Why are you stand-offish?” Then he asks the Lord to catch the wicked in their evil doing. Here is an instance in which the prosperity of the wickedness is recognized, for the psalmist declares that the wicked prosper at all times. It is true that the wicked do not always fail, and many times they prosper. But the psalmist asks God to free the oppressed and force the wicked to account for their ways. He declares that the Lord is king forever, so that the nations will not outlast Him. In the end, the psalmist declares that the Lord will hear the meek and listen to them, and he will strengthen them. He declares further that he will do justice for the orphan and the oppressed. The psalmist is relying on God’s justice. He prays with the understanding that God is indeed just and His justice will prevail. Here we see that prayer can be blunt—open, honest, and frank. Prayer can involve asking questions of God. It is not all about requests or praise. It can be contemplation as well.

In Ps 11, it seems as though this psalm has nothing to say of prayer, for the Lord is not directly addressed. However, it seems to be a declarative contemplation, for the psalmist announces that it is in the Lord he takes refuge, and therefore, he will not flee. The Lord is ever watchful. He will protect the righteous by pursuing the wicked. If Ps 11 is to be understood as a prayer, then it is in the sense that the psalmist is contemplating about the Lord, he is declaring certain truths to be true and evident, and he is claiming them to take effect in his own life. Prayer can be indirect appeals, for the psalmist here is indirectly requesting the Lord’s protection and justice.

In Ps 12, the psalmist simply asks for help of the Lord. The faithful have seemingly disbanded. The psalmist hears insincere words, and he desires for the Lord to stop such speech as well as that which boasts. The psalmist then claims what the Lord says in response, that he sees the need of the poor, he will rise up, and he will give them safety. The psalmist then declares that the promises of the Lord are pure and complete. He understands, then, that the Lord will guard and protect them from the wicked. In prayer, one can rest assured that God will stay true to his word. 

In Ps 13, the psalmist gives more frank speech. He asks the Lord how long He will hide from him and forget him? The psalmist asks the Lord to answer him and to give light to him. In the end, he declares his trust is in the Lord’s steadfast love, so he will rejoice in the Lord’s salvation, and he will sing to the Lord, because He has blessed him. It is acceptable in prayer to blend contemplation with praise. It is important to be open and honest before the Lord in prayer, as we see here.

In Ps 14, the psalmist declares on more than one occasion that there is no one who does good. He declares further that the Lord has sided with the righteous, and while the wicked would seek to keep the poor from succeeding, the Lord is the refuge for the poor. The psalmist then makes a statement in which hope for Israel is expressed, hope for deliverance and restoration. Not only may one contemplate the Lord, but here we see an example of contemplating the wicked in prayer. This contemplation concludes with a hope in the Lord’s restoration despite the wicked. 

In Ps 15, the psalmist contemplates those who are able to dwell in the Lord’s tent. He determines that it is the blameless and upright, those who speak truthfully and do not slander, those who do not do evil to their friends or reproach their neighbors, those who despise the wicked and honor the righteous, those who stand by their oaths and do not lend money with interest or take a bribe against the innocent. Such people shall never be moved concludes the psalmist. Such people are those who may be in the presence of the Lord. The Lord is directly questioned, but the psalmist supplies the answer. It is a prayer of contemplation on what it means to be righteous. Prayer can simply involve thinking about what it means to be righteous. 

In Ps 16, the psalmist asks for protection and refuge. Then he declares that the Lord is his lot and his portion. Indeed, the Lord has blessed him. So, he blesses the Lord. He declares that he keeps the Lord before him because he is there with him at his right hand. Therefore, he declares he is glad, for the Lord grants him life. Here we see a thankfulness for the Lord’s protection after a request for protection. Prayer can ask for but also assume something to be granted, which, in this case, is protection. 

In Ps 17, the psalmist asks for the Lord to hear him. He declares that he is innocent, and he urges God to listen to him. He asks God to show his steadfast love. He asks for the God to guard and protect him from the wicked. He asks the Lord to rise up and confront his enemies. In the end, the psalmist declares that he will behold the face of the Lord in righteousness and he will be satisfied. He assumes, then, that the Lord will hear his cries and declare him to be innocent. 

In Ps 18, the psalmist expresses much thanks, gratitude, and love to God. He declares, “I love you, O Lord.” He declares that the Lord is his rock, fortress, deliverer, and shield, and he is worthy to be praised. He declares that he was in great distress, but he called upon the Lord and He delivered him. He declares that the Lord recompensed him in accordance with his righteousness. In the end, the psalmist blessed the Lord who lives, for He is his rock. Here we see a prayer of thanksgiving, for he was hard pressed by his enemies, but the Lord delivered him and made him to be victorious.

In Ps 19, the psalmist contemplates about creation and the Lord’s torah. He declares that the heavens testify to God’s glory. He declares that the Lord’s torah is perfect, refreshing, sure, right, clear, enlightening, and pure. He asks, in the end, for the Lord to be pleased with his words and his meditation. Here we see an interesting request: Lord, may these words be acceptable to you. 

In Ps 20, the psalmist asks for victory for the king, the Lord’s anointed. He hopes that the Lord will answer the king while in distress and protect him. He hopes that the Lord will help and support the king. He hopes that the kings desires, plans, and petitions will all be fulfilled and granted. The psalmist then declares that he knows the Lord will aid the king, for his pride is in the Lord. The psalmist ends the prayer with a request for the Lord to grant victory and to answer them when they call. Again, prayer can be a blend of request and declaration, as it is here. 

In Ps 21, the psalmist praises God and thanks him for granting victory to the king. The king’s desire was granted, and the psalmist give credit to the Lord for making the king successful. Prayer is here seen in connection with Ps 20, so that while the requests were made earlier, those requests were answered and granted, and here in Ps 21 prayer is in response to that answer. 

In Ps 22, the psalmist laments before the Lord. He asks God, “Why have you forsaken me?” He sees his plight: God does not hear his cries, which is altogether different than his ancestors, for the Lord listened to their pleas. The psalmist declares that he is lower than human, one who is utterly despised. He is not being rescued from his troubles; those who mock him emphasize that the Lord does not delight in him, otherwise he would be rescued from his plight. But the psalmist recognizes that he is the created one of the Creator. The Creator has been with him since the womb, so that the psalmist asks the Lord not to be far from him during this time of trouble. He declares that he is stretched thin, for he is beset by his enemies. Again, he appeals to the Lord, asking him not to be far away. He asks plainly for deliverance. Then he speaks of what the Lord has done indeed: he has rescued him. He then calls himself and all else who fear the Lord to praise him for this very reason, that he did in fact hear his cry. He declares that all the earth will remember and turn to the Lord in worship, for he alone is sovereign. All who have died, all who live, and all who will live will bow down to the Lord because of the deliverance he has provided. Prayer is here a blend of lament and praise. We have seen plenty of prayers filled with thanksgiving and praise. It is here we see something more: a righteous sufferer beset by his enemies wading in his distress before the Lord. Prayer may involve open, honest, frank speech.

In Ps 23, the psalmist declares the Lord to be his shepherd. As a result, he will not have want. The Shepherd leads him to green pastures and still waters through right paths. The Shepherd protects him even in dark places. Furthermore, he sees the Lord as a hospitable host. The Host prepares a table for him, anointing him, providing goodness and mercy. The psalmist ends, concluding that he will live in the house of the Lord forever. Here we have prayer as a declaration of trust. The psalmist is declaring that he trust in the Lord as his shepherd and host. The Lord provides him with all that he needs, both food and protection, in addition to good guidance. Prayer need not be a request, but it can be a declaration of trust.

In Ps 24, the psalmist declares that all of creation belongs to the Lord. It is a psalm of praise, declaring God to be glorious. And yet, it asserts that only those with clean hands and pure hearts, those who do not swear deceitfully, can approach the Lord. It is not a declaration negating the prayers of those who are not pure in heart, but it describes those whom can be in the presence of the Lord. Those who are pure in heart will be blessed by the Lord and will be vindicated by God. What does this psalm teach us about prayer? If anything, it teaches us that prayer can be declarative, which we have already seen.

In Ps 25, the psalmist asks for the Lord to life up his soul. He declares his trust in the Lord and asks that he not be put to shame and that his enemies may not win. The psalmist appeals to God’s mercy and love. He asks the Lord to forget his transgressions but remember him according to his love. The psalmist declares God to be good and upright, which is why he instructs sinners in the correct way. He asks again for pardon. He declares that friendship with the Lord is for those who fear him. He asks for protection and deliverance. And in the end, the psalmist requests for redemption, not for himself, but for Israel. Here we see a mixture of declaration and request, request not only for self but also for the community. 

In Ps 26, the psalmist asks for vindication and combines that request with another for the Lord to test his heart and mind, knowing full well that the Lord will see his commitment to Him. He requests earnestly that the Lord not sweep him away with the sinners, because he is not like them. No, he walks in integrity. It is appropriate in prayer to qualify one’s requests if desired. In this case, the psalmist makes his requests for vindication and qualifies them by declaring that he is indeed righteous. He appeals not only to his own righteousness, but also to the Lord’s love. His righteousness alone is not enough; he brings into play the Lord’s love as part of his request.

In Ps 27, the psalmist declares that the Lord is his light and his salvation, and it is in the Lord that he places his trust. He knows that the Lord will protect him in the temple. He asks that the Lord not forsake him or turn him away. He declares that if his parents forsake him, the Lord will take him up. In the end, he declares that he believes he will see the goodness of the Lord. He says to wait for the Lord, to be strong, and let courage overcome the heart. Here we have a mixture of declaration and instruction in prayer.

In Ps 28, the psalmist cries out to the Lord his rock, and asks him not to ignore him, else he be like those who go down into the Pit. He asks that he not be swept away with the wicked. He asks that the wicked will be repaid for their wrongdoings. Then he blesses the Lord for listening to him, declaring that the Lord is his strength and shield, and it is in the Lord that his heart trusts. He declares the Lord to be the shepherd of his people; he is also their saving refuge and strength. Here again we have a mixture of declaration and request.

In Ps 29, the psalmist declares the glory of the Lord in the nature of the storm, and in the end he asks for the Lord to give strength and blessing to his people. Here we have a mixture of declaration and request.

In Ps 30, the psalmist gives thanks to the Lord because the Lard did not deliver him over to his enemies, and, furthermore, the Lord healed him. He calls on the faithful ones to the Lord to sing praises to Him and give thanks to him. He declares that the Lord established him, but when the Lord hid his face, he was dismayed. He appealed to the Lord that if he were to die and go to the Pit, it would not benefit the Lord, because he would not be able to praise the Lord from the Pit. Here again we have a request that is qualified. And again we have a mixture of declaration and request, but also thanksgiving for the request being answered.

In Ps 31, the psalmist declares that it is the Lord in whom he seeks refuge. He asks that the Lord not allow him to be put to shame; based on the Lord’s righteousness, he asks for deliverance. He says later that the Lord is indeed his rock, his fortress, his guide, and his refuge. He declares that it is into the Lord’s hands he commits his spirit, declaring further that the Lord, the faithful God, has delivered him. Then the psalmist declares that the Lord hates those who pay tribute to worthless idols; in stark contrast, the psalmist declares that he trusts in the Lord. He asks that the Lord be gracious, because he is filled with sorrow as his enemies scorn him and his neighbors abhor him. He declares that he is like the dead, for his enemies plot against him, and they are surrounding him. Yet, he declares that he places his trust in the Lord. He asks the Lord to cease lying lips that attack the righteous. He appeals to God’s abundant goodness. Then the psalmist blesses the Lord for his wondrous steadfast love in hearing his prayers and repaying his enemies. In the end, the psalmist exhorts others who wait for the Lord to be strong and take courage. Here again we have a mixture of declaration and request. We also see an element of faithfulness in times of trouble. We see not only the trust of the afflicted in God, but we also see the Lord’s faithfulness to the afflicted in hearing the request. 

In Ps 32, the psalmist declares that those whose transgressions are forgiven is happy, those whose sin is covered is happy. He declares that the guilt of sin is too much and it is very draining. But, he declares, when he acknowledged his sin to the Lord, God forgave the guilt of his sin. Then he exhorts the faithful ones to pray to the Lord, for the Lord is a safe refuge in times of distress. He encourages them in the end to be glad in the Lord and rejoice with joy. Here we have prayer as confession.

In Ps 33, the psalmist praises the Lord and calls others to rejoice in the Lord, because the Lord’s word is upright and He loves righteousness and justice. He then declares that it was by the Lord’s word that the heavens were made, declaring also that the Lord is basically in charge of the waters. It calls the earth to fear the Lord, for he called it forth and he is in charge of its inhabitants. None, not even the king, can be saved from the Lord. But those who fear the Lord is watched by the Lord; the Lord will deliver them. And, in the end, the psalmist requests of the Lord to let his steadfast love be upon him and the people. For the most part, this prayer is that of declaration and praise, but in the end it does include a request.

In Ps 34, the psalmist declares praise because the Lord heard and granted his request. He exhorts others to look to God, to taste and see that He is good. This prayer is one of reflection on what it means to fear the Lord. Here we do not see a request, but we see praise and thanksgiving.

In Ps 35, the psalmist asks for deliverance. He asks the Lord to fight for him! He asks for his enemies to be put to shame and for their plans to be thwarted. The psalmist asks for deliverance, and in return he promises to thank him and praise him in the congregation. He calls upon the Lord neither to be far nor silent. Here we have a request for the Lord to bring vindication, deliverance, and intervention.

In Ps 36, the psalmist speaks of the way of the wicked and then contrasts that with the love of the Lord, then, in the end, he asks the Lord to continue his love and salvation to the righteous, not to let the foot of the wicked tread on him. Here we see contemplation of the wicked and contrasted with the Lord, but it is followed by a request. Prayer can be praise, thanksgiving, and request, but it can also be contemplation.

In Ps 37, the psalmist contemplates the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous. It is a wisdom psalm. No requests are made. If it is a prayer, then it is one purely of contemplation that rests on the Lord’s promises for retribution. 

In Ps 38, the psalmist confesses his sin and his guilt. He asks the Lord not to rebuke him while angry. He declares that his sin has driven out his health from his bones. Yet, despite his afflictions, he waits on the Lord. He confesses his sin and acknowledges that his enemies who are great in number are declaring him to be evil even though he desires to do good. He asks, in the end, for the Lord not to forsake him, not to be far from him, and for him to make haste and help him. Here we have a mixture of confession and request.

In Ps 39, the psalmist contemplates about the futility of life, and he asks for deliverance from his transgressions, to know also the measure of his days, that he would not be made the scorn of a fool, and in the end he asks the Lord to hear his prayer and not hold peace from him. He appeals specifically to the fact that he is but an alien, a passing guest. Again, we see contemplation mixed with request. Again, we see that the request is qualified.

In Ps 40, the psalmist declares that he waited for the Lord and He heard his prayer, that when he was near death the Lord raised him up. He spoke of these deeds to the congregation and did not keep it to himself. He asks the Lord not withhold mercy from him and to let His love keep him safe forever. He asks the Lord for help concerning those who wish to kill him. He asks in the end for the Lord to help him without delay. In prayer, we may ask for expedited help. 

In Ps 41, the psalmist asks for healing. He declares that the poor are delivered by the Lord in times of trouble, they are protected by the Lord and kept alive, and the Lord does not give them over to their enemies. Furthermore, the psalmist declares, the Lord sustains them when they are sick and heals them when they are ill. The psalmist transitions to speaking of sick and ill to his own request: Lord, be gracious and heal me. He declares that he has sinned. His enemies want him to die. He asks for the Lord to be gracious and raise him up. In the end, he notes that he has not lost favor with the Lord, because his enemies had not trampled upon him. He acknowledges that the Lord has upheld him due to his integrity. As we have seen time and time again throughout Book 1 of the Psalms, prayer can be a mixture of elements, such as confession, praise, thanksgiving, and request, just as it is here with a blending of confession and request.

Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 5: Job)

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Though the text doesn’t say he prayed, and even though he is in the presence of his friends, the words Job cries out in Job 7 are prayer-like indeed. After speaking and hearing from Eliphaz, Job requests for God to remember him and that he is but temporary. He explicitly lets God hear his mind. He’s upset that God is terrorizing him in his dreams. He tells God that he would rather have death than his life. He asks why God would test humans. He asks God to show him his wrongdoing. Here we see that prayer is something like a conversation, or it is at least speaking the mind. He asks God questions. He wants answers. He is introspective: he wants to know what he has done wrong to deserve the tragedies that have befallen him, and he wants God to reveal those wrongdoings to him. But it is important to note here that prayer is seen as speaking the mind openly and honestly. He does not accuse God of wrongdoing. But he does understand that God is in charge and is testing him.

In Job 10, he continues to speak his mind to God. He asks more questions, seeking more answers. He pleads, in the end, for God to turn away from him, so that he might have a moment’s joy before he dies. Here we see an open, honest, and real Job speaking his mind to God. 

In Job 13, his tone changes. He is confident that if he pleads his case, God will vindicate him. He asks God to withdraw his hand; he asks God to stop terrifying him. He asks God to show him his sins.

In Job 14, his tone switches. He is sure that human life is futile. Then in Job 16 throws up the white flag. He tells God, “You have worn me out.” In chapter 17, he asks God for the pledge that he requires so as to gain his protection. Then he identifies his low position, that he is nothing but a laughingstock. 

In Job 30, he tells God, “I cry out to you, but you do not answer.” He is still speaking his mind. He simply says, “When I hoped for good, evil came.” He seems to be trying to make sense of what he was experiencing. He was righteous and blameless, but the way he understood things wasn’t happening. He was not being blessed. 

Then, in Job 40, the Lord charges Job to answer him. The Lord has shown up and is now addressing Job directly. Earlier, Job was intent to bring forth his defense. Now, he dare not speak to the Lord. Job had been asking all sorts of questions. Now it is the Lord’s turn to ask questions. Job has no reply to the Lord’s questions. In chapter 42, he simply states, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Then the Lord claims that Job had been speaking the truth all along, whereas his friends were speaking folly. He commands his friends to make a sacrifice and have Job pray for them, so that the Lord’s anger would be appeased. 

In Job, we see that prayer is request, as at the end. But we also see that prayer can be simple and open communication in which one speaks the mind to God. Prayer can involve asking questions and seeking answers. Prayer can involve seeking for the Lord to reveal one’s sins. Prayer is an opportunity for introspection. Prayer provides the time to contemplate the Lord’s ways.

Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 4: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther)

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In Ezra 6, King Darius, based on a discovered document from King Cyrus, declares that the Jerusalem temple was to be rebuilt and fully funded, so that the priests would also be given all the animals necessary for sacrifices and for prayer. They were to pray for the well-being of the king and his sons. Here we see prayer as a function of the priests as part of sacrificial worship, and we see that its purpose is to request the well-being of the king and his sons. Again, we see prayer as a request, and in this case it is on behalf of others. But here we also see that prayer is a priestly function.

In Ezra 8, Ezra declares a fast where the people stopped to fast and ask God for his protection as they travel back to Jerusalem. Ezra did not want to ask the king for protection, lest he seem to contradict himself in that he had already claimed that the Lord’s blessing is on those who are in line with God and his curses are against those who oppose him. The text says that the Lord answered their prayer, meaning that they made it safely to Jerusalem even without soldiers to protect them. Again, we see prayer as a request. However, in this case we see prayer in connection with fasting. Ezra and the people gave up food so that they could pray and ask God for protection. It is here important to note that fasting and prayer were combined. But it is also important regarding the connection with humility.

In Ezra 9-10, Ezra gives a long prayer. It is a penitential prayer. Ezra, after having realized that the people were not faithful to the covenant with the Lord, confesses before the Lord and before the people at the evening hour of sacrifice their sins with his hands raised. He proclaimed that he was ashamed because of all of their sins. He declares as a matter-of-factly why they are under God’s curse: it is because they have disobeyed the law of the covenant. Yet, God has decided to show them a glimmer of hope by allowing them to come back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. In his prayer, he combines Lev 18 and Deut 7 as the Torah that speaks of their sin: do not intermarry with those with whom have defiled the land lest they also defile the land by their actions with the result that the land will spit them out. He declares that God has actually not punished them as severely as they deserved and has established a remnant in his faithfulness to his covenant. Then at the start of Ezra 10, it tells us how Ezra was praying. He was weeping and wailing. But not only him, all the people there were weeping bitterly. This prayer was associated with a broken and contrite heart among the people. Here we see that prayer can be confession. No request is made here. In this prayer, a confession is made in which, realizing that their past actions have condemned them in accordance with the Torah, Ezra could only claim their sin before the Lord with a penitent spirit. Yet, at the end, he asks this question: “Would you destroy us leaving no remnant?” The answer is, “No.” In fact, he answers his question when he declares that they are in fact the remnant so that God has indeed shown his faithfulness. Here there doesn’t really appear to be a question of God. It is a rhetorical question that he himself answers. The prayer is utterly penitential, but it rings out like a sermon before the crowd in the way it is delivered. We can observer several things. First, prayer can be done with hands raised. Second, prayer can be confession. Third, prayer can incorporate Scripture, and, as in this case, it can flexibly paraphrase Scripture. And finally, prayer can be done while weeping or with a broken, contrite heart.

In Neh 1, Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed before God. He sat down and wept. It was for several days that he mourned, fasted, and prayed. When he prayed to God, he interceded on behalf of the people. First, he declared God to be the mighty one who keeps his covenant promises. Second, he appealed to God to lend an attentive ear to his prayers on behalf of the people. Third, he confessed the sins of the people on their behalf, including himself. Fourth, he appealed to Scripture, such as from Deut 30, calling God to remember his own words that he commanded to Moses, that if they disobey they will be exiled, but if they repent and obey then he will be faithful to draw them back to him. Fifth, he reminds the Lord that he chose them to be his servants. Then he asks to be heard and to grant him success when he approaches King Artaxerxes to go back to aid Jerusalem. Again, we see that Scripture can be flexibly incorporated into one’s prayer. Here we see prayer as confession in combination with request. As we saw before, the confession could be offered on behalf of an entire people. As we have already seen, prayer can be done with a broken and contrite heart. As seen already, prayer can be done in association with fasting and mourning. Here we also see that this prayer, fasting, and mourning can span for long periods.

In Neh 2, in contrast to the long period of weeping and praying identified in chapter 1, Nehemiah prays a very quick prayer. We do not know what he prays, however. The king asked him a question. Right before he answered the king, he prayed to God. Again, we don’t know what he prayed, but we do know that it was quick enough so that he could answer the king’s question still. Here we see that prayer does not have to be long. Prayer can be quick.

In Neh 4, Nehemiah and the Judeans are ridiculed for their attempt at rebuilding the wall, so Nehemiah prays to God, asking him to hear the people’s prayers and to turn the insults back onto the heads of those insulting them. He asks that they would be given to the plunder of captivity. And he asks that God will not forgive them of their sins. Not only were they being insulted, but danger was real and imminent. There were some that were prepared to bring violence down upon them. So, the people prayed to God and setup watchmen at the gates. We don’t know exactly what they prayed. But here we see prayer combined with action: they prayed and they setup guard. Prayer is often associated with action on our own parts, so that, while we make a request of God, we still have to take action. Indeed, the Judeans had to post guard with every spear and bow they had wherever the wall was weak. Nehemiah describes the result of their action: the enemies heard that God frustrated their schemes. In Nehemiah’s eyes, their action to take up guard at the wall was the answer to their prayer, for it frustrated the plot of their enemies.

In Neh 6, Nehemiah prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” He was under the ever watchful eye of the Judean enemies. They were scheming to harm Nehemiah. He knew that they wanted to harm him. He also knew that if they could not harm him they were trying to demoralize him and the people to the point where they would not be able to work. In response to that, he prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” The text does not say that he prayed to God. However, there is not a single place that we have seen already that indicates prayer is done to someone other than God. We can safely conclude that he prayed to God for strength in light of the plots of the enemies and despite their hopes of demoralizing Nehemiah to the point that his hands would be weakened and rendered useless. These enemies even hired prophets that were within Nehemiah’s circles. They hired them to prophesy against Nehemiah. He realized it, and he appealed to God: “Remember them for what they have tried to do.” Instead of taking matters of vengeance into his own hands, he gave it over to the Lord. Here we see that prayer can be simple and straightforward, but, again, we see that it is a request. Here it is a request for strength and a request for divine retribution. 

In Neh 11, Asaph, identified as the forefather of one contemporary Levite, was a director who led in thanksgiving and prayer. Nothing is said about what was prayed for. But it apparently was prayer in association with thanksgiving. Here we see, as we have already, prayer and thanksgiving can be counterparts.

Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 3: Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles)

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In 1 Sam 1, Hannah, being bitter and sorrowful, prayed to the Lord. It adds that she made a vow to the Lord. Her words are as follows: “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head” (NIV). In the context of the chapter, she made both a request and a vow. It seems that prayer and vows are close associates at the very least. Indeed, at the end of the chapter, she summarizes what she had done, she had prayed to God and asked him for a child, and, since her prayer was answered, she made good on her vow. Additionally, prayer is not limited to times of happiness. Hannah pried while she was filled with bitter sorrow because she was barren. Note also that Hannah was moving her lips but her prayer was in her mouth (1 Sam 1:13). Prayer, again, can be done in silence. 

In 1 Sam 2, we first see prayer as a way of praising God. Hannah, after having been given a son and then giving him over for service to the Lord, prays to God, saying, “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. . . .” (2:1-10, NIV). Prayer can be a request or a praise.

In 1 Sam 8, when Samuel was old, the Hebrews wanted a king in his place, so Samuel prayed. Here is the first instance in which God says something about the situation and instructs someone in prayer. Prayer here is seen as communication or instruction. God is able to instruct and communicate with us in prayer.

In 1 Sam 12, Samuel called upon the Lord for rain and the Lord caused it to rain. Here the word “prayer” is not used, but Samuel does make a request. This request, however, was to make a sign for the people, so that they would see and recognize their wickedness. If we are to understand “called on the Lord” as “prayer,” then one of the intentions or agendas of prayer is not only to receive a response to a request, but also, at times, to create a response to a sign. Indeed, the rain came and the people then asked Samuel to pray for the Lord to make it stop raining. Using a sort of inclusio, we can legitimately conclude that they were asking Samuel to reverse his original prayer. From this conclusion we can infer that “called on the Lord” is the same as “prayer.” Indeed, Samuel relents, saying that he should not sin by failing to pray for them. Here is an element yet seen: to fail to pray on behalf of someone can be a sin. In this case, the people are not praying to God directly. They are relying on Samuel as the prophet to speak to God. As prophet, the divinely appointed messenger between the Lord and his people, Samuel had a responsibility to pray to the Lord on the people’s behalf, much like Moses did in Numbers, for example.

In 1 Sam 14, Saul prayed to the Lord on a couple of occasions. First, he wanted to know if he was going to have success, so he made an inquiry. The Lord did not answer him on that day. Second, he asked the Lord for the right answer through the casting of lots. Through the lots, the correct answer was revealed. The answer: Jonathan is the sinner deserving death. The men around them then pleaded Saul not to harm his son, Jonathan, because he had fought mightily against the Philistines with the Lord’s strength. Saul took very seriously his oath. Through prayer with lots he found the sinner. But he made an inquiry and God did not answer him on that day. Interesting, we might make an inquiry, but God may not answer at the time that we ask. God is not required to answer in a timely fashion.

In 2 Sam 7 (compare 1 Chr 17), David prays to the Lord. It is a lengthy prayer. It comes in response to the covenant that God reveals to him regarding the prosperity of his household. It refers to the Lord as the Sovereign Lord. It requests for God to stay true to his promise. But it also makes declarations out of praise. Here we see that a prayer can involve both requests and praises. Prayer can also plead for God to be true to his word.

In 2 Sam 15:31, David prays to the Lord, requesting that his enemy’s advisor may provide foolish advice. In 2 Sam 17:14, it seems that his request is granted, for it is determined that the advisor’s advice was not pleasing. Here we see that the prayer was offered, and though it was answered it was also delayed. But this may be only as a result of the narrative. In any case, David made a request. Again, we see that prayer is a request.

In 2 Sam 21, after David recovers the bones of Saul and Jonathan and puts them with Saul’s father’s bones, God answered prayer on behalf of the land. Prayer concerning the land is not off limits. The people were having a famine. David “sought the face of the Lord.” Here we see that prayer is an inquiry. But at the end of this narrative, it says that God answered the prayer on behalf of the land. We must infer that David’s prayer was both inquiry and request. Yet it is interesting that prayer can also be inquiry.

In 2 Sam 24, David decides to take a census of his army, which then results in the discipline of the Lord. David was given three discipline options, and he chose to have three days of plague in the land. As the angel was carrying out the Lord’s instructions, the Lord grieved for the people and told the angel to stop. David then said to the Lord that the issue is David, not the land, so deal with him instead. David then built an altar at the location where the angel stopped. As a result of the altar, the Lord answered the prayer in behalf of the land and stopped the plague. Here we do not see the word “prayer” in association with what David said to the Lord. But in connection with the end of the chapter, we must understand his words as a prayer. In this instance, his prayer is a request, a plea, really, but also confession. Here he confesses that the issue is him, not the land or people. Prayer can be requests but also confession.

In 1 Kgs 8 (compare 2 Chr 6), Solomon prays a dedication over the temple, in which he makes a request and praises God. It is a long prayer. It also, like David’s lengthy prayer, requests for God to stay true to his word, to the promises that he made to David.

In 1 Kgs 13, the man of God intercedes and prays for the king so that his hand would be restored to full health. Here prayer is a request, but the act of prayer is seen as an intercession. Or is it that prayer is both a request and an intercession? Or is it that prayer is intercession? At the very least, the man of God makes the request on behalf of the king. It is similar to how Moses interceded for Aaron as mentioned in Deuteronomy. Prayer on behalf of another is intercession.

In 1 Kgs 18, Elijah prays, asking God to answer him so that it will be revealed to the people that the Lord alone is God. While the altar had been drenched in water, Elijah was somehow supposed to ignite the offerings. He prayed, requesting God to send fire from heaven, causing the offerings to be consumed with the goal that all who see the fire will realize that the Lord is the one true God.

In 1 Kgs 19, Elijah prays, asking God that he might die. Exhausted from running, he sat down and gave up being seemingly defeated. Instead of answering this prayer, if he meant it literally, the angel of the Lord comes to Elijah in his distress and nourishes him with food. Perhaps Elijah was being sarcastic? Or maybe he was being honest? Maybe he wanted to die in the desert under the Lord’s hand rather than by the hand of Jezebel? Still, his prayer was a request.

In 2 Kgs 4, Elisha prays to the Lord, and then he laid on the boy and brought him back to life. The text does not tell us what he prayed. Prayer, however, is in association with the miracle. 

In 2 Kgs 6, Elisha prays, requesting that the servant’s eyes may be opened so that he can see the host of angels. Then he prayed, requesting to blind his assailants’ eyes, only later to request for their eyes to be opened. The Lord granted these requests. Again, prayer is request is the element we see here.

In 2 Kgs 19, Isaiah is sought out by king Hezekiah to pray for the remnant that survives the onslaught of Assyria. Isaiah responds with a prophecy, a word from the Lord, that Hezekiah should not be afraid for the Lord will cause the Assyrians to flee. Hezekiah then hears more word from the Assyrians, and he becomes afraid, and he prays. In his prayer, he acknowledges God as the creator of the heavens and the earth, and he requests deliverance. Prayer is here a request.

In 2 Kgs 20 (compare 2 Chr 32), Hezekiah finds out that he is about to die. What does he do in response? He prays. He said to the Lord, “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes” (NIV). This request for the Lord to remember Hezekiah’s faithfulness was enough to cause God to add 15 additional years to his life. It was a request, but was it requesting additional years? It was a plea to remember his faithfulness, and based on the covenant the Lord created between him and his people, Hezekiah’s request is therefore the equivalent for God to stay true to his word and bless him for his faithfulness with long life. In any case, it is a request, even if only his request is to remember his faithfulness.

In 1 Chr 5, the Reubenites and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh went to war against the Hagrites. The text says that they were helped in fighting them “because they cried out to him in battle.” It says further that God answered their prayers because they trusted in him. It doesn’t say what they prayed or what they cried out. But here we see that prayer offered in trust is honored by God. Does this mean that when Saul prayed and God did not answer in 1 Sam 14 that it was because Saul didn’t trust in God? The text is not concerned with Saul. It is concerned only to describe the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh. In their case, God answered their prayers because they trusted in him. Trust is apparently a very important factor in prayer.

In 1 Chr 29, David gives another lengthy prayer, and this time it is in praise of God, but then it also includes a request to help his son, Solomon, stay true to the Lord’s commandments. Praise and request go together in this prayer.

In 2 Chr 7, the Lord comes to the temple and declares that he will be attentive to prayers in the temple. He also says that when the people stray from commitment to the Lord but then humble themselves and pray or seek his face while turning from their wicked ways, then he will listen to them. Prayer is a request here, but it is done in connection with turning from wickedness. Prayer is about seeking the face of God. There are no specific words listed here to pray, but the intent associated with the prayer is that of humility. Humility is an essential aspect of prayer. But so is righteousness. 

In 2 Chr 30, Hezekiah interceded on behalf of the people, requesting that God spare them for eating of the passover meal while being unclean. The Lord granted his request. 

In 2 Chr 32, both Isaiah and Hezekiah prayed to God because the Assyrians were insulting the Lord as they were laying siege to Jerusalem. The Lord answered their prayer, annihilating the Assyrians, causing the king of Assyria to flee, only to be killed by some of his sons. We don’t know the prayer they prayed, but we know they made a request. Again, prayer is request.

In 2 Chr 33, Manasseh, who did evil in the sight of the Lord, was exiled by God. But in his exile, Manasseh repented and prayed to God. The text says that the Lord was moved by Manasseh’s entreaty and took pity on his plea. His prayer was seen as an entreaty and a plea. It was a request, a humble plea. The Lord granted the request and Manasseh was able to return to Jerusalem.

Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 2: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth)

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In Judges 13, Manoah makes a request for God to reveal to him how to rear his child. Again, prayer is understood to be a request. 

In Judges 16, Samson makes a final request and prays to God, asking for a final stand of strength. Prayer is seen as a request. But here the text says that he wanted the strength so that he could take revenge. His prayer was for God to enable him to take revenge. So, is it up to us to take revenge? Or does vengeance belong to God? Was Samson the instrument for the divine vengeance? We can entertain such questions, but the point here is that prayer is a request, and it just so happens that the purpose here was so that he could take revenge.

Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 1: Pentateuch)

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In Genesis 20-32, prayer is a request to God. It could even be done “in the heart” (i.e., silently?) as in Gen 24:25 or on behalf of another as in 25:21. In Gen 20, God reveals to the king in a dream that the king needed to hand over Abraham’s wife, and Abraham would pray for the king so that he would be healed. God reveals that Abraham’s prayer would be a petition on behalf of another. God also reveals that if the king did not return Abraham’s wife, the king would die. The king returned Abraham’s wife, and Abraham prayed to God to spare the king. 

In this instance, did God give the prayer to Abraham to pray back? I can see the potential for thinking that he did, but the text doesn’t answer this question. The text is concerned only in telling us that Abraham prayed and the king’s life was then spared.

In Gen 24, Abraham’s servant was out on the search for a suitable wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. He prayed to God for success. Again, prayer is seen as a request. His prayer was answered, for as soon as he was done praying, he saw Rebekah, who then became Isaac’s wife. 

In Gen 25, Isaac prays to God on behalf of Rebekah, because she was barren. Here is another example of a request being made on behalf of someone else. 

In Gen 32, Jacob prays to God, asking him for protection from Esau. Again, prayer is seen as a request.

In Ex 8-10, the Pharaoh asks Moses to pray to God, requesting that the frogs, thunder, hail, and locusts be taken away. Here prayer is also seen as a request. In this case, prayer is also on behalf of another, for the plagues affected the Egyptians and sometimes the Hebrews as well.

In Numbers 11, Moses prays to the Lord, which led to the Lord’s fire dying down. Here we see prayer is a request in what appears to be an appeasement, but the text does not actually say that the prayer itself appeased the Lord’s anger. 

In Numbers 21, Moses is asked by the people to pray to the Lord in order to get the snakes taken away from among them. Moses prayed and the snakes went away. Again, prayer is seen as a request, and this time it is made on behalf of others.

In Deuteronomy 4:7, the Hebrews understood that when they prayed God was near, which was in stark contrast to the other nations who did not have gods that were near when they prayed. Here we see an element not yet seen before in explicit words: in prayer God is near.

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses identifies that when he prayed for the Hebrews and for Aaron, God spared his wrath, because the Lord listened to his prayers. Prayer is seen to be a request, and in this case it is done on behalf of others.

Theology of Prayer: Preface

I originally posted this content on Facebook around 2010-2012. I can’t remember exactly when. I later deleted my Facebook account and this introduction never transferred to Iakobou. I found it on my hard disk and am putting it up here to complete the series.

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What is prayer?

Prayer is fascinating and powerful. But what is it? Is it something that influences God or does it change us? Is prayer the very element of God passing through us? Is prayer a divine boomerang in which God gives us the words to pray, and we pray them back to God in turn?

These questions are unsettling as they seem to reflect not biblical but theological-philosophical thinking. Far be it from us to think about prayer apart from Scripture! We should ask different questions: (1) what does the Bible say about prayer, and (2) what prayers are found in the Bible? Question one inevitably looks for any sort of explanation of prayer as well as commands concerning prayer. Question two looks for models to follow. Ultimately, after we examine the Bible for what it offers about prayer, we will look at the facts and then draw some conclusions, especially concerning our initial, uncomfortable questions.

When we examine Scripture, we will not merely make a parenthetical reference taken out of context. We do not want to be guilty of proof-texting. No, we want to examine Scripture in context. Therefore, our examination from Scripture will be lengthy, for we will summarize those passages that concern the topic of prayer. When we examine the facts, we will condense our findings from Scripture into palpable data, so that we can draw simple but faithful conclusions about prayer from a biblical perspective, which we will call a theology of prayer.

When we say that we are working out a theology of prayer, we mean a biblical theology and not a systematic theology. Systematic theology concerns neat and orderly systems of theology; biblical theology concerns specific strings of theology throughout Scripture. Therefore, a biblical-theological perspective on prayer may not be so neat and orderly.