If prayer has a purpose, if prayer is more than a useless anachronism, then your prayer must cause a specific action of God to work in and through the particular network of constraints which are bringing some outcome into being and bring some succession of events to a different outcome than would otherwise have been. Your prayer must unleash the power of the Holy Spirit in space and time. Your prayer must change the flow of history. Your prayer is a message to God sent by a first-cause agent of choice exercising free will and assisted by God's grace.
Some believe prayer can change the outcome of nothing because God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass. This insidious doctrine is more fully addressed in Section 2.1 of Theology Corner under the title, "Can God's Will be Thwarted?" The sub-section below addresses only those issues relating to control, foreknowledge and foreordination.
PRAYER AND PREDESTINATION
The "unpardonable sin" of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is defined (Mat 12:31, 32; Mark 3:29, 30) as attributing the goodness of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Calvinists have found an additional path to blasphemy by attributing all Satan's evil to God. But the greatest havoc created by the "blueprint" theology of Augustine, Calvin and their theological progeny may be a distortion of the purpose of prayer. If, before the universe was formed, God unchangeably ordained everything, then your prayers can change the outcome of nothing.
The Calvinist believes life is like a scripted full length movie with you playing the part you were ordained to play. You are merely an actor reciting your lines and doing precisely those things specified by the film writer/director. The Arminian believes life is like an "interactive life-game" video in which the designer allows you, as actor/player, to make free will decisions that change the outcome. Furthermore, the designer of the interactive life-game video cares about the choices you make. He encourages you to make the right decisions and grieves when you do not. He became so concerned watching mankind spiral down a path toward destruction that He inserted Himself into the game, absorbing the consequences of our bad choices, nudging us to a different path and trying to help us avoid ultimate disaster.
The Calvinist argues that not one speck of space, time, matter, energy or human thought can be outside the continual control of God; otherwise God would lose control of his creation and we have no guarantee that a single one of God's promises could be fulfilled. For the Calvinist, control requires foreknowledge and foreknowledge requires "foreordination." God must be the first-cause of all things if His foreknowledge is to be preserved. Otherwise, according to the Calvinist, God would not have been able to know, in eternity past, what your decisions would be in the future. Embracing this position erases the free will exercise of prayer. This is typical of how Calvinists confine God to a small enclosed space limited by their own intellect.
The Arminian responds it is difficult to conceive of a less majestic God than One who is limited to a deterministic mode of relating to His creation. It is hard to conceive of a weaker God than one who would be threatened by events occurring outside of His exhaustive control. What is praiseworthy about controlling events simply because you possess the innate power to do so? What is truly praiseworthy about God's sovereignty is not that He exercises a power He obviously has, but that, because of His character, He does not exercise all the power He could. Perhaps the greatest testimony to God's sovereignty is that God created beings who possess the power to say no to Him.
Furthermore, God's exhaustively definite foreknowledge does not require foreordination. As John Wesley wrote centuries ago (Works, VI. 226-7): "God foreknew those in every nation who would believe," and "In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation." Wesley saw no conflict between human moral freedom and divine foreknowledge. He affirmed that although God knows the future, He does not determine it. Wesley believed we must not think that things are because God knows them; rather, God knows them because they are. Could this reasoning retain its validity in the 21st century? Reconciliation of human free will with God's foreknowledge is not possible using our finite human intelligence. But it is possible from the perspective of an "infinite" God.
Consider the meaning of infinity. The smallest infinity is called aleph-null; its cardinality (n) is the number of elements in the set of all positive integers. This infinity is, by definition, "countable." After aleph-null, each element of an infinite set is a subset of elements from its predecessor. The cardinality (number of elements), for each successive infinity, is the number of subsets in the set of all possible subsets constructed from its predecessor. For example, the next infinity after aleph-null is aleph-1 or the continuum; its cardinality ( n' = 2n ) is the number of subsets in the set of all possible subsets constructed from the positive integers. This happens to be the same as the number of elements in the set of all real numbers. Aleph-1 is not countable. The next infinity is aleph-2; its cardinality ( n'' = 2n' ) is the number of subsets in the set of all possible subsets constructed from the real numbers. Consider the possibility that God can easily process at least n'''''''.... bits of information where the number of ' marks is n.
But wouldn't the sheer size of the known universe -- 100 billion stars in each of 100 billion galaxies -- overwhelm even the most infinite God? To put in perspective the overwhelming sovereignty of God's infinitude, consider the following illustration. Imagine the universe is constructed around a deformable cubic lattice such that the smallest identifiable physical entity is a region called a "voxel" which is bounded by eight vertices, twelve edges and six flat faces. The universe is thereby divided into an ordered (numbered) array of volumes. The volume enclosed by a voxel is on the order of the cube of the local Planck Length (e.g. 1.6 x10-35 meter). When a voxel is deformed by force, matter or energy, the eight vertices retain their identities but may change their positions, the twelve edges remain straight but each may change its length and each of the six flat faces either remains flat or deforms into a minimal surface with zero mean curvature (e.g. soap film). 13.7 billion years after the beginning, the deformable cubic lattice is no longer perfect but contains line and surface defects analogous to dislocations and stacking faults.
Assume the state of each voxel is 1 or 0. Then the state of the entire universe is defined by a countably infinite sequence of binary digits or, in other words, a single real number. The possible 3-D geometric arrangements of 1's and 0's would be more than sufficient to accommodate the complexity of any "Theory of Everything" that might be devised.
Now imagine God allows the state of each voxel to change at time intervals equal to the Planck Time (5.4 x 10-44 seconds). At the end of each time interval, a new real number defines the state of the universe. Nestled among the elements of aleph-3 are particular subsets of aleph-2 that track all possible histories of the universe from the big bang onward. An immanent God would only have to comprehend infinity at a cardinality of n''' to track all possible histories and futures. The Christian God understands infinity at least to a cardinality of n'''''''.... where the number of ' marks is n. This is so overwhelming that our human intellect cannot grasp it! The infinitude of God permits Him to instantly track all possible histories and futures of you, me and the universe with no more difficulty than it is for us to count the wheels on a bicycle. Comprehending the cumulative consequences, of all contingent first-cause, human free will decisions on subsequent events, is infinitesimally trivial for God. Couple this concept with the idea that God has inserted Himself into all levels of the "interactive life-game" video. As the life-game designer, God knows all possible paths your life can take from birth to death. God not only knows all contingencies but He has entered the game as your advocate and He wants you to win. He has given each of us the prevenient grace that brings salvation. He works in each heart, intellect and will. Given His intimate involvement and the infinitude of his knowledge and intellect, what could surprise God?
CORRUPTION OF CREATION
This sub-section draws from the teachings of 2nd century Christian leaders (e.g. Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Origen, Tatian and Irenaeus) who, in contrast to Augustine and his theological progeny, were no more than one generation removed from those who had personal contact with the Apostles and, therefore, with the true teachings of Jesus Christ.
Consider the following as simple statements of fact with no implied chronology. God created both angels and humans as first-cause agents of choice with the free will to accept or reject God's wishes in every situation. God created the universe with such precision that the slightest change in any one of its properties would preclude our existence. God designed the earth as a home for man. God placed certain angels in charge of his creation and instructed them to be good stewards. Some began to oppose God under the leadership of Satan, the most powerful and intelligent of all rebellious angels. Satan, who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) and is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30-31; 16:8-11), exercises a pervasive, structural and diabolical influence which caused all creation to be captured by the bondage of evil. That which God created as good began to exhibit a pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister and hostile demeanor. "Mother Nature," became an inherently violent and terrifying system dominated by disease, suffering and death – a system red in tooth and claw. Not wanting free will to be an illusion, God is permitting, for a time and within limits, certain consequences of rebellion and corruption caused by both fallen angels and the humans who join them. Rebellious angels and humans, under the leadership of Satan, are the first-cause of all evil.
Consequence for Humans
According to G. A. Boyd, "A theme that underlies Jesus' entire ministry is the apocalyptic assumption that creation has been seized by a cosmic force and that God is now battling this force to rescue it. Jesus understood Himself to be the one in whom this battle was to be played out in a decisive way… His whole ministry was about overpowering the 'fully armed' strong man who guarded 'his property' (Luke 11:21) – the earth and its inhabitants who rightfully belong to God… He came to 'destroy the works of the devil' (1 John 3:8; Heb 2:14) and to establish God's domain on earth. Every exorcism and healing – the two activities that most characterize Jesus' ministry – marked an advance toward establishing the kingdom of God over and against the kingdom of Satan. Consequently, in contrast with any view that would suggest that disease and demonization somehow serve a divine purpose, Jesus never treated such phenomenon as anything other than the work of the enemy. He consistently treated diseased and demonized people as casualties of war. Furthermore, rather than accepting their circumstances as mysteriously fitting into God's sovereign plan, Jesus revolted against them as something that God did not will and something that ought to be vanquished by God's power... All sickness and disease was considered a form of satanic oppression, and so in freeing people from it Jesus demonstrated the presence of the kingdom of God." (Boyd, p 35-37)
But, one particular consequence for humans is far more insidious and devastating than demon possession, decay, violence, disease, suffering and death. Every person since Adam and Eve, except Jesus Christ, was born with a sin nature and no person, except Jesus Christ, has lived a sinless life. Thanks to Satan, every soul is born in bondage to sin just as he corrupted our earth to form an inherently violent and terrifying system in bondage to evil. Even if our human bodies were set free from disease and suffering, our souls would remain black as lumps of coal.
Consequence for Nature
Generations of books, magazines and TV documentaries have portrayed nature as a magnificent and beautiful system almost deserving of worship. The Gaia Philosophy even views the entire biosphere as a living entity. But when we look through the veil of hype, what do we really see in nature? G. J. Romanes provides a good description of the animal kingdom: "teeth and talons whetted for slaughter, hooks and suckers molded for torment – everywhere a reign of terror, hunger, sickness, with oozing blood and quivering limbs, with gasping breath and eyes of innocence that dimly close in depths of cruel torture." (Romanes, quoted in Boyd, p 246) W. E. Stuermann gives an equally sobering description of nature's web of interacting events: "The web unravels as often as it is woven in order. Frequently and brutally its threads are ripped in sudden and disconcerting manners, and the orderly tapestry of life unravels, leaving men broken by disaster and despair. Chaos looms before them and stretches to the horizons of their lives." (Stuermann, quoted in Boyd, p 243) Could Stuermann's description apply to such events as a mega-tsunami caused by the collapse of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma, the eruption of the Yellowstone super-volcano, a gamma ray burst pointed at the earth from within our galaxy, a large asteroid impact or a worldwide biological plague?
Look around! Did our good, omnipotent God create the inherently violent and terrifying system we see in the world, a system rife with decay, violence, disaster, disease, suffering and death? Does nature itself appear to operate contrary to the character of God? Does the world at every level appear to be at war? Does the world appear to be permeated and corrupted at all levels by an evil influence? Did Jesus believe that someone else had been given authority over this world and Jesus Himself must repair, reconstruct, restore and repossess?
Just in time, however, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ redeemed or bought-back all creation from the bondage of evil and offered redemption from the bondage of sin to all persons. But Satan was not a willing seller and will never acknowledge the legitimacy of the sale. He believes his property was stolen from him and he is battling God to retain possession. Consequently, creation is legally free from the bondage of evil but it is not free from the influence of evil itself through Satan and his minions. Similarly, salvation sets us free from the bondage of sin but it does not set us free from the influence of sin itself.
WORLD AT WAR
At some point in time, God entrusted Satan and other powerful angels with the stewardship of all creation. They betrayed God's trust and began to turn what God created as good into an inherently violent and terrifying system dominated by decay, destruction, disease, suffering and death. Although God could have simply repaired, reconstructed, restored and repossessed His corrupted creation, His purity of wisdom, holiness, justice and truth demanded a punishment for every crime, every evil and every sin. Only one punishment, the substitutionary atonement, was great enough to redeem all creation from the bondage of evil and redeem all mankind from the bondage of sin. But Satan will never acknowledge the efficacy of that punishment. He is battling God to retain possession of that which was given to him (Luke 4:5-7).
The world, at every level, is at war. We are on the front lines of this Great War whetherwe like it or not. The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ began a new phase of warfare. God the Son began the process of taking back his creation. The outcome of the great-war between good and evil was decided by the substitutionary atonement; yet few would claim Jesus has already restored and repossessed his corrupted creation. For a time and within limits, God continues to permit certain consequences of rampant rebellion and the brutal corruption of all life. But He expects His people to engage the enemy and be soldiers in His army.
God, by His omnipotence, will one day end this war. He will repair, reconstruct, restore and repossess His entire creation (Isa 11:6-9, 65:17-25; Rom 8:20-22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-4). Until that time, however, prudence would suggest that we keep an eye on Satan who, contrary to popular opinion,never expected to overpower God by force and establish a separate but equal kingdom of evil. Satan merely seeks to discredit God and God's relationship with man in full view of all the angels in Heaven! He argues that God is no longer perfect. Satan laments that God's character has been altered as an unfortunate consequence of His love for man. God's wisdom and truth have become illogical, His holiness has been compromised and His once absolute justice is now relative and situational. Satan offers to help God purge Himself of this affliction by driving an irremovable wedge between God and man and facilitating an alienation that cannot be reconciled. Satan attempts with one crafty thrust to both assail God's beloved humans and show up God as an altruistic fool. Satan claims that any man who seeks the great gift of reconciliation with God does so only because it pays (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). Satan says anytime God will let him break the link between seeking righteousness and receiving blessing, the so-called "born again" man will be exposed as the same old filthy sinner he was before receiving the great gift of salvation. In other words, the overall concept of salvation by faith, the grace of God and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is a sham. God cannot give it, Jesus cannot pay for it and you cannot receive it. According to Satan, it's all smoke and mirrors so that God can save His wretched humans without appearing to compromise His character.
Satan claims that: (1) so-called redemption from the bondage of sin does not really set you free, (2) God has no real basis for offering forgiveness of your sin, (3) for God to justify you as sinless is a perversion of justice, (4) you are not deserving of adoption into God's family, (5) you can never be truly regenerated from the death of sin to a life of pursuing righteousness, (6) your walk along the path of sanctification is an exercise in self-delusion, (7) you will never be reconciled with so-called fellow believers, (8) a unified church of Jesus Christ is a myth and (9) you have no hope of glorification in heaven. This is the adversary's clever attempt to permanently subvert the relationship between God and man and show all the angels in Heaven that God's plan for reconciliation is fraudulent. If the salvation offered to every man and woman can be exposed as a perversion of wisdom, holiness, justice and truth, then a chasm of alienation stands between God and man that cannot be bridged. Reconciliation would be unthinkable. God's whole enterprise in creation would be radically and irrevocably flawed; He could only sweep it away in awful judgment as He nearly did once before (Gen 6:5-7).
As tempter, Satan seeks to alienate man from God; as accuser he seeks to alienate God from man. Satan's accusations, once raised, cannot be erased even if God destroyed the accuser. The great adversary is attempting to thwart the purposes of God by condemning as lies the beliefs of every man and woman who have accepted the great gift of salvation. At stake in this challenge is the outcome of the struggle in heaven with the all-encompassing divine purpose in the balance. Thus, contrary to the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel (health, wealth and prosperity for all), the suffering of the Christian soldier has a meaning and value commensurate with the titanic spiritual struggle of the ages.
HILT OF THE SWORD
By the substitutionary atonement, God redeemed or bought-back all creation from the bondage of Satan, who now no longer owns it (Luke 4:5-7), and offered redemption from the bondage of sin to all persons. But Satan was not a willing seller and will never acknowledge the legitimacy of the sale. He believes his property was stolen from him by a phony purchase. He is battling God to retain possession. Creation, for example, may be legally free from the bondage of evil but it is not free from the influence of evil itself through Satan and his minions who will never relinquish possession without a fight. Satan, who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) and is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30-31; 16:8-11), exercises a pervasive, structural and diabolical influence which caused all creation to be engulfed by the bondage of evil. That which God created as good began to exhibit a pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister and hostile demeanor. “Mother Nature,” became an inherently violent and terrifying system dominated by disease, suffering and death – a system red in tooth and claw. Not wanting free will to be an illusion, God is permitting, for a time and within limits, certain consequences of rebellion and corruption caused by both fallen angels and the humans who join them. When restoration and repossession are complete, nature will be violent no more (Isa 11:6-9, 65:17-25; Rom 8:20-22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-4). Keep in mind that redemption from the bondage of evil is aimed at all creation, including your human body, but redemption from the bondage of sin is aimed at your soul.
God decided to engage Satan’s army with the assistance of those human soldiers who accept the great gift of salvation which is offered to all persons by the grace of God and the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ. Those who accept it are redeemed or set free from the bondage of sin. Salvation causes us to be regenerated or born again from the death grip of sin to a life of pursuing righteousness. We can, thereby, stand beside Jesus as He battles to purge evil from His creation. However, salvation may set us free from the bondage of sin but it does not set us free from the influence of sin itself. Satan knows that our concupiscence, bad judgement, inconsistent will and weariness can ensnare us in the vice-grip of evil even after salvation. But for the first time in our lives, we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, say “no” to Satan and to our own sin nature. We can be set free from the bondage of sin but not from its influence.
Because God decided not to exercise his omnipotence to end the war in an instant, He insisted that the spiritual forces of good and evil follow certain Rules of Engagement. These rules may be renegotiated from time to time and prevent Satan from completely destroying our lives. Conversely, the Rules of Engagement may also prevent God from exercising some power that might be construed as an unfair advantage in the eyes of the “rulers and authorities” in heavenly realms who are watching this war unfold (Eph 3:10). The Rules of Engagement define such items as: when and where battles are waged, how winners and losers are determined, the consequences of winning and losing, the Allowed Weapons for each side and the Constraints on Effectiveness for each weapon.
The primary Allowed Weapon for God’s human soldiers is prayer because, alone, we don’t stand a chance against the dark powers. Remember, the battle is spiritual and must be fought in God’s strength, depending on the Word of God and on God through prayer. The verbal Word of God is called the sword of the spirit. That sword is one of two offensive weapons in the full armor of God (Eph 6:10-18). The other offensive weapon is prayer. Only by prayer are we able to firmly grasp the hilt of the sword in our human hands, remove it from its scabbard and wield it against the invisible forces of evil. Prayer is the spiritual strength driving the sword of the spirit in our hands as we strive side by side with Jesus Christ to: (1) restore and repossess His corrupted creation which He has set free from the bondage of evil (healing); (2) help the unsaved cross the finish line of salvation and become disciples of Christ as they are being nudged by the Prevenient Grace of God which calls and convicts every soul to be set free from the bondage of sin (evangelism) and (3) by training and right living, prevent the influence of sin from undermining the Christian walk of the saved (discipleship). I may not have charismatic gifts. My relationship with Jesus may not always be as personal as I might wish. But I can stand up as an infantryman in the army of our commander in chief.
The constraints on effectiveness for this weapon of prayer are shrouded in mystery. We know only that God always does the most He can do given: (a) prayer as our primary weapon, (b) the constraints on effectiveness for this weapon and (c) the complex and evil powers arrayed against Him. Where free agents are involved, God's omnipotent will can be thwarted. What God is able to do in the world is hindered by evil powers exercising free will and using weapons beyond our comprehension. The reason why some prayers are not answered generally has nothing to do with what God wills or the depth of your faith. It is the result of: (a) the forces of evil exercising their freedom to wage battle and (b) a myriad of constraints on the effectiveness of prayer far beyond the depth of your faith. There is no mystery about God's character. All evil proceeds from wills other than God's. The mystery of evil stems from the complexity of creation and the warfare that engulfs it, not from some distorted definition of God's sovereignty.
God always responds. Prayer always makes a difference. But the difference is not always dramatic and obvious because prayer does not cancel or suspend the particular network of constraints which are bringing some outcome into being. Prayer is the means through which the specific action of God works in and through that network, bringing some succession of events to what will always be a different outcome from what it would otherwise have been. This fact alone should make you come alive with commitment to prayer.
Some soldiers can use weapons of war more effectively than others. The use of prayer for maximum effectiveness is somewhat clouded in mystery. But the effective prayer warrior is generally characterized by all or at least some of the following attributes:
- Confessor of Sin (Ps 32:3-5; 1 John 1:8-10)
- Remorseful (Ps 66:18; Luke 18:13)
- Repentant (Acts 20:21; Isa 59:1-2)
- Faithful (Mat 17:20; 21:21)
- Obedient (I John 3:22)
- Humble (Dan 9:3)
- Forgiving (Mark 11:25)
- Sincere (Acts 12:5; Heb 5:7)
- Spirit Filled (Rom 8:26)
- Persistent (Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8; I Thes 5:17)
- Desiring United Corporate Prayer (Mat 18:19)
- Confident (Jam 1:5-7)
- Abiding in Christ (John 15:7)
- Fervently committed to communion with God (Acts 12:5)
- Thankful (Phil 4:6-7)
- Peaceful (Phil 4:6-7)
- Truthful (Psalm 145:18)
- Unselfish (Jam 4:3)
- Knowing God's will (1 John 5:14-15)
- Seeking wisdom (Jam 1:5)
- Rejecting idols (Ezek 14:3)
Prayer itself frequently includes:
- Praise: worshiping and communing with God (Heb 13:15)
- Repentance: confessing and turning away from sin (1 John 1:8-10)
- Thanksgiving: honoring God for our blessings (Phil 4:6,7)
- Mercy: requesting God will deliver us from evil and grant our petitions (Phil 4:6,7)
However, my prayer petitions may not be granted even if I have the attributes of a prayer warrior and my prayers are appropriate. For example, I may be certain my faith is larger than a mustard seed but I cannot move mountains (Mat 17:20 cf 21:21, 22) nor can I place my hands on the sick and see them healed (Acts 28:8). The Holy Spirit may want to grant my petitions in such matters but He is thwarted by forces of darkness exercising free will, using powerful weapons and utilizing a complex network of constraints (Dan 10:12-13, 20-21); but also, the Holy Spirit is thwarted by my own inadequate personal attributes as a prayer warrior.
Consider, for illustration, this simplistic hypothetical "constraint on effectiveness" for the weapon of prayer. What if the degree to which my prayer will be answered is expressed by a number between zero and one which is equal to the probability that I am characterized, on any given day, by all twenty one independent prayer warrior attributes listed above? If the probability that I am characterized by each individual attribute is 0.8, then the probability that I am [a confessor of sin and remorseful and repentant and faithful and obedient and humble … and rejecting idols] is 0.821 = 0.009. Or instead, what if the probability is virtually zero that I am characterized by one particular attribute? The outcome would be the same: marginally effective prayer.
Consider another vantage. Satan is accusing us 24/7 probably with the frequency of cosmic gamma burst radiation (Rev 12:10). Jesus Christ is interceding on our behalf (Heb 7:25) for each accusation. But unlike the characters in a Perry Mason episode, the cold facts about our shortcomings are known at the outset by both the prosecution and the defense. This spiritual courtroom is about establishing, not the existence, but the consequences of undeniable sins. Our guilt before God is removed by the great gift of salvation by which we are redeemed, forgiven, justified, adopted, regenerated, guided along the path of sanctification, reconciled with fellow believers, united in the church of Jesus Christ and looking forward to glorification. But our sorry behavior, even after we have been saved, still has consequences in this life. Satan not only wants the unsaved to join him in eternal damnation, he would also like to minimize God's response to the prayers of the saved. Could our sinful nature and behavior along with our inadequate prayer warrior attributes, by the Rules of Engagement, continually lower the effectiveness of our prayers? We could ask God for the wisdom (Jam 1:5) to comprehend precisely how the Rules of Engagement are constraining the effectiveness of our prayers. Unfortunately, the shear ferocity and frequency of Satan's unrelenting attack and the complexity of creation make it unlikely that we could fully understand and satisfy these rules. But remember, Jesus Christ is not just a lackadaisical defense attorney going through the motions. He is an advocate who wants us to win! He wants us to overcome the shackles of constraint on the power of our prayer. Perhaps we could ask our advocate, Jesus Christ, to break the shackles on the power of our prayer by: (a) showing us how, with God's grace, we can overcome certain constraints and (b) re-negotiating the Rules of Engagement in our favor.
POWER OF PRAYER
Prayer was utilized by Jesus, the Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers and beyond as a powerful weapon to achieve limited and localized repair, reconstruction, restoration and repossession of God's creation and thereby thwart the prince of darkness and the forces of evil. Physical healing was commonplace in the early Christian community. But many Christians, in the 21st century, have become so sophisticated and jaded that they doubt the power of prayer. They view individual prayer as a useless anachronism in our time.
What about corporate prayer by the body of Christ? Curiously, most churches have little commitment to united corporate prayer and even less inclination toward confession of individual sin while praying. Prayer has become a tired ritual which is performed with no real expectation. A prayer may be offered during worship service to accommodate tradition. Then, if nothing happens, the Health, Wealth and Prosperity advocates ask, "Whose un-confessed sin caused God to ignore this prayer?" The Calvinists ask, "Was this prayer ignored by God because it was inconsistent with His unchangeable blueprint established before the world was formed?" In any case, no one really expects a response from God. Most churches preach and teach the importance of praying together as a united body of Christ but these same churches don't really believe it and seldom do it! In fact, it is difficult to identify a church whose foundation is corporate prayer. But what if all the church ritual prayer, musical entertainment and baby food Sunday School lessons were replaced by congregational corporate prayer from men and women yearning to be led by the Holy Spirit down a path of confession, remorse, repentance, faith, obedience, humility, forgiveness, sincerity, purity, persistence, restoration, truth and worship? What if the Sunday sermon, crafted for entertainment, was replaced by one intended to make us better able to give a reason for the hope that is in us? Who knows what would happen.
What about uniting in prayer as a Christian nation? This is probably the least likely approach to succeed in the USA because, unfortunately, it is no longer a Christian nation. For example:
- If abortion for convenience is murder, then the USA is one of the most murderous nations in the history of the world.
- If homosexuality is a sin, then half the primary protestant denominations in the USA have embraced sin.
- If USA drug addiction is responsible for the tens of thousands of drug related deaths in Mexico and Central America, then USA citizens have blood on their hands.
God has been purged from education, entertainment, government and society at large. The USA is currently a Godless nation.
Our spiritual opponents in this Great War are powerful beyond comprehension; they would destroy us in an instant were it not for God's restraint. Even God's angels seem to be reluctant to enter the fray (Dan 10:21). Why didn't God give us "superhero" personal power against these adversaries to make an even fight? Perhaps because the struggle is ultimately about ideas rather than brute power. Satan wants to convince all the angels in Heaven that God's plan of salvation for mankind is flawed. He wants to expose God's entire enterprise of creation and redemption as the product of radically flawed wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. The accusation, once raised, could not be removed, not even by destroying the accuser. The divine purpose hung in the balance. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was a fatal blow to him who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) and sealed the ultimate outcome of the war. But Jesus wants his army to stand beside him as He reclaims and restores His creation.
A SAMPLE PRAYER
Here is a sample prayer organized around Praise, Repentance, Thanksgiving and Mercy; but, by all means, make up your own!
A Prayer to
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
I come into Your presence offering praise for Your:
- Being: Transcendence, Immanence, Infinitude, Eternalness, Immutability
- Wisdom: Exhaustively Definite Foreknowledge, Omniscience, Resourcefulness, Patience, Perseverance, Persistence, Discipline, Prudence, Understanding, Discernment, Stewardship, Courage
- Power: Omnipotence, Humility, Meekness, Gentleness, Obedience/yieldedness, Endurance, Long-suffering/Forbearance, Respect, Responsibility, Dependence, Devotion, Surrender, Commitment
- Holiness: The state of who You are and the acts that You do; Holiness in being and Holiness in action; Absolute purity of heart, will, intellect and action; Perfect love, integrity, righteousness, morality, ethics, character; Perfect being, wisdom, power, justice, goodness, truth
- Justice: Punishment for Sinners; Substitutionary Atonement; Redemption; Forgiveness; Justification; Adoption; Regeneration; Sanctification; Reconciliation; Unification; Glorification
- Goodness: Love, Mercy, Grace, Compassion, Kindness, Benevolence, Charity, Faithfulness, Trustworthiness, Peace, Joy, Fulfillment, Fruitfulness, Faith, Hope, Reconciliation, Healing, Encouragement, Comfort, Strength
- Truth: Logic, Honesty
I come into Your presence offering praise because You have created space, time, matter and energy and inserted Yourselves into Your creation to accomplish:
- The creation of the universe with such precision that the slightest change in any one of its properties would preclude our existence.
- The design of planet earth as a home for man.
- The creation of different kinds of life including man in Your image.
- The Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ which redeemed all creation from the bondage of evil and offered redemption from the bondage of sin to all persons.
- The ongoing work of maintaining the universe.
- The ongoing work of acting as man's advocate in the spiritual courtroom.
- The repair, reconstruction, restoration and repossession of all creation yet to come.
I come into Your presence having a repentant heart.
- I have not loved You, loved my neighbors, been obedient, done Your will or heard the cry of the needy.
- In Your compassion, forgive my sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone and uphold me by Your Spirit that I may serve You in newness of life.
- Restore to wholeness whatever has been broken by my sin.
- I come into Your presence confessing my sin, having remorse in my heart, wanting to repent, asking Your forgiveness, forgiving those who have sinned against me, asking for Your mercy, receiving from You the far greater gift of salvation, praying that my heart will become sufficiently pure, humble, forgiving, penitent and contrite that I might have unbroken communion with God and believing I am saved from eternal damnation by faith, the grace of God and the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ.
- I can stand before You redeemed from eternal punishment, forgiven my sins, justified as sinless, adopted into the family of God, regenerated from the death of sin to a life of righteousness, guided along the path of sanctification, reconciled with fellow believers, united in the Church of Jesus Christ and looking forward to glorification only because Jesus died on the cross for my salvation.
- I accept the undeserved gifts of reconciliation with You, reconciliation with fellow believers and unification in the church.
- I pray that the Holy Spirit will occupy and purify my heart, help me discern the truth, make known to me the will of God, be Lord of my life and keep me on the path of repentance, faith and obedience continually reaffirmed and renewed.
I come into Your presence thanking You for:
- Freely giving Your infinite love and a unique, eternal soul to every person who will ever live.
- Not giving up on me when I was prideful, godless and destined for eternal damnation.
- Health, healing, safety and well being, in the measure received, on behalf of myself, my spouse, my family, my extended family and all those in the world.
- Salvation on behalf of all those who have received it.
- Always responding to my prayers which always make a difference.
- Redeeming Your creation from the bondage of evil and offering redemption from the bondage of sin to all men by the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ.
- Offering the great gift of salvation to every person who will ever live.
I come into Your presence asking for Your mercy. I ask that You suspend the consequences of my rebellion and corruption and grant my petitions.
- In Your compassion, break the shackles of constraint on the potential power of my prayer by: (1) teaching me how to overcome the various Constraints on Effectiveness for the weapon of prayer and (2) acting as my advocate in the spiritual courtroom to re-negotiate the Rules of Engagement in my favor.
- Help me acquire the attributes of an effective prayer warrior: Confessor of Sin (Ps 32:3-5; 1 John 1:8-10); Remorseful (Ps 66:18; Luke 18:13); Repentant (Acts 20:21; Isa 59:1-2); Faithful (Mat 17:20; 21:21); Obedient (I John 3:22); Humble (Dan 9:3); Forgiving (Mark 11:25); Sincere (Acts 12:5; Heb 5:7); Spirit Filled (Rom 8:26); Persistent (Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8; I Thes 5:17); Desiring United Corporate Prayer (Mat 18:19); Confident (Jam 1:5-7); Abiding in Christ (John 15:7); Fervently committed to communion with God (Acts 12:5); Thankful (Phil 4:6-7); Peaceful (Phil 4:6-7); Truthful (Psalm 145:18); Unselfish (Jam 4:3); Knowing God's will (1 John 5:14-15); Seeking wisdom (Jam 1:5); Rejecting idols (Ezek 14:3).
- Let my prayers assist as You restore and repossess Your creation which is presently imprisoned in corruption by the architect of evil who administers decay, violence, disease, suffering and death. May the vice-grip of evil be broken and may the children of God be restored to health, healing, safety, well being and wholeness.
- JESU ESTO MIHI JESUS - DUX - LUX - REX - LEX
- Almighty God, who inspired Your servant Luke the Physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of Your Son: Graciously continue in Your Church the love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of Your Name, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
- Bestow health, healing, safety and well being, in greater measure, on behalf of myself, my spouse, my family, my extended family and all those in the world; lift every burden, throw light on every problem, wash away all guilt, forgive every sin, reconcile every strained relationship, heal every disease, restore that which is corrupted and decayed, re-energize the entire being, anoint with joy and fill with peace.
- Mend broken relationships and restore those in emotional distress to soundness of mind and serenity of spirit; grant Your healing grace to all who are sick, injured or disabled that they may be made whole.
- Restore to wholeness whatever is broken by human sin in our lives, in our nation and in the world.
- Grant, to the dying, peace and a holy death and uphold, by the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit, those who are bereaved.
- Abundantly give Your peace, mercy and grace to all who are bereaved, lonely, neglected, rejected, unloved, afraid, suffering, hopeless, despairing, weary or burdened.
- Grant to all who seek Your guidance and to all who are lonely, anxious or despondent a knowledge of Your will and an awareness of Your presence.
- Exercise Your prevenient grace, in greater measure, to call, awaken, draw near, convict, save and empower those who have yet to exercise their free will to accept the great gift of salvation.
- Use me and my work in a powerful way as You see fit.
- Bring revival to the Church of Jesus Christ and bring repentance to every nation whose people have lost their moral compass, corrupted their ethical values, obscured their historic character, abandoned their role-model integrity and betrayed future generations.
- Empower a Jonah type to warn the world prior to any future judgment.
- Help me become resourceful reaching the unsaved, patient waiting before You, perseverant by Your grace, persistent in the face of failure, disciplined to stay on message, prudent in church affairs, understanding about the hard things of Scripture, discerning in separating truth from lie, stewarding of church affairs and courageous in the face of tribulation.
- Help me become a humble, meek and gentle follower of Jesus, obedient and yielding to God, enduring in the struggle against evil, long-suffering and forbearing in the face of persecution, respectful of the church, responsible for my neighbors, dependent on the Father, devoted to Jesus Christ, surrendered to the Holy Spirit and committed to prayer.
- Help me stay on the path to holiness of heart, will, intellect and action; help me embrace love, integrity, righteousness, morality, ethics and character.
- Help me balance punishment for crimes against God and man with reconciliation and unification.
- Help me to love my neighbor, show mercy to the guilty and let the grace of the Holy Spirit work through me. Help me show compassion to the downtrodden, kindness to the unkind, benevolence to the needy, charity to the suffering, faithfulness and trustworthiness to the abused and a sense of peace and joy in the midst of hopelessness; help me experience a sense of fulfillment and fruitfulness in ministry, faith in God, hope in the ultimate outcome of the great struggle, reconciliation and healing of relationships, encouragement in the face of setbacks, comfort in the hand of God and the strength to carry on.
- Help me to understand that truth is not personal, situational, relative or unknowable; it is absolute.
I pray all these things in the name of God the Son. I pray they will be accomplished by the power of God the Holy Spirit. I pray they are in accordance with the will of God the Father. Amen.
What might happen if 1MM people prayed this prayer every day?
Prayer has been viewed, in this section of Theology Corner, as our primary offensive weapon as we don the full armor of God. It is the spiritual power driving the sword of the spirit in our hands as we strive side by side with Jesus Christ to restore and repossess His corrupted creation. However, some Christians are uneasy with the characterization of prayer as a weapon.
- Some feel more comfortable with contemplative or centering prayer by which the mind is emptied and God is sought in a way more meaningful than consciousness itself; but practicing altered states of consciousness is not advocated in Scripture and it is not without risk.
- Some believe in foreordination by which all space, time, matter and energy are under the complete autocratic control of God; the heart, intellect, desires and actions of each human and angel were decreed by God before anything existed except the Trinity. Consequently, we should pray to simply accept the will of God in all things.
- Some utilize prayer as a happy time of pleasant communion with Jesus Christ who is viewed as a best friend and family member.
But Scripture paints a different picture! Consider the vivid portrayal of Scriptural prayer given centuries ago by John Ryland. Does it not portray prayer as a powerful weapon against the forces of evil?
"Prayer has divided seas, rolled up flowing rivers, made flinty rocks gush into fountains, quenched flames of fire, muzzled lions, disarmed vipers and poisons, marshaled the stars against the wicked, stopped the course of the moon, arrested the sun in his rapid race, burst open iron gates, recalled souls from eternity, conquered the strongest devils and commanded legions of angles down from heaven. Prayer has bridled and chained the raging passions of man and routed and destroyed vast armies of proud, daring, blustering atheists. Prayer has brought one man from the bottom of the sea and carried another in a chariot of fire to heaven. What has prayer not done?" (Ryland quoted in Wiley, v3, p 153) See also Sections 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 of Theology Corner.