Instant in Prayer

“Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.” —Romans 12:12

THE poet has said:

“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed.”

In many ways this is true, for all our prayers should come from a heart that is overflowing with gratitude and with a great yearning to be in harmony with the Heavenly Father in all things.

The Apostle Peter indicates the condition of heart that is pleasing to God and that is possessed by those whom he accepts as sons. In I Peter 3:20,21 he states: “When once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God).”

Here the apostle tells us that the deliverance of Noah and his family in the ark was a type of Christian baptism. He makes certain that we understand which baptism he is speaking about. It is not John’s baptism, which was for the repentance of sins, or the putting away of the filth of the flesh; but rather, it pictured the baptism that symbolized a sacrificial death motivated by a good conscience toward God. This implies an ever-growing sense of gratitude and appreciation so strong that it leads us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, considering this to be our reasonable, or rational, service.

Jesus said, in John 15:7, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” The text gives us three basic requirements that must be met before our prayers can be effective. First, we must abide in Christ. This means, of course, that we have accepted him as our Redeemer and have consecrated our lives to follow in his footsteps. The next requirement is that Christ’s words abide in us. The thought of “abide” is that the words have become a part of our being, that they have not found just a temporary abode. Also implied is the fact that the words and the spirit of the words dominate our minds and lives. Then, if these things are true, we will ask only those things that are in harmony with God’s plans and purposes for us, and these petitions and prayers will be answered in God’s own way and time.

The word “instant” in our theme text has the meaning of importunate, or very persistent. We might ask, why should this be necessary? God knows our needs. If we ask once, this should be enough. In teaching the necessity for persistence in prayer, our Lord related the Parable of the Importunate Widow, who, because of her repeated petitions to the unjust judge, had her request granted, “lest by her continual coming she weary me.”—Luke 18:1-5

Apparently the lesson the Lord would have us learn is that God does not answer whimsical requests, but rather, they must reflect the sincere desire of the heart, and by repetition we prove that our request is one of sincerity and from the heart. There are other benefits also, as far as our new creature is concerned. For example, persistence in making the same request should make the ultimate fulfillment of that request more greatly appreciated. Also, there is a lesson in humility involved. Coming time and time again to the heavenly throne of grace with the same request should emphasize to our minds the Heavenly Father’s greatness, his wisdom, love, and power, and our own inadequacy and the great need we have for his overruling providences in our lives.

The Apostle James stated, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3) This text emphasizes the fact that our prayer life concerns only the new creature. The word “lusts” carries the thought of desires that please the flesh. Our Lord, in Matthew 6:31-33, stated: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This does not mean that it is improper to pray for those material things that would benefit the new creature, but in this we must be very honest in our appraisal of the need—to be certain we are not rationalizing to satisfy the desires of the flesh.

What, then, can we pray for? We should pray for strength to overcome the propensities of the flesh. In this regard the Apostle Paul tells us where our Christian warfare is centered: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:3-5) The apostle further identifies our real foe, who uses our flesh to war against the new creature. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”—Eph. 6:12

The apostle, in these texts, tells us that the real enemy that would obstruct the development of our new creature is Satan and his minions, but we can effectually oppose him through God’s power. This is made available to us through prayer and close communion with the Heavenly Father.

We should pray for wisdom to know how to deal with ourselves. This is a most necessary ability to possess if we are to be overcoming Christians. Our minds, in spite of our best intentions, will try to devise a means or an excuse to avoid sacrifice and self-denial in the Lord’s service. There is an incident recorded in Galatians 6:12,13 that illustrates the point: “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the Law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.”

In this incident the apostle is telling us that some of the Jewish converts who had previously been circumcised now knew that through the liberty that is in Christ circumcision was not necessary; yet when certain Judaizers insisted that the Gentiles be circumcised, the converted Jews joined with the Judaizers in order that they might be received with favor. The apostle suggests that the real reason the converts joined with the Judaizers was “lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.”

This kind of circumstance is not foreign to any one of us. How many times, for example, have we made excuses to avoid going out tracting? Were these excuses valid, or were we trying to avoid an unpleasant sacrifice or circumstance? Having the wisdom to know how to deal with ourselves under these and similar circumstances is an important weapon in our warfare against the flesh. We can receive help in this regard through prayer.

We can pray for strength of character, that is, that the ideals and principles that have been developed and set in our minds during our Christian walk will be firm under trial and temptation. There is a beautiful prophecy about Jesus recorded in Isaiah 50:5-7: “The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”

With the Lord’s help we too can set and establish our characters through experiences that are permitted by him. Our prayers along this line will bring experiences to us, for this is how strength is developed. After a time, if faithful, we too will be able to set our faces like flint in full confidence.

We can pray for the development of the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit. Our prayers along this line should be that we will have experiences having the necessary lessons in them. But more important, we should pray that we will be rightly exercised and therefore learn the lesson of each experience. The Apostle Paul, in Hebrews 12:11, states: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

The peaceable fruits of righteousness are the fruits and graces of the spirit. The word “peaceable” has the meaning of salutary—promoting health, producing a beneficial effect, remedial. The thought is, of course, that the fruits produced bring spiritual health and favor with God.

We should pray for spiritual food, recognizing the Lord’s arrangement for providing that food. It comes from our own personal study, with all the helps the Lord has so graciously provided for us. It comes from our group meetings, where we are admonished to exhort and pray for one another, “and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” It also comes from the Lord’s servants: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11,12) All these overseers are sources of spiritual nourishment who are provided for our growth. The burden of our prayers should be that we will be receptive and that the Word will fall into a good and honest heart and bring forth fruit to the honor and glory of God.

There are many other things for which it is proper to pray. For example, we should pray for wisdom to keep from becoming entangled in the things of the world and for help in putting on “the whole armor of God.” We should ask for help in understanding the Word of God and for greater appreciation. And certainly we should pray for help in our endeavor to manifest the spirit of the truth in all our actions. And we should pray for the kingdom and the kingdom interests.

In addition to praying for only those things that are proper, we should maintain proper decorum in word and conduct when we approach the heavenly throne of grace. For example, we do not believe it is proper to tell the Lord all about his plan and of our wishes as to how he should govern the universe. It would seem more proper to listen to what the Lord has to say to us and not to do too much speaking to him. Our Lord Jesus set us an example in this, as well as in other things we have discussed.

In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus gave the disciples, and us, a model prayer. We will not quote it here but simply examine some of its salient features. The first request in this prayer is: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” We know that this is in harmony with God’s will because it is a prominent part of the divine plan and its accomplishment. In the minds and lives of God’s people the promise of the kingdom is the golden thread throughout the Bible. It is not that by our request we are intending to motivate God or tell him when it should be established but that we look forward to the time of its establishment because we yearn for an end to earth’s dark night of sin and death.

When praying thus, we are asking for God’s blessing on all his arrangements for the establishment of his kingdom, including the special work of the Gospel Age of calling and training a “little flock” to be associated with Jesus in that great kingdom work.

Then the second request is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We believe that the primary meaning of this request is for spiritual food. In John 6:63 Jesus explained what the bread of life really is: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you they are spirit, and they are life.” So in praying for our daily bread we are asking for a better understanding of his Word through the Holy Spirit and through all the helps that have been provided for us, including his duly appointed servants and the brethren. We of course know that it is through the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit that the truth is discernible to us. Jesus said, concerning our request for the Holy Spirit: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:9-13) It is as we partake of the nourishment from this bread of life that our new creature grows and develops. This is wholly in harmony with God’s will for us.

This does not mean that God is unmindful of our physical needs, for he tells us that he knows we have need of material things. (Matt. 6:31-34) He has promised to supply us with those material things that are necessary for the growth and development of the new creature.

In the Lord’s model prayer we are told to ask forgiveness. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” We know that this request is in harmony with God’s will, for he has made every necessary provision for the forgiveness of our sins. He sent his only begotten Son, who died on Calvary’s cross and subsequently appeared in the presence of God for us. But the Heavenly Father has attached a provision to this arrangement. He requires that we demonstrate the same mercy and forgiveness toward others—especially to our brethren—that he has demonstrated toward us, for “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) This is one of the ways that we can demonstrate the realization of our own undone condition and our great appreciation for God’s mercy toward us.

Then finally in the model prayer we are told to pray for deliverance. We are fully aware of Satan’s power and how helpless we would be if we were left alone to combat his vastly superior abilities. The Diaglott translation of Matthew 6:13 reads, “And abandon us not to trial, but preserve us from evil.” The word “trial” has the meaning of “sore trial,” and this in turn comes from a root that means “to pierce through.” “Evil” carries the thought of evil one, or Satan. So the Lord has instructed us to pray for deliverance from the evil one and not to permit him by trial or temptation to overwhelm us and cause us to fall. The Apostle Paul assures us of the Heavenly Father’s purpose in this respect: “No trial has assailed you except what belongs to man; and God is faithful, who will not permit you to be tried beyond your ability; but with the trial, will also direct the issue, that you may be able to bear it.”—I Cor. 10:13, Diaglott

And so the example of an acceptable prayer that Jesus gave us is in perfect harmony with the will and purpose of the Heavenly Father and encompasses most of the legitimate petitions of the consecrated footstep followers of the Master.

Therefore, as instructed by the Apostle Paul, we are to be instant—importunate—in prayer; but we have seen also that for these prayers to be effective they must be in harmony with God’s will, or purpose. In addition, we are also to cooperate continually with God in keeping with our prayers. And in this connection we must be willing to accept the experiences that the Lord permits us to have in order that we might have our prayers answered favorably. For example, if we pray for patience, we will probably have trials that will develop that quality of character. These trials could be difficult and prolonged.

Knowing that trials and testings are necessary and certain in our Christian walk, the Apostle Peter states, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” (I Pet. 4:12,13) And if we are receiving these trials, it is evidence that the Lord is dealing with us and that we are sons.—Heb. 12:6-8

Dawn Bible Students Association
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