The Nature of Prayer


We are persuaded that many expect from prayer that which God did not intend they should get. With their immature and even distorted view of prayer’s purpose, they become discouraged when prayer fails to come up to their expectations. They crave great and immediate results, and when these are not promptly forthcoming, they are disappointed and tend to lose faith. For their sake, and for ours, we need a better understanding of what prayer can and cannot do.

The particular field in which prayer operates and to which it is limited is as definitely fixed as that of any other of the gifts of God. Grace has a vital place in God’s plan, but it must work in harmony with law lest it trespass and enter a field not its own. Mercy operates under definite rules and conditions, as does forgiveness. Faith and works occupy a field where they have jurisdiction, and they must remain there, or conflict will result. Likewise prayer has its assigned sphere. While the full discussion of this is reserved for later segments, we shall here make a few observations in regard to some of the common misconceptions of prayer.

Prayer is not primarily a short cut whereby Christians may obtain freely that for which others must work. I need a certain sum of money and ask God for it. I doubt not that God could supply this money direct from heaven, nor do I doubt that God would do this if I really needed the money and there was no other way of getting it. God did a miracle for Christ once when He needed a coin to pay the temple tax. Matthew 17:24-27. However, this is not God’s ordinary way of working. The Lord gives “thee power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18); that is, He will supply the power, but we are to work for it.

It was the same principle that God supplied manna from heaven for Israel. God said, “I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather.” Exodus 16:4.  The Lord supplied the manna; but Israel had to gather it. This is how God works today. He supplies the rain and the sunshine, and causes the seed to grow; but man must plow, cultivate, and harvest.

If a request for money should come before God and we were unable to hear the response, it would probably seem a disappointing one-at least to some. He might say, “Dear one, your prayer has been recorded, and I am sympathetic with you. I could send the money you need; but that would not be the best thing to do. I suggest you follow the usual routine; work hard, and save. In the beginning, I gave Adam work to do, because it was best for him. Genesis 3:19. I give you the same counsel. I will help you. I will stand by you. I will prosper you if you work hard and do not forget God’s part of your earnings. However, do not build your life on the proposition of receiving money from heaven.”

Such an answer might seem cold and even cruel, especially to one who expects God to hand out money on demand. However, God knows best; and there are cases on record where God has answered otherwise. Let no one misunderstand. God will send every angel in heaven to the aid of one who is in need of help. Let him but call on God, and the answer will come.

Prayer for the Removal of Pain

I have a severe pain, and I ask God to remove it. He may do so if He thinks best, or He may let it remain, as in the case of Paul who had “a thorn in the flesh” and asked God to remove it. “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice,” he says, “that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:8,9. God loved Paul, and Paul loved God. Yet, God did not remove the malady, but gave Paul grace and strength to bear it.

When we ask God to remove pain, it is well that we have Paul’s case in mind. For reasons we do not know, God may think it best to let the pain remain, and if so, all we can do is ask God for grace to bear it. We have a right to pray, however. Paul prayed three times, as did Christ in Gethsemane. But if, after searching our hearts and dedicating all to God, asking that His will be done, we receive no favorable answer, we may conclude that God has some other plan for us, and we may pray as did Paul, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Acts 9:6.

God may know the reasons why it is not best for Him to answer favorably a petition for relief of pain. That treason may be hid from us; but it will be revealed to us if we truly seek God and want to know His plan for us. God may answer: “Dear one, I know you are suffering, and I feel with you. I would gladly take away this pain if were the best thing to do. However, before doing this, I need your co-operation. If you should search your heart, you might find that there are reasons why you suffer. You are not careful in your manner of living, in your eating and drinking, in work, rest, and recreation. You need to make some radical changes, and if you do, the pain will disappear. If you do all you can, I will help you. However, it is necessary that you mend your ways. If you do not, and I should heal you, in a very short time you would again be where you are now. So, repent of your bodily sins as well as those of the heart. I will stand by you, and as we work together we will succeed.”

This also may seem cruel comfort and cold advice, and some may think that God is not merciful. However, good sense will confirm that prayer should not cover violations of the law of health. Prayer is not to be used as a means to avoid the result of transgression. Someone has said, “Divine wisdom has given us prayer, not as a means of obtaining the good things of earth, but as a means whereby we learn to do without them; not as a means to escape evil, but as a means whereby we may become strong to meet it.”

Prayer for a Conversion

If I should pray God to convert my unbelieving neighbor, He might answer, “I will do what I can. However, I must have your co-operation. What your neighbor needs is a demonstration of true religion in action. He does not believe that Christianity is of a special value. He sees little difference in the life of a believer and that of an unbeliever. If he could convinced that Christianity really does something for a man, he would become interested. Do your best to convince him that Christianity has done something for you.  Be kind, courteous, and helpful. Do not irritate him with pious platitudes. Your life will preach better than your words. Be upright in all your dealings. Be fair, just, accommodating. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Keep your house and your premises in order. Teach obedience to your children. If you will do this, I will be in a better position to help you answer your prayer. I need a man to whom I can point as an example of what Christianity is and what religion can do. Without such, I can do but little. Try this plan I will help you. You are the man I want. As we work together, we may win your neighbor.”

God is now looking for men such as Job, and He will find them in the last generation. When Satan sneeringly asks, “Where are those that keep the commandments of God and faith of Jesus?” God will quietly answer, “Here they are.” “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12. Satan will then get permission to test them, as he did Job; he will do his best to get them to fall. When at last, he retires defeated and God stands justified, it will be because the saints have demonstrated that they serve God as a matter of principle and not for reward.

God uses every opportunity to enlist our help in the salvation of men. As a mother permits her little ones to help her, though they are more of a hindrance than a help, so God allows us to help Him. Whenever God can, He calls on us to assist, and gives us the credit.

An Ethiopian on his way home from Jerusalem was sitting in his chariot reading a portion of the book of Isaiah. He did not understand what he was reading, and desired help. God could have sent an angel, but instead He commanded Philip to “go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” Acts 8:29. Philip did so; he explained the scripture, and the man was baptized. Verses 37,38. Philip evidently was anxious to go on other missionary endeavors, therefore the Spirit of the Lord took him away, and “Philip was found at Azotus.” Verses 39,40. Here was perfect co-operation between God and man.

God gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream, and He could as easily given him the interpretation. However, He called upon Daniel to give the interpretation. This made Daniel renowned in all the realm as a wise man, and as a result, he became “ruler over the whole province of Babylon.” Daniel 2:48. God did the work; Daniel got the credit. Daniel understood this and gave God the glory. Nebuchadnezzar did not understand, took the glory to himself, and suffered the penalty. Daniel 2:27-30; 4:28-33.

These considerations and examples make it plain that God desires our co-operation and that He is handicapped when He does not get it. He is anxious for us to become His co- laborers, and as we do. He prospers and blesses, less we are willing to do our share of the work; but when we in faith and humility associate ourselves with Him, the reward is great.

Let us therefore repeat that God does not respond to our prayers unless we are willing to do our share. God has no intention of helping a lazy man or one who expects to get something from God without working for it. We are to work and pray as well as to watch and pray. Prayer as well as faith, without works is dead.

Nature’s Laws

These laws are not written laws, but rather denote events in nature that have been observed to occur with unvarying uniformity under the same conditions. In a certain sense these laws may be considered as God’s laws, for the Creator who made nature also set forth the laws of nature under which all things, animate and inanimate, function. A water lily will flourish in a stagnant pool, where a rose will die. Fishes prosper in water, while land, animals die if submerged. Plants will thrive in proper soil; in other soil, they wither. The Creator in the beginning implanted these properties, and they still hold true.

Even insensate objects appear to be under law. A timber of given dimensions will carry a certain load, and so will another timber of the same kind under like conditions. Increase the dimensions, and their load-carrying capacity will increase in a definite ratio. A steel cable has certain tensile strength, and this strength varies with the dimensions of the cable, again with a definite ratio. Men have discovered what the ratio is, and have made up tables showing this. Every builder and structural engineer carries a book of tables with him and depends on its accuracy. Without such uniformity, confusion would result.

Even prayer must conform to the law to be effective. Law, being the will of God, is supreme. All must bow to it. The earth beneath and the heavens above bear witness to the faithfulness of God. Let everyone who prays join God respecting law, and let him not ask God to violate any law in order to answer his prayer. Men may at times whish to have the law of gravitation temporarily suspended, or desire to have a moratorium on the law that says that as a man sows, so also shall he reap. Such prayers are in vain.

A Brighter Picture

This may seem a dark picture; for how can any man escape if he is amenable to law in which there is no pardon and which accepts no excuse? However, there is a brighter picture. There is hope for the transgressor. “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:3,4.

What the law could not do, God did. He provided a way of escape. He could not abrogate the law, but He could heal the wound that transgression had made. In addition, this He did by sending His Son. By His wounds, we are healed.

We have a faint picture of redemption and restoration in nature. In war, man may ruin a landscape and leave it in total devastation. Nevertheless, in a few years that same field presents a glorious view covered with poppies. An animal may be severely wounded, but it will lick its sores and start the healing process. A tree may be severely slashed by the ax, but it will do its best to cover the wound and is often remarkably successful. There are healing processes in nature that tend to repair any damage done. This is indicative of God’s provision for man. The human race is not left to die alone because of transgression. Help is near. In addition, God has means at hand to accomplish His design. He need not abolish any law in order to bring relief. Rather, He honors the law.

I never cease to marvel at the airplane. I see men load into the baggage compartment all kinds of luggage and heavy boxes. Then the passengers board the plane. I am convinced that the plane will never leave the ground; for have I not been taught that only a substance lighter than air can of itself rise of the ground? Moreover, the plane does not meet this specification.

However, the plane rises. A miracle? No, only the application of other laws, laws of construction, of wing surface, of speed, which take precedence of the first law without abrogating it.

I know that a piece of iron will not float on water. I make a demonstration to prove my point. The iron promptly disappears under the surface. I am correct. Iron will not float. However, a man comes along, “changes the shape of your piece of iron, and it will float, “ he says. I do so. I make of it a little vessel, a hollowed-out vessel, of the precise weight of my original piece that would not float; and lo, it floats! A miracle? No, a simple application of the law of displacement. Then I wonder: If man by a change of the shape of an object can make iron float, may not God have a thousand ways of accomplishing His ends? God has, and He does not violate law to do so.

It is said of Columbus that at a banquet in his honor some persons made light of his discovery of America. Anybody could discover America. Just get into a boat and keep going west, and there would be America!

Quietly Columbus handed an egg to one of his detractors and asked him if he could balance it on end. The man tried, but did not succeed. Handing the egg back to Columbus, he asked, “Can you do it?” Columbus took the egg, set it down hard on the table, cracking the shell, and the egg stood. “Well, it is easy enough to do it that way,” said the detractor. “Yes, answered Columbus, “it is easy enough to do it if you know how.” The onlookers saw the point.

“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation.” 2 Peter 2:9.  Without doing violence to the meaning of the text, we may well use only four first words, “The Lord knoweth how.” What seems to us to be a miracle may not be a miracle from God’s viewpoint. It may merely be an application of laws of which we are ignorant. In any event, the Lord knows how.

I stand appalled as I consider what God wants me to be, and the standard I must reach. I am convinced that there is no hope for me. However, when I turn to God, I find One who knows how to deliver me, help me, and make me stand. I claim the promise, “He shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:4. I read:  “Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13. I do not see how it can be done. However, God knows how. As clay in the hands of the potter, so God can form us into a vessel of honor, if we let Him. The motto, “Prayer changes things,” may be well revised, “God changes things.”

Memory Verse:

…. with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26.


1.   Are you willing to let God shape your life today, tomorrow and forever?


2.      Have you thought about your actions around others, and the influence you have?



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