And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen. "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matt 21:22)
Ask, and it will be given to you seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matt 7:7)
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24 )
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (John 14:13-14)
Something interesting has happened to my prayer life over the past decades. Through the years, I find myself increasingly bolder and much more persistent and specific. I think many Christians are frustrated in their prayer life because their prayers are not definite, consisting primarily of things like prayers for world peace and general blessings upon others. There is little clarity, faith, persistence or power in their prayer.
I increasingly find myself before the throne of grace with very precise requests and for increasingly the "smaller" things in life. But I have also become much bolder in faithfully seeking the bigger and more significant things. As my faith matures, my prayers become more specific and persistent.
I have not bought into the heresies of the "name-it-and-claim-it" or the Word-Faith movement. Rather, as I draw closer to Christ, I become far more aware and appreciative of His love, mercy, grace and omnipotent power. Most important of all, I become more and more cognizant of His perfect will. But here's the astonishing kicker - being aware of God's perfect will does not eliminate my freedom to ask according to my desires and choices. As I noted earlier here, I think William Lane Craig correctly argues that our free choices neither negate nor conflict with Divine Omniscience.
Why might Jesus desire our prayer be specific? The Psalms Project offers three reasons ...
- Relationship. God wants us to be honest with Him, to share the desires of our heart. God knows what we truly desire – why hide our requests from Him behind vague, wimpy language? Who are we fooling?
- Understanding of our desires. Specifying our desires before God helps us to realize what it is we truly desire. It forces us to actually think about our desires and confess those desires before Him. It reveals the desires that are righteous and those that are unrighteous. It helps us understand ourselves and evaluate our hearts before Him. It also helps us to “pray bigger” than we normally would. Instead of settling for the same old vague requests that never bring much direction or closure, God encourages us to look deeply into our hearts and express our innermost desires. What do we really want to see happen in our lives? In our schools? In our home? What do we really want God to do? Are you praying like God can do “exceedingly more than we ask or think,” or like God can do very little? Are you praying a specific, godly desire and expecting to see it?
- Knowledge of an answer. How will we ever know a prayer is answered unless we ask for something specific? Knowing a prayer has been answered clearly builds up our faith, builds relationship with God, and encourages us to pray more boldly and specifically in the future. Vague prayers don’t build up much anticipation. Vague prayers don’t cause us to wait expectantly for an answer from God. Specific prayer does. Again, this concept goes back to relationship. When we pray with specificity, there is transparency and clarity between us and God.
Wayne Grudem offers this perspective on prayer in his book Systematic Theology:
Prayer is not made so that God can find out what we need, because Jesus tells us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). God wants us to pray because prayer expresses our trust in God and is a means whereby our trust in him can increase. In fact, perhaps the primary emphasis of the Bible’s teaching on prayer is that we are to pray with faith, which means trust or dependence on God. God as our Creator delights in being trusted by us as his creatures, for an attitude of dependence is most appropriate to the Creator/creature relationship. Praying in humble dependence also indicates that we are genuinely convinced of God’s wisdom, love, goodness, and power—indeed of all of the attributes that make up his excellent character. When we truly pray, we as persons, in the wholeness of our character, are relating to God as a person, in the wholeness of his character. Thus, all that we think or feel about God comes to expression in our prayer. It is only natural that God would delight in such activity and place much emphasis on it in his relationship with us.
... But God does not only want us to trust him. He also wants us to love him and have fellowship with him. This, then, is a second reason why God wants us to pray: Prayer brings us into deeper fellowship with God, and he loves us and delights in our fellowship with him.
A third reason God wants us to pray is that in prayer God allows us as creatures to be involved in activities that are eternally important. When we pray, the work of the kingdom is advanced. In this way, prayer gives us opportunity to be involved in a significant way in the work of the kingdom and thus gives expression to our greatness as creatures made in God’s image.
I have experienced truly extraordinary answers to very specific prayer that are inexplicable apart from the supernatural move of God in answer to my persistent requests. But God is not at my beck and call. Not all prayers are answered the way I would like. As Jesus submitted to the Father's will in Gethsemane, there is genuine peace in truly being able to submit to His will when sometimes the answer is "no".
Through the years, I have become convinced that prayer offered in faith truly affects the way God acts (in a sense). William Lane Craig elaborates on this point ...
We should not think of prayer as changing God’s mind or changing events. God knows from eternity everything that will transpire in time, so that prayers do not literally change anything. For God’s foreknowledge already takes our prayers into account. God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to the prayers we offer, but the prayers are logically prior to what God foreknows. If we were to pray differently or fail to pray, God would not be caught by surprise but have already factored that into His providential plan.
So then how do our prayers make a difference if they do not change things? Precisely by being factored by God into which world He has chosen to create! Were we not to pray, then perhaps God would not have done such-and-such. Because God knew that you would pray for a certain thing, God has so arranged the world that that thing happens. Had you not prayed, God would have created a different world instead.
Reflect on that jaw-dropping consequence for a while - your prayers can truly impact what happens in creation. Surely this is also part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God does bring about remarkable changes in the world in response to prayer, as Scripture repeatedly teaches that He does. If we really believe this, the natural consequence is to pray much more. Someone who prays little probably does not really believe that prayer accomplishes much at all.