Select your language
Nuer (Sudan/South-Sudan)
Tshiluba (DR Congo)


D. G. Pullman

In Romans 8: 28 there is the following statement: "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God..." For a long time I wondered exactly what "all things work together for good" might mean. In recent years I have realised that the "all things" are not only the pleasant events that occur in our lives but also those things which become a burden or trial. We feel it is a blessing when the burden is gone, and we can look back and review what has happened and appreciate how the Lord has brought us through. But there is also great blessing to be gained if in those same situations we put the burden or trial into the hands of the Lord and leave it there for Him to deal with. It is with these thoughts in mind that I would like to consider several Scriptures which highlight some aspects of the value of prayer and indicate how committed and energetic we need to be in our prayer life.

In Acts 2: 42 we have a familiar verse: "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." I would like to view the verse as giving four equal foundation stones. With these and the confidence that Romans 8: 28 would produce there is a basis that will enable us to prove day by day that "all things work together for good to them that love God..." In the midst of difficulties we are sometimes unable to see the good and need faith to believe what the Word of God says. In such circumstances the prayer foundation stone needs to be in constant use. With the above in mind I would like to consider the subject under the following headings:

  • Our role model
  • The pattern for prayer
  • The need for public and private prayer
  • Does prayer work?
  • How much effort do I need to make?
  • Who to pray for?
  • What about my burdens?

Our Role Model

There are many Scriptures which bring the Lord Jesus before us as a dependent Man. We read of Him rising up a great while before day in order to go out and pray (Mark 1: 35). We read of Him on a mountain, continuing all night in prayer (Luke 6: 12). On another occasion, having cast out the demon which the disciples were unable to cast out, He taught them that mighty works are only achieved through prayer and fasting (Matt. 17: 21).

In John 17 we learn something of the quality of the prayer life of the Lord Jesus. It was the Man who was here who prays while at the same time the chapter shows that this Man is the Son. In verse 9 He says: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine." If we study the word "pray" in this verse we will see that it has the force of someone desiring or demanding something of another who is His equal. In the prayer of this chapter we are listening to a Divine Person, the Son, addressing the Father. Here the Lord is interested solely in His own, those who also belong to the Father, and not in the world in general.

In verse 15 the same intense desire is expressed in the prayer that His own be kept from evil-that which is the character of the world. The Lord does not ask that His own may be taken out of the world, but that they might be kept safe from its evil. In referring to "this present evil world" Paul also reminds us that this is its character (Gal. 1: 4). I wonder if we sometimes forget what this world is really like, our spiritual senses being dulled. We become friendly with the world, which is something James warns us against very strongly: "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4: 4). If we live as the Lord desires, this will not hinder but rather enhance the impact of our gospel preaching. A separate life-style is a vital dimension of the witness to the truth of the gospel. The gospel of the grace of God saves eternally and for the remainder of our lifetime in this world.

Finally, from verse 20 we learn that it was not only the apostles that the Lord had in mind but you and me as well. "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word." Here in this powerful, demanding prayer to the Father, the Lord also looks down through the years to you and me. What a blessed thought that we were in the mind of the Lord long before we were saved. His desire is that we might be preserved until He comes for us.

As we think of the need to pray for the preservation of the saints today, of the scope of our prayers and the strong intensity in which effective prayer is to be made, could we have a better role model than our Lord Jesus Christ? We will see later on from other Scriptures how this example was lived out in the lives of saints. If the Lord Jesus Christ was in this matter an example for them, He is no less such for ourselves today. Let us follow the example given and be a praying people.

The Pattern for Prayer

In Matthew 6: 9-13 we have a pattern for prayer. This portion is not only well known amongst the saints but also in the world by those who have a religious interest, even though there may be no reality. When the Lord gave this example He was not asking His own to repeat the prayer parrot-fashion. The Lord guards against this in verse 7 by saying that we should not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. There are many religionists in the world (so-called Christians and non Christians) who do this very thing.

What can we learn from this pattern for prayer? In verse 9 we surely get a strong indication that when we address Divine Persons there must be an appropriate recognition of this fact, reflected in the language that we use. Scripture shows that there is a distinctive way of addressing a Divine Person which is entirely different to the trend of this world. The world attempts to remove all distinctions by treating everyone, including God, like the person next door. Regardless of how near we have been brought to God there is still an infinite difference and there will be even in heaven, where the saints will cast their crowns down at the Lord's feet. The pattern here in Matthew 6 brings before us the need for reverence.

Verse 10 reminds us of the need to be interested in what God is going to bring about in this world and of the vital importance of being obedient to His will.

Verse 11 reminds us of the importance of being thankful for what God provides for us day by day. This can be testing, especially when we need to give thanks in the canteen at work or in other public places, and have no other Christian support! However, I would not limit our thankfulness to the daily provision of food. Every step of the pathway is an opportunity to be thankful.

Verse 12 shows the need to keep in touch with the throne of grace.

Verse 13 is another opportunity to be thankful as we seek to be preserved. This reminds us of the prayer in John 17 already mentioned. Additionally we are brought to consider the One to whom we pray, touching upon His rights, His greatness, His power and His ability. This pattern for prayer is true whether we are praying to God, the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Need for Public and Private Prayer

Before we leave Matthew 6 let us consider verse 6. Here the Lord indicates that there are occasions when secret private prayer is required. In the setting of the chapter it is contrasted with those who performed public prayer to impress others. The pattern outlined in verses 9-13 was being totally ignored. But we need to be alone in prayer in order to bring our individual exercises and concerns to the One who can answer our prayers. Secret prayer may also be a shared exercise, involving husband and wife or a family, but what is prayed for in secret may not necessarily be suitable for articulation in the public prayer meeting.

If we turn to Acts 16: 13 we find there a place "where prayer was wont to be made." This was obviously public prayer. Godly Jews gathered for prayer on the banks of the river. Everyone would know about it, including those people of the city who possibly went to the riverside to wash their clothes. If you had asked in the city where the prayer meeting was you would have been told to go down to the river on such and such a day. How is your local prayer meeting? The people of your area may or may not be aware when prayer meeting night is but are we aware and a supporter of it? Let us not be uncommitted to the local public prayer meeting or where prayer is made in the open air just before the preaching commences, or on any other occasion.

Prayer (2)

Does Prayer Work?

We will all answer "yes" to this question. However, I wonder if we always like the answers that are given to our prayers? From the following Scriptures we will see that the answer is sometimes "no," sometimes "yes" and sometimes "wait." We shall also see that we are not always given to understand why the answers are as they are.

In 2 Corinthians 12: 9 we find Paul is given a "no" to his prayer. A serious affliction affected Paul and with exercise and effort in prayer he looked for relief. But the apostle was brought to realise that his burden was to remain in order that he might gain a fuller and richer appreciation of the grace of the Lord. There was to be an increased demonstration of the power of Christ in Paul's life through enduring and triumphing over the affliction. The answer came: "My grace is sufficient for thee." Like Paul we must learn that God has a better way forward and it may not be the way we expected. Such a learning process may not be easy.

In Acts 12: 3-16 there is the account of Peter's release from prison by an angel. His deliverance was a matter of earnest prayer on the part of the saints. Herod had taken the apostle James and killed him in order to please the Jews. However, when the determined prayers of the saints were answered there was unbelief that God had answered with a "yes." Are we ready for when the answer comes and is it in line with what we have requested?

In Acts 16: 6-10 Paul and his companions were prevented from moving in various directions by the Spirit of God. This would certainly have led to exercise and prayer. There was a time of waiting, for it was not until the vision was given that a clear direction was communicated to Paul and the others. Similarly, in Psalm 73 we find Asaph deeply troubled by the prosperity of the wicked. It is not until he went to the place of prayer (verse 17-the sanctuary of God) that the answer could be given. Then he was given understanding as to the end of the wicked. Sometimes God asks us to wait for an answer or for understanding. In these Scriptures as in others to be considered we find that the word used implies effort and perseverance associated with continuous prayer. Clearly, to be a praying people requires energy and patience.

How Much Effort do I Need to Give?

At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7 we find Paul considering the relationship of husband and wife. He indicates that the natural desires associated with marriage are not to be lightly denied, except in connection with burdens and exercises where both need to be involved in prayer and fasting. The husband and wife consent for a time to refrain from a physical relationship, in order that they might give themselves wholly to determined prayer. Even necessary food is forgone in order that prayer may be made without distraction. This shows what a powerful activity prayer is when seeking to gain the resources available from God.

In Romans 12: 12 we have the expression, "continuing instant in prayer." Persevering is the thought that is emphasised; not giving up till the answer comes. From the context of the verse we see that this prayerful attitude is a feature of the Christian life-style. In order to have time to pray we may need to give it priority over other things in our busy day. This takes effort, and interest and concern for others and for Christian things. This will be an opposite kind of life-style to that which marks the unbeliever. When we say we will pray for someone or something, do we? And for how long do we do so?

Colossians 4: 2 reminds us of the same requirement to "Continue in prayer" but also tells us to "watch in the same with thanksgiving." We are to be awake and vigilant and looking for the answer to come. We are to be a people who expect their God to answer. I am reminded of Elijah, a man of like passions to ourselves, who prayed that it might not rain. The answer came and it didn't rain for 3½ years. At the end of that time Elijah was used to prove to the nation of Israel that Jehovah was the only and true God. He defeated the false prophets of Baal. God consumed Elijah's sacrifice with fire and then Elijah prayed for rain. He prayed and watched. He sent his servant to look for the rain clouds. Did Elijah give up when the servant reported that nothing was happening-that there were no clouds to be seen? No, he told his servant to go and look again seven times. He prayed, and watched and it did rain the same day. The verse in Colossians 4 also reminds us that when the answer comes we are to be thankful.

Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 5: 17 saints are encouraged to "Pray without ceasing." The answer may be a long time in coming but we are not to give up. We are to continue in those exercises we have committed ourselves to. It may be that no one else but our God is aware of the burden that we carry. There is to be the washing of the face etc., so that we appear to others not to have any particularly deep concerns, and this because the issue is with the only One who can bring about a solution. Our part is to faithfully continue in prayer.

Who to Pray For

In 1 Timothy 2: 1-2 we find that there are times when our prayers are to be very wide in their scope, embracing all men. And it is good to pray and give thanks for the government under which we live and for the other tiers of government and authority. It may be that some saints live in countries where those in authority misuse their power, but this is even more reason to pray that they might exercise their authority in a responsible manner.

In many places in Scripture we are given instruction regarding specific prayer. In 2 Timothy 1: 3 Paul reminded Timothy that he was constantly in the thoughts of the apostle and that he prayed for him night and day. It is always encouraging to know that others are praying for us. Sometimes it is not until we have experienced the Lord's guidance and help that we discover someone was praying for us in those circumstances. Indeed, it may be many years before we learn that we have been the object of someone's prayers, or perhaps we shall only discover this when we are with the Lord! We may not appreciate the way that the Spirit of God moves saints so that they are burdened and pray for others, but He does. Let us not suppose that a believer has to be in difficulty before we pray for that person. Let us seek out one or more that they may be the specific objects of our prayers, and let us make a long term commitment in prayer exercise, without them necessarily knowing about our exercise for them.

Of course, it is right that at times we ask the saints to pray for us. In 1 Thessalonians 5: 25 Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him and those that were with him. He was continually praying for others and he valued the prayers of others for himself and his companions. We find in Romans 15: 30 that Paul asked the saints at Rome to pray for him, and that he was also praying for himself! "Brethren... strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." There are times no doubt when we need to tell the saints about a situation, as Paul did here in chapter 15. However, Paul was exercised to pray himself in connection with what he thought was God's will as to his service at that time. He wanted to go to Rome and then into Spain. Scripture does not record whether or not he got to Spain and his journey to Rome was no doubt different to what he had expected.

From time to time we will have exercises in our lives which demand prayer and which we can share with others, whom it will be right to ask to pray for us and with us.

What About my Burdens!

There is a wonderful verse in Hebrews 4 which reminds us that there is a place we can go to where we will find One who is able to provide healing balm of mercy and grace even to a situation that is beyond our control. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4: 16). There is One there who can both share the burden and perhaps relieve us of the burden. Let us be quick to approach this throne, the quicker the better, for we shall find there that unnecessary heartache is removed. There is One whom we can approach in fullest confidence; One who understands how burdened we are.

In Matthew 11: 28-30 we are also reminded that the Lord is more than willing to share the burden that we carry. In such situations saints who have taken His yoke upon them have found that our Lord does all the carrying and He puts His arm around us and provides the needed support as we journey on in the way.

The lessons that I find in these two Scriptures are that the Lord wants us to bring our troubles to Him and to leave them at His feet. He does not want us to carry them away again. It is important that we believe that the Lord is able. As the hymn writer says, "What a friend we have in Jesus..."