(One of many Bible articles on the "Wielding the Sword of the Spirit" web site at www.matthewmcgee.org)
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Prayer in this Dispensation of Grace

Matthew McGee

In this article, we will study how we should pray and for what we should pray in this present dispensation of grace. Naturally, to study prayer in this dispensation, we will study the prayers of our Apostle Paul and others which are found in Paul's epistles. We will also look for insights in some other prayers from outside of this grace dispensation, while being careful to rightly divide, and not misapply Israel's doctrines to the church. For comparison and for general knowledge, we will also study a couple of prayers from other dispensations that are commonly misapplied to the church.

New readers who may be wondering what a dispensation is, or why I am emphasizing the teachings of Apostle Paul and distinguishing between Israel and the church are invited to read the article, The Basics of Understanding the Bible, for background.

Prayers for Wisdom and Knowledge

One of the things that Paul makes clear in his writings is that great wisdom and knowledge of God is not something that is unattainable here in this present life on earth. Thus he prays continually for our wisdom and understanding of the Lord. In Ephesians 1:16-19 Paul writes that, "(I, Paul,) Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe …."

He also writes in Ephesians 3:14-19, "… I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." Clearly, Paul does not desire that we remain ignorantly wading around in the shallow waters of understanding. He wants us to have a deep understanding of God, even to, "… know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge …."

In Colossians 1:9-12, Paul told how he and Timothy prayed that we would be filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, "… (we) do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father …." Notice also that they pray with thanksgiving.

Praying for Other Believers in the Body of Christ

Paul set an example of praying for other believers. He wrote in Philemon 1:4, "I thank my God, making mention of thee (Philemon) always in my prayers ...." He also wrote to the believers in Rome in Romans 1:9, "... without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers ...."

Paul also appreciated the prayers of others for him and his ministry. He wrote in Philemon 1:22, "But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you." Also Romans 15:30-31 says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints ...."

In Ephesians 6:18-19, Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus to be, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel ...." A "supplication" is a humble and earnest request for God's help. Notice that the exhortation here is to pray for all of the believers and also for Paul and his ministry of the gospel. Likewise, Paul wrote in Colossians 4:2-4, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak."

Note: Some may be wondering why Paul refers to his message as "the mystery of Christ" and "the mystery of the gospel" in the two passages quoted above. That is because the gospel of grace that Paul preached to the church was not known by man, before God revealed it to Paul. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:11-12, "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." The gospel by which we are saved was not taught to Paul by the twelve or by some other person, but by our risen Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And the gospel given to Paul was not the gospel of the kingdom that had been preached by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry and by John the Baptist and the twelve. It was a gospel that God had never before made known to man. Thus Paul wrote in Romans 16:25, "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began ...."

Paul asked the believers in Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith." Here Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for the physical safety of Silas, Timothy, and himself, so that they may be able to further preach the gospel freely.

Paul frequently mentions praying for the spiritual maturity and development of the believers. He writes in 2 Corinthians 13:7, "Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates." In Philippians 1:9 he said, "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."

Paul does not pray for the spirit of the believer only, but for the body and soul as well. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 he wrote, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." He also wrote in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, "When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

In 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13, Paul wrote that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were, "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."

Paul prayed for our fellowship in the gospel. Philippians 1:4 says, "Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now …."

In their prayers, Paul and Timothy thanked God for the hope that is laid up in heaven for the believers. Colossians 1:3-5 says, "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel …."

In 2 Corinthians 9:14-15, we have an example of local churches praying for the spiritual blessings of another church. Paul tells the church at Corinth how the churches in Macedonia (perhaps including Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi) had been praying for them, "And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift."

Prayers for Those Outside the Body of Christ

We should pray for our governmental leaders, whether they are in the body of Christ or not. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." So we should pray for our president, representatives, judges, and all who are in positions of governmental authority.

We should pray that others may come to the faith. Paul wrote in Romans 10:1, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." In another example, Jesus was teaching Israel and not the church. Still, we see the same concept of praying for the salvation of others. In Matthew 5:44-45, Jesus said, "…Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven …."

The Matthew 5:44-45 passage above also ties into the general concept of praying for those who have wronged us, whether they are believers or not. Luke 23:34 records that even as Jesus hung on the cross, He prayed, "… Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do …." Similarly, Acts 7:59-60 says that as Stephen was being stoned to death, he prayed, "… Lord Jesus, receive my spirit … Lord, lay not this sin to their charge …." Also, in 2 Timothy 4:16, Paul spoke of his prayer for those who did not stand by him when he was opposed by Alexander the coppersmith, "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge."

Thanking God for our Food

Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:3-5, "… meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." Here we see that we should pray, giving God thanks for our food, thus sanctifying our food, whatever it may be. We are not under the law of Moses, where certain foods were off limits. Romans 6:14 says we, "... are not under law, but under grace." Under grace, all food is good, and we should give prayerful thanks to God for it.

The Intercession of the Holy Spirit

Romans 8:26 begins, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities ...." Here the word "infirmities" does not refer to health problems, as it does in some passages. As we shall see, it is a reference to our weakness in our inability to know for what we should pray. Continuing in Romans 8:26-28, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Sometimes we do not know for what we should be praying, but the Holy Spirit knows and prays for us on our behalf.

Praying in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

Praying in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is quite common. But as students of the Word, we should want to know if there is any scriptural justification for this practice. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18-20, "... be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ ...." So in fact there is scriptural justification for the practice of praying in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This not only applies to prayer and song, but Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16-17, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."

The Peace of God that Results from Prayer

Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, "Be careful for nothing (don't worry about anything); but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." So when we have a request that is consistent with His Word, we can take it to the Lord. It does not necessarily mean that God is going to grant our request. But whether He does or not, we have "… the peace of God, which passeth all understanding …." When we place our requests in His hands, one result is a peace in our hearts and minds that would seem incomprehensible to the unbelieving world.

Frequency and Length of Prayers

Prayer should not be just occasional, but with great frequency, as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." Also in 1 Timothy 5:5, Paul describes the ideal for the prayers of widows in the church, "Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day." Romans 12:12 says we should be, "... continuing instant in prayer ...." And in 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul writes that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were, "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?"

Colossians 4:12 mentions that Epaphras was, "… always labouring fervently for you (the believers in Colosse) in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." Note that with great desire and effort on the part of Epaphras was, "… always labouring fervently …" in prayer.

There is no set length for prayer, while some prayers in the Bible are rather long, such as Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9, other prayers are quite short. For example, in Nehemiah 2:4-6, when King Artaxerxes asked Nehemiah a question, Nehemiah said a very quick prayer before responding to the King. Keep in mind that Artaxerxes was the king of the Medo-Persian Empire. So he was the most powerful ruler on earth at that time. Nehemiah did not have time to say much, but God granted a favorable response from the King. "Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it. And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time." This prayer by Nehemiah must have been very short, so as not to appear to be ignoring King Artaxerxes, and probably under his breath, yet God heard it, and provided.

Mindset for Prayer

We have already seen many passages above that tell us that we are to be thankful in our prayers such as Colossians 1:9-12, Philemon 1:4, Colossians 4:2-4, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 1 Timothy 4:3-5, Ephesians 5:18-20, Colossians 3:16-17, and Philippians 4:6-7.

Also, prayer must not be with an inappropriate mindset. In 1 Timothy 2:8 Paul write, "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." We should never approach God in anger, as some may do when a tragedy happens. Nor should we ever pray a doubtful prayer, as some non-believers begin their prayers with, "God, if you're up there ...."

Our prayers are to be with all humility. Jesus taught about humility in prayer in Luke 18:9-14. "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Now of course we know that Jesus was teaching those who were under the law of Moses, and that we today have no requirement to go to the temple or to tithe. Also, if we are believers, we have been justified and God has forgiven us of all our sins (Colossians 2:13 and 3:13). Never-the-less, the lesson that we should pray with humility is still appropriate. This message of humility in prayer is also seen in Matthew 6:5-6 where Jesus said, "… when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

Prayer should be truthful from the heart, not simply by repeating memorized phrases. Matthew 6:7-8, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."

Posture for Prayer

Some might wonder if there is an appropriate physical posture for prayer, that is, kneeling, standing, sitting, and so forth. There are many passages that refer to a variety of postures. Some of these have already been mentioned in this article.

Paul said in Ephesians 3:14-19, "I bow my knees", and he referred to "lifting up holy hands" in 1 Timothy 2:8. In Luke 18:13, Jesus spoke of a man who stood and, "… would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast …." In Exodus 34:8, Moses, " … bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped." Hebrews 11:21 says that when Jacob was near death, he, "… worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff." Revelation 7:11 says, "And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God …."

Sometimes circumstances influenced the postures of those praying in scripture. For example, Nehemiah serving wine to the king and therefore probably standing, Jesus hanging on the cross, and Stephen kneeling while being stoned.

When Jesus was asked to teach the disciples how to pray, He did not tell them to get into a particular position. He gave them guidelines for what to say. There is no essential posture for prayer. What is more important is our frame of mind. Some may find that certain physical positions may be more helpful for getting into the proper frame of mind, but the scriptures state no specific requirements.

The Prayer of Jabez

One prayer that has become very popular in Christendom is the prayer of Jabez. 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 says, "And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested." Some have errantly used this passage to teach that God will provide us with whatever we want, material or otherwise, if we just ask Him for it. First of all, that is not what the verse says. It says that God provided Jabez with what he had requested. This passage does not say that God will provide just anyone and everyone with just anything and everything that they request. Besides, Jabez was an Israelite, living under the dispensation of the Law of Moses. He was not a Christian, under this dispensation of grace.

Likewise some may misapply John 16:24 which says, "... ask, and ye shall receive ..." or similar verses like Matthew 21:22 or 1 John 3:22. But once again, these passages are not spoken to us in this dispensation of grace. Rather, they are spoken by ministers of the circumcision to the Jews who were under the Law of Moses (Romans 15:8 and Galatians 2:9). In this present dispensation, we are given no such guarantee that God will grant our requests. As we see in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul wrote, "... there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, 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." But as we have seen above, Philippians 4:6-7 says, "... in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Thus we have the great peace of knowing that we have placed our petitions in the hands of God.

The Disciples' Prayer

Jesus Christ's teaching of the disciples' prayer, which most people refer to as the "Lord's Prayer", is given in Matthew 6:9-13. "... Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." We see very similar wording when cross-referencing Luke 11:2-4 which says, "… Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil."

Now we have to remember that Jesus Christ was sent to the people of Israel. It was not until well after His ascension that Christ sent Paul to the Gentiles, who were not under the Law of Moses. This prayer was for the Jews who were under the Law of Moses to pray. One statement in particular would directly conflict with our dispensation grace that is in operation today. Christians today are not to ask for God to forgive our sins, because we have already been forgiven (Colossians 2:13 and 3:13). If we ask for forgiveness, then we are not believing what Paul said about us having already been forgiven of all our sins. Instead, we should thank God for having already forgiven us. On the other hand, praying "... Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven ...." is alright for us today, but has a different meaning for us than it did for the Jews who were under the Law of Moses. We can pray for His kingdom to come, but we know that for us, that means we will be raptured, and that God's will regarding the tribulation and the setting up of the kingdom will be fulfilled afterwards. We have a different perspective of the kingdom from that of the Jews in Christ's day. As for the other statements in the disciple's prayer, I see no reason why they would not be applicable today.

Other Prayers in Scripture

In 1 Samuel 12:22-23, Samuel said to the people of Israel, "... the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people. Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you ...." Note that it would have been a sin for Samuel to have ceased praying for Israel. But the sin would not have been against Israel. Rather, the sin would have been against God.

For further reading on the topic of prayer, see the following which are just a few of the many prayers in scripture, including the prayers of Moses for Israel (Deuteronomy 9:26-29), Samson for strength (Judges 16:28-30), King David (Psalms 23, 28, 143), King Solomon for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-14), Daniel (Daniel 9:3-20), King Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:1-6), and Jesus Christ prior to the crucifixion (John 17:1-26).

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