All Kinds Of Prayers
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
God wants us to pray. That much we all know. But he also wants us to pray according to his will. This may sound as if we shouldn’t pray for anything else. But that’s not what praying according to the will of God is all about. God is a Father and as such he is a careful listener to his children— if you are his children. But he wants us to pray and he really wants us to pray according to his will. That is what we should be concerned with anyway if we know God personally, and if we are sure that God is wise and sovereign over all things. In fact this is precisely our faith— it’s what we believe about him— that as a wise and sovereign God, he must know what’s best— and particularly what’s best for us. So we want to pray. But we also want to know what this wise and sovereign God has in store for me, for my life, for my family, for my work, for my ministry for my church and all. I should want to pray according to his will. That would be wisdom itself, because God’s will is the best thing for me and for my life. Compared with God, I am neither wise nor sovereign, and therefore I really do not know what I ought to pray for that’s good for me. But God does! And I should trust him. So, my sincere desire and struggle should be to learn from the Lord what his will is for me and for all things, and consequently to also learn to pray according to his will.
So there are principles of prayer, principles of how to pray. If I want to learn to pray according to the will of God, then I should learn the principles of prayer, and follow them. Does it mean I should not pray in any other way— apart from these principles? No, that’s not what I mean. I can pray in any way I want to pray. I may want to pray this way or that way. I may want to pray shouting or whispering, standing or sitting or even kneeling. I may want to pray laughing or crying. I’m free to pray for however or whatever I wish. That’s to the glory of God that he had endowed me with a free will so that I’m free to pray anyway I want. But at the same time, doesn’t wisdom tell me this: That if there is a principle of prayer that God abides by, a principle which he has revealed in his word, shouldn’t I then learn it and follow it, especially if I know that if I pray according to God’s principle of prayer, then God will most surely answer me! If I know that I can be saved from the flood by building a special kind of ark, should I not build the ark according to God’s specifications rather than doing my own thing! What if I decide instead to build it according to my own understanding! I can decide to pray in my own way and go about doing things my own way, but I shouldn’t expect God to answer that prayer and save me when he’s clearly told me the way or principle of prayer and I don’t listen! Man is a strange creature, doing his own thing, and then expecting God to just go along. But there are principles of prayer and we ought to learn them. And the first one is that if I pray according to the will of God, God hears me and answers me. So my priority in learning prayer is that I should want to learn his will that I may pray according to it. And we should want to pray according to his will, so that he might fulfill his will and do his work among us.
We’ve said this before, that there’s a correlation between prayer and God’s work— whatever that work may be— whether it is the work of fulfilling his promises or the work of saving a soul. In a sense— the will of God, prayer and the work of God that ensues— go hand in hand. When God does his work, he does so according to law and definite principle. Of course God need not limit himself to laws and principles, and he can transcend them whenever he wants to. But amazingly we discover that God will act in line with the law or principle he had laid down. It’s as if God purposely puts himself under his own law to be controlled by it. We know very well that God put himself under his own law regarding righteousness by killing his own son on our behalf. It is the same with the work of God. God will act upon his own law when it comes to the work he wants to do. So then, now we can see the principle behind God’s work! The primary principle behind God doing his work, is that he wants us to pray; that he actually wants us to cooperate with him through prayer; that he will not do his work— whatever that work may be— unless we pray.
There may be four steps to all the spiritual works that God does. The first step is that God conceives a thought, which is his will. The second step is that God will reveal his will to his children, helping them to understand that he has a will, or a plan, or a demand, or even an expectation— a prayer topic. God does so through the Holy Spirit who lives in God’s children and to whom they are sensitive and attentive. The third step is that his children pray according to the revealed will of God. They do so because God’s children are wholly committed to God in love and in trust and in faith, accepting his superior wisdom and the blessing. And the fourth step is that God will accomplish his very precious work. But in these four steps, the step that we are concerned with at the moment is the third step, how we are to pray out the will of God— which is expressing God’s will back to him through prayer. As God’s children, we really must be deeply concerned with this— that is, concerned with expressing the will of God through prayer. Why? Because when we think about it, this is the kind of prayer that is weighty, essential, substantial, indispensible and most significant and precious— the bearer of fruit. It is the prayer that accomplishes the work of God because it’s in accordance with the principle of God’s work. God will fulfill his work because his will to do something in our lives or in the world has been prayed for by us.
If our prayer is only for the purpose of accomplishing our own plan and expectation, it really does not have much weight to it in the spiritual realm. And in truth, most of us really want to make a difference in the spiritual realm because it is the realm where God’s work is accomplished, where things are so done such that the kingdom of God swells and God is glorified. God may answer my personal prayer because he is my Father and I can ask anything of my Father, but it won’t have much impact on the greater scheme of things— especially in the spiritual realm where God’s history is made through his intervention. The question is how much do I want my prayer to make a difference in this world and in the spiritual realm! We have no doubt that God has great plans for the lives of his children, plans to accomplish wondrous things in and through us. He did not call us only to rescue us from his wrath. He called you and me that we might be his instruments in his salvation plan. He called us to do his work in and through us. And we should definitely concern ourselves with what God’s plan for you and me are. For that reason, we should study the Bible to learn what’s on God’s heart and mind. Those who do not study Bible learn nothing! They have no idea who God is and what he wants. They are filled with worldly concerns, doubts, insecurities and all kinds of anxieties. But for those who cherish the word of God, knowledge and blessing are given, and the will of God is revealed. Even then its not enough. We need to still pray. We need to want to grow close to God in prayer to learn his will for me and for you and for his church and to confirm it— to learn what he wants to accomplish in and through you and me. And then we ought to give ourselves to prayer, so that God might go ahead and do his work and the very things he has in mind to do in you and me.
So we need to learn to pray in Jesus’ school of prayer, and after that to pray— as we draw nearer to the will of God. We want to do so not only because prayer is a most beautiful and liberating act of the human spirit; not only because prayer is a wondrous communion with God our heavenly Father; not only because prayer is an expression of the will of God for us to pray; not only because prayer is what children do in love and adoration for their heavenly Father; not only because prayer is inspiring and healing for the soul— but we want to pray that we might see the work of God begin to happen right here before our very eyes. How many things God really desires to do in and through us, yet he does not do them because his children do not fully comprehend the import of prayer, and make prayer a major act of their daily lives.
This then, is the great principle in God’s work— and it makes up one of the most important principles found in the Bible. The principle is this: that God waits for us to pray before he moves to do his work. So if we want to do his will, and we search to know his will, and then pray about it, his work will surely be done. I will repeat this time and again! Of course, we have to learn the will of God as we pray to know the will of God— especially in the larger scheme of things in the heavenly realm— especially also in the details of our lives as we continue to surrender ourselves to God from day to day from prayer to prayer. It won’t just come spontaneously to us. And why is that? Because God wants to also discipline us through prayer— especially disciplining us to pray more and thereby to grow closer to him in prayer. He is a Father who loves nothing more than to see his children to come to him and to speak to him time and again in prayer. As they come, the bond of love and affection grows. And as that bond grows, and is realized through our Mediator Jesus in heaven who speaks to God on our behalf, the will of God will come pouring into our hearts— first in drops— and later in a downpour. This is not a far fetched reality, nor an unlikely prospect. It is the promise of God! We need to be sure of this. It is the very thing that God wants to do for us when we have learned to pray, when we have begun to make prayer a vital part of our daily lives, almost like breathing. God wants to do his work in and through us. But he will not do it until we pray. God abides by the principle.
Listen to this word of God from Ezekiel chapter 36:37 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Once again I will yield to the plea of the house of Israel and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep.” The ESV says it more clearly. “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock.” The Lord says that he has a purpose, a prophecy that the day will come when he will increase his people like a flock. This is his determined will. And what God ordains he will surely do. But notice this: he will not accomplish this work right away. Why will he wait? Listen to what he says: “I will let the house of Israel ask me…” We must realize by now that even if God has a resolve to do his work— any work he would do— he will wait until his people, his redeemed children, pray. I say redeemed, because the redeemed of the Lord, those who have been purchased by the blood of his Son are most precious to him. He waits for them to pray so that he might accomplish his work. Jesus our Lord told his disciples on countless occasions that God would answer their prayers if they only prayed.
But until we grow in our prayer life and in the knowledge of the will of God, we should not wait to pray. We should pray anyway because we can still pray for the will of God of which we do know. We know for example that God wants his name honored in my life, in your life, in the church. We know that the will of God is that the gospel be preached to all people. We know that God wants to save souls, that he doesn’t want anyone to perish. How do we know these things to be the will of God? The Bible tells us so, if we only pay close attention to it. Consider the feeding of the 5000 in John chapter 6 (v5-9). The story goes: “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” In these verses we see the four steps of God’s spiritual work. We see that Jesus knew the will of God— that God willed to feed the crowd. We also see that Jesus already “had in mind what he was going to do”. In other words, he knew the work God wanted to accomplish. Yet, he turned to Philip. Why? Because he needed someone to understand his heart and mind. He needed someone to agree with him. He needed someone to work with him in fulfilling the will of God. God loves us all and will listen to us when we pray. But how great it is to discover or to know what he wants to do and then to pray that God go ahead and do it! This is the wondrous truth about how simple the issue of prayer is. I say simple because all we have to do is to know what he wants and then voice it back to him in prayer. Prayer is the simplest of spiritual activities. Yet of course, it is the most difficult because we have an enemy who is bent on hindering us from praying in every way. But in the story of the feeding of the 5000, while Philip was stymied, Andrew was not. Andrew understood what was on Jesus’ heart and prayed. He said: “Lord, here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.” He might have said, “I understand and accept your will to serve this crowd, and I will respond to your will. Lord, take the little that we have and use it as you see fit.” It was his prayer and Jesus accepted it and God answered it and the crowd of 5000 ate. We should learn this great lesson in prayer, and pray accordingly, as we too find the will of God in the Bible and pray for it.
What God decides to do— his will— is entirely in his own hands. He decides what is best to be done in my life, in yours, in your children’s, in the church, in the world because he is wise and knows best what’s good for us. And the amazing this is that he wants us to pray for it. But if God is all powerful and sovereign, if he wants to do something in our lives and in the lives of the people around us, why doesn’t he just do it? Why should he want us to learn what he wants of us and then to pray for it. Why not work out his will all on his own? We have thought about such questions and tried to answer them in the sense that there is a principle of prayer and God will abide by his principle. But there are two other answers to the question that we have not yet considered. First, is that as much as God will not deny his own will, he will not compel or force or coerce ours. We must not forget that when God created us he created us with a free will. We are free-will beings. And therefore, God will not force his will on us regardless of how good and righteous and blessed is his will in our lives and in the world. How beautiful and great it is that God is love and would have all people hear the gospel and be saved. It would be great if God should independently go about fulfilling this will and forcing salvation on all people. But he will not. Rather he will neither force people to himself, nor will he force us to pray for his will to be done in the saving of souls. He wants us to work with him. He wants us to cooperate with him. He respects our free will and invites us to share in his will in blessing this world. Most of the time, we are too busy trying to force God to bend his will to ours to bless us. But God really wants to also bless the world and he wants to do it through our prayers. (Eph6:18b)
The work God would do through us when we pray is indeed great. When we look at all that God has done in and through his people in history, we see that even the smallest work was too great for one human being to accomplish if it were not for God who himself accomplishes the work. The feeding of the 5000 was beyond imagination a great work. The reaching of a nation or a campus with the gospel is also beyond great work. It is indeed great. Even the saving of one soul is the great work of God that no human being can accomplish if God himself does not do it. But he wants us to pray. That is the principle that we have been trying to understand from the beginning. God’s great work is like a huge and powerful train. A train may travel to any place and carry just about anything. But for a train to move from here to there, it needs rails to travel on. And our prayers are like the laying down of rails so that God might do his work in and through us. God wants us to pray before he does his work. He wants us to trust him in all things, and open our hearts to understand that his will is best for us. And then lay the tracks for the work of God to be done. How then should we lay tracks for the will of God to be accomplished in our lives.
Indeed how should we lay tracks for the will of God? And the answer is again in and through prayer. Ephesians 6:18a tell us: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” We will study more deeply at a later time what it means to pray in the Spirit. But for now, we need to understand that our prayers should touch in many directions. We should pray constantly and consistently and not on and off here and there. And we should also try to pray specific prayers as well as general prayers. What’s important is that we put down deep roots of prayer in our lives. Lay down the rails in our lives for the will of God to utilize in answer to our prayers. And don’t worry about not knowing what to pray for, or not being sure of how to pray. God knows his children and loves them and has promised to help us to pray when we are serious about prayer in our lives. And as we lay down the foundation of prayer by praying on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests, truly wonders happen in our lives, as we see the hand of God working to teach us the deeper roots of prayer and to answer our prayers as well.
I really deeply respect this verse from Ephesians. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” This is not an advice, this is a principle to learn and to grow in prayer. When we do that, we can be sure that we are spreading a net of prayer in every direction and in every aspect of our lives. Let me give you an example. If you want to pray for your son or daughter, or your student friend who seems to be at the mercy of the world, pray then for everything in their lives. Don’t only pray that God would bless them and keep them. Pray “on all occasions and with all kinds of prayers and requests”. Pray for the friends that they meet up with to be godly. Pray for their thought world to be pure and focused on what they need be doing. Especially pray that their thoughts be focused on things above— on God. Pray for the things that affect his or her life from day to day, everything from the people he or she would meet to the way that he or she treats with others. Pray that the Lord will gently lead him or her to himself until the Lord himself is formed in their lives, and sits on the throne of their heart. Pray generally but also pray specifically with all kinds of prayers for him or her, until you have shielded them with your prayers and made it hard for the devil to find a foothold to trouble them. Then when you have spread your net of prayer around all that you believe God wants to do in their lives, you would be laying down the rail on which God will perform his work in your life and theirs. Especially parents’ prayers for their children are powerful and effective. When they pray, even when it looks like nothing is happening, God is still working in his own way in his own time to fulfill his will in their lives. We should pray for our children and our Christian family “on all occasions and with all kinds of prayer and requests.”
How God waits expectantly for us to have a prayer life. How God’s will itself waits the prayers of his people, his children, his coworkers, you and me, those whom he shed his blood to redeem and use in his great redemption plan. If God convicts your hearts to pray and you do not, you will feel the burden of not praying, sometimes for days and sometimes for months, until you pray and submit to God in prayer. For God will not rest until his burden of prayer is carried out in your life and mine. If you feel a weight on your heart, and it is not a burden of sin, it is perhaps a burden to pray so that God might do his work in and through your life. Some people sometimes for a very long time not knowing why they have this huge weight pressing on their hearts, when the whole time it is God’s grace pressing them to pray. But if you bring this burden to God in prayer, you will see how the gracious Lord will work in your life to release his will and accomplish his work. We have a free will which God will not coerce. But in his grace, he will burden us to learn to pray and to willingly submit to his “loving” will, so that in turn he might fulfill his work in our lives and all around us. I pray that you and I may really grow as prayer servants. I pray that we may not take prayer lightly but rather engage in a life of prayer— both personal prayer and community prayer— and rejoice in seeing the work of God happen right before our eyes. Amen.