Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Prayer: Does it Give Us a Blank Check?

Praying to our Lord is powerful thing. James claims as much

·        The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:16-18)

I would assume that James specifically chose the example of Elijah to demonstrate that prayer has to be according to God’s will. Praying for a drought hadn’t been Elijah’s idea of an effective means to deal with Israel’s sin. It was God’s:

·        Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." (1 Kings 17:1)

Elijah had merely spoken God’s words – God’s will. Likewise, Elijah’s prayer for rain was at God’s promptings, according to His will. He caused Elijah to hear the rain coming even before there was a cloud in the sky:
·        And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." (1 Kings 18:41)

In no way did James envision prayer as a blank check. Instead, he warned:

·        You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

If our prayers stem merely from our own will and desires, we should have little reason to expect that we will receive. John also had a very high estimation of the power of prayer:

·        I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:13-15)

John assures us that if we ask “according to His will,” we can bank on what we have asked for. I often ask God to make me more like Him and to teach me His ways. I know that I have what I’ve requested and thank God prematurely for them. However, if I ask that I might live to 100 or at least to have my teeth healed, I am not certain that I will receive these, because they might not be according to His will. In fact, the Lord has taught me to only desire His will. Consequently, I don’t want my ideas or my will anymore. I just pray that His will might be done, and this posture maximizes my joy and peace.

In contrast to this, the prosperity preachers insist it’s God’s will to give us everything and that we have to verbally claim our blessings. (Although God does want to give us everything, this will only take place when our will is perfectly aligned with His, and that will only happen in the next life.) Along with many other TV evangelists, Pat Robertson, claims that we can take hold of our blank check by speaking things into existence as God does:

·        “Pat Robertson states, ‘Most people ask God for a miracle but many omit a key requirement—the spoken word. God has given us authority over disease, over demons, over sickness, over storms, over finances. We are to declare that authority in Jesus’ name.’ ‘We are to command the money to come to us.’” (Michael Horton, The Agony of Deceit, 128)

We do not have the power “to command the money come to us.” We are utterly dependent on Jesus (John 15:4-5). Of course, the prosperity preachers will counter, “Of course, it’s through Christ, and we need to ask with authority.” However, it must be according to His will. Commanding money is not according to His will (James 4:1-3). In fact, we often don’t even know how to pray according to His will:

·        In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8:26-27)

Furthermore, the Spirit doesn’t intercede for us according to our will but according to God’s!

TV preacher, Joel Osteen, claims that:

·        “Our words are vital in bringing our dreams to pass. It’s not enough to simply see it by faith or in your imagination. You have to begin speaking words of faith over your life. Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it.”  “Just look in the mirror and say ‘I am strong, I am healthy. I’m rising to new levels, I’m excited about my future.’ When you say that, it may not be true. You may not be very healthy today, or maybe you don’t have a lot of things to look forward to, but Scripture tells us in Romans we have to call the things that are not as if they already were.” (Christian Research  Journal, Hunter)

In contrast, the Scriptures are entirely about truth. We are always supposed to think, speak and walk in His light – His truth (Psalm 51:6). Many of the prosperity preachers illegitimately quote Romans 4:17 to justify claiming things that aren’t:

·        As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:17)

Although God can “call things [into existence] that are not,” there is nothing in this verse that suggests that we have this power. In fact, James warns us against making this kind of faith-confession:

·        Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." (James 4:13-15)

We are just a passing “vapor.” We are in no position to make bold claims about what we will accomplish. What we say has to accord with the vaporous quality of our lives. We have to speak according to our humble condition. We don’t have the authority to call things into existence that aren’t. Instead, our claims have to be according to the One who can make promises that He will fulfill – the One who promises that “if you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14)!

Well, what does it mean to ask in “My name?” It doesn’t merely mean to pronounce a set of letters: J-E-S-U-S. It means far more – to ask according to Him!

Many verses instruct us to “believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). This cannot mean believing in a set of letters pronounced together. Salvation isn’t about having the right letters or pronunciation but about the right Person and Gospel! Therefore, when we ask in His name, we are asking according to Him and His will. No blank check here!

The prosperity preachers will counter:
·        The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)

They claim that in their tongue resides supernatural power to call things into existence which aren’t. However, is this power supernatural or psychological? Clearly, our tongue possesses psychological power to tear people down or to build them up. Further, this context – nor any other - gives us no basis to believe that the power is supernatural.

Other prosperity preachers claim that we can only have this authority if we have established our credit in heaven first. Joyce Meyers claimed that we first need a bank account from which we can draw:

·        “Unto every man is given the measure of faith, and faith is a powerful force.” “It says in Romans 4:17 that …we have a God who gives life to the dead and He calls things that be not as though they already existed…If there’s something in your way, speak it.” “When I talked with Dr. Roberts today and we talked about this seed-faith thing, he said…when you give you get a receipt in heaven that when you have a need you can then go with your receipt and say ‘You see, God, I have got my receipt from my sowing and now I have a need and I’m cashing in my receipt.” (CRJ, Hunter)

Meyers suggests that we can have such a favorable heavenly account that God owes us. However, such an idea is foreign to Scripture. God is never in a position that He owes us anything:

·        "Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?" (Romans 11:35)

Everything we have from God comes as a gift through by grace through faith. Paul had warned the Galatian church against thinking that they received anything from God because of their good works (or heavenly bank account – Gal. 3:1-5).

Similarly, Jesus warned His disciples against thinking that they were in any way deserving of anything from God:

·        “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable (“unworthy” NASB) servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”  (Luke 17:10)

Even if we have performed flawlessly, we have no claim upon God! In contrast, the prosperity preachers arrogantly claim that they are “worthy.” Instead, the road to blessing is through seeking the will of God:

·        But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

Receiving “all these things” is not a matter of taking authority, claiming your blessings, or of establishing a heavenly bank account. It is a matter of seeking and trusting Him before all else.


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