The Word of Jesus on Prayer

They ought always to pray.

— St. Mark. 18:1

Our wants are for the sake of coming into communion with God, our eternal need. If gratitude and love immediately followed the supply of our needs, if God our Savior was the one thought of our hearts, then it might be unnecessary that we should ask for anything we need. But seeing we take our supplies as a matter of course, feeling as if they came out of nothing, or from the earth, or own thoughts, instead of out of a heart of love and a will which alone is force, it is needful that we should be made to feel some at least of our wants, that we may seek him who alone supplies all of them, and find his every gift a window to his heart of truth. So begins a communion, a talking with God, which is the sole end of prayer; yea, of existence itself. To bring his child to his knee, God withholds that man may ask.

For how can God give into the soul of a man what it needs, while that soul cannot receive it? The ripeness for receiving is the asking. When the soul is hungry for the light, for the truth—when its hunger has waked its higher energies, thoroughly roused the will, and brought fitness for receiving the things of God, that action is prayer. Then God can give; then he can be as he would towards the man, for the glory of God is to give himself. We thank thee, Lord Christ, for by thy pain alone do we rise towards the knowledge of this glory of thy Father and our Father. 

Commentary

The Prayer That Transforms

by Stephen D. Carney

“When the soul is hungry for the light, for the truth-when its hunger has waked its higher energies, thoroughly roused the will, and brought the fitness for receiving the things of God, that action is prayer.  Then God can give; then he can be as he would towards the man, for the glory of God is to give himself.”

Thinking of this passage from MacDonald reminded me of the apostle's words to the Ephesian believers in chapter 1:15-23:

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

The Christian experience, if it is anything, is a supernatural experience.  It is a life constantly dependent on prayer, and one that pleads for God to intervene into the affairs of humanity, as well as into our lives individually.  We ask for spiritual strength, for hope, love, peace, joy, and a multitude of other gifts and graces to be bestowed upon our lives.  But for us to grow, we must grow out of simply praying for things, and begin praying for God to fill us with himself and his wisdom, light, insight, and life.  This lies at the heart of true prayer, and is what we see MacDonald and Paul alluding to in these passages.  In the end, we want to know God in Christ and see him revealed to us.  It is the guidance of the Holy Spirit that leads us into that truth and the Holy Spirit guides us through prayer and worship.

Spiritual truth is also something not simply obtained by reason or rationalization, but it is obtained by what the ancient Christians called the rule of faith.  Long before this term was applied to the Apostle's Creed, it was used to apply to the concept that doctrine grew out of the worship experience.  It is what happened to Peter, when our Lord asked the question, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man is?” After the rest of the disciples toss out guess after guess, Peter says, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”  To which Jesus replies, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven.”  (Matt. 16) This is what is meant by the rule of faith. 

In 1 John chapter one, John says, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  Robert Webber said that the early church practiced, “Lex orandi, lex credenti,” which means the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.  Theology grew out of a genuine encounter with God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit working within the human experience.  Of course, this kind of thinking could lead to a whole bunch of people claiming some new truth given to them by God, and that is why the Apostles Creed came into existence and became known as the rule of faith.  The Apostles left this statement to guard against heresy; they said, in effect, that if you get a revelation from God that supersedes these truths, you need to go back to prayer.  It is with this understanding that we come to the Apostle Paul's words in this text, and especially the words I want to focus on.

Paul is wanting them to experience the deeper life in Christ and the revelation that comes with that, for he himself knew what it was to meet Jesus in a blinding light or to be caught up to the third heaven.  He knows without these spiritual graces we cannot progress far in our walk with the Christ who is the Son of the Living God. So he says that he is praying for them, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom...” 

Spiritual truth can only be understood with wisdom.  Without wisdom, knowledge is useless.  Our culture has stored up hoards of knowledge, but because of a lack of wisdom they do not have the faintest idea as to how to use this knowledge for the betterment of human life.  Wisdom is broad, seeing the big picture that God is painting of the redemption of mankind and seeing how what we do fits or does not fit into where God is leading us.

Some definitons of the word are important so that we understand what Paul is actually praying for the Ephesians to have.  We begin with the Hebrew:

Wisdom (Strong's #2451)The verbal root for this word is חכם (hhakham), and means to separate between good and bad, right and wrong, left and right, up and down, etc. This is often used in the context of a skilled workman as in Exodus 28:3, "And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise (hhakham) hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office." These workmen are filled with the spirit of "wisdom" which is in the Hebrew חכמה (hhakhmah), the noun form of the verb חכם (hhakham). A person with wisdom is one who has the ability to separate between good and bad, right and wrong, left and right, up and down, etc.

Understanding (Strong's #8394)The Hebrew word for understanding is תבון (tavun) comes from the verbal root בין (biyn) meaning to "understand," but the deeper meaning of this word can be found in a related verbal root - בנה (banah), which means to "build." In order to build or construct something, one must have the ability to plan and understand the processes needed. This is the idea behind the verb בין (biyn) and its derivative noun תבון (tavun), to be able to discern the processes of construction.

Knowledge (Strong's #1847)The Hebrew word for knowledge is דעת (da'at), a noun derived from the verb ידעodi (yada) meaning "to know." The idea of "knowing" in Ancient Hebrew thought is similar to our understanding of knowing but is more personal and intimate. We may say that we "know" someone, and simply mean we "know" of his or her existence, but in Hebrew thought one can only "know" someone if they have a personal and intimate relationship. In Genesis 18:19, God says about Abraham "I know him" meaning he has a very close relationship with Abraham. In Genesis 4:1 it says that Adam "knew Eve his wife," implying a very intimate sexual relationship. Knowledge is the intimate understanding of another and the ability to work with that knowledge for the betterment of others.

In the Greek the word here is sophia: “Wisdom, broad and full of intelligence; used of knowledge of very diverse matters.  The varied knowledge of things human and divine, acquired by acuteness and experience, and summed up in maxims and proverbs.  Being learned.  The act of interpreting dreams and always giving the sagest advice.  The intelligence envinced in discovering the meaning of some vision or number.  Skills in the management of affairs.  Devout and proper prudence in the intercourse with men, who are not disciples of Christ and the careful imparting of Christian truth to them.  The knowledge and practice of the disciplines for spiritual life.  Supreme intelligence, such as belongs to God, to Christ.  The wisdom of God as in conceiving and carrying out the formation of man and his redemption.”

As one can clearly see, wisdom is so much more than just a lofty platitude.  It is something deeper, something spiritual and something that describes who God is, and truly can only be gained by prayer and granted to us by God Himself.  Hear James words on this:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

Wisdom, when gained, will help us to understand those parables that have eluded us.  It will help us gain insight into the Scriptures and the teaching of Christ.  It will bring to our mind the meaning these words have for us today and just how to apply them to our lives in a transformational way.

The second thing Paul prays for the Ephesians is: “revelation in the knowledge of Him.”

The word revelation means of course to reveal.  It means that God has shown you something about Himself, His divine nature and character.  It means truth has come to you in such a way that you stand in it to the point it has set you free. You find yourself becoming aware of insights that you know did not come from your own thinking.  You have insight, and say, “Now, where did that come from?”  All of a sudden the light bulb goes on and you see the big picture from a direction you would never have thought of on your own.  John had the greatest revelation of Jesus Christ in the book that bears that title.  But you too can have your own revelation of Him if you will but pray and seek Him with your whole heart.  We have no depth of spiritual experience in Him, not because it is not available to us, but because we choose not to seek with our whole hearts the One who died and rose from the the dead, who has sent us His own Holy Spirit to abide within.

One thing more he prays for the Ephesians:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”  It seems like an odd expression at first, “eyes of your heart..,” but once we understand what heart means, we will clear up the confusion.  In some cultures, the heart is the seat of the emotions, but not in the Greek culture. In the Greek culture, the intestines were the seat of the emotions, but for them the heart is the center of man, where his will, intellect, and emotions are directed by understanding.  You see, “kardia” in the Greek doesn't mean physical human heart, it means, particularly as denoted in Scripture, the place of understanding.  In fact, some ancients translated the word heart here with the word “understanding.”  Have you not known someone who said, when listening to someone speak in a confused way, “I know in my heart what he/she means.”  When this happens we say, “I get it” and the light bulb goes on.  The light bulb going on is the enlightenment of our understanding.   And Paul is saying, I want you to see what God wants you to see.  When you understand something, you say, “aha, I see it” and that is what it means for your heart, that is your understanding, to have eyes and to see.

Finally listen to what Paul wants you to see: 

“that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might...”

He wants you to see the hope of God's calling on your life, to know the riches of the Father's glory and how it is your inheritance, and the great power that is available to you today.  If you are in despair, then you need to pray for wisdom, revelation, and for God to open the eyes of your heart so that you might see that there is so much more available to you than you are living in.  You have a purpose, a calling in life that is from God through His Son, by His Spirit.  You have great spiritual riches available to you and your life should be filled with glory.  But to this is added a great power for living!  A power to get you up, give you strength for the day and a power to share His love with a dying world.  So if you are despondent, sad, depressed, seek Him and these graces of wisdom, revelation and to have the eyes of your heart (understanding) opened that you may see the riches of Christ that are before you.

In Donal Grant, MacDonald confirms his belief that these types of virtues are really at the heart of all prayer, when he writes of Donal's own personal prayer life: 

"...yielding to a sudden impulse, [Donal] turned away, and went farther up the stair, and out upon the bartizan.

It was a frosty night, and the stars were brilliant. He looked up and said,

"Oh Saviour of men, thy house is vaulted with light; thy secret places are secret from excess of light; in thee is no darkness at all; thou hast no terrible crypts and built-up places; thy light is the terror of those who love the darkness! Fill my heart with thy light; let me never hunger or thirst after anything but thy will--that I may walk in the light, and light not darkness may go forth from me."

Here is where “deep calleth unto deep.”  Is not this the deepest cry of the human heart?