I’ve been reading “The God Who Hears” by W. Bingham Hunter. It’s an excellent book on prayer and I believe it should be required reading for Christians. I believe there is a lot of confusion in the church about prayer and this book answers a lot of questions:
- Are faithful prayers always answered?
- Does prayer change God’s mind?
- What can I tell an all-knowing God?
- Why pray to a God who lets people hurt?
- How can I be intimate with an invisible God?
There are many erroneous teachings on prayer that have infiltrated the church. Some teach that you need to pray big audacious prayers for God to do big things (largely in the seeker sensitive movement). Some teach that your words actually create your future. That is, your words/prayers actually have the power (God is not using power but it is your words that have power) to create reality (word-faith). Lectio Divina/contemplative prayer is another erroneous teaching. Instead of using the minds God has given us to study His Word, the objective is to empty your mind and “listen” to what God has to say. This teaching combines mysticism with Christianity and is very dangerous. When we go to God’s Word we need to ask “what does this passage mean?” rather than “what does this passage mean to me?”. We pray that the Holy Spirit would help us to understand His Word.
There is also the view that we pray to ask God to do things for us. It is not wrong in and of itself to pray for our needs but there is so much more to prayer than simply bringing our requests to God. This book sets out to put prayer into the proper Biblical perspective. Prayer is not a means for us to get what we want from God. As mentioned in the book, “Prayer is a means for God to give us what He wants. The most important word in this definition is God. I say that because at the root most of our prayer difficulties are theological problems. “Theological” in the sense that we simply do not focus enough on the Theos (the Greek word for God). So the following chapters discuss prayer in light of what the Bible says about God. Prayer really only makes sense against the background of God’s nature and attributes. First, we must know whom we are talking to. Second, we have got to know ourselves. Third, we need someone who understands both God and ourselves to show us how to do it.”.
Here is another great excerpt from the book, bold emphasis mine:
The Reality of Fear:
“Since irrational fears (“phobias”) have destructive effects on human lives, it is hard to see fearing God as a good thing. But many of the arguments against holy terror are based on faulty theological systems (“the “fearful” image of God belongs to the dispensation of the Law”), imprecise exegesis (“God has not given us a spirit of of fear”), or the existence of psychopathology ( “some Christians do have phobias about God”). I assert that without a sense of God’s awesome holiness, and the consequent “fear”, we simply do not have biblical religion, either positively–“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10)–or negatively–“Concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Ps 36:1).
The dynamics of fearing God are helpfully explained by Robert Morosco:
“One’s ultimate fear-object is that which he reveres above all else in life…This is the position which legitimately belongs only to the creature’s Creator, though this is often not the case. One’s supreme fear-object warrants total regard and esteem…
Hence the biblical translation “revere”, or “respect” or “regard” is actually close to what the writers of Scripture had in mind [when they spoke of “the fear of the LORD”]….Theological fear is not primarily dread or repulsion for the fear-object, but surrender to [God’s] authority.”
Fearing God is thus not irrational. It is the only course open to a thinking Christian. In fact, not fearing God is irrational. It forces us to deny the reality of God’s holiness, power, and presence. So Morosco is right when he says:
“Only by fearing Jehovah is reality viewed as it truly is. In order to replace God with another supreme fear-object [fear of failure, or fear of other people, for example], reality has to be distorted (i.e. the character of the Living God must be altered”.
Those who do not fear God in the biblical sense either do not understand, or find themselves forced to deny, the facts of existence. And such a venture into fantasy advances against truth on two fronts. It defies the fact of God’s infiniteness and rejects human finiteness. No one has seen more clearly than Harry Blamires that this latter (and very common) deception is at the root of human unholiness:
“What is common to those who lack any interest in religion is failure to recognize the finitude of the finite, and especially failure to accept man’s finite status for what it is. This failure is the source alike for moral evil and of intellectual confusion. All forms of moral evil have their roots in a tacit denial of human finitude–of the contingent and wholly dependent nature of man’s existence…”
“Man behaves as though he were not a dependent creature with a limited and temporal universe. Covetousness and greed for power both express defiance of finitude. Covetousness implies that the pursuit of earthly possession is of ultimate significance: it implies that to possess within the finite is a state of fulfillment. This is nonsensical. There is no stability or security in possessions within the finite order, where at any moment accident or death may strip or destroy. The pursuit of power implies that temporal sway and masterdom are an ultimate satisfaction: [but] finitude precludes satisfaction within its own domain…In these pursuits, and in a thousand others, man conceals himself from the fact that finitude sets a term to all activities at the temporal level.”.
Those who do not fear God as the transcendant holy, and infinite Creator replace His power and authority with either themselves, others or material things. “They [have] exchanged the truth for a God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is [to be] forever praised” (Rom 1:25). Having denied the realities of both divine and human nature, it seems obvious why they may have little concern for doing God’s will and are unlikely to pray according to it.
It took decades of discipline through suffering before Israel began to take “Be holy, because I am holy” (Lev 11:44) seriously enough to fear and call on the Holy One out of pure hearts. One wonders just when and how this reality will dawn on us. There is certainly no way around with respect to effective prayer: “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does His will, He hears him” (Jn 9:31 NASB).”
What do you believe about prayer? Have you come to understand the attributes of God and how they affect prayer? Is your ultimate fear-object the Lord? Think about the fact that God is transcendant, holy, and infinite and we are finite, temporal, and sinful. When you pray, think about the attributes of God. Thank and praise Him for His sovereignty, love, forgiveness, omniscience, omnipotence, justice, mercy, wrath, and etc. Remember, prayer is God’s means of giving us what He wants. We are often so focused on ourselves and what we think we deserve and need rather than being focused on the One who knows all things. He is sovereign over our lives and works in all things for His own glory and praise. Our Father knows what is best for us.