Prayer … 3
Six reasons why people don't pray
1) People don't pray because they lack confidence in being heard. They don't understand the principles of Scripture related to confession, cleansing of sin; they go into God's presence feeling guilty because of what they have done or what they think they've done; they are overwhelmed by that and because of their ignorance of doctrine they just don't have confidence to come before God.
2) The second reason is because they are ignorant of the entire biblical doctrine related to pray. They don't really understand what to pray for or how to pray for it.
3) They are ignorant of the mandate to pray. So they become too busy, and are too wrapped up with their own lives.
4) They doubt God. They've prayed in the past and nothing happened, so they're not really convinced that God is there, that God hears their prayer, and that God is really concerned.
5) They have experienced disappointment and frustration in prayer in the past, or at some level they are bitter towards God, disappointed in God, and they have reacted in bitterness. And because sin is controlling their life and thought they do not have the right kind of humility, to have humility in prayer and trust God anymore. Bitterness is always the result of self-centeredness and arrogance and putting the focus on self and not on God. In that context one cannot pray.
6) Because they have slipped into a form of fatalism. They just think well, God is sovereign, God has known everything from eternity past, He knows what I really want and will give it to me if I ought to have it, so I'm just going to let it happen. They just don't believe that prayer will change things.
God's plan for prayer in human history is that prayer is contingent on human volition, that there are many blessings that God has that are contingent upon our obedience to the command to pray. In His infinite wisdom God has included within His plan for the believer contingent options that are totally dependent on his prayer. That is why James says, "You have not because you ask not." Scripture is clear that prayer does indeed change things.
Exodus 32:9ff is a passage that always shakes people up a little bit, and here we are going to see the interaction of divine sovereignty with human volition. This is a subject that always stirs up a little controversy and we will have to be very careful. If we go too far in one direction we end up making man so much in control of human history that God just reacts to what human decisions are, and if we go too far in the other direction then we take away human responsibility and human free will to the extent that God is really controlling everything and men are simply robots. When sovereignty is emphasized to the exclusion of human freedom then human responsibility always is diminished. Fatalism begins to set in and it affects prayer. Prayer is neglected because people simply do not realize that prayer will change things in God's plan. We must realize that God has included all types of contingency in His plan. He has given the believer an array of blessings both for time and eternity. At the moment of salvation these have been set aside for the believer in heaven. These are contingent blessings, contingent for time and eternity. God will bestow those blessings on you as a believer under certain conditions. These are not works conditions. God is not going to bless the believer beyond his capacity, so as we grow and mature spiritually we prepare ourselves so that we are ready for those blessings. They are contingent upon our prayer. If we don't pray we are not going to realize those blessings. And all of us are probably going to be surprised when we get to heaven at the things that God had prepared for us on earth that we just didn't get because we didn't pray for it or we did not grow spiritually and be mature enough and be ready to receive and properly handle those blessings.
The principle here is that in eternity past at the council of divine decrees, when God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit decreed all of what would take place in human history. That does not mean that God controls everything. God in His omniscience knew all the knowable, God in His foreknowledge knew what would happen, and on the basis of that God then decreed what would happen. This does not destroy human volition but as part of the divine decrees God decreed that human volition would co-exist with divine sovereignty in human history. God is protecting individual human volition for a number of reason, most important of which is that is what will demonstrate His glory in the angelic conflict. What this means for us in terms of our subject is that in many cases God has designed things so that the means of accomplishing His sovereign will is through human volition. If human volition does not respond positively then God's contingent will is either postponed or remains unfulfilled. We have an example of that here in Exodus chapter thirty-two.
"And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked [obstinate] people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation." What does God means by "Let me alone"? Don't bother me. How in the world could Moses bother God? The only way that Moses could really bother God in this context is to pray. God is saying: Don't pray to me, my mind is made up, I am going to wipe everybody out, and I'm going to make a whole new nation out of you, Moses. So God is telling Moses not to pray but to let Him judge them. The principle we are seeing is that Moses' prayer restrains the wrath of God. By praying, Moses is going to checkmate divine judgment.
Exodus 32:11, "And Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?" The verb here translated entreated is the Hebrew chalah. It means to nullify, pacify, appease, to induce God to show favor in place of wrath and chastisement, to entreat the favor of God, to try to gain His grace. It is an appeal to the grace of God. So Moses is going to appeal to God's grace to not destroy the nation Israel. This word also expresses submission to a higher authority. Moses is not telling God. This is a word that is often used of a subordinate coming to someone and begging for something to take place. So Moses is not being disrespectful at all when he goes to God, he is not demanding anything of God, but he is going to God as a subordinate to his superior to appeal to the grace of God.
Notice in verse 12 how Moses presents his petition. "Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people." He is appealing to the reputation of God: 'Do you realize what this is going to do to your reputation among the Egyptians, to have brought these people out and now you just kill them in the desert? This is not going to glorify you.' One of the points we will come to is that the ultimate purpose of prayer is to glorify God. One of the ways we can always tell whether our prayers are God-centered or man-centered is to ask ourselves a question: Is what I am praying for something that that would bring glory and honor to the reputation of God. Moses here is concerned with the glory of God. He appeals to His reputation.
Then notice the doctrinal basis for his appeal. Exodus 32:13, "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever." What Moses quotes here, what he reminds God of, is the covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was the first of the unconditional covenants that God made with Israel and the basis for all of the subsequent unconditional covenants that God made with Israel. This is its foundation. God promised that He would make Abraham's descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand of the sea, and that through his descendants He would bless all the nations. Moses' petition is based on Bible doctrine. If Moses had been ignorant of doctrine he could not have made this appeal, this petition to God. So because of what he knows about God's divine essence, that God has made a promise and that God does not go back on His Word as a man goes back on his word, Moses makes an effective petition to God.
The result is Exodus 32:14, "And the LORD repented [changed His mind] of the evil [harm] which he thought to do unto his people. This is one of those things that always gives people a little problem. How can immutable God change His mind? Remember that the immutability of God has to do with God's character, that God doesn't change. That does not mean that God does not adjust His plans and policies in respect of the obedience and disobedience of man. We know from Scripture that God has adjusted certain plans and policies. He may or may not bless, He may postpone things, He may change His mind as we see in some places. It is a part of contingency. But His character never changes. God does not go back on His word. This is also what is called an anthropopathism [ANTHROPOS=man; PATHOS=has to do with emotion] which has to do with attributing to God a human emotion or attribute in order to understand the purpose and policy of God. God gives it to us in our own terms so that we can better understand what is going on here. God uses a word describing a human attribute in order to communicate what is going on with respect to His policies toward Israel. It does not mean that in the ebb and flow of human response and counter response, the freedom of human volition toward God, that God cannot alter His plan in terms of contingency. For God is so great, His knowledge is so immense, that He has included all of these aspects of contingency within that plan. That is more than we can ever grasp with our finite minds. Moses' petition, therefore, is based on God's immutable promise in the Abrahamic covenant, stating that God has specifically chosen the nation Israel as His missionary nation in the Old Testament. On the basis of this Moses argues from a point of doctrine and extracts this concession from God to not destroy the nation. Here we see the perfect illustration of the role of a mediator, someone who stands between God and man and is a portrayal of the work ultimately of the Lord Jesus Christ who is our mediator.
Ezekiel 22: The context here is a little different from the situation with Moses. With Moses God's wrath towards Israel is restrained by prayer. But here in Ezekiel we are faced with a situation where the northern kingdom of Israel has already been judged by God through the Assyrian army. They have been defeated and wiped out and scattered because of their idolatry. The southern kingdom of Judah is on the verge of divine discipline for their idolatry. But grace always precedes judgment. That is a critical principle. But God here is portrayed as looking for a man to stand in the gap. He is looking for an intercessor like Moses.
Ezekiel 22:30-31, "And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD." God is looking for someone to stand in the gap but He finds no one to intercede for the nation Israel so he executes divine judgment on the nation. Here we see a picture of His gracious character. He seeks high and low for this man. He seeks a way to be gracious, to avoid judging Israel; but grace does not operate in a historical vacuum. If there is no one to stand in the gap, if there is no mediator, then there is no deliverance. Grace requires agency and a mediator. He stops the wheels of judgment and looks for one person to be the intercessory agent in Israel, and He finds none.
There is a great application to our Lord here. Jesus Christ is the unique person in all of human history. He is the God-Man, He is full deity and true humanity united in one person forever. The technical word for this is the hypostatic union. It comes from the Greek word HUPOSTASIS [u(postasij] and it has to do with the substantial nature, the essence of a thing, the actual being of a thing. What we have in Jesus Christ is the union of two HUPOSTASES. One is perfect deity and the other is true humanity, and these two together are united in one person, the person of Jesus Christ. By way of a definition: The hypostatic union describes the union of two natures, divine and human, in the one person of Jesus Christ. These natures are inseparably united, without loss or mixture of separate identity, without loss or transfer of properties or attributes. They don't bleed deity into humanity or humanity into deity. This union is both personal and eternal. Jesus Christ is undiminished deity and true humanity in one person forever. The hypostatic union will continue throughout eternity. As the God-Man He can stand in the gap for us. He is our intercessor; this is one of His primary tasks during this age in relationship to the believer. He continually intercedes for the believer, and intercession takes place in relation to the believer's weaknesses, his testings, and his temptation to sin. So Christ's concern is to strengthen us in our fight against sin in our lives. If that is a priority for Jesus Christ it should be our own priority.
So what we are pointing out here is that aspects of God's plan, the blessings that God has for us, are contingent upon our spiritual growth and our prayer. James 4:2 says we have not because we ask not.
Another example of how our prayer might change things is in 2 Samuel chapter twelve. This is a situation just after David's sin with Bathsheba. David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and gone into a cover-up where he succeeds in getting her husband killed in battle. It is really murder, so David has been guilty of a number of sins—adultery, murder, arrogance towards God, cover-up, lying. Nathan the prophet comes to him and announces that because of this deed: "Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die," 2 Samuel 12:14. Once again the reputation of God is at stake. As part of that punishment the child that is born that is born to him shall die. So God's decision is revealed to David. David knows exactly what God's will in this matter is, but does that stop David from praying? No. He is going to appeal to God. He knows what God's will is, he can't pray to God on the basis of doctrine, he can only appeal to God's grace.
2 Samuel 12:16, "David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth." This is a great example of being devoted to prayer. During this entire week nothing else matters to David. He is not going to let anything interfere with the priority of prayer. Verse 17, "And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread 2 with them." Nothing would distract him from his appeal to God's grace for the life of the child. No one could disturb his concentration or distract him from this goal. He argues day in and day out with God for the life of the child—not in a disrespectful manner but as Moses did, pleading and entreating as an inferior to his superior on the basis of grace.
A word of warning. Scripture emphasizes the importance of persistence in prayer, but as we will see from this that when God finally says no you stop praying for it. Sometimes God just wants to see if we really care about what we are praying for, so we need to be persistent. Sometimes the answer will be yes, but just because we are persistent doesn't guarantee an affirmative answer from God. Remember that effective praying is not prayer that secures and affirmative answer from God, effective praying is prayer that is heard by God in the throne room of grace. David continues to pray with God but he is not bargaining with God.
2 Samuel 12:18, "And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?" Notice how these servants are very much like a lot of people who don't have any doctrine and show up at funerals. They just really don't know what to say to the bereaved because they don't know themselves. They don't have any doctrine and are just operating on fear, so they don't say anything to them.
2Samuel 12:19, 20, "But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat." Notice the word "anoint." There are two types. There is ceremonial anointing which has to do with things that picture the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life, that takes place in tabernacle worship, and there is the every day anointing that is the concept here which is just basically putting oil on the skin, ladies putting on make-up, combing the hair, putting on deodorant, after shave, etc., so that there is no looking like David who has been lying on he temple floor for six days. He takes a bath and off he goes.
In relation to prayer we have learned that David's prayer was appealed and directed to the grace of God. Even though he knew God's specific will he did not let that stop him from praying. He knew that prayer could change things and he hoped to change God's mind. When it didn't he accepted it. He quit praying, and he moved on with life. So we learn from this that one way we pray is to just appeal to the grace of God. We may not know specifically God's will in a particular situation so we appeal to God's grace. A couple of passages to look at on this is Psalm 6:1-4; 30:8-9, "I cried to thee, O LORD; and unto the LORD I made supplication. What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?" Why kill me in this situation? If you kill me, who is going to praise you. That is a no-win situation for you, Lord. He is appealing to God's grace and judgment in that particular passage. The point that we are making is that you don't talk to God things won't happen.
Other passage sin the Old Testament that demonstrate this principle are Psalm 34 which David prays when he is a prisoner of war among the Philistines, and Hezekiah's prayer for deliverance from Sennacherib—2 Kings 19:14ff. The latter is a fascinating situation. Judah has rebelled against God. Sennacherib the king of Assyria has invaded down from the north-east. He has already wiped out the northern kingdom as part of God's discipline on the northern kingdom, and now he has marched to the walls of Jerusalem. As Hezekiah is confronted with this crisis he goes into the temple to seek the Lord. He did this by first going into the temple, and then he calls Isaiah the prophet of God to come and communicate to him God's will. The role of a priest is to stand for man, to carry man's wishes, and to represent man before God. The role of a prophet is to represent God to man. Jesus Christ is prophet, priest and king. He represents God to man in His role as prophet; He represents us to God in His role as high priest. So Hezekiah calls Isaiah in order to get the will of God in this matter. As the military situation escalates Sennacherib in his arrogance sends a blasphemous challenge to Hezekiah. It is a direct challenge to God (v. 10), "Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria." Then in verse 14, "And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said, O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth." We will notice several times that there is a reference to God as the creator of heaven and earth. Creation versus evolution is not just a secondary doctrine of irrelevant importance, it is foundational to everything in the Scripture. We see this time and time again with prayer, that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. So Hezekiah prays to God.
The results, verse 20: "Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard." Implication: If Hezekiah had not prayed Jerusalem would have been destroyed. Hezekiah stood in the gap in prayer. Prayer changed history. There was contingency there.
We have tremendous promises in the Scriptures about prayer. Matthew 7:7, 8, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." These are unconditional promises. John 16:24, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." 1 John 5:14, 15, "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." What an incredible array of promises God has given us related to prayer! If we pray, He will do it.
Now we must ask the question: How do we construct petitions according to the will of God? To construct prayer petitions according to the will of God takes three things. It takes time, it takes thought, and most importantly, it takes a knowledge of doctrine. In Matthew 15 there is the situation where Jesus is with His disciples and He goes outside of the land of Israel into a Gentile community. The people that are there are not Jews, they are Gentiles. In verse 21, "Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." We need to visualize the fact that we are walking into the throne room of God. We are bowing before God to present a petition to the creator of the heavens and the earth. What would we do if this kind of situation were to take place as we presented our petition to God? Jesus' reaction to the woman's request is very similar to that of God the Father in prayer perhaps. The woman makes an appeal to Him, a petition on the basis of mercy to have her daughter delivered and have this demon cast out. But notice how she addresses Jesus" O Lord, son of David." The title "son of David" is one of several titles to the Lord Jesus Christ but it is a title that is related to the Davidic covenant. The basis for all of the unconditional covenants in the Old Testament is the Abrahamic covenant. There were three subsequent covenants that were developed from the Abrahamic covenant: the Palestinian or real estate covenant, the Davidic covenant which said that God would give the Messiah as the seed of David, and there is the new covenant which has to do with what God would do for Israel in the Millennial age. This relates to the Davidic covenant. She appeals to Jesus on the basis of a covenant that God made with Israel. Does she have the right to do that? No, she does not. She is a Gentile woman, she is outside the covenant and the promises to Israel. How does Jesus respond to her? He ignores her. She is misrepresenting herself. She is trying to ride the coat tails of the Jews in order to get some divine blessing. How would we like to be so ignored when we prayed to God? Was Jesus being rude? Was He being insensitive? Not at all. There is a doctrinal issue at stake. The woman does not give up, she is persistent in her appeals to Christ. Finally the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Send her away." Verse 23, "But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us." This woman is not giving up. She has a terrible situation at home with this demon possessed daughter, she knows there is only one person who is going to resolve this, but she just has to work out the right way to ask. Verse 24, "But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Point: You are a Gentile, you are outside the promises and covenants to Israel, I am sent to the house of Israel, I am not listening. Verse 25, "Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me." Verse 26, "But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs." What is He saying? The blessings of God are not for people like you. They are not for dogs. The term "dogs" was a Jewish epithet, a racial epithet for Gentiles. Jesus just called her a dog! Jesus is making a very strong doctrinal point. Te woman hung in there. She us beginning to learn a few things. Jesus is focusing her attention on some doctrine: that she as a Gentile has no right to the covenant blessings that God has promised to Israel. They are for Jews only. So she adjusts her petition. Verse 27, "And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." What did the Abrahamic covenant say? "I will bless the nation that comes from you, Abraham, and they will be a blessing to all other nations." The blessings go to Israel, the crumbs go to the other nations. There is an overflow of blessing. But when she gets it right and says, "I am a Gentile, I want the overflow of blessing," Jesus answers her request. Once she gets it doctrinally right she gets an affirmative answer. On that doctrinal basis she appeals, Jesus commends her because she has finally adjusted her petition to doctrine, and she get her prayer answer and her daughter is delivered.
Acts 4:23, a short time after the day of Pentecost: perhaps a year after Pentecost when there may have been as many as 15-20,000 believers in Jerusalem, maybe more. There was a sizeable number of believers but they hadn't organized. The church doesn't really begin to organize until about Acts chapter six. They are very disorganized and the only leaders they have at this point are the eleven apostles. The don't have any doctrine yet. None of the mystery doctrine have been revealed to the apostle Paul, he is not even saved at this point. Peter is still not sure the gospel is supposed to go to the Gentiles yet, and hasn't gone through the Acts 10 situation with Cornelius. So this is the infant, infant church here at this point. John and Peter go to the temple, and as they approach the temple they heal a lame man. They don't have pastors, elders, deacons yet, they are still going to the temple. At the temple they preach the gospel and about 5000 are saved. They are arrested by the jealous Sanhedrin and hauled off to trial. After hearing the evidence against them they are warned to no longer preach the gospel. Everyone knows that the opposition to the gospel is increasing and that the lives of the apostles are threatened. How do they respond? They go to the Lord is prayer.
Verse 23, "And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them." Notice the "all" in this verse. After they are released the first thing they do is go back and give a complete after-action report to the other believers. What this means for us is that before they pray they get all the facts that they can. They can't always get all the facts, but they get all that they can. Also think about the situation. This has been an emotionally charged situation. Peter and John are the top two apostles and they have been held captive by the Sanhedrin. What emotions are running through the believers in Jerusalem? Fear, worry, anxiety? What are we going to do if these guys are gone, they wipe out the leadership, what is going to happen to the church? Then their relief. What kind of emotions are engendered at that point? Elation? Joy? Emotions are running high at that point. What we are going to emphasize and see is that their effective prayer relies on fact and not feeling. There is a lot of emotion here but they are getting all the facts. They are going to get a complete after-action report from Peter and John before they go to prayer. That doesn't mean that prayer is totally devoid of emotion or feeling but it is not the focus. They are not going to rely on their emotion, they are going to focus on Bible doctrine and faith in the promises of God. Faith always has an object. Faith in an of itself is not meritorious, faith has no value of itself. The value is in its object. It is faith in Jesus Christ, faith in the Word, faith in the promises of God, faith in the power of God, faith in what He has revealed in terms of doctrine. Faith seizes that doctrine and it stabilizes the emotions. This is exactly what we see in this situation. The believers in Acts checked their emotions and held them in check by doctrine.
Verse 24, they begin to pray: "And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is." It seems that when we rush through this passage that they got the report and immediately went to pray. That is probably not what happened. When we look at this particular prayer it is a well crafted prayer. This is a thought-through prayer. They did not just say, Okay, let's pray, and then go after it. Notice that verses 25 and 26 are quotations from the Old Testament. These are not just random quotations. It would appear that they pulled out their Bibles and said, Okay, we have to apply some doctrine here, let's find some scriptural passages and principle on which to focus our prayer. They pray "with one accord" here because of the doctrine and all the facts. They begin by quoting from Exodus 20:11 and Psalm 146:6—"Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is." Where are they appealing to? They are appealing to God the creator of heaven and earth. Everything starts with the doctrine of creation, the distinction between the creator and the creation. They go back to that.
It is interesting to turn to Psalm 146 and read the context: "Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God." Notice: "Do not trust in princes." What is the problem that is going on in Jerusalem right now? It is the secular authority or the religious authority of the Sandehrin versus the new church. Don't put your trust in princes. So they draw from this passage the principle that the ultimate authority is God the creator versus the temple authority of the Sandehrin. Who do they need to obey?
It goes on in Psalm 146:7, Who executes justice for the oppressed: who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free." Who are they? They are the oppressed. But God is a God of justice. He is the creator and He is a just God, we can appeal to Him. What just happened? John and Peter were set free. So their quote from Psalm 146 is not just some random statement but it is a well thought-through application of a doctrinal principle. So by expressing this doctrine the petitioners are seizing faith and using faith to calm their emotions and their fears of a powerful government that could oppress them.
In verses 25, 26 there is a quote from Psalm 2:1-2. "Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ." Psalm 2 is a royal psalm which depicts the power of God's anointed, the Messiah, and calls for the submission of rebellious nations to God. But what is happening in Israel at this point? They are being led by rebels against God and they are using this as a reference to the situation that is taking place right there in Jerusalem. Since Jesus Christ is the Messiah these believers appeal to this Messianic psalm and to prophecies about Christ's future opposition by the kings of the earth. This psalm refers to Jesus Christ but as the new body of Christ they were applying the passage that relates to the Messiah as relating to them because they are now, as we are, the body of Christ, the physical representatives of Christ on the earth. We are His body, so what applies to Him applies to us in this context. In fact, Jesus does the same thing when he confronts Saul on the road to Damascus. He says, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Saul has been killing Christians. There is this identification of the body of Christ with the person of Jesus Christ. They quote this psalm in this prayer to emphasize to God that His revealed will is that Christ would be victorious over the nations. Ultimately there will be victory, and by reciting this particular psalm it gives them a sense of victory rather than a sense of defeat or intimidation by the government powers.
Notice that verse 26 is a contrast with what happens in verse 27, "For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together." They are making the connection between the Sanhedrin and applying the principle from Psalm 2 to the Sanhedrin which has gathered against Jesus Christ when they crucified Him. Then in verse 28 they summarize the petition. "For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." God is stronger than any king, government, police force, or religious group. His sovereignty is so great that it even uses the disobedience of evil men and their hostility to bring about His own glory and enhance His own reputation. Even negative volition ultimately accomplishes God's will!
So having built their case on doctrine and the revealed will of God they state their petition in verse 29, "And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus."
This particular petition is based on the will of God, but we cannot always pray that way. Remember David's petition in 2 Samuel 12. He knew what God's will was, he could just appeal to the grace of God. Often that is all we have, just an appeal to God on His grace. There is no specific doctrine, no specific passage that tells us exactly what God's will is in our life. So we have to pray, Lord, if it be thy will. This is the attitude of the tax gatherer in Luke 18:13. The tax gatherer was standing some distance away and was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, the perfect picture of humility required in prayer.
The doctrine of persistence
In Luke 18:1 there is a parable that God gives. Jesus tells the parable so His disciples will pray and not lose heart. Many ask the question why it is that God says we should continue to pray. In this parable Jesus tells the story about a woman who comes to seek justice from a judge. It is a cruel judge, an uncaring judge, and she continues to pound on his door at night and he doesn't answer and tries to ignore her. But she continues to pound and pound, and finally he comes down to answer her. Jesus draws the principle. If this man ultimately answers her and gives her justice, what about your heavenly Father who loves you? How much more will He give you justice?
1) The Scripture says we are to be persistent.
2) It has something to do with the angelic conflict. We see this in Daniel chapter ten. There we see an interesting little episode where Daniel is praying to God and for three weeks he fasts and he prays. The same persistence that David had. He is devoted to it, nothing else matters. Finally, the angel Michael shows up. He had been in battle with the prince of Persia, a demon. He had been fighting demon forces for three weeks and he finally got through. Daniel's prayer did not give power to the angel. Daniel continued to pray because of the principle persistence in prayer. It took a long time before the prayer was answered, because of opposition, and Daniel did not give up. And we should not give up. Jesus taught His disciples to pray and not to give up.