Human beings are creatures who live by promises. We are motivated and act in the present on the basis of what we hope or expect to achieve in the future, whether that future is the next moment, the next year, or the next decade. We strive toward the realization of promises, and those may be of various sorts – relational, vocational, pecuniary, and so forth.
The call to pray is supported by very great promises, two general promises, which provide an overall framework for the work of prayer, and six more specific promises which are intended to motivate and aid us in our prayers.
We shall consider each of these in turn.
A framework of promise
Christians are commanded to pray, but God does not want us to regard this as an onerous task. To the command to call upon Him in prayer the Lord attaches two large promises. By these He intends both to entice us to pray and to guide us in thinking about the enormous potential of this work: “Call to me, and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”
The first “framework” promise of prayer is that God will show us “great things.” The word great here is the common Hebrew term from a wide variety of “great things.” Greatness relates to physical strength, the brilliance of light, wealth and social standing, loud and continuous noise, widespread devastation or blessing, and simple numerical greatness. However it is possible for us to conceive of “great things”, God promises that we may know them through prayer.
And not just know them, but know them to an extent we have never known before. This first promise of the framework of prayer, therefore, is an inducement for us to pray big. In all our prayers we are encouraged to pray bigger and expect more than we have ever known before.
The second “framework” promise of prayer attaches to the idea of “hidden things.” Another way of translating this word might be mysteries. God promises to show us mysteries beyond what we’ve ever known before when we call upon Him in prayer.
This word is associated with things heretofore unattainable or unrealized – walled cities, fruit that has not yet been harvested, thoughts that have not yet been revealed. In prayer we are encouraged to “break through” or “go beyond” where we’ve ever been before. God not only encourages us to pray big; He also wants us to pray beyond.
God has constructed a large “prayer room” for our work of prayer. This general framework of the promise of prayer – expect more, seek more, appeal for more, pray big, pray beyond – should encourage us to seek the confines of prayer more eagerly and consistently. Yet there remain six additional enticements to prayer that can guide all our work of prayer, no matter our subject or need.
God furnishes our prayer room with six additional, specific promises. These can serve to guide our work of prayer as well as to draw us more consistently to our prayer closet in order to realize the blessings God intends for us there.
The first more specific promise of prayer is the promise of God Himself (Jer. 29.13, 14; Ps. 16.11). God awaits us in the expansive confines of our prayer room. He longs to bring us into His glory where, as we lay hold on His precious and very great promises, we partake of the divine Being and know the weight of transforming glory together with joys and pleasures bigger and far beyond anything this world can afford (2 Pet. 1.4; 2 Cor. 3.12-18). This is not an experience which lends itself to easy description. It is, however, real and available to everyone who will faithfully seek the Lord in prayer with all his heart.
Second, and in order to further enable our prayers, the Lord promises to give us His Spirit without measure (Lk. 11.1-13; Jn. 3.34). The Spirit, working with the Word of God, is the source and substance of our life in Christ (Jn. 6.63). He fills us, gives us His mind, opens God’s Word, brings forth fruit and gifts, and furnishes us with power to live as witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God is power and presence of the Kingdom of God (Rom. 14.17, 18), Whom to know increasingly is to be transformed into the very image of the Lord (2 Cor. 3.18).
Third, the Lord promises that our prayers, when offered out of the righteousness we have in Jesus Christ, can be powerful in accomplishing the work of the Lord (Jms. 5.16; Phil. 4.13). We should pray big and beyond, believing the Lord, and not doubting, that He by His Spirit can do in and through us exceeding abundantly beyond all that we’ve ever dared to ask or think (Matt. 21.22; Jms. 1.6-8; Eph. 3.20). We have been redeemed for good works (Eph. 2.10), and Jesus promised that those who follow Him will be able to do even greater works than He did (Jn. 14.12). This is only possible, however, as we seek the Lord in prayer.
Fourth, God promises that prayer can bring us unfathomable peace in the Lord (Phil. 4.6, 7). In this world we expect to have trouble (Jn. 16.33). However, no trouble can rob us of the glorious peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the very condition of His Kingdom, as long as we turn to Him in prayer in the midst of our trials.
Fifth, God promises that we may ask whatever we will in prayer (Matt. 21.22). If in prayer we are delighting above all else in knowing the Lord and partaking of Him, then He and His purposes will be our highest delight. If we delight in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart, that we may know Him better and be empowered to serve Him by His Word and Spirit (Ps. 37.4).
Finally, God promises intercessory help for our prayers. We do not engage the hard work of prayer all alone. The Lord Jesus Himself intercedes for us (Heb. 7.25), as does the Spirit of the Lord (Rom. 8.26). Further, there is evidence to suggest that the saints in heaven also work to enable our prayers to be pleasing to the Lord (cf. Rev. 5.8; 8.3, 4).
All these promises await us, bigger and far beyond what we’ve ever known before, as we come faithfully to seek the Lord in prayer with all our hearts. How then shall we lay hold on these promises?
Gaining the promise of prayer
Chrysostom observed, “Jesus often went up alone onto a mountain in order to pray, even spending the night there. He did this to teach us that the one who will come most near to God must be free from all disturbance and must seek times and places away from all the confusion.”
Here are five specific guidelines for gaining the promise of prayer: 1) Settle in your mind that prayer is hard work, and prayer to engage it single-mindedly and with all your heart, apart from any other duties or distractions. 2) Nurture an unquenchable desire for God and His promises, such a desire that you will be willing to scale whatever heights and persist to whatever lengths may be necessary to obtain what the Lord holds out for you. 3) Establish set times and places to seek the Lord in prayer (we shall have more to say about this in a subsequent installment). 4) Set all else aside. Although we should develop the discipline of praying at all times and about everything, there must be times when prayer is our only duty, and all our energies are devoted to it. 5) Discipline your soul, as you engage the work of prayer, to put aside all other distraction and confusion in order to seek the Lord and know His promises.
The prayer room to which God calls us is richly furnished with divine promises to make our work of prayer a joy and reward such as we have never known before. The work that awaits us there is real, and will require all our spiritual and physical strength. But we do not engage this work alone, and we may expect to gain more from this labor than we will ever put into it.
A conversation starter: Share with a Christian friend what you have learned here about the promise of prayer. Ask, “Do you think we could help one another to learn to pray like this?”