What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
David says that sacrifice is a prayer. It also works the other way around: Prayer is a sacrifice. Why? Because it is a gift of devotion, praise, and thanksgiving that aids in changing a person's nature from his self-centeredness.
Why is prayer a sacrifice? First, it consumes time. We dislike giving time up unless our heart is consumed by what we want to do, and human nature does not want to do spiritual things. Second, prayer requires giving—the giving of one's mind over to thinking about the qualities of God. How else can we thank Him? We give ourselves to the activity of praise—praise for things that He has done. We do that because we have thought about them and because we acknowledge His presence, His activity, in our or somebody else's life.
Prayer is most effective when we act as a mediator, interceding on behalf of others, meaning that we have given our time to thinking about them and their needs. We give our time to go to God and ask for His intervention so to help them change. God acts on our behalf because we sacrificed and begins to change us away from our egocentricity, our self-centeredness. God is training our minds to think about others rather than the self.
In Psalm 40:6-8, the psalmist says that God did not want burnt offerings. Those who were converted under the Old Covenant understood this fact. Paul quotes this passage in the book of Hebrews. In fact, he quotes Jesus Christ as saying it before He ever came to the earth: "Sacrifice and offering You did not want, You did not desire; otherwise, I would have given it to You. But a body you have prepared for me" (Hebrews 10:5).
One can easily make a ritual out of going to services, tithing, getting rid of the leaven, fasting on the Day of Atonement, or even going to the Feast of Tabernacles if our reasons for doing so are perfunctory, we do not understand, or we disagree with the object lesson that God intends we learn from doing them.
When that lawyer asked Jesus in Matthew 22, which is the great commandment of the law, Jesus said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and the second is like it." He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
What Jesus described is the meaning of a whole burnt offering. The burnt offering of Leviticus 1:1-13 is the offering of an animal, but it pictures the offering of a life lived completely consumed in obedience to living God's way. Nothing will prepare us for the Kingdom of God to be both kings and priests like following, with all of our being, Leviticus 1:1-13 and what that burnt offering means. Jesus did. He lived as a whole burnt offering to God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Be a Priest
Can a weak and mortal man or woman influence God? Can we change His mind? Is it wrong to reason with Him? Contrary to many people's first reaction, God actually urges, "Come now, and let us reason together." Abraham reasoned with God concerning the city of Sodom, and as a result, God promised He would not destroy it if there were only ten righteous people there. Moses reasoned with God concerning the rebellious Israelites. God wanted to destroy them for their idolatry but changed His mind because of Moses' intercession.
Reasoning with God does not mean arguing with Him or making excuses for ourselves or our actions. Nor does it mean trying to get God to change His laws. Reasoning with Him means giving Him reasons for why we ask what we do.
Martin G. Collins
Reasoning With God
Some feel God's words to Jeremiah are commandsfor His people from that time forward never to pray for the people of the world. Is that the correct interpretation?
The prophet Daniel is taken captive early in Nebuchadnezzar's campaign against Judah, and soon after arriving in Babylon, he is handpicked to advise the emperor. As the years pass, Daniel is well aware of Jeremiah's prophecy that the Jews would return to Jerusalem at the end of seventy years in exile (Jeremiah 29:10-14). Near the end of that seventy-year period, what do we find Daniel doing? He implores God so fervently on behalf of his nation that God sends Gabriel, one of the highest-ranking angels, to deliver a message directly from Him (Daniel 9:1-24).
What stands out in Daniel's prayer for his nation is his use of "we," not "they." He puts himself in the same boat with the sinning Jews. Daniel cries out, ". . . we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments" (verse 5).
In his prayer's conclusion (Daniel 9:16-19), Daniel is clearly praying for forgiveness for his sinful countrymen and for himself. He prays for good things to start happening to his unconverted neighbors. And God hears: "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision" (verses 22-23).
As we study the inspired Scripture, we find holy men moved with deep feeling for their people, their city, their country—all the while realizing that they simultaneously look for another city with eternal "foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10).
Ezekiel, another captive of the Babylonians, reminds us that God puts some kind of identifying mark on those who "sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done" around us (Ezekiel 9:4). Those who are moved by events spiraling out of control pray about the situation, entreating God to act, to come soon. Ezekiel records that God spares such concerned people.
By contrast, he records the horrific scene of thousands being slaughtered who do not grieve over the condition of the nation (verses 5-6). As the slaughter commences, Ezekiel prays and begs God to reconsider what He is doing: "Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?" (verse 8). God answers that, this time, He must punish and punish hard (verses 9-10). The point is that Ezekiel felt so deeply for his countrymen and nation that he implored God to extend mercy.
How did we do on September 11, 12, 13, and in the days since? Are we sighing and crying when we see "acts of God"—natural catastrophes like floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes—ripping through the countryside? God is moved when He sees us moved by the pain and suffering occurring around us, and not just that affecting our immediate circle of family and friends.
We know God will punish the nations of modern-day Israel increasingly in the years ahead. We will witness a great deal of sorrow and woe, but God is pleased when He sees us wholeheartedly interceding even for those who deserve the discipline.
Should We Pray for the World?
The owner's waiting signifies the delay of vengeance, to give Israel an opportunity to repent. Knowing that the vineyard's owner had every reason to be disappointed with the barren tree, the keeper intercedes for the tree's life, asking for another year. He does not plead for its indefinite existence, but for an opportunity to stimulate it into fruitfulness by imposing more dramatic measures. If it bears fruit after further treatment, then the keeper knows that the owner will be pleased to allow the tree to remain in the vineyard. The keeper asks only for the owner to postpone judgment.
In the intercessory plea of the keeper, we have an illustration of Jesus' reluctance to let Israel go. During His life, Jesus prayed for fruitless Israel to repent (Matthew 23:27; Mark 1:15; Luke 23:34). In answer, God sent the apostles to provide Israel another opportunity to repent, as they fertilized Israel with God's truth (Matthew 10:6; Luke 24:46-47; II Timothy 2:25-26).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Paul instructs us not only not to neglect prayer, but also to keep at it in earnest. He advises us to watch for opportunities to pray for others and for situations, especially in the church, that require prayer. This important work belongs to us individually.
At the time, the apostle was imprisoned in Rome, and he desperately longed to be released so that he could proclaim the gospel and teach God's way as he had been commissioned to do. He was certain that, through the power of prayer, God would open a door - perhaps the door to his prison - to present God's Word to others. The apostle knew that this was God's will for him, so prayer according to that same will would be effective.
The lesson for us today is to pray for the ministers who speak to us, teaching the doctrines and principles that will help us to overcome, grow in grace and knowledge, and obtain the understanding to put on the image of Christ. We must realize that their messages go out, not just to us, but to other members of the congregation who may have different needs than we do. In addition, they are spread around the world via the Internet to people who may have had a long association with God's truth, as well as to those who are truly babes in the Word of God. We need to pray that God inspires the ministry to fill the needs that He sees in today's very diverse audience.
Prior to each Sabbath service, we should humbly pray in deep appreciation for whoever is presenting the messages, asking that God would guide their messages and that all who hear them might receive what Jesus Christ wants them to understand. Such an attitude and prayer will please God greatly.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Out of the Abundance of Our Prayers
1 Timothy 2:1
"Intercession" is exactly the same Greek word as is translated "prayer" in I Timothy 4:5. It has an interesting etymology that instructs us on an important aspect of prayer. The word, a verb, is entugchanein.
It began to appear in Greek centuries before Christ, meaning simply "to meet a person," as if a person would meet another along the way. However, through the centuries, the word took on a somewhat different meaning. Eventually, it meant, not just "to meet," but "to meet and converse." This is natural because, if a person falls in with another along the way, he usually does not ignore the other but strikes up a conversation.
Then, as time went by, it began to take on yet a different meaning: "to have intimate fellowship with the person." To this point, the word describes how to have a right approach to God. In practical fact, it illustrates that we are not conversing with God from a distance. We are so intimately associated with Him that we are His children. This word is describing an intimate family relationship. God is not way off on the top of a mountain somewhere. Even as early as Deuteronomy 30:14, He says, "The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart"!
If we are going to have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God in prayer, we have to understand that we are in His very presence. Looking at this humanly and physically, this is how He can rub off on us. We are in His fellowship, in His presence. He is not far off. When Christ gave His life for us, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing that access to God was completely open to Him, and now we have this same access to the Father through Christ. We are right before His throne when we are talking to Him.
However, entugchanein continued to change. The change shows up in the noun form of the word, enteuxis, meaning "a petition to a king." It can be used in the sense of the king summoning someone into his presence or of someone presenting a request to the king. Putting these together, it suggests that we have "intimate access to petition the king." We do not have intimate fellowship with just anybody, but to the King of all the universe!
We have both privilege and power in prayer. This is where the concept "the power of prayer" comes from. Because we have the privilege to come before the King in intimate fellowship, we have access to His power. It is not that prayer itself has the power, but that we have access to the One who has the power.
This means we have to be extra careful what we ask God: He may give us what we ask, and we will be sorry. Mighty forces can be unleashed when we ask God for things. God's people have a responsibility to ask of Him things that are according to His will.
As a tool, prayer is to be used to accomplish a wide variety of things within God's purpose. It is to be used in regard to the things of this life. God wants us to pray about this life, as in supplying our daily need. However, He will primarily use it, not for this life, but for His eternal purpose, reproducing Himself and creating His holiness in us. His purpose is in preparing us for the Kingdom of God.
So be warned that His purpose will supersede ours when we pray.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is Prayer?
1 Timothy 2:5
There is one mediator, Christ. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the parakletos, the Comforter. It is the guide, leading us into all truth. Comforter means "one who goes alongside." If this were a personality, then one would begin to think that it is in a position somewhere between us and the Father. But the Bible makes o mention of anything of the kind. There is only one between us and God, and that One is the Son.
This is similar in form to I Corinthians 11:3, which shows that, of the Deities above us, only One stands between us and God the Father, that is, God the Son. This means that not even the Holy Spirit, sent to us as a Comforter, is a mediator.
If the Holy Spirit were God (equal to the Father and the Son), it would be an affront of the highest order to exclude "Him" from an intermediary role between us and the Father—especially when we consider that the Bible assigns us, mere human beings, an intercessory role between others and the Father. By prayer we are to intercede before the Father for one another, which is a form of mediation. We go to the Father in behalf of our brothers and sisters who are undergoing trial, difficulty, sickness, or whatever. The Holy Spirit is excluded from this role because it is not a personality, yet we are given it because we are personalities.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit
Though he seems to be speaking about praying for those who are sick, the overall command is specifically to "pray for one another."
Further, James instructs us to confess our faults. The apostle does not mean that we should reveal every sin and foible to everyone in the congregation. He implies that we should confide our problems to a close, trusted friend so that he or she can help us by praying to God for help in overcoming it.
We should pray for one another, and it need not be known by others or even asked of us. We may notice a brother struggling with a problem, and rather than pointing out his flaw to others, we should get on our knees to petition God to come to his aid. The apostle James assures us that such a prayer, given seriously and thoughtfully, will make a difference.
The Jews say regarding prayer: "He who prays surrounds his house with a wall stronger than iron." Another of their sayings runs: "Penitence can do something, but prayer can do everything." To them, prayer is nothing less than contacting and employing the power of God; it is the channel through which the strength and grace of God is brought to bear on the troubles of life.
In the next two verses, James uses the illustration of Elijah to show just how effective righteous prayer can be. He chose Elijah because the biblical story of this prophet brings out his passionate - and sometimes still carnal - nature. Nevertheless, he prayed earnestly for drought, and God responded: No rain fell on the earth for three years and six months! When he prayed again for rain, God again heard and acted. What tremendous power can be unleashed through prayer that conforms to the will of God!
James 5:19-20 continues the theme. If we see a brother straying from the truth, and with the help of prayer, restore him to a right understanding, we may indeed be saving him from the Lake of Fire, from the second death! Such loving help is the essence of true outgoing concern.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Out of the Abundance of Our Prayers
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