The college would have to close, the debts were too high. The leaders met to pray. Harry prayed a rather unusual prayer, “Lord, we know that the cattle on a thousand hills are yours. Please sell some of them and send us the money.” Just then a local cattle farmer approached the secretary in the reception. “I have just sold two carloads of cattle, and I feel that God is compelling me to give this money to the college. Here’s a cheque.” She took it immediately to the praying leaders. One of them looked at it. It was the exact amount of the debt. Then he recognized the name of the cattle farmer. Turning to Harry, he said “Harry, God sold the cattle!” (Dallas Seminary: the early years)
Prayer moves God
God was way ahead. Everything was in place before Harry had uttered a word. Jesus said “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6.8). Some people go “Wow, God’s awesome”, but others go “If God already knows, why ask him?” Well, nothing will happen if we don’t ask. James 4.2 says “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Clearly our prayers have an effect on what God does. God is outside of time and so he had all of eternity to answer Harry’s unusual prayer.
Praying in Jesus’ name
Harry’s prayer was answered, but he did not say “in Jesus’ name.” Jesus said “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16.23). Must we always say “in Jesus’ name?”
A boy and his father went to an amusement park. Knowing his son would want to go on many rides his father bought a whole roll of tickets. Whenever his son wanted a ride he held out his hand and his dad gave him a ticket. At one ride a strange boy came up to the father and held out his hand. The father pulled his hand back. Just then the son came and said “Its ok dad, he’s a friend, I told him you would give him a ticket.” So the father gave him one. This stranger came in the sons name; he came with the son’s authority. We don’t need to add “in Jesus’ name” to our prayers, we simply need to be aware that we only have a right to approach the Father through Jesus. Colossians 3.17 says “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Who do we pray to?
Must we only approach the Father in prayer, or can we also pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Jesus said “Ask ME for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14.14). So clearly we can pray to Jesus. There are no examples in the Bible of people praying to the Holy Spirit, but it is not forbidden, and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5.3, 4), and called our Counsellor (John 16.7), so it would be rather odd if we could not talk to him.
How can we be more effective in prayer?
Pray according to God’s will
1 John 5.14 says “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” God does not listen sympathetically if we are not praying according to his will. The surest way to know something is God’s will is if it is promised in the Bible. So it’s essential we know the Bible.
Another way is to hear the Holy Spirits voice inside you. But if we are unsure of God’s will it is appropriate to pray “if it is your will.” This is not contrary to faith. Faith is simply trust in God.
Pray in faith
Mark 11.24 says “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours.” To be consistent with all Scripture the ‘whatever’ here must be whatever you ask for that is according to God’s will. If God has promised it we can believe we have received it. If we simply ask for whatever we want and assume God will do it, we are just being presumptuous and will be disappointed.
Does obedience affect prayer?
Psalm 66.18 says “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
A young boy wanting to feel older decided to try smoking so he hid in a field and lit a cigarette. Just then he saw his father approaching so he hid the cigarette behind his back, and then in an effort to distract his father pointed to an advert for a circus on a billboard and said “Can we go to the circus dad?” His dad said “Never ask your father for anything while disobedience is smouldering behind your back.” We cannot expect God to give us things while we are being consciously disobedient. We know we will never be sinless, but we can only make requests of God after sincere repentance.
What if our prayers are not answered?
As long as God is God and we are his creatures there will be unanswered prayers. Actually many prayers are answered, but not the way we expect them to be. God’s ways and plans are different to ours. But if you have unanswered prayer you are in good company: Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from him (Luke 22.42), Paul prayed for his ‘thorn’ to be taken away (2 Corinthians 12.7-9), David prayed for his dying son to live (2 Samuel 12.22-23). In one sense these prayers were not answered, but in another sense they were, and God’s purposes were achieved through them all.