Questions and Answers
Regarding Prayer





Sender:  Arlene, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

"I just want to know more about intercession.  How do we know whether our prayers are according to God's will?  How will we know if He answers our prayers?"

These are excellent questions. We cannot pray with faith and confidence if we don't know whether or not we are praying for something that is within God's will. The Bible says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him." (1 John 5:14-15) So, if we know that what we are praying for is within God's will, then we have every reason to pray with confidence and expect an answer to our prayers.

How do we know whether we are asking for something that is according to God's will? Well, God's Word and His will are in agreement. So, we must go to the Word of God, the Bible, and find out if it gives us reason to believe that we are asking for something that is God's will. Now, two things that are helpful to know here are as follows:

1. Jesus taught us to pray these words to God: "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) So, it is fair to say that the things the Bible teaches us about life in heaven are a good indication of God's will for life in the earth. First, there is no sin in heaven. We read: "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." (Revelation 21:24) Second, there is healing of all sickness and disease in heaven. We read that the Tree of Life is there, "And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse."  (Revelation 22:2) Third, because there is no curse in heaven, sorrow and grief along with death are vanquished there. We read, "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4). SO THEN, to pray for God's will to be done in earth as it is in heaven means we can pray with faith and confidence for sins to be forgiven, hearts and minds to be purged of sin (i.e., sanctified), bodies to be healed of sickness and disease, grief and sorrow to be lifted from lives, and even death to be stopped until God's appointed time to take us to Himself.

2. It is important to understand that the basis upon which we pray for these things is the atonement of Jesus for us. To simplify that statement, our sins against God cost us something. Our sins result in the curse pronounced by God's law against sinners, and that curse includes broken fellowship with God, loneliness, spiritual bondage to sin, sickness, weakness, grief, sorrow, poverty, death, and eternal damnation. However, Jesus had no sin and therefore did not have to suffer the curse of the law against the sinner. However, He willingly became our substitute in death. To say that He died for us means that He took the punishment pronounced by God's law against us. Therefore, by faith in Jesus, we are free from the curse pronounced by God's law against the sinner. The Bible says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'" (Galatians 3:13) This is how Jesus turned God's judgment seat against us into a mercy seat for us. This means when our prayers appeal to the atoning death of Jesus for us, we can pray with confidence for the forgiveness of sins and for deliverance from every curse brought into our lives because of sins -- that is, the list of ills I mentioned earlier in this paragraph.

To get a clear understanding of the atonement of Christ for sinners and the benefits that we can lay claim to through prayer, let me direct your attention to perhaps the most quoted passage of scripture regarding the death of Christ and its benefits for us.  We read in Isaiah, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed."   (Isaiah 53:4-5)   The word translated "took up" in this passage is the Hebrew word nasa, and it literally means that He "lifted up and carried away."  From God's point of view, In Jesus' death at the cross, Jesus "lifted up and carried away" our sins, weaknesses, sickness, diseases, and all of the effects of sin in our lives -- even including death. This is why Jesus could say, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26) This, of course, means that those who accept Jesus' atonement for them will never die spiritually. We know that at God's time, we have an appointment with physical death: " . . . it is appointed unto men once to die . . . ." (Hebrews 9:27) However, the point here is that sickness does not have authority in our bodies, and that when the time comes for us to leave this world, we do not have to leave sick since we are redeemed from the curse, and sickness is a part of the curse pronounced by God's law against the sinner.

There are those who would challenge the interpretation I have given above of the passage from Isaiah 53:4-5.  Since it is best to allow scripture to interpret scripture, it is helpful to see how this passage was understood and applied in the New Testament.  This passage from Isaiah is quoted in part in Matthew's gospel where the writer shows how God's provision through Christ provides for human needs.  We read, "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him [Jesus], and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'" (Matthew 8:16-18) Matthew is saying here that Jesus, in His ministry, healed the sick and liberated those trouble in their minds and emotions by evil spirits because He knew that He would take the infirmities (that is, weaknesses) and diseases (that's all sicknesses) of all humanity upon Himself at the cross. Therefore, from the point of view of God's justice, Jesus had a right to remove infirmities and diseases from those He ministered to as He knew He would take them in their place at the cross as their substitute.

How does all of this apply to our prayer lives?  When we pray, we can appeal to the atonement of Jesus for God to identify, deal with, lift and carry away from our lives and the lives of those for whom we pray everything that is of the curse -- that is, sin and all of its effects.  The other side of the coin is that when God lifts from our lives the curses brought by sin, He grants us His blessings in their place.  In the words of Peter, God grants to us through Christ "everything we need for life and godliness . . . ."  (2 Peter 1:3)  It is God's will, then, to provide everything that is needed to sustain us in life and godliness.  Beyond that, God is extravagant.  Paul wrote to Timothy that we are to put our hope in God "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."  (1 Timothy 6:17)  This has direct bearing on our prayer lives.  Jesus encouraged His disciples with these words:  "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24)  When we understand that we are redeemed from the curses pronounced by God's law against the sinner, we should not be timid about praying for things that will enrich our lives and bring us joy.  This applies to our prayers for others too who have accepted the benefits of Christ's atoning death for them.  God wants to extravagantly bless His children.

One caveat.  Even though Jesus took our sins and the effects of all our sins at the cross, the Bible teaches that we must confess our sins and turn from them in order to receive the benefits of His atoning death.  John writes, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  (1 John 1:9)  Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, said this:  "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  (Acts 2:38)  Clearly, then, there are conditions to receiving answers to prayer.  If we do not confess our sins and turn from them, Christ's atoning death brings us no benefit.  Therefore, we have no covenant basis on which to expect God to answer our prayers.  This agrees with the words of God through Isaiah:  "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2).  However, when we meet the conditions of confession and repentance, God will cleanse us from our sins and thereby position us to receive answers to prayer.

This point becomes important in praying for others.  One might ask, "Since we do not know what is in someone else's heart, how can we pray for others with confidence that God is answering our prayers for them?"  In  answer, if our hearts are clean before God and we are sincere and earnest in our prayers for others, God will at times show us things about those we pray for that will help us target our prayers for them effectively.  He may, for example, show us that there is sin in their lives, unforgiveness toward others, or emotional traumas affecting their view of God and of themselves, all of which can stand in the way of receiving from God.  (God "shows" us these things through direct revelation by His Spirit as though He were "speaking" or "thinking" to us, which 1 Corinthians 12:8 calls a "word of knowledge.")  This way, we can pray for the primary need first so that we will be most effective in helping others receive what they are asking prayer for, which is often a secondary need.  For example, praying for God to help someone forgive another person who has hurt them may be just the key to helping that person receive healing for a physical or mental illness.  

I hope this helps answer your questions.   May I encourage you to familiarize yourself with scriptures regarding Christ's atonement for us and the benefits that the Bible encourages us to lay claim to through believing prayer.



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