Theology and Prayer


Words have meaning, and they really do help us to understand God’s word and the things in it.  Bible study that recognizes this fundamental fact will go much further than surface-skimming and getting general ideas while mixing and matching different terms in a careless way.

Sometimes a passage’s meaning changes due to a single word in a sentence, as in this example brought out by Dan Phillips a few months ago:  did Jesus really sweat great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, or was it sweat that was like great drops of blood?

As we all know, our prayers reflect the level of our understanding of God.  The language used in a general corporate prayer will reveal the difference between someone with clear understanding of different terms and their meanings, versus someone that skims the surface in a haphazard way, blurring distinctions and mismatching different biblical concepts.  Even differences of emphasis will show up:  the general prayer thought of the amillennialist/kingdom-now person will continually thank God for sending Jesus to the cross and let us never forget it; whereas the general prayer of a more biblical model will put more emphasis on the future hope we have, the desire for Jesus to return for us and to bring His kingdom to earth.

Church / Gospel, and Kingdom, are terms often confused; and so the typical Reformed, Sovereign Grace church will feature corporate prayers with words such as “help us to advance your kingdom in this world” or “advance your kingdom among us.”  But consider the clear teaching from the New Testament:  the kingdom will come when Christ returns and establishes it.  The words of our “Lord’s prayer” describe it thus:  “Your kingdom come” — future tense.  Several of Jesus’ parables talked about a future kingdom, and the king being gone a long time and what goes on during that time — and later the king does receive the kingdom.  Even at the cross, the dying thief asked Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom” — again understanding that the kingdom is something that will occur in the future and is associated only with Jesus’ return.  As the book of Acts clearly points out, Jesus is now in heaven, remaining there “until the time comes for God to restore everything”  (Acts 3:21).  Never are we to pray that God help us to advance the kingdom in this world — because the kingdom is not here now, but is that which will come after Christ returns.

A proper, biblical way to pray during the church age, regarding what happens in this age, would include the request that God would bless our efforts, that He would work in our missionary and evangelistic spread of the gospel, that the gospel would go forth and do God’s will in calling His people to Himself, to save souls… but that is different from an unbiblical request of asking God to advance the kingdom (as though meaning the kingdom is the Church / gospel message in our age).  This does raise the question, at least for me: does God hear and respond to the prayers of professing believers, when they neglect proper study of God’s word and do not pray according to biblical understanding?  The only biblical answer I know is that God knows their hearts, and the Spirit does intercede and understand the true needs of the believer’s heart.

Another issue is the doctrinal emphasis given in prayers, and here I notice that corporate prayers in the reformed, Sovereign Grace church constantly give thanks for the crucifixion — thank you for sending Jesus to die for us, and help us always to remember it.  They stop there, with little or no thanks or prayers to God regarding the future hope and glories, or even any reference to Christ’s resurrection and our eternal life.

In my frequent Bible readings, lately I have noticed that the general praise and prayer in the NT epistles will sometimes mention the death and blood of our Lord — but they don’t stop there at His first coming and only thank God for the crucifixion.  Such praises and prayers continue past that, to emphasize over and over again our hope in Christ, for His future return.  It seems that in fact this is a greater emphasis in the general prayers. Both past and future are mentioned, but greater emphasis is put on the future.  Indeed, as so many Bible teachers have pointed out (including John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, David Jeremiah, and J.C. Ryle), it is the prophetic word especially that has great effect on our ongoing sanctification, that which especially calls us to live godly lives — and it is that, our future inheritance, that the New Testament writers emphasized over and over again, for they knew this great truth as well.  For just a sampling of references:  1 Corinthians 1:4-8, 1 Thess. 5:23-24, 2 Thess. 1:6-12, Colossians 1:3-5, 12; Ephesians 1:9-10, 18; Philippians 1:6, 10; Titus 1:2, 1 Peter 1:3-4, 13.

S. Lewis Johnson expressed this point well:

Did you know that the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned over three hundred times in the New Testament?  Now there are three hundred and something chapters of the New Testament.  In other words, in every chapter proportionately in the New Testament, we have some reference to the second coming of the Lord Jesus.  There are some of the epistles who specifically have not just one but more than one reference to the second coming in those epistles.

We have the second coming mentioned three hundred and eighteen times.  We have baptism, or we have the doctrine of baptism. mentioned only nineteen times in seven epistles.  In other words, the Second Advent should have a great deal more emphasis in our Christian thought and life than the doctrine of water baptism.  Yet observe the importance that the churches attach to baptism.

We have entire denominations called Baptist churches.  We have large denominations calling themselves, Baptist churches. . . . Did you know that there are over 20 different kind of Baptists?  But now how many denominations do you know that are named the Lord’s coming denomination, or the Second Advent denomination?  We do have the Seventh Day Adventist, but then they mixed up the truth with error in their title:  The Seventh Day Adventist.  And did you know that we have Seventh Day Baptists?  We have a denomination of Baptists that call themselves Seventh Day Baptists.

Did you know that the Lord’s Supper is mentioned six times in the New Testament, but it is not in twenty of the twenty-one epistles of the New Testament.  Not mentioned, and there are some groups that make a great deal over the Lord’s Supper.

The second coming of the Lord Jesus ought to enlarge in our Christian thinking.  I have wondered if the church is not making the same mistake about the second coming that the Jews made about the first coming—not all the Jews, but some of the Jews.  They did not make very much of the suffering and the cross and the literality of the first coming texts.

The earliest Christians made a great deal after they learned the truth of the suffering, the cross and the second coming of the Lord Jesus, and it seems to me that today we may be possibly, possibly erring a little too much by making a whole lot over the first coming and sometimes de-emphasizing the reigning, the crown, the literality of the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

John MacArthur once explained the relationship between prayer and study of God’s word, pointing out this strong connection between our theology and our prayers.  How true it is:

I’ll tell you something that’s more important than prayer and that is the study of the Word. Because if you do not study the Word of God, you will not know how to pray because you will not know what is God’s will. The study of the Word is more important than prayer.  Someone told me this morning that an old saint of God said if he had to live his life all over again, he would pray less and study more because it would filter out needless prayers.

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