SproulLordsPrayer 10

The Prayer of the Lord

Chapter 10: Questions and Answers

In this final chapter, I would like to touch briefly on various other issues surrounding the practice of prayer and the Lord’s Prayer specifically.
When we talk about God’s sovereign government over the affairs of men, we say that God has had a plan from eternity and has ordained all that comes to pass. We know this to be true because Scripture says that God has declared the end from the beginning (
Isa. 46:10
). But we also have to remember that God not only ordains the ends, He also ordains the means to those ends. He determines the way in which His purposes are worked out. From our perspective, it sometimes may seem as if God changes His mind, and this story about Hezekiah is one of those instances. But when we analyze this story in light of the full teaching of Scripture, not drawing doctrinal conclusions only from narratives but also using the didactic portions of Scripture, we must conclude that God doesn’t repent as humans do and doesn’t change His mind. We know that it was God’s plan from the beginning that Hezekiah would live that additional fifteen years, but that he would gain that fifteen years through the means of prayer.
Does this mean that when God sent Isaiah to tell King Hezekiah that he was going to die that God was requiring Isaiah to prophesy something that wasn’t really going to happen? Was Isaiah a false prophet because he predicted something that didn’t come to pass? Isaiah brought a word of impending doom and judgment, which was the very kind of message the prophets often brought. Countless times in the Old Testament God announces that He is going to bring judgment on the people, but then the people repent and God does not visit His judgment. Again, it seems that God changes His mind in these instances or that the original announcement of judgment was false.
Through the centuries, orthodox Christianity has taught that such warnings from God contain an implicit conditional clause. Sometimes God will say, “Unless you repent, you will undergo judgment.” Other times, He simply says, “You will undergo judgment.” Though God may not choose to explicitly say “Unless you repent,” it is understood that God always has the right of tempering His judgment with grace. God has said, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy” (
Rom. 9:15
), and the “unless you repent” is implied whenever He threatens judgment. So I believe Hezekiah heard the unspoken condition, “Unless you repent, you will die.”
Scripture is brutally honest with us, revealing the faults and vices of the saints, as well as their virtues. We see inappropriate conduct even from great men such as Abraham, Moses, and David. Thus, the fact that the Bible tells us that various men tried to bargain or negotiate with God should not communicate to us that this is the appropriate way to deal with Him. Scripture is simply revealing this common human tendency, not sanctioning it. The fact is, people do this all the time. I’ve found myself trying to make deals with God, saying, “God, if you’ll just give me one more chance, I’ll do this, this, this, and this.” God doesn’t listen to that kind of prayer, for we are in no position to bargain with Him. To attempt to do so is to insult His character.
We have manifold references in Scripture to believers bitterly complaining and almost accusing God of unfairness or harshness. We sometimes look at these instances and think, “Well, if Moses can do it, if Job can do it, then it must be my prerogative as a Christian to voice my bitterness and complaints.”
But we need to notice not just the complaints the biblical saints sometimes make, but the responses God gives. Let’s take Job’s complaint as an example. As Job struggled with his afflictions, he found it impossible not to grumble that God would let one as righteous as he was suffer so greatly. Eventually, however, God answered Job’s complaints with stern words: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (
Job 38:2–3
). What did Job say? Did he continue to complain? No. Instead, he declared: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… . Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (
Job 42:3
Job 42:6
). He was severely rebuked for the attitude that he expressed to God. Likewise, Habakkuk the prophet complained bitterly that God was not being just by allowing wickedness to go unchecked. He demanded an answer from God, and when God gave it, Habakkuk said, “My body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself ” (
Hab. 3:16
It’s vital that we understand prayer in terms of the qualifications that are found throughout the Bible. By considering the scope of the Bible’s teaching on this subject, we may conclude that it is acceptable to bring all our cares to God, including matters that may move us to frustration or anger. However, we must not come to God in a spirit of complaint or anger against Him, for it is never proper to accuse God of wrongdoing.
There is a simple answer to this question, but implementing the answer is not simple at all. God is revealed to us in Scripture as our heavenly Father, and we have been granted the privilege to address Him as such. We may come to God and speak to Him in these terms of personal intimacy, in a familial way, for we are part of His family. However, we must keep the rest of the character of God in mind. We must always remember that this One whom we address as Father is holy. Unfortunately, we are living in one of the most narcissistic ages in the history of the church, so that we focus far too much attention on ourselves and not nearly enough on the majesty of God. I think the eclipsing and obscuring of the character of God produces the excessive familiarity with God that we see in the church, a familiarity that is not at all appropriate when we are dealing with the King of kings. So the key, I believe, is to remember that we may speak to God in familial terms but we must guard against overly familiar terms.
The principles for prayer that we find in the Lord’s Prayer are not obscure principles—they’re found throughout the book of Psalms and indeed throughout the Scriptures. So I think the biggest problem we have in our time is a severe ignorance of the content of Scripture. Sadly, this is true even among evangelicals, who claim to revere the Word of God and elevate the authority of Scripture. We simply don’t know what’s in the Bible, so it’s not surprising that we don’t know what the Bible teaches about prayer.
Some years ago, I was involved in the revision of a seminary curriculum. As we went through that process, I kept asking what it was that our students, who would be ministers someday, needed most. I had read that a survey had found that 30 percent of the average minister’s time is spent in administration. That’s a disaster. That’s not what the minister is called to do. The minister is called to preach, teach, and to equip the saints for ministry. He is to be the pastor, the spiritual leader of the people. If he is to do that well, he has to know the Bible. We need pastors who are equipped to teach the Bible and who have time to teach the Bible. That’s the only way to overcome this prevailing ignorance of Scripture. Only when that happens will people begin to grasp the principles for prayer.
When we pray, we speak with a lisp, as it were, because our prayers are so inadequate and incomprehensible. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray according to the Word of God. We greatly need His assistance and we should be very grateful for it.
SproulLordsPrayer 10
© 2009 R.C. Sproul Trust. All worldwide rights reserved.
Used with permission under license.