Binding And Loosing Prayer by Tom White

"For those in need of deliverance  I advise a two-track mode of binding and loosing prayer. I ask the Spirit to make the person sick of his or her sin, to plant seeds of truth in the person's mind and, if for an unbeliever, to stir the person to seek salvation. I also ask the Holy Spirit to silence, subdue and separate demonic influence from the person, thus allowing him/her to respond to truth. Having done this, I wait and watch for God to open doors and bring opportunity to work directly with the one in bondage." - Tom White, The Believer's Guide To Spiritual Warfare, page 202


Answered Prayer: Sermon Notes From Stuart McAlpine

Answered Prayer

Stuart McAlpine

Dearest family,

On Sunday I argued that the lack of our response to asking when it is answered should be as significant a concern to us as our unanswered asking. We need to stop and take stock once in a while. The first thing that should move us, and uncork our gratitude, is how gracious God is in answering us at all, given the inconsistency and infrequency of our asking, or as someone put it,  “the intermittent spasms of our importunity.” Just to realize that our weak asking gets such a strong response, because of the strength of the one asked, not the one asking, should be sufficient to unstop the wells of worship of the character of God.

The more we think about it, the more shocked we should be at the minimal returns from so much answered asking. If our asking is accompanied by thanksgiving anyway, then the lack of it suggests two possible things:
  1. There is actually a lot less asking going on than there could be
  2. There is a lack of thanksgiving for all the answers received to asking
We are familiar with Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers, only one of whom “came back”. (Lk. 17:11-19) He is described as “praising God in a loud voice.” I am arguing that given the responsiveness of our Father to what we ask of Him, He should be hearing a lot more noise!
The words of Jesus have a disturbing echo: “Was no one found to return…” (Lk. 17:18) If this incident was a rough guide to the return of our responsiveness to the answering response that God returned to us, then we are looking at a 10% return. (Did I say return enough times!) Again, the thought that only one in ten answers may provoke a volley of God-worthy thanksgiving is hard to take and unacceptable. In this case, the non-return of the nine is a bad return on the answer. Speaking of ‘bad returns’, having asked for the answer of forgiveness and received it, let there not be a return of unforgiveness in our hearts towards others, or a return to the confessed sin. Having asked for the answer of deliverance and received it, let us not return to a “yoke of bondage’.Having asked for the answer of guidance and received it, let us not return to a pattern of self-direction. Having asked for the answer of provision and received it, let us not return to any indiscipline that accounted for unnecessary lack. Having asked for the answer of wisdom, let us not return like a fool to his folly. Having asked for a way of escape from ungodly cultural influences and received it, let us not look back like Lot’s wife. These are clearly bad ‘returns’ on good answers.

The return of thanksgiving and praise is what asking has always been about – not the answer per se but the glorifying of God.“Call upon me…and I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.” (Ps. 50:15) His glorification trumps my gratification every time. The psalmist’s ‘return’ of praise is the fact that God “has not turned away my prayer or withheld His love from me.” (Ps. 66:20) We might add, “Therefore I will return my thanksgiving because he has not withheld an answer from me!”  Commenting on this psalm, Spurgeon writes: “What a God is he thus to hear the prayers of those who come to him when they have pressing wants, but neglect him when they have received a mercy; who approach him when they are forced to come, but who almost forget to address him when mercies are plentiful and sorrows are few.”  How is it then that we can be so blessed yet so ‘blah’? How is it that we take for granted what God has granted in answering our asking?

One reason for a lack of sustained expressive affection in response to answers is that our asking is often not imbued with expectation that trustingly lives in anticipation of what God is going to do when we ask. “Petitioning God entails that the petitioner expects an answer.” Sometimes the ‘blah’ begins with our ‘might-as-well’, ‘you-never-know’, ‘can’t-do-any-harm’, and ‘sure-hope-it-gets-through’ kind of asking. How different this is when compared to Solomon’s conviction that his requests would be “near to the Lord our God day and night that he may uphold the cause of his servant.” (1 Kg. 8:59) I have been taught by those like Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) whose writings providentially ended up on my reading lists as a younger Christian. He was emphatic about the need, once having asked of God, to look earnestly for the answer, and to discern what was going on while the asking continued or while waiting ensued. “It is not enough to pray, but after you have prayed you have need to listen for an answer that you may receive your prayers. The sermon was not done when yet the preacher is done, because it is not done till practiced.” Even so, our asking is not done until we have considered the answers, even if the answer is ‘no answer’.

The fact that we received an answer speaks volumes to us of the loving, purposeful provision of God, but it will also whisper a lot of affirmations and confirmations that perhaps need to be heeded for future spiritual growth and future asking. Did you hear a dog barking? What dog? The asking for deliverance by the enslaved Israelites was raw and raucous: “the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help…went up to God.” (Ex. 2:23) They are asking to get out of there, and they do not care how, but there are so many exquisite details in God’s answer that served to ‘quietly’ underline his power. On the night of the Exodus, who could forget “the loud wailing in Egypt”? (Ex. 11:30) But imagine a conversation a few years into the wilderness journey between Zak and Zeb:

“Hey Zeb, do you remember that night?” 
“Are you kidding me, Zak? My ears are still ringing with the noise!” 
“You know what’s weird Zeb? It’s not the noise I remember but the silence. Do you remember that antsy dog of mine, Nimrod? He never made a single whining, whimpering sound all night. What do you make of that?” 
The text tells us what they were meant to make of that, if they “observed” the full answer. “This is what the Lord says…among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.” But why? “Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Israel and Egypt.” Through the dog’s silence, God speaks loudly about himself. The answer to their asking that was their massive national deliverance included these details, that if considered, conveyed awesome revelations about the power of God in this world, but also about how he feels about what opposes his purposes. Do you not think that Zak and Zeb, having considered how God answered their asking on that Exodus night, would want to be sure that they always stayed on the right side of God’s affections?

The point is that God’s answers, when “observed”, yield so many instructional encouragements, and sometimes, whimsical clues about who He is and how He feels about things, and about what is yet possible if these answers are stewarded well. It is understandable that given the relief of the answer, we are now ready to move ahead where we were once stymied, take care of what was on hold, renew our engagement with what was in limbo. Like the nine lepers, it is the most natural thing to get right on with our lives, now that the brake of our unanswered needs, which did everything from slowing us down to bringing us to a full stop, has made way for the accelerator of answered provision. But the truth remains that “You lose much of your comfort in blessings when you do not observe answers to your prayers.” (Thomas Goodwin) Is there any chance we can improve on the lepers’ 10% return? Do bad returns or good ones characterize your responses to God’s answers to your asking? We got what we asked for. Did He get what He was asking for?

Pastorally yours


Asking In Jesus Name: Sermon Notes From Stuart McAlpine

Asking in the Name of Jesus

Stuart McAlpine

Dearest family,

Herewith is the summary I gave at the end of Sunday’s message, giving a top-ten list of some things that are operative when we “ask in the name of Jesus”:
  1. Association: We are identifying ourselves with Jesus as the Son of the Father, and accepting our identity as sons and daughters of the Father. We are not outsiders but family. Jesus has put his name upon us. “To pray in Jesus’ Name means to be freed from ourselves…Praying in Jesus’ name we are set free in our inner selves to take on our identity in Jesus as the Son of God.” (Don Carson)We share a common cause in our asking. We are invited to ask on His account, and, as it were, draw on his account. He is asking us to ask for him, on his behalf as it were. To ask in his name is to ask for Him, and not for ourselves. Our name is not on it. So close is this association, it is as if the asker were Jesus himself, and as askers, we cannot but be lovingly welcomed as Jesus is loved. It is as if we have Jesus’ asking-nature in us. If we have Christ’s mind we will ask what he would ask for. Is this not what he said in His own great asking prayer in John 17? He asked that the world would know that the Father loved his disciples “as you love me.” It should also be said that this association is more than just ‘dwelling’ with Him. He ‘indwells’ us so that His very spirit is within us, expressing our asking to the Father.

  2. Access: We have access to the Father by the blood of Jesus. We have access in His name. Without this access we are left with our own independence. Where there is no dependence there is no asking.

  3. Approach: Because Jesus is the great high priest who has gone before us, we not only have access, but we have the invitation and authority to boldly approach the throne of grace itself. To get into the White House is one thing, but to get into the Oval Office is quite another. It is one thing to have the code to get into a place where we have no personal authority or leverage, and another to be able to walk the corridors to the very inner chambers of the operation. The name of Jesus is our security pass and assures us of both access and approach. You cannot be given access but denied approach. We are all in the inner circle of His love and power when it comes to our asking in Jesus’ name.

  4. Acceptance: We know that the only ground of our acceptance is “in the Beloved.” (Ephs.1:6) The acceptance of our asking is not assured by the legitimacy of our needs or requests, or even the sincerity of our affections. Because we are in the beloved, we ask in the beloved’s name.

  5. Assurance: It is because of who Jesus is, that his name is the confident calling card for all our asking. There is no confidence in our own name, or in the reasonableness and righteousness of our petitions. We have no leverage of ourselves. We have no persuasive credentials or communications in which we can be assured. As John put it so clearly to his readers (1 Jn. 5:13-15), our assurance is believing in the name of the son of God” and in asking “according to his will.” It is this knowledgethat assures us, and that now produces the assured “confidence we have in approaching God” assured that He hears us and will answer us. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, and He has set His name upon me, so when I ask, it is by His name that I am known as an asker. Is it any wonder that in a timeless treatise on assurance published in 1654, that Thomas Brooks would conclude: “Usually the most praying souls are the most assured souls.”  Our assurance in His name persuades us to ask, and as we do so, our asking becomes “an inlet to assurance.” Assurance is both the premise and the product of our asking in Jesus’ Name.

  6. Appropriateness: Obviously if Jesus’ name is on it we cannot be asking for something that is not in keeping with who he is. This is a sanctifying effect on our requests.

  7. Agreement: Foundational to the agreement that invites us to ask in his name, is our agreement with everything that Jesus says about himself, and everything scripture reveals about him, in which we fully believe. We also live in agreement with his commands and obediently love him. His name is inseparable from his will so to ask in his name is to ask in agreement with his will and his word. It is only possible to ask for the same things that Jesus would ask for. We cannot make a claim for anything that Jesus would not claim. The nature of what we ask for will conform to Jesus’ nature. Our need for ourselves, or anyone else, will be His need. Asking in his name will be in agreement with his purpose and his passions. Asking “in his name” will always be “for His sake.” When we ask, in agreement with Jesus, according to the Father’s will in heaven, then we draw on an unquantifiable resource that is more than sufficient for any and every possible thing we could ever ask for.

  8. Authority: There is authority in Jesus’ name recognized by angels as well as demons. Jesus has authorized us to be his representatives, so we have assurance that we will be recognized by the Father as those who are therefore authorized ask-ers and agents of that authority.

  9. Audacity: Although this has become a pejorative term it actually has to do with boldness. Asking in the name of Jesus gives us the same boldness that Jesus himself has, given confidence in the Father, and assurance about the will and the word of God. This is the asking that precisely because it acknowledges personal limitation, has the courage to go to the limit, to ask all the way, realizing that God invites us to test Him, though he is not thereby tested!

  10. Approval: To ask in Jesus’ name is to have approval for what we request. I love that statement of Jesus in Jn. 6:27, talking of himself: “On him God has placed his seal of approval.” Jesus is approved of God, so his name carries that approval. But also, we seek his approval in our asking, looking for his “Amen” not just ours. We also need to know that what we ask for meets with his approval. We can only endorse our asking with his name if it is consistent with the character of that name.“Prayers in his name are prayers that are offered in thorough accord with all that his name stands for.” (J.N.Sanders) So important is this hallowed and reverential  relationship between the character of his name and the content of our asking, that John Calvin’s conviction was that to by-pass his name was tantamount to “a profanation of God’s name.” We cannot ask Jesus to “pass on” through his intercession anything that does not accord with his name.

It’s about association; access; approach; acceptance; assurance; appropriateness; agreement; authority; audacity and approval. It’s all about who Jesus is, what he desires, and especially what he asks for us that he wants us to ask for too. We cannot ask in our own name any more than we can do anything spiritual in our own name.

We are agreed then that to ask in Jesus’ name is not to use a magic mantra. In both Jewish and Roman tradition there were magicians who used to use names of deities (secret names of God in the case of Jewish charlatans) to invoke the power for magic. We see an example of this in Acts 19 where Jews, including the seven sons of Sceva “tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed.” (19:13) Talking of Roman practices at the time of Jesus, their prayers were often said in the name of any number of gods, in the desperate hope that one of them might come up trumps! How wonderful that we ask confidently in only one name, because “there is no other name” We are also agreed that to ask in His name is not to use a rubber stamp. Because the name of God represents the sum of His character and nature, when we ask in Jesus’ name, it is not just a vague slogan, to endorse vague and generalized non-specific prayers. We can be very specific about the very specific characteristics of Jesus that are summed up in that name, that we are asking to be applied to the very specific situation that we are asking about. (Any phrase stand out there?) Here’s to more specific asking in Jesus’ name!

Inquiringly yours,


Eternal God, the Refuge of All Your Children: Boniface (675-754 A.D.)

Eternal God,
the refuge of all Your children,
in our weakness You are our strength,
in our darkness our light,
in our sorrow our comfort and peace.
May we always live in Your presence,
and serve You in our daily lives,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Boniface (675-754 A.D.)


A Martyrs Prayer: Irenaeus of Sirmium

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: in all my trials and sufferings you have given me the strength to stand firm; in your mercy you have granted me a share of eternal glory.

— Irenaeus of Sirmium prior to his martyrdom under Diocletian c. 304 C.E.


May I Be Rich in the Riches of Your Word

Your Word is full of promises,
flowers of sweet fragrance,
fruit of refreshing flavor when culled by faith.
May I be rich in its riches,
be strong in its power,
be happy in its joy.
May I abide in its sweetness,
feast on its preciousness,
draw vigor from its manna.
Lord, increase my faith.
Valley of Vision (adapted)


A Celtic Prayer


Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.


Ten Questions on Prayer With Tim Keller

Question 1: Prayerlessness

Among Christians today, how widespread is prayerlessness — and what does that reveal about our spiritual health?
We know from empirical secular studies that everyone in our Western society today has less solitude. There is less and less of our days or our months or our weeks in which we are unplugged, when we are not listening to something or talking to somebody or texting. This is due to the pervasiveness of social media, the Internet, and various sorts of electronic devices. In the past, most people couldn’t avoid solitude. But now there isn’t any.
This is anecdotal, but everybody I talk to seems so busy, and is communicating so incessantly, and around the clock, that I do think there is more and more prayerlessness. There is less and less time where people go into a solitary place to pray. And I am sure that we are more prayerless than we have been in the past, and that says our spiritual health is in freefall.

Question 2: Praying the Psalms

Your new book is clear: a profitable prayer life is impossible without solitude, but it’s also impossible without God’s word. You explain a time in your life when you were driven by desperation to pray, and so you opened the Psalms and prayed through them. Explain how you did this and what you learned from this season.
I am glad to talk about that. I came to see that the Psalms are extremely important for prayer. Perhaps that is because I read a book some years ago by Eugene Peterson called Answering God. He makes a strong case that we only pray well if we are immersed in Scripture. We learn our prayer vocabulary the way children learn their vocabulary — that is, by getting immersed in language and then speaking it back. And he said the prayer book of the Bible is the Psalms, and our prayer life would be immeasurably enriched if we were immersed in the Psalms. So that was the first step. I realized I needed to do that, but I didn’t know how.
Then I spent a couple of years studying the Psalms. At one point, I realized that there were a fair number of the Psalms that seemed repetitious or difficult to understand, so I couldn’t use them in prayer. So I decided to work through all 150 of them. I used Derek Kidner’s little commentaries on the Psalms (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), Alec Motyer’s commentary on the Psalms (The New Bible Commentary, 21st century edition), and Michael Wilcock’s commentaries on the Psalms (Bible Speaks Today).
I worked through all 150 Psalms and wrote a small outline and a small description of what I thought the Psalm was basically about, and key verses that I thought were useful for prayer. Using nine-point font, I basically broke out all 150 Psalms on about 20 pages, which I now use in the morning when I pray.
By the way, I use the Book of Common Prayer schedule. I read Psalms in the morning and the evening, and then I pray. Sometimes I actually pray the psalm, but many times I just read the psalm and then pray. I do this morning and evening and get through all 150 Psalms every month. So that is what I learned and that is what I do now.
I love this intentional and disciplined approach. I presume over time you found Peterson’s point to be true, that this practice shaped your prayer language?
Yes. That is the reason why you don’t have to literally take the psalm and turn it into a prayer, though that can often be powerful. Just reading all the Psalms every month all the way through, and then praying after reading a psalm, changes your vocabulary, your language, your attitude.
On the one hand, the Psalms actually show you that you can be unhappy in God’s presence. The Psalms, in a sense, give you the permission to pour out your complaints in a way that we might think inappropriate, if it wasn’t there in the Scriptures. But on the other hand, the Psalms demand that you bow in the end to the sovereignty of God in a way that modern culture wouldn’t lead you to believe.
Alec Motyer said the Psalms are written by people who knew a lot less about God than we do, and loved God a lot more than we do. And by that, he meant that because they didn’t know about the cross, there are a number of places where you could say they don’t know as much about God’s saving purposes as I do now. But, he says, even though many of the psalmists don’t know God as well as we do, they loved God more than we do.

Question 3: Meditation

Throughout your new book on prayer, you warn readers about moving from Bible study to prayer, skipping over one crucial step in the middle — meditation. Why are we quick to skip right over meditation?
It’s possible that we are quick to miss this step because we live in a culture that doesn’t encourage solitude and reflection. It is also possible that evangelicalism is a little bit too shaped by the rationality of Rationalism. So our approach to the Bible sometimes is to get the meaning through the grammatical, historical exegesis, and once you have got the meaning, that’s all you need, and you don’t have to work it into your heart.
I’m concerned about approaches to reading the Bible that say: read the Bible, but don’t think about theology, just let God speak to you. I’m concerned about that, because God speaks to you in the Bible, after you do the good exegesis and you figure out what the text is saying. Martin Luther believed you need to take the truth that you have learned through good exegesis, and once you understand that, you need to learn how to warm your heart with it — get it into your heart.
And it diminishes our prayer life that our hearts are cold when we get into prayer. Without meditation, you tend to go right into petition and supplication,and you do little adoration or confession. When your heart is warm, then you start to praise God and then you confess. When your heart is cold, which it is if you just study the Bible and then jump to prayer, you are much more likely to spend your time on your prayer list and not really engage your heart.
So a key to a fruitful prayer is the conviction that the Bible was really and truly written to me personally.
Yes, it is. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to God, but the things that are revealed are revealed that you may do them.” The Bible is the part of God’s will and mind that he wants us to know. But the way you determine what he is saying in the Scriptures is through sound theological exegesis. But then, once you discern the meaning, you have to work it into your heart to make sure it does become a personal word to you and not just a concept you hold with the mind.

Question 4: Prayer Distractions

Last December on Twitter you were asked, “Why do you think young Christian adults struggle most deeply with God as a personal reality in their lives?” You replied, “Noise and distraction. It is easier to Tweet than pray!” Sadly true. And we are fickle people. For all the many benefits of digital technology, we are tempted to get distracted from prayer by tweets and our Facebook feeds and texts and emails on our phone. In a sense, we want to be distracted! You’ve already identified this as a problem earlier. So what counsel would you give to a Christian who finds himself or herself lured to distractions when they are trying to pray?
I may have just answered the question. I mean, there is no way around just simply saying: This is something that I must spend time doing.
In the book, I tell the story of how my wife used an illustration on me: If the doctor said you have a fatal condition, and unless you take this medicine every night from 11:00 to 11:15, and swallow these pills, you will be dead by morning. If that was the case, she said, you would never miss. You would never say, I was too tired, or, I didn’t get to it, or, I was watching a movie, and I didn’t leave time. You never would do that.
And so when people ask: How am I going to get to prayer? How am I going to deal with [distractions]? I say, maybe you don’t believe you need prayer. And that is a theological, spiritual problem, and there is nothing I can do except tell you to get your heart and your mind straight on that.
Having said that, once you determine you must do it, inside your prayer time, it is hard sometimes to keep from being distracted. That is where meditation helps. Martin Luther said that if you warm your heart through meditation on the Scriptures, so that your heart starts to really warm up, you go into prayer because you want to pray, because you want to praise him for what you see, andyou want to confess your sins.
Meditation on a passage of Scripture keeps me from being distracted in prayer. You say: Okay, what does it mean to me? How do I praise God for this? How do Iconfess for this? How do I petition for this? Meditation warms the heart and absorbs the mind so I am not as distracted.
So the answer is twofold. You must decide prayer is something you must do, and there is nothing I can do to help you with that. But once you are inside, meditation keeps your mind from wandering.

Question 5: Unhappy Before God

Back to being unhappy in the presence of God: In the book you talk about lamenting to God — complaining to God — for the way things are going on earth. We know God is in control of all things. So when and how should we express lament in prayer, like the Psalmist? In other words, how do good Calvinists complain?
My belief is that Calvinists do understand that though God’s decree is the final reason for everything that happens, there is a concurrence. That is, God’s will and our responsible choices fit together. God predestines things through our choices. You don’t want to flatten things so that basically you believe our efforts and our crying out and our petitions and our actions really don’t matter. According to Scripture they do. Both Don Carson’s book Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility and J.I. Packer’s classic Evangelism and the Sovereignty of Godpoint out the fact that those are two things that seem to be in tension in our mind, but they are not in God’s understanding of things.
We must not flatten one for the other, or say because it is all God’s will anyway, there is no reason to cry out. God is going to do what he wants to do. So why pray?
If you take a kind of flat Calvinism and say God is in control of all things, then all prayer would be useless. So if prayer is not useless, why would laments be useless? If asking God for your daily bread isn’t useless, why would crying out and complaining about what is going on be useless? It wouldn’t be. So you must keep these things together.
So what does this look like for you? Can you share with us a season in your life when you did complain to God in prayer? What does your lament look like?
When people die, and it sure looks like it doesn’t seem to help the kingdom at all. That goes back a long way with me. The Christian church doesn’t have great leaders growing on trees. And when something comes along and takes a leader out of commission, either through death or something else, I can struggle with that and say: God, it doesn’t look like you know what you are doing.
Now that is a horrible thing to say, but the Psalms are filled with that kind of thing. So there have been times in my life in which I have wrestled and struggled and said: You know, Lord, thy will be done, and you do know best, but honestly I am struggling. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Question 6: Entering God’s Happiness

The book is drenched in God-centered joy. On page 68, you write, “Prayer is our way of entering into the happiness of God himself.” Unpack that sentence for us.
I bring that up in the place where I am talking about Jonathan Edwards’s great work The End for Which God Created the World. Edwards’s thesis there, which, of course, John Piper has been hammering at, and promoting in his own way for decades, is that God is happy because he enjoys his own glory. That is trinitarian — the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit are glorifying each other.
But the fact is that God is infinitely happy because of who he is, and he is just happy in his own glory. When you are especially glorifying him, when you are adoring and glorifying him, that is when you, in a sense, are entering into his happiness, because you are doing what he does, and you are experiencing the same joy he has. So that is where I talk about that.

Question 7: Praying to a Father

We have passages like Luke 11:11–13 that seem to say a fruitful prayer life requires a foundational conviction that God is my Father, he is totally for me, without hesitation on his part, he is wholly for my good. Just how key is this conviction for our prayer life?
It has to be foundational or Jesus wouldn’t have started the Lord’s Prayer with the words “Our Father.” Some Bible scholar may find an exception to what I am about to say here, but I don’t think Jesus ever addressed God without calling himFather. And so it must be foundational. And I would say it is foundational because in the word Father — that you are my Father — is the gospel in miniature. If God is my boss or my employer, then even though he might be a good boss or a good employer; nevertheless, in the end, he is not unconditionally committed to me. If I act up, he may give me a break or two, but eventually my boss will terminate me.
And so if I forget that God is my Father, I may come to him in prayer in a mercenary way, saying: I am going to do this and this and this, and now you owe me this and this and this. First, that destroys the ability to adore God. You are basically in petition. Secondly, it makes prayer a way of manipulating God.
I have three sons, and growing up they were always at different places. But if one of them was acting up, if one of them was actually being a little more disobedient, a little more rebellious or something like that, as a father my heart went out to him more. It actually got me more involved with him, because I am not his boss, I am his father. And so when I know that when I call God Father I know I am coming in Jesus’s name. I am coming only because of God’s grace. I know because Jesus died for me, now God is committed to me.
By the way, to say that God is my Father and I can always know that he will hear me and I can rest and I can adore him, that doesn’t mean I can sin away. And the reason is, of course, that if you break your boss’s rules, that doesn’t hurt your boss as much as if you break your father’s rules, because that is trampling on your father’s heart.
So I would say calling God Father means, on the one hand, I’m assured of grace and assured that he is always going to hear me. So that makes my petitions stronger. But on the other hand, it also means that I have to confess my sins because this wonderful God who has done all this for me and has brought me into his family at infinite cost of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that I need to obey him because of his good grace.
So to call God Father enhances everything you do in prayer. If you don’t know that God is your Father, it flattens and reduces and thins out every prayer.

Question 8: Prayer and Self-Knowledge

Here is perhaps the thing I was least expecting to learn, and found most surprising to see in your book. You say prayer gives us an accurate knowledge of ourselves. Explain this. How does prayer lead to self-knowledge?
C.S. Lewis gives an image. If you are a proud person, you will never be able to see God, because a proud person looking down on everyone cannot see something that is above him, bigger than him. And from that image, I get that it is in God’s presence that I learn humility. I really don’t know how sinful I am unless I am in the presence of a holy God. That is what happened to Isaiah. When Isaiah is in the presence of the “Holy, holy, holy God” in Isaiah 6, what is the first thing he says? He does not say: “Oh, you are so holy.” He says, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). So right away, he senses his sin just like the brighter a light is, the more you can see the dirt on your hands.
The more beautiful a person is, the more we unbeautiful people see that we are not good looking. In other words, when you get close to superlativeness, you see your flaws. And so there is absolutely no way that you will really existentially know that you are sinner, and know what is wrong with you, unless you draw near to a holy God in prayer.
Is this why we don’t pray? We don’t want to see the dirt on us?
Yes. Prayer is humbling. For example, if I am really upset, it is hard for me to stay upset when I get in God’s presence, because I say: Lord, you are wise, and I really don’t need to be this upset. You know what you are doing. It is hard to stay on a high horse and be self-righteous and then turn around and pray. It just knocks you off your horse right away.

Question 9: Prayers That Don’t Work

In passages like James 4:3, we are told there’s a type of prayer that doesn’t work, an idol-centered prayer, asking for something with wrong motives. Can you explain this? What type of prayer doesn’t work?
When James talks about prayers in which you are asking for something selfishly or just to spend on selfish desires, I would say this would be a sub-heading under an even bigger heading.
God is not going to give you something that is bad for you, just like I, as a father, wouldn’t give my children something they ask for if they don’t realize it would not be safe and they would probably hurt themselves. J.I. Packer in his book on prayer actually says that ultimately there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. And even John Calvin says that God grants our prayer even if he does not always respond to the exact form of our request. That is a pretty amazing thing for Calvin to say.
So what Packer and Calvin are saying is that we might ask for something that is just not good for us, and God, being a good Father, tries to give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knew, or give us what we are after even though he won’t give it in the form that we ask for.
Now that is the general heading of things that are bad for us. But inside, there are some things that we are asking for with bad motives. We don’t know about it at the time. It could be selfish or proud or maybe there are things that assume an overblown assessment of our own gifts. And those things that are actually badly motivated, God particularly can’t give us because that would just fuel pride. And so I would say that is a sub-heading. It is something that is not good for us.
Now you could ask for something that is not good for you with the best of motives. You are not being selfish. It is not idol-driven. It is just unwise, and he is not going to give it to you. But then the idol-driven kinds of requests would even be worse and he just simply won’t do it.

Question 10: The New Book

Of course, there are a lot of books on prayer, and some especially good ones. So what do you think will surprise readers about your book? Or what do you think makes your book on prayer unique?
I will give you three, and I think people will probably come away with at least one of these three.
First, it is a more comprehensive book. The reason I wrote it was because there is a lot of great books on prayer, but the books on prayer either go into the theology of prayer or they go into the practice of prayer or they troubleshoot it. And I didn’t have one book I could give to people that was basically covering all the bases — a biblical view of prayer, the theology of prayer, and methods of prayer. So some people might say it’s balanced and comprehensive, but not too long.
Second, and this might be surprising, I really go deeply into John Owen, not only his book on the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer, but also his book on the grace and duty of being spiritually minded. John Owen is mystical. He really believes that you can have a faith-sight of Jesus Christ — really see the glory of God, not with your physical eyes, but with the eyes of the heart. He says your affections have to be involved. There must be deep, deep, deep joy in prayer. So he is mystical in that sense. But at the same time, he is down on Catholic mysticism and down on an awful lot of the ways in which evangelicals are trying to bring in Catholic contemplative prayer practices.
That is what is unusual about the book. Most books I know that are critical of contemplative prayer, as I am, do not turn around and try to give you a robustly Reformed and Protestant approach to affectionate prayer and meditation. Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and John Owen give you that. But many people trying to get away from the contemplative prayer practices are afraid of talking about meditation at all, and they are afraid of talking about deep experiences and encounters with God. I try to say: No, we have to get there. And these guys are good guys. But at the same time, we need to be pretty critical of a lot of the contemplative prayer practices that are being brought into the Church right now. I think that is what I think a lot of people would probably find pretty interesting.
Third, in the end the book is practical. I do find an awful lot of books are afraid of actually saying: Here is a way to actually spend 15 or 20 minutes in prayer. I try to get pretty practical at the end. I think some people would expect a Reformed, evangelical type like me to be a little bit more: Here is the exegesis, and now you go and apply it for yourself.
The book is surprisingly practical and comprehensive. You have accomplished something remarkable with this book. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God releases on November 4. Get it, read it, and perhaps even read it with a friend or a group of friends.  www.desiringgod.org 


How to Pray with Others: Tips for Group Prayer

Conversational prayer can be used anytime two or more people pray together. It differs from what we often experience in group prayer … talking in detail about our prayer needs so there is little time to pray or one long monologue prayer after another. Conversational prayer recognizes that prayer is really dialogue, and includes God from the outset. We converse in prayer not only with him but also with the others present. It is prayer in which we invite the Holy Spirit to lead us and expect his edifying work among us.

You will find a suggested focus for your group prayer throughout this study. You have the freedom, of course, to shift the focus as the Spirit is leading. When you pray as a group outside of the study, it is wise for the leader to articulate a focus or purpose of the prayer gathering, and to start the prayer time with praise to the one to whom we pray.

Getting started
  • Don’t take time to share prayer requests unless very briefly. Let them come out as you pray.
  • Agree to confidentiality if this is appropriate.

Basic guidelines for praying
  • Be brief. Limit yourself to a couple of sentences at a time, covering one thought instead of many.
  • Use everyday language.
  • Pray spontaneously instead of going around the circle.
  • Build on the prayers of others as in conversation. When a topic is complete, it will be clear by the silence. Anyone can move on to the next topic, not just the leader.
  • If a scripture comes to mind, do pray it if it seems at all related. This is often how the Holy Spirit edifies our prayers.
  • Pray loud enough so others can hear you. For those with soft voices, don’t pray with your head down.
  • Pray along silently with the one who is praying. Discipline yourself not to be thinking about what you’ll pray but to stay actively involved when you are not praying.
  • Don’t rush to fill a silence. Silences are normal, and can actually be restful.
  • If someone is uncomfortable praying aloud (very common), give them the freedom to pass and to pray along silently.
  • Don’t close each prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen. Assume that every prayer is prayed in his name. This fosters a continuity or flow in prayer until the very end, when the leader of the group will close in Jesus’ name for the entire prayer session.

Adapted from the Navigator’s Conversational Prayer guidelines for Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006.


A Prayer For Comfort and Strength

O God, the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Do not leave us comfortless,
but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us,
and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, in glory everlasting.
- The Book of Common Prayer