“Thoughts From Hawaii” #3: The Virtue of Prayer

I have often been taken to wonder by Jesus’ words in John 14:14, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  To which I want to respond: Really?  This verse alone teaches us to be careful about context, as a dear friend has admonished me.  If one is not careful, this can become a prosperity gospel verse, and it is not!  And, one more apt to orthodoxy must also be careful, for while they do not adhere to the prosperity gospel, the reaction of bitter disappointment to the Lord’s contrary answers to their prayers does taste a bit like prosperity soup.

The context, then, does help in this case (as it always does).  The immediate context (14:12-14), and that which follows (the rest of 14, and at least chapter 15) sets this verse in the frame of good works, that is, of faith in Christ working through love by the Holy Spirit (14:15-31) for the glory of God the Father (15:1-8, specifically 8).  Ask of Christ to do such works, and He will do it!  The context determines the “anything” of the verse; it is no less dramatic however – Christ promises to do “it”, whatever that kind of work is . . . every time!  And thus, we should be all the more fervent in our prayers and not less.

And for the sake of the title, I would add the question: upon what does the virtue of prayer depend?  Answer: It cannot be that the virtue of prayer depends upon whether or not the prayer is answered, or upon the effectiveness of it.  For a man may pray, and pray fervently, and yet, God – answering according to His will – may do something entirely different, or nothing at all (and this, of course, will be the best since it is God’s will).  So there will be times when, like Paul, we pray to have something removed – for example – but God will answer differently than is requested, albeit sufficiently and perfectly.  And therefore, the virtue of prayer cannot be in the results of prayer.  And here, as a matter of practical wisdom, one must be warned; for as I also am tempted to make the virtue of prayer depend on the results of prayer, having fallen into the trappings of a cultural blindspot that makes value and results synonymous, so I warn you to avoid the pitfall at all costs; lest, when God answers differently than is requested, you begin to grown in despair and wonder if in fact He hears you, which the Bible testifies to everywhere that He does insofar as you are His communing child.  In a culture of pragmatism and results, results, results, the virtue of prayer does not depend upon result.

No, the virtue of prayer is the Godward prayer itself – humbly offered to God, fervent and sincere, through Christ; remember, the context determined that the “anything” is “faith abiding in Christ working through love by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God,” or something along those lines of godly deeds.  One of those faithful works must include prayer.  Thus, while the virtue of prayer cannot be in the result of it (for God will always do what He does, which is not always what we have asked Him to do), yet there is prayer that is virtuous in itself precisely because Christ lives to do it.  The virtue of prayer, then, is the closeness of its relationship to the prayer that is permeated in faith, dependent upon the Spirit, aimed at glorifying God the Father that Christ lives to accomplish.  This prayer is, in itself, virtuous.  God cares that we pray, faithfully and fervently.  So let us not assign any value to a prayer on the basis of whether it is or is not answered according to our own will; rather, let us seek to pray biblically – once more, for godly employments, in faith, by the Spirit, for the glory of God.  This sort of prayer is, indeed, virtuous and valuable of itself, also accomplishing anything by Christ Jesus.  So continue to pray, knowing that it pleases our Father; and so I send you, Away to God, dear brothers and sisters, away to thy knees!


2 Responses

  1. This is great: “the reaction of bitter disappointment to the Lord’s contrary answers to their prayers does taste a bit like prosperity soup”. O, how I couldn’t agree more, how the very ones who have a disdain for the “health and wealth” doctrines practice those very things.

  2. Just a note to say this writing addresses quite a bit of the thoughts I’ve pondered lately after hearing a sermon on the topic. I completely agree that the participation with God in prayer is where value lies. The response or not is God’s choice and not our own. We must pay attention, for the unexpected is often our answer to recognize, learn from, and accept as God’s blessing.

    You’re a masterful writer and servant! I love you!

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