The Prayer-Obedience Relationship - page 1

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From the Winter 2008 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Prayer-Obedience Relationship

by W. Bingham Hunter, Ph.D.
Vice President and Academic Dean, Phoenix Seminary

esus taught that obedience and answered prayer are related: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7, NASB). “Abiding in Christ” is sometimes explained in esoteric terms. But abiding is not mystical. It’s primarily volitional: a matter of morality and ethics. Abiding is explained in 1 John 3:24: “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him” (NASB). Hence, the Apostle says: “we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:21-22).1
  Anyone observing a spoiled child understands that a truly loving Father is not likely to encourage disobedience in His children by answering prayer—as if He felt, “My commandments aren’t all that important anyway. It really doesn’t matter whether you take Me seriously.” Because He knows what is best for them, God may often say, “No,” to the plea of the selfish and rebellious. But what exactly is the relationship between obedient Christian behavior and our Heavenly Father’s positive response to our prayers? Specifically, why does scripture say we receive because we obey?
  An idea appealing to many is that prayer operates in such a way that one pays or qualifies for answers with a currency called good deeds. Such a “this-for-that” arrangement makes God, prayer, and obedience into a mechanism—a “system” that can be operated (read: manipulated) by the petitioner. God becomes a divine vending machine, into which we must place so many units of obedience before pulling the lever (through prayer) that causes answers to drop into our hands. This conception of prayer is both widespread and wrong. God’s creatures can never place Him under obligation. Paul, quoting Job, asks: “Who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” (Romans 11:35, NASB). The clay simply cannot control the hand of the Potter who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). 1 John 5:14 takes us to the bottom line: “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” Contrary to much popular Christian writing, teaching and thinking: Prayer is not the way we get God to give us what we want.2 Prayer is a means God uses to give us what He knows we need. The passion of Christians who want to be more effective in prayer must therefore be learning how to pray according to God’s will.

The Relationship Between Obedience and Praying According to God’s Will

  One of the least known insights about Christian prayer is the relationship God established between His children’s obedience and His answers to their prayers. The link between obedience and answered prayer is explained by the Lord Jesus in John 14-16. The living heart of it is found in 14:21, 22:

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (NIV)

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