Q&A: Sonship Prayer
And now I have an issue that I would like to bring before you and solicit your help in gaining a full appreciation of. I think there is something I am missing. The only thing I I can think to do is lay out my understanding and then ask you to help me see where I am “off track.” I am talking about the issue of prayer. In order to “ask my question” I will bullet the foundational thinking that is presently in my mind and then at the end I will present my problem. The following is my understanding:
God is not intervening in the physical circumstances of life in this dispensation of grace
God is concerned with doing a work in our inner man whereby we are conformed to the image of His Son
God accomplishes this work in us by the effectual working of His word
God’s word is the only means by which God is accomplishing this work in our inner man
Therefore, with these things in mind:
Our prayers are not for physical blessings (healing, rain, a job, etc.) such as it was in God’s program with Israel
Our prayers are for the accomplishment of the spiritual work that God desires to do in us (i.e. strengthen us might by His Spirit in our inner man, that we might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and understanding, that we might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God, etc.)
Now, if I am correct in my thinking, God is not going to do the above examples (or any of the things contained in Paul’s prayers) apart from His word. I do not believe that God will circumvent His word to get any of those things done in us. Therefore, if I pray for the saints in our church to have the “eyes of their understanding being enlightened,” and that is only going to happen by their proper response to the doctrine, then what am I asking God to do? Am I asking Him to “magically” make it happen with them? I do not think so. If I am praying for their proper response to the doctrine, am I asking God to make them or force them to believe it? Again, I do not think that is right either. Or, am I praying that in view of them being presented with the doctrine that God will now do that which the doctrine is meant to produce? Or, to say it another way, if something has been presented to our church and they believe the doctrine, it seems unnecessary for me to pray for God to do His part, for, it seems to me that the word will do its effectual work in them regardless if I pray or not. Or, is prayer only a expressed desire that is not meant for God to actually “do” something, but a desire for believers to have the spiritual benefit of the doctrine presented? Let me lay this out one more way. If I am praying for someone to be saved, what am I asking God to do? I am not asking Him to override their will and force them to be saved. I am not asking him to supernaturally manipulate some preacher to go by and see them. I do not think I am asking to do His part to save them if they trust Christ as their all-sufficient Savior, for He will always do that regardless of my prayer. So what is my prayer asking to be done? Or, is it more of reflection of a desire for something? I have some other ideas about this and I have put a lot of time in on this, so please do not think I am asking you to do the work for me without any effort on my part. In a way, it seems as though the way to legitimately pray for something for someone is after we have provided the word for them to respond to. In other words, after I have talked to someone in the hospital about the sufferings of this present time, then I really can pray for them to “suffer with Him” and endure those sufferings of this present time to the glory of God. That kind of makes sense to me, but that still does not tell me what was going to happen differently if I did not pray from that which would happen if I did. I believe prayer is critical to our life as sons. I do pray. I talk to my heavenly Father about all kinds of things. But when I am asking Him for something for someone else, I believe I either am missing something or I have misunderstood something that has led me in the wrong direction. You see, even in this issue of prayer, I do not think I should just ask God to help me understand prayer and then sit back and wait for some kind of epiphany. That seems very subjective to me. And it avoids the word as the conduit for how the Spirit will instruct me. If I pray for understanding and then go to the word, what is God going to do for me then, that He would not have done for me if I had not prayed but just gone straight to word to look for my answer? Do you see my question? What is the critical difference prayer makes to what God is doing? I believe I have missed something because what I have laid out here would give someone the opening to question why we should pray in the first place. It kind of makes prayer look non-essential and I know that is not a correct understanding. I have studied much on my own on this. I have listened to dozens of hours of grace preachers teaching on prayer. But I cannot find an answer to what I am asking. Can you shed some light on what I am missing, overlooking or just plain have wrong? Thank you for this.
I have written rather extensively about the issue of prayer, so I would direct you to More Than Conquerors and The Fulness of Christ (particularly the chapters titled "Prayer Warrior" and "Epaphroditus: A Philippian Case Study". Okay, let's get down to business. Your very question is an evidence of the effectual working of God's word in you concerning the issue of prayer, and a manifestation of prayer. As you grow in your understanding you are learning what you should pray for as ye ought. This means asking questions about what prayer is (and is not) for, what it is (and is not) supposed to accomplish and how it is (and is not) supposed to accomplish it. When these are fully grasped, you will then understand what a powerful tool and weapon of sanctification that sonship prayer is. This is what the intercessory ministry of the Spirit is about. As we are "led of the Spirit" through the Pauline wisdom curriculum, he will remedy these deficiencies so that as we are educated we will know what we should pray for as we ought, and why. You have grasped that you should pray in connection with edification and not miraculous healing. But prayer is more than just a dispensational exercise. The question is what is prayer and what is it for? Equally important is what it is not and what it is not for. Namely, it is not an occultic incantation. While I understand what you mean when you speak of God not intervening (and insofar as you are distinguishing it from particular physical miraculous aspects and workings in Israel's program you are correct), I would challenge slightly the way you are thinking as I think it is limiting your ability to see what God is in fact doing, not just what he isn't. God is not intervening as he does in Israel's program, but he is intervening. When this modification in your thinking concerning the first component listed below has been made, I believe the rest of the components will fall naturally into place. It is not simply that our prayers are for the "spiritual" work, for the work may very well involve physical things. It is understanding that if the work (whatever it is) is going to be accomplished, it is going to be done by the members of his body as the word effectually works in them. The effectual working is not for its own sake. It is a "working" and is manifested in the manifold "good works" of our sonship faith for the edifying of the body and the meeting of its many needs.
When Paul prayed concerning the eyes of their understanding it was in connection with writing to them. It wasn't with respect to throwing an occultic incantation out there which would automatically result in it happening. When you pray that for the saints in your assembly, this is not to make God do something. Nor is it simply to stop with those limited words. This is part of the burden of your heart and ministry mission. It is giving focus, purpose and perspective and directing your labor. The question is, what does it require of me? What steps do I need to take to facilitate this. Prayer calls upon us, and others, to act. Praying that someone be saved is better than praying that they be healed. But if that is all you do then the result will be the same in both cases. Prayer is not an occultic incantation. Prayer is about the meditation of your heart concerning individuals and your labor in connection with those prayers as the word effectually works in you. Stated another way, intelligent prayer in not asking God to save someone. This is pious in its intention no doubt, but it is vain and is "prayer" in name only. It is not intelligent and will accomplish nothing on its own. Godly prayer is about the doctrinally intelligent meditation of your heart concerning seeing that person saved, and the actions you will take accordingly.
Prayer is not about moving God. It is about moving both ourselves and others through targeted wisdom. Prayer is not about bringing things to God's attention for action. It is about bringing things to the attention of ourselves and others for action. It is used as a meditation of the heart where we deal with the doctrine and direct ourselves and others through prayer. When we pray, we are not to expect God to take action. We are to examine what action we are to take to facilitate those ends in accordance with the relevant doctrine. This is where we get to put to full use the full panoply of our wisdom life involving its justice, judgment and equity. Simply put, prayer is what activates the doctrine in our life and puts what's in our heart to work. This involves exposing what is, and is not, in our heart, concerning our ignorance, bitterness, etc. and brings us to the point of taking corrective action when necessary to fill in the gaps and deficiencies in our "ought" prayer life. We must first have the basics of godly program wisdom. With that, we can then identify the proper godly needs. With that, we can then identify the proper godly decisions and actions to meet those needs. In other words, prayer must be intelligent. If it is not "led of the Spirit" and therefore not "in the Spirit" in accordance with the terms of our program, then it is ignorant and often foolish. Depending on where we are in our edification this is not necessarily wrong, but is something that is supposed to be remedied by the intercessory ministry of the Spirit in his leading. If you are "led of the Spirit" then your prayer life should reflect that.
A perfect example of sonship prayer is seen with Paul and Philemon. Paul says "But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you". We know what this is not. But what then is it? There are two answers that would be consistent with sonship prayer:
1.) Paul is calling upon the resources and labor of Philemon using his influence and connections in the government and Ceasar's household to free him. While this is certainly possible, it doesn't seem to be in keeping with the tenor of what Paul has been writing to Philemon. It also doesn't seem to explain his confidence and assurance.
2.) My understanding is that he is referring to Onesimus. Paul has repeatedly told Philemon to receive him "as myself" and put it on "mine account" (12,15,17,20). He has confidence concerning Philemon's obedience to "do more than I say". Paul ends by completely driving it prayerfully home by no longer imploring Philemon to "receive" him "as himself", but with confidence is assured (and skillfully assuring Philemon), that "he" will in fact be "given", which is what Paul is doing in returning him to Philemon. In light of what Paul has written to him, he expects him to utilize godly sonship prayer concerning the matters of his heart and in light of God's wisdom and justice make a godly sonship judgment decision with the most excellent equity.
Attributed to God: All of these "workings" in the members of the body are attributed to God. It is God that "worketh" in us. This is how he "had mercy" on Epaphroditus (Philip 2:27) and would "give mercy" to the house of Onesiphorus at Paul's direction (2 Tim. 1:16). Likewise with comfort, consolation, etc. As the word effectually works in us producing comfort and consolation, and then further works as we provide that same comfort and consolation for others, it is God at work.
Simply put, God is at work today. He is at work through his body. There are many "good works" he wants accomplished through his body. This work will not be done apart from his body. This is why our burden is the "effectual working" in the "measure" of "every part". It is in the light of that knowledge and understanding that we pray and use it as a tool and weapon of sanctification. We are to be ever prayerful concerning the work of the ministry and all its ramifications for our lives. Sonship prayer is both a producer and product of sonship labor (I Cor. 3:9).
In other words, this email is an "answer" to your prayer bro. God did not miraculously direct me to you, or you to me. I have studied to be equipped. As the word effectually works in me, through godly wisdom, I am able to offer and answer prayer. You wisely identified certain things through prayer. You then took certain action in light of it. So did I. Hopefully, through prayer, you will be able to do the same for other members of the body. Together, we can rejoice with God as his "workmanship" (Eph. 2:10) where he works in us "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philip. 2:13).
Seated in heavenly places with Him,