Livin’ on a prayer
In 1986, Bon Jovi’s Living on A Prayer was a #1 single on the charts and sold over 8 million copies worldwide. In the twitterless 80’s world, that generated some decent hype. Many of us who pirated music back then patiently sat by our ghetto blasters with one finger on pause, hoping the DJ wouldn’t talk through the intro or the outtro of the song and ruin our ‘Awesome Mix’ tape.
Here’s a dose of 80’s nostalgia …
The hairspray use of 80’s rockers may have contributed significantly to the demise of the ozone. Anyhoo …. speaking of living on prayer ….
Jesus said some bold things about prayer. He used some mountain-moving hyperbole to get His point across to the disciples…
“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:21-22
When it comes to understanding prayer and trying to make sense of these verses, we can fall into some ‘prayer ditches’ if we disregard the context surrounding why Jesus spoke the way He did.
The fatalism ditch
This is the ditch where one mistakes the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as Greek fatalism. “No point in praying, God is sovereign anyways. What will be, will be.” In this ditch, we seem to dismiss Christ’s direct invitation to pray boldly.
The presumption ditch
This is the ditch where one interprets these verses as a sovereignty hand-off through the vehicle of prayer. Simply find a verse that seems related to what we need or want, disregard the context, and then tell God what to do … in Jesus name. Jesus said “whatever you ask for in prayer” didn’t He?
A restful way forward
Let’s get some context for why Jesus said what He said about prayer, why it’s good news for our prayer and how we can find rest in prayer.
Jesus had just returned to the temple. Unless Israel repented, they would be like the fig tree that Jesus had cursed on His way to the temple, which was what prompted this teaching on prayer. The context for these verses on prayer is repentance to saving faith…
Jesus was travelling from Bethany to Jerusalem and faced the temple – on that mountain.
Jesus (the greater temple) flipped tables the day before – on that mountain.
Jesus (the ultimate sacrifice) would retire the sacrificial system – on that mountain.
Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, which happened In 70AD by Rome – on that mountain
The “mountain” being cast into the sea, given this immediate context, seems to be an obstacle in the way of repentance to saving faith in Christ alone.
Jesus is presupposing that we accept that God’s will is higher and better than ours. Thus the ‘faith’ in our asking. He’s not presupposing that our will is greater than God’s, and as such we can ask for anything under the sun in faith and God will grant us that.
He laid that foundation for prayer in Matt 6 (Lord’s prayer), built on that foundation by teaching more on prayer in Matt 17 and builds upon the foundation of the Lord’s prayer again here in Matthew 21.
The thread that runs through everything Jesus taught on prayer is that we can pray boldly for God’s purposes to be accomplished – and they will be.
Jesus never gave autonomous prayer power to His disciples, He invited them to pray for, and trust in, God’s use of His redemptive power.
The “whatever we ask for in prayer” (v.22) presupposes that the one doing the praying wants God’s purposes to be accomplished. This is really good news. God gives us the faith He requires for prayer, the peace we need in prayer and the assurance He perfectly answers our prayer.
We’re not observers in God’s plans, neither are we the ones who drive God’s plans. We are invited to be active instruments in His plans … so Jesus tells us to pray boldly because the One we are petitioning is really good at removing mountains.
Mountain moving prayer takes faith. *gasp* Breathe, friend because I have more good news.
We don’t self-generate faith. Faith is a gift that the Spirit creates us.
God has given us means of grace to give this faith to us. The preaching of Christ, worship, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the meditation on His word. These things are bread that nourish us in God, not barter we use to negotiate with God.
The Spirit inside us deepens our conviction that we have a Saviour who prays for us and a Heavenly Father who loves us.
The faith that God gives enables us to pray the words “Your will be done” and actually believe that’s a good thing.
Fatalism numbs us to prayer and presumption makes us anxious in prayer.
Fatalism doesn’t believe God answers prayer and therefore the fatalist does not pray. Fatalism is not what Christ taught.
Presumption attempts to control God through prayer and presumes to know His will, declaring it be done. Presumption is not what Christ taught.
We can be bold in prayer because God is wiser, more loving and more generous than we are. His answers to our prayers, though we may not understand them, are perfect. That is His promise – ask in faith (desiring His will) and it will be done.
God is on the other side of everything you are going through in your life right now. He’s working it out for the good of your salvation and for His glory. He knows what you need before you pray and He invites you to pray because while prayer changes things – prayer changes you.
Church, you can pray boldly, be in peace and be thankful in prayer …
… not because your requests are perfect, but because the answer from your loving Heavenly Father will be.
You can listen to the Christ Alone series (Matthew 21) where Jesus teaches on prayer here.