I am not an expert on prayer. You can read about my background by clicking on “About St. John Studies”. However, the book that I write about is written by an author who purports to be an expert on prayer. I have enjoyed digging into the book and maybe a few people have gotten something from a comment or two that I have made. The book is dense in the description of what constitutes a good prayer life. It may be good to warn you today; my comments about the “prayer-obedience cycle” may be some of the most important I share from W. Bingham Hunter’s book, The God Who Hears.”
Over and over in my Christian life, I have heard the idea that we must learn to “pray in God’s will.” If we can learn to do that, we will have an effective prayer life. Hunter says that learning to pray in God’s will is a cycle and it is based on a relationship the supplicant has with our Lord and Savior.
Basically, the ability to pray in God’s will is based on the extent that a person can obey God.
To begin, he says that every Christian has relationship cycles with other Christians and they are good. Growth can come from those relationships but not like the growth we can experience with a close relationship with God. Second, he states that praying in God’s will is not a “system.” We should never think of praying in God’s will as exchanging our obedience to God for His answers to our prayers: God is not our prayer answer vending machine.
The cycle that Hunter speaks of is manifest in those Christians who delight in the Lord which means they have His Word in their hearts; they meditate on His Word and they seek to follow His statutes. What happens when Christians delight in God? Slowly but surely, the desires of their hearts become more in tune with God’s desires. God’s Word overpowers their own concerns. They want to submit to God.
Finally, no one should think that prayer is a way to avoid work. God has given all of us talents and special abilities and God intends for us to use them. People who pray righteous prayers don’t turn to God to avoid what they can do themselves. God can and will act if a situation is beyond the capability of an “obedient child” but don’t “expect Him to do in response to prayer what He has equipped them [His children] to do themselves” [Hunter, 104].
The “prayer-obedience” cycle stems from obedience. If you obey God, you will read His divinely inspired guidebook. If you read it, you will do what that Word says. If you truly obey God, you will use the talents He has bestowed on you, making your mark on the world in God’s name.
Hunter uses words from Luke 6:46 to close his thought on the important idea of prayer effectiveness: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
That is an excellent question.
What is your answer?