Lesson 12: Requests and Petitions
Note: This is a Sunday School lesson by Scott Carr, Jr. based on ch. 14 in Dr. Tim Keller's book, "Prayer".
* The third kind of prayer is the most common. Even those who do not believe in God at some point utter a prayer for help. Hence, it is easier to abuse. It is very easy to take advantage of this prayer and ask God for things we hold above Him in our affections. Starting prayers with worship resets our priorities and repentance leads us to see where our desires are disordered. Once those things have been done, we come to God with our requests.
* James 4:2-3 There are two errors to this kind of prayer. The first is that we are arrogant in our requests. The second is that we are too timid. In prayer, we enter into God’s work in the world, an occupation with no room for timidity.
* Which error are you more prone to?
* The Power of Prayer:
* James 5:16
* Calvin: “It was a notable event for God to put heaven, in some sense, under the control of Elijah’s prayers, to be obedient to his requests. By his prayers, Elijah kept heaven shut for two years and a half. Then he opened it, and made it suddenly pour with a great rain, from which we may see the miraculous power of prayer.” (Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
* God is in control over all creation. We cannot do anything to take away His control. In His graciousness, He has allowed the prayers of His people to have effect in history. How He does this is a mystery.
* Nehemiah 4; Isaiah 38.
* These passages confront us with two facts that we ourselves cannot fully reconcile. First, our prayers matter. Second, God’s plan is sovereign and infallible. Though the relationship between the two of these truths is a mystery to us, they have great ramifications for our prayer life, practically. If we only believed in God’s sovereignty, we would be passive and do nothing. If our actions changed God’s plan, we would have reason to be concerned. Since both are true, we have incentive to effort, and can trust God’s plan.
* Which extreme are you more prone to?
* How We Should Ask:
* James 4:2-3 and our own experience tell us there is a wrong way to ask. So we need to learn what is the right way.
* WSC A9: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”
* Not only can we ask prayers out of a sense of wrong motivation, but we can also be wellintentioned, but mistaken. We are to ask for those things that are agreeable to His will. We don’t perfectly know what those are, so we come with our requests and an openness for God to do something different.
* Application (J. I. Packer):
1) When we bring our requests to God, give reasons why you believe this to be a good thing. In the past, this has been called “arguing with God”, not in the sense of trying to change God’s mind, but in giving reasons for our requests. It involves seeking how the request fits what we know of God’s character and His will for the world. As a result, theology plays an important role in our prayers. Those who have done this before find that they know better how to revise their requests after doing this.
2) Once we have argued our requests before God, we then explicitly ask that His will be done, rather than ours because His is better. If we find it difficult to say this at the end of a request, we have a telltale sign that we are dealing with an idol of our heats and need a time of repentance. If we can say it, we will find our hearts calmed. It is an indication of confident trust in God that sets our worries to rest. God hears all of our requests and answers them with what is best. There is a safety in this. If what we ask for is not what is best for us, God will not give it to us. The Spirit prayers for us as we should be praying, helping us.
3) We should consider what we would do if God granted our requests. This forces us to ask about our motives, desires, sins, and weaknesses.
* Purposes of Petitionary Prayer:
1) External-God works in the world through our prayers (James 5:16-18; Luke 18:7-8).
2) Internal-Through this kind of prayer, God works peace and rest in us.
* See Psalm 4; 5.
* What We Should Ask For:
1) Ordinary Petitions-This category includes the needs of ourselves and others, spiritually, emotionally, and materially.
2) Lament-This is wrestling with God in the face of suffering to try and understand; most common prayer in the psalter. This kind of prayer is missing in many modern books on prayer because the Church has an assumption that Christians should always be joyful, but this can be a form of legalism. We also live in a society who treats religion as a way to get things from God, a system in which lament doesn’t make sense.
3) Waiting-Luke 18:1-8. We are to pray with patience and perseverance. He has good reasons for having us wait for answers to our prayers that we should trust.
* Jesus’ Unanswered Prayer:
* Some times, God turns down prayers that were important to us. How can we be confident to pray again?
* David had many disappointing answers to prayers, but he persevered. He saw the many times God saved him.
* As Christians living after the first advent of Christ, we can be sure we will be heard because on one day, God did not answer Jesus. Christ prayed that the cup of suffering be taken from Him, but the request was turned down. On the cross, He called out that He had been forsaken by God. He was treated as we deserve to be treated, a part of which is that our prayers do not deserve to be heard. Because Jesus was treated the way we deserve, we are treated the way He deserves. Our prayers can be heard the way Jesus’ deserve to be heard.
* Luke 11:11-13; No parent wants joy for their child as much as our Father wants joy for us. Jesus has paid the price of our adoption. We know God will answer our prayers because of the work of Christ.
1) Read ch. 15 of Prayer.
2) Add a time of petitionary prayer to your daily devotions.