The Holy Spirit, the Word, and Prayer
True spirituality and prayer go together. There is no real spiritual life without vigorous prayer. After the need for repentance, perhaps one of the greatest and most urgent needs is a revival of our prayer life. The good news is that even in our prayers we are not left without the help of the Holy Spirit. Prayer draws us closer to God; it lifts us up into His presence. The prayer of faith enables us to live in response to the abundance of God’s promises. Our lives are transformed when we claim the blessings God has promised in His Word.
God is more than able to supply all of our needs according to His riches (Phil. 4:19). True prayer and authentic spirituality always have God at the center of our attention, and both are rooted in His Written Word. We should not be basing our spiritual lives on our unsteady experience and subjective feelings, nor focusing our prayers on suspect contemplative and meditative practices. Rather, our spirituality has to be guided by the Bible and to follow God’s will as revealed in His Word. It is the Holy Spirit who awakens in us a desire to seek God’s presence in prayer and to lift up one another in our supplications.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 11.
Even though clothed in pious cloaks, many prayers are guided by questionable motives. We might pray that someone’s life be spared because we do not like living alone. We might pray for success in God’s work because we are playing an important role in it. We might pray for the conversion of a person because then our life will be easier. Often our prayers center more on what we want rather than on what God wants. Prayer that is pleasing to God has a different focus.
To seek God first and to enjoy His companionship is more important than anything else He might give to us. If God comes first in our lives, we will want to do what He wants; His thoughts will shape our desires. Once God is the center of prayer, we will begin to pray from His perspective. We will start to see our whole lives through His eyes. This perspective ennobles prayer.
God is deeply interested in us. He longs to be part of all aspects of our lives: our worries, our fears, our wishes, our hopes, our desires, our successes, our joys, our failures—everything. We can talk about these things with Him as with a good friend. And we look at all of it through His eyes.
Prayer does not change God; it changes us, because we are brought into the life-changing presence of God.
“Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.”—Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 93.
What a powerful quote! It captures so much of the reality of what prayer does to us and for us. Prayer alone makes us open receptacles for the grace, the power, and the presence of God in our lives. Who hasn’t at some point experienced the reality of how prayer can draw us closer to God?
Asking reveals our desire and expresses our trust in God. Through prayer we approach Him, from whom we seek support and help. When we ask God, we also publicly give Him permission to become active in our behalf. God wants to be asked. He desires that we bring to Him our prayer requests. If we do not ask Him, we will not receive the gifts He has promised. Jesus said: “ ‘Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened’ ” (Luke 11:9, 10, NKJV).
We truly can ask God for anything. No request is too small or unimportant for Him. No request is so big that God cannot handle it. He is omnipotent. By faith we may claim every promise in the Bible and receive the promised gifts from His hands according to His will (2 Cor. 1:20).
Yet, there are some conditions to be met in order to receive what we are asking. If we are not willing to submit fully to God, and if our requests reflect only our selfish and sinful desires, God will not answer our prayers (see Isa. 59:1, 2). An important condition for the fulfillment of our prayers is our willingness to follow God’s will and to be obedient. “All His [God’s] gifts are promised on condition of obedience.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 145. Knowing that God is generous, we can come boldly to Him. “The Lord is not glorified by the tame supplications which show that nothing is expected. He desires every one who believes, to approach the throne of grace with earnestness and assurance.”—Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, Aug. 7, 1901.
Asking alone is not enough. There is a second important aspect that needs to be present in our prayers: faith. The book of Hebrews tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Heb. 11:6, NASB). When we kneel down before God and open the Bible to any of the more than three thousand promises and then ask God, with the simplicity of a small child, to fulfill His promises in our behalf, we have to believe that He will do what is best for us in His time.
If we come to God, we must believe that He exists and that He will reward those who seek Him. Effectual prayer must be accompanied by a belief not only that God can answer, but that He will do so according to His divine will.
In the Bible, believing is related to trusting. We can trust someone only when we know the other person to be trustworthy. When we entertain doubts that God will keep His promises, we waver and cannot expect that we will receive anything from Him. To believe means to take God at His word. It means that we depend on God and His promises, even when our feelings tell us otherwise. For “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, NASB). Faith clings to God’s promises because we trust what He has said (Heb. 11:11). Faith knows that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18, NASB). God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Faith knows that for God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). Faith opens the door to the divine treasure-house. Through the Holy Spirit, God moves the hearts of men and women to trust the Word of God, and through faith, our prayers move the arm of omnipotence.
All faith is useless if we do not claim the things for which we have prayed.
The third aspect of Bible prayer is reception. After asking God and believing His promises, we need to claim what He has promised. We claim God’s promise by returning thanks to God that we have received it. Thus, the promises are applied to our hearts. Ellen G. White said that “for any gift He has promised, we may ask; then we are to believe that we receive, and return thanks to God that we have received.” —Education, p. 258.
In Luke 8:11, Jesus compares the Word of God to a seed. In the same way that the whole apple tree is contained in an apple seed, the gift of God is contained in His promises. When we claim the promise and thank God for it, we already possess the gift He has promised. We receive the promised gift by faith even before we might feel or see it. The example of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 illustrates that Jesus prayed in this way. Jesus knew exactly what God’s will in this situation was. John 11:11 tells us that He was willing to do God’s will and that He was obedient. In John 11:39–41, we read that Jesus thanked the Father in advance that He would resurrect Lazarus, even though Lazarus was still in the grave. When Jesus had thanked God, He did receive the fulfillment of His request. As God’s children we are to live on God’s promises, not on His explanations. Even though we can’t explain everything, we can trust His promises.
“The Lord says, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble.’ Ps. 50:15. He invites us to present to Him our perplexities and necessities, and our need of divine help. He bids us be instant in prayer. As soon as difficulties arise, we are to offer to Him our sincere, earnest petitions. By our importunate prayers we give evidence of our strong confidence in God. The sense of our need leads us to pray earnestly, and our heavenly Father is moved by our supplications.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 172.
There are many things we can pray for, but there is one great need in this time of peril in which we live: it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the greatest gift that Jesus could give. In giving the Holy Spirit, God could not have given His people more. To this gift nothing could be added (after all, what could be added to Divinity Himself ?). Through Him and His work in our lives, all our needs are supplied. The blessing of the Holy Spirit will bring in its train all other blessings.
There is, however, one major obstacle—and that is ourselves, because we are often unprepared to receive the Holy Spirit.
As in the days of the New Testament church, we have to realize that we first need to repent and surrender our lives fully to Jesus. Yes, it is only the prompting of the Holy Spirit that even allows us to do that.
However, when we respond to His prompting, then repentance for sin is the firstfruit of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In humility and faith, we need to confess our sins so that He can cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We need to understand just how fallen we are and how much we need God and His grace in our lives. Without Him, we are lost, dead in our sins, and doomed to eternal loss.
Thus, in earnest prayer, we will fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to give us His Holy Spirit. Then all we have to do is to ask God, and He will gladly grant us His Spirit. “The heavenly Parent is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children.”—Ellen G. White, Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 284.
As with other spiritual things, the gift of the Holy Spirit is never an end in itself. He is given to elevate Jesus, to reproduce Christ’s character in our lives, and to enable us to serve others in building up the body of Christ, the church. So any worship practice, public or private, that elevates the Spirit above Jesus Christ is wrong. For it is through Jesus that we “have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18, NASB).
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Asking to Give,” pp. 139–149, in Christ’s Object Lessons. For a helpful collection of encouraging promises, read Ellen G. White, God Has Promised (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1982).
Without prayer, we would have no spiritual power in our lives, because prayer connects us to the Source of that power. Without prayer we would have no vital link with God. We would become empty vessels who might have “a form of godliness” but would be devoid of the power and promise of the gifts from on high. And, no question, as we have seen all this week—we have been given wonderful promises about God’s answering prayer. But what about the times when we don’t get what we pray for, even when we have sought to meet all the conditions to the best of our God-given ability? “But be not discouraged if your prayers do not seem to obtain an immediate answer. The Lord sees that prayer is often mixed with earthliness. Men pray for that which will gratify their selfish desires, and the Lord does not fulfill their requests in the way which they expect. He takes them through tests and trials, He brings them through humiliations, until they see more clearly what their necessities are. He does not give to men those things which will gratify a debased appetite and which will prove an injury to the human agent and make him a dishonor to God. He does not give men that which will gratify their ambition and work simply for self-exaltation. When we come to God we must be submissive and contrite of heart, subordinating everything to His sacred will.”—Ellen G. White, In Heavenly Places, p. 89.