The Truth and the Lie Concerning Prayer
“I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.”
God does this searching of man’s heart through his instructions. He has that right by virtue of creation. When God says to do things in a certain way, we ought to respect his right by our obedience. Notice, God not only searches, he also tests our minds. Apart from exercising his authority over us, how else would our minds be tested?
We recognize this in the raising of our own children. We give them instructions, expecting an obedient response. We test and search their minds in this manner. We then do as God does to us…depending upon their reaction, we give to them “according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds.” We were taught this from God.
God’s desire is to bless rather than punish. One obstacle stands between us and these spiritual blessings (i.e., forgiveness). That obstacle is Satan. Satan also tests our minds. He wants the opposite of what God wants. In his craftiness, Satan seeks to confuse us about God’s instructions. This is especially seen in the matter of how to respond to God’s instructions. This points to the relevance of accurate preaching.
Common messages preached on man’s response are: “Accept him personally.” “Receive him into your heart.” “Call upon his name.” While all of these reflect true aspects of man’s response, it must be noted that all of these instructions are generic in content. We need to consider the specifics of our response. This is where the scriptures will unite us. Specifically, how do you “accept?” How do you “receive?” How do you “call?”
The answer lies in what the Savior told the apostles to preach on these matters. Their preaching answers the “how” with specifics. These specifics explain how to accept, receive, and call upon his name. The book of Acts contains their preaching. The first time salvation was preached in Jesus’ name was in chapter 2. When they asked, “What shall we do?” what answer was given? It is in v. 38. Did Peter say pray? Look at every example in the book of Acts and you will never find that praying was the instruction given to alien sinners. [Note: Remember Jesus’ teaching on the new birth (John 3.3-5) did not apply while he was yet hanging on the cross.]
What, then, is the truth and what is the lie about the role of prayer? Prayer is a most-needed resource. However, in preaching it can be cleverly used to mislead about how to accept, receive, and call upon the Lord. People with good intentions, who are under conviction of their guilt, but know not what to do or how to respond, can be deceived as to the correct response. That is the reality. Such occurs when those people are preached that by prayer you accept, receive, and call.
Prayer is, and always has been, a resource only for those in convenient relationship with God. A sinner must enter that covenant relationship by means of the new birth (John 3.3-5). The book of Acts provides examples of those who underwent this new birth (cf. those on Pentecost, the Samaritans, the eunuch, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and the Corinthians). Remember from John 9, in the story of a sinner who was healed by Jesus, that this sinner recognized that a prayer was not heard by one who would not obey. In v. 31, this sinner says, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does his will, he hears him.”
Prayer is said to be an abomination by one who refuses to obey (Proverbs 28.90. Prayer is not the means by which you are “born again,” but a privilege and blessing for those who have obeyed God. A prayer for forgiveness is in order for one who transgresses the covenant. The sin must first be confessed, then the prayer, asking for forgiveness is in order. But such is not the case for one who has never been in a covenant relationship (cf. 1 John 1.6-9). This passage is not describing an alien sinner, but a child of God who walks in darkness, while claiming to have fellowship with God. Prayer is wrongfully preached as the means by which a sinner accepts, receives, and calls upon the Lord. Later, when they hear the truth about how accepting, receiving, and calling should be done, that person is confused and often becomes angry and prejudiced against the bearer of truth. This is the danger of false doctrine. Satan is shrewd, cleverly working his will in the hearts of men. The truth is evil spoken of by those with “smooth words and fair speeches” who thus deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16.17-18).
If you are one who was told to pray to “accept Jesus,” to “receive him into your heart,” or to “call upon the name of the Lord,” I ask you only one thing. Look at the examples of those from the book of Acts and ask yourself why none of them was ever told to pray by any of the apostles of the Savior. Compare what you were told with what the Lord’s apostles preached. Do as they taught, and you can be certain of your salvation. Continue in their teachings (Acts 2.42). Then your prayers will avail.