Praying for what God has promised
The Scriptures teach us to pray for the things that God has promised.
We often pray for things that we are unsure of. We often pray for health problems or for people to obtain employment or for a president to be of a certain political persuasions. This is good. We should continue to do this, for God tells us to (e.g. James 5:16; Luke 1:13). Instead of being anxious, we should let our requests be made known unto God (Phil 4:5). Even here, however, we should remember that our Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask him (Matt 6:8). God
But prayer is not simply a matter of asking God to do things that we are uncertain of. We should also pray in faith asking him to fulfill his word to us. Prayer is in part our confession of faith that our sovereign, Almighty God is able and will do all that he wills. Prayer is not simply a way of bending history through God’s providential intervention, but it is also a declaration of hope in God and a humble acknowledgment that we do not deserve any of the grace God has promised that we will receive.
Here are just a few examples. In Acts 8:59, Stephen prays that the Lord Jesus will receive his Spirit. We have every reason to believe that Stephen knew that promise preached by Peter in Acts 2:38-39, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” He knew that by turning to Jesus Christ, he had received forgiveness of sins. Since he was among the body of those who devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42; cf. 6:3), he had confidence in the message preached by Peter in Acts 4:12, that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Yet Stephen in humble faith asked God to fulfill his word to him through Christ as the stones came hurling toward him.
Consider another example. The future kingdom of Jesus Christ is a very sure thing. Jesus came to fulfill all the promises of God in the Old Testament, and he told us that “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:17). Yet, Jesus tells us to pray, “Your kingdom come.” I have no doubt that the instruction to lift this particular request in prayer is multifaceted and embedded with many implications. Yet it certainly is a prayer that the kingdom of God, planned before the foundation of the world and promised to God’s people for millennia, will be consummated. John models this kind of prayer for the consummation of the kingdom at the coming of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 22:20: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Once again, praying for Christ’s kingdom to come (cf. Luke 18:1-8) is not only a confident confession to God of our hope in that kingdom, but it also a humble acknowledgment that we do not deserve to inherit it, and that it is only by the grace of Christ that we can enter it (1 Cor 6:9-11).
When Paul prayed that churches would grow in their love and faith in our Lord Jesus, he was praying for something he believed God would do. He prays that the Philippians’ love would abound, that they would have knowledge and discernment, and that they approve what is excellent for the glory of God (Phil 1:9-11). Yet he did so being confident “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). He prayed for them remembering that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13). Once again, Paul is confident in the grace of Jesus Christ and the promise to all believers that God is working in them to continue in that grace. His prayers show that. At the same time, by praying, he shows that God is a God who keeps his Word. It’s almost as if Paul takes nothing from God for granted while simultaneously having steely confidence that God’s promises are never broken.
The Psalms are filled with such requests for God to fulfill what he has promised. David prays that the theocratic anointing of the Holy Spirit will not be removed from him in accordance with God’s promise in Psa 51:11. The Psalms often implore God to judge the wicked in accordance with his justice (Psa 55:9-11). In Psalm 85:4-5 & 7, the psalmist cries out to God, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? … Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Likewise, in Psalm 43:1-2, the Psalmist prays for what he knows God will do, if not in this life, at some point in the future: “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me?” You can taste the hope in the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 126:4, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!” The two verses surrounding verse 4 show the ground of the great hope behind this prayer: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. . . . Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.”
The point of this post is not simply to point out this pattern in Scripture (one I suppose that many of my readers have noticed themselves), but to also encourage us to take up God’s promises and in hope pray them back to him in the name of Jesus Christ.
About Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).