I want to share a revolutionary thought. It has changed my life. My whole perception of prayer has been transformed by it. As a result, my prayers and praying have become more exciting than ever.
I’ve been a Christian for well over thirty-five years. Far too many of those years were spent with a totally incorrect conception of prayer. I labored with the misapprehension that prayer was my idea, that conversation with God was initiated by me.
That idea took on the heavy baggage of believing that I had to get God’s attention and that He would listen and respond if I said the right words and led a life worthy of His condescension. Prayer became burdensome, laborious. Often I was reluctant to pray when I needed to the most because of things I’d done or said which made me feel ashamed or embarrassed by a less than perfect life. The conception that prayer was initiated by me left it up to my moods and spiritual readiness.
Then one day a few years ago, I happened on a combination of Scriptures from the Old and New Testaments which exploded the tight, constricted, and limited view of prayer I had held. They all thundered forth a truth which I desperately needed to learn and live.
Stated simply it is this: prayer starts with God. It is His idea. The desire to pray is the result of God’s greater desire to talk with us. He has something to say when we feel the urge to pray. He is the initiator. The keen desire to begin and end the day with prolonged prayer is His gift. The sense of need to pray for challenges or opportunities throughout the day is because He has wisdom and insight He wants to impart.
When we face crises and suddenly feel the urge to pray for strength, that feeling is a response to the Lord’s invasion of our minds which triggers the thought of needing help which is congealed into the desire to pray. He, not us, was the author of the longing for His help. He is the instigator, implementor, and inspiration of prayer.
The Answer Is Prepared Before We Pray
In Isaiah 65:24, listen to what the Lord Himself tells us about prayer. “It will come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”
The answer to our prayers is prepared before we pray. The desire to talk to the Lord about our needs comes from Him. Prayer begins in the mind of God, invades our minds, is formulated into a clarification of what He wants to do or give, and then is articulated in our words. He is more ready to hear than we are to pray!
This propitious promise of the Lord was made in response to an excruciating question asked by Israel, recorded in Isaiah 64:12. The people had sinned and felt the judgment of God. They were distant from Him; He had never left His people. Their sorrow had reached its height when they cried out, “Wilt thou keep silent …?” (RSV).
The response of grace was mediated through the prophet. There will come a time when not only will the Lord answer, but His answer will precede the petition, and prayer will be the response of God’s call rather than just His response to our call. This prophetic revelation of the nature of prayer is in anticipation of the messianic age when God Himself would come to reconcile and redeem His people.
The people to whom Isaiah wrote never fully appreciated the wondrous offer God made in this statement. It was only after the incarnation and Pentecost that a new creation was prepared to appropriate it. It was not until the liberation of the bondage of the will took place on Calvary and the new creatures in Christ were filled with His Spirit at Pentecost that a new Israel, the Church, was born and could accept and utilize the awesome promise the Lord had made so long before.
Thomas Carlyle once said, “Prayer is and remains a native and deep impulse of the soul of man.” That sounds lovely, but I don’t believe it. No one naturally desires to pray. Our volitional capacity is debilitated until we are loved, liberated, and regenerated by Christ.
It is after we have been transformed by the cross and filled with the Spirit that we can experience the enlivening of the “native and deep impulse” to pray.
And even after we’ve been born again, it is the Lord who motivates us to pray. It is part of His prevenient, beforehand grace. Not even the longing for God is our accomplishment. It is birthed in our souls by the Lord who created us for communion with Him.
Commenting on this promise in Isaiah, Luther said, “Our prayer pleases God because He has commanded it, made promises, and given form to our prayer. For that reason, He is pleased with our prayer, He requires it and delights in it, because He promises, commands and shapes it. … Then He says, ‘I will hear.’ It is not only guaranteed, but it is actually already obtained.”
He Is the Implementor of Prayer
At the same time I was pondering the implications of the Lord’s offer in Isaiah, he led me to rediscover another passage which deepened my understanding of that promise. I read 1 John 5:12-15 with new eyes in my heart.
The Lord comes to us as the implementor of prayer. The Apostle John asserted the secret of dynamic praying in the context of our life in Christ. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 4:12). The apostle wanted his readers in the early Church to be sure of their relationship, now and forever, in Christ.
He went on to state the reason why he had written was: “that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). For John, the Son was Immanuel, God with us, and continuing with us to guide us. His Christian life was not an anxious searching for the Lord but moment by moment response to His impinging, invading imminence.
Then in 1 John 5:14-15, John sounds the same joyous note we heard in the Isaiah promise. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
I quickly checked the Greek text to review words I had studied so often before. Now they came alive in new vitality and freshness. The words of “confidence” and “in Him” leaped off the page. Confidence is perresia in the Greek. The word means boldness. It is a compound word made up of panall, and ressiato tell, meaning feedom to speak boldly. Prayer is freedom to speak freely and boldly to the Lord who has instigated our prayer.
But then I discovered again that the English translation of the next words do not catch the exciting implication of the original Greek. The confidence we have in prayer is what “we have in Him.” Pros auton really means “toward Him” or “face-to-face” with Him. Pros is from prosopton, “face.” Prayer, for John, was face-to-face communication with Christ as a part of the eternal quality of life we have in Him which gives us boldness. Face to face, first we listen to Him intently and then we can speak with intrepidity.
And who starts the face-to-face conversation? The Lord! John makes that clear inJohn 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.” He is the prime mover in salvation, the gift of faith, and the initiation of prayer. In prayer, He makes known to us what is His will so that we can ask for what He longs to give. He calls us into His presence because He has the answer to our needs and questions. “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
Our assurance that He hears us is that He is the one who asked for the conversation. He would not call us to prayer and then refuse to listen or be inattentive to our prayer. That’s the confidence, boldness, we have: prayer is our response to His call. In the time of face-to-face communion He makes clear what it is that we are to ask for in the needs He has come to us to help us solve.
So when we do ask, it is with the confidence that we are asking for what He is prepared to release for us. “And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” We know before we ask, because the content of our asking has been guided by Him.
The same assurance had been stated by John earlier in his epistle. “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:19-23).
The basics of prayer have been given already in the commandment. The Lord reminds us of this as He calls us into prayer and then as the instigative agent of prayer, spells out the specific details of the commandment to believe and love in particular situations.
Allow me to illustrate. Recently one of my friends was in trouble. He needed my help, and yet was not sure I had time to help. So I asked one of my sons to talk to the man and offer my help. My son said to him, “My dad really wants to help and he’s willing to do the following things.” He enumerated the personal and practical assistance I wanted to give.
The intervention of someone as close to me as my son convinced the man of my real heart in the matter. When the man came to me with the request he did not have to wonder about my readiness to help. He came with the confidence of inside information of what I was willing to do. When he asked me to do exactly what I’d offered through my son, I did it immediately.
Or consider the world of negotiation in business. A man in my congregation confided that settling a difficult matter is so much easier when he knows what the other person is willing to do. If he can get someone to intercede for him to find out what the other party’s terms are, he can make an offer which he knows will be accepted. On the other hand, when he wants someone to bid at a price he is willing to accept, he gets an emissary to go to the person to disclose his willingness to sell and the price he’s open to accept. When the offer comes, he responds because it complies with his terms.
Some years ago, I needed a grant from a large foundation for a strategic program in my church. A trusted friend interceded for me. He talked to the head of the foundation and arranged for an interview for me. The man liked the idea and suggested how I should draft the proposal to be sure it was met with enthusiasm and approval by the board of directors in charge of the foundation.
When I followed his suggestions, the proposal was accepted by the foundation and the grant was made. All the guesswork was taken out of my application. The board was responsible for distribution of funds provided by a great benefactor in America. It had to distribute the funds; all I had to do was prepare something which was within the qualifications of the policies of the board. I could not have known that without the help of the head of the board who helped me ask in a way I could be confident would be accepted.
These illustrations touch only the fringes of the central truth John is seeking to communicate. Christ is the heart of God with us. He guides us in what and how to ask. When we ask in keeping with what He has revealed to us, we ask with the boldness that the answer is on the way. “We know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
The word “know,” oidamen, is used twice: If we know that He hears us, then we know that we have what He has guided us to ask. A. T. Robertson says that the Greek implies “the confidence of possession by anticipation.” The Lord gives us boldness to say what He has told us to pray!
Inspiration Comes From Him
The third passage of Scripture which confirmed for me this truth that prayer starts with God is Romans 8:26-30. This particular passage affirms that the inspiration for praying comes from Him. Again the Spirit of the Lord, the present Christ, is the initiator of the desire, content, and assurance of prayer.
Note how Paul developed the same sublime theme. “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom he justified, these He also glorified.”
The full impact of this is realized by starting at the end. We are called and appointed to belong to the Lord. His desire is for all things in our lives to work together to accomplish the plan He has for each of us. That plan is His will for us.
The word thele’ma is used in Greek for “will” in this passage. It means desire. The Lord has a desire for all of us, a purpose for us to accomplish. But He does not leave us, after we are born again, with no training or help in accomplishing this purpose of being conformed into His own image. He invades our subconscious with preconscious longings and urgings which are manifested in the conscious desire to pray, seeking His desires for us.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one. The Spirit is the reigning glorified Christ with us. This is what Paul made undeniably clear to the Galatians. “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!'” (Galatians 4:6).
The Spirit of the Son comes to us in our weaknesses. He calls us to prayer and then gives us the “groanings which cannot be uttered.” What does this mean? My understanding is that the groanings are the preconscious longings which He eventually articulates through us in helping us to put into words what He wants us to pray. It is not that the intercession is done for us, for that would deny the cooperation with the Lord for which we were created.
At first the invasion of the Spirit produces the longing to pray. Then when we feel the need to pray, but still don’t know how or what to pray, He provides that also. Because He knows our hearts and is the heart of the Lord, He brings them into congruity. His purpose is to bring our desires into alignment with His desires so we can ask for that which will be part of all things working together for good.
Recently I had a misunderstanding with a cherished friend which resulted in a broken relationship. The startling thing was that for a time I didn’t want to find a reconciliation. I chalked it up to irreconcilable differences which precluded the possibility of forgiveness and a new beginning. I was hurt and angry. My plan was to forget the whole mess.
Some weeks later, an uneasiness began to grow in me. I couldn’t shake the man out of my mind. That was followed by a mysterious desire to pray about him. When I responded to the inner urgings to pray, I noticed a difference in my attitude. As I prayed, I was given new empathy for what might have caused the man’s behavior. I was given a completely different picture of the needs inside him; and then I asked for a way to communicate acceptance and forgiveness.
As I lingered in prayer, a strategy was unfolded for what I needed to do and say. I had the deep conviction that the plan came from the Lord. Therefore when I asked for His help to accomplish His will in the matter, I could ask with boldness. The inner disquiet, like an inaudible wordless groaning, turned into clarity and was articulated in a request for strength to do what the Lord had promised He would do through me if I were willing. A new, ready will worked with my imagination to form the picture of how it would be accomplished. And that’s exactly the way it turned out. The Lord was initiator and inspiration from start to finish.
The same process occurred in a tough decision I had to make recently. I thought I knew what the Lord wanted and did not pray a lot about it. When the decision was made, I had no peace. There was a jangling static in my spirit. It lasted for days. When sleep was interrupted by the disturbance, I knew something was very wrong.
I asked the Lord to be very clear. I asked Him how to pray. A specific request was given me to make. If the disturbance was from Him I asked that it continue and grow. If the decision I had made was right and the disquiet was simply my own fear of implementing it, I was led to ask that the disturbance be taken away.
You guessed it: the static grew to unbearably high decibels. That led me to confess, “Lord, now I know I’m on the wrong track. Show me what you want me to do.” After hours of quiet listening, I reversed the hastily-made decision.
As I prayed, a new direction formed in my mind, pictured by my imagination. When I decided to follow the new direction, the jangling static inside subsided. An inner calm and confidence grew in its place. Then with holy boldness, I asked for what the Spirit had formed in my mind. When I asked I knew that I was assured of the answer. Subsequently, the decision was worked out by the Spirit’s power exactly as He detailed it in prayer.
Again, He had been the source of the disturbance, the desire to review the previous decision, the architect of the new plan, the communicator of the different direction, and instigator of a boldness to ask for what He had imparted.
Our desire to pray is the result of His call to prayer. He has something to say. Our responsibility is to listen to what He wants to give us for our problems and potentials. He will make it clear. Then we can say with boldness:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him,
seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true,
No, I was found of Thee.
From Praying With Power by Lloyd John Ogilvie. Copyright (c) 1983, Regal Books, Ventura, CA 93006. Used by permission.

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