“ ‘O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer Your servant is praying before You day and night…’ ” (Nehemiah 1:5-6, NIV)

Effective prayer avoids doctrinal error and employs doctrinal truth.

A new believer was learning to pray aloud in a small group. There were the usual pauses, the hesitancy, and the sometimes clumsy effort to say what he desired. As he closed, the group struggled to hold back laughter: ‘And God, please take care of Yourself because if anything happens to You, we’re all sunk.’

Then there was the child who was about to move to a distant city. The night before the departure he closed his prayer with, ‘I guess this is good-bye, God, because we’re moving to Cleveland.’

More nature believers smile at the startling wrongness of doctrine in such prayers. Such doctrinal errors from children and new believers are excusable. Continuing doctrinal error in prayer, however, becomes a more serious offense.

What tragedy we court when we fail to appreciate the power and authority available through careful doctrinal praying. Simply defined, that means prayer that appropriates and applies revealed truth. Authority and power stand waiting to be unleashed against the engulfing tides of evil that confront us. What glory and praise come to God when the completed work of our Lord Jesus Christ is claimed as the victory to accomplish God’s will in ministry.

We don’t lack examples of how not to pray. The shallow redundancy of the typical church prayer meeting remains a spiritual embarrassment. Young people know the scene only too well. It was blushingly humorous to hear one of them, gifted at mimicry, repeat, with exact tonal inflections, the prayers of adults who attend weekly prayer meetings.

It’s true that even poor praying is better than no praying. We certainly do not want to tamper with the quantity of prayer, but we must urge an upgrading of its quality. And as our quality improves, our desire for extended prayer will increase.

A number of years ago, I interviewed a prospective staff member who had considerable gifts. Though he had other larger opportunities, he felt God wanted him to join our staff. When I asked why, he said, ‘Because I want to learn to pray.’ I was humbled to hear that he had learned of our staff’s extended prayer sessions. ‘In my training,’ he said, ‘I learned how to teach the Word, I learned to lead, I learned to preach, but I didn’t learn to pray. I know I must know how to pray to serve God well.’

What a noble ambition. Growing in grace means that we are always learning to do better. Proficiency in the use of our spiritual gifts needs to grow. That means that the teacher is to become a better teacher, the singer a more excellent artist, and the preacher a more profound and polished communicator.

Yet, undergirding all true growth in grace must be our learning to pray with quality and quantity. It means that we grow beyond ‘foxhole’ praying. We must work to rid ourselves of our favorite clichés and vain repetitions. Many times they are unbiblical. ‘Lord, be with us’ or ‘Lord, don’t forsake us’ we plead, when He has promised, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Heb 13:5, NIV).

Our praying must also be more than a habitual repeating of our gift lists. The mealtime niceties that we repeat as we say grace are good and proper, but they accomplish little for the greater work of our Lord. There is a need to reach for growth through doctrinal praying.

A careful study of the Bible’s great prayers reveals a remarkable sameness of ingredients necessary for improving our doctrinal praying. Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 deserves our study and emulation.

Prayer Borne Out of Need

As it is today, the urgent need for effective prayer in Nehemiah’s day was obvious. Despite living in comfort in his honored position in a heathen king’s court, Nehemiah maintained loyalty toward God and love for the Hebrew people and Jerusalem. His brother, Hanani, and others brought him word from Jerusalem that ‘those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire’ (Neh 1:3).

Instantly the need gripped Nehemiah. Capacity to appreciate need will always remain an important ingredient of effective prayer. Believers who see hurting people always pray better. Today, broken walls and burned gates are allowing enemies to ravage hurting victims just as it happened in Nehemiah’s time. But where do we start to make a difference when God grants us spiritual insight into the need?

If we’re wise, we’ll do as Nehemiah. ‘When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven’ (Neh. 1:4).

Those ‘some days’ of prayer stretched from December to April. Nehemiah prayed four long months before developing plans to change the situation. His prayer’s effectiveness was not the emotion, but the prolonged focus upon doctrinal truth.

Appreciating God’s Person

‘O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands’ (Neh. 1:5). Though brief, these words communicate the importance of a proper doctrinal approach to God in prayer. Most of the example prayers recorded in the Bible relate the importance of how we address God. We are responsible to define whom we are addressing.

Nehemiah prayed, ‘O Lord, God of heaven.’ Verse 4 tells us that he ‘prayed before the God of heaven.’ When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He also carefully instructed them to pray, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ (Matt. 6:9, NASB).

Such careful definition not only honors our Heavenly Father, but also protects us from the danger of Satan’s diverting our prayers to himself.

A distressed man recently told me that often when he prays he receives a prompting, ‘Pray to Satan. Pray to Satan.’ He was reassured when I showed him that Satan even tried to get our Lord to do that at the temptation. His experience was direct, but our enemy is usually more subtle. The Word warns us that Satan is also a father (Jn. 8:44) and is a ‘god of this age’ (2 Cor. 4:4, NIV). If we simply address our Heavenly Father as ‘God’ or ‘Father,’ Satan is not above trying to receive such prayers to himself.

God is not just ‘a god.’ We worship and pray to ‘the Lord, the God of heaven.’ He is our loving Heavenly Father.’ He is ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ We pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ All such titles clearly define the One to whom we are praying.

Nehemiah dwelt upon God’s greatness and awesomeness. He dwelt upon His immutable trust­worthiness to keep ‘His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands.’ We must study the Word of God to increase our understanding of the nature and wonder of our Heavenly Father. And then we must address Him with what we’ve learned. Our prayers will take on a quality that brings Him glory and praise.

Sharing God’s Burden

‘I sat down and wept … I mourned and fasted and prayed … Hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night’ (Neh. 1:4, 6). Doctrinal praying includes getting in touch with true heart of God for His people. More than human emotion is being expressed here. Nehemiah was feeling God’s love for a hurting, sin-defiled people who needed God.

A spiritual sage, who much influenced my call to preach, told me as I began preparing for ministry: ‘Whenever and wherever you read the Word of God, seek to see and feel the great heartbeat of God’s love for a lost world.’ What beautiful doctrinal truth he expressed. As Nehemiah wept, mourned, and prayed day and night to the God of heaven, he was in touch with the burden of God’s love later expressed at Calvary.

One realizes that such burden cannot be cranked up by our cleverness. This burden is shared through God’s Word as the Holy Spirit graciously works in our hearts. Our awareness of God’s burden is an important starting point in doctrinal prayer. God’s caring love was revealed at its deepest level on the cross. To enter into it in prayer is a noble privilege.

Appropriating God’s Truth

‘Remember the instruction You gave Your servant Moses, saying, “if you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me and obey My commands, then even your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for My Name.’

‘They are Your servants and Your people, whom You redeemed by Your great strength and Your mighty hand’ (Neh. 1:8-10).

The heart of doctrinal praying involves appropriating and rightly dividing the Word of God. We appropriate victories by praying to God the promises of His Word and the accomplishments of His finished work. We greatly honor God when we do this. We unleash a powerful force against all that stands in the way of God’s will when we pray this way. It’s the victory God Himself has promised and won for us in His redemptive program. All we do is address that victory upon given situations where it applies.

Nehemiah was careful to use the promises that applied directly to the situation about which he was preying. Using the Word, he both acknowledged the reason for the condition and the sure remedy. His personal repentance and faithful obedience became the springboard of hope for God to do what He promised.

Nehemiah’s example offers exciting application for all believers who live in this age of grace. Large sections of Paul’s epistles explain what we have in our union with Christ. Each aspect of the finished work of Christ has won our victory. Our oneness with Christ in His incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification is our victory.

This oneness should never be passively assumed. Like Nehemiah, we need to use such great truth appropriately, through doctrinal praying. God’s will and plan in any situation can be expected because of the victory Christ won through His redemptive work. When we appropriate that truth, it serves as a major factor in answered prayer.

Expecting Sovereign Response

‘O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of this Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who delight in revering Your name. Give Your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man’ (Neh. 1:11).

Doctrinal praying does not end with verbalizing God’s revealed truth. It includes confidently expecting God’s sovereign response and direct intervention.

What Nehemiah expected was indeed phenomenal. He expected God to so touch the heart of the heathen Artaxerxes that the king would allow him to lead an expeditionary force to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He expected God to arouse the Jewish people to action. He was confident that God would overcome all of the powerful interests that wanted to keep the status quo. He dared to believe that a safe, responsible government would be established in Jerusalem.

God intends doctrinal praying to be just that bold. It will take us beyond a vague hope for improvement. Doctrinal prayer envisions God’s accomplished will and knows why it will come. Christ’s victory will not be denied.

The church of Jesus Christ desperately needs a host of faithful believers who will focus doctrinal prayer upon the church and our needy world. The provision is sufficient to meet even the deepest challenge.

COMMON ERRORS IN PRAYER

Although the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and perfects our prayers (Rom. 6:26-27), believers should carefully articulate proper, doctrinal wording.

Questionable

Better

‘Lord, be with us.’

‘Loving Heavenly Father, we welcome and honor Your presence with us.’

‘Lord, please don’t forsake us in our need.’

‘In our distress we praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, that You’ve promised never to leave us nor forsake us.’

‘Lord, give us peace in this time of testing and turmoil.’

‘Thank You, Lord, that You are our peace. By Your Spirit and by prayer may we experience Your promised peace that transcends understanding.’

‘Lord, grant us joy and rejoicing so that we may be a happy people.’

‘We praise You, Lord, that the fruit of the Spirit is joy. Help us to walk in the Spirit, so that we will experience the joy of the Lord as our strength.’

‘Lord, help me to crucify my old sin nature.’

‘By faith I claim and thank You for the death of my old self that took place with Christ in His death. I affirm that I am dead with Christ to the rule of my old nature.’

‘Lord, I pray that the things I do will glorify You.’

‘Lord, I yield myself and offer all of my members to You that You may bring glory to Your name through me.’

‘Lord, help me to be a better servant of Yours.’

‘Lord, I deliberately yield myself to You and the Holy Spirit that You may make me all You desire for me to be.’

‘Lord, I beg You to forgive me for my sin of (name of sin).’

‘Lord, I see that I’ve sinned greatly by (name of sin). I confess this sin and claim the cleansing and forgiveness You provide me through the blood of Christ.’

‘Lord, I promise You that I’ll never fail You again by sinning this way again.’

‘Lord, I know that in my own strength I’ll continue to fail You. By faith I reach out for Your grace and strength that will enable me to walk above sin.’

 

Mark I. Bubeck, Moody Monthly

 

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