In the last post we dove deep into Psalm 119:33-40, looking at it through the lense of petitionary prayer. Today, we will focus on two patterns of prayer: those conditional upon the approval of God and those discretionary prayers of faith. Where did David’s prayers from Psalm 119:33-40 land? Where do ours? What about faith? What are the challenges here? Let’s review David’s passage before we move on.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law
And keep it with all my heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies
And not to dishonest gain.
Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,
And revive me in Your ways.
Establish Your word to Your servant,
As that which produces reverence for You.
Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your ordinances are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me through Your righteousness.
What is Petitionary Prayer?
C.S. Lewis, in an address to the Oxford Clerical Society, presented his observation of these two patterns of petitionary prayer. He called them the A pattern and the B Pattern. He defined them as follows:
The A pattern is a prayer conditional upon the approval of God. This is what we find in Jesus’s own Gethsemane prayer, “ABBA! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me;” Here’s the line. “yet not what I will, but what You will.” This prayer was still very much a prayer of faith, make no mistake. However, the object of that faith was God Himself, and even God’s will, it was simply not a faith in Jesus’ personal request.
In 1 John 5:15, John says, “And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”
So, did Jesus pray this way in Gethsemane? It doesn’t appear so. Jesus’s words seem to strongly imply that He did not believe that the cup would be removed.
I would argue that Peter walking on water is another example of this kind of petition. Peter asked Jesus to invite him onto the water before he would step out (Matthew 14:28-29). We can almost hear Peter saying, “If you invite me if it’s your will, then I will do it.” Well, in Peter’s case, it was, and he did. What follows, in Peters sinking, actually has nothing to do with answered or unanswered prayer. This has to do with standing firm in King Jesus, enduring to the end, another reality to which we are all called.
And while we’re looking at this pattern, I just want to say, wouldn’t it be great if this were the only form of petitionary prayer? I mean, if all our prayers were just “your will be done,” then life would (at least in some way) be easy. Either God’s going to do it, or He’s not, right? However, one of the big challenges I see with this (as the only type of petitionary prayer) is that it seems to devolve into apathy and laziness necessarily. If all that is ever going to happen is that which is already God’s will, then why pray at all? Many who view prayer this way will claim faith in the “giver and not the gift,” and that’s great, but we simply can’t ignore the very large amount of scripture to the contrary.Wouldn’t it be great if THY WILL BE DONE was the only form of petitionary prayer? I mean, if all our prayers were that way, then life would (at least in some way) be easy. Click To Tweet
This is the B pattern of prayer, which we must contend with. What Lewis called the B pattern is a prayer of faith in which the thing asked for is believed to be guaranteed (contingent only upon the faith of the individual). In other words, God already approves of these things; we just need to ask. I referenced James 1:5-8 before, here’s what James wrote,
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,”
These prayers have as their object the result, the gift rather than the giver. The passages we have to wrestle with in this view include Matthew 8:13; 9:22; 9:28-29; 15:28; John 14:12-15; 1 John 5:15 and finally Matthew 21:21-22. These texts galvanize this kind of request as a genuine challenge to some people’s theology. For example in Matthew 21 Jesus Himself says,
“Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” – Matthew 21:21-22
There’s the challenge. Is this true? Did Jesus really mean whatever (or all that) we ask we will receive? This presented a challenge for C.S. Lewis, and I think you’ll understand when you hear his words. Lewis said:
“Dare we say that when God promises ‘You shall have what you ask’ He secretly means ‘You shall have it if you ask for something I wish to give you’? What should we think of an earthly father who promised to give his son whatever he chose for his birthday and, when the boy asked for a bicycle, gave him an arithmetic book? Of course, the arithmetic book may be better for the son than the bicycle, and a robust faith may manage to believe so. That is not where the difficulty, the sense of cruel mockery lies. The boy is tempted, not to complain that the bicycle was denied, but that the promise of ‘anything he chose’ was (ever) made. So (it is) with us.”
As you can see, these two forms of prayer are vital for us to understand. They’re a topic that I want to spend not just this week but next week too.
You see, like many of you, I have struggled with how to pray—sometimes falling into the camp of apathy. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. With this often comes the “prayerful disclaimer” after just about every prayer, “if it’s your will, Lord.” Which leaves most of us wondering what’s the point.
At other times I’m tempted to pray for things that I feel or want to be the universal promises of God. Sadly, all that I’m really doing is attempting to beat my faith to get in line with my imagination. Of course when they don’t turn up, I jump on the old hamster wheel, trying to increase the level in my faith-o-meter until I can get what I want. This is a non-biblical and worthless pursuit.Like you, I've struggled with how to pray—sometimes falling into apathy. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. With this comes the prayerful disclaimer of IF IT'S GOD'D WILL, which leaves most of us wondering what’s the point. Click To Tweet
Wrapping it Up
Petitionary prayer is no simple activity. Apart from God retaining a discretionary power to grant or refuse a petition in certain circumstances, prayer would be too dangerous for us to wield. (We’re going to talk about a very important maturity component of this next week.) But apart from God actually granting prayers by faith, the scriptures would be contradictory (which we know they are not).
In the end, there are certain things that we might (pray for) according to fixed rules (pattern B), but there are others that require more than general rules (pattern A).Petitionary prayer is no simple activity. Apart from God retaining a discretionary power to grant or refuse a petition in certain circumstances, prayer would be too dangerous for us to wield. Click To Tweet
This week as you come to God in prayer, I’d like you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Which type of prayer (A or B) is fitting for your circumstance? If you don’t know, search the scriptures and see what they say.
- How can you pray by faith in either situation?
- Do I have unwavering faith?
- Am I prepared in advance for refusal?
- Should we pray “if it’s God’s will?”
- Is this a fake humility or a false spirituality or neither?
Next week, we will return to David’s list and ask which pattern we see? Do we see both? And how do we know the difference? Until then, have you struggled with knowing how to pray? I’d love to talk it through with you. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.