What is prayer in the grace dispensation?
This below is an excerpt from ‘How Prayer Changes in the Primary Dispensations’
I can sum it up in this short phrase. In our economy, we walk by faith and not by sight! (2 Cor.5:7)
Our dispensation operates in a spiritual capacity. We have not received a covenant of sight (signs) from God. It is Jews in the kingdom to whom signs were promised, not us today. God's relationship with us in this grace age is by faith and our relationship with God is one of spirit. Paul tells us that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph.1:3), and our inheritance is not earthly, but heavenly. (2 Corinthians 5:1; Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18).
To learn about prayer in this grace dispensation, let me give you some insights into how prayer developed in Paul's ministry. Paul had to develop his prayer life as he learned to navigate through the details of the new grace dispensation.
Paul's early prayer attitude:
2 Cor.12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
The thorn in Paul's flesh was not (as many believe) his poor eyesight as mentioned in Gal.4:15, but rather, the thorn were the Jewish messengers of Satan, to buffet him. The messengers were the religious Jews who incessantly undermined his work in the grace gospel. These men spread lies and deceit causing new believers in Paul's gospel to doubt their faith and draw back into the law, as clearly depicted in Galatians. Also, Paul had to constantly qualify himself as an apostle and one called of God for this task. The thorn that was buffeting Paul was a religious sect of his own people under the law. It is this very issue that brings us to the attitude Paul had to prayer in his early ministry. This passage continues where Paul says,
2 Cor.12:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
Paul let his requests be known to God 3 times! "Lord, please stop Satan's buffeting. Please deliver me from this thorn in the flesh." What do we learn here? We know that the religious Jews did not stop in their quest to destroy Paul's grace work. Paul had to endure this thorn all the way through his ministry. Paul's prayers did not change the physical circumstances surrounding him. They also did not change God's attitude and purpose. Instead, Paul's prayers changed Paul. Paul learned that in the grace dispensation, it was not about him and his needs. Prayer was not about the me, my and self. Prayer was not about the physical circumstances as much as it was about his heart, his relationship with God and his trust in the omnipotence of God in his circumstances. Paul finally learned that grace was all sufficient in his weakness and that the change in his inner man, his spirit, was more important than the needs of the physical circumstances. Prayer in the grace economy is spiritual! It affects first and foremost the spiritual purposes, then and only sometimes will it manifest in natural according to God's purposes.
One must remember that Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee of Pharisees and one deeply rooted in the law program. Paul had grown up expecting signs as the covenant promises of God. Due to this, and during his early days, Paul had placed much confidence in the flesh. Let's see Paul's attitude during this time,
Phil.3:4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
As a Pharisee before his conversion, all that Paul achieved was in his own strength and for his glory. Due to this mindset in his early ministry after his conversion, Paul's prayers ebbed naturally to requests, asking God to do this and do that, to take away the problems and ease his pains. However, as Paul advanced in his ministry, his prayers started to change him. His prayers became less selfish and less concerned about the physical circumstances and more developed towards the spiritual issues of the heart. Now Paul says, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Cor.12:9-10)
Paul's prayers after full revelation of grace:
Paul's prayers, as we too must learn and develop for ourselves today in this grace age, would mature to the point of trusting that God will take care of our physical circumstances so that we can focus our prayers on the spiritual issues of the gospel and grace. Our prayers should not concern ourselves, but others, and be prayed in line with the will of God and in thankfulness. Let me show you how Paul's prayers adapted as he grew in grace and knowledge of the cross work of Christ and the spiritual blessings connected to it. This short list should provide you with a good picture of how to pray in this grace dispensation.
- Pray without ceasing (1 Th.5:17; Rom.1:9; Eph.1:15-16).
- Prayer is not just time spent in the inner room and in intercession. Prayer is in your heart. It is a constant worship and praise. It is a constant thanks and communication with God in every area and activity in your day. It is a close connection with God and the desire to obey the guidance and will of the Father as He communicates back to you in your heart and through circumstances.
- Being thankful (Eph.1:16; Eph.5:20; Eph.6:18; 1 Thes.5:18; Col.2:7; Col.3:17; Col.4:2; 1 Tim.2:1)
- Prayer should be based on an attitude of thankfulness. A thankful attitude helps to come to God in humility and also removes focus from oneself and onto others.
- Col.3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
- Phil.4:6 Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
- Be careful for nothing...do not be concerned, anxious, troubled about anything
- In all things be thankful
- Let your request be known. These requests can be anything on your heart. It is not a matter of selfish requests but rather a way to get things off your chest, so to speak.
- Phil.4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.....
- "keep hearts and minds", means to stop the whirling, anxiousness, or busyness of the mind. To keep your hearts and minds is a way of saying, to find peace. To lay it off in the hands of God.
- Notice what Paul DOES NOT pray!
- He does not pray for God to come down and change all things for his benefit or good. It is not about the me, or I, or self, or about physical issues. The focus of prayer in the grace economy is about others; that they might be changed by the gospel, that they might come to the knowledge of the scriptures (rightly divided), and that they will find the hope of their calling, having their eyes enlightened to truth. That they might know the will of God and be living sacrifices to His desires.
A summary of prayer in the grace age
Having laid the groundwork on prayer from other dispensations and through the progressive ministry of Paul, let me now discuss plainly and openly with you that which I have learned concerning prayer, from a dispensational view, from a practical and spiritual perspective, and from a personal experience regarding prayer.
When one studies the majority of the prayers of Paul throughout his epistles, one must take into account that his prayers (as documented) were directed to the Body of Christ, prayed from the position and authority of the apostle for this body. These prayers in essence display the heart and passion that Paul had for the church, the body of Christ. One could classify the prayers, documented in his epistles, as having a more 'formal' and 'overseer' type of format. With this said, I can be quite sure that there were prayers that Paul prayed that were NOT documented in his epistles. Paul, who wrote that we are to pray always (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and present our requests to God (Philippians 4:6-7), would have prayed countless times for personal reasons, interceding for things, making petition for needs, giving thanks in praise and worship. These prayers were not as formal as those mentioned above, so we need to understand that there are additional dimensions to prayer that we can glean from Paul's teachings.
Let's take a closer look at both his formal, overseer type prayers and then I'll end with my thoughts on how Paul may have prayed in a personal capacity.
Examples of Paul's 'Formal' Prayers
Eph.1:15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
Eph.3:14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Col.1:3 We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
If we were to follow the format of Paul's 'formal' prayers, we would be focused on the body of Christ, on spreading of the gospel and reaching others with it, and on spiritual matters. Using the template of Paul's 'formal' documented prayers in his epistles, prayer today would not be about getting something from God. Prayer would have nothing to do with getting things for your benefit or desires or comforts. Prayer also would have nothing to do with physical needs or wants. When it comes to our daily living, it is up to the grace believer to manage his own circumstances and affairs of life, to work for his living and to live life in grace on a daily basis, managing it to the best of his ability. In all things he should trust God and believe in God's love, omnipotence and grace. In Paul's formal prayer template, the heart of prayer in the grace dispensation is spiritual, not physical. The focus of prayer is towards others; their salvation, their knowledge in the rightly divided word and their spiritual walk and commission. The formal prayer format puts focus on the building of the Body of Christ, being productive in the things of God's heavenly kingdom and with being examples of Christ in this world.
Notice that, in general, there is nothing in these formal prayers about the self or about physical needs or about protection or about personal wealth or health. Everything in these prayers is of a spiritual nature that either petition for people to hear and be saved by the grace gospel, or prayers that they grow in strength and edification in the Word of God, or that they might find their hope and calling so as to be faithful servants of the gospel and of the Body of Christ. Paul's formal prayers are all to do with who we are in Christ, growing in the knowledge of Christ, increasing in the work of Christ, and being thankful for what Christ has done for us. There is no room in these prayers for self as we should place our trust in the Lord that He knows our personal needs and He will provide us the grace and the help as He wills, without us having to place the focus on our circumstances or desires.
The prayers that we read above are Paul's prayers to the saints in the churches he established. These are prayers that he captured in his letters that was to be read out in front of the congregation. These prayers were Paul's heart and love for the Body of Christ, and although they are his heart and soul, they do have a more formal purpose.
The contents of Paul's, and our personal prayers in this grace age
If this was the nature of Paul's formal prayers, how might Paul have prayed in more personal terms? Let me provide you with some thoughts in this following supposition,
Paul prayed continuously, and I'm sure that MANY of his personal prayers, which are not in his letters, were of a private nature and relationship with God. So, similarly, let me end this post by saying that prayer can also be of an informal and more personal format too. If we turn prayer inward to our own heart, instead of towards the Body of Christ and others, prayer becomes a very personal communication between you and the Lord. It becomes a petition. It becomes worship and connection. It becomes a heart to heart with your Maker and Saviour. In these prayers, there is nothing that you cannot ask God for in private. Personal prayer provides you the ability to pour your heart out to God, to get things off your chest, to call out to Him for your needs and leave your fears at His feet. The Lord will hear you and He has the power and omnipotence to answer you in your needs and wants. However, we must remember that in this dispensation, the Lord's focus is not so much on the temporal, earthly, physical scenarios as it is on the spiritual. Unlike the prophecy/law dispensation, our dispensation is not focused as much on earthly things. God, in His wisdom can do as He pleases and can accommodate your prayers, but never let it come to the point that your circumstances or desires become more important than your trust in His will and ultimate purpose in this age. Remember that in Christ, you are blessed with EVERY SPIRITUAL blessing in the heavenly places. This is the purpose of God and the nature of our grace age. The Lord has already provided for us the greatest abundance and blessings we can EVER dream of, and these will manifest in a GREAT way and in due time when we inherit the heavens, but now, while we are in this earthly sojourn, we need to trust that He has our backs and knows what we need without us having to churn out the personal petitions. Let your prayers always have a tone of thankfulness. Let them also be based in love for others instead of focused on oneself and one's needs. Let your prayer be a form of worship to God for who He is and what He means to you. Let it be founded in desires to achieve His objectives and fulfil His redemption plan. Amen.