How to Pray, by R.A. Torrey
Chapter 3: Obeying and Praying
One of the most significant verses in the Bible on prayer is 1 John 3;22. John says, “And whatsoever we ask, we shall receive of Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
What an astounding statement! John says, in so many words, that he received everything he asked for. How many of us can say this: “Whatsoever I ask I receive?” But John explains why this is so, “Because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” In other words, the one who expects God to do as he asks Him must do whatever God bids him. If we give a listening ear to all God’s commands to us, He will give a listening ear to all our petitions of him. If, on the other hand, we turn a deaf ear to His precepts, He will likely turn a deaf ear to our prayers. Herein we find the secret of much unanswered prayer. We are not listening to God’s Word, and therefore, He is not listening to our petitions.
I was once speaking to a woman who had been a professed Christian but had given it all up. I asked her why she was not a Christian any longer. She replied, because she did not believe the bible. I asked her why she did not believe the Bible.
“Because I have tried its promises and found them untrue.”
“Which promises?” I asked
“The promises about prayer.”
“Which promises about prayer?”
“Does it not say in the Bible, ‘Whatsoever ye ask believing ye shall receive?’”
“It says something nearly like that.”
“Well, I asked fully expecting to get and did not receive, so the promise failed.”
“Was the promise made to you?”
“Why, certainly, it is made to all Christians is it not?”
“No, God carefully defines who the ye’s are whose believing prayers he agrees to answer.”
I then turned her to 1 John 3:22, and read the description of those whose prayers had power with God.
“Now,” I said, “were you keeping His commandments and doing those things which are right and pleasing in His sight?”
She frankly confessed that she was not, and she soon came to see that the real difficulty was not with God’s promises but with herself. That is the reason for many unanswered prayers today: the one who offers them is not obedient.
Knowing and Doing God’s Will
If we want power in prayer, we must be earnest students of His Word to find out what His will regarding us is. Then, having found it we must do it. One unconfessed act of disobedience on our part will shut the ear of God against many petitions.
But this verse goes beyond the mere keeping of God’s commandments. John tells us that we must do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
There are many things which would please God, but which He has not specifically commanded. A true child is not content with merely doing those things which his father specifically commands him to do. He tries to know his father’s will, and if he thinks that there is anything he can do that would please his father, he does it gladly. He does so even if his father has never given him any specific order to do it. So it is with the true child of God. He does not merely ask whether certain things are commanded or certain things are forbidden. He tries to know his Father’s will in all things.
There are many Christians today who are doing things that are not pleasing to God. There are also many who neglect to do things that would be pleasing to God. When you speak to them about these things, they will confront you at once with this question, “Is there any command in the Bible not to do this thing?” If you cannot show them the verse in which their action is plainly forbidden, they think they are under no obligation whatever to give it up. But, a true child of God does not demand specific command. If we make it our desire to find out and do the things which are pleasing to God, He will make it His desire to do the things which are pleasing to us. Here again, we find the explanation of much unanswered prayer. We are not making it our desire to know what pleases our Father. Thus, our prayers remain unanswered.
Praying In Truth
Psalm 145:18 throws a great deal of light on the question of how to pray: “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth.”
That little expression in truth is worthy of further study. If you take your concordance and go through the Bible, you will find that this expression means, “In reality,” or “in sincerity.” The prayer that God answers is the prayer that is real, the prayer that asks for something that is sincerely desired.
Much of our prayer is insincere. People ask for things which they do not wish. Many women pray for the conversion of their husbands, but do not really wish their husband to be converted. They think they do, but if they knew what would be involved in the conversion of their husband, they would think again. It would necessitate an entire revolution in his manner of doing business and may consequently reduce their income, making it necessary to change their entire way of living. If they were sincere with God, the real prayer of their heart would be: “Oh God, do not convert my husband.” Women do not wish their husbands conversion at so great a cost.
May churches are praying for a revival but not really desire a revival. They think they do, for in their minds a revival means an increase of membership, o income, and of reputation among the churches. But, if they knew what a real revival meant, they would be not so eager. Revival brings the searching of hearts on the part of professed Christians, a radical transformation of individual, domestic, and social life, when the Spirit of God is poured out in reality and power. If all this were known, the real cry of the church would be: “Oh God, keep us from having a revival.”
Many a minister is praying for the filling with the Holy Spirit, yet he does not really desire it. He thinks he does, for the filling with the Spirit means new joy and power in preaching the word, a wider reputation among men, and a larger prominence in the Church of Christ. But, if he understood what a filling with the HOly Spirit really involved, he would think about its rewards. He would think more of how it would necessarily bring him into antagonism with the world, with unspiritual Christians, how it cause his name to be “cast out as evil,” and how it might necessitate his leaving a good comfortable living and going down to work in the slums, or even in some foreign land. If he understood all this, his prayer most likely would be - if he were to express the real wish of his heart - “Oh God, save me from being filled with the Holy Spirit.”
When we do come to the place where we really desire the conversion of friends at any cost, really desire the outpouring of the Holy Spirit whatever it may involve, really desire anything “in truth”, and then call upon God for it “in truth,” God is going to hear.