23 June 2009

What prayer is and isn't [requested classic re-post]

by Dan Phillips

[From September of 2006 comes this (slightly-edited) post, requested by Jude (who also caught my attention with a string of non-top-40 Chicago titles off of their third album). The post swings a Louisville slugger at a couple of evangelidom's most treasured traditional fictions, as both part of the original meta and a couple of attempted rebuttals on other blogs attest. Enjoy. Or whatever verb fits.]

The minefield that is prayer. I can't offhand think of one specific doctrine which is more tradition-laden, nor buried under sentimentality, than that of prayer.

For that very reason, it's a risky topic. Step in any direction, and you land on someone's toes. Worse, diverge from the "party line," and it's as if you're insulting Mom. Only a fool, or someone with nothing to lose, would knowingly poke a stick at that particular venerated bovine. (Say... why are you looking at me like that?)

Christianoid notions. Common Christian coinage describes prayer as a conversation, declares that "there is power in prayer," makes prayer out to be the be-all and end-all of Christian living. Prayer is "the greatest power on earth," we're told. Is this Scriptural thinking?

Think of Frank Peretti's Darkness books. I read one or two. I thought them imaginative and fast-moving, but neither great theology nor great literature.

In his imagination, Peretti pulls the curtain aside on the spiritual battle that Scripture describes. He shows demons and angels alike in action, fabricates their dialogue, fantasizes their attempts to ruin or protect human beings.

Here's what sticks in my mind. What do you suppose strikes terror into Peretti's demons? When does everything start to turn around, for the demons' defeat and the saints' victory? It's when the saints pray. Nothing scares fallen angels, apparently, like praying Christians.

Now, it strikes me that all of this is backwards at worst, sideways at best.

Biblical teaching. What is prayer, in the Bible? It's one thing, and one thing only: prayer is talking to God. Period. That's it.

Prayer might be talking-to-God in the form of praise, petition, confession, supplication, exclamation, or a host of other forms. It might be talking to God while happy (Psalm 43:4), sad (Psalm 42:9), mad (Psalm 10:15), hurried (Nehemiah 2:4), guilty (Psalm 51:1), busy and distracted (Nehemiah 4:9), or near death (Acts 7:59-60). But it all boils down to that one irreducible: prayer is what you say to God.

No arguments so far? Great. Now fasten your seatbelts, and consider this:
  • Prayer is not a dialogue.
  • Prayer is not a conversation.
  • Prayer has no intrinsic power, whatever.
"What?! Heresy! Get the comfy chair!"

Oh? Fine: show me from the Bible. In the Bible, what I say to God is prayer, what He says to me is revelation, it is prophecy. If I am a Christian, I talk to Him. If He talks directly to me, unmediated, so that I can inerrantly communicate that to others, I am a prophet, or a seer.

And I'm neither; nor are you.

Scripture constantly urges believers to pray, in both covenants (Psalm 32:6; 72:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:1f., etc.).

By contrast, Scripture never urges believers to pray and then wait for God to speak back in that prayer, expecting (demanding?) that God engage us in conversation as a regular facet of normal Christian living. (I am using "conversation" in the strict sense: I speak, then God talks back, unmediated, verbally. "How's your day?" "Oh, fine, thanks. Yours?"). Scripture never directs us to an Eastern-style emptying of the mind and listening in and to the numinous silence, for an imaginary "still, small," never-promised "voice" of God.

Prayer, if you will, is depressing the button on the walkie-talkie, and talking. No more, no less. It has been described as a soldier in the field calling for supplies and reinforcements, and that's not bad. Prayer is you, talking.

Now, if you want to hear God speak to you, go to His Word in faith, and He will (Proverbs 6:20-23; Hebrews 3:7ff.; 2 Peter 1:19-21, etc.).

Not only is prayer not the be-all and end-all; in fact, sometimes it is positively wrong to pray.

What? More heresy? Where's that chair?!

Except it isn't heresy if your Bible contains Proverbs 28:9, which reads "He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, Even his prayer is an abomination" (NAS). Such prayer is appalling to God. It (so to speak) turns His stomach, when someone turns a deaf ear to His voice in Scripture, but expects God to hear him rattling off his "honey-do" (or "Deity-do") list of requests.

Nor is it heresy if your Bible still features the devastatingly wondrous first chapter of Isaiah, where we read in verse 15, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood." (Remind me sometime to tell you what I think of the National Day of Prayer. Or maybe you can guess. [A few years later, I did.]

What does this mean? It means that sometimes, when someone says "I'll pray about that," the most Biblical response is, "No, please — don't pray. Don't bother. You'll only make it worse." In such cases as these, the only appropriate prayer would be a prayer of broken, heartfelt repentance and confession (Psalms 32; 51; 1 John 1:9).

Now, wonderful things can happen in response to prayer. When prayer is expressive of a relationship with God, and in accord with God's will as revealed in the Bible alone, prayer can accomplish much (James 5:16; 1 John 5:14). But of course, in these cases, the prayer itself is of no power, whatever. It is the God who hears prayer — He is the powerful one.

Think about it. When the bully is beating you up, and all you can choke out is "Dad!" What is it that dooms your tormentor? Is it the power of your word, your cry for help, your "prayer"?

Or is it the big, angry man who loves you, hears your voice, and comes running?

So is it prayer per se that really strikes terror into demons' hearts in this spiritual battle of ours? I do read some detail about the armor of God, crafted in Heaven to equip us for that battle (Ephesians 6:10ff.). I do read somewhere around there of prayer, and I do read of a weapon.

One weapon.

But the weapon isn't prayer (Ephesians 6:18). Prayer is just us talking to God. Our words are without intrinsic power. I don't think that us talking, per se, scares demons. In fact, I'm pretty sure that sometimes it positively cracks them up.

The weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). God's Word sent Satan running from our Lord (Matthew 4). It will do the same for us.

Now, there are some words with power (Psalm 33:6, 9; Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12)! Read, them, study them, believe them, embrace them, glory in them, live them — and use them in prayer.

That would result in some quaking, shaking, and glory.

Dan Phillips's signature


Go Share Your Faith said...

Get that asbestos life-jacket ready!

Good post; I like to shake up the traditions of men with...gasp!...the word of God...

nice one.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Some good reminders here, Dan, esp. on the centrality of the Word in hearing from God. One item I'd like to get your comment on:

We are admonished to pray "in the Spirit" (Eph. 6:18). We are to "build ourselves up" in the faith and pray "in the Holy Spirit" (Jude 20). Our words are to be informed by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13; 12:3). Thus it would seem that true prayer is more than "just" us, right? What's your take on the Spirit's role here?

Raymond Nearhood II said...

Mind if I post a link on my blog and Facebook page?

I actually said something similar to this to a few friends a couple weeks ago, but never got deep into it. You do a better job of explaining it and I would like them to read it.

DJP said...

Ray, sure.

Johnny: it's a good question. I'm going to give an answer that tightly hews to the topic of the post, then maybe later range more broadly.

To pray "in the Spirit" no more means to pray "expecting to hear directly-revealed verbal responses from God in a conversational style" than do the exhortations to "walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:17), put the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit (Romans 8:13), abound in hope by the power of the Spirit (Romans 15:13), nor a host of similar exhortations.

IOW, "Spirit" is not a Bible code-word for "ookie mystical semi-hemi-demi-revelation."

deekdubberly said...

Appreciate the re-post. I'm relatively new here so it was original content to me.

DJP said...


BTW, you could rummage through the archives. That's what they're there for.


mKhulu said...

All I can say is, "Brother, I'll pray for you." I will pray that your tribe will increase. Great post.

Citizen Grim said...

Dan - great post, and I agree with you completely that the power of prayer is not our words, but rather, God's response to them.

I do have a question, though: How does Rom 8:26 fit into the equation? It certainly seems to be saying that when we pray, the Holy Spirit speaks on our behalf because we don't know what we're doing. Does this mean our powerless words are replaced with the powerful words of God?

Obviously, the central point remains, that it's not OUR words that our powerful. But it does imply that there is a certain amount of divine power in prayer itself (and not just God's response) when the Holy Spirit is at the comm.

Or am I completely off in non-sequitur-land?

DJP said...

No, you're not off. I think the verse is pretty plain. We pray, and the Spirit prays for us. So does the Son (v. 34).

Neither verse says nor implies anything about our trying to overhear their intercessions.

Eric Kaminsky said...

I was going to post something not so profound, but then realized it was slightly off-topic and would not further the conversation. ie. "annihilation is next best thing if you only read more and had more intellectual prowess"

but I digress

It never ceases to amaze me how many "Christians" divorce the spirit from the word of God. We do not worship the Word, but the spirit testifies to the "word" to the glory of the Son. The false claims of Bibliolatry.

And don't get me started on "Did you pray about your decision"? As if God would give me direct revelation about my decision making that would supercede rational thinking and desires that God have already put into my heart. My response is often "I was too busy throwing away idols to stop and pray. Or "I'm not flexible enough to sit in the Lotus position"

The normal response to such comments is that "I'm being selfish if I refuse to pray about major/minor life decisions", as if my faith that God places the desires in my heart for a reason is inferior to the truth they've learned in their personal journey.


DJP said...

LOL, Terry.

Say, what about this?

"Did you pray about your decision to ask me if I prayed about my decision?"

That one could go on for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Great post Dan, this one was on my "please repost" list.

I linked to it on my facebook page, not expecting much response, or at least not much positive response. My whole family, as far as I know, would think you're off your rocker.

You may be (I'll leave that for those who know you personally to decide)...but not here.

DJP said...

It is a matter open for debate.

Anonymous said...

That goes for all of us...

Eric Kaminsky said...

It is possible to have to low of a view of prayer. It would be erroneous to say that prayer doesn't matter because God is controlling us like pawns on a chessboard. Moses interceded for his people after their idolatry and God decided to spare them. How that fits with God's sovereignty is not logical, but the Word of God is clear.

And no I'm not saying we should be like Moses in a Blackaby sort of way. But I don't want to throw away the Baby with the Blackaby water.

Bob said...

thanks for the re-post. I was attracted here by a friend who mentioned Phil's name. I remember him from the old theology list. what was the guy from Australia's name? Is that still going on?
anyway, having lost my church after becoming reformed, your site is going to be a daily for me. Thanks alot

DJP said...

Eric — Absolutely right.

I tried to speak to that in this post.

DJP said...

"Guy from Australia," Bob... Craig Schwarze?

donsands said...

"It is the God who hears prayer — He is the powerful one."

I think Donald Grey Barnhouse said: "I don't know that I believe in the power of prayer so much, as I believe in the power of the Lord."

Great post on prayer. Thanks. I mean re-post.

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Rom. 8:26-27

I thank the Lord for taking my crude words, and sin tainted requests and sanctifying them. It's all about Christ, the Holy Spirit, and a gracious Father full of compassion and lovingkindness. Psalm 103:11-13

Anonymous said...

Not only Princess Bride references, but the now the ol' Spanish Inquisitors! Do you have amongst your weaponry such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms?

DJP said...

All that and so much more.

David said...

Excellent repost, Dan. I agree with you more than the first time I read it.

Regarding praying in the Spirit, I have found that praying the prayers found in His word (i.e. Col 1:9-12, Phil 1:9-11, Mt 6:9-13) directs my prayers in a way that the Lord Himself has inspired.

Andrew Faris said...


As usual when you talk about the Spirit, there's a lot I like and there's some stuff I don't like. And also as usual, I am amazed at your writing ability. Always clear and provocative, and I'm grateful.

Here's my semi-related-to-this-post question (and maybe it's one that cessationists have a stock answer to that I should already know- but I don't): how do you handle Peter's Acts 2 appropriation of Joel 2, where it seems that one of the major benefits of the just-arrived-inside-of-us Spirit is to inspire prophecy? This is partially a challenge to your position, but it is really an honest question as well!

Probably more directly related to your post, what about the instances in Acts of people praying and God responding verbally (e.g. Cornelius)?

Either way, I think your emphasis in general is accurate. Thanks for the post.


Scott said...

This is one of my favorite Pyro posts! I love how it's so clear and concise on what prayer is and isn't.

I often wonder how many times I fall into the "power of prayer" mentality. if I just wrestle enough, cry enough, pray at really really late hours enough, God will answer me. Sounds more like the magic from Dungeons and Dragons than biblical wisdom.

Sir Aaron said...

Great selection for a repost. I read this once before in the archives and yet the seconds taste just as good as the first!


I can relate. I tend to be more action oriented as well. No, I didn't pray for manna...I went and made some bread. Having said that, I do need to pray more not because I'm waiting on my answer, but because I am told to do so.

Respectabiggle said...

One possible point of dispute to previous criticism of "Did you pray about that decision?" comes from a noted writer:

For instance, what would have happened if Eve had asked God how to respond to the Serpent, rather than blundering on into gawping rebellion? What if, after Eve's sin, Adam had asked God what to do about Eve?

Sir Aaron said...

What if Eve and Adam had merely followed God's previously stated instructions not to eat of that fruit? It seems to me they would have been praying for an answer that was already given to them.

DJP said...

Oh my gosh, you are a tricksy wiggle. Well, "noted" and "noteworthy" are not synonyms.

Yeah, I think if you ever have a situation where God regularly appears and engages you in conversation, you should take full advantage of it.

Tax Collector said...

"What if Eve and Adam had merely followed God's previously stated instructions not to eat of that fruit? It seems to me they would have been praying for an answer that was already given to them."

Great answer! Absolutely correct.

In developing and teaching a Christianity 101 course (BTW, Dan I would LOVE for TeamPyro to look at this for me and provide your feedback - where can I send it to?) to my 4th and 5th graders I taught them that prayer was our part in communicating with God and He primarily communicated to us through His Word. We discussed about how many times we have prayed about things that we should already know the answer for.

I wonder if God feels towards me tha way I do my children when they clearly have not been listening?

Great re-post Dan.

Respectabiggle said...

Yeah, I think if you ever have a situation where God regularly appears and engages you in conversation, you should take full advantage of it.

You're just jealous that you don't get the special messages like I do. You must not be listening hard enough.

goodtheology said...

so here's my q. would it be accurate to say then, that if one were to pray for healing, that it isn't the act of prayer that brings about anything, but rather the graciousness of god to enact said healing? i mean, if i pray for a healing, and that healing comes, isn't there a sense in which my prayers had power, if not on their own, then at least as a means of bringing down the healing from god?

DJP said...

Your prayer has no healing power. God has healing power.

At its best, our prayers communicate needs to God, which He then deals with according to His good will and wisdom.

Eric Kaminsky said...

Sir Aaron:

I've been convicted to pray more too. I've been going MacArthur's commentary on Romans and was struck by Pauls unceasing prayer for those he'd never even met.

God's will for us as Christians is that we would be devoted to scripture and that we would in exhibit progress sanctification Col3:16,1Thes4:3

Being now established in our faith, there no longer remains an excuse for our prayers should be continually unhindered. Us married folks will be treating our wives in an unharsh manner, and there will be confession of Sin to make us clean before him. James5:16

"The prayer of righteous man availeth much."

goodtheology said...

thanks, dan. one more question. [because i know if i link this on my blog, my friends are going to howl, and so i'd like to get my q's in early] as it relates to the power of prayer unto salvation, if it's true that my prayers will never affect the salvation of another human being [as that has already been decided and established by god before the world began]. why would i ever bother to pray for the salvation of my children? or of anyone? as in, when my friends ask me to pray that their mother or father or brother gets saved, should i avoid that sort of prayer?

i know this is someone unrelated, as is a can of worms in itself, but i am a brand new calvinist,- going on 6 months- and am trying to work it all out, and any advice would be appreciated.

thanks :)

DJP said...

The reason why there is any point in any prayer from a dependent creature to a sovereign God is fundamentally the same: God works through means. The God who determines to do X often determines to do-X-when-A-prays-Z.

Or, as Spurgeon said better, "The prayer of faith is a Divine decree commencing its operation." (I would say "can be" instead of "is.")

It is in the category of Deuteronomy 29:29. Who God chooses is a "hidden thing." The command to love my neighbor is a "thing revealed." If I love my neighbor, I will pray for his salvation. And God will do what God will do.

Hope that helps.

mike said...

One of the crazy things about being a Calvinist in a gathering of people who have been heavily influenced by the anticalvinis teachings of -------(doesn't matter for this thread) is that alvinism is being defined in a rigid antibilical way. Macarthur's study of Roman 8 and 9 are fantastic, as they just keep pounding away at scripture.
all of the "but, but, but's" are answered with "I didn't say it, God did".
We know that the Book is already written, we know that God is sovereign, so why would we evangelize, pray, seek? Because God said we should, and that don't, we will not hinder or thwart Him in any way at all, but we will have repurcusssions to our own disobedience. see the story of Sampson.
Do Christians pray for the lost, YES. Does it have to make logical sense to people who reject Biblical innerrancy, not realy.
If He is Lord, and He says do it, why do we argue?

Citizen Grim said...

"The God who determines to do X often determines to do-X-when-A-prays-Z."

I like this.

mike said...

Should say "if we don't, we will not hinder"
my internal spell checker is broken.

isn't this just the somewhat predictable result of the charismatic need to feel and hear?
when this conversation starts, i usually get "well, all i know is that the Spirit is real". as if i am saying that He isn't.

and Heaven forbid you actually state that the book is already written.

JR said...

For my edification apply your principles to what Paul writes in: 2 Corinthians 1:11; Philemon 22; Philippians 1:19.

mike said...

more to the point, do you believe that Dan has stated anything that opposes the written word in the 3 verses you mention?

goodtheology said...

another question. when someone says that god spoke to them in an audible voice, as they were praying, should we dismiss that, or give it some weight?

DJP said...

You are brand-new, here, huh?

Find my last Next. I respond to just such a person.

DJP said...

JR, I'd say those verses say that they should pray, and God will answer.

Mike Riccardi said...


I think Dan may have already answered your question. From above:

The reason why there is any point in any prayer from a dependent creature to a sovereign God is fundamentally the same: God works through means.

We see that each of the passages you refer to: "Through your prayers." Prayer is the means that God accomplishes His ends. So we wouldn't say the actual act of our speaking words has a determinative effect on reality -- as if we could bring something about by our words -- anymore I would say, "My computer wrote this comment." I wrote the comment, and my computer keyboard was the means I used.

Hope that's helpful.

BrettR said...

Even though on one hand I agree with your post, on the other hand, it is hard to agree with because it goes against what I was taught in church (not the Bible) for 40+ years. Therefore, you must be wrong.

...or I need to read and study and pray and read and study and pray and read and study and pray in light of the Gospel and the glory of God.

Tails. you lose. I have an inspired, anointed coin. Checking the Book or Armourments...

Ebeth said...

Very timely.

Michael said...

I think I agree with what was said....I just have a question. Am I asked to believe that my cry for "Dad" can cause "the big angry man" to come to my "rescue". That seems to perpetuate the idea that God is at our beck-and-call.

philness said...


Can demons understand our prayers silently to the Father?

Anonymous said...


Not to speak for Dan, but I think the answer to that is "Who cares, it's not like they can stop God anyways."

I relate that to wondering if the kids understand when I mention to my wife that it's bedtime for them.

They might hear, they probably understand, but no matter what they think or do, it's still bedtime.

stratagem said...

Dan, I totally agree with you. However, whenever I tell someone that they are not a prophet or a seer, they hit me with that Joel chapter 2 business about how in the last days, certain people will see visions and dream dreams. How should I deal with this?

DJP said...

Ask them how all those signs in the heavens are going.

stratagem said...

Dan, I know what you are saying, but using a dodge would probably weaken my argument. How can I refute what they are saying without changing the subject, in other words, answering it directly? This is a confusing subject, unless one starts with the (hard to justify) premise that the "last days" are already past. Any thoughts?

JR said...


Thanks for pointing out Dan's previous comment.

I don't disagree with any point of the post or its affirming comments. It just seems there is more tension here than we like to allow, and since those verses were not referenced in the post (probably because they didn't directly apply to the point Dan was making) I thought I'd ask him, or someone, to speak into them. The use of prayer as means is the appropriate answer.

Bottom line: We don't know what to pray for. The Spirit makes intercession. God somehow weaves those things together to use prayer as a means, because only He knows the beginning from the end. Hallelujah.

Live As If said...

"It means that sometimes, when someone says "I'll pray about that," the most Biblical response is, "No, please — don't pray. Don't bother. You'll only make it worse.""

Why should this be the case? Your post has, admittedly, challenged many things I have heard, and assumed to be true about the nature and purpose of prayer. I thank you for your scriptural references backing up what you're writing, but the above, I do not understand: why might it be appropriate to respond to someone's offer of "i'll pray for you," with "no, please don't - it'll only make things worse" ?

Thanks, Dan.

DJP said...

First: You changed my statement from "about that" to "for you."

Second: oh, just start at the start. Suppose Eve had been more resistant to Satan, and he'd been unable to persuade her. Suppose he'd said, "Well, how about if you pray about it?" The very prayer — in the face of a clear and categorical command of God — would have been an act of rebellion.

Suppose a boy wants his girlfriend to have sex with him, and she prays about it? "Oh God, guide me. Do you want me to do this? Please lead me."

Or suppose he is already having sex, and prays to see if God wants him to continue? "Please lead me, Father - should I keep on doing this?"

Or say a man is knowingly rebelling against God, walking in daily deliberate defiance of some command or commandment, but asks God to bless him in this or that? Or asks if God wants him to repent of his sin, asks God to give him a sign by making him feel like it or some such?

There are just a few off the top.

Sir Aaron said...


I definately hear you on that. Many churches and popular ministries talk about prayer as if it is a magic incantation used to command the will of God. The power of Prayer and all that.

It would be helpful if these Christians read the Old Testament. Did Moses's staff part the read sea? Did the blowing of trumpets cause the walls of Jericho to fall? The answer is No (unless you believe national geographic). God caused these things. He could have done these things without all the ceremony but He made humans have an active part in the process.

stratagem said...

I volunteered to pray for someone the other day, and the person said that they believe in the power of prayer. I told her that I believe in the power of the one I'm praying to.

Does anyone here (including Dan, should he choose to answer) have a good solid answer I can use re: my last question?

olan strickland said...

There are some things that we are not to pray about and some people that we are not to pray for (1 John 5:16).

Mark B. Hanson said...

I will say that prayer is a "conversation" with God in the sense that he answers us by what he does and does not do in response to our prayers. If God answers "no" to a petition, my response should not be "nice try", but I should instead look more deeply at my understanding of Him, to bring my prayers more into line with His (expressed) will.

Having said this, I am reminded of David's prayer for his dying son: the other proper response to God's "no" is by faith to yield our desires into God's merciful hands. After all, given the situation with several of David's other sons, God's taking that one young spared him a world of trouble.

Anonymous said...

GREAT post! I've been warning people against talking about prayer as if we could hear God's response or direct His hand. Years ago I had purchased E.M. Bounds' book on prayer and only began to read it last year. 'bout made me puke a few times so I put it away.

trogdor said...


I think DJP pretty much did answer your question without changing the subject. They're claiming the Joel quote in Acts 2 means people are prophesyin' and visionin' and dreamin' today. So simply read the rest of the quote, and ask where all the other stuff is, the heavenly signs and all that. Because if they're claiming it's being fulfilled, shouldn't we expect all of it to be fulfilled?

The onus is squarely on them to explain why they believe one part is now and the rest is still future, since the text makes no such distinction. If they can't account for the heavenly signs, nor can they adequately explain why we should think the prophecy is divided, their position is fail.

olan strickland said...


do you believe that all of the Joel quote in Acts 2 has been fulfilled?

Live As If said...

Do you mean to say that someone offering to "pray about that" is akin to the open rebellion of one praying to know God's will about something, when He has already addressed that "something" in his Word?

Live As If said...

re: "First: You changed my statement from "about that" to "for you.""

You're correct, guilty as charged, and the change was not intentional; it reflected, most likely, what I am used to hearing people say, and projecting that onto what you wrote.
i apologize for that.

trogdor said...


Sure don't.

DJP said...

Yes, of course, LaI. When God says (in His Word) "Do!", and I pray about whether I should "do" or not, that is rebellion. When God says (in His Word) "Don't," and I pray about whether I should or not, that is rebellion. His Word settles the matter; an appropriate prayer would be for the strength to obey. Not a deliberation over whether to obey.

stratagem said...


Thanks for the answer, although if you are saying that the "last days" included 2000 years ago, and not today, that is a position that is hard to argue. And no, Dan didn't answer that question. I am well-aware of all the damage that pentecostalism has caused in our present age, but I'm not sure I know how to make the argument that the late first century was the last days, and these aren't the last days, in light of what Joel wrote. Based on the silence, I'm not totally convinced that Dan knows how to, either (and that's fine, I don't expect him to know everything, just as I don't). Maybe someone does, though?

olan strickland said...


Thanks, I was hoping that you were not a preterist.

However I don't believe that your logic either answers Stratagem's question or establishes the cessationist's position.

As a cessationist you will have to either be a preterist and believe that the whole prophecy has been fulfilled (which would mean that the Day of the Lord has already happened - and it hasn't) or you will have to believe that part of the prophecy has been fulfilled (prophesyin', visionin', and dreamin') and the rest (signs in the heavens) are yet future.

So in essence we believe that the prophecy is divided and since the text makes no such distinction it neither affirms nor rejects either the cessationist's or the continuationist's view.

I'm only saying all this to show that asking the question to a continuationist: how all those signs in the heavens are going? is actually illogical if one believes that the prophecy actually is divided.

Or else applying your own logic - Because if they're claiming it's being fulfilled, shouldn't we expect all of it to be fulfilled? - then Peter's crowd would have also have expected all of it to be fulfilled because he was claiming that it was being fulfilled.

This is why I believe that Stratagem is looking for a better argument because the one given is clearly not cut and dry.

trogdor said...

Who says the first part has been fulfilled?

olan strickland said...

All good cessationists - unless of course God is going to re-open the canon in another dispensation.

Anonymous said...


I also appreciate the reminder that its not our prayers in themselves that contain any power...its the one we pray to that has the power, and so we are always going to get our prayers answered in the affirmative when we pray according to His will, and the negative when we don't.

The great thing is you can look in scripture and see lots of things to pray for that you know are God's will and therefore He will give you.

Like the Holy Spirit :)


stratagem said...


Thanks - you clarified my question better than I ever could. As a cessationist (and former pentecostalist), I feel I need some fairly clear arguments to convince others who are still in that genre. Joel seems fairly clear on a prima facie basis that prophecies would occur in the last days. I can't say that we are in the last days right now, of course, but it just doesn't make sense to me that the first century might have been the last days, and that the 21st century somehow isn't in the last days - so I don't even want to go there or it would seem like I am sticking my head in the sand to whomever I made that argument.
Maybe eventually someone will have an insight on this.

Anonymous said...


As a charismatic, I have a solution for you! But alas, I don't think its the one you are looking for :(


Aaron said...

The picture on this post has the wrong scripture reference attached. It should say Jeremiah 23:29.

olan strickland said...


At the root of your question is the cessationist/continuationist debate. This is probably why Dan hasn't offered an answer - off topic!

As cessationists believing that the canon is closed we believe that the first part of the prophecy was progressively and completely fulfilled; that we are indeed in the last days and closer to its culmination; and that the only thing left to be fulfilled in that prophecy is the great and glorious day of the Lord which will be preceded by the signs in the heavens.

stratagem said...

As a former charismatic, I can pretty much guess where you are coming from. But I would advise you to give charismania a few more decades and you'll start to see enough examples of the damage it causes when anyone can claim to be a prophet, and never be challenged or have their prophecies held to the test of whether they come true, or not.
The whole ethos of pentecostalism is that the movement that is the nuttiest gets encouraged as being a "move of God," and scriptural critiquing of "prophecies" and "visions" gets criticized as a quenching of the spirit.
Honestly, I don't know what Joel 2 means, and apparently the Pyro team doesn't, either. But I do know that all of the modern-day "prophecies" I've heard haven't come true, or aren't specific enough to be tested (and are therefore worthless). And that the resulting lack of a reference point gives birth to many spurious movements.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Here are a few questions.
1) Does your article inspire others to pray more or less? You know we are to ‘pray without ceasing …’ I Thess 5:17 If prayer is not useful or powerful, then why should we pray?
2) You said, “Nothing scares fallen angels, apparently, like praying Christians. Now, it strikes me that all of this is backwards at worst, sideways at best.” Then, why is Satan so intent on getting people to stop praying? Daniel 6 is one of the more prominent examples. Also, on this point, why did you use prayers of saints in a novel versus prayers of saints in scripture? Is not this backward? Should you not look for examples of prayers in the Bible first?
3) If our ‘prayer has no intrinsic power’, then why, in actual hospital tests, were those for whom people prayed – without their knowing it – got well faster or were healed over those for whom no one prayed? Would God have healed those anyway?
4) If prayer is not powerful, then why does God collect our prayers and keep them in bowls of incense? (Revelation 5:8)
5) If prayer is not a dialogue or conversation with God, then what happened with:
Adam & Eve – Genesis 3
Cain – Genesis 4
Abraham – Genesis 15, 17, 18
Jacob – Genesis 32
Moses – Exodus 3 and many more scriptures
Elijah – I Kings 19?
You know there are many more. You may say they are special cases in the Old Testament.
6) Then what about:
Mary – Luke 1:26-38
Jesus – John 12:28-29
Peter – Acts 10
Of course, you will say these are also special cases. As you know Abraham was called the friend of God. James 2:23. So, why can we not converse directly with God? Jesus said, “… I have called you friends …” John 15:15. If we are friends, can we not converse?
7) You said in your post, “If He talks directly to me, unmediated, so that I can inerrantly communicate that to others, I am a prophet, or a seer. And I'm neither; nor are you.” You can aver that you are not a prophet or seer, but don’t say no one else is. Ephesians 4:11. There are prophets today.
8) Is it not possible that our prayer is powerful as inferred by Paul in Ephesians 6:12? Notice, it is ‘we’ who wrestle, not God.

Much more can be said.

Certainly, much of prayer is coming to grips with who I am and who God is. And, if I don’t turn myself completely over to Him to let Him be the Potter and me the clay, I will still be on the fringe trying to find out what prayer is all about.

Until you come to grips with who you are and how much you need prayer in your life, I think you will not get a better understanding of prayer. A very good book on prayer is: “The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer”. Get it. Read it.

May you learn the joy of long conversations with God in prayer.

DJP said...

Sure. Those ones are easy enough.

1) So, you're worried that teaching Biblically about prayer means Christians will pray less? Interesting. I'm not worried at all.

2) Satan wants to discourage all godliness. For the rest, you didn't actually touch my observation; that you don't like it isn't really my issue.

3) I've heard of tests with opposite results. As a Christian and a pastor, I don't really try to get my ideas about prayer from a clipboard, but from the Word.

4) So that He can act on them. That would be the Biblical model. Or do you think they're floating powers in that bowls, like Genies in fairy tales?

5) Did I say no one in the Bible talked with God? Do you have a verse indicating that normal Christian post-Canonical prayer is a direct-verbal-revelation conversation?

6) Yes, we can talk to God. That's "prayer." Again, no verse tells nor leads us to expect Him to talk back to us by direct, unmediated, verbal revelation.

7) There are not prophets today. But if anyone thinks that he is receiving inerrant, binding, direct verbal revelation, he should say so openly, so that Christians can be properly warned.

8) Ephesians 6:12 is not about prayer.

I think the Bible is a far better book about prayer. We should read it, study it, stick to it, be content with it.

mike said...

i take it that you are new here too.
take a few minutes, run through the post slowly, and check out the archive posts and threads that are pertinant. then if you believe that your definition of the word conversation is mutually acceptable, and if you truly believe that Paul was in fact saying that WE were actually doing and accomplishing anything, (not me but Christ in me) then by all means hack way.
i would not presume to answer for Dan, but for myself,
1. i am truly grateful that i do not have to be the one who wields power, it would not be pretty.
2. i do not think that stating that prayer has no power, but God to whom the prayer is addressed is Almighty Father, diminishes Him or prayer in any way. i am just grateful to have any role at all.
3. if our thought process was, is, should be, TO THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE, i find it hard to fault the post.

anyway too big of a bite for a small mouth


stratagem said...

Do you have a verse indicating that normal Christian post-Canonical prayer is a direct-verbal-revelation conversation?

Well that's an interesting point. By definition we couldn't have an example of a post-Canonical person in the Bible having a conversation with God (or doing anything else, for that matter). So that's obvious enough.

The other question it raises for me is, are there verses that clearly distinguish between what will be true in the post-Canonical period and the pre-Canonical period? I mean, does the Bible itself make any reference or prophecy about the Canon being written and collected together into one book, in the future? I've never noticed such a prophecy.

Sir Aaron said...

And how is it that Daniel 6 is about Satan wanting to stop prayer. Daniel 6 is about evil men wanting to stop Daniel. The only thing they could find to accuse him of was that he prayed to God.

And with those other cases, how many of which did God initiate the conversation?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I will be praying about this. My discerning spirit says something is not quite right.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry about your experience with "charismania." But I'd be careful to assume you know where I'm coming from.

I'm whats called a reformed charismatic (don't tell Dan that, I think that he thinks its impossible). This is not the thread to fight about cessationism vs the biblical view though :)

I would just submit to you that because a doctrine is abused, it doesn't mean the doctrine isn't biblical. Most of what you said isn't true of the group of churches I'm apart of...prophecy is not writing more scripture (think more grudem than benny hinn)and we try not to be a maniacal as all what you just said.

But we do love the gifts of the Spirit and try to follow Paul's encouragement for their orderly, beneficial, uplifting, encouraging and convicting use in 1 Corinthians. And the funny thing is...its all of those things.

(cue clever remark from Dan if he's still paying attention)

stratagem said...

Most of what you said isn't true of the group of churches I'm apart of...prophecy is not writing more scripture.

Then what is it? And when's the last time a false prophecy was confronted in your church?

DJP said...

It's all false; every attempt they don't confront is a "fail."

Guys, you can't even see the topic from where you're standing. I'm calling Rule 4. Please take it to email.

Live As If said...

Dan, in your post one reads "...It means that sometimes, when someone says "I'll pray about that," the most Biblical response is, "No, please — don't pray. Don't bother. You'll only make it worse." and I am trying to understand how that relates to your comment "...When God says (in His Word) "Do!", and I pray about whether I should "do" or not, that is rebellion..."

I'm not seeing the linkage, and would sure like to ... help?

DJP said...

By my count, I've already answered the same essential question three times, so no, I guess I can't help. Sorry.

mike said...

You are asking us to accept that prayer is in fact the obedient response of a totally reliant child to his sovereign God, in total trust that it will be heard, and that the same sovereign God is the very definition of faithfulness, mercy, kindness, compassion, and justice. That all we do is to call out to Him in repentance and need with faith that His response will be good, because He has promised that it can be no other way. Then, even in the absence of visible or audible immediate action, we are to accept that His will is being done, and it is better than ours anyway.
And that since He is not an irresponsive, forgetful selfish human father, we do not need Him to look us in the eye and promise each time, or give us a token to hold as a promise holder.
That our prayer is not the powerful incantation that will force His hand to do as we will or wish, simply because that is what His written word says?
That sound too much like faith.
Thanks again Dan, you may not have that softest kindest gentlest delivery, but your writing has truly blessed and strengthened me over the past 18 months.

DJP said...

...you may not have that softest kindest gentlest delivery....

< blink, blink >

I don't?


mike said...

i was having a discussion with a friend, and one of your posts said it far better than i could HAVE.

i think this guy seems to be right on, but where is the love?

i laughed, i cried it was better than Catz

stratagem said...


I don't know who to email about this topic, so I won't do that. But it is your blog, and you are the one who gets to call off-topic, and I respect that and you. So your judgement ends this bunny trail on here, for me.

I want you to know that I did previously consider whether this conversation violated #4, but concluded that it didn't totally since you had made the statement that none of us are prophets - a statement that is essential to your argument, and one that is often disputed (at least in my circle, unfortunately).

If you do ever get the inclination to explain the part of Joel 2 that deals with the last days and visions and dreams, I'll gladly listen to what you have to say.


DJP said...

LOL, Mike.

And 'way cheaper!

DJP said...

Yeah, Strat, it was at the point where we're about to open a discussion about how his church handles bogus prophecies that I decided we were well within the Twilight Zone.

stratagem said...

DJP: LOL - maybe letting someone explain that, would have been the best way to illustrate that none of us are prophets!

Live As If said...

DJP, part of your argument has left me confused. I get (what I think are) the main points of your position but am left scratching my head at the comparison you said you had explained . . . I am feeling rather dumb tonight at this...sigh

Joshua said...

In discussing religion with a Jewish friend of mine, he made the stunning statement that "we don't believe that God answers prayers anymore". He explained that prayer was primarily a way of focusing the mind, and that God would help you to help yourself, but that God would not act directly as a force in the world. In fact, this is the other belief he posited: that God does not perform miracles or act directly in the world in any way today.

He's adheres to a relatively conservative Judaism, and I confirmed through research that this viewpoint is typical of modern Judaism.

Do any Christians believe the same? Is that essentially what Dan is saying, or is he making a more subdued point? I agree with much of this post, and debunking the "prayer warriors" and "conversationalists" is like shooting fish in a barrel. But the part that seems vague is the discussion of *how* God answers prayer today. Is Dan really arguing that God only answers prayer by having the prayerful person read the Bible and wait for insights?

DJP said...

That you would even ask that makes me think you did not read the post very carefully, let alone follow the link at my 9:15 AM, JUNE 23, 2009 comment, responding to a similar question.

Joshua said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks very much for the response. I did read that link, and agreed wholeheartedly with the point about "What if Adam and Eve had called out to God?" I've made that same argument myself. My question had nothing to do with those issues; the post you linked covered the topic of predestination and prayer admirably, and nothing I would disagree with.

I suppose I was being oversensitive to the comment about "you aren't a prophet or seer", and extrapolating that to mean that you believed that God no longer gives answers to prayer than manifest as direct intervention in the physical world. That was my main question. And certainly not my intent to argue, I was just trying to see if I understood your position correctly. I am very new to many of these theological discussions and simply trying to learn.

DJP said...

Let's see if I can be more helpful.

I am affirming the Biblical teaching that prayer is anything we say to God. It is us, addressing God.

I am trying to clear away the un-Biblical, harmful, traditionalistic teaching that loads in the assumption that prayer also means God talking back to us in some way. I am affirming the Biblical teaching that us-talking is prayer, which the Bible urges on all believers; and God-talking is revelation, which the Bible locates in the Bible — unless we want to say revelation is ongoing and incomplete.

Some try to match two unmatchable thoughts. They formally affirm the closed nature of the Canon and the sufficiency of Scripture, and then they undo both by making it essential that God continue to communicate directly to us, apart from Scripture.

In no way does anything I wrote anywhere even dimly sound as if I deny that God hears when His children speak to Him in the ways the Bible urges, nor that God moves and works to respond in some way to those prayers.

Joshua said...

OK, I think I understand now. When you say "God-talk" and "revelation", you mean specifically those things which God revealed to us about his nature, promises, etc. and which are recorded in scriptures. Is that correct?

I was assuming a looser definition, in which any response God makes to prayer in the here and now could be seen as a sort of "communication" to us from God, though never a communication that could augment or contravene scriptures. I was reading "revelation" in the sense that God is revealed to us every day through the wonder of his creation, etc. Again, God will never "respond", or "show himself", or "be revealed" in a way which augments or contradicts scripture, but of course he *is* active and responsive in today's world.

Thanks very much for your help clarifying. And I'm picking up on the possibility that I should perhaps be more careful about using the word "revealed", since maybe it has a more specific meaning than I assumed.

DJP said...

I mean that Scripture does not lead us to think of "prayer" as meaning a conversation, where I SAY things to God, and He SAYS things back to me apart from Scripture - whether audible words, or feelings, or impressions, or hunches, or whatever.

Prayer is me, talking to God.


Joshua said...

Got it! (And agreed 100%) Thanks for your patience!

stratagem said...

So then, do you not believe that God in essence "leads" us believers to do certain things, at all? I can understand the exclusion of audible "revelation" vis a vis the sufficiency of Scripture, but then you go on the broaden this statement to hunches and so on also being bogus. That is not "general revelation," to me, but specific to what God may wish us to do, even if he "spoke" to us to do it through the Scriptures.

What about cases where God through the Spirit leads people to take certain actions? Are you really saying that doesn't happen at all? Or, are you saying that when it happens, it isn't prayer, and is therefore off-topic?

DJP said...

Your question puzzles me. You're a good and smart guy, and a faithful reader (and composer of hysterical book-titles), but yeah: (1) it's definitely off-topic, and (2) I have written about that very thing, and answered that very question, again and again and again. And just recently. Look for the "will of God" tag. Check the recent reviews of the Blackaby article, and the Deciding book.

stratagem said...

OK, can you help me out? Is there a list of "tags" somewhere on this website? Didn't find "will of God" on the current list of articles, so maybe a bit of technical help would be useful...?

DJP said...

Use the Search feature, right-hand column.