Why Expect God to Listen to Prayer?
PRAYER, without doubt, is the most common of all religious practices. The religious man, whether an Australian aborigine or a modern scientist, makes use of prayer. Hindu and African voodoo worshipers, Moslems and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, as well as the Christian witnesses of Jehovah, all pray. Indicative of the interest in the subject is the fact that in the library of a well-known New York City theological seminary there are 1,200 books on the subject.
Especially in times of emergency do people start to pray. As one Sunday-morning animated religious cartoon character on television put it: “I was so frightened I even started to pray!” Typical was the reaction of the wife of the commander of the United States atom-powered submarine, the Thresher. Upon hearing that the Navy had been out of touch with that submarine for eight hours, she said: “Then we had better start praying.” No wonder General Eisenhower once observed, “There are no atheists in fox holes.”
Yes, man, especially in his extremity, instinctively turns to some power greater than he is, to God, for help. But when we consider how great the God of the universe is, the Creator of the infinite expanse with its numberless heavenly bodies, we may well wonder why he would be interested in puny man, a tiny speck on a tiny speck. That is, in fact, the attitude of the deist, who, while acknowledging the existence of God as the Creator, denies that God gave man any revelation of himself and that he is at all interested in man’s lot. According to the deist, God is “an absentee-God, who, once and for all having wound up the world-machine, has left it to run its own course and to work out its own self-evolution.”
But the Creator did not leave man without a guide. Why should he discriminate against his highest earthly creation? He endowed all the lower animals with infallible instincts to guide them, did he not? Certainly, then, he would also provide an infallible guide for man, and that he did in his Word, the Bible. The very fact that man has the qualities of love, wisdom and justice argues that God would have the same, and, having the same, he would not create man with an inquiring and reasoning mind and then not satisfy that mind with the answers that it needed for its own contentment and happiness. Man does not need to know the length of a light-year to be happy, but he does need to know his purpose of existence, where he came from and what his destiny is. And only a revelation can give him this information, which the Bible does.
The Bible also gives us a number of reasons why we may expect God to listen to prayer. And let it not be overlooked that prayer not only includes petitions, supplications and requests, but also praise and thanksgiving.
GOD COMMANDS US TO PRAY
First of all, we may expect God to listen to prayer because he himself commands that his people pray to him, and his Word gives many examples of faithful servants of God praying; so much so that the Bible may well be said to be The Book of Prayer. Thus the psalmist commands: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” And Jesus told his apostles: “Pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.” The apostle Paul repeatedly urged those to whom he wrote to pray and to continue in prayer: “Persevere in prayer.” “Pray incessantly.” And the disciple James, a half brother of Jesus, wrote: “Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed. A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.”—Ps. 122:6, RS; Matt. 26:41; Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:17; Jas. 5:16.
As for examples of prayer, we find these in the Bible from the first book to the last. Abel’s sacrificial offering might be said to have been a prayer acted out, and it most likely was accompanied by a verbal petition. And the apostle John closes the book of Revelation with two brief prayers. And what a man of prayer David was! Of his more than seventy psalms, nearly all are either prayers or contain prayers in the form of praise directed to God, thanksgiving and/or petition.
Prayer occupied a prominent place in the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Repeatedly we read of his praying, when he was baptized, when he fed the multitudes, just before he chose the twelve apostles, at which time he continued all night in prayer, as well as of his going off by himself time and again to meditate and pray. Especially do we note his praying on the last day that he was on earth as a man: at the institution of the memorial of his death, then afterward the prayer recorded at John 17, three times in the garden of Gethsemane and twice on the torture stake.
Then there is the example of the apostle Paul. He touches on the subject of prayer some seventy-five times in his letters. How important he considered praying can be seen by his urging Christians to pray right after he had told them to put on the whole armor of God: “With every form of prayer and supplication you carry on prayer on every occasion . . . and with supplication in behalf of all the holy ones, also for me, that ability to speak may be given me with the opening of my mouth, with all freeness of speech to make known the sacred secret of the good news. . . . that I may speak in connection with it with boldness as I ought to speak.” Did King David, Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul expect God to listen to prayer?—Eph. 6:18-20.
FOR THE SAKE OF HIS NAME
The fact that God commands us to pray and fills his Word, the Bible, with examples of his servants praying should suffice to show that they can expect God to listen to prayers. But, it may be asked, Why? Why should this great Eternal One, the Most High and Universal Sovereign, listen to the prayers of his servants? One overriding or compelling reason is that the reputation of his name is involved. Thus Moses repeatedly pleaded with God successfully on the basis of God’s name and fame being involved: “Why, O Jehovah, should your anger blaze against your people. . . ? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out in order to kill them’?” “Were you to put this people to death as one man, then the nations who have heard of your fame would certainly say this, ‘Because of Jehovah’s not being able to bring this people into the land about which he swore to them he proceeded to slaughter them in the wilderness.”’—Ex. 32:11, 12; Num. 14:15, 16.
Thus also Jehovah listened to Joshua when, after the defeat at Ai, he prayed: “Excuse me, O Jehovah, but what can I say after Israel has turned his back before his enemies? And the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will certainly surround us and cut our name off from the earth; and what will you do for your great name?” The same was true of the prayer that Hezekiah, faithful king of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah, offered when confronted with the taunts of the sneering king of Assyria, Sennacherib: “And now, O Jehovah our God, save us, please, out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Jehovah, are God alone.”—Josh. 7:8, 9; 2 Ki. 19:19.
Then again, at Psalm 79:9, we read the prayer: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the sake of the glory of your name.” And so did Daniel pray, as recorded at Daniel 9:19: “O Jehovah, do hear. . . . Do not delay, for your own sake, O my God, for your own name has been called upon your city and upon your people.” Many more examples could be given, but these should be sufficient to show that Jehovah God can be expected to listen to prayer, particularly when it is related to the vindication of his name.
BECAUSE OF HAVING KEPT INTEGRITY
Another reason why God’s servants can expect God to listen to their prayers is his love of righteousness: “Jehovah is righteous; he does love righteous acts.” Because of this we read: “Jehovah is far away from the wicked ones, but the prayer of the righteous ones he hears.” Those who follow an upright course can come to God on the basis of their having kept integrity with God.—Ps. 11:7; Prov. 15:29.
Thus Job made an eloquent plea to God on the basis of his having followed a righteous course. (Job Chapters 29-31) Likewise King David, in praying for God’s blessing at the time of gathering materials for the building of the temple, said: “I well know, O my God, that you are an examiner of the heart, and that it is in rectitude that you take pleasure. I, for my part, in the uprightness of my heart have voluntarily offered all these things.”—1 Chron. 29:17.
In the same vein we find Nehemiah praying: “Do remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my acts of loving-kindness that I have performed in connection with the house of my God and the guardianship of it.” The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, doubtless the apostle Paul, likewise shows the connection between purposeful prayer and right conduct: “Carry on prayer for us, for we trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” In fact, this very same principle is implied in the model prayer Jesus gave his disciples: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Yes, because of Jehovah’s love for righteousness all who are lovers of God’s righteousness and seek to practice it can expect God to listen to their prayers.—Neh. 13:14; Heb. 13:18; Matt. 6:12.
PRAYING ON THE BASIS OF INHERITED SIN
One of the basic requests imperfect creatures can make in their prayers is that God may forgive them their sins. As the apostle John expresses it: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:9.
When it comes to praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness of sin, God’s servants can use the fact of their inherited sin and imperfection. Thus David pleaded with Jehovah to forgive his sin against Uriah: “Look! With error I was brought forth with birth pains, and in sin my mother conceived me.” King Solomon took note of the same thing in his prayer at the dedication of the temple of Jehovah: “In case they sin against you (for there is no man that does not sin), and you have to be incensed at them and abandon them to the enemy, . . . and they indeed come to their senses . . . and they actually return and make request to you for favor . . . you must forgive your people who had sinned against you.”—Ps. 51:5; 1 Ki. 8:46-50.
In fact, Jehovah himself tells that he takes man’s inherited imperfection into consideration in dealing with him: “Never again shall I call down evil upon the ground on man’s account, because the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up; and never again shall I deal every living thing a blow just as I have done.” God’s servants, therefore, have ample reason for expecting God to listen to their prayers when they ask for mercy and forgiveness on the basis of inherited weakness, because of the original sin of Adam.—Gen. 8:21; Rom. 5:12.
And lastly, God’s servants can always plead their cause with Jehovah, that is, expect him to listen to their prayers, on the basis of his being a God of loving-kindness and mercy. Thus, when Jehovah was ready to wipe out the Israelites because of their having rebelled, Moses pleaded, not only on the basis of Jehovah’s name as being involved, but also on the basis of his being a God of loving-kindness: “And now, please, let your power become great, O Jehovah, just as you have spoken, saying, ‘Jehovah, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, pardoning error and transgression . . . Forgive, please, the error of this people according to the greatness of your loving-kindness.”’ (Num. 14:17-19) Yes, Jehovah had told Moses that He is a God of mercy and loving-kindness, when Moses had asked to see his glory, and so now Moses could properly remind Jehovah of that fact. King David pleaded on this basis (Ps. 51:1) and so did the prophet Daniel on behalf of his people: “Incline your ear, O my God, and hear . . . for not according to our righteous acts are we letting our entreaties fall before you, but according to your many mercies.”—Dan. 9:18.
No question about it, the Bible does not reveal an absentee-God such as the deist would have us believe that the great Creator is. No, he is interested in his creatures, and that for good reasons. He therefore invites them, yes, commands them to come to him in prayer, in praise, thanksgiving and with supplications. He welcomes their prayers on the basis of his name and because of their having kept integrity. Furthermore, he lets them plead on the basis of their human imperfection and inherited sin and also on the basis of his glorying in showing loving-kindness.
The Bible speaks of God as the “Hearer of prayer.” But that does not mean he listens and favorably acts on all prayers, for, as is implicit in the foregoing, one must pray to the one true God and in the right manner and about right things to be heard by Him. Those meeting these conditions will find in their own lives that God is indeed the “Hearer of prayer,” that is, hearing in the sense of listening and answering prayer. Happy are those who thus pray!—Ps. 65:2.