Prayers Require Works
“Jehovah is far away from the wicked ones, but the prayer of the righteous ones he hears.”—PROVERBS 15:29.
1. What is one condition to be met if God is to answer our prayers?
ALL of Jehovah’s requirements are wise, just, and loving. By no means are they burdensome. (1 John 5:3) That includes his requirements regarding prayer, one of which is that we must lead lives in harmony with our prayers. Our course of action must please Jehovah God. Otherwise, how can we expect him to consider our petitions and supplications with favor?
2, 3. Why did Jehovah not answer the prayers of the Israelites, as seen by the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah?
2 This is an aspect of prayer that is overlooked by most of those in Christendom, even as it was overlooked by the apostate Israelites in Isaiah’s day. That is why Jehovah had his prophet represent him as saying: “Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening . . . Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the badness of your dealings from in front of my eyes; cease to do bad. Learn to do good.” (Isaiah 1:15-17) Yes, if those Israelites wanted God’s favor, they had to act in a way that pleased him. As has well been said: “If you would have God hear you when you pray, you must hear Him when He speaks.”
3 In fact, Jehovah God repeatedly found it necessary to remind his people Israel of these truths. Thus we read: “He that is turning his ear away from hearing the law—even his prayer is something detestable” to God. “Jehovah is far away from the wicked ones, but the prayer of the righteous ones he hears.” (Proverbs 28:9; 15:29) Because of this situation, Jeremiah mourned: “You [Jehovah] have blocked approach to yourself with a cloud mass, that prayer may not pass through.” (Lamentations 3:44) Truly, the warning that Micah was inspired to give was fulfilled: “They will call to Jehovah for aid, but he will not answer them. And he will conceal his face from them in that time, according as they committed badness in their dealings.”—Micah 3:4; Proverbs 1:28-32.
4. What indicates that even among Jehovah’s people some do not appreciate the need for works harmonizing with their prayers?
4 So it is necessary to live in harmony with our prayers. Is it essential to stress this fact today? Indeed it is, not only because of the situation in Christendom but also because of the situation of some of Jehovah’s dedicated people. Of the more than 3,000,000 publishers of the good news last year, upwards of 37,000 were disfellowshipped for conduct unbecoming a Christian. That amounts to a ratio of about one in 80. Quite likely, most of these individuals were praying at least now and then. But were they acting in harmony with their prayers? By no means! Even some elders who had been in the full-time service for decades were among those disciplined in one way or another. How sad! Truly, “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall,” that he does not act in a way that makes his prayers unacceptable to his Maker.—1 Corinthians 10:12.
Why Prayers Require Works
5. For Jehovah to answer our prayers, how must we prove our sincerity?
5 For our prayers to be heard by Jehovah God, not only must we be morally and spiritually clean but we must also prove the sincerity of our prayers by working at what we pray for. Prayer alone is not a substitute for honest, intelligent effort. Jehovah will not do for us what we can do for ourselves by earnestly applying the counsel of his Word and following the guidance of his holy spirit. We should be willing to do all we can in this regard so that he will have a basis for answering our prayers. Thus, we ‘should not be asking for more than we are willing to work for,’ as someone has well put it.
6. For what two reasons should we pray?
6 However, the question may be asked: ‘Why pray if we have to work at what we pray for?’ We should pray for at least two good reasons. First, by our prayers we acknowledge that all good things come from God. He is the Giver of every good and perfect present—the sunshine, the rain, the fruitful seasons, and so much more! (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:16, 17; James 1:17) Second, whether our efforts are successful or not depends upon Jehovah’s blessing. As we read at Psalm 127:1: “Unless Jehovah himself builds the house, it is to no avail that its builders have worked hard on it. Unless Jehovah himself guards the city, it is to no avail that the guard has kept awake.” Making the same point are these words of the apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow.”
Some Ancient Examples
7, 8. (a) What incident in Jacob’s life shows that he appreciated that works must accompany prayers? (b) What example did King David provide in this regard?
7 The Scriptures report many cases showing that Jehovah’s faithful servants worked at what they prayed for. Let us consider a few representative examples. Because Abraham’s grandson Jacob gained the birthright blessing, his older brother Esau bore him murderous hatred. (Genesis 27:41) Some 20 years later, when Jacob was returning from Paddan-aram to the land of his birth with a large household and much livestock, he heard that Esau was coming to meet him. Remembering Esau’s animosity, Jacob prayed fervently to Jehovah for protection from his brother’s wrath. But did he let it go at that? No, indeed. He sent generous gifts ahead of him, reasoning: “I may appease him by the gift going ahead of me.” And so it turned out to be, for when the two brothers met, Esau embraced Jacob and kissed him.—Genesis, chapters 32, 33.
8 David furnished another example of working in behalf of what we pray for. When his son Absalom usurped his throne, David’s counselor Ahithophel cast his lot with Absalom. So David made earnest supplication that Ahithophel’s counsel might be frustrated. Did David merely pray to that effect? No, he instructed his loyal counselor Hushai to join Absalom so that he might frustrate Ahithophel’s counsel. And that is the way things worked out. Absalom acted on the bad counsel given him by Hushai, rejecting the counsel of Ahithophel.—2 Samuel 15:31-37; 17:1-14; 18:6-8.
9. How did Nehemiah show that he appreciated the principle that prayers require works?
9 Yet another example that might be cited for our admonition is that of Nehemiah. He had a large project to carry out—rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. However, many enemies were conspiring against him. Nehemiah both prayed and worked, even as we read: “We prayed to our God and kept a guard posted against them day and night.” From then on, half of Nehemiah’s young men stood ready to protect the other half, those building the wall.—Nehemiah 4:9, 16.
The Example of Jesus
10, 11. What examples provided by Jesus show that he acted in harmony with his prayers?
10 Jesus Christ set us a fine example of working at what we pray for. He taught us to pray: “Let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9) But Jesus also did all he could so that his listeners might sanctify his Father’s name. Likewise, Jesus did not limit himself to praying: “Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:28) No, he did what he could to glorify his Father’s name and to get others to do so.—Luke 5:23-26; 17:12-15; John 17:4.
11 Seeing the great spiritual need that the people had, Jesus said to his disciples: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest [Jehovah God] to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37, 38) Did Jesus let matters go at that? Not at all! Right after that, he sent out his 12 apostles in pairs on a preaching, or ‘harvesting,’ tour. Later, Jesus sent out the 70 evangelizers to do the same work.—Matthew 10:1-10; Luke 10:1-9.
Applying the Principle
12. What bearing does work have on our prayers that God give us our daily bread?
12 Clearly, Jehovah God expects us to be consistent, to act in harmony with our prayers, thereby proving our sincerity. Jesus told us to pray: “Give us today our bread for this day.” (Matthew 6:11) Rightly, therefore, all his followers petition God to that effect. But do we expect our heavenly Father to answer that prayer without our doing anything about it? Of course not. That is why we read: “The lazy one is showing himself desirous”—perhaps even by praying—“but his soul has nothing.” (Proverbs 13:4) The apostle Paul made the same point at 2 Thessalonians 3:10, saying: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.” Praying for our daily bread must be accompanied by a willingness to work. Interestingly, Paul wisely said that those who did not “want to work” should not eat. Some who want to work may be unemployed, sick, or too old to work. They do want to work, but this is beyond their circumstances. Hence, they may rightly pray for their daily bread and hope to receive it.
13. For Jehovah to answer our prayers for his holy spirit, what must we do?
13 Jesus also counseled us to ask his heavenly Father for His holy spirit. As Jesus assures us, God is more willing to give us the holy spirit than earthly parents are to give good things to their children. (Luke 11:13) But can we expect Jehovah God to impart his holy spirit to us miraculously, without any effort on our part? By no means! We must do everything we can to receive holy spirit. In addition to praying for it, we need to feed diligently on God’s Word. Why? Because Jehovah God does not give his holy spirit apart from his Word, and we cannot hope to receive holy spirit if we ignore the earthly channel Jehovah is using today, “the faithful and discreet slave,” represented by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Without help from this “slave,” we would neither be able to understand the full import of what we read nor know how to apply what we learn.—Matthew 24:45-47.
14, 15. (a) For Jehovah to answer our prayers for wisdom, how must we cooperate? (b) How is this borne out by King Solomon’s example?
14 The principle that prayers require works also applies to these words of the disciple James, the half brother of Jesus: “If any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him.” (James 1:5; Matthew 13:55) But does God impart this wisdom to us by some miracle? No. First of all, we must have the right attitude, as we read: “He will teach the meek ones his way.” (Psalm 25:9) And how does God teach “the meek ones”? By means of his Word. Again, we must put forth an effort to understand it and apply it, as indicated at Proverbs 2:1-6: “My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, if you keep seeking for it as for silver, . . . in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God. For Jehovah himself gives wisdom.”
15 When King Solomon prayed for wisdom and God miraculously answered his prayer, did the principle that prayers require works also apply? Yes, it did, for as king of Israel, Solomon was required to write his own copy of the Law, read in it daily, and apply it to his life. But when Solomon went contrary to its instructions, as by multiplying wives and horses, his works were no longer in harmony with his prayers. As a result, Solomon became an apostate and died as such a “senseless one.”—Psalm 14:1; Deuteronomy 17:16-20; 1 Kings 10:26; 11:3, 4, 11.
16. What illustration shows that our prayers to overcome fleshly weaknesses must be accompanied by works?
16 The principle that works must accompany prayers also applies when we are requesting God’s help to overcome some ingrained, selfish habit. Thus a pioneer sister admitted to being addicted to soap operas, watching them from 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. Learning from a district convention talk how harmful these immoral programs are, she took the matter to God in prayer. But it took quite a while for her to overcome the habit. Why? Because, as she said: ‘I would pray to overcome the habit and then would watch the programs anyway. So I decided to stay in the field service the whole day so that I would not have the temptation. At last I got to the point that I could turn off the TV in the morning and keep it off all day.’ Yes, in addition to praying to overcome her weakness, she had to work at overcoming it.
Prayer and Our Witnessing
17-19. (a) What facts show that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been acting in harmony with their prayers? (b) What example of an individual makes the same point?
17 Nowhere is the principle that prayers require works more true than in the Kingdom-preaching work. Thus, all of Jehovah’s Witnesses not only pray for an increase in harvest workers but also apply themselves to that work. As a result, they have seen phenomenal increases in one land after another. To note just one example: In 1930 there was only one witness of Jehovah preaching in Chile. Today, that one Witness has become not only a thousand but some 30,000. (Isaiah 60:22) Was this merely the result of prayers? No, work was also involved. Why, in 1986 alone, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chile devoted over 6,492,000 hours to the preaching work!
18 The same is true when the preaching work is banned. Witnesses not only pray for increase but also go underground and keep on preaching. Despite official opposition, therefore, increases take place in these lands. Thus, in 33 lands where Jehovah’s Witnesses meet with such official opposition, during the 1986 service year they devoted more than 32,600,000 hours to their preaching work and rejoiced in a 4.6-percent increase!
19 Of course, the principle that prayers require works also applies individually. We may pray to Jehovah to get a home Bible study but may not be doing all we can to obtain one. That was the experience of one pioneer. Having only one Bible study, she prayed to have more. Did she let matters go at that? No, but she carefully took note of her ministry and found that on her return visits she was not bringing up the subject of having a home Bible study. Proceeding along this line, she soon had two more Bible studies.
20. How may the principle that prayers require works be summed up?
20 Many more examples could be given to prove that prayers require works. For instance, there are those relating to personal relationships in the family or the congregation. But the foregoing examples should suffice to make it fully clear that prayers do require works. This is most logical, for we cannot expect Jehovah God to give favorable consideration to our petitions if we offend him by our very conduct. It also follows that we must do all we can in harmony with our prayers if we are to expect Jehovah to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Truly, Jehovah’s principles are wise and just. They make sense, and it is to our own benefit that we act in harmony with them.
Do You Recall?
□ What requirement regarding prayer was overlooked by many in ancient Israel?
□ Why is God not unreasonable in requiring that we work as well as pray for what we desire?
□ What ancient examples show that Jehovah’s servants worked at what they prayed for?
□ For God to answer our prayers for his holy spirit and for wisdom, what must we be doing?
□ How does the principle that prayers require works apply to our field ministry?
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Jesus urged his disciples to pray for more harvest workers. But he also sent them out into the preaching, or ‘harvesting,’ work
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Do you pray for help to control your television viewing? Then apply the principle that prayers require works by turning off your TV set