Jonathan Edwards: The Hope of Prayer

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

Christians believe that prayer is important, even essential, to see the work of God in their lives and in their communities. However, beliefs and practice do not always line-up perfectly. Prayer takes effort and time. Often those are the two elements that we do not want to give up in our busy lives. Our bent is toward the quick fixes in life and prayer so often does not yield the results we want within our desired timeframe. We read the Apostle Paul exhorting us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) and we explain it away as hyperbolic or an ideal that is not attainable.

But if our desire is for the knowledge of the Lord to cover the earth as the water covers the seas (Hab 2:14), then our prayers need to be focused and directed in a certain way. Jonathan Edwards thought much about the way in which he prayed and made his petitions to God during his life and ministry. In his 29thResolution he made it his aim to never make a prayer or confession that God would not answer or accept. While this may seem like an obvious conclusion to come to concerning prayer, we need to think through how many prayers we have uttered that we didn’t believe that God would answer. How many prayers for healing, jobs, children, or salvation do we think that God will answer? Edwards’ desire and thought process was to make sure that his prayers were of such a nature that he could “hope that God will answer.”

When we think of the types of prayer Christians engage in, we often go to directly to the petitions we make for health or safety. The “Health and Wealth Gospel” will exhort their followers that they need more faith that and then God will grant answers to any and all petitions. Edwards, however, thought through his time of confession and made sure that when he went before God it was not in a flippant manner but in such a way as to have full acceptance in Christ through grace. Many times, as Christians, when we confess our sins, we make broad statements and general admission to the sins which we commit. That type of confession would not satisfy Edwards. Edwards’ desire for his life was to be in a deep personal relationship with God that is based on the realities revealed in God’s Word.

As we saw in the first post, prayer is a necessity for Christians that desire to see God work in their personal lives, families, friends, church, and the world. But the manner in which we pray cannot be focused on the benefits that we gain but on our obedience to God. In other words, when we go before God in prayer the foundation for our hope is built on what the Bible teaches. For Edwards the hope that he had that God would work and answer the prayers of His people was found in the pages of Scripture. Preaching, teaching, and studying were not the only times that the Bible was required to be opened. If one desires to know God and walk in personal relationship with Him, then there is every reason to pray and meditate on God’s Word at all times and in all places of life.

If Christians desire to raise the level of prayer and deepen the manner we confess our sin and live with each other and unbelievers then we must pray. These prayers cannot be the mere theological ramblings of our mind, but the grounded truths that God has revealed brought before Him. Edwards wanted to see churches to seek after the life-changing work of the Spirit because he believed that God would grant that request as it was revealed in Scripture. Today our study of God’s Word must inform the way we pray and the hope that we have to see God work.

Article by Caleb Nedimyer

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