Prayer and the Prophethood of the Believer
Seldom have I met a believer that has not struggled maintaining a consistent, disciplined prayer life. I know this has been a challenge in my own spiritual journey. I have found it easier to study the Bible, meditate, worship, tithe, and exercise almost all the other disciplines of the Christian life, than it has been to pray.
How can we overcome this lack of prayerfulness? Why do we have this “mass discipline problem” when it comes to pray? Do we not love God and want to spend time in His presence? Why then is our prayer life so far from what we know it should be?
Is the issue lack of discipline? Certainly, a consistent prayer life takes discipline; there is no way around that fact. But, the lack of discipline is rooted in a lack of vision. True vision is what motivates us to be disciplined. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision the people are unrestrained”. In other words, vision causes people to be restrained, i.e.; disciplined. Our vision of prayer has not been adequate to produce discipline.
It is my purpose in this teaching, to increase our vision as to what prayer is all about. Prayer is not a game or a religious exercise. It is the means by which God has chosen to engage us in the “running” of His universe.
One commonly neglected aspect of prayer is its prophetic character. We generally think of a prophet as one who speaks to people on behalf of God. This true of the prophetic role, but it is also inadequate. The Biblical concept of the prophet is much greater. Scripture shows us that the prophet can speak to man because he has first listened, and spoken to God.
The prophet in the Old Testament was one who had been granted the unique privilege of entering the very presence of God, and His angels, to witness the deliberations of the heavenly council (Psalm 89:7). Not only was he allowed access to these discussions, he was also a participant (See I Kings 22:19-22, Isaiah 6:1-8, Ezekiel 1-3, 10).
The Bible reveals that God does nothing without consulting with His servants, the prophets (Amos 3:7). An example of this is God coming down to meet with Abraham before the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33). It was on the basis of having “stood in the council of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:18) that distinguished the true prophet from the false (Jeremiah 23:22).
The very first occurrence of the word “prophet” in the Bible is not in connection with “prophesying.” Instead, it is in connection with the prophet Abraham interceding for someone who is suffering under the judgment of God (Gen. 20:7). The characteristic activity of a prophet is intercession. This is shown to us concerning Abraham and his role in interceding for Sodom (Gen. 18:16-33). Here he actually “argues” with God, attempting to get God to change His mind. Some have seen this as presumptuous, but that is not the case. The Biblical prophet is on such close terms with God that he can argue his case before Him (See Job 13:3-15). In the Old Testament, we find the prophets engaging God in debate, interceding, and mediating for others (Exod. 32:7-14; Amos 7:1-6). God and His prophets can speak frank and openly with one another (Gen. 18:17; Exod. 33:11). Take note of the prayers of the great prophets recorded in Scripture – Moses, Jeremiah, Daniel, and David. They were strong personalities who were so confident in their relationship with God that they actually debated with Him and tried to change His mind – and were often successful.
Under the Old Covenant this prophetic privilege of intercession was limited to a select few. No one could appoint himself as a prophet. One had to be chosen by God. One had to be spoken to by God. One had to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. This did not happen to everyone. The prophets were a special group.
Certainly it is true that all of God’s people could pray under the Old Covenant. But it was God’s prophets, who were given a special place of access to the “heavenly council” that meets around the throne of God (See I Kings 22:19-23). Being a prophet was not merely being God’s messenger, but being a member of God’s Divine Council. Abraham Heschel, in his book The Prophets, has written:
“The prophet claims to be far more than a messenger. He is a person who stands in the presence of God (Jeremiah 15:19), who stands ‘in the council of the Lord’ (Jeremiah 23:18), who is a participant, as it were, in the council of God, not a bearer of dispatches whose function is limited to being sent on errands. He is a counselor as well as a messenger.”
The theological scholar, George Vandervelde stated it in this manner:
“[The prophets] are not only privy to the divine council (I Kings 22:19-23; Isaiah 6:1-5), they were participants in God’s plans. When God announces judgment, the prophet is not afraid to challenge God. Amos asks God to forgive Israel, because Jacob is so small (Amos 7:2). As Heschel aptly puts it, Amos does not say, ‘Thy will be done,’ but ‘Thy will be changed.’ And in the case of Amos the Lord concedes. He repents: ‘It shall not be, said the Lord’ (Amos 7:3). The pivotal role of the prophet as one who stands in the council of the Lord and who becomes a partner in the unfolding of God’s covenant plans of judgment and salvation is crucial for understanding the way in which the New Testament people as a whole may be considered prophetic people.”
Moses longed to see the day when this blessing of intimate fellowship would be available to all of God’s people. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them” (Num. 11:29). The cry of Moses’ heart was fulfilled in Christ’s institution of the New Covenant. Jesus’ parting instructions to His disciples reflect the transformation about to take place with the Church. He taught them about the Holy Spirit and prayer (John 14-16). He then revealed the intimacy of relationship, like that of the prophets, they were being brought into. He says to them: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
We are called as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ to be His friends. We are friends of the King. The King’s Friend was his closest counselor ((I Kings 4:5; II Sam. 15:32-17:15; I Chron. 27:33), which helps explain the depth of the statement that Abraham was God’s Friend (James 2:23; II Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; Gen. 18:17). In the New Covenant we all have become the King’s Friends. If we truly saw this truth, it would motivate us toward more intimate fellowship with the Lord in prayer. To quote from George Vandervelde once again: “Through the Spirit every believer is taken into God’s confidence. God’s basic plans regarding the world and His means of accomplishing those plans are disclosed in Christ through the Spirit. We are far more privileged ‘friends of Christ’ than Abraham ever was, for we know what the Father is doing.”
John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of the Old Covenant, according to Jesus, yet through the New Covenant, the least in the Kingdom of God is greater (Matt. 11:7-14). Those of us living under the New Covenant often fail to recognize the tremendous privilege that we have. With the establishment of the New Covenant through His blood, His resurrection, His ascension into the presence of God as the covenantal head of His people, and the outpouring of the Spirit, things have dramatically changed. The Church has access to the throne of God in Jesus’ name. We are to come into His presence with confidence (Heb. 4:16). [The Greek word parrhesia, translated as “confidence,” means: freedom in speaking, unreserved, open and frank, without concealment, ambiguity or circumlocution, free and fearless, cheerful courage, and boldness.]
Let us not miss the significant miracle at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), which was that the believers were speaking in other tongues. Peter declared that this was the sign that the Spirit had been poured out upon the Church, and that all had become prophets (Acts 2:16-18). Moses’ desire to see “the prophethood of all believers” was now beginning to be fulfilled. Christians are prophets (as well as priests) individually and corporately. This does not mean that we all stand in the office of the prophet (Ephes. 4:11), but it does mean that we called to speak God’s Word to our culture, and most importantly we are given the privilege of intercession.
We must also recognize that there is tremendous power in the corporate prayer of God’s people. The Church meets as the heavenly council before God’s throne, one great assembly united in prayer (Heb. 10:19-25; 12:22-24). When the King’s Friends agree together, their influence upon decisions is multiplied (Matt. 18:19-20). If we saw that in our gathering together to pray we involved in shaping the future of the world (Rev. 8:3-5), it would transform the “weakly” prayer meeting.
We, like the prophets under the Old Covenant, have been brought before the heavenly council that meets before God’s throne. We are not only privileged to listen to the discussion, as Micaiah did, (See I Kings 22:19-23) but to actually enter into the deliberation – like Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and Amos did. Undoubtedly, we must remember that God is God, He is the Sovereign Lord and does as He pleases (Ps. 115:3). He does not have to take our advice; but Jesus said that He often will (John 14:13-14). In fact, we are told to expect affirmative answers to our prayers (Matt. 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13), and that we should keep asking until we get the answers we want (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8). James 4:2 tells us that “you do not have because you do not ask.”
In the New Covenant, Christ refers to His people as the “ekklesia” (Matt. 16:19, 18:17). The word ekklesia, which is translated as church or assembly in the English Bible, was a Greek political term denoting those within the citizenry who were “called out to rule.” It was the ekklesia who made fundamental political and judicial decisions. We, as believers, are “called out to rule” with Christ (Rom. 5:17). Like the Old Testament prophets, who were brought into His council we as the ekklesia of God have conferred on us that privilege, I believe that this is what Paul means in Ephesians 2:6, when he states that “we are seated in heavenly places?” It is in the “heavenly places” that decisions are made. What was, under the Old Covenant, limited to a select few has, under the New Covenant, been made available to us all. We are “seated in the heavenly council.” Unfortunately, some of us have vacated our seat.