MBS150 The Rules of Prayer

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This study examines the rules pertaining to prayer and fasting.

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MBS150

THE RULES OF PRAYER

By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. PRAYER SHOULD BE ORGANIZED

A. Regarding the Addressee

B. Regarding God’s Name

C. Regarding the Kingdom Program

D. Regarding Daily Needs

E. Regarding Confession of Sins

F. Regarding Spiritual Warfare

II. PRAYER SHOULD BE REGULAR

III. PRAYER SHOULD NOT USE VAIN REPETITIONS

IV. PRAYER AND SEXUAL ABSTENTION

V. PRAYER AND THE MEETING OF THE CHURCH

VI. PRAYER AND THE GIFT OF TONGUES

VII. PRAYER AND THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIP IN THE HOME

VIII. BE SOBER UNTO PRAYER

IX. PRAYER AND FASTING

A. The Linkage of Prayer and Fasting

B. The Principle of Fasting

1. The Rule on Being Hypocritical

2. The Rule on Following Your Normal Routine

3. The Rule on Being Sure of Your Purpose

4. The Rule on Being Rewarded

C. The Jewish Believer’s Position on Fasting

X. PROHIBITIVE PRAYER

A. The Old Testament Prohibitions

B. The New Testament Prohibitions

Whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.

1 John 3:22

The Bible spells out a number of different rules concerning prayer. There are ten specific rules, which we should keep in mind in developing a prayer life.

I. PRAYER SHOULD BE ORGANIZED

This is taught in the Model Prayer of Luke 11:1–4 and Matthew 6:9–15. This is normally referred to as the Lord’s Prayer, but it should be called the Model Prayer because what Yeshua (Jesus) did was to show the disciples how to pray by providing a model. The point of this Model Prayer is that prayer should be organized; it should not be haphazard. It should be organized in six basic divisions.

A. Regarding the Addressee

First, we should address our prayers to God the Father.

Matthew 6:9 states: Our Father who are in heaven.

B. Regarding God’s Name

Secondly, we should sanctify God according to Luke 11:2: Hallowed be your name.

This is the time to reflect on His attributes and how they relate to us.

C. Regarding the Kingdom Program

Thirdly, in verse 2, we should pray for the Kingdom Program: Your kingdom come.

The Kingdom Program includes both present and future. The present aspect includes praying for our pastors, our missionaries, the work of evangelism, and the salvation of friends, relatives and neighbors. The future aspect includes praying for the return of the Lord, the salvation of Israel, the peace of Jerusalem and things of that nature.

D. Regarding Daily Needs

Fourthly, verse 3 tells us we should pray for our own daily needs: Give us day by day our daily bread.

This is the time to pray that our needs will be met in the area of clothing, food, and shelter.

E. Regarding Confession of Sins

And, fifthly, comes the confession of sins in verse 4: And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive everyone that is indebted to us.

This is the proper time to confess our sins and seek the forgiveness of God for our sins, it is also a time to reflect if we have anything against a brother, and we should exercise a spirit of forgiveness towards those who may have offended us.

F. Regarding Spiritual Warfare

Sixthly, also in verse 4, we should be praying concerning the spiritual warfare: And bring us not into temptation.

This would be the time to pray concerning any trial or tribulation that we are undergoing, any besetting sin that keeps throwing us off the spiritual path, and things of that nature.

The point of the Model Prayer is that prayer should be organized.

II. PRAYER SHOULD BE REGULAR

Psalm 5:3 states: O Jehovah, in the morning shall you hear my voice; In the morning will I order my prayer unto you, and will keep watch.

The psalmist states that he will pray regularly every morning. It does not say that we have to pray in the morning, but it does emphasize the concept of praying regularly. In the case of the author of this Psalm, he chose to do it in the morning.

Another passage that teaches the same point is Psalm 55:17: Evening, and morning, and at noonday, will I complain and moan; And he will hear my voice.

Again, the emphasis is on prayer being regular. Here the psalmist mentions not only one time of day, but three times a day: he will pray in the morning; he will pray in the evening; he will pray at noon. But, again, it does not mean that we are required to pray at those specific times of day, however, the principle remains the same; prayer needs to be regular. We need to have regular, set times of prayer, but it is up to us when we choose to have it.

A third example that points out the same truth is Daniel 6:10: And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; (now his windows were open in his chamber toward Jerusalem); and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

In the case of Daniel, he chose to pray three different times a day. While we are not told what hours these were, they were probably the same as those of Psalm 55:17. He prayed in the morning; he prayed at noon; and he prayed in the evening. Again, the point is not that we have to pray at those fixed times, but that we do need to have regular, organized prayer times. Prayer should be regular.

How should we choose when to have regular prayer? This is the free choice of each individual. Some people function best in the morning, so they should have their prayer time in the morning. Some function best in the afternoon after lunch and that is when they should have their prayer time. A lot of people, like myself, function best in the evening, so I have my prayer times primarily in the evening. But the point is the same, prayer needs to be regular.

This is the second rule concerning prayer; that prayer should be regular.

III. PRAYER SHOULD NOT USE VAIN REPETITIONS

In Matthew 6:7, Yeshua said: And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Jesus said not to use vain repetitions, and compared it to what the Gentiles did. What was the difference between the biblical Jewish religion and Gentile religions? The difference was that there was extemporaneous prayer in biblical religion, but all Gentile-made religions used prescribed prayer, prayers that were memorized. These prayers were recited through a prayer book and this is vain repetitions. By Yeshua’s day, Judaism had developed into the same type of religion as a Gentile religion, in that, all prayers were prescribed. All prayers were memorized. All prayers were read through a prayer book. So, when Jesus said, “do not use vain repetitions as the Gentiles do,” what He meant is: do not resort to praying a prescribed prayer; do not resort to praying through prayer books.

However, this in no way negates praying for the same thing many times, it is perfectly permissible. Vain repetition does not negate praying for the same thing more than once, but Matthew 6:7 does negate prescribed prayers.

What Judaism had become in Yeshua’s day is often what segments of Christianity have become in our day. Through the development of denominations, many churches pray through prayer books, and they are guilty of vain repetition. The word vain means “emptiness.” It is repetition that is empty. The reason it is empty is that any type of prescribed prayer, any type of prayer that was written by someone else and that is simply repeated over and over again, is empty of meaning because it is not your prayer, they are not your words, they are not your feelings. They may have been the true feelings of the one who first wrote the prayer, but they are not your words or feelings. In true praying, we need to express what we feel. We need to talk to God using our own words, our own terminologies, our own way of stating a phrase or sentence. That is what is important. That is how prayer becomes fulfilling rather than empty.

IV. PRAYER AND SEXUAL ABSTENTION

The Bible has something to say about prayer and sexual abstention in 1 Corinthians 7:5: Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency.

According to this verse, it is alright to abstain from sexual intercourse with our mate for a period of time to devote that period of time to prayer. Temporary sexual abstention is permissible for the sake of a period of prayer.

However, note two other things in dealing with this rule. First, it should only be temporary; only for a season, because, if we abstain from proper sexual activity with our mate, one or the other or both will find themselves under satanic temptation and, perhaps, falling as well. So, if we make a decision to abstain sexually for a period of time, for the purpose of devoting that period of time to prayer, that period needs to be limited.

The second thing is that any such decision must be with the consent of the other mate. This kind of decision is not to be a unilateral decision. The Bible clearly forbids this in this verse. A man who is the head of the house cannot use his headship to simply demand that this is the way it is going to be. In this kind of a situation, he must seek consent from his wife first, even as she must first seek consent from him in order to do this.

V. PRAYER AND THE MEETING OF THE CHURCH

The specific passage concerning this is 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, which has to do with the public meeting of the church. This passage deals with the proper decorum in the meeting of the church where prayer is being conducted.

Concerning the male, Paul said in verse 4: Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.

The point is that in the public meeting of the church where prayer is being conducted, a man’s head has to be uncovered. It does not say the man himself has to be praying to have his head uncovered. But in the meeting of the church where prayer is being conducted, even if someone else is reciting the prayer, the head of the male must remain uncovered.

But concerning the female, he states in verses 5 and 13.

Verse 5 states: But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven.

Verse 13 states: Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled?

In the case of the woman, in the public meeting of the church, her head is to be covered. The word used for the hair as a covering (v. 15) is not the same word used here which refers to an article of clothing. Some type of article of clothing should be on the head of the female in the meeting of the church where prayer is being conducted. Again, it does not require that she herself be praying, but it does require that her head be covered when public prayers are being conducted in the meeting of the church.

The relationship of prayer and the meeting of the church is: that the man should have his head uncovered and the woman should have her head covered because it is the will of the Lord. I realize that in American churches this is seldom practiced today, but that is really no excuse. The lack of practice does not excuse anyone from trying to get around this situation. I think if we are going to submit ourselves to biblical rules and regulations, we need to keep this rule in mind indeed.

VI. PRAYER AND THE GIFT OF TONGUES

The passage dealing with this is 1 Corinthians 14:13–15: Wherefore let him that speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

First, in verse 13, the point Paul makes is that if there is a true message in tongues, there should also be prayers offered to God for the interpretation of it. This is important. I think that much of what passes for the gift of tongues today is not the gift of tongues at all. However, the rule remains the same; if there is a true message in tongues, there should be a prayer for the interpretation. For without the interpretation, there is no understanding; and without understanding, the body is not edified. The main purpose of spiritual gifts is not for the edification of self but for the edification of the body. Therefore, Paul says to pray for the interpretation, because tongues is useless for edifying the body, apart from the gift of interpretation.

Secondly, in verse 14, when one prays in a tongue, it is the human spirit that is praying but the human mind does not understand; the understanding remains unfruitful. There is a common misconception that when people are praying in tongues, the Holy Spirit is actually praying through them. This is not true. If this were true, then the gift of tongues could never be misused, because the Holy Spirit will simply not misuse His own verbal communication. Yet, the Corinthian Church was terribly guilty of misusing the gift. The Holy Spirit gave the gift, but it is the human spirit that is praying. So, when one speaks in tongues, it is the human spirit that is speaking, but the understanding is unfruitful, and this is why it is important that we pray for the interpretation.

In conclusion, Paul points out in verse 15 that he will pray with the spirit. Again, this is the human spirit. He will use the gift of tongues that he has, but he will pray with the understanding also. Throughout chapter 14, this is his main emphasis: that it is far more important to pray with the understanding than to pray with the gift of tongues. The emphasis should not be in praying what we don’t understand; the emphasis should be in praying what we do understand. If there is a true message in tongues, then one should also pray for the interpretation, because the emphasis is not on self-edification, but on the edification of the body.

VII. PRAYER AND THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIP IN THE HOME

The right relationship in the home is important for a proper prayer life.

1 Peter 3:7 states: Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered.

In this verse, Peter makes three major points. First, dwell with your wives according to knowledge. It is the responsibility of the husband to get to know what his wife is like; to get to know his wife in such a way that he understands what her desires are, what her wants are, and what her needs are. It is his responsibility to see what makes her happy and what makes her sad, and then to live with her accordingly, always striving for the best for her.

Secondly, not only is he to live with his wife in an understanding way, but he is to give honor unto the woman for two reasons. The first reason he is to honor her is because she is the weaker vessel and he is responsible for protecting her. Protection also involves the concept of honoring her. The second reason for honoring the wife is because she is a joint-heir in the grace of life. This, of course, presupposes that the husband and wife are believers. In that case, they are joint-heirs of the grace of life. He is to keep in mind that she shares eternal life with him; and that she is destined for the same eternal future.

Thirdly, having spelled out these two rules, dwell with your wives according to knowledge and give honor unto women, he then gives the purpose and reason behind it, and this is where it touches on the subject of prayer: to the end that your prayer be not hindered. In other words, a husband’s prayer could be hindered if he does not follow the first two rules. If he is not living with his wife according to knowledge, in an understanding way, his prayers will be hindered. If he is failing to honor his wife, his prayers will be hindered. So, husbands, if you had a spat with your wife and have not made peace with her, then do not bother to have your quiet time; there is no need to pray because God is not listening. It is vitally important in developing a biblical prayer pattern, that there is peace between husband and wife. Otherwise, the prayers are going to be hindered.

VIII. BE SOBER UNTO PRAYER

This is spelled out by 1 Peter 4:7: But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer

The meaning of be sober unto prayer is “to be connected with a sound mind.” In other words, we should be disciplined in our thought patterns because only then will we be able to be sober unto prayer. It is important that we do not come to God in prayer haphazardly, in a disorganized and a “scatter-brained” way. We need to be sober unto prayer.

IX. PRAYER AND FASTING

A. The Linkage of Prayer and Fasting

In Scripture, prayer and fasting were frequently linked together.

For example, Matthew 17:21 states: But this kind goes not out save by prayer and fasting.

In this context, He is dealing with the problem of a dumb demon, and He points out that this kind of demon will only go out by means of prayer and fasting.

A parallel passage, Mark 9:29, states: And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer.

Dealing with the same incident of a dumb demon, Jesus said that a mute demon can only be cast out by means of prayer and fasting.

Another example is Luke 2:37: and she had been a widow even unto fourscore and four years), who departed not from the temple, worshipping with fastings and supplications night and day.

This is speaking of the prophetess Anna, who was characterized for decades by both prayers and fastings.

When we come into the New Testament Church, we find the same thing being practiced as Acts 13:2–3 states: And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

The leaders of the church were both praying and fasting before the Holy Spirit said to separate Barnabas and Saul. After this call, they continued praying and fasting as well, before they sent them out by the laying on of hands.

Another example of this is Acts 14:23: And when they had appointed for them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed.

In this passage, the appointment of elders in the church was accompanied by prayer and fasting.

One more example is 1 Corinthians 7:5: Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency.

This passage speaks of sexual abstention in conjunction with prayer, but often it was accompanied by fasting as well.

So in these verses, we clearly see that fasting was often linked with prayer, but it was never commanded as such.

B. The Principle of Fasting

The principle of fasting is given in Matthew 6:16–18: Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen of men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; that you be not seen of men to fast, but of your Father who is in secret: and your Father, who sees in secret, shall recompense you.

There is no command for believers to fast today, but there is the principle that when you fast, there are certain rules to follow. So if you choose to link fasting and prayer at some point in your life, there are certain rules you need to follow.

1. The Rule on Being Hypocritical

First, (v. 16), do not be hypocritical about the way you fast. In other words, fasting is not for the purpose of impressing anyone else. Yeshua warns us against doing what some practiced, that when they fasted, they disfigured their faces; they showed hungry looks; they wanted to make sure that other people knew that they were fasting so that other people would admire their spirituality. This is being hypocritical about your fasting. Fasting is a private matter between you and the Lord. The principle is that once it begins to show that you are fasting, it is time to start eating again; because fasting is not for the purpose of impressing others, it is a time to be alone in prayer with the Lord. Those who choose to fast in order to impress others, have already received their reward. In other words, having others impressed by them is the only reward they will ever get; they will receive no reward from God.

2. The Rule on Following Your Normal Routine

Secondly (v. 17), when you choose to fast, anoint your head and wash your face. In other words, follow your normal routine; brush your teeth, comb your hair, if you use facial cream, anoint yourself, your head, your face. Do not make it visibly apparent that you are fasting.

3. The Rule on Being Sure of Your Purpose

Thirdly (v. 18a), do not fast just for the purpose of being seen by men, but fast for the purpose of wanting to get closer to the Lord.

4. The Rule on Being Rewarded

Fourthly (v. 18b), if you are willing to fast in secret, God the Father, who sees these things in secret, will reward you. How He will reward you, it does not say. It does not guarantee that He is going to reward us by means of answering the prayer exactly the way we want it answered. However, the reward is that He will listen. The reward is that He will answer it in some way; in the way He knows is best for us. So for those who are fasting just to be seen of men, this is the only reward they are going to get. If we are fasting to honor the Lord, and not ourselves, or to impress other people, we are going to be rewarded by the Lord.

Summary: The principle is: when you fast, follow these certain rules. Fasting is never commanded for the New Testament believer, although it is often linked with prayer in New Testament history. Fasting is an option, but prayer is not an option; prayer is something we need to do. If we so choose, we can link our prayer life at certain times with fasting as well, because fasting is an option.

C. The Jewish Believer’s Position on Fasting

Since we are a Messianic Jewish ministry, there is some confusion about Jewish believers fasting on certain days because in Judaism there are prescribed days for fasting. For example, the most important fast is on the Day of Atonement, the Yom Kippur Fast. There is also the Fast for the Ninth of Av, which is the Jewish date when the First Temple and the Second Temple were destroyed. There is the Fast of Esther, the day before the Feast of Esther. There are all kinds of other opportunities in Judaism for fasting. As Jewish believers, where do we stand on these specific points? Although in Jewish tradition many of these days are called days of fasting, they are not so in Scripture. A lot of these observances, such as the Fast of Esther and the Fast of the Ninth of Av are purely of Rabbinic origin and have no biblical origins whatsoever. So there is no obligation to fast on those days. Biblically, we may choose to fast on those days, but we are not obligated to.

But what about the Day of Atonement? Did not the Bible make it mandatory that we are to fast on that day? First of all, the Day of Atonement is part of the observances of the Mosaic Law. With the death of the Messiah, the Mosaic Law has been rendered inoperative. So even if fasting were mandatory for the Day of Atonement under the Law, it is not mandatory for the New Testament believers.

And, secondly, even under the Law, there was no command to fast on this day. The command in Scripture for the Day of Atonement was the affliction of the soul, but not the affliction of the body. Fasting on the Day of Atonement is a Rabbinic innovation; it is not a biblical rule. So, on the one hand, if it was part of the Law of Moses, it would not apply for us today anyway. We have been freed from the Law. On the other hand, it was never part of the Law of Moses to begin with.

X. PROHIBITIVE PRAYER

What this means is that God sometimes forbids praying for certain things. For example, three different times Jeremiah was forbidden to pray for Israel because, by this time, the Babylonian captivity was unavoidable.

A. The Old Testament Prohibitions

The first time is Jeremiah 7:16: Therefore pray not you for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me; for I will not hear you.

Clearly, Jeremiah was forbidden to pray for the people of Israel. He was not to make any intercession for them. Even if he tried to pray for them, if he tried to intercede for them, God was not going to listen.

A second time he was forbidden to pray for something was in Jeremiah 11:14: Therefore pray not you for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me because of their trouble.

Jeremiah once again was ordered not to pray on behalf of the people of Israel because, even if they were to pray to Him, God would not hear them either.

The third time is Jeremiah 14:11: And Jehovah said unto me, Pray not for this people for their good.

Do not pray for the good of Israel. God will not answer. So, there are situations where we have prohibitive prayer. Jeremiah was forbidden to pray for Israel, because the Babylonian captivity was unavoidable. Today we no longer need to pray this prayer, since it is no longer an issue.

B. The New Testament Prohibitions

But for the New Testament believer, there are situations in which we have prohibitive prayer.

The key example is 1 John 5:16: If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request.

In this passage, the prohibitive prayer specifically is that we are not to pray for those who have committed the sin unto death. But, what is the sin unto death? In this context, John is dealing with a believer, not an unbeliever. So, what is the sin unto death that we are no longer to pray for? The sin unto death concerns a believer who has undergone the fourth step of church discipline and has been excommunicated from the church; he is no longer under the protection of the prayers of the saints.

A parallel passage to this is Matthew 18:15–20, which spells out the four steps of church discipline. The first step is for the offended brother to go to the offender and show him his fault (v. 15). If that produces no response or repentance, the second step is for the brother to approach him again, but this time with two or three witnesses (v. 16). If that does not bring about the needed result, the third step is to bring it before the whole body, the local church (v. 17). If that does not result in what it should, then the fourth step is: let him be unto you as the Gentile and the publican (v. 17), meaning “untouchable” or “excommunicated.” At this point, a person is placed outside the body of the church. During the first three steps of church discipline, we can continue to pray for him. But once that fourth step is taken, then he is to be placed outside the fellowship of the church. From then on, we cease to pray for him.

But in what way is this a sin unto death? 1 Corinthians 5:1–5 explains: It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you has his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and did not rather mourn, that he that had done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, being absent in body but present in spirit, have already as though I were present judged him that has so wrought this thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus, ye being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The reason this is called a sin unto death is because of what excommunication does: it places the sinning brother back under the authority of Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Normally, Satan has no power of death as far as believers are concerned. If a believer dies, it has nothing to do with Satan. Yeshua Himself puts believers to death so that He can bring them to His home in Heaven.

But there is one exception to this rule, and this is in the case of an excommunicated believer. When a believer is excommunicated, it means he is placed back under the authority of Satan for the destruction of the flesh; for the destruction of his physical life. That is why it is a sin unto death: because at that point, Satan has the authority to kill him. Because he is put back under Satan’s authority by the local church by that fourth step, the step of excommunication, we are no longer to pray for him. This verse goes on to say that his spirit will be saved; his spiritual salvation is still assured, but not his physical salvation.

This is an example of prohibitive praying; we are not to pray for a brother once he has been excommunicated from the local body and has been placed back under Satan’s authority for the destruction of the flesh.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS BIBLE STUDY, DR. FRUCHTENBAUM RECOMMENDS:

MBS144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, and 151.