By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I’d like to increase the power of my prayers. Can you share with me some things that will make my prayers stronger and more relevant?
I think I can help. One thing that has really helped my personal prayer life is learning to pray from the “inside out.”
When we look at the prayers recorded by the apostle Paul in Scripture, he always prayed from the “inside out.” That means he dealt with the issues in his own heart first, dealing with any sin, asking God to purify his heart and grow spiritually, and meditating on His will.
I think it’s fascinating that there’s no biblical evidence that Paul ever prayed for someone to get well. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for the sick! Jesus and His disciples often did. But as you read Paul’s prayers, I think you’ll be struck by the fact that all of them start on the inside in his heart and make their way to the outside in his actions. Consider this:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (Ephesians 1:17).
Too often, we allow our view of God to be altered by circumstances.
A loved one is sick, so we pray earnestly that he or she lives! We know and trust that God is good. He is worth our prayer and homage…as long as we get the answer we hope for.
On the other hand, if our loved one dies, we wonder if God is not so good. Maybe we should go looking for another God or give up on the One we have. Why might this be?
Man's basic definition of prayer is to have our needs met. God's basic definition of prayer is that we may know Him.
As we study the life of Christ, we come to understand that not once did Paul ever pray for someone’s physical body to get well. However, he prayed again and again for the growth and development of someone’s innermost spirit;
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best it may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes to Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
Consider this passage as well:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)
Please notice the clear distinction between our humanity and God's Sovereign Deity.
My humanity says; “God heal my body...God fix these circumstances...God turn around this tragedy.” But God says:
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we’re being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is a unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
The holy art of effective prayer is learning to transfer our focus from the temporal or external to the internal or eternal.
In other words, we will never sustain an eternal prayer life until we determine to develop an eternal perspective. That also means we must never allow temporal discomforts to destroy our view of God.
My friend Juanita struggled when the Nicholson baby rode his tricycle into the swimming pool and drowned.
She cried out, “Why? Where was his guardian angel? Why didn't God have some adult walk out? Why? How could this be the Father's will?”
I have seen moms and dads and others change their whole view of God over less than this tragedy. But think about this:
“Where was God when my son was killed?” “I suppose He was where He was when His own Son died.”
Tragedy and triumph, pain and sorrow, even answers to prayer; it all comes down to this question: “What is God's ultimate plan for believers?”
It’s simple. His plan is for us “to be with Him in heaven.”
So where is that little boy?” “Where is my son?”
“He’s with Jesus.” God’s ultimate plan is now accomplished.
That's transition from the temporal to the eternal.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/LoveTheWind
Transition from Temporal to Eternal Is Accomplished by Praying from the Inside Out
May your whole spirit, soul, and body be blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
Imagine three concentric circles. The smallest circle represents our human spirit. The next outward circle represents our soul. The outermost third circle represents our body.
Our Human Spirit (“pneuma”) is our organ of “God consciousness.” This is where we see and experience God at the deepest levels of human experience:
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8)
Here it is that the Holy Spirit communicates with us at the deepest level of our being.
Our Soul (“psyche” or “nous”) is our organ of “self-consciousness.” It is the location of our mind, will, and emotions. Our soul is the essence of who we are—our personality, just us.
Our Body (“sarx“) is our human, physical body. Here we have our five senses. It is with our bodies that we interact with the natural world.
God is much more concerned that we're praying for our spirit, which is eternal, than for our body which is decaying and which will soon perish.
So, we learn to pray from the inside out! Paul prayed,
For this reason, I kneel before the father, … I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-20)
God allows and orchestrates circumstances so that we may know Him better. He wants to sensitize our God-consciousness.
Satan wants to get our minds on our circumstances, in order to desensitize our God-consciousness.
When we pray in the area of our spirit, God answers a thousand times out of a thousand. When we pray like this; “God make me like Christ … make me a man/woman of God … give me your wisdom and discernment … mature me to be a spiritual mother/father at any price” … He will ALWAYS answer.
However, when we pray in the area of our soul, God is often hindered from answering our prayer. The problem here is my will. God is hindered in giving what I ask for because my will is so involved. When my will is in line with His will, God can easily answer my prayer. But when my will is embedded in my own desires or plans, God sometimes doesn’t answer for our own protection.
The body is one of the places where God has the most difficulty in answering our prayers. We pray, “God, heal my body…make me well…and change these circumstances.”
We're obsessed with removing pain and tragedies and problems from our lives; and Jesus is obsessed with God-synthesizing our spirit as we mature to look like Him.
That maturity comes as we let go of our “outside in” prayers and lift up requests that focus on the development of our “inner circle”—our human spirit.
Some pray multiple times for a friend to be healed of cancer. But their loved one will eventually die. Prayers for healing are not eternally effective. Life is a terminal disease.
People get all hyped up over someone’s healing. But does the Bible says that angels rejoice when bodies are healed? No! Angels rejoice when souls are saved! That is the eternal matter.
Yet most people ask, beg, and want things and situations changed. We pray for bodies healed when we have not the slightest idea what God wants to do.
It is a great day in our growth to maturity when we understand that God often allows sickness and calamity and tragedy in order to develop our God-sensitivity.
The writer of Hebrews declared:
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-11)
The body is decaying and temporal…God will destroy the body every time if that’s what it takes to mature our eternal spirit.
If we pray without being enlightened, without knowing His will, God will sometimes give us what we want with devastating results.
Remember when the Israelites were wandering in the desert after they’d been rescued from Egypt? The people were sick of having manna for every meal. They grumbled profusely and prayed for meat and vegetables. Psalm 106:14-15 teaches:
They missed the food in Egypt and prayed for real food. This was a challenge to God’s care and compassion and a test of the Israelite’s obedience and surrender. So, God gave them that for which they asked. Thousands of deceased quail blew in with the east wind and 30,000 Isrelites died.
I remember a great illustration from Alexander McLaren, the eighteenth-century Scottish pastor, who told of being called out on a stormy night to help a mother pray for her son’s healing. He said to her, “Let’s pray for God to show us his will for your son and we can best pray for that.” She was not pleased.
He continued, “We need to pray about God’s will before we pray for his healing. Perhaps God has something else going on here.”
Again, she was not pleased. “No”, she said, “I want to pray for his total healing.” So, she did.
The next line was chilling. McLaren wrote: “Several years later I lived to watch her son mount the stairs of the village gallows to be hanged for murdering their next-door family of six.
7 Thoughts to Consider When Praying from the Inside Out
1. Please understand; we ought to pray earnestly for those we love to be healed. We are called to pray for God’s care and protection in difficult times. There are times when praying for healing is His intention and our prayers can make a big difference. James writes, “We have not because we ask not” (James 4:2).
2. But at the same time, let’s not forget to spend even more time in prayer for the development of our inner spirit.
3. Realize that we are dealing with unseen spiritual powers. We need to avoid focusing our attention on the outward physical circumstances and look at the spiritual issues involved (see Ephesians 6:12).
4. Seek God and pursue the understanding of His heart and will; then we will have the power source to determine what's going on from God's eternal perspective. James also wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom” (about trials) “let him ask of God in order to understand what’s going on” (paraphrased from James 4).
5. Realize that Jesus Christ must live in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ.”
6. Find out what God's doing and pray for Him to accomplish it. Does God intend to heal here? Does He want to straighten out this tragedy now? Later? Perhaps never? Why?
7. Read Paul’s prayers and put your name in each phrase.
Well, William, I hope this helps to build your prayer life from the inside out, leading to a more effective, strong relationship with God!
Related: Listen to our podcast, Teach Us to Pray with Christina Patterson. You can find all the episodes at LifeAudio.com. Here's Episode 1:
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/rudall30
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].