Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 3; part 1:
The concept of ‘sonship’ is the connection between prayer and power. Prayer does not directly release power. As children of God, we ask him, in prayer, to exercise his power to achieve what we perceive to be valid kingdom endeavours. It might appear on the surface that our prayers have released power, but it is actually God who chooses to manifest his power. An example of this is in Acts 4:29-30, where the disciples prayed, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Verse 32 records that “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” The disciples prayed, and God responded with a mighty demonstration of his power.
However, the text also reveals that God went further than just demonstrating his power; he also filled the disciples with spiritual energy so that they could speak his word with boldness. This is the second level connection between prayer and power. God may respond to prayer with direct acts of power, but he may also respond by imparting power to us, his children, so that we can act in his name. This seems to be the Father’s preferred response to our prayer requests. Why? Because he wants us to grow up to be responsible and mature members of his household. Anyone who has raised a child knows that it is not kind to do everything for your son or daughter. As our children grow physically and mentally, we empower them to do more and more. This is how they become mature. So it is with God our Father in his dealings with us, his children. In order to grow up we need to make responsible choices according to God’s will. For this to be possible, we need a degree of discretion. In order to administer his will, we need delegated authority. In order to achieve the required results, we need power from on high. We mature spiritually as we choose to exercise the power the Holy Spirit gives us, under the authority of the Lord Jesus, according to the purposes of God the Father.
I have contended that there is no power in prayer. Prayer is communication with Almighty God. Prayer does not generate, or even release, power. The objective of prayer is communion with God, not to change the physical or spiritual environment. However, the Holy Spirit often manifests, or transfers power, in response to prayer.
Having said all that, what do we make of James 5:16 in this context? I have referenced this passage already but just to refresh your memory, it reads, “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” If prayer is not the release of power, then how can ‘prayer’ be powerful?
As a first observation, I must point out the dangers of building doctrine from isolated texts. Even if there were no other way of understanding this verse, it would still be unwise to use it as the basis for teaching that there is power in prayer. The context of this particular verse concerns praying for the sick. Verse 14 instructs the Elders to pray and to anoint the sick person with oil. The first half of verse 15 says, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick.” (New American Standard Version) However, the verse concludes with the words, “and the Lord will raise him up.” So, the Elders pray in faith, but it is the Lord who effects the healing; in this particular case it is God, not the prayer, or the Elders, who is powerful to heal.
As I have previously pointed out, the NASV translates the second half of verse 16 as “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much”. The Amplified Bible translates this as “The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available”. The key word here is ‘available’. Ephesians 1:15-23 records Paul’s wonderful prayer for all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 19, Paul describes the power available to us as “his incomparably great power for us who believe”.
The dictionary defines the word prerogative as ‘an exclusive privilege or right enjoyed by a person or group occupying a particular rank or position.’ Sons and daughters of God have the privilege of asking for, and receiving, power from on high. Why? We have this prerogative because of our blessed status as Children of God. To what end does God grant us power from on high? He imparts power to us so that we can grow to be like Jesus in both character and ministry.
There has been a lot of confusion concerning the person of the Holy Spirit and the anointing power that he imparts. Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, believe that the references to Holy Spirit in the Bible simply indicate Jehovah’s power. The cultish remnants of the Worldwide Church of God (now going under various names such as ‘The Restored Church’) teach that holy spirit is just a biblical word for a power akin to electricity, and that there is no personal Holy Spirit. On the other side of the spectrum are those who hold that God the Holy Spirit exists, but that there is no evidence of supernatural power in our day.
This is just another example of the terrible ‘either/or fallacy’ that blights the thinking of so many Christians. Of course there is an either/or divide between the kingdom of God and the realm of darkness. Paul asks, “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) The kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world are 180º out of phase with each other. However, within the Kingdom of God the principle changes from either/or to both/and. Think about it: if the Kingdom of God is the realm of truth, then how can there be competing either/or truth claims within it? So, in this case, it is both God the Holy Spirit and holy spirit anointing. Luke 4:1 is a case in point: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert”. Luke describes Jesus as being full of holy spirit yet led by the Holy Spirit.
Look out for my next blog post this week, where I will further discuss the differences between the person of the Holy Spirit and power that he imparts.
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