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What is prayer?

What is Prayer Top image

Prayer is a vital part of Christian spirituality and church life.

Jesus taught and modelled it, the early church practiced it, and every major theologian or Christian leader over the past two millennia has given it prominence.

On the 22nd April, 2017 hundreds of thousands of Christians converged on a farm just outside Bloemfontein to pray for the nation of South Africa. I wrote and spoke about this at the time, so if you are interested in reading about it click HERE, or listening to it, HERE, but in essense I believe that this was a pivotal moment, but why do I believe this? An estimated one million people attended this epic prayer meeting, but why did they go?

Does prayer release some unseen power when we pray, a power that is amplified by mass prayer?
It seems to me that a good number of Christians believe this otherwise why would they try to get so many people praying for their sick loved ones, as happens regularly through social media and prayer chains.

On the other hand, it seems that an equal number of Christians place little importance on prayer and almost none on corporate (group) prayer. How many people regularly attend the weekly prayer meeting at your church? Oh, your church does not have a weekly prayer meeting?

I want to briefly examine what I think are the underlying causes for these two opposite approaches to prayer and then sketch out what prayer is and why we should pray.


Firstly, I hold that we should lay much of the prayerlessness of today’s Christians at the feet of Reformed theology. Ouch! Let me explain why I think this before you bend to pick up a stone to throw at me. Oh, and I must explain why I use the word ‘Reformed’. Hyper-Calvinism is the real culprit, but so many of today’s resurgent Calvinists label themselves as ‘Reformed’ that I am choosing to use that label to describe the problem group. (You can read about Calvanism and Reformed theology HERE or listen to the TruthTalk on them HERE).

Here are quotes from three reasonably representative Reformed sources. I am aware that several major Reformed theologians, such as Wynne Grudem, would not fully endorse these views, yet I do think that these quotes represent the problematic core teaching.

The first quote is from an article titled ‘A theology of biblical prayer’ appearing on ‘The Reformed Collective’ site: ‘Prayer is a means through which God acts. It has been established in Scripture that prayers, which conform to the will of God, are used by God to accomplish the most important thing all creation serves –– the will of God’.

The second quote presents this idea in a similar fashion. It is from an article on the ‘Desiring God’ site under the heading of ‘God Uses Means’. John Piper writes; ‘ In other words, just as God will see to it that his Word is proclaimed as a means to saving the elect, so he will see to it that all those prayers are prayed which he has promised to respond to’.

Let me quote a third source and then I will unpack what lies behind these beliefs and the effect they have on Christians today. Millard Erikson, the well-respected Reformed theologian writes in his ‘Christian Theology’; ‘When God wills the end (in these cases, healing), he also wills the means (which includes a request to be healed, which in turn presupposes faith). That is, God wills the healing in part by willing that those in need should bring their entreaties. Thus, prayer does not change what he has purposed to do. It is the means by which he accomplishes his end. It is vital, then, that a prayer be uttered, for without it the desired result will not come to pass’.

These strange circular formulations stem from the underlying conviction that God has predetermined everything that happens, be it salvation or healing, or even the words I think I am choosing to write at this very moment. Prayer poses a particular problem for anyone who believes in ‘meticulous determinism’. Why is it then necessary at all, and more particularly, why does God instruct us to pray? They have no coherent answer to this and have to resort to teaching that prayer is simply a means God uses to achieve His predetermined purposes. This all dissolves into a muddy puddle of confusion when men like Dr Erikson resort to statements like, ‘It is vital, then, that a prayer be uttered, for without it the desired result will not come to pass’. How contradictory is that!?

Now, despite the many protestations by Reformed folk, it is hard to believe that, on this basis, prayer is important. In terms of Reformed teaching, God will assure that His will be done whether I like it or not and if I don’t pray as ‘a means’ to His goal achievement, then it simply means that He has ordained someone else to pray.

The power of prayer

In diametric opposition to the Reformed view is the belief that our prayers have the power to achieve results. In this camp, the focus is usually on how our prayers either release a spiritual power that changes things in the material realm, or manipulate God to our ends.

Here are two quotes from a book called Unleashing the Power of Prayer, which contains 30 addresses to The International Prayer Assembly for World Evangelism that met in Seoul in 1984. I have used them in my book ‘Prayer, Power, and Proclamation (which you can download for free HERE if you would like to), but they are worth repeating here.

“Praying is how you get things done. It’s not what you do, or your preparation; it is prayer itself that is God’s method of getting things done.”,and “Prayer releases the power and the authority of God. The Bible tells us ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 18:18]. We see that we have the capacity literally to reach into the realms of heaven and touch the very hand of God Himself.”

If this is indeed true then the more we pray, and the more people we agree with in prayer, the more we can achieve… with or without God’s help.

The true nature of prayer

I believe that both of the views I have presented here are flawed and result in either prayerlessness or blasphemous egocentricity. Jesus did not pray as a means of getting things done, or of releasing power to heal, but rather as a way of communing with His Father. I use the word ‘communing’ purposefully because prayer is more than communication, it is intimate dialogue with and experience of the Almighty.

We pray because we have a relationship with the triune God. We pray because we want to be in close contact with Him, to tell Him how we feel and think, and to hear from Him. We pray in order to express our belief in Him and our dependence upon Him. We pray because we love Him and know that He loves us.

I have written quite a lot on this in the past, supporting my views with scripture and reason, so I won’t repeat it all here. You can read an edited version of some of my work HERE, HERE, and HERE.

God instructs us to pray to Him because He loves to commune with us, wants us to participate with Him in the affairs of His Kingdom, and because it is good for us to realise our dependence upon Him.

Prayer is a privilege we have as sons and daughters of the Most High. When we pray individually, we express ourselves personally and when we pray as part of a group, we express ourselves corporately. We also pray in order to hear and we pray in order to align ourselves with God’s heart and mind.

What is prayer? Read More »

It's time

“It’s Time!” prayer gathering… why?

It's time

Angus Buchan has called for one million Christians to gather for prayer on the 22nd April 2017 to ‘call upon The Lord to bring justice, peace and hope to our beloved South Africa‘. Why should we go?

Let me say up front that I support this initiative, and the reason I am not going is because my wife and I are caring for our two small granddaughters so our son and daughter-in-law can go.

In Old Testament times, the whole nation of Israel was sometimes called to assemble, either to hear what God had to say to them or to intercede in a time of national calamity. The New Testament people of God responded to crisis in the same way. When the authorities commanded Peter and John to stop preaching about Jesus, the Christians assembled and ‘raised their voices together in prayer to God’ (Acts 4:24). This was their first response to crisis, but not their only response. Listen to how they concluded their prayers:

“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.” (Acts 4:29-30) In other words, they asked God to empower them to speak His Word and then to do what they couldn’t do and perform a miracle! And God responded straight away by physically shaking the place where they were meeting and by filling them with power from on high.

Does God need a certain number of people to agree together before He decides to act?
No, I do not believe this for a minute. Will the prayers of many release sufficient power to enable God to move in our nation? No, God does not need our prayers in order to accomplish His mighty deeds! Prayer is talking reverently with God – no less and no more than that.

Why then should Christians go in their hundreds of thousands to the ‘It’s time’ prayer gathering?

  1. A huge gathering like this represents the church across the nation and declares with one voice “Almighty God, we are dependent on you. We can do little without your intervention and we acknowledge this.”
  2. There is the request on behalf of the whole church; “Father God, please speak to us and to our nation for we are desperate to hear from you Lord.”
  3. There is the urgent plea of “In Jesus mighty name, please come, Holy Spirit of the living God, and fill us with power from on high so that we can proclaim your Word with boldness and effectiveness.”
My expectation is that God will respond to the prayers of His people and I am anticipating a miraculous change in the spiritual condition of our country resulting in big changes to government and society.
My fervent hope is that the ‘It’s time’ national day of prayer will mark a decisive turning point in the downward trajectory of our nation, ushering in a new dispensation for ALL our people. Greed turned to giving, hate to compassion, fear to hope, poverty to earned prosperity, and godlessness to righteousness.
Could it be that the ‘It’s Time’ gathering will usher in a mighty spiritual revival in South Africa? I have been part of a group of about 20 people who have been getting together every week to pray for revival – for such a time as this? In genuine Holy Spirit, Jesus-centred revival God the Father moves miraculously on even the hardest hearts. He could convict members of parliament to act with integrity and to heed their consciences. He could bring confusion and calamity to the recalcitrant, and He moves powerfully and decisively in many other ways.
It is indeed time for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to come together and pray with one mind and voice. It is indeed time for all Christians in our land to raise our voices and speak into whatever our circles of influence may be. It is indeed time for us to have faith in Almighty God to intervene decisively in our nation. It is indeed time.

‘“But for you who revere my name, the sun (Son) of righteousness will rise with healing in its (His) wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD ALMIGHTY’. Malachi 4:2-3

As this is a unique time in the history of South Africa, this TruthTalk encompasses both the article and the questions and answers so it is a little shorter than normal but we’d still love you to listen to it and have faith with us for a  Miraculous Revival in our country!












“It’s Time!” prayer gathering… why? Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.