Prayer That Saves and Sanctifies

Dr. Brian Allison

Tyrell Dueck, a thirteen year old Saskatchewan boy, was buried this past week. For some time, he suffered from bone cancer. He and his family traveled to Mexico in order to explore an alternative bone cancer treatment. Tyrell experienced only temporary relief. During this time, his Church had been praying for him faithfully. In fact, the pastor of the Church blazoned that Tyrell would be healed. The pastor strongly believed that, and so did various ones in the congregation. Tyrell's father also believed that he would be healed. These ones believed for a miracle because they had prayed earnestly – but Tyrell was not healed.

Sometimes God does not answer our prayer requests as we desire. This was the case even in the life of our Lord. There was an occasion when God did not answer the prayer of Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, with fervent prayer, Jesus besought His Father to remove the cup of suffering and sorrow from Him; though He was willing to submit to God's will. And though Christ made that petition, out of the agony of His soul, God said, "No" – because it was ordained that Christ should die for the sins of the world. Sometimes God says "No" in response to our prayer requests.

Now, of course, we ought always to be praying. On the individual level, prayer is perhaps the highest calling of the Christian. We are to pray unceasingly. We are to pray for ourselves, and we are to pray for others. We are to pray about everything because such a commitment to prayer demonstrates that we are wholly and completely dependent upon God. This need for prayer commitment is no more required than that which pertains to our sanctification. We are to pray for our salvation; we are to pray that we become more Christ-like; we are to pray for grace and mercy so that we eventually enter into eternal glory. Accordingly, 2 Thessalonians 1:11 reads, "To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power."

Praying with the final day in view

In writing these words, the apostle Paul has the end of history in view – "To this end also." He is making reference to what he previously said in verses 1-10. In those verses he talks about Christ's second coming; He will return with a myriad of angels in fire. At that time, there will be the Great White Throne judgement. With the coming again of Christ, there will be the inevitable punishment of the wicked, as well as the necessary reward of the righteous. At the end of history, the coming again of Christ will mark the eternal damnation of sinners, as well as the eternal blessedness of the righteous. Thus, Paul's prayers are tempered by these weighty and sobering truths.

Praying always

Paul affirms, "To this end also we pray for you always." As the apostle Paul anticipated the return of Christ, and the momentous wrapping up of history, he says to these believers at Thessalonica, "We are praying on your behalf with that day in view." The apostle Paul was a man of prayer. As we look at the New Testament records and consider his life, apparently there was nothing that he did not bring into the 'inner sanctum'. For Paul, prayer was not an option; it was a priority. It was not a second thought, it was a first recourse. He prayed always. In the introduction of the first epistle to this same group of believers, he says, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers" (1 Th. 1:2).

Paul not only gave himself to prayer, he also exhorted believers to give themselves to prayer. In fact, he asked these Thessalonian believers to pray for him. 1 Thessalonians 5:25 reads, "Brethren, pray for us." Further, 2 Thessalonians 3:1 reads, "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you." We, as believers, are to pray without ceasing. It is to be our priority; it is not optional. It is to be our first recourse, regardless of what happens in our lives. Recall the account of King Asa. He was a man highly commended as one who sought the Lord, as one who called upon God in every situation; and because he called upon God as his first recourse, demonstrating his dependence on God, God heard him and answered him in power. Then something went terribly wrong in the thinking of Asa. We are not told why he took a turn for the worse, in terms of his devotion to the Lord, but something went wrong in his heart. He stopped seeking and calling upon the Lord in times of crises, and as a result he was labeled as one who "acted foolishly" (2 Chr. 16:9b). We read further that when he became ill, when he was diseased in his feet, rather than seeking the Lord (which was expected), he sought out physicians. Now, think about this point for a moment. What is a person's natural response when he or she falls ill? Call the doctor, of course – "I have a sore throat; it may be strep throat. I better call the doctor;" or, "I am coughing up blood. I better call the doctor;" or, "I have a pain in my stomach. I better call the doctor;" etc. That is the natural response. But God expects a different response. Now, God does not expect us to reject or forego medical assistance, for often God works through the medical profession; but that is not the issue. The issue is this – what will be our first recourse, to whom will we turn first, for help, regardless of the situation? My Christian brothers and sisters, it does not matter what takes place in our lives, it does not matter what happens – whether it be of a financial, or a physical, or a spiritual nature – our first recourse is to be to seek the Lord, to call upon His name. He is the sovereign Lord. He can bring a way out of no way. He can do the impossible; and when we earnestly seek Him, demonstrating that He is the true God and that we are wholly dependent upon Him, trusting in Him alone, then He is pleased to hear us.

So, we are to be people who are wholly given over to prayer. We are to pray for ourselves and for others unceasingly – "To this end also we pray for you always." We should be praying for other believers not simply at the weekly prayer meetings, but we should be praying for believers day and night. We should, by grace, emulate the apostle Paul in this regard. We read, for instance, "As we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face" (1 Th. 3:10). If we love the brethren we will pray for them night and day. Prayer is powerful. Prayer moves the hand of God. Prayer unleashes His strength, reveals His glory, manifests His goodness. There is absolutely nothing that prayer cannot accomplish. We have yet to see the fullness of God's power through those who are willing to pray always.

Worthy of the calling

Notice the specific purpose and content of Paul's praying for these Thessalonian believers. He says, "That our God may count you worthy of your calling." Paul was concerned about their spiritual welfare. He earnestly wanted them to make it to the end. He pleaded with God, he wrestled with God, saying, in effect, "God, work in the lives of these believers. I pray that I will see them on that day before the throne, having run well. God please count them worthy of their calling." The calling of God is an effectual calling. On the one hand, there is the outward, general call of the Gospel. We invite everyone, everywhere, to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. That general call of the Gospel goes out day after day and week after week, but not everyone responds to it, not everyone repents and has faith. On the other hand, there is the internal, spiritual call of God within the general call in which God calls sinners to Himself. God addresses sinners directly and personally, revealing to them their sin and their need of a Saviour. Hence, when the general call goes out, some respond, some are overwhelmed with a sense of the guilt of their sin, some are convicted of their waywardness, and thus call out to the Lord for salvation. Why do they do that? God, in the general call, comes by His Spirit and confronts them and they have no choice but to turn to Him. Some do not respond because God is not speaking in their hearts.

If God has spiritually called us, the end for which He has called will be realized. We are called to the eternal kingdom and glory, we are called to eternal life, we are called to enter into the fullness of God's salvation. God calls us, and it is a holy calling; and though God Himself will work out that calling in our lives (and though the end for which we have been called will most definitely be realized), we, as believers, have a responsibility to respond to the grace of God by which we are sanctified within that calling. We are to walk or live worthy of our calling. Paul says, "[It is my prayer] that our God may count you worthy of your calling." In Ephesians 4, we are presented with the moral and spiritual obligation to walk in a manner worthy of God's calling, to be faithful to that calling, to live in such a way that we validate and confirm His calling of us. Verse 1 reads, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." Now, what is involved in walking in such a manner? He proceeds to say in verse 2, "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." So, how do we know whether we are walking worthy of God's calling, whether we are really working out the reality of that calling? The apostle Paul clearly states that we ought to be showing particular characteristics. We ought to be showing the characteristics of humility and gentleness; that is, we should be willing to esteem others better than ourselves, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to, and we should not be reactive, regardless of what we confront, regardless of how people treat us. We also work out the reality of God's calling when we are patient. We should 'keep our cool', we should not get upset and angry. We also work out the reality of God's calling when we forbear. We should bear up with one another. We should not be easily disturbed or aroused. We should not lash back. We should bear all things. Finally, we work out the reality of God's calling when we endeavour diligently to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should seek and promote harmony. We should accept one another freely. Thus, Ephesians 4:1,2 provides us with a little test to determine whether we are walking worthy of our calling.

Now, Paul did not deny the fact that, at times, it may be a struggle to pass this spiritual test; and that is why he prayed unceasingly. The matter is that serious. God is the Judge, and we will stand before Him at the end of history; and He will let us know whether we have walked worthily or not. The issue is not whether we think that we have walked worthily, but whether He thinks that we have walked worthily. God is the One Who must consider us worthy; He has to deem us worthy, as the righteous Judge.

God makes us worthy

But here is our confidence. Paul prays not only that God would count these believers worthy, but also that God would make these believers worthy – "[I pray that God would] fulfil every desire for goodness." Paul says, in effect, "I pray that God would first of all work in your heart so that your desires – the desires of the Spirit – for goodness might come to realization." If we have been born again, if we have a new heart, then we have the desires of the Spirit, which entail desires for goodness. In the Spirit, we will want to do what is right, we will want to love, we will want to show compassion, we will want to express kindness. Paul says, "My prayer is that God would bring to realization every desire for goodness; that He would so work in your hearts, and through your lives, that others would see the realization of those holy desires." God begins with the heart. But He does not stop there.

Not only does God work with desires, He works with actions – "[That] God may...fulfill...the work of faith [that is, that God would cause fruit to be produced as the result of faith]." God has to do it, and He is pleased to do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 reads, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." God is at work sanctifying His people. Now, notice again what the text says, "To fulfil...the work of faith with power." God's sanctifying work is a powerful work. He is working mightily within us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. He is changing our hearts. He is transforming our lives through the manifestation of His power. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is the power that works mightily in us. And this is our confidence – that He will bring this work to completion. This is our assurance, our rejoicing, our peace.

We are not dependent upon ourselves, but rather we are wholly dependent upon God. His powerful working cannot be frustrated. Is He working in you with power? We do not have to live defeated or discouraged lives, always beating ourselves over the head with guilt because we are not succeeding, but rather seem to be always failing. What kind of testimony is that to God when it says that He works in us with power? Listen, God's Word is true. But how do we experience this power? Pray, pray, pray. That is why the apostle Paul prayed. Why do I sound like I am on a hobby horse? Because I am obsessed with this truth of prayer. I am convinced that there is nothing more practically important in the life of a Christian than this truth of prayer; and whether or not we give ourselves to prayer will determine our success or our failure in the faith. And I will go even further than that – whether or not we give ourselves to prayer will determine our salvation.

So, Paul could pray with confidence. God is pleased to sanctify us, change us, and transform us. It is His work, and He desires to do it; and He desires to do it with power. But He responds in this mighty way in answer to our prayers. It is prayer that goes to heaven and receives the grace and power of God and brings it back to our hearts. Prayer is the key into the awesome treasury of the Almighty. Are you praying for your sanctification and salvation? Are you praying for the sanctification and salvation of other believers?