Scriptural Selections: On Prayer, I

This is first in a fortnightly series of selections of scriptural passages that I plan to publish on this blog. These will be taken from the King James Bible, but I may add occasional bits from other translations, from the Apocrypha, and from the scriptures of other faith traditions as I go along. I group them by subject matter – and I begin with the subject of prayer.

I begin with selections that illustrate the commandment to pray, followed by passages that illustrate the how-to.

Please feel free to send me your comments and suggested improvements. – Thy Friend John

I Thessalonians 5:16-23 [Paul’s “Pray without ceasing.” The anonymous classic The Way of a Pilgrim is the journal of a nineteenth-century Russian pilgrim whose spiritual calling was to practice unceasing prayer]:

[16] Rejoice evermore. [17] Pray without ceasing. [18] In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. [19] Quench not the Spirit. [20] Despise not prophesyings. [21] Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. [22] Abstain from all appearance of evil. [23] And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) reads “test everything” for “prove all things” and “shun every form of evil” for “abstain from all appearance of evil.” Paul’s meaning here seems to be that wherever evidence of evil appears, we should banish it from our heart, speech and actions, not that our primary concern should be the maintaining of “appearances.”]

Luke 18:1 [the Parable of the Unjust Judge]:

[1] And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; [2] Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: [3] And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
[4] And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; [5] Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
[6] And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. [7] And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? [8] I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
[“and not to faint,” 18:1: the original Greek reads kaì mê enkakeîn, literally “and not to go bad,” or as the RSV has it, “not to lose heart.”]

Colossians 4:2-4:

[2] Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; [3] Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: [4] That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:10-18 [“praying always… in the Spirit.” For prayer “in the Spirit,” see Romans 8:26-27, below]:

[10] Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. [11] Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. [12] For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. [13] Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. [14] Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; [15] And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; [16] Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. [17] And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: [18] Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints….

I Timothy 2:1-4 [prayers to be made for everyone, rulers in particular]:

[1] I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; [2] For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. [3] For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; [4] Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Matthew 5:43-45 [“Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”]:

[43] Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. [44] But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; [45] That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

James 5:13-16 [“the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully” (NJB). This passage is the Bible’s most specific encouragement to pray for healing]:

[13] Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. [14] Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: [15] And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. [16] Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Matthew 6:6-9 [“your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (NJB)]:

[6] But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. [7] But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. [8] Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. [9] After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name….

Matthew 7:7-8:

[7] Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: [8] For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Mark 11:24:

[24] Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

John 9:30-31 [The response to his interrogators of the man born blind]:

[30] The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. [31] Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.

Some “how-to” advices about prayer:

Romans 8:26-27 [The Bible’s most pointed advice to let the Holy Spirit direct our prayers]:

[26] Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. [27] And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. [The NJB reads: And as well as this, the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words; and he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God’s holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God. The Greek for “in groans that cannot be put into words” or, as the RSV has it, “with sighs too deep for words,” is stenagmoîs alalêtois. Stenagma and the verb-form stenazô (groan or sigh) appear, significantly, in Acts 7:34, where Stephen retells God’s words to Moses at the burning bush, “I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning;” and also in Mark 7:34, where Jesus “looking up to heaven, sighed” in the course of his healing a deaf person with a speech impediment.]

James 1:5-7:

[5] If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. [6] But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. [7] For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

James 4:2b-3:

[2] …ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. [3] Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Prayers smell good:

Revelation 5:8:

[8] And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV)

4 Responses to “Scriptural Selections: On Prayer, I”

  1. linda l stewart Says:

    my sweetheart is trying to convience him that it is ok for us to spend the night together as long as we do not fornicate. I on the other hand believe what the word says “to shun all apperances of evil. do not do anything that may be preceived as sin. can you please give me more scriptures that I may share with my sweetheart, I do not like him trying to make me compromise my faith, I rather be alone that sin against the Holy Spirit.

  2. John Edminster Says:

    Dear friend Linda,

    I see that where the King James Bible reads “abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22) the Revised Standard Version reads “abstain from every form of evil” and the New Jerusalem Bible, “shun every form of evil.” My sense of what the original Greek text [apo pantos eidous ponerou apechesthe] means is not that we should be focused on looking good to other people or worried about our reputation, but that as soon as we have evidence that something really _is_ evil (that is, at the first “appearance” of its evil character), we should get away from it and have nothing to do with it.

    Now I don’t know much about you, and I know even less about your sweetheart, but I do remember being a young man myself, and wanting sex with attractive young women almost the way a drowning man wants air. It’s a powerful drive, and even more so when you’re in love. And when you want something very badly, it’s very tempting to try to trick your conscience into justifying it, or to set things up so that “it just has to happen.” I’m wondering whether your sweetheart is being realistic or honest when he asks to spend the night with you “without fornicating.” He may be secretly hoping to have sex with you, after first persuading you that it’s not really “fornicating” if the two of you have sex, “because it’s sinless,” because “he loves you so much.” Or something like that. Or alternatively, maybe he’s hoping to impress you with how good he is at resisting temptation, so that you’ll think he’d make a perfect husband, so that _then_ you’ll want to have sex with him. But one way or another, sex has to be at the center of his motivation. Guys just don’t want to spend the night with a girl for no reason.

    _If_ both partners have a clean conscience in the sight of the Lord about having sex together, then it can be a deeply blessed experience. God bless sex, I say! _But_ we’re talking about both partners having a clear conscience about it. And it sounds to me like your conscience isn’t. If your conscience tells you that you need to be legally married, or have a lifetime commitment from your man, or have your parents’ blessing and approval, before you totally give your heart and your body to another person in the sight of the Lord, then trust your conscience. Pray that the Lord will show you how strict, or easygoing, He wants you to be. But listen to the Lord first, not your sweetheart. The Lord who created you is the rightful Owner of your body; we’re all just the stewards of these bodies that He gave us.

    You’ll see that I’m not laying down rules for you, like “you must be married before you have sex” or “you must only have heterosexual sex” or anything like that. That’s not my place. It’s God’s place. And God can and will tell you what rules He wants you to live by. It’s very possible that God will be stricter with you than He’s been with me, or stricter with me than He means to be with you. The important thing is that we intend to be faithful to God, that we try with all our might to be faithful to God, whether He seems severe to us, or tender and easygoing. (I’m calling God “He.” God might even tell you to refer to God as “She” or “It,” if God thinks that that’s better for your relationship with God.)

    I’m trying, you see, Linda, to stop talking about sex and to talk, instead, about conscience, and about temptation. Suppose your sweetheart has a clear conscience about doing something, and you don’t, but he wants you to do that thing – say, he wants you to go deer-hunting with him, and help him gut the deer’s carcass, and the thought disgusts you. Or, he uses rough language and he wants you to talk like that too. There are two things he can do: one is to trick, or force, or pressure you into doing it – that’s called tempting or bullying you; he doesn’t care about your conscience, he just wants you to do what he wants you to do. The other thing is to open his heart to you, and tell you why he wants it so badly, just so that you’ll know how he feels, and perhaps you can then give him some words of comfort if you’re not going to go along with him. But in this case he’s not trying to make you go against your conscience; he respects your conscience; it delights him to know that you’re happy and not troubled, and it would make him unhappy to know that he’d made you do something you felt uncomfortable over. Do you see the difference? One way of treating you is a loving way. The other is an unloving way. The loving way draws the two of you closer. The unloving way makes you want to get away from each other.

    Now we’ve been talking about how _he_ might tempt _you_ to do something you felt was wrong. But _you_ could also tempt _him_. Let’s say that he wasn’t honest about why he wanted to spend the night with you. But let’s say that it pleases you to have a man act so desirous of you, and you like to play with his feelings because it makes you feel powerful, so you invite him to spend the night, but you add, “but remember, no touching me!” and then you deliberately excite him, let’s say by changing your clothes in his presence. That, in my view, is called torture, and is considerably worse than fornicating, because it’s so much more unloving. It’s possible that you might be tempting, and indeed torturing, your sweetheart more than you know by agreeing to let him spend the night with you “without fornicating” – just because it will be so difficult for him. The only way you can know is by talking with him as honestly as you can, while getting him to talk as honestly as he can, about what you both want and what you both want to avoid.

    If you can only be truthful with each other, you’re helping to bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth. There’s so much suffering here in this world, and so much of it is because people aren’t truthful. But when they can be truthful with each other, it’s wonderful, like light dispelling darkness. I pray that you’ll be able to communicate with your sweetheart in such a way that you become allies, both trying to help each other do the right thing, instead of adversaries where the two of you seem to want opposite things and distrust each other. I’d say that becoming truthful spiritual allies like that is even better than having sex, and that’s saying something.

    You asked me for a scriptural passage, and one of my favorites is the fourteenth chapter of Romans, up to the first two verses of the fifteenth chapter. It’s all about not tempting one another, not making one another stumble, but strengthening and encouraging one another in doing right. In that spirit, I hope I’ve been helpful to you in writing this.

    Early in that fourteenth chapter of Romans there are verses warning us not to judge one another. Christian vegetarians and Christian meat-eaters were in danger of trying to impose dietary rules on each other; Paul wisely saw that both groups were trying their best to be faithful to the Lord, and that no good purpose would be served by declaring one way “right” and the other “wrong.” Only, he added, don’t cause your brother (or sister) to _stumble_, that is, to fail to live up to the demands of _his_ conscience. If you and your sweetheart seem to be reading from different rulebooks when it comes to sex, you should each at least be able to promise to respect the other’s efforts to live by the rules that the other believes in. I’ll pray that your sweetheart comes to realize how destructive it is to try to make people compromise their faith. Faith? — that’s what a person _is_.

    Your friend in Christ always,

    John

  3. Laara Cassells Says:

    So there I was researching packaging design via google
    and I came across your box design and was intrigued.. I teach 3D design
    so that was all great info..

    However I was also enthralled by your photo (John Edminster in front of water),
    and wondered who the photographer might be. I
    would love to paint a portrait from it, if I could get permission from you and
    from the photographer.
    Thanks for your assistance.

    Laara Cassells

  4. John Edminster Says:

    Dear Laara,

    I’ve already responded, off-blog, about how Elizabeth (of “among Friends”) took the photograph of me as we were standing at the top of Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island, Maine, on Tuesday afternoon, 6/26/2007; the ocean view behind me, to the East, was of Frenchman Bay, an arm of the Gulf of Maine. That is, if we’re talking about the same picture! Because the standard one that now comes up on the blog is one of me on the living room couch, smiling off into space with our late cat Rachel nuzzling my beard from my right shoulder. But if that’s the one you saw, you wouldn’t have mentioned the ocean view, would you?

    My realization that you were writing about a picture of me that no longer comes up on the blog makes me realize, also, that you must have gotten a low-quality version of the original digital photo; so please stand by while I privately e-mail you the original JPEG file, which shows all the wrinkles around my eyes.

    I can’t look at the image of my own wrinkly eyes, captured in a mountaintop snapshot, without remembering the day in my mid-twenties when I first read W.B. Yeats’s poem _Lapis Lazuli_, which ponders the “gaiety” of the artist in a world marked by tragedy and destruction, “Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.” His work ends with the image of a miniature stone carving of two old Chinese men, accompanied by a musician-servant, seated in a little rest-house on the slope of a mountain:

    There, on the mountain and the sky,
    On all the tragic scene they stare.
    One asks for mournful melodies;
    Accomplished fingers begin to play.
    Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
    Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

    Thy Friend John

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