Ten laws governing prayer
May 06, 2014
The Ten Commandments govern all of our actions and define how to love God and our neighbor. These also give us the basic guidelines to prayer.
Law 1: You shall have no other gods before Me.
This tells us that we should pray only to the Creator of the Universe. He first identified Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai but revealed Himself to Moses as Yahweh (Exodus 6:2, 3). In later history, Yahweh was incarnated in Bethlehem and was known as Yeshua, or “Salvation” (Isaiah 12:2, 3, literal rendering). In John 14:6 Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father, but through Me."
Law 2: You shall not make for yourself an idol (or graven image).
This instructs us to have an accurate conception of God, so that we know His mind and His character as we pray. It is not enough to know the name of the God we worship, nor to believe that He is the Creator. If we do not really know Him, then we will form a graven image in our mind that does not truly picture Him as He really is. A graven image is a god created in our own image (imagination).
The elders of Israel had this problem (Ezekiel 14:1-3). They came to the prophet, not to truly inquire about the will of God, but to seek God’s ratification of their own preconceived belief and viewpoint. God posed the question to the prophet, “Should I be consulted by them at all?” In other words, should God answer them at all? The surprising answer is, “I the Lord will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols” (Ezekiel 14:4).
In other words, God will appear to ratify his viewpoint. Years ago, when I learned this the hard way, I discovered that God even gave multiple witnesses to “prove” the validity of my heart idol. We see the same in the story of the prophet Micaiah in 1 Kings 22. When King Ahab inquired of the Lord with an idol in his heart, Micaiah validated the answer of the king’s prophets. It was only when King Jehoshaphat did not believe the prophet’s answer and adjured him to speak the truth that Micaiah told him the actual truth.
The lesson in both Ezekiel 14 and in 1 Kings 22 is that heart idolatry can be fatal. Should this stop us from learning to hear God’s voice? Not at all. God knows we all have wrong images of God, His character, His leading, and His plan for the world in general. But we ought to pray that God will be merciful to us and destroy any heart idols that we may have in our hearts. That way, if we are misled and get into trouble, God must take the ultimate responsibility for the situation. He then corrects us through the trauma as the heart idols fall to the ground.
Law 3: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
This law prohibits us from invoking God’s name for a dishonest or unlawful purpose that is contrary to God and His will. This foundation of this law has to do with taking an oath in a court of law to establish truth “so help me God.” Such an oath claims that our actions match the righteous character of God, and so our actions become our testimony of who God is. If our actions are actually sinful, then this testifies that God approves of sin.
If someone suspected that his neighbor had stolen from him, but he could not prove it, he had the right to take the suspect to court, where the judge might make him swear an oath of innocence. Hebrews 6:16 says, “an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute.” Once such an oath was taken, the entire case was left in God’s hands for judgment. If the neighbor were actually guilty of the crime, then he was guilty of taking God’s name in vain. That is, he was guilty of perjury before God, and so God would hold him accountable.
How does this relate to prayer? Everyone has been victimized by the sin of others, but few ever see real justice. In such cases we have the right to appeal our case to the heavenly Judge and leave it with Him. Likewise, when we believe we have been falsely accused, we have the right to go to the Divine Court and swear an oath of innocence. If, however, we claim innocence when we are actually guilty, then we will be judged for taking His name in vain.
If we appeal to the Divine Court with idols in our hearts, we may think that we are innocent of sin without having a clear idea of what sin is. Paul says in Romans 3:20, “through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Later, he says in Romans 7:7, “I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’.”
While the law cannot save us, its purpose is to instruct us in God’s character and give us a proper definition of sin. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). For example, if we are accused of charging interest on a loan to a brother, and he later accuses us of the sin of usury, what would happen if we appealed our case to the Divine Court? If we were to take an oath of innocence without knowing that usury is sin, we would be taking His name in vain. Hence, it is important to know the law in Deuteronomy 23:19, 20, lest we inadvertently violate the law or even take His name in vain.
Law 4: Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
This law is the basis of God’s calendar and all Bible prophecy of the divine plan in history. All of the Sabbaths in Scripture are days of remembrance for something. If we truly observe this law, we are prepared to see and understand when prophecy is being fulfilled.
For example, if the religious leaders in Jerusalem had truly observed the feast of Passover (which was a Sabbath), they would have known that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb and that He was meant to die on that day.
All of the feasts of the Lord are Sabbaths, commemorating specific events in Israel’s history, which in turn prophesied of future events. Even the most common of the Sabbaths—the weekly Sabbath—prophesied of the Creation Sabbath after 6,000 years of history, for a day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8).
Insofar as prayer is concerned, the Sabbath law governs timing. When we ask for something in prayer, we often think that the answer must come immediately with no regard for timing. Yet the answer to most of our petitions are intertwined with a bigger prophetic picture. God is not going to change His plan for the world to accommodate our impatient desire to have it now.
There is a time for every answer to prayer, and there is also a time for every revelation.
Law 5: Honor your father and your mother.
There are many levels of meaning in this law, but they all involve “honor.” To honor means to respect authority, not just those who are in authority over us, but also to respect the authority that everyone has over his/her own life, property, and opinions.
Even those who are in positions of authority over others ought to respect the rights of those who are under them.
When we pray, we should not meddle in things that are not our business. There are some who feel the need to correct every sin and every false opinion that they see in others. Most of the time, it is none of their business, or, as Jesus put it, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” (Luke 12:14).
Respecting the rights and privacy of others means that we should not inquire of God to know things that are not our right to know. There are times when God will indeed reveal the secrets of the hearts of others, but those cases are unusual and always establish the divine plan for good. I recall once many years ago when God suddenly spoke to me and said, “she has had an abortion.” I was taken aback by this and really thought that this was more information than I needed. But God’s purpose was not to condemn her, but to set her free from the guilt in her own heart.
Another time, I asked God about someone, and God said, “It is none of your business.”
Honor and respect for other people is a key to knowing how to pray, especially when we seek revelation. Timing is important, and so also is respect for the rights of others.
Law 6: You shall not murder.
Murder is much more than killing someone. Jesus said in Matthew 5:21,22 that “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” The KJV adds, “without a cause,” but this phrase is not in the original text, as the NASB indicates. (See also Panin’s Numeric New Testament, which agrees with the NASB.)
There are times when men become angry with someone else. Then they recall that they are supposed to pray for their enemies. So they pray without first dealing with their anger. This is a problem that relates directly to the second law of prayer, because anger can set up an idol in one’s heart that often masquerades as “righteous indignation.”
Anger interferes with love. When we pray for others, we should always have their best interest in mind with no self-serving hidden motives.
To be continued…
This is the first part of a series titled "Ten laws governing prayer." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones