As those of you who are regular readers of this blog are probably aware, I grew up in a home where we listened to the Bible studies of R.B. Thieme, Jr. (aka Colonel Thieme) on a daily basis. I believe Colonel Thieme knew a lot of Bible doctrine but there are certain topics where his teachings bother me. One of those topics is prayer.
I think it is because of Colonel Thieme’s teaching that when my copy of Ariel’s Spring 2013 Magazine arrived the other day I was fascinated by Principles of Prayer (Part Two) by Arnold Fruchtenbaum. He begins the article by listing eight key passages admonishing us to pray. I quote Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s discussion of the first key passage at the bottom of this article because it spoke to me with great power (your results may vary). It is also contrary to what I remember being taught for all of those years by Colonel Thieme.
I would like to provide a quick introduction to what I had been taught in my youth about prayer. In his development of the Doctrine of Prayer Colonel Thieme put a lot of emphasis on 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Here is the passage:
7b Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.
8 Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me.
9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
The Apostle Paul had prayed for the “thorn in the flesh” to be removed but God refused. God had made other provisions for Paul that were sufficient. Colonel Thieme turned this passage into a general prohibition against asking for God’s provision for ourselves. The rationale went something like this: God provided everything we could possibly need in His perfect plan in eternity past. There is nothing we need that He hasn’t already thought of and planned for. To ask for something, like Paul did, is to question God’s plan and provision for our lives.
Last year I got into a discussion with some of Colonel Thieme’s students about prayer. Kathy J. was kind enough to transcribe her notes of what Colonel Thieme taught regarding what we can pray for:
The supreme court of heaven is composed of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They hear cases involving….
1. Evil in the world.
2. Sinfulness and injustice in human affairs.
3. The rise and the fall of nations.
4. Anti-Semitism, personal or national.
5. Conflicts among believers.
6. Satanic accusations against believers.
7. Divine discipline of believers.
8. Child abuse.
Colonel Thieme considered prayer to be going before the Supreme Court of Heaven and petitioning God directly (which I agree with). Notice there is nothing in there about asking for personal deliverance or provision.
If you would like to see Colonel Thieme’s Doctrine of Prayer you can find it at this link. He does list “prayer for yourself” as being legitimate but it was so restricted I never felt like I could confidently pray for myself. My father has told me there was a time when, because of this teaching, he almost stopped praying because he felt it was pointless.
With that long winded set-up please compare that with this from Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s the Principles of Prayer (Part Two):
This passage has three parts to it. The first part is in verse 1 in which He deals with the principle He wished to develop.
And he spoke a parable unto them to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint; . . .
The point is that He wants them to pray, and men ought always to pray and not to faint. The word always means, “praying in every situation and circumstance.” We should have a willingness to pray in every situation and in every circumstance. The word faint means “to be disheartened,” and the point is that prayer will keep one from being disheartened. That is why a person should pray in every situation and in every circumstance.
Secondly, in verses 2-5, He gave the parable:
. . .saying, There was in a city a judge, who feared not God, and regarded not man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came oft unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming.
The point of the parable is this: the judge was indifferent in rendering justice; however, because of persistence of the woman, he finally gave in.
The third part of the passage, verses 6-8, gives the application:
And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge said. And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry to him day and night, and yet he is longsuffering over them? I say unto you, that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?
The point of the application is to teach persistence in prayer. Unlike the judge, God is not indifferent. And, if a judge who is indifferent will finally respond to persistence, how much more will God who is not indifferent. God will respond to persistent prayer. One should keep on asking in spite of delay. The purpose of persistence is not to make God more willing; God is always willing. The purpose of persistence is to teach us faith and to increase our faith; to change our attitude towards prayer; to teach us to “hang in there” with persistent prayer.