[This is a post in our ongoing series looking at the themes raised by David Crump in his book Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. We began this series here.]
The unquestionable benefit of Crump’s book in my life is that as he strips some of the evangelical and fundamentalist encrustations that have been attached to the idea of prayer, I have been left with a greater desire to pray. That is no small feat. But the nagging question of whether prayer ‘matters’ never quite goes away. “If God is sovereign….” is the thought that continually flits around the edges of our praying minds and hearts.
But that question is not one that ever seems to trouble the writers of scripture. They write as if in fact prayer does have an impact upon the movement of God. How and when and why are not addressed. All our questions fall off into the abyss of mystery, but we are told to pray, and we are encouraged to believe, with integrity, that prayer does in fact shape the future. Obviously sometimes, and for some of us it may feel more like ‘all the time’, God answers our requests with a ‘no’. But what father does not?
In concluding his study through the New Testament with a look at the references to prayer in the remaining books, Crump summarizes what we might properly understand to be factors that limit the effectiveness of our prayers, if ‘effective’ is defined as receiving an affirmative answer the the plea. These six factors are worth simply noting here, hoping that those interested enough to have come with me this far will either grab the book or ask me for clarification.
Those six factors are as follows:
1. The failure to ask
2. God’s unwillingness to bless selfishness
3. Foolish prayer
4. Prayer encouraging or arising from disobedience
5. Prayer in the context of broken and unreconciled relationships
and ultimately, of course,
6. The sovereign wisdom of God’s timing
Crump wisely and helpfully reminds us, as he has done often in the book, that these are not ‘rules’ or ‘laws’ of prayer. God is a person. God is not a vending machine into whom we pour the proper coinage. He is a person, and prayer is a conversation between two persons. As he says,
“As in any personal relationship, certain attitudes and behaviors are more or less conducive than others to open communication.” (page 275)
It serves us well to remember that prayer is not the manipulation of the forces of the spiritual or natural world. It is not, as we have said, magic. Prayer is the approach of children to their father who loves to give.