Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©

Chapter 4 THE ASPECTS OF PRAYER (Continued)

3. Confession of sin

More will be said later of penitence as an appropriate attitude in prayer. Some biblical prayers are specifically prayers of penitence. In Judges 10:10 we have the confession of the people, "We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals". In a similar way Samuel gathered the people at Mizpah to acknowledge the sin of their idolatry and to acknowledge, "We have sinned against the Lord" (1 Sam.7:6). We have David's confession of sin in the matter of his adultery and later in respect of the census (2 Sam.12:13 and 24:10). We can also rightly speak of the Old Testament sacrifices, at least in some cases, as a plea for forgiveness as is illustrated in Judges 2:5.

The Book of Lamentations (1:9,20, 2:19, 5:1-22) is full of the acknowledgment that the sins of the people had led to the tragic overthrow of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. After the return from the exile there was the continued sense of failure that had to be confessed, the people's unfaithfulness having led to their defeat and exile. This is acknowledged in a spiritual of confession by the post-exilic leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah (see especially Ezra 9:5-15 and Nehemiah 9).

In the New Testament 1 John 1:8-9 makes clear that such confession is an integral and necessary part of Christian prayer: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

4. Petition

Petition and intercession follow, and we can distinguish them by seeing petition as involving requests that we make for ourselves, and intercession the prayer of behalf of others. But they stand together as making specific requests of God. Our main study of petition will come later in relation to the things that Scripture shows to be rightful objects of petitionary prayer and intercession.

5. Intercession

We have commented already on the way that people sometimes disparage intercession as a part of prayer, thinking of it as going to God with a 'shopping list'. Prayer is certainly more than intercession, but, as we have seen, much of the teaching about prayer in the Bible is about coming with specific requests to God. Jesus urges prayers of petition and implies that things are different when people truly pray. People are urged to pray and to expect God to answer prayer. The Bible often celebrates the fact that God is a prayer answering God and specific cases of answered prayer are cited in thanksgiving, as Numbers 20:16 in reference to the prayer of the people in their slavery in Egypt: "when we cried out to the Lord, he heart our cry ---.".

Such is the importance of intercession, and the recognition of it, that we find frequently in Old and New Testaments, people being requested to pray for those in need. Some of the great leaders of God's people in the Bible are shown to be great as intercessors for their people. This was certainly true of Moses. The people of his day begged Samuel to intercede for them, and his response was "Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you" (1 Sam.12:19 and 23). In the same way King Hezekiah begged Isaiah to pray for him (Isa.37:1-4), and King Zedekiah and other leaders after the capture of Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to pray for them (Jer.37:3, 42:2-3). There is, however, no special role of intercessor in the sense of one person's prayers being more powerful than the prayers of others. It is noteworthy that the apostle Paul was not only a great intercessor for the churches, but he repeatedly asked his Christian friends to pray for him (e.g. Eph.6:19-20, Col.4:3-4 and 1 Thess.5:25).

More will be said later about the roles of personal and corporate prayer. Here it is sufficient to say that all of these aspects of prayer - praise, thanksgiving, confession of sin, petition and intercession - are seen in the Bible as both personal and corporate activities.