Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©


6 Prayer for deliverance and salvation

"I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one"
'When we pray, "Lead us not into temptation.," we should remember that it is Jesus himself who is teaching us to pray this petition and is therefore assuming the responsibility that this prayer will be heard. --- He hears the petition, but something far more than mere hearing happens: he also walks beside us as we go through the fire of temptation',
(Helmut Thielicke)

In the Lord's Prayer we are taught next to pray both to be kept from temptation and to be delivered from evil. Temptation is a part of life. God allows us to be tested. He never tempts us with evil, but when we are tested (as Jesus himself was at the beginning of his ministry), the devil comes to tempt us. To pray not to be led into temptation is to ask that we may be kept from falling when temptation comes to us. Jesus depended on the Father as he faced temptation at the beginning of his ministry, and he certainly did as he faced temptation in Gethsemane. He was aware at that time also that his disciples faced temptation, and he said to them, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation" (Matt.26:41). He told them to remember that though the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. In other words, 'your natural strength will faith you; you need to depend on God.' Both in these words to the disciples and in the words of the Lord's prayer 'it is assumed that without God's help even the most fervent follower of Jesus is likely to fall away' (17).

"Deliver us from evil" can be both a prayer to be kept from the power of evil over our lives and also to be saved from the guilt of sin (as in Ps.6:1-4). We can make it for ourselves personally, for ourselves along with others, or for people generally. We have seen how the Old Testament speaks of those who were intercessors for their people praying for their forgiveness, but also for them to be delivered from the evil that threatened them.

The Old Testament story as the record of the history of Israel as a nation repeatedly relates prayers for deliverance from national enemies. In the dawn of the history of Israel as a nation there was the prayer of the people for deliverance from the Egyptian oppression. Exodus 2:23-25 speaks of this and of the way the cry was heard by God; "God remembered his covenant" and "was concerned about them" (see also Ex.3:7-9, 4:31, 6:5). When the people came out of Egypt, they faced the Amalekites, and as Moses prayed (with the support of Aaron and Hur) the Amalekites were defeated (Ex.17:8-16). In the occupation of Canaan there were continued prayers for deliverance and for the defeat of the enemies that prevented Israel occupying the land (e.g. Jos.10:1-15). Then when the people settled in their own land, there were many occasions when the prayer was very specifically for deliverance from national enemies and for victory in battle. (See Jud.3:9, 15, 6:7, 10:10, 1 Sam.7:8-9, 2 Kings 13:4, 19:14-10, 1 Chr.5:20 and 16:35, Neh.4:9.) In whatever ways they faced distress they knew that their way was to turn to the Lord. 2 Chronicles 15:4 puts it, "when in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them."

There are also illustrations in the Old Testament of individuals turning to plead for deliverance in dangerous situations. Jacob, in his fear of his brother Esau, asked God's protection and deliverance (Gen.32:9-12), and in later years we read of the same Jacob sending his sons to Egypt for corn, and knowing how they had to face the governor there, praying "may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man" (Gen.43:13). We read of David in later years praying for the thwarting of the counsel of Ahithophel that would have been to his great hurt (2 Sam. 15:31). In the story of Ezra we read of his prayer for deliverance from danger and protection in travel. That example is an interesting one, as it shows how Ezra confesses to an unwillingness to ask for human help to protect him, because he had professed reliance on his God as the one who could and would guard him and those who travelled with him (Ezra 8:21-22). The Psalms are full of prayers that God will protect his people who trust in him and be their "refuge and strength" (e.g. Ps.36:7, 46:1, 61:3, 62:2 and 121).

Often in the Old Testament, however, the prayer for deliverance was at the same time a plea for justice in the face of violence (e.g.Hab.1:2-3 and 12-13). Sometimes this meant quite specifically praying for judgment on enemies (e.g.Jud.5:31 and 16:28). Sometimes they are prayers for judgment with the vindication of those who pray because of their upholding the right, as in the case with the prayers of Nehemiah and Jeremiah in particular (Neh.6:14, 13:14, 22 and 31, and Jer. 11:20, 15:15, and 18:19-23). In the time of the exile it was clear that God used Babylon to chastise his own people, but when that had taken place there was the desire that the Babylonians in their turn might come under God's judgments for their aggression and hostility (Jer.10:25, Lam.3:64-66). We today, however, must consider all such prayers in the light of the New Testament, especially in the perspective of the words of Jesus in response to the disciples request about calling down fire from heaven as Elijah did (Lk.9:54-55; cf.2 Kings 1).

In the New Testament, none the less, there are specific prayers for physical deliverance as when in the time of the ministry of Jesus Peter attempting to walk to Jesus on the water, and finding himself sinking, cried out "Lord, save me" (Matt.14:30). In the life of the early Church prayers for deliverance were often pleas to be saved from the hands of evil people, as Paul asked Christians who read his letters to pray for him (e.g in Rom.15:31). He could write also expressing gratitude that on past occasions he had indeed found such deliverance (2 Cor.1:9-10). Yet as with the prayer for healing, so when prayer is made for people to be delivered in time of persecution, the issue must be left in God's hands. The early Church was prayerful in time of persecution for those held captive, but while Peter was freed from prison God allowed James to be put to death (Acts 12).

All prayers for deliverance imply the conflict between good and evil and the need of those who pray for strength to overcome in that conflict. It must also be realised, however, whether we think of the prayers of the Old Testament or the New, that the prayer for deliverance - from sin and from the troubles that sin causes - should mean the desire for freedom for those so delivered to be able to live a life of obedience. The long psalm that traces the history of the salvation of Israel from Abraham to Canaan ends up with the purpose of it all, "that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws" (Psalm 105:45; compare Ps. 119:146). The Song of Zechariah (in Luke 1:74-75 ) similarly speaks of "being rescued from the hands of our enemies, (to) serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days." People have no right to ask selfishly to be delivered from difficult situations, perhaps of their own making, and simply for their own ease and comfort. Deliverance from evil is in order that one may live in the service of God. Prayer that had no such intention is illustrated by the way that Pharoah suffering the plagues that came on his people, several times asked Moses to pray for the plague to be removed, but he refused to turn back from his oppression of the Hebrew people. There is no justification in that kind of prayer for deliverance.

In relation to the prayer for the judgment of sinners so frequently uttered in the Old Testament, we must grant that it comes in the New Testament in the Book of Revelation as the appeal for the ultimate judgment of those who have rejected the ways of God and caused untold suffering to his people (Rev.18:6-8 and 20). Yet we who live in the day of God's grace, are committed to pray the prayer that more typically is that of the new covenant, the prayer for the conversion of sinners and thus their escape from the righteous judgment of God. Such prayer is illustrated movingly in Paul's longing for his own fellow-Jews (Rom.9:1-5 and 10:1), and indeed also for Gentiles (see 1 Cor.10:33). The teaching of 1 John 5:16 is that we should pray for those who are sinning (with the exception of "mortal sin", which perhaps involves the ultimate rejection of God's salvation offered). Supremely we have the prayer of Jesus from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34), and this echoed in the prayer of the dying Stephen, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60).

Exorcism is a special form of prayer for deliverance, and in Mark 9:29 we read of the vital importance of prayer (and fasting) for exorcism to take place.

Finally in our thinking of the prayer for deliverance, we can appropriately consider the very wonderful prayer of Jesus for his disciples in John 17, since a major emphasis in that prayer is the Lord's request for the disciples' deliverance. Negatively he asks that they may be kept from the power of evil and from the world in which they live, but to which they do not belong. Positively the prayer is that they might be "sanctified" or "consecrated" to the Father as Jesus himself was, and that corporately they might be kept united. The specific prayers that Jesus makes for his disciples in this way might be summed up by saying that he prays that they may not be taken out of the world, but that, living in the world and facing its hatred because they belong to Christ, they may be kept from the evil one (verses 11 and 15). He prays that they may be sanctified in the truth (verses 17 and 19) (18). He also asks that they may have the Lord's "joy complete in themselves" (verse 13). He prays that they may be one, in a unity able to be compared with unity of the Father and the Son, and by this unity the world may believe (verses 21-23). In the end he asks that in the end they may see and share the glory of the Son, the final experience of deliverance from the very presence of sin (verse 24).