Prayer – It is Certain
The twelve disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. In His grace the Lord gave them the instruction they sought. Then Jesus added these words:
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. And: If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!Luke 11:9ff
This promise from our Saviour requires response on our part. We give our response when we add to our prayers that little word 'Amen'.
The word "amen" appear frequently in the Bible. As an example, the Levites received instruction in Deuteronomy 27 to declare that any man who committed this or that sin was to be cursed, and the listening people were commanded – no less than 12 times – to respond with that word 'Amen'. One wonders: what did this 'Amen' mean? (cf here also Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 5: 13).
We note that this 'Amen' was the response of the people to the words spoken by the Levites, was a response they were commanded to voice. That in itself already tells us that the word expresses the reaction God wished the people to have to these curses. What this reaction of the people was to be? The word "amen" was obviously not meant to convey simply the notion that the people accepted the curses upon possible sins, as if this Amen was simply an equivalent to "alright, OK, we'll accept that.” The meaning of the term is much more profound than that.
The word "Amen" is at bottom not an English word; it's Hebrew. In our Bibles the word has not been translated. The word actually means "to believe.” Abram had once been told that He would have a child as the years went by no child was granted. There came the day when Abram took his concern to God. God in turn responded by taking Abram outside and showing him the stars, and then added these words: "so [many] shall your descendants be" (Genesis 15:5). Then we read these words: Abram "believed in the Lord." The Hebrew says 'Amen'; Abram "amened" in the Lord. We note that Abram did not simply believe that there was a God; Abram rather accepted for truth and fact the promise God had just spoken. With the word "amen", Abram indicated his conviction that God would surely do as He had just said He would do. Here we receive a little taste of what 'Amen' means; with the word 'Amen' one gives expression to one's conviction that what the previous speaker has said will surely come to pass.
It's this understanding of the word 'Amen' that we are to have in mind as we read Deuteronomy 27. The people had to say 'Amen' not to indicate their simple consent that curses should come upon disobedience. Rather, with the word 'Amen' the people were instructed to confess their faith, to express their heartfelt conviction that God would certainly do as He had promised to do. God made a promise to Abram in Genesis 15 about children; Abram responded to that promise by believing it, holding those words for true and certain – God would surely do as He said He would do. God made a promise to Israel in Deuteronomy 27 about curses; Israel was to respond to that promise by believing it, holding those words for true and certain – God would surely do as He said He would do.
It is that same meaning for the word "Amen" that we are to bear in mind when we meet the word elsewhere in Scripture. Jeremiah was told by God to speak to the people of Israel about the redemption God had given them from Egypt, to speak too about the curse that was to come upon every person who did not listen to the words of God's covenant. Jeremiah's response to these words of God was, "Amen, Lord" (Jeremiah 11:5). In other words: 'Lord, I accept as true and certain this word that has come from Your mouth; I believe that You will: certainly bring Your curse upon any who refuses to listen to Your voice.'
Confession of Faith
The word Amen is, however, not used only to indicate the response of a person or people to the curses of another. The word is used also as one's response to words of praise one has just heard. When David brought the ark of God into Jerusalem, he sang this song:
Save us, O God of our salvation …, [that we may] give thanks to Your holy name, to triumph in Your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!
The response of the people is this: and all the people said 'Amen’.I Chronicles 16:35f
Elsewhere we read these words: Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, 'Amen, Amen’…Nehemiah 8:6
Here is praise for God, and in both these cases those who hear these words of praise voice their 'Amen', and so express their conviction that yes, it's true, God is to be blessed from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord is the great God. This 'Amen' is again a confession of faith; the hearers profess that the words spoken are true and shall always be true – God is blessed and God is great now and always. "Amen."
New Testament is the Same
Similarly, the well-known words of Romans 11:
for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.vs. 36; cf Romans 9:5; Galatians 1:5; Ephesians 3:21; etc.
Think too of those words from Revelation 5: … every creature … I heard saying, 'Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!' and the four living creatures responded with "Amen" (vs. 13f).
Time and again a statement is made about the greatness and the glory of God, and repeatedly the word "Amen" follows those words of praise, follows it to give expression to one's faith that yes, those words of praise are so true, so correct; I believe that God is great, all glorious.
It's this word "Amen" that we voice at the end of our prayers. What, then, are we saying with that word? The Biblical meaning of the word does not allow us room to think that the term means something like "this is The End of my prayer." The Biblical meaning of the word instead implies that with this word 'Amen' at the end of our prayer we are professing our faith, we are expressing our conviction that the words just prayed will come to pass.
According to the Sermon on the Mount, it was Jesus Himself who told us to conclude our prayers with the word "amen" (Matthew 6:13). In other words, it was Jesus who told us to confess, at the end of our prayers, the conviction that God will do as He has said He would do.
Truth is though, that this understanding of the word "Amen" at the end of our prayers gives us some problems. The idea of somebody speaking words of praise to God and then saying "Amen", "I believe that God is truly God," yes, that's understandable. But our prayers are not simply thanksgiving and praise; our prayers, according to the command of Christ Himself, include also many requests. And that's where we have a problem. What does 'Amen' mean after a number of petitions have been brought to God? Does that word at this point also give voice to our heartfelt belief that the words spoken are true and certain; God will certainly do as we have asked? No, we find that rather far-fetched; we don't feel comfortable being convinced that we'll get what we ask. In fact, in the course of our lives we've asked so much, and certainly have not received all we requested. So we're not so sure that the word 'Amen' at the end of our prayers is really meant to be a confession of our conviction that God hears and answers …
God Gives What He Promised to Give
It's to be clear in our minds and hearts that the word "Amen", also in our prayers, always is and remains a profession of faith, of faith in God. That may be obvious to us about prayers of praise, but it's equally true also of prayers that are made up mostly of petitions, requests.
How so? With that word 'Amen' in the context of a prayer of request, we're expressing our conviction that God will give us what we ask. We express the conviction that God will give what we ask because God has promised to give us what we ask. With that word 'Amen' at the end of our prayers, we are responding to God's promise to answer our petitions. With that word 'Amen', we are voicing our faith that God will answer our prayers as He has promised, will do it in the specific circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Before you throw aside this paper in disbelief, before you protest that God has definitely not given to you all you've asked, allow me to remind you of Jesus' words in Luke 11.
Jesus said: And I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (vs. 9f).
Jesus' language is clear: ask and we shall receive. But – the Lord would not have us ask for anything and everything that may fancy our sinful minds. Those words about asking and receiving were spoken in a specific context, and that context is that of vs. 1: the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, to which request Jesus answered by giving the Lord's Prayer. But Jesus did more than tell His disciples which petitions they were to bring before God; Jesus also told them to pray with confidence, to pray with the conviction that God would give what His people asked. Hence that parable about the Midnight Friend (Luke 11:5-8) who will surely rise and give whatever he needs, and the lesson for the disciples: "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you" (vs. 9).
No, the disciples were not to ask for just anything and expect to get it; the disciples were to ask for the things which Jesus in the Lord's Prayer commanded them to ask. The promise of the Saviour in Luke 11 is that whatever is asked of God in accordance with the Lord's Prayer will certainly be granted; whatever falls within the framework of those petitions the Father in heaven will certainly give to His children.
So: the petitions Jesus instructs His children to pray are more than petitions; the petitions of the Lord's Prayer are also promises, promises that God will grant these specific things to those who ask Him for these. That is the notion we echo when we say "Amen" at the end of our prayers. With that word we express our hearty conviction, our faith, that God will surely grant the things He commanded us to ask. He told us to ask for daily bread, so we ask for daily bread in the conviction that God will give it. That's why we say 'Amen'; we confess the conviction that God will do as He has said.
God is the 'Amen'
Why might it be that we can be so convinced that God will give us what we ask, will give us what He promised to give us? That is because of who God is. Said Jesus of Himself: I am "the Amen" (Revelation 3:14). And the point of that tide is that every word spoken by Jesus Christ is believable; whatever He says He'll do He certainly will do. It was with that very truth that Jesus worked time and again in His public ministry; repeatedly He called attention to His words by saying "truly, truly, I say to you" (cf John 16:23). Or, as Jesus actually said in the original: "Amen, amen, I say to you." Believable He was. And that's why the words He spoke in Luke 11 are also believable; we can accept them for true and certain, we can expect to receive what we ask for simply because Jesus said that God would give what we request.
In this context we are to remember that the many promises God had made to Israel in the past, promises of blessings and promises of curses, were all ultimately fulfilled in the Son, Jesus Christ. As promised in the Old Testament, He came to pay for sin, to be rejected of God, to undergo God's hellish wrath, to die. Though it was not easy for the Father to give up His only dearly beloved Son for the suffering of the cross, He yet gave Him up, sent Him – why?- because He had promised to do so. Christ Himself is ultimately the evidence that God is true (Isaiah 65:16), that His word is believable, that He will do as He said He will do. God had promised the Christ so long ago, and did what He said He'd do. That's why the apostle Paul can say of Jesus:
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen.2 Corinthians 1:20
We believe that God has fulfilled His Word, has sent His Son into the world to atone for our sins, to reconcile us to God, to make us children of God. But if – as Paul says – God "did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). That's the promise we have, a promise that comes from the mouth of God as certainly as that promise about children for Abram came from the mouth of God. Abram believed the Lord's word, 'amened' that word; it is for us to do the same, to believe His promise, to say "Amen" to those promises. He's promised daily bread? Then we believe the promise. We'll ask, for daily bread, and as soon as we've asked for it we'll say 'Amen', we'll confess our conviction that we shall surely receive the daily bread we need, shall definitely receive all we need to live for God and His glory. We’ll say it because we're convinced that God is going to keep His promise, is going to give to me what I ask. After all, He is God, my Father for Christ's sake.
Have we assurance that our prayers will be heard, that God will answer? Or have our prayers of the past in fact been a waste of time? On the basis of what God has said in His Word, it will be clear that No, our time in prayer has not been wasted time; more, our prayers are heard – unless, of course, we ask from God things we weren't meant to ask in the first place. What we lay before the throne of God concerning our personal circumstances, what we lay before God with the request that through us in our circumstances His name be hallowed, through us in our circumstances His kingdom be made to come, through us in our circumstances His will be done; the daily bread we seek from God so that in our circumstances we may do His will to His greater glory, the forgiveness we seek for our own personal sins, the deliverance we seek in our concrete circumstances from Satan's temptations so that we may receive forgiveness and so receive daily bread, and so do God's will, and so make His kingdom come to His greater glory these many requests are always heard! For Jesus' sake our Father in heaven lends His ear to every such request, and hears and answers.
True, He may not answer our petitions in the way we would like. But God's ways are higher than our ways, and so it's for us to believe that He hears and answers.
Yes, that gives great encouragement to continue praying. The promise of God stands firm, and so with confidence let us bring our requests to God, with confidence let us work with the promises He has given, and let us believe without a shadow of doubt that Father hears His children and definitely gives to us whatever He has promised to give.
God has promised it. And so I believe it. "Amen!"