Notes and quotes from Calling on the Name of the Lord by J. Gary Millar.
1. Millar defines prayer as ‘calling on the name of the Lord’. What does that mean? It means asking God to deliver on the promises he has made to us in the gospel.
2. Calling on the name of Yahweh in the Old Testament is equivalent of praying in the name of Jesus in the new Testament.
3. Where is the first prayer in the Bible? The pre-fall natural conversations of Adam and Eve with God are not described as prayer. “It is only when we come to the end of Genesis 4 that we find anything that looks unambiguously like prayer.” The birth of Seth, the people calling on the name of the Lord, linked to Genesis 3:15 and the search for one particular ‘offspring’. “There is a growing sense that the promise of 3:15 may not be fulfilled immediately. It seems that at this point the realisation begins to dawn on the Adamic community that the fulfilment of promise may take some time.”
4. “The beginning of the post-Eden ‘conversation’ between humanity and God begins with ‘crying out to God’… When this phrase is used in the Old Testament, it is asking God to intervene specifically to do one thing – to come through on his promises.”
5. When God’s people call on the name of the Lord, they are responding to “God’s promise-making initiative by asking him to act to fulfil his promises”. This idea of calling on the name of Yahweh “is intrinsically related to God’s commitment to rescue his people and deliver on his promises.”
6. “Prayer begins in the Bible as a cry for God to do what he has promised – to deal with the reality of sin by delivering on his covenant promises.”
7. To pray is to “ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is to admit our weaknesses and appeal to his awesome strength.”
8. “The starting point of all our discussion of prayer should be the initiative of God in the gospel.” What we see in Genesis is God calling to Adam before Adam calls on him. “Prayer starts with the gospel and is made possible by the gospel.”
9. Millar argues that prayer is designed for a fallen world. It is what we do now. In the new heavens and the new earth, we will have “immediate conversation along with celebration” and there will be no need to call on the name of the Lord. What about the prayers in Revelation? The point is made that they are prayed in John’s “present”.
10. “One of the twin privileges enjoyed by Israel is the proximity of Yahweh when they ‘call on him’, which clearly carries with it the implication that he hears and answers, acting on their behalf.”
11. A distinction seems to be maintained in the Old Testament between prayer, “which is what we do in crying to God for deliverance” and praise, “which is what we do after God has delivered us.”
12. “The tension between the rebellion of God’s people and God’s determination to bless will be resolved by a mediator who comes from the outside – who will not only pay a ransom but will be a ransom, who will both declare righteousness and bring righteousness, who will make it possible for our prayers to be heard, even though we are deeply unworthy.”
13. The psalms are important because they tell us how “God’s people can, should and must call on him.” They are “first the prayers of the Messiah, which, in the kindness of God, become the prayers of the Messiah’s people as he draws them into relationship with him.”
14. “It would be highly misleading to suggest that prayer is limited to asking God to honour his promises. The richness of the rest of the prayer makes clear that other things can and must be said to Yahweh, but the entire prayer is shaped by the expectation that God is a promise-making and promise-keeping God who can be expected to forgive.”
15. How should Jesus’ followers pray? Jesus insists on succinct, private prayers.
16. The eschatological nature of the Lord’s Prayer: “All three [requests] are primarily a plea that God will act so decisively in judgment and salvation that his glory will be unveiled, and all (as a result) enabled to see him as the holy, almighty King he truly is. It is thus a prayer for the End, for the consummation of the kingdom of God, and for the bringing into being of the new earth and the heavens that the End entails… The bread we will receive on the Day (and therefore a participation in the eschatological messianic feast). Similarly, forgiveness is end-time forgiveness, and the prayer concerning temptation either seeks strength to continue in faithfulness until the last day.”
17. Prayer in the Old Testament is asking God to send the Messiah and establish his kingdom. Prayer in the New Testament is asking God to continue to build the church of the Lord Jesus until he returns.
18. Persistence in prayer is required, but we are to do so “confident in the knowledge that God keeps his promises and will act to vindicate his people.”
19. “Jesus’ prayers – all share one thing: they are focused on his mission. His prayers are not for himself. Right to the end he continues to call on the name of the Lord, not to deliver him, but to work out his purposes through him.”
20. In the book of Acts, the main concern of prayer is for the spread of the gospel. For God “to give boldness in speaking the word, to protect its agents and to provide opportunities for the word to be heard and believed.”
21. In Paul’s letters, the gospel shapes the prayers of the church. He “prays that God will work by the Spirit to help them to grasp the gospel and so trust him” and “that God may apply the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection to their lives, and continue his work of perfecting them until the day when all things are brought together under Christ” and for them “to continue to live and speak the gospel in the middle of the raging spiritual conflict.”
22. It used to be that prayer was “a reliable index of spiritual maturity and commitment” in Christians.
23. One problem caused by the small group programme in local churches (which has a good benefit of getting people engaged in the life of the local church) is that weekly church prayer meeting has disappeared. There was a time when “Sunday’s teaching was accompanied by some kind of prayer gathering through the week.”
24. Why is the church praying less? Millar suggests the following reasons: 1) Life is easy; 2) The communications revolution – we expect instant answers; 3) Rise of Bible Study groups; 4) Availability of good Bible teaching – people less reliant on their pastor to teach them so don’t pray for him as once did; 5) Dominance of pragmatism – more in control so pray less; 6) Cynicism.
25. “Once we realise that God’s agenda for us is nothing less than transformation into the likeness of Jesus, and that God is passionate about enabling us to live wholeheartedly for him all day, every day for our whole lives, then our need to pray – and the kinds of things we need to pray for – becomes rather obvious.”
26. This is such an encouraging word – “Let us make sure we do not think that if prayer is hard, that is a problem – it is supposed to be like that. It is hard because we live in a fallen world.”
27. When we pray, “we are free to ask our Father for things, knowing that he will not give them to us if they are bad for us, or bad for his kingdom (or plain stupid).”
28. There are some prayers that God has said he will always answer. Five that we are encouraged to pray are 1) for forgiveness; 2) to know God better; 3) for wisdom; 4) for strength to obey/love/live for God; 5) for the spread of the gospel. “How do we know God will answer these prayers? Because, in the first place, he says he will. But more than that, because these prayers sum up the work of the gospel.”