From the above title, the first question likely to be asked is: Overcome what? The Bible tells us there is much we must overcome. The Apostle John wrote: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:16-17). The Bible tells us: “. . . Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). Can we really comprehend the will of God in our lives?
Human nature-the nature with which we were all born- is our own worst enemy. Few seem to realize they are slaves of their own passions. They believe this is the way they are, and that there is nothing they can do about it. They do not realize the wrong kind of passions must be overcome. We must also overcome Satan and his evil dominions. Influences of the world that are contrary to God’s Way of life must also be overcome. Human nature with its various lusts and cravings confront us daily. In the process of mastering these things, we have a gigantic task ahead.
The Apostle Paul described the struggle he faced:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:14-24)
The Bible does not portray a positive picture of human nature. Jesus said:
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).
The Apostle Paul also described human nature:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)
Man needs God’s help to overcome. This can best be accomplished by prayer. But not just any prayer, it must be effective prayer. Jesus did not say, “If you pray.” He said, “When you pray.” He did not say to pray when it is convenient for you, or after you have taken care of your own pursuits, or after you have seen your favorite TV show. He did not say to place prayer at the bottom of your priority list. So important is prayer that Jesus gave instructions on how to pray. He emphasized that prayer should be one of the most important aspects of the Christian life (Matt. 6:5-15). The degree of one’s personal relationship with God is evidenced by one’s prayer life.
The Apostle Paul described this relationship when he wrote: “Be [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). God’s true people, then, will be a praying people. Prayer will be done habitually, regularly, and sincerely. But praying, and praying effectively may be two different things. One fact is certain: We cannot possibly hope to overcome and qualify for God’s Kingdom without God’s help. Jesus said: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
What, then, are the keys used in prayer by which we can overcome? How can we make sure God hears our prayers? Are there some important things we should know?
Be Absolutely Honest With God
One who is not honest with himself, who refuses to admit what he is and what he has done, cannot possibly be honest with God. One should not expect any answer from God under these circumstances. The Word of God is a spiritual mirror. To be honest, one must examine himself in the light of this mirror. James tells us: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was” (Jas. 1:22-24). Sometimes a look in that spiritual mirror will reveal things that are not becoming. Then, we must go to God for the help we need to overcome. We cannot hide our sins: “O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee” (Ps. 69:5). To be sure God always hears us, here is one key: “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).
Our relationship with God must be based on a sincere dedication to the Truth. Paul described it as follows: “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our [conduct] in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward” (2 Cor. 1:12). Paul’s entire motivation was based on godly sincerity. He, like David, knew that God is aware of everything, and that sincerity is the key to honesty.
O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Ps. 139:1-12)
Why was David a man after God’s own heart? He did not delude himself into thinking he was above doing evil. One of the most heart-rending Psalms in the Bible is Psalm 51. It records David’s repentance after his sin with Bathsheba. David asked for a clean heart. What is the human heart really like? The Bible tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:9-10). We want answers to our prayers? Then we must come to God in absolute honesty and total sincerity, laying out our problems and sins before Him and earnestly asking for the help we need to overcome.
Be Willing to Admit Faults
We may have seen the poster: “The trouble with most people is they will not admit their mistakes. We would admit ours, if we had any.” While this may be humorous, the fact is: The most difficult thing for any man to do is to receive correction. This is why Jeremiah said: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jer. 10:23-24). What is the usual response to correction? Resentment! This is the automatic human reaction. This is then followed by the tendency to blame someone else. This behavior is not new. Look at what took place in the Garden of Eden. When God confronted Adam for eating the forbidden fruit, he blamed Eve. When God confronted Eve, she blamed the serpent. This human response is so natural that most people automatically respond to correction in this manner. But this kind of behavior does not please God. And it will not bring about answers to one’s prayers.
When we pray to God, we must be honest. Honesty means admitting our mistakes. Here is how David instructed Solomon. “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts . . . ” (1 Chron. 28:9). It is useless to blame others for our faults and sins when we are guilty. As human beings, we are all guilty. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The book of Job asks: “What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” (Job 15:14). David spoke of a willing mind. What is a willing mind? It is a mind that is pliable and desirous of doing God’s will. What is God’s will when it comes to admitting sin? Here is the answer: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). God desires an honest and heartfelt evaluation of ourselves. He does not want excuses and self-justification. Who, then, is the man God will hear? The answer: ” . . . To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2). One with a humble and contrite spirit will be honest with God, willing to confess his faults and sins.
An example of a contrite or remorseful spirit is found in the New Testament. In this parable, observe the contrast between the two men. Who was the one God listened to?
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me [the] sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)
If we desire answers to our prayers, it is absolutely necessary to admit our faults before God and to ask Him to cleanse us of all iniquity. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
In Prayer We Are Never Alone
If our prayers fail to go beyond the ceiling, has God gone off somewhere? “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2). Our sins must be blotted out. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15). God is more than willing to hear, and we must have confidence that He is there when we need Him. But we must go to Him in the right frame of mind.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Ps. 139:7-12)
If we do not receive answers to our prayers, it is because we ask amiss, or because we ask Him in a wrong spirit. God is not obligated to help any. He does not answer the prayers of those who are proud-those who fail to give Him the appreciation and respect He deserves. God has not gone off somewhere. He is always there. But ” . . . God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God . . . ” (Jas. 4:6-7). “. . . Him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer” (Ps. 101:5). “Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Ps. 138:6).
Regardless of one’s nationality and gender, God is a refuge to those who sincerely seek Him. He is near to all who truly seek Him.
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. (Acts 17:24-27)
The Apostle Peter said: ” . . . Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Never forget, God is near. If we have confidence in His mighty power, we can be assured He will hear us, providing we come to Him with a humble and contrite spirit.
What Is the Beginning Point?
The solution to every problem we face begins with prayer. It is the beginning point. We face many problems we cannot master alone. We must have God’s help in many things. This requires the power of the Holy Spirit, but we cannot have access to the Holy Spirit without having contact with God. Prayer is the key to contact with God. One who is too busy to pray will have to face the possibility of never finding the real solution to his problems. Under these circumstances one can never root out the things in his nature that are the most destructive. People often think this or that person is the enemy. But the real enemy is themselves-their own natures with all the lusts and pulls which are contrary to God’s Law. We often get disgusted with others, but the person with whom we should be the most disgusted is the self. Let us emphasize what was stated earlier in this article: Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). How do we abide in Christ? By maintaining contact with God regularly in daily prayer.
We have often heard the song entitled, “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” While prayer can certainly be a heart-warming part of the day, proper prayer requires effort. One cannot pray effectively if his heart is not in it. Under such circumstances, he should not expect an answer. An example of fervent heart-felt prayer is Epaphras, mentioned in Colossians 4:12. Paul wrote: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Prayer time is too valuable to waste. Time spent in prayer must be used properly and wisely. This is why following the outline of the sample prayer Jesus gave in Matthew 6:6-15 is so important. People often wonder how to pray. So did Jesus’ disciples. However, what is absolutely necessary is to set aside a certain time of the day for prayer, preferably in the early part (Mark 1:35).
There is a lot more to Christianity than attending church and participating in public prayer. Private prayer is far more important than public prayer. Examples of those who were dedicated to God and labored in prayer are for one a widow lady mentioned in Luke 2:37. “And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” There are also the widows Paul mentioned in the book of Timothy: “Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Tim. 5:5). We must never think of prayer as a light thing and unimportant. It is the beginning point in overcoming and solving our problems.
The Importance of God’s Will
Answer to pray requires the knowledge of God’s will. A lack of God’s will is manifested by the “gimmies,” that is, going to God in prayer and constantly asking for this and that. One thing the Bible does tell us is that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God for it. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (Jas. 1:5). So one of the most important things is to know God’s will in any matter. The Bible tells us: “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). Wisdom gives an understanding of what is important and what is not. Effective prayer requires wisdom and the knowledge of priorities-what is important and what is not. The Apostle James wrote: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (Jas. 4:3). This is what the “gimmies” generally entails.
Uninformed people often pray for things that are not good for them. In fact, some of these things could be the worst possible things. People often wish they could come into a large sum of money. Yet, many people who do, often misuse it, misspend it, or abuse it. It often becomes a curse rather than a blessing. This is why an understanding of God’s Will is so important. When we pray we should ask God for wisdom to know His will. Bible study and prayer can help gain this. Bible study reveals how God thinks in many matters. Often these can be applied to our own situation. One who truly loves God will seek to know His will, to please Him. Paul wrote: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Answered prayer is an important part of the good we receive from God.
It is God’s will that we receive blessings and that we receive good, while at the same time overcoming the difficulties of life and the detrimental pulls of human nature. But God’s help is required. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. The Apostle Paul tells us: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us ” (Eph. 3:20). He tells us that “. . . faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). Indeed, God’s true people “. . . are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Regular daily prayer is absolutely essential for receiving this power and for using it to overcome. It gives that added edge men so desperately need.
What about bad works? What does the Bible reveal about them? When Paul wrote that some men’s sins are notorious and call for judgment (1 Tim. 5:24), we need only think of Achan and Korah. Immediate punishment is called for in such cases. But judgment for most bad works will come at a later time (Heb. 9:27). Some sins, registered by the lifestyles of various individuals, are apparent for all to see. “The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves” (Isa. 3:9).
Many people who practice bad works resent criticism. They often hurl invective against those who do not approve of their conduct. Yet, the Bible clearly shows that to the righteous those who practice evil deeds are an abomination. “An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked” (Prov. 29:27). The two lifestyles are completely incompatible. How do those who fear God view bad works? Those who fear God hate evil. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Prov. 8:13). An example of a righteous man who hated evil was Lot. We read that God delivered Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Why? Because Lot was vexed with the filthy [conduct] of the wicked” (2 Pet. 2:7). While the righteous loath sin, they should not hate the sinner. The righteous loathe evil works, but they are well aware that God is the One who decides the judgment.
The New Testament teaching is equally plain. Paul gives this explicit instruction. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). We are told that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6). The righteous should not join in with sinners. Paul instructs: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). Professor Moffatt translates this text much clearer: “Make no mistake about this: bad company is the ruin of good character.”
As far as bad works are concerned, nothing is hidden from God.