Saturday, July 05, 2008

On the efficaciousness of prayer — Does prayer operates ex opere operato?

Some time ago, I posted a quote I have gotten from Pastor Justin Neale's blog on the topic of prayer by A.W. Tozer. I have posted this above the post warning of the heretic and blasphemer revivalist Todd Bentley, which led my friend Rick Ianniello to mistook that this quote was meant for Todd Bentley, while actually I was posting that so as to 'bookmark' the quote for later use. And this use is now!

The Global Day of Apostasy Prayer had came and gone for the year 2008. I was rather busy at that time so I just managed to prepare a very brief summary of my objections to that event and mass-mail my friends about the event. What happened precipitated this entire post and the article that I will link to later.

A friend of mine read it and passed it over to his AoG pastor in Singapore who took part in the event, who replied to my brief email. In characteristic fashion, I treated the whole issue as an opportunity to correct the errors present in what the pastor says in love. The reply however did not see the light of day as my friend wasn't that keen to continue the exchange, and I decided not to pursue the issue out of respect for my friend, though I was not too happy with the way it is handled. I do not wish to lose a friend though, so I would just let it pass since this is not a doctrinal issue. [Contrary to what some people may believe, I DO have feelings]

That however does not mean that error can be allowed to stand. There is in particular one error which I find very pernicious and persistent within the Charismatic/ Neo-Apostolic movement which I think should be addressed. It is the error of treating prayer as being effective in and of itself, and that prayer is "the key to change the world". In other words, keeping in mind the context and decoding the phrase, what they are saying is that prayer changes the world because of the prayer of the saints. As it can be seen, this looks eerily similar to the Word-faith occultic assertion of faith as a force but unless proven otherwise it would not be stated as such. Rather, I would use the very appropriate Latin phrase Ex opere operato to describe such a view.

It is in answer to this view that I have prepared an article to answer this question. What does the Scriptures teaches about efficaciousness of prayer? Does prayer operates Ex Opere Operato?

Just some definitions:

Efficaciousness (n) is best defined here as the state/ power of being able to bring about a desired amount of an effect.

Efficacy (n): ability to bring about desired amount of an effect

Efficacious (adj): able to bring about desired amount of an effect)


ricki said...

Good article on prayer - excellent clarification.

I am completely aligned that the statement "prayer is THE power of God unto revival" is false in the sense that I understand it typically used.

That is, prayer, to bring about revival, as a substitute for obedience (among other things) is misguided. On the other hand, I would be unwilling to dismiss the importance of prayer as part of the Christian life (which I know is not your intent).

But focussing on the efficaciousness of prayer. Would we say a prayer aligned with the sovereign will of God was in a sense "Ex Opere Operato"?

For example (and I'm sure we disagree on how one would come to this knowledge) if I was somehow aware that God was doing X in someone or something and I prayed in accordance with that, how would I refer to how that prayer worked? Is that Ex Opere Operato?

Daniel C said...


firstly, you have already set a condition for such a prayer, so that prayer already is not working by its own virture of being prayer. Secondly, even such a prayer works not because the prayer has power in and of itself (not a magic chant), but it appropriates the power of God in effecting its result. So I do not think that it could be termed ex opere operato. This is unlike the Word of God, since the Word of God IS the power of God directly for God's purposes, whereas prayer goes through God and is efficacious indirectly so to speak. At least this is how I understand the mechanics of prayer.

So I would call such a prayer an effective prayer; a powerful prayer; an "annointed" prayer, but not ex opere operato or sacramental in any sense.

And yes, prayer is indeed an important part of the Christian life. It is sad when you have conservative Christians with reasonably orthodox theology who don't pray as they should, and the unorthodox praying with such passion but using it as a tool to "coerce" or "manipulate" God.

Beng said...

I have found Andrew Murray's book "With Christ in the School of Prayer" to be very instructive in understanding prayer (Daniel, you should read some devotional books as well, not just theology! But then I suppose you do.). You can find it online - just google it.

He begins with the assertion that Jesus Christ is dead serious and unreserved with His promise:

And whatever you may ask in My name, that I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
(Joh 14:13-14)

and that we should pray in faith believing this.

But then he goes on to explain what it REALLY means to ask "IN HIS NAME". Not just invoking the name of Jesus Christ, but to be abiding in Him such that our wills are in union with His, and the ultimate aim of our prayers is the glory of God. And of course, when we pray in this way, our prayers will undoubtedly be answered, because we will be praying according to the will of God.

In a way, saying the same thing you're saying, except in a more roundabout way.

It's a great book that leads you into a deeper relationship and union with God as the ultimate aim.

Daniel C said...

Hello Beng,

I do read devotional books, though since they are devotionals, I read them more slowly and leisurely.

That said, devotionals that are based on Scripture is the expostion of the practical aspect of theology in Christian living. As such, I would personally prefer theology over devotional, for the simple reason that if you can go to the source, why partake of processed material? This is not to say that devotionals are not good, because they may cover aspects of Christian living which we have not thought about or show us certain areas where we have not put what we know into practice.

As for me personally, I prefer to work out my theology into practice myself because not knowing why something is true (from first principles) makes me feel that I am obeying out of works and obligation, instead of because out of a relationship with Christ by His grace. This is just my own personal experience with devotionals in general, so that's why I normally forgo devotionals and treat them more as snacks instead of the main course. After all, nothing is more destructive of true Christian faith than obeying God out of obligation and debt rather than out of love for Him.

But of course, this is just my own personal experience. If devotionals do indeed help you and you does not help you skirt the boundaries of legalism, then sure, continue on. But for me, I can only treat them as snacks because otherwise I would fall into legalism.

Andrew Murray is a good expositor, or so I heard. That should be a good and interesting book to read I guess. But I have still about 10+ books left unread so probably that will take some time to clear, so I wouldn't be getting any new books anytime soon.

Beng said...

Andrew Murray writes his book like a devotional text (but not the "daily devotionals" I think you're referring to) but it is actually a well-disguised exposition on John 14-16.

I mentioned the word "devotional" because of the way it is used to describe Matthew Henry's commentary:

"Henry's well-known Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (1708-1710) is a commentary of a practical and devotional rather than of a critical kind." - taken from wikipedia.

Just so you know where I'm coming from.

Your point is well taken, and in fact something I realized for myself yesterday when I revisited the last chapter of Andrew Murray's book, describing the secret of George Muller's power in prayer (

‘God then began to show me that the word of God alone is our standard of judgment in spiritual things; that it can be explained only by the Holy Spirit; and that in our day, as well as in former times. He is the Teacher of His people. The office of the Holy Spirit I had not experimentally understood before that time.

‘It was my beginning to understand this latter point in particular, which had a great effect on me; for the Lord enabled me to put it to the test of experience, by laying aside commentaries, and almost every other book and simply reading the word of God and studying it.

‘The result of this was, that the first evening that I shut myself into my257 room, to give myself to prayer and meditation over the Scriptures, I learned more in a few hours than I had done during a period of several months previously.

‘But the particular difference was that I received real strength for my soul in so doing. I now began to try by the test of the Scriptures the things which I had learned and seen, and found that only those principles which stood the test were of real value.’

Daniel C said...


Amen. Thanks for the quotes too.