My prayer life is nothing short of a roller coaster. And I like to think it’s not a bad thing. Some days, I scribble pages and pages of impassioned prayers into a journal until my wrist cramps. Other days, my prayer time feels like the metaphysical equivalent of throwing a dead fish at God’s feet and walking away. But I’ve noticed that when my prayers feel flimsy, it’s because they’re not grounded in God’s promises. So before we learn how to pray God’s promises, we need to lean into a foundational question: what are the promises of God?
It sounds rudimentary, but my guess is that most of us would struggle to give a succinct answer without much forethought.
God promised Abraham a son, Joseph a position of influence, and the Israelites Canaan. Those of us who grew up in Sunday school can recall these Old Testament promises with confidence. These are the stories we munched on in childhood, and they’ve become easy to regurgitate.
So we know what God promised our Old Testament heroes. But what has He promised us? Somehow it’s become difficult to decipher which biblical promises the twenty-first century Christian can rightfully lay claim to. And if we don’t know what our promises are, we certainly won’t know how to pray them.
Most of the Old Testament hinges on a promise. It was a promise that prompted Gideon to defeat the Midianites, a promise that rescued Lot from the sulfur of Sodom, and a promise that bore Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into Canaan. So what would it look like for our lives to hinge on God’s promises too?
A promise lends itself as a North Star, orienting us in a disorienting world. It infuses us with courage and colors our walk with Jesus. It provides us with palpable proof of His hand at work in our lives and gives us the opportunity to share stories of His faithfulness.
I grew up believing that the promises of God were limited to eternal life and ascension into heaven after death. And while the promise of eternal life is alluring, sometimes heaven can feel so far-off that it does little to electrify our lives in the now.
I believe that the scriptural “kingdom of God” refers not only to heaven, but also to the incursion of God’s glory on this earth. We are more than ambling souls awaiting heaven. The kingdom of God is now if we make it now. So a firm grasp on God’s promises for this life, not just the next, is essential.
In one of his sermons on prayer, Charles Spurgeon touches on how to pray God’s promises:
“The best praying man is the man who is most believingly familiar with the promises of God. After all, prayer is nothing but taking God’s promises to him, and saying to him, ‘Do as thou hast said.’ Prayer is the promise utilized. A prayer which is not based on a promise has no true foundation.”
In 2 Peter 1:4 , Peter asserts that God’s promises are what make us divine (more than just flesh and blood):
He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature.
So what are these “precious and magnificent promises,” and what are we to do with them? What role, if any, do we play in their fulfillment? These are questions worth demystifying.
The Old Testament Gray Areas
We can start by unraveling some Old Testament gray areas which have historically been cause for confusion. Since the scriptures are so vast and universal, they are also easy prey to manipulation.
It’s possible to read pretty much whatever we want into the Bible if we’re willing to work hard enough. Sometimes, rather than approaching the Word holistically and letting it speak for itself, we come with our own agenda and thwart God’s original promises.
So to save ourselves from frustration and disappointment over what we think is an unfulfilled promise, let’s be sure to approach scripture with the proper contextual lens.
One of these gray areas is the book of Proverbs. Much of Proverbs sounds like a series of promises. Below are just a few examples:
● Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. - Proverbs 22:6
● The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble. - Proverbs 19:23
● The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land. - Proverbs 10:30
So much of Proverbs is phrased as a formula. Do this, and you will receive this result.
While this format can lead to what sounds like an exhaustive list of convenient promises, some Bible scholars would argue that these are only generalizations. If you act a certain way, you are more likely to reap a certain reward, but there is no guarantee.
Proverbs makes an effort to associate wisdom, generosity, and godliness with prosperity and long life- not so we can latch onto the prosperity-and-long-life part, but so that we can cultivate wisdom, generosity, and godliness in hopes of pleasing God, with or without earthly reward.
To the Christ-follower, the worldly benefits of obedience should take a back seat to the spiritual. We should be firmly rooted in obedience but loosely attached to its outcome.
Another gray area lies in God’s Old Testament promises to the Israelites. Take Jeremiah 29:11 for example:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
For some believers, Jeremiah 29:11 is a pinnacle of their faith. But others who examine the verse in context object to its modern-day extrapolation for a couple reasons:
- The verse was directed at the Israelites and not us.
- Even the Israelites to whom the words were originally spoken did not receive the promise on an individual level. The promise applied to the Israelite people as a whole, and only the later generations would see its fulfillment. So if God didn’t mean it on an individual level when He gave it to the Israelites, can we really apply it to our own individual lives?
But be encouraged. We don’t have to agonize over whether or not this verse applies to us as individuals.
It’s not our lives that matter. It’s God’s being. These verses indicate the heart of God, and that is why they exist in the text.
Ultimately, we can know that God has a heart to prosper and not to harm, to give a hope and a future. Whether or not we will experience that prosperity in this life is beside the point.
At the fulcrum of the Old Testament is the benevolent character of God. So instead of pillaging the Old Testament for verses to pluck out of context and claim as promises of our own advancement, we can probe the scriptures in search of a clearer picture of who God is. And when we find it, we will marvel at His abundant heart for His children.
As we read about God’s promises to Israel, we can take comfort in the fact that His heart toward them is His heart toward us. When He loves and blesses the Israelites, we must know that we too are loved and blessed.
The New Testament Gray Areas
But even in the New Testament, we need to be mindful of context. One of the most misunderstood New Testament verses is Philippians 4:13
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Many have used this verse as a confidence booster when approaching a daunting task. And the initial instinct is pure. We should lean on God when daunting tasks arise. But let’s take a look at the preceding verse:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:12-13
Philippians 4:13, in context, is not about achieving greatness. It’s about being content regardless of circumstances. Of course, God can do anything through us, but that doesn’t mean He promises us success in our every endeavor.
Yes, we should confidently pursue the lofty tasks He has placed before us, but we should also have a loose grip on the outcome.
Regardless of our successes or failures, we get to be the unlikely conduits of God’s glory, and from this alone our joy abounds.
The Actual Promises
At last, it’s time to dive into some of the actual promises of God for us. The list below should serve as a great launching point:
● James 1:5 promises that God will give us wisdom if we ask for it.
● 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that we will never be tempted beyond what we can bear, and that God will always provide a way out of temptation for us.
● Hebrews 13:5 promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us.
● Philippians 1:6 promises that He will complete the good works that He begins in us.
● 2 Peter 1:3 promises that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness.
● Philippians 4:19 promises that He will meet all our needs.
● Romans 8:38-39 promises that nothing can separate us from His love.
● Matthew 7:7-8 promises that we will receive what we ask for and find what we seek.
● Mark 11:22-24 corroborates this point, adding that we must believe in order to receive.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you want to learn more, this article provides another list of God’s promises, along with some further guidance on how to discern which promises are for us.
How to Pray the Actual Promises
And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have delivered them into your hand; not a man of them shall stand before you.” - Joshua 10:8
Here God promises the Israelites victory as they suit up for battle against the Amorites. But as the battle rages, dusk encroaches. Since it’s customary for battles to subside at twilight and resume the following day, the setting sun poses a threat. But just when it looks as though the Israelites will lose daylight before cementing their victory, the supernatural swoops in and hatches one of the Old Testament’s most mind-boggling moments:
On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. - Joshua 10:12-13
Here Joshua models how to pray with true authority and faith. Anchored in God’s promise, he commands the celestial bodies to stand still in order to give way to the Israelite victory.
The verse indicates that Joshua speaks “to the Lord,” which suggests that his declaration is a prayer of sorts. But it’s not a prayer in the traditional sense of the word. Joshua doesn’t beg or plead with God for anything. He doesn’t ask; he commands.
We might think that commanding is an inappropriate way to pray. But notice that Joshua isn’t commanding God to do things his way. He’s commanding the universe to submit to God’s foreordained will.
Commanding is not demanding. While demanding would be an attempt at control, commanding is an act of faith. To command is to don a new level of faith and authority in God’s promises.
Joshua exercises his God-given authority over the sun and moon, and God calls us to do the same.
Jesus makes it clear in the Gospels that the disciples are given authority after His ascension. He tells Peter in Matthew 16:19:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
In Luke 10:19, as Jesus sends out the seventy-two, He says:
I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
It’s time that we own our authority and take a firm stance on the promises of God. Instead of begging God for peace, we get to command our own thoughts to submit to Christ. Instead of begging for emotional healing, we get to declare that we are already healed and whole.
Actionable Steps to Take
Below is a step-by-step practice based on Joshua’s example that we can integrate into our prayer lives.
1. Choose a biblical promise of God.
2. Meditate on its scripture. Invite the Holy Spirit to show you what the fulfillment of this promise looks like in your life.
3. Identify what might be preventing the fulfillment of this promise. For Joshua, it was the loss of daylight. Maybe for you it’s a relationship, a memory, an emotion, etc.
4. Command that thing, whatever it is, to submit to God’s will. Write it in your prayer journal or say it out loud. Maybe you only need to do it once, maybe you’ll do it daily, or maybe even throughout the day if need be.
5. Detach from the outcome. Remember that commanding the promises of God is, more than anything, an act of faith. It is not sorcery and something we should ditch when we don’t see immediate results. Treat it instead as a spiritual discipline and an exercise in faith.
6. Encourage others by reminding them of God’s promises for their lives. Once you start praying, believing, and commanding God’s promises for others, doing it for yourself will come more naturally. (Pro-tip: Encouragement is best when it comes with a gift. Kickstart the habit of encouragement by surprising a friend with a subscription box.)
When we command the promises of God, we make a bold declaration. We declare that God has power to move mountains in this world.
It’s easy to say that we believe in God’s miracle-working capabilities, yet sometimes we go through life without expecting miracles to occur.
We must cultivate expectancy. And expectancy doesn’t mean we’ll be angry if what we want doesn’t happen. Expectancy means we believe that God is good and that He is going to fulfill His promises- even the far-fetched ones. We get to go through life expecting a miracle around every corner.
But here’s something to keep in mind. In one of his sermons, John Mark Comer explains that sometimes “God runs just fast enough to be caught.” As we begin to pray God’s promises, we can’t get discouraged when we don’t see immediate results. Sometimes God wants us to pursue Him- not because He is standoffish and hard-to-get, but because He knows that the very act of pursuit will be edifying to us. It is through the pursuit itself that He draws us into deeper levels of intimacy with Him.
Erica Baker is a blogger and devotional writer, helping churches and faith-based businesses put their ideas in writing.
She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.