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Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian perspective.

This page is one of a series examining the Family's teachings on prayer.

 

Commanding God

Prayer is very important in the Family. Family members have been taught to pray "without ceasing" for everything. They are taught not just to pray for everything, but to pray about everything. That is, they are to ask God what should be done in every situation. Family members are taught that prayer is a means to accomplish their various tasks. When they pray, they are confident that God will answer their prayers, and that their tasks will be completed much better than if they had not prayed.

The Bible, of course, repeatedly instructs God's people to call on Him in prayer, and lists numerous benefits and blessings that come from prayer. The Bible calls for incessant prayer (1 Thess 5:17), and portrays prayer as a means of communicating with God, and of beseeching Him for the things that we lack.

However, there is at least one aspect of prayer that the Family seems to have taken beyond biblical limitations, reading more into the texts than are actually there. This is the belief in the Family that through prayer, believers actually exercise a certain amount of control over what God does or does not do. That is, the Family believes that God has granted His people the right to access His power through prayer: when a believer prays, he has been given the right to use that power more or less as he wishes.

Family teaching in this regard shows similarities to some in the Pentecostal movement, where the founder (Dad/Berg) had his own origins. Dad/Berg taught his followers that God was like the Genie of Aladdin's lamp who has to answer believers' heartfelt requests when they pray in faith. In other words, Dad/Berg taught that when true believers sincerely prayed in faith, then in general God was obligated to answer their prayers: believers could in effect command God what to do.

There are, of course, several qualifications in this teaching: people should not expect to get their prayers answered if they are asking selfishly (James 4:3), and sometimes the timing is not right, but in general, Family members believe that God, who is all-powerful, has deliberately restricted Himself to working miracles in answer to prayer. Therefore, when Christians pray, God is obliged to act. It is not as though Family members believe that they are superior to God, rather they believe that prayer is the means whereby one may not only influence God, one may actually convince Him to work according to our own faith, plans and desires. Therefore, if one prays wholeheartedly in faith, God has to answer. If this is true, then Christians actually have some control over what God does or does not do. Dad/Berg taught that God has specifically confined Himself to operating according to our prayers.

This page does not discuss prayer in general, specific aspects of prayer, or other beliefs rooted in Pentecostalism. Rather it examines the specific Family belief that a Christian may command God in prayer, that a believer has the right to tell God what to do, and that God is more or less obligated to respond according to the faith of the person praying, and according to the details of the prayer itself.

 

Isaiah 45:11

Dad/Berg made much of the verse in the book of Isaiah in which God apparently authorises His children to command Him what to do.

Isaiah 45:11 Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. KJV

Dad/Berg, who used the King James Bible almost exclusively, delightedly pointed out that this verse shows that God's people may not only ask Him about the future ("things to come"), but that they may come to Him in such boldness that they can literally tell him what to do ("command ye me"). Dad/Berg said that God was pleased with such prayers because it showed that the person praying had a lot of faith.

Isaiah 45:11 (in the King James Version) became an important memory verse and a 'promise' that one could claim in prayer: "Jesus, you said that we could command you in prayer, so I now ask you to..."

Unfortunately, Isaiah 45:11 does not say that believers may command God. In fact, it is only in the King James Version that it appears to say this, and then only if this verse is removed from its context. In other words, if the verse is read in its context in any other version than the King James, it is almost impossible to interpret it to mean that a believer may command God - quite the opposite, in fact!

There are two important points that may be said about the Family's use of the Bible. The first concerns the King James Version, and the second is about the importance of reading the Bible in context.

First, although there was a general (unannounced) move towards the New King James translation after Dad/Berg's death, the prominence of the King James Version highlights the fact that Family members know very little about the process of translation, or of the accuracy of most modern translations. It is almost as though Family members believe that there were only two steps to get our Bibles to us: (1) God gave the original text in the original languages, and (2) God supervised the translation into the King James Version.

While the King James Version probably uses the most beautiful language of any translation, unfortunately it is universally recognized as being one of the least accurate versions.

The crucial point to bear in mind is that no translation is perfect, simply because translating one language to another inevitably involves loss of meaning. The range of English translations available reflect the attempts to balance translation of overall meaning with literal meaning. The former produces the versions that are more paraphrased, while the latter results in the literal translations. The point is that Bible study that is confined to one English translation will inevitably be flawed. If one wishes to study the Bible accurately and honestly, one must not only consult a range of translations, one must also use extensive Greek and Hebrew dictionaries (freely available online). The Bible was not written in English, and it certainly was not written in the King James Version. In general, Family members rarely, if ever, compare translations or research the original meanings of words.

Second, the Bible cannot be properly understood unless it is read in context. This point is covered in greater detail on Make Straight Paths here and here, but in short, Bible verses cannot be removed from the context in which they are found. They must be read in conjunction with the surrounding verses, in the context of the chapter, book and location in the Bible. They must be read in the contexts of the historical situation, the geographical location, and the linguistic style. They must first be understood as the original writers (inspired and anointed by the Holy Spirit) intended the original hearers to understand them. In general, Family members know very little, if anything, about contextual Bible study. Therefore, it is likely that most - if not all - Bible studies ever produced by the Family are flawed.

 

Isaiah 45

A very brief survey of the passage containing the "command ye me" phrase reveals that it is preceded by an interesting reference to a king of Persia named Cyrus (Isa 44:28, 45:1). God names Cyrus as the one chosen by God to accomplish His will, to initiate the rebuilding both of Jerusalem and its temple, and to defeat in battle the kings of the surrounding nations. This message is intriguing because at the time of this prophecy, King Cyrus was not yet born, and would not come to power for a century and a half!

There are probably many reasons God names Cyrus so many years before the man was born, including to inspire faith in prophecy, to encourage the captive Israelites and to show them how to relate to the man who would one day be instrumental in their deliverance. However, the passage itself explains one of God's main purposes: to demonstrate irrefutably the supreme power and authority of God, the sovereign Lord of the universe.

Isa 45:3-5
3 "I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. 4 "For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. 5  "I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
NASU

God wanted everyone to know beyond doubt that He was Lord of all. Cyrus had to know this, Israel had to remember it, and the surrounding nations had to know it.

Next in the passage, God directs the topic away from Cyrus to declare that He alone is the Creator God, who is the author, not only of the universe, but also of righteousness and salvation.

Isa 45:5-8
5 "I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, 7 The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these. 8 "Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it. I, the Lord, have created it.
NASU

God then rebukes those who would question what He was doing. In consideration of the majesty, power and authority of God, people are in no place to think they know better. In fact, "grave danger" (Isa 45:9 NET) or "woe" (Isa 45:9 NASB) awaits those who argue with Him.

Isa 45:9-10
"Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker — an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, 'What are you doing?' Or the thing you are making say, 'He has no hands'? 10 "Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' Or to a woman, 'To what are you giving birth?'"
NASU

The next verse, of course, is verse 11 ("command ye me" in the KJV). Comparing various translations is very interesting here, because there are two distinct ideas that the original Hebrew contains. English translations usually bring out one or the other.

First, the NASB translates the verse as God's instruction to His people that in light of His supreme power and authority, they were to ask Him what they should do, and trust Him for what He was doing.

Isa 45:11 Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: "Ask Me about the things to come concerning My sons, And you shall commit to Me the work of My hands. NASU

Second, most other translations bring out God's indignation at being questioned.

Isa 45:11 "This is what the Lord says — the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? NIV

Isa 45:11 Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: "Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands? RSV

Isa 45:11 This is what the Lord says— the Holy One of Israel and your Creator: "Do you question what I do for my children? Do you give me orders about the work of my hands? NLT

Isa 45:11 Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, Israel's Creator, says: "What right have you to question what I do? Who are you to command me concerning the work of my hands? TLB

Isa 45:11 This is what the Lord says, the Holy One of Israel, the one who formed him, concerning things to come: “How dare you question me about my children! How dare you tell me what to do with the work of my own hands! NET

God then reaffirms His sovereign power.

Isa 45:12 "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. NASU

After that, God briefly mentions Cyrus again.

Isa 45:13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty." NIV

Isaiah 45:11 either says that believers should trust God for what He is doing, or it rebukes people who think they know better than He does. The one thing that this verse does not say is that believers may command God what to do.

Family members who take the King James Version out of its context and 'command' God in prayer are actually doing the very thing that this verse condemns!

 

According to His will

Prayer is not demanding that God fulfil our requests. In fact, the beloved apostle John took pains to point out that whenever we ask God for something, we should be aware that He will grant the requests that are according to His will. By implication, He does not grant the requests that do not agree with His will.

1 John 5:14-15
14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
NASU

In this epistle, John repeatedly stressed the crucial importance of believers' obedience. In fact, no one can say that they know God at all unless they obey Him.

1 John 2:3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. NASU

Obedience is linked with saving knowledge of God. Christians who do not keep God's commandments actually do not know Him at all.

1 John 2:4-5
4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
NASU

John listed several areas of disobedience that the recipients of this epistle needed to be reminded of, including a lack of Christian love, love for the world, denial that Jesus was the Son of God, lust for material possessions, sexual lust, idol worship and other unnamed sins.

Getting a favourable answer to prayer, said John, was irrevocably linked to obedience.

1 John 3:22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. NASU

John did not say that as Christians live in obedience to God, God had to answer their prayers. Rather, he said that God only answers prayer that accords with His will, so Christians must first align themselves with His will by obeying Him and keeping His commandments.

In other words, at all times, God retains His authority to instruct people. The order is never reversed so that people may instruct God.

 

John 14:14

John 14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. KJV

Family members may cite verses such as John 14:14 to 'prove' that prayer in Jesus' name places an obligation on God to respond. However, reading this verse in the context of the discussion Jesus was having with His disciples shows a different emphasis.

Jesus' disciples knew that He would be leaving them soon, and so He began comforting them by saying that He Himself was the pathway for them to come to God the Father, and so be reunited with Him.

John 14:3-6
3 "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 "And you know the way where I am going." 5 Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
NASU

Jesus then emphasised His own unity with God the Father: the Father and the Son are essentially one; they are not separate personalities. God is one, although He has manifested Himself as Father, Son and Spirit.

John 14:7-9
7 "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him." 8 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
NASU

Jesus explained that although His disciples saw Him as a man, His words and actions were anointed, empowered and initiated by God the Father. God was in Him doing the miracles and speaking the words.

John 14:9-11
9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.
NASU

Jesus then promised that although He would be leaving them soon, His disciples would enjoy a continued relationship with Him, a relationship which in many ways was similar to that between Jesus the Son and God the Father. The Holy Spirit would soon be given as the means by which God could dwell within His followers, and thereby continue to speak His words and perform miracles on earth.

John 14:12-14
12 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
NASU

Lest the disciples get the wrong impression about their own authority and power, Jesus immediately instructed them that their relationship with Him was to be characterised by love and by obedience.

John 14:15 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. NASU

He then promised to send the Holy Spirit in order that He would remain with them and in them.

John 14:16-20
16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.
18 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 "After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 20 "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
NASU

He again spelled out that He expected obedience from His disciples. No one who was disobedient could say that they loved Him.

John 14:21-24
21 "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?"23 Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.
NASU

To summarise, Jesus certainly promised His disciples that they would perform miracles, and that many wonderful things would happen as they prayed in His name.

However, He introduced his promise with the explanation that it would occur by His own power, as He would maintain an ongoing relationship with them that was similar in many regards to that of God the Father's relationship with Jesus the Son.

At all times, Jesus retains the authority to do miracles, the power to do miracles, and the initiative to do miracles. Three times, Jesus stressed to His disciples that they were to be obedient to Him.

To interpret John 14:14 as meaning that Jesus' disciples could demand that He answer their prayers is to ignore the context of the chapter, remove the indwelling power and authority of the Holy Spirit and rebel against Jesus' requests for obedience.

In fact, Dad/Berg's conviction that believers may command God in prayer reverses this passage: Jesus said that His true followers would obey Him. Dad/Berg said that Jesus' followers could command Jesus, and Jesus would - in effect - obey them!

Clearly, this is a false reading of this passage.

 

God is the Sovereign Lord

The Bible indisputably and unambiguously declares that God retains all authority and power over all that He does. When believers pray, they are to have a humble attitude, as they petition for justice from the sovereign Lord of all creation and for mercy from the God of everlasting Love.

King David prayed in humility before the almighty God of all that exists. He did not instruct God what to do.

1 Chron 29:10-13
10 So David blessed the Lord in the sight of all the assembly; and David said, "Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 "Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. 12 "Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. 13 "Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.
NASU

Paul prayed in humility, overawed by the majesty of Christ His Saviour. He did not tell Jesus what to do.

Eph 1:17-23
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
NASU

The proper attitude before God is grateful humility.

Phil 2:9-11
9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
NASU

Jesus taught us to pray, not by commanding God, but in yieldedness to His will.

Matt 6:10 'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. NASU

Jesus Himself was the perfect example of this yieldedness.

Matt 26:39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." NASU

 

Conclusion

The proof-texts used in the Family to justify the teaching that believers may "command" God in prayer are, with exception, taken out of context and misused. In fact, some of the very passages containing these "commanding God" proof-texts actually demonstrate very clear messages that believers are not to command God.

Believers are to approach God in humility, gratefulness and obedience. There is no Bible mandate for "commanding God."

 

 

 

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