Why and How Do I Pray?
What is Prayer?
Now that is a mighty wide definition. Especially considering the various types of prayers that we can include; under the heading of “prayer” we have prayers of:
- Intercession (asking something for others)
- Petition (asking something for ourselves)
Prayer is one of, if not the, most important activities of our Christian life. It is a conversation with God – a conversation in which the entire Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit) is involved.
Pray to God the Father
First off, we pray to God the Father. In Matthew 6:6 Christ tells us directly to “…pray to your Father … “, and then in Matthew 6:9 He proceeds to demonstrate it by starting His example with “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven … ”. Christ specifically tells us here, in word and deed, that we are to pray to God the Father.
Andrew Murray, a Christian writer, once said, “The power of prayer depends almost entirely upon our understanding of who it is with whom we speak.” When we pray, we are talking to God, the Creator of the universe. He is far greater and more powerful than the universe He created, and yet He is there with us when we pray!
Pray through the Son
Paul says that “through Him (Jesus) we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). Jesus said that His Father would give “whatever you ask in My name” (John 15:15). We have no right, in and of ourselves, to approach God in any manner, much less prayer. But what we can not do, in and of ourselves, we can do through Jesus and His name. This is why you hear so many prayers end with “through Jesus our Lord” or “in the name of Jesus”. This is not merely a formula: it is our acknowledgement that we can only come to God through Jesus!
Pray in the Spirit
Occasionally, we may find it hard to pray. But that is precisely one of the reasons that Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to us. Paul says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning’s too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27). In a later post we will look in detail at the work of the Spirit. For now it is sufficient to know that when we pray, God is praying through us by His Spirit who lives in us as Christians.
Developing a Relationship with God
Now that we have discussed what prayer is, we can move into the first point. Why Pray? Well, I submit that prayer is primarily about us developing a closer and better relationship with God. Reflect for a moment on your closest friend. Perhaps it is a parent, spouse, sibling, or just a close friend. How did you develop your relationship? Did it just spring into being? Do you know this friend a fully as possible, or is there still more for you to learn about them?
I would go out on a limb and say that you and your best friend are exactly that because you went through a process of getting to know each other. You talk together, sharing ideas and concepts with each other, and then you act on those ideas and concepts by doing things together. I would also say that you don’t know this best friend as fully as possible, there is still more for each of you to learn about the other, and your relationship is always capable of growing deeper; or even perhaps growing more shallow.
Is it not your experience when you and your friends spend time talking and doing things together you grow closer, but as you increasingly spend time away from each other you grow further apart? Can you imagine having and maintaining a close relationship with someone without spending time together talking and doing things?
This is precisely why prayer is so important to the Christian. God means to be our best friend! I’ve written much on the primary way that God speaks to us, through the Bible. Well, now we are talking about prayer – how we speak to God! As we listen to God speak to us, and as we speak to Him, we have conversations. As we converse, we come closer to knowing God, and as we come closer to knowing Him we desire to do more things with Him.
Faith in God
Prayer was not instituted so that we can let God know what it is that we need or want. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:8 “for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”. No, prayer demonstrates our faith in God and is the means by which our faith in Him can increase. Wayne Grudem puts it this way, “When we humbly pray, demonstrating our dependence on God, we are also demonstrating that we are genuinely convinced of God’s wisdom, love, goodness, and power – indeed of all the attributes that make up His excellent character. When we truly pray, we as persons, in the wholeness of our character, are relating to God as a person, in the wholeness of His character. Thus, all we think or feel about God comes to expression in our prayer.” Do you see this? As we pray, all that we think or feel about God gets expressed through our prayers.
Fellowship with God
Not only does God want us to express our faith in Him. He also wants us to love Him and have fellowship with Him. This then is the second reason why we should pray. Prayer brings us into a deeper fellowship with God, in much the same way as talking to a friend brings us into a deeper fellowship with them.
Involved with God
As we pray to God, and our relationship with Him deepens, our desire to be more involved in activities with Him increases. Prayer allows us to be involved in activities that are eternally important. When we pray the work of the kingdom of God is advanced! So that prayer provides us the opportunity to be involved in a significant way in the work of God’s Kingdom.
Does God Always Answer Prayer?
I heard of a family who once visited the Grand Coulee Dam, and they were surprised to see that the visitors’ center was dark. It was a sunny day. So they thought the center might have tinted windows, but as they got closer they realized there were no lights on. They went in and saw that none of the displays were working. Suddenly it became clear: there was no power to the center. Due to a technical difficulty of some kind, the visitors’ center that sat only hundreds of feet from a hydroelectric dam had no power.
How could something be so close to the power source, yet not be plugged in? In much the same way, we can ask how someone can be close to God, yet their prayers aren’t “plugged in”. Let’s explore then, some of the “technical difficulties” that can contribute to difficulties in staying “plugged in” to God through prayer.
Un-Confessed Sin (Isaiah 59:1-2)
First let’s look at un-confessed sin. Isaiah 59:1-2 tells us “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” I have searched through scripture, and I can tell you that God never promises to answer the prayer of someone who is not in a relationship with Him. He might graciously answer the prayer of an unbeliever, but we have no right to expect that He will. As for the Christian, who is harboring some un-confessed sin, you must realize that our relationship with God can be marred by sin or disobedience.
Disobedience (I John 2:21-22)
Disobedience is a close cousin to Un-Confessed sin. John writes in I John 3:21-22. “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” Because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. If we are conscious of any sin or disobedience toward God in our lives, we must confess it and turn from it so that our friendship with god can be restored and we can approach Him with confidence again.
Wrong Motives (James 4:2-3)
Wrong motives account for another large portion of prayers that are interpreted as “un-answered”. Not everyone that prays to win the lottery wins! James, the brother of Jesus, writes: “2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Imagine if you will, that Jesus is your husband and you go to Him and ask Him for some money. You have every intention of taking this money that He gives you and going out to meet your lover and having a fine time, all financed by your husband! This is exactly what James is talking about here. People pray wrongly, asking God to give them His resources, so that they can go about using those resources to fuel there passions which lead them further away from God! Adulterous people! Can you truly conceive of a husband who would give his wife money if he knew this was his wife’s intentions? Then how much less can we expect our all knowing God to fall for such a ploy?
God gives only “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11)
Then there are times when what we ask for simply isn’t good for us. How often does a child ask for something, with good motives, that simply isn’t good for them at the moment? In Matthew 7:11 God only promises to give us “good gifts”. John Stott says that God will answer “no” if the things we ask for are “either no good in themselves, or not good for us or for others, directly or indirectly, immediately or ultimately.”
Answer may be either “yes”, “no”, or “wait”.
This being said, when we pray, the answer may be one of the following:
We should be extremely grateful for this; however, the majority of people I speak to seem to resent it. If we were given absolutely everything we ever prayed for, I dare say we would never pray again. I personally thank God that he has not done all that I have asked Him to do, and I am very grateful that He did not see fit to give me things that I asked for, and that He closed certain doors in my face. And I think that any Christian who has been a Christian for some time will appreciate this sentiment. Ruth Graham (Married to Billy Graham) told an audience once, “God has not always answered my prayers. If He had, I would have married the wrong man – several times.” Sometimes we will not know during this life why the answer is no.
That is why the promises in the Bible that prayers will be answered are sometimes qualified. For example, John writes, “if we ask anything, according to His will, He hears us” (I John 5:14). The more we get to know God, the better we will know His will, and the more our prayers will be answered.
How Do We Pray?
There is no set way to pray. Prayer is an integral part of our relationship with God and therefore we are free to talk to Him as we wish. God is not interested in hearing us repeat meaningless words; He wants to hear us express what is on our hearts. Having said that, some people find it helpful to have a pattern for prayer. For some years I used the mnemonic ACTS.
A – Adoration
The A stands for adoration. That is praising God for who He is and what He has done.
C – Confession
The C stands for confession. This is where we ask God’s forgiveness for anything we have done wrong.
T – Thanksgiving
The T stands for thanksgiving. This is were we thank God for all he has done in our life.
S – Supplication
The S stands for supplication. This is were we ask God to act on our behalf, the behalf of friends, and for others.
Model of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
Additionally, some people follow the pattern of the Lords prayer.
“Our Father in Heaven” (vs. 9)
We have already discussed earlier what this means. Under this element of the Lords Prayer I would spend time thanking God for who He is and for my relationship with Him and for the ways in which He has answered prayers.
“Hallowed be Your name” (vs. 9)
I Hebrew some ones name signified a revelation of that person’s character. To pray that God’s name be hallowed is to pray that He be honored. When we look around the world today we see that God’s name is being dishonored. We should start by praying that God’s name is honored in our own lives, in our church, and in the society around us.
“Your kingdom come” (vs. 10)
God’s kingdom is His rule and reign. That will be complete when Jesus comes again. But this kingdom broke into history when Jesus came for the first time. Jesus demonstrated this presence of God’s kingdom in His own ministry. When we pray, “Your kingdom come” we are praying for God’s rule and reign to come both in the future and in the present. It includes praying for people to be converted, healed, set free from evil, filled with the Spirit, and given gifts of the Spirit, in order that we may together serve and obey the King.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (vs. 10)
This is not resignation; it is releasing the burdens that we carry. Many people are worried about the decisions they face. The decisions may be about major or minor issues, but if we want to be sure that we don’t make a mistake we need to pray, “Your will be done.” We will discuss this more next week, when we discuss how God guides us.
“Give us today our daily bread” (vs. 11)
We interpret here that Jesus is referring to our basic needs. Martin Luther said it indicates, “everything necessary for the preservation of life, like food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children, government, and peace.” God is concerned about everything you and I are concerned about. Just as I want my children to talk to me about everything that they are concerned about, so God want to hear about the things we are concerned about.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (vs. 12)
Jesus teaches us here to pray for God to forgive us our debts – that is the things that we do wrong. Now some would say, “Why do we need to pray for forgiveness? Surely when we come to the Cross we are already forgiven for everything: past, present, and future?”
It is true, as we saw in the lecture on why Jesus died, that we are totally forgiven for everything, past, present, and future because Jesus took all our sins on Himself on the cross. I find the best analogy to be the one given by Jesus in John 13 when Jesus moves to wash Peter’s feet. Peter says, “No, you ain’t ever gonna wash my feet!” To which Jesus answers, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” So Peter replies, “Well in that case, wash my whole body.” Jesus says, “A person who has had a bath needs only wash his feet to be clean; his whole body is clean.”
This is a picture of forgiveness. When we come to the Cross we are washed clean and forgiven of all sins. However, as we continue in our relationship with God and we are walking through the world, we do things that tarnish our friendship with God. Our relationship is always secure, but our friendship is sullied with the dirt that we pick up. Each day we need to pray, “Lord forgive us, cleans us from the dirt.” We don’t need to have a bath again, Jesus has done that for us, but a measure of cleansing may be necessary every day.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (vs. 13)
God Himself does not tempt us (James 1:13), but He is in control of how much we are exposed to the devil (For instance, look at Job 1 & 2 sometime). Every Christian has a weak area, be it fear, selfish ambition, pride, lust, gossiping, cynicism, or something else. If we know our weaknesses we can pray for protection again them, as well, of course, as taking action to avoid unnecessary temptation. We will consider this whole issue in about four weeks.
When should we pray?
We don’t need a special building to pray. We can pray in the car, on the bus, riding a bike or the train, in the bed, in the middle of the night, wherever and whenever. As in a relationship like marriage, we can continue an ongoing conversation. Nevertheless, as in a marriage, it is necessary to have time together when you know you are meeting simply to talk. Jesus said, “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to the Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6). He himself went off to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).
I find it helpful to combine bible reading with prayer at the beginning of the day, when my mind is most active. It is good to have a regular pattern. What time of day we choose will depend upon our circumstances and our particular make-up.
As well as praying alone, it is important to pray with other people. This could be a small group of two or three, for example. Jesus said, “I tell you that if two or more of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). This could also be in a greater group of people, but regardless of how many come together to pray, it is important that we do come together and pray in agreement.
Prayer is at the heart of Christianity, because the heart of Christianity is a relationship with God. That is why it is the most important activity of our lives. As the saying goes:
Satan laughs at our words; Mocks at our toil; But trembles when we pray.
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