<<talking to God>>
Prayer is expressing our desires and thoughts to God, either audibly or in the silence of our minds, with humble submission to His will, acknowledging we are impotent yet confident He is all-powerful to intervene and change these situations (1 Sam 1:15; 1 Cor 14:14-19; Eph 6:18). Praying is a form of worship as we recognize His sovereignty yet humbly understand He invites us to ask in faith, partnering with Him to bring about His purposes on earth with others being blessed and His name exalted too (Mt 6:10; Mk 9:23, 11:24; Lk 2:37). This requires us listening and hearing what is on His heart so we are instrumental in bringing that into reality and not just presenting our humanly motivated desires (Jn 10:4,27).
Prayer should be a way of life – not just an emergency call
out in faith to be part of the answer. For example, after praying for our neighbour’s salvation, we can begin to form a relationship whereby we can share Christ. We are to pray continually, aware many times this is the only thing we can do, recognising our total dependency on Him, but at other times this must also be coupled with action (Gen 24:27; Ex 14:15; 1 Thes 5:17).
Effectual prayer is based on the Word of God, so when we know the promises that He has given, and understand His character and the principles by which He works, we can pray with confidence and boldness knowing that our prayers will be answered, because we “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). For God’s purposes to be done on earth we must pray that others will also understand His will through spiritual wisdom, live worthily of the Lord pleasing Him in every way, bear fruit in every good work, grow in the divine knowledge, be strengthened with His power, have great endurance and patience, while joyfully giving thanks (Col 1:9-14).
It is not our right to ‘storm heaven’ with militant force dictating to God or demanding how His divine will should be outworked. When we pray it is not to change His holy will, but to align ourselves with it. Through prayer God’s providence (wisdom and foresight) becomes known. Thus it is right and necessary to pray. After all, His objectives will be 100% fulfilled and become reality in eternity.
Prayer changes things – us and the circumstances!
no answer be received (Jas 4:2). God has already determined various events will come to pass, but requires our prayers to bring them about, be it working for a living or looking for a spouse. He graciously gives us the privilege of being included in His work and never forces our hand. The amount of transforming good our prayers can accomplish is incalculable for God works out everything to fulfil His ultimate purpose and invites us to join him in shaping history (Eph 1:11; Jas 5:16).
Jesus teaching on prayer
Jesus expected His followers to pray “and don’t give up…crying out day and night” until the answer comes (Lk 18:1-8). He highlighted the importance of our attitudes and stated the temple was to be a house of prayer (Lk 18:9-14, 19:46). He also stressed praying in private to prove its genuineness and illustrated His teachings with a pattern prayer (the Lord's prayer) which contains six petitions or requests (Mt 6:6,9-13).
Prayer is the link between God's will and it's outworking in our world
with His character and will. We can be assured, that whatever we ask according to His will, He hears and we will receive (Ps 4:3; 1 Jn 5:14,15). “If you who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Mt 7:7-11; Lk 11:9-13). “No good thing will He withhold from those whose walk is blameless” but He won’t give us what will ultimately be detrimental to us (Ps 84:11).
Observe the conditions of receiving , “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you…We receive from Him anything we ask because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him” (Jn 15:7,16; 1 Jn 3:21,22). Furthermore, through a close, intimate relationship with Him and a clear understanding of the Bible, we will increasingly know what we should pray for. Assuming God will give us whatever we ask for, regardless of our lifestyle is presumption for although He will respond to the prayer of repentance and to those who are righteous yet He “will not hear me if I have sin in my heart” such as un-forgiveness and marital discord (Ps 51:1,2, 66:18, 86:6,7; Prov 15:8; Isa 59:2; Dan 9:13; Mt 5:23,24; Mk 11:25; Jn 9:31; 1 Pet 3:7,12). We must ask in faith, have forgiven those we have issues with, in order for Him to respond.
Biblical advice on practical praying
Immediately after Paul’s conversion it was said, “he is praying” and he truly became a man of prayer (Act 9:11). He said “I have not stopped praying for you… [I am] always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God”. He also encouraged others to “Devote yourself to prayer” (Act 22:17-21; Rom 1:9,10, 12:12; Eph 1:16-18; Col 1:9, 4:2,12). And he added “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer with thanksgiving present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6 ). “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph 6:18-20).
James states “If a person is in trouble, they should pray, and if sick, call for the elders whose prayer of faith will make them well again, so pray for each other that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah prayed and it did not rain for three and a half years. Then he prayed again and it rained” (Jas 5:13-18).
Jesus also told His followers to pray not just for fellow Christians but for those who offended and harmed them, asking that their minds and wills become responsive to the Lord (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28; 1 Tim 2:1-6). He further widened the brief to pray for more people to be involved in evangelism so lost people will come into the Kingdom (Mt 9:37,38). Then Paul advised his hearers to include all those in positions of authority in their prayers and Jeremiah encourages us to pray for the peace and prosperity of our locality, because if it prospers, we too will benefit (Jer 29:7).
Our prayers should be visionary and orientated to the future, not just dealing with problems in a crisis response mode. Keep up-to-date with world events so you can pray intelligently, both individually and with others, about particular concerns (Mt 18:19, 21:22; Lk 11:5-10; Act 1:14, 12:12; Rom 15:30,31; Col 4:3,4).
Styles of prayer
Our physical posture is not important – some stand, some sit, some kneel and some choose to prostrate themselves before God. A common practice is to pray with eyes closed so as not to be distracted. ‘Amen’ often spoken at the end of a prayer means ‘so be it’. Prayer walking, whereby people pray as they walk around a specific area, is patterned on the Israelites marching around Jericho and the subsequent victory and claiming, “I will give you every place where you set your foot” (Deut 11:24; Josh 1:3,4). Supplication is a term for intense prayer while intercession is prayer intervening on behalf of others (Ex 32:9-14; Deut 9:19,25-29). In some situations “We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will” (Rom 8:26,27). What we may consider is God’s will, will be shaped by our perspective; hence it is beneficial to pray in tongues so we don’t project our opinions into the situation. Directive praying, or projecting our desires onto another, is a form of witchcraft and should not be done by Christians.
What is the character of my prayers? Are they God-centred, self-centred or other-centred?
decision to God in prayer, praying for wisdom and guidance to make the right choice (Act 1:23,24). The early church did not ask for the problem to be removed but rather for divine help and ability to deal with it, together with boldness to overcome so God would be glorified – we should follow their example of viewing opposition as a catalyst to spur us on to greater feats for God instead of being intimidated (Act 4:24-30).
The effectiveness of prayer is increased by fasting coupled with praise – through it we are strengthened spiritually and helped to resist temptation (Mt 26:41; Mk 9:29; Act16:25,26). Also, don’t forget to thank God for answers received, rather than just continually asking.
The dilemma of so-called unanswered prayer
What people call ‘unanswered prayer’ is frequently just unanswered in the way we have asked or expected, i.e. we don’t recognise the answer. Rejoice even when you don’t receive ‘your choice’ of answer; later you will see it would have been disastrous had it been granted, or if you had forced the issue. God has bigger and better plans than we realise. He says, “My ways are not your ways” because He has the eternal view, we have only a very limited, short-term perspective (Isa 55:8).
Our motives and heart attitude must not be selfishly orientated (Jn 5:30; Jas 4:3). Our prayers are amiss unless we pray within the will of God, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 1:38, 22:42). When our prayers are declined, Satan will try to use this disappointment to drive us away from connection to God, yet our focus must always be on Him, with our faith and commitment robust enough to accept His love motivated denials (1 Chr 22:1-8; Dan 3:17,18). Only spoilt children can’t take ‘No’ for an answer. Christ’s prayer was heard because of His strong desire to be obedient and although His prayer to by-pass the cross was not granted it resulted in blessing, both for Him and us – the recipients of salvation (Mt 26:39; Eph 1:3; Phil 2:9; Heb 5:7). Paul’s passionate prayers about a particular issue were also denied, yet accepting God’s answer he rejoiced and experienced a greater measure of blessing – a life lived by grace (2 Cor 12:8,9).
We pray because God commands us, it glorifies Him, and benefits us
the circumstances (Heb 11:32-38). Delays test our patience and obedience so as we persist in prayer, we grow in character, faith and hope. His delays are not due to indifference, nor will He grant what will destroy us (Dan 10:13). We must not confuse delays with denials, for a delay is a 'Yes', but the timing is not synchronised.
As Christ’s ambassadors we are authorised to ask the Father, in Jesus’ name, to do what is His will (Jn 14:13,14, 16:23,24). However, saying “In the name of Jesus” to a request that is contrary to His will is futile. God guarantees to provide our needs (not our wants), as we place a priority on His Kingdom (Mt 6:33; Phil 4:19). Thus we may pray confidently for the good and necessary things in faith. The Bible declares we are to build ourselves up in the faith and pray in power and strength of the Holy Spirit (Jud 1:20).
Martin Luther is quoted as saying, ‘To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing’. The very reason we pray is because of God’s sovereignty, believing He has the power to order things according to His purpose. We are confessing our need of God and by proclaiming His almighty power position ourselves for the blessings He has in store for us, especially as it prepares us for eternal glory in His Kingdom. The Bible declares, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective (Jas 5:16; 1 Pet 3:12).
Our wills need to change and come into alignment with His desires and established purposes (Ps 138:8; Isa 46:10, 55:11). Prayer does not change God’s mind or character but He can and will change the course of His threatened (not decreed) action when there is a change in human behaviour (Num 23:19; 2 Chr 7:14; Jnh 3:4,10, 4:2). He also embarked on another course of action because of the intervention of Moses (Ex 32:9,10,14). God knew Moses would intercede and that He would spare the Israelites, in spite of His first announcement. When we pray we can remind Him of His unchanging merciful character – He always hears us when we pray according to His will and we respond with a changed heart and subsequent lifestyle (1 Jn 5:14,15). God in His sovereignty always knows in advance what will happen and orders things according to His will.
The Bible invites us to pray about our concerns, "Whatever things you desire..." as this is God's appointed method by which we obtain what He has to give yet often our prayers are largely selfish and revolve around immediate and felt needs such as 'Lord please help me with my assignment...Bless me today at work' (Mt 7:11; Lk 11:9,10; Jas 4:2). More of our prayers should be for others, and while these can relate to 'Lord please provide a job for my friend...help them in their marriage...' these requests also reflect this world's perspective. While the physical matters of life are necessary (such as "our daily bread"), the emphasis of the model prayer Jesus taught the disciples related to the spiritual dimension (Mt 6:9-13). A sizable portion of our prayer, the conversing with God that is our right and privilege as His children should be praise to Him for our salvation besides thanking Him for the blessings He has given and for the answers to our past requests (Phil 4:6; Col 4:2).
The Bible records the nature of some of the prayers of Jesus for the disciples. He didn't pray they would not be tested but that their faith would stand, they would be able to resist temptation, for their unity and their sanctification (Lk 22:32,40; Jn 17:11,17). Paul's prayers encompassed the salvation of the lost, the strengthening of believers by the Holy Spirit, their grounding in love, the comprehending of God's love and filling with the fulness of God (Rom 10:1; 2 Cor 13:7; Eph 3:14-19). As these are all prayers that focus on the spiritual dimension, they are according to the will of God and guaranteed to find a "yes" in Christ (2 Cor 1:20; 1 Jn 5:14,15).
What is the focus of my prayers?
Eph 6:18,19,20; Heb 13:3). There is no record of the NT believers, who were living under difficult circumstances asking to be delivered from the persecution, rather they would be given boldness to live for Christ (Act 4:29,30). They realised it would be through many hardships they would reach heaven and the trials were allowed by their loving heavenly Father (Act 14:22; 1 Pet 4:12). God has a greater goal than our comfort, He wants His character to be developed in us (Gal 5:22,23). It is right to pray for the health of others so they can live productive lives for the Lord, without being incapacitated by sickness, yet there is also the individual responsibility to eat wisely and exercise (3 Jn 1:2).
The Bible states Job's tragic situation turned when he reached out, even in the midst of his personal misfortune and unselfishly prayed for his friends who were experiencing hardship, although to a much lessor extent (Job 42:10). This teaches us to be outward focused (consider the plight of others) and that "God listens to the godly person who does His will" (Jn 9:31).
See also: answers, commitment, conditions, delays, desires, faith, fasting, God’s will, grace, intercession, Lord’s Prayer, not being ministered to, petition, praise, presumption, submission, supplication, thankfulness/thanksgiving, tongues, why, worship.
God has ordained prayer as a powerful means by which you and I can participate with him in the accomplishing of his purposes in the world. We remember Moses in Exodus 32. God’s people were in dire need, but Moses didn’t sit idly by saying, “God is sovereign. He’ll do whatever he pleases.” No, Moses acted, and his faith in God’s sovereignty drove him to his knees, where he begged for God’s grace. Moses’s pleas for mercy became the means of God’s provision for the needy