Prayer: Talking with GodIntroduction
Prayer is the activity of communicating with God - talking with him. For this reason alone, it is a wonderful blessing for members of the Kingdom. Anyone who enters the Kingdom has the right of access to the throne-room of the King. What greater blessing is there? Yet, prayer is also a responsibility of membership; it is part of the business of discipleship. Members of the Kingdom are expected to keep in regular communication with the King.
The Bible and prayer
The Bible uses the word "prayer" to describe the whole range of things we do when we talk with God:-
Intercession (requests for others)
Supplication (requests for ourselves)
Yet, the word "prayer" is mainly used of requests to God.
The Psalms contain the whole range of prayers, but they tend to emphasise personal requests for pardon, communion with God, protection, healing, vindication etc. This is only natural; all of us are caught up in our problems and find it difficult to see beyond our own little world. Yet, we will do well if we follow Jesus' example; he constantly thanked God, sought guidance and interceded for others, e.g., John 17.
When we study the apostle Paul's prayers we see again this movement away from self, eg., Rom.1:8-12 - a move from intercession to supplication. Paul is mainly into thanksgiving, dedication, supplication, service and requests, Eph.1:15-19, 3:14-18, Col.1:9f. When he prayed for others he mainly asked that they would receive knowledge and power issuing in love (service). We ought to remember that these three things are ours for the asking, since they are promised in the scriptures.
Some people like to pray in a set position, in a certain way at a certain time. The Bible gives no fixed rules about posture, form or times. Do your own thing - God is always waiting to hear from you. All we can say about Jesus' prayer-time is that he liked to pray in secret (in a quiet place), and would always pray in times of spiritual conflict.
Effective prayer depends on two things:-
i] That we know God. God is our personal friend through Jesus Christ.
ii] That we pray according to truth - "according to the will of God", i.e., we pray for those things he wants us to ask for. The source of all truth is the Bible and it is here we learn what we should pray for.
The following is a summary of the Bible's teaching on prayer:
i]. Do Pray, 1 Thess.5:17, Eph.6:18.
ii]. Say what you want to say. Don't just chant some prayer in parrot-fashion, or pad-up your request with many words, Math.6:7.
iii]. Keep what you have to say between you and God, Math.6:6.
iv]. Don't give up on some prayer-point, stick to it, but remember, God does not sleep, nor do we have to bend his arm (or his ear) to get what we ask - if he has promised it, he will do it, Lk.18:1-8.
v]. In your requests, cover a broad area, Lk.11:1-4.
vi. Prayer that has been agreed to by a Christian group guided by the Word of God, usually falls within the will of God - he will carry it out, Math.18:15-20.
vii]. It is through the Holy Spirit that we communicate with the Father. The Spirit is no passive telephone-wire, for he conveys our inexpressible prayers, Rom.8:26-27.
viii]. Prayer is more than asking, Ps.9:11, 1Thes.5:18.
ix]. Trust that God will hear your prayer and give you what he has promised, Lk.11:5-13.
x]. Forgive or make amends before prayer. How can we come before God if we hold a grudge, or someone rightly holds a grudge against us? Math.5:21-26, 6:14-15, 18:21-35.
xi]. Humility and penitence is an essential quality of a time of prayer, Lk.18:10-14.
xii]. Our prayers should carry an element of urgency. Jesus will soon return, the time is fast-running out - "Watch and pray", Mk.13:32-37.
xiii]. We are to address the Father through Jesus, Jn.14:13, 15:16, 16:23f. Jesus is our means of access to the Father, Heb.4:14-16.
xiv]. Prayer is essential to the Christian life, Rom.12:12.
xv]. Prayer is part of the Christian's armour against the wiles of the Evil One, Eph.6:13-17.
The Lord's Prayer
Jesus has given us a guide to prayer in the Lord's Prayer. It serves as a prayer list of things we can pray for with the sure knowledge of receiving them, i.e., it lists requests that are according to God's will. The prayer commences by addressing the Father - He is our Father and therefore we have the right to ask for the following:-
i]. May your name be honoured. At the moment it is dishonoured by many, but the day will come when every knee will bow before Him.
ii]. May your Kingdom come. God rules over his people, and his rule is bursting into our world every day, changing the lives of individuals. Jesus will soon return to establish the Kingdom in power.
iii]. May your will be done. May we faithfully work to bring in the Kingdom, reach people with the gospel, bring them into the Christian fellowship, train and equip them so that they in turn may work to bring others to God.
iv]. Give us what we need (equip us) for our work to bring in the Kingdom.
v]. Forgive us when we fail you. Forgive us when we fail to use the resources of time, talent and tinkle entrusted to us for Kingdom ministry.
vi]. Let us not be overcome by the Evil One. Let us stand against his attack to frustrate our service to Christ and to draw us away from the Kingdom.
The problem of unanswered prayer
The Bible tells us that we will receive what we ask, Lk.11:9, Jn.15:7, and yet from experience we know that we don't always get what we ask. This was so for the apostle Paul with his "thorn in the flesh", and also for Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane.
The fact is the Bible doesn't give us a blanket promise on requests. Everything we ask for has to be "according to God's will", 1Jn.5:14-15. That is, it is something that God has said he will give to us when we ask him.
In the first three gospels, when Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given you ... seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you." He is talking about a new relationship with God which he will make possible through his death on the cross. This will entail (i) forgiveness of sins, 1Jn.1:9, 5:16 etc. for all those who ask, and (ii) the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jn.4:10, Lk.11:13, Act.2:38, i.e., an intimate relationship with God through the Spirit.
In John's gospel, Jesus says to the disciples in the upper room: "ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you". This request is a request for love - to show ultimate concern for fellow Christians and the world. This is the "fruit" we are to bear and these are the "works" that we are to do, works that Jesus Himself did. Ask and you will be able to love, to bear fruit, to work as Jesus worked.
So then, we can be sure of receiving the things that God has promised us in his word. All other requests, which are outside God's intentions, fall into the category of communication - the sharing of our deepest concerns with the Lord.
Knowing the will of God
Effective prayer, in the sense of asking and receiving, must be based on the will of God. The Bible is the main source of God's intentions. Although the Bible doesn't deal with every specific life issue, it does contain most of the principles we need for our service to Jesus in this age. Bible study is therefore a very important element in effective prayer. Through a study of the Bible, we come to know the will of God, his intentions, promises, commands, and they then become the focus of our prayers
Other than the Word (the Bible), there are two other ways God reveals his will - his intentions.
i] Personal revelation. This is very rare, but there may be a time when we are convinced that God has a personal promise or command for us. A request based on this revelation is a request "according to his will". The Lord has promised to lead us into all truth, and there are times when the scriptures don't seem to address the situation we face. An understanding of his will is sometimes clear through an inner conviction, or the arrangement of particular circumstances. It is then we can commit the matter to the prayer of faith, i.e., a prayer based on the will of God. None-the-less, it is important to accept that a personal conviction can be just that, and may well be outside God's will for us.
ii] A church decision, Matt.18:15-21. Jesus has promised that when two or three believers meet together he will be in our midst. Through his Word (the Bible), and his prophets and teachers, he will instruct the group. If the group is faithfully seeking to arrive at God's will on a certain matter, have studied the scriptures, heard the prophets and teachers, discussed, and arrived at a conclusion, then it may well indeed fall within God's will for us. The church may then pray that their decision is within God's will and act upon it. None-the-less, even the most carefully resolved decision may fall outside of God's will for his people, particularly if it flouts the teachings of the Bible.
The two main forms of prayer are extempore and liturgical. Extempore prayer has little structure and is primarily conversational. We would use this form of prayer in a personal quiet-time or in a small prayer-group. Most non-conformist churches use an extempore prayer-style in their services. In the Anglican / Episcopalian church, the Roman and increasingly the Uniting / Methodist churches, a liturgical form is commonly used.
Liturgy uses the Lord's Prayer as a model; it is formal and structured and provides a framework upon which to hang our personal prayers. If the repetition of liturgical prayers is to be effective, each sentence must be filled with our own personal meaning - we have to practice speed-thinking. To practice this art-form, start with a prayer like, "Lord, pour the grace of your forgiveness on my family." This prayer is based on the Biblical principle that God works within households / families, and this because the family (mum, dad, and the kids + grandparents) is his uniquely designed frame for human society. When praying the prayer, practice imaging all the members of your extended family in an instantaneous slide-show. It's amazing how much we can fit within a five second prayer. Next, work on the liturgical prayer, "Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy." The basis of the prayer is that God is a merciful God, a mercy realised in the death and resurrection of Christ. When praying this prayer, practice filling it with the full package of all the rubbish that has stained your life, and do so in the knowledge that in Christ it is completely swept away. You will notice that this prayer comes early in a liturgical service since we need to sweep away the rubbish before coming into the presence of our Lord and saviour.
1. Can you list the things mentioned in this study that you can pray for with the sure knowledge that you will receive them?
2. When is the best time for you to pray and how would you arrange your prayer time? .... If you are not sure, see John White's "The Fight".