What is Prayer?
It could be said that prayer in the American church today is like a dog that is all bark, but no bite. We like to talk about prayer. We can organize conferences and discuss many different methods and styles of prayer. Christians will even go so far as to say that prayer is one of the most important ingredients in a successful church. But if this is the case, why does the church and believers in particular spend such little time in prayer? What is the purpose of prayer? Is there a specific way I should pray? How often should I pray? In a nutshell, what does the Bible teach about prayer?
What is prayer?
Prayer is communicating with and hearing from God. Many people attempt to communicate with God. Even unbelievers may offer prayers to God. However, since these people are unredeemed, God is under no obligation to listen to their prayers. The one prayer that God will hear from the unbeliever is the prayer of salvation (John 6:37).
On the other hand, Christians have been reconciled to God through faith in the sacrificial offering of Messiah Jesus on the cross (2 Cor 5:21). As a result, believers have a relationship to God Almighty, where they now refer to him as "Abba, Father" (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). As children of God, believers are commanded to pray (Luke 18:1, 21:36; 1 Thes 5:17).
The importance of prayer
One of the greatest deceptions of the Adversary is to have Christians replace prayer with good works and other activities. While these things are important, they should never replace the priority of prayer. Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, says that "prayer is as essential to knowing God and growing spiritually as breathing is to living and staying healthy" (www.harvest.org). As the lifeline to the Father, prayer should always take precedence over other activities in the believer's life.
Why should we pray?
Many rationalists believe that, since God knows everything before the prayer is offered (Matt 6:8), that prayer is unreasonable. The only fallacy to this point of view is that the Bible teaches that God uses prayer as a means of accomplishing His will through the requests of His children. James 4:2 states that believers "do not have, because [they] do not ask God" (NIV). Many times God will not respond until the Christian has approached the Throne of Grace in prayer (Heb 4:16). Furthermore, prayer can relieve anxiety and worry (Phil 4:6). This is one reason why the Bible teaches that we should "pray continually" (1 Thes 5:17).
How should we pray?
In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus teaches his talmidim (disciples) how to pray. In verses 5-6 Jesus is commanding believers to pray to God with a sincere heart. Many people today do acts to receive the praise of men, rather than the praise of God (John 12:43). While there is nothing wrong with praying in public, praying in private allows the believer to focus his/her heart so that he/she can properly communicate with God apart from any distractions.
Verses 7-8 teach that believers should not babble when they pray. God is not impressed with long prayers. Although there is nothing wrong with long, drawn out prayers that truly come from the heart, God is not obligated to answer longer prayers over shorter prayers. We do not have to inform God of what is going on during prayer. He already knows what we before we ask.
If long prayers do not impress God and He already knows what believers need before they ask Him, then how should the Christian pray? In the following verses Jesus gives his disciples a model of prayer.
As previously mentioned, Christians have been adopted into the family of God (Rom 8:15) through the sacrifice of Christ. God desires that we love him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6:4; Matt 22:37). Not only are believers to love in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18), like most people, the Father loves to hear "I love you" from his children. Thus, believers can approach God on an intimate level, as His children.
Which art in Heaven.
Unlike the heathen that pray to man-made deities, Christians pray to God who is in Heaven. Even though believers have an intimate relationship with the Father, He is still to be approached with reverence since he is still sovereign over the universe (Gen 17:1; 18:14; Matt 19:36; Luke 1:37; Rev 19:6; 21:22).
Hallowed by Thy name.
The desire of a true believer is to see that His name is kept holy. This part of the model reminds followers that His name is of highest worth. Thus, He is to be worshipped over anything or anyone in our lives. Isaiah 6:1-3 states that out of reverence the seraphim covered their eyes and their feet as they proclaimed, "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory." People need to understand to whom they are addressing when they offer prayer to the Almighty One.
Thy kingdom come.
After worshipping God, we should pray for Christ's personal return to earth in glory to reign for 1000 years (Rev 20:6). This is why believers are commanded to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Ps 122:6). Jerusalem will be at peace only when Messiah is reigning from Mount Zion.
This will be a time characterized by peace, righteousness, holiness, security and gladness (Isa 32:16-20; 35:5-10; 51:3; 55:12-13; 61:10-11). This also reminds believers that the kingdom of God is in their hearts (Luke 17:21); thus, Christ rules and reigns in the lives of his disciples. Every believer should long for the return of Christ.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
Since God is omniscient (Ps 147:4; Matt 11:21; Acts 15:18) and is all wise (Job 12:13; Ps 104:24; 136:5; 147:5), he knows what is best. Therefore, His children pray for His will to be done on earth, as it always is in Heaven. Believers should long to see His will fulfilled in multiples areas such as their communities, countries, churches and in their homes and lives. They long for God's will over their own. In his wisdom, God hears and answers what is best in any particular situation.
Give us this day our daily bread.
After worshipping God and putting His interests first, this is where the disciple brings his/her personal petition to the Lord, fully recognizing that God is the provider of all things (Gen 22:14; Jas 1:17). The believer asks God to provide for his/her needs, knowing that God will always take care of His children (Matt 6:33).
Believers are not to hesitate bringing requests to the Lord. John 14:13-14 says "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it" (NIV). This does not mean that we have to end every prayer "in Jesus' name", but rather praying in the name of Christ means recognition of oneself as a living part of Christ in the New Creation and therefore limits the subject of prayer to those projects which are in direct line with the purposes and glory of Christ (Lewis Sperry Chafer. Basic Bible Doctrine, p. 261). As we pray in his name, may God accomplish His will for Christ's glory.
And forgive us our debts (wrongs).
When disciples sin against other people, they also sin against God (Ps 51:4). Just as Isaiah became aware of his sinfulness before the Holy God (Isaiah 6:4), believers become aware of their sinfulness before God in prayer. In order to maintain fellowship with the Father, it is important that his children confess their sins so that they can receive parental forgiveness. The Bible says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
As we forgive our debtors (those who have wronged us).
While it is important for believers to confess their sins to God and forsake them, it is equally important that believers forgive one another (Col 3:13). Since God has forgiven his children for their sin, they should have hearts ready to forgive others who have offended them. To further illustrate the point, Jesus mentions in verses 14-15: "if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (NIV). It is imperative that Christians forgive one another. The apostle Paul wrote, "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph 4:32 KJV).
And lead us not into temptation.
This does not mean that God tempts people. James 1:13-14 says that God does not tempt anyone, but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (NIV). Thus, Christians are not commanded to pray for something, which contradicts what the Bible teaches.
The Greek word for temptation is peirasmos, which is used of trials with a beneficial purpose and effect (W.E. Vine. Vine's Expository Dictionary, p. 1140). While God does test and permits trials in the lives of His children (Luke 22:18; Acts 20:19; Jas 1:2; 1 Pet 1:6), believers ask God to not allow them to be tempted by their own carelessness or disobedience. It has been said, "Lead me not into temptation. I can find it all by myself."
But deliver us from the evil one.
This is the true prayer of every believer who desires not to fall to sin or to the evil one. We can successful pray this because God always provides a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Cor 10:13). Unlike God's tests, which come from outside the believer, the Adversary tempts from evil passions and uncontrolled desires that arise from within. God allows trials and tests in order that the believer will become complete and whole, lacking in nothing (James 1:4). May our eyes be opened to the way of escape in each temptation.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
This closing is a great reminder of God's sovereignty. After praying with thanksgiving, the peace of God will keep the hearts and minds of all who follow Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7). Christians have peace and comfort because God is still on the throne and is powerful enough to accomplish His will through their prayers. No matter how the Father decides to answer a prayer, He alone is worthy of glory.
Hindrances to prayer
Although God promises to answer the prayers of His children, the Bible mentions several things that can hinder the prayer life of a Christian.
Iniquity in the heart (Ps 66:18).
Refusal to hear God's law (Prov 28:9)
An estranged heart (Is 29:13)
Remain in sin (Is 59:2)
Waywardness (Jer 14:10-12)
Idolatry (Jer 11:11-14; Ezek 14:3)
Offering unworthy sacrifices (Mal 1:7-9)
Praying to be seen of men (Matt 6:5-6)
Unforgiveness (Mark 11:25)
Pride in fasting and tithing (Luke 18:11-14)
Lack of faith (Heb 11:6; Jas 1:5-8)
Selfishness (Jas 4:3)
The unfulfilled role of a Husband (1 Pet 3:7)
Each of these items will hinder the prayers of a believer. This is why it is important to examine the heart (Ps 26:2; 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5). If any of these issues are found, it is important that the believer repent and then he will be forgiven and his/her prayers will be heard (Acts 8:22).
While there is much more that can be said concerning prayer, prayer is to be a priority in the Christian's life. God desires that all men not only pray everywhere (1 Tim 2:8), but that they also continually pray throughout the day (1 Thes 5:17). Although it is important to learn about prayer, it is far more important to be praying! It has been said:
"Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest Christian on his knees."
May God give each of us prayerful hearts as we seek Him daily.
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