Basic Christianity Series #9: Prayer
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The New Oxford American Dictionary defines prayer as “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.”
In a healthy relationship, good communication is a necessity. As a child of the invisible sovereign God of all creation, communication requires the practice referred to as prayer. It is the personal, warm, and comfortable way you can express your gratitude, praise, and petitions to a loving Father who is always at work on your behalf.
The Bible gives us numerous insights to the meaning and purpose of prayer as well as offering the believer an invitation, and sometimes challenge, to recognize that one of the objectives of prayer is to receive an answer. Thus, prayer is a form of spiritual devotion as well as an effort to be heard. The book of James informs us …you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it (James 4:2). Thus we are told that the prayers of people who are in right standing before God will bring a beneficial response. We are also told we must be fervent—asking until an answer comes—even if the answer is not what we expect or desire.
Prayer can be high and lofty as those voiced in a high church setting, or intimately uttered through the tearful cry of a needy and heartfelt plea. Jesus certainly set the example of a heartfelt prayer when he was troubled by his approaching death and he released the matter to his Father in whom he had perfect trust: Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name (John 12:27-28). Later that night in the garden of Gethsemane, once again he petitioned his Father as he …bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39). Clearly he felt the agony of what was to come. His utterance of anguish was offered in an uncomplicated expression of his heart in communication with his loving heavenly Father.
Although you will never face the pain of bearing the sins of the world, there will be many times when the gentle urging of the Holy Spirit within prompts you to call upon your heavenly Father and open your heart to him.
In Luke Chapter 11 it’s recorded that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. His response was the prayer that we know as The Lord’s Prayer. After the Lord gave them his example, it’s interesting that he then challenged them to be determined and persevering in their prayer, and he used a clear illustration of what it means to be persistent in prayer: …so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9-10).
The use of the terms ask, seek, and knock tirelessly suggests the importance of being specific in your prayers. An example might be like going to the market. Do you go as a shopper or buyer? Are you going to look, or do you have a specific list of things you need and will be seeking? It is wise to be specific in your requests with God, and not general.
An area of warning about your prayers has to do with what one Bible translation refers to as “asking amiss” …when you ask, you don’t receive it because your motives are all wrong—you want what will give you pleasure (James 4:3). So asking amiss has to do with wrong motives behind your prayer.
God has promised to supply your needs in an abundant way: And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). It is very easy to get your needs confused with your wants. You must learn to trust God for your needs, expecting him to supply in abundance. Remember—he will meet your need according to his riches in glory. But you must remember the key is to ask with good motives and not according to selfish wants and desires. If you ask for things beyond your need, you might be asking amiss.
Another warning regarding prayer is found in the Old Testament: If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear (Psalm 66:18). Although God is a faithful, forgiving God, he knows of the destructive nature of sin in your life which you might be hesitant to turn from. This sin can become an obstruction in your relationship with him, and your stubborn insistence to hold on to that sin leads him to say that he cannot hear your requests for help and provision. God looks on your heart and knows that although you might reduce your sinful actions, there is still an inward love and desire for a particular sin. People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy (Proverbs 28:13). 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). There may be times when your prayer must humbly ask the Lord to make you willing to be made willing …for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
A more thorough look at the issue of sin and prayer will quickly tell you that believing is the action word for faith. That’s why the Lord told us, …Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you (Mark 11:24). God clearly tells you to ask with right motivations and to boldly ask him to meet specific needs in your life. But he goes further by telling you to ask with a complete trust that he will answer your prayer. It is at this kind of believing juncture that even one pesky sin comes back into play. You will find it difficult to ask—believing—if the Holy Spirit is reminding you of an unconfessed sin in your life, or pressing you about an unwillingness to deal with a heartfelt desire that is blocking an open and free relationship with your loving Father.
Many questions are common among believers in relation to prayer. For example, if your omniscient God knows all your needs in advance, why is there a need for you to lay your petitions before him? It’s for your peace and rest that he asks you to maintain a pure and open relationship with him and come to him in a state of humble reliance and trust as you ask, seek, and knock. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Those who have not had a positive and trusting relationship with their earthly father can find it hard to live in that reliance and trust. For those who have, or had, a loving and caring earthly father, the transfer of trust and reliance to your heavenly Father can be much easier. In instances where the thought of father is more negative and untrusting, it can be helpful to pray to the Lord Jesus Christ as a close friend, a trusted brother. Whether your prayers are addressed to your heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus, or the Holy Spirit who indwells your spirit and knows your thoughts and intents—the important consideration is to trust and believe in your heart that your prayers are heard by one who is for you and capable of answering your prayers. I am God, the God of everything living. Is there anything I can’t do? …he says in Jeremiah 32:27. In that reality you will find peace and rest.
You might also consider journaling your prayers. This can be a wonderful way to have a true period of communication with the Father, with time for meditation and silent pauses to listen to him. His still and quiet voice is there for those who will listen with their hearts.
Finally, should you ask God to meet the same need every day, or is that a bother to him? God is never bothered by your prayers. Some requests might be daily, some at weekly intervals. Burdens that are on your heart consistently should be quietly expressed as they come to mind wherever you are.
Prayers need not be wordy. A simple, brief petition to your merciful Father is all that is needed. The heartfelt prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:16).
For that alone, praise is always a part of prayer. Thank you, Lord, and bless your Holy Name!