I have a desire to write about prayer in order that others may grow in this all-important area of the Christian life. I am writing this now with very little planning concerning the structure of the article, so it may seem disorganized. This is not a formal introduction and structured teaching of prayer, but I plan to give much more teaching on prayer in the weeks to come, so please be patient.
Prayer is a gift of grace and necessary weapon of war for the Christian. God has set up our relationship with Him in such a way that when we pray to God, we engage His power and He acts. Prayer cannot be used to manipulate God, for the one true God cannot be manipulated. However, God does receive and listen to prayer, and prayer can and will cause God to act differently than if His people had not prayed.
Prayer is an appropriate method of communication between God, a gracious, providing Creator, and His creatures that need provision. When we pray to God and He acts according to our prayers, He receives the glory because He demonstrates that He is the one who provides and acts according to His perfect will and wisdom. This deepens our trust in God. God does not always answer prayers the way we want them, and He may not act at all because in His wisdom He knows what is best. In such a case we need to humbly submit to His sovereignty with obedience and joy.
Here are some biblical points that everyone needs to know.
We Must Pray According to God’s Will
Looking at the Bible’s collective teaching on prayer, we learn that God does not respond to every prayer carelessly. God hears those who pray according to His will. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). Jesus also taught that prayer is to be done according to God’s will: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Jesus promises that whatever is asked “in His name” (in accordance with His character) He will do, in order that the Father may be glorified. Later in the gospel of John, Jesus says it again. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16). Note that here, as in the previous verse, the end result of the answered prayer is God being glorified. Jesus says that if we bear fruit and we ask for something, God will respond. We cannot understand this to mean that if we simply bring a prayer before God that outwardly accords with His will then He is obligated to give it to us. If we are truly bearing fruit by abiding in Christ, then what we ask for will truly be what accords with God’s will, because we will not want to ask for anything that is not in line with God’s will. This is how Jesus can say that if we bear much fruit and ask, then the Father will respond. However, because God is all-knowing and all-wise, even if we ask something that we know accords with His will as revealed in Scripture, He may not give it to us because He knows our hearts and what is best for us. We need to always be humble when we pray.
We Should Be in Prayer Continually
The very act of prayer is relational, and thanks be to God that He desires us to be in a relationship with Him. One of the most amazing commands in Scripture is the command to pray to God. We are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). Paul also tells us to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is a relational component, and our God is gracious enough to allow us to pray and loving enough to command us to pray. When we pray and God responds, our trust in Him deepens.
Prayer Is Necessary to Engage in Spiritual Warfare
In Ephesians 6:10-20, the apostle Paul describes spiritual warfare. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 see also 1 John 5:19). Paul then lists pieces of armor that we need to stand against spiritual warfare, with the Word of God being the only weapon, and prayer being connected to the Word. We fight against an enemy that we cannot see and who is much wiser than we are. On our own, we will not win. Every day we are in this war, and we cannot afford to rest. We need to be on the battlefield. We need to be fighting for Christ and His kingdom, and we need to understand how important and real this war is. We need prayer because we need God to strengthen us and fight for us.
Some Components of Prayer
Here are some quick but necessary components of prayer:
· Faith. Biblical faith is a settled trust and assurance that God agrees with what we have asked of Him and will do it. This is the prayer that brings results. Biblical faith is not just hoping something happens.
· Obedience. Because prayer is a relational component, anything that distances us from God will hinder our prayers. (Psalm 66:17-19; Proverbs 15:8, 28:9).
· Confession. We all sin, and confession of our sin should be a regular practice. We need God’s forgiveness daily. Confession and godly repentance are things that need to be constant in our lives. (1 John 1:9)
· Forgiving others. Refusing to extend forgiveness to others is displeasing to God and unhelpful to us. (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25)
· Humility. God hates pride, and He is not going to answer the prayers of a person who only wants to honor themselves and cares nothing for God and others. (James 4:6)
Some Practices and Examples
What I have found helpful in my personal prayers is going to the Word of God itself and praying its contents. Not word for word, necessarily. What I mean is that the principles taught in Scripture need to guide my prayers. Sometimes this does even mean praying a passage word for word.
For example, I often go to one of the apostle Paul’s letters and will locate a passage where he explains the content of his prayers for the respective church and pray that very same prayer for myself and others. I believe it is helpful, if not necessary, to make sure that my prayers are filled with the Word of God so that I keep myself focused on what I need to be focused on in prayer. It is easy to start with what I need or want, instead of starting with God and His will like Jesus taught (Matthew 6:9).
The Bible has many excellent examples of prayer. Many of the Psalms are basically prayers, Nehemiah chapter 1 is a beautiful prayer, and there are examples of Jesus in the gospels. All of these (and more) show the components of prayer mentioned above and demonstrate what mature prayer looks like.
Please be patient as I prepare more articles on prayer. Articles that will be more structured and clearer than this one was.