“Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Tribulation, Be Constant in Prayer”Romans 12:12
“Prayer” is one of the most frequently used words in the Christian vernacular. It is used 132 times in scripture, and (probably) ten times that in Christian literature and commentaries since then. But what is prayer, really? What is its purpose and why is it so crucial to a life of faith?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer as “an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”
Donald S. Whitney states in his book Praying the Bible laments, “since prayer is talking with God, why don’t people pray more? Why don’t the people of God enjoy praying more?”
I think part of the reason we struggle so much to pray is that we don’t fully understand what prayer is. We grow up hearing so many different kinds of prayer that there are often no discernible patterns to follow and it can get confusing. This leads to us becoming timid in our prayer and afraid to speak out to God, especially in front of other Christians who we may assume know how to pray better than we do.
But that’s okay! Even the apostles had to ask God how to pray (Luke 11:1). He answered by giving them an example, what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. Following Christ’s example, we can discover the answers to all our questions regarding prayer, and become more confident and intentional in our approach to God.
The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer given to us by Jesus is a perfect example of how we should pray. It provides us with a structure that is as everlasting as the Father Himself. This prayer can be split up into five primary areas of focus:
- God’s everlasting glory (hallowed be your name)
- His eternal will (your kingdom come)
- His provision (give us this day our daily bread)
- His forgiveness (forgive us our debts, as we forgive others)
- His deliverance (lead us not into temptation)
Each of these elements of the Lord’s Prayer can be attributed to our personal prayers. To save time, I won’t go too in depth into this prayer, but might write a post in the future that focuses on this entirely. For now, here is how we can use this prayer to benefit our own prayer life.
First, we must recognize God’s glory. Who is He? Acknowledge His attributes, His name, His holiness, etc. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:8)
Second, we must recognize God’s eternal will. He has a plan that expands far beyond our human ability to see or understand. We have to acknowledge His omnipotence (all-powerful) and know that He knows what He is doing, even when it doesn’t make sense to us. “The Lord of hosts has sworn: ‘as I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” (Isaiah 14:23)
Third is God’s provision. God will always provide everything we need (as it correlates to His will). “Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack! The young lions suffer, want, and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Ps 34:9-10)
Fourth is God’s forgiveness. He is a just God but He is also merciful, and through that mercy we receive forgiveness for our sins. In our prayers we confess, repent, and turn away from those sins which separate us further from God. And we leave them behind, knowing that God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Fifth, and final, is God’s deliverance. How miraculous is this! It is remarkable that we are not constantly on our knees thanking God for the miracle of deliverance. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
Approaching the Throne
After fully recognizing who God is, in His eternal power, knowledge, and mercy, it is necessary to understand how to approach the throne of grace and justice. God is our King, after all, and even earthly kings inherit a tone of respect and submission when we enter their throne room. How much more should we give to our God?
First, we want to approach God with sincerity. Insincerity is an insult to our King, empty words mean nothing to us, much less to God! So when you go to say the words or think your prayer, really mean what you say. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22)
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the “God is great, God is good” kind of prayer, it can become insincere in repetition. These groups of children chanting it at school lunches most likely don’t know what they mean, they just know they have to say it before they eat.
God doesn’t want us to approach Him out of obligation, but out of a place of intention and desire. We can’t do this if we only pray when we have to (obligation), insincerity and lack of intention are monotone ways to approach God.
“We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”C. S. Lewis
Next, we want to approach God with reverence. Remember Who it is you are speaking to. Don’t treat God with familiarity, as a “buddy” or “pal”. He is a friend that is closer than a brother, but He is also God. Recognize His complete majesty, and that He is King! “The Lord reigns, He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt.” (Ps 93:1)
After reverence, we should approach God with humility. We are invited into His presence, but we are still sinful and in need of His mercy and grace. Even Jesus humbled Himself, kneeling on the ground to pray before the Father. (Luke 22:41-42)
Lastly, we need to be earnest and fervent in our request. How often do we get bored during our prayers? The mind is a fickle thing and doesn’t always do what we ask of it. It gets distracted and begins to wander onto other topics, or it forgets entirely the fact that we’re even praying and sets us on with our day.
Fervent is such a beautiful descriptive word here. To be fervent is to display passionate intensity. Like the Holy Spirit praying with “groanings too deep for words” or David in practically every Psalm he wrote, our prayers are communications of passion to God.
But How do I Pray?
Often, core practices of faith (such as prayer) are assumed as naturally easy for most Christians. But that’s not always the case, not for me and, I’m sure, not for many of you. I don’t want to take for granted that any of us simply know how to pray just because we’re Christian. It isn’t that easy, it isn’t like talking to your friends or family, because you can’t physically see God. You can’t audibly hear His voice. And often, it’s hard to even feel His presence.
So, how do you pray when it’s hard to?
Well, there isn’t one set way to pray. While there are many examples laid out for us in the Bible, like the Lord’s Prayer, there is no reason to believe that prayer has to follow a set guideline each and every time. What works for one Christian might not work the same for another.
I personally find it easiest when I’m alone. At night, when it’s quiet and everyone’s in bed, I can focus on praying. This is good for those who may feel shy praying in public, are easily distracted praying in groups, or simply favor more of a one-on-one conversation with God. However, I will admit that sometimes (yes, I do it too) it’s easy to accidentally fall asleep when you do that!
Another method of prayer is illustrated by Donald S. Whitney in Praying the Bible that guides you through learning how to pray through scripture, particularly the Psalms. Essentially, you take it verse by verse and pray for understanding, or take every verse and thank God for what it says. Whitney uses Psalm 23 as an example. He says “You read the first verse—’The Lord is my Shepherd’—and you pray something like this:
“Lord I thank you that you are my shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, please shepherd my family today: guard them from the ways of the world’ guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil.”
He goes on to take his readers through the next few lines of the verse, praying through each one. I found this book monumentally enlightening as I hadn’t ever prayed while reading scripture before, and never thought about using the Bible in such a practical way.
Then there’s the ACTS method of prayer. ACTS is an acronym, of which the letters stand for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
- Adoration: Giving God the glory, repeating His words back to Him, recognizing His ultimate power and will and control over everything.
- Confession: Recognizing our place, our position. Humbling ourselves before a great King. Remembering our faults (even our secret faults) and bringing them before God in honest repentance, genuine regret, and a zealous desire to get back on track with our life of fatih.
- Thanksgiving: Thanking God for His provision, His answers to prayer, and His promises. This is a great opportunity to remember the promises of God and repeat them back to Him, remembering that since He never lies, He always keeps His promises.
- Supplication: Praying for ourselves and others. God cares for us and hears our prayers. “And whatever you ask for in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matt 21:22)
While this method is helpful for keeping your mind on track, I must guide against using it for every prayer. It can cause your words to become mechanical, like something you have to get through rather than a sincere communication with God.
As we journey in our faith, many methods of prayer will be presented to us as the “correct way” to pray. Prayer, however, isn’t so limited. Whatever method or combination of methods you may choose is entirely up to you. Prayer is so much more than a recitation of phrases that sound good or sound “holy.” As long as you’re recognizing God, and communicating with Him in your prayers, that’s all that truly matters.
Prayer is a monumentally crucial aspect of our Christian life. As it is our primary method of communication with God, it is the foundation for building a strong relationship with Him. It increases our faith and our understanding of God, of Christ, and our predecessors of faith.
As I’ve stated in a previous article, Paul is one of my favorite biblical writers. In every single letter he wrote, he mentions that he’s praying for the church. In many of them, he asks for prayer in return.
Praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ is not only helpful for them (since God does answer our prayers) but fulfilling for ourselves. There is nothing more powerful than our God, and the prayers of believers are extraordinarily powerful! (James 5:16)
Our relationship with God is strengthened through prayer, too. I’ve mentioned before how crucial communication is to any relationship, both earthly and spiritually. Daily communication with our Father, regularly coming before Him with our thoughts and words, builds a foundation of trust and openness that frees us to speak with our King.
In Philippians 4:5b-6, he says” The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”
Through prayer, we are granted forgiveness of our sins and redemption from our enemies. When we turn to God and repent of our shortcomings, the places in our life where we have fallen away from glorifying our King, God promises to forgive us.
In Ephesians he writes out both his prayer of thanksgiving for them and their spiritual strength, and his prayer for their spiritual strength, as well as his own. Both are beautifully written and helpful guides for our own prayers!
Jesus calls us in Luke 18:1 to “always pray and not lose heart” and in Matthew 5:44 to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and in Luke 6:28 to “pray for those who abuse you.”
In two different passages we have recorded Christ teaching His disciples how to pray, and in multiple places it is recorded that Jesus was praying.
1 Peter 2:21 says “ For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps.”
We are called to follow after Christ, to walk in His footsteps and do as He did. Prayer is just one part of that. It is of monumental benefit to our lives, both spiritual and otherwise. It relieves us of our anxieties, and allows us to place our cares in the hands of an almighty Father Who loves us and Who promises not to let a single one of us fall away.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26
God promises that we do not have to face the challenges of this world on our own. The Holy Spirit is on our side, praying for us “with groanings too deep for words.” The encouragement of scripture is so beautifully complete. Since the Spirit is God, He intercedes on our behalf “according to the will of God.” Personally, I can think of no better prayer warrior, than God Himself.
Many times in scripture we are compared to sheep, and He the shepherd who calls us by name, searches for us when we are lost, pulls us up from the pit when we fall in, and tends to us as His flock.
God is our foundation, our security, our Father. He finds us when we are lost and takes care of us when we wander. All we need to do is call out to Him.
A Prayer for All Us Mountain Goats
“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you…” 1 Samuel 12:23a
I pray that we would be encouraged by the words of scripture, that we would have hope for our future, our place with Christ in the kingdom, because the Spirit is on our side and praying for us. I pray that all of us would dedicate time to intentional prayer and communion with our God. Also, I pray that we would see the blessing and beauty in this aspect of our relationship with God, and how unique and powerful it truly is.
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