How Should We Pray? – Part 1
Nearly everyone has prayed at some point in their life. I am so certain of the truth of this claim that I have zero intentions of wasting time researching it for support. I believe that whether a person professes to be a Christian or not, most of humanity has approached the altar of God in their own time and for their own reasons. Although it is not practiced regularly enough by even the most ardent of Christians (including me), prayer has still been a cultural norm in society for so long that we often forget what a mind-boggling act it really is. What has become almost mundane to us is actually quite extraordinary. To think that our God is so big, powerful, and all knowing that He could speak the universe into existence, but is also a God so precise and personal that He can hear my individual prayer…well, it is almost unbelievable. Actually, “unbelievable” might be the perfect word to describe the church’s current sentiments toward prayer. A God who is sovereign over everything and yet knows my name…that notion simply stretches our faith to its most dangerous breaking point.
To be fair, I realize that not everyone feels this way. In fact, I think we often fall into one of two categories when it comes to prayer…
- The first category is the one I have already begun to describe. We do not believe that God frequently answers prayers – and might I add that we feel we have a lifetime of seemingly unanswered prayers in our corner as support for our belief in the impotence of prayer. For Christians who fall into this category, we are not doubting the existence of God, or God’s ability to save us from our sins. No, we believe in Him and have trusted in Christ for our salvation. Our doubt is merely a belief that God does not frequently trouble Himself with answering our prayers. We believe He could answer our prayers, and we generally believe that God has His own reasons for NOT answering our prayers, but when we drill down to the bottom line, it amounts to this – we do not pray that often or that deeply, because we do not believe that God will answer our prayers in the way that we hope they will be answered. Put simply, we doubt the effectiveness of prayer, therefore, we do not pray.
- The second approach people often take toward prayer is exactly the opposite of the first. This stance is one that so desperately wishes for God to hear us and help us that we cling to every semblance of good fortune as if it were a direct sign from God, indicating that He hears us and is ready to answer our every whim. I hate to be confrontational so early in a discussion – before I have even mounted my Biblical defense – but if I may, this second approach has been fueled by a society that is very egocentric. Don’t worry, this article is not about bashing our society. I love America and am grateful for my many blessings here. However, let us be honest and admit that in our society of consumerism, it is inevitable that Christians will struggle against the notion that we are the center of the universe. Everything is geared toward serving us or selling to us. Because of this, we can develop an unhealthy “me” perspective in life. Therefore, we often see different random events in the world and assume they must be directed specifically toward us. When it rains out a ballgame that we had tickets to, God must be mad at us, or disciplining us, or is simply being unfair to us…or something along those lines. When we are pulled over for speeding and let off with only a warning, God must be looking out for us. Put simply, we measure our spirituality by our good fortune or our bad fortune. Therefore, we pray to God as if He were a genie, waiting to grant our every wish.
I could be wrong, but those are the two views on prayer I find most prominent in the American church today. They are polar opposites: faithlessness or egocentric superstition. Obviously these are generalizations and perhaps exaggerations, but when it comes to prayer, I believe most of us lean to one of these sides or the other from time to time. Just in case you think I’m thumbing my nose at someone (whatever that really means), I will admit that I am often on the faithless side of prayer. If I may speak briefly on behalf of the other “faithless” Christians, I would say that we will generally exercise more faith during life’s serious events, such as when facing the death of a loved one. However, even in those dire instances, we find little surprise when our desperate pleas to God go seemingly unanswered.
Humans pray for reasons that are common to everyone, but that does not mean the topic of our prayers is unimportant. When we pray, we are often pouring out our heart to God, sharing our fears, pleading for help, and so on. There are, therefore, few things that are more discouraging to a Christian than desperately desiring for God to do something and yet feeling like He is not listening. Uncertainty in prayer leads to many questions…
Do you ever feel this way? Do you have doubt that God hears you? Does prayer seem little more than screaming into an empty night sky, hoping for the stars to respond? And, when they fail to respond, our faith is diminished, our helplessness verified, and our cynicism amplified. I think many of us feel this way from time to time…if not all of the time. When I am like this, when I am faithless, then I am not viewing prayer properly. When you are like this, when you are faithless…then neither are you.
Or, are you on the opposite end of the prayer spectrum? Do you have a mighty confidence in God’s ability to answer prayers, which is coupled with an expectation that He will answer any and every prayer immediately and in the affirmative? When you pray, do you believe that there is almost nothing God would say “no” to? I do not want to diminish your faith in God one iota. However, if you feel that something like getting out of a speeding ticket or getting a brand new car is what prayer is really all about, then like me, you too are living with an incorrect view of prayer. I do not mean to make light of what someone might believe, but I hope everyone reading this lesson is interested in knowing the truth. If you are, then please realize that the truth is, God is not our personal genie! Scripture is clear! God does not spare every pain nor say “yes” to every request; and if I might be bold once again, much of the time when we make requests to God, our requests have very little to do with God’s will for our lives. When we do this, we are demonstrating that we are far more concerned with our will than His.
If you are like me and fall into the first category, then I hope this study renews your faith in God’s ability and willingness to answer prayers. I hope this because I know that we have a God who loves us and is able to supply all of our needs. I also hope this because I know that when we pray, God expects us to have faith in Him (cf. James 1:5-7; Heb. 11:6).
If you are in the second category, then I hope this study will temper your perspective on how we are supposed to pray to God and what we should pray for. I hope this because I want your faith and your prayers to be centered on God’s will and not your own. I hope this because I know there will come a day when you pour out your heart to God and pray for something quite desperately, and God might say “no”. If God says “no”, then for your faith to survive, it MUST be grounded on more than signs, superstition, and self-centeredness. I want you to have a proper perspective on prayer and life because when the waves of life come crashing in, your feet need to be standing on the solid rock of truth, so that your faith will be able to endure whatever comes your way (Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49).
If you find yourself in neither category, and perhaps pray a lot, or hardly at all, I still hope you will allow the scripture in this study to penetrate your heart and guide your prayers so that your personal communication with your Creator might help your relationship with Him grow. Allow the scripture in this study to shape your perspective on prayer into one that is both effective and God honoring. Now, let us begin with the most famous prayer of all…
– The Lord’s Prayer –
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
After this manner…
I began this study by choosing several relevant verses from the Bible, then using the main point from each verse to create an outline. With this approach, my initial plan was to conclude the study with the Lord’s prayer. However, the more I studied the Lord’s Prayer, the more I realized that Jesus provided us with the perfect outline for a study on prayer. In fact, He even tells us that His prayer is intended to be used as a model.
This is a simple revelation, but still quite important. Jesus begins His prayer by saying that when we pray, we should do it “After this manner” (Matt. 6:9). He is, in effect, saying “pray like this“. This is not to say that every prayer needs to be a recital of the Lord’s Prayer. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer is a perfectly good thing to do, but as Jesus said just a few verses prior to His prayer, our prayers should be more than just “vain repetitions” (Matt. 6:7). Our prayers should be personal. While learning Scripture is something Christians must do, and reciting Scripture is a wonderful thing as well, our prayers to God should come from our heart.
As such, when Jesus says that we are to pray “After this manner…“, He is not saying to use His exact wording every time. Rather, He is letting us know that the topic of our prayers – or if I could be overly descriptive I might say the essence, spirit, perspective, subject, and object of our prayers – should follow suit with His. The first thing I want to point out, then, is this: if we are wondering how we should pray, we need look no further than the example Jesus gave. If we want our prayers to honor God and be effective, we should ask…
This is important because when we examine the Lord’s prayer, we will find that every phrase and portion of His prayer contains a lesson from Jesus, teaching us exactly what our prayers should be like. After this study, we should examine our prayer life and see the ways in which our prayers are similar to Christ’s, and the ways our prayers need to be altered to look more like His.
Now that we know we are to pray in the same manner as the Lord’s Prayer, I want to look at the rest of Matthew 6:9. Jesus said “After this manner therefore pray…” (emphasis mine). While “therefore pray” is exactly the type of phrase in Scripture that we might overlook, it reminded me of one simple truth that we often forget – God expects us to pray.
Some people might scoff at this, believing the point is so obvious that it does not need to be mentioned. However, while I believe the expectation of prayer is something that most of us intellectually understand, I also believe it is something that we do not put into regular practice. If you have been following my posts, you probably realize by now that I believe the Christian life is far more about the practical things than it is about intellectual or mystical things. Therefore, I want you to know that prayer is an indispensable part of our relationship with God, and there is only one way that prayer is going to happen…we must choose to be obedient to the expectation to pray (even when we don’t feel like it)!
At some point I will probably write a study on the armor of God found in Ephesians 6:10-18, which teaches the spiritual disciplines Christians are required to be proficient in if we hope for our faith to withstand spiritual warfare, trials, and temptations. For now, though, I want us to look at the final portion of that passage. In verse 18 it says that Christians are to be, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…”
Follow me on this: After writing a very visual portion of scripture in Ephesians six, where truth is portrayed as a belt that holds everything together, faith is described as a shield that can quench the fiery darts of the devil, and so on, the Apostle Paul finishes by telling the Christians at Ephesus to pray always. I do not think this is a coincidence. You see, prayer is how you put the armor of God on. When we study scripture (the sword, Eph. 6:17) we should pray for understanding, for wisdom, and for God to get our own bias’, preferences, pride, and perspectives out of the way. After all, we want to see God’s perspective, not our own. Praying to God can help us overcome the pride in our lives which would otherwise prevent us from examining and correcting ourselves as we learn the sometimes painful truths of scripture. Without this, how will we grow? How will we discipline ourselves to live a godly life that is pleasing and acceptable to Him? By praying, we are communicating directly with God, who is the only One that can truly help us understand, internalize, and live out the message of truth in His Word; the Bible.
The Bible is just one portion of the armor described in Ephesians six. We could cover each piece of armor and its association with prayer, but this is a study on prayer, not Ephesians 6. As such, I’ll mention just one more – faith (i.e. our shield, Eph. 6:16). When bad things happen in life, when temptations arise, when we are facing a spiritual crossroads, what will help our faith to stand firm? Prayer! How could I get through a tragedy with my faith in tact if I ignore God (Matt. 5:4)? How can I make an important decision if I do not ask the only wise counselor (Prov. 3:5-6, Col. 2:2-3)? Where do I run when I flee from temptation, IF NOT TO GOD (1 Cor. 6:18)? He is my refuge when I am in danger. He is my deliverer when I need help (Ps. 9:9). He is my rock, my strength, and my fortress (Ps. 18:1-2). It is in Him that I will trust (2 Sam. 22:3). It is to Him that I must run when temptations are more than I can handle. It is behind Him that I must hide when an enemy is greater than me. It is on His stable ground that I must stand when doubt comes for me (Ps. 62:6-9; Matt. 7:24-27; 1 Cor. 3:11). It is in His arms that I must rest when my pain is too great for me to bear (Matt. 5:4; 11:28). Faith is trusting in the promises of God. If you really trust God, then you will turn to Him when your faith needs help! Prayer is the fuel that fans faith’s fire. We MUST PRAY!
The fact is, there is no earthly relationship that will flourish if communication is shut off. That might be a trite statement, but it is also a true one. Since that is the case, why should we expect our heavenly relationship with God to flourish if we never speak to Him? How can we expect the Spirit to fill and guide our lives if we never ask Him to? How can we expect God to walk closely with us during our times of need if we have distanced ourselves through silence?
Looking back to Ephesians 6:18, notice it says to pray always. That is quite a command. Always pray! This does not mean that I need to stop living life and be in my room on my knees praying 24 hours a day. However, it does mean that we are to be in a constant state of prayer. We Christians have a tendency to use the word “Amen” at the end of our prayer like the phrase “end of transmission”. When we have said our piece to God in prayer, we say “amen” and feel like we are done speaking with Him. We approach the life/prayer balance with a perspective like, “alright God, that’s all for today, see you again tomorrow…at supper and perhaps right before bed, but no time in between, please.”
This means when we face the day, we intend to face it alone. When temptations come, we lie to ourselves, pretending we are hidden from God’s sight. After all, we ended our prayer, effectively dismissing God from our life’s conversation. God surely can’t hear us or see us now! Right??? Viewing life in this manner sure makes it easier to give into temptation. But God always hears us and sees us. Don’t live life believing that “Amen” pauses your relationship with God! I encourage you to live life walking with God between the “amen’s”. Live life realizing that God is always there listening, ready to guide us toward right decisions, ready to forgive us when we’ve done wrong, and ready to carry us through tough times. He is our greatest ally, He is our greatest friend, and He is our greatest help. So, pray always. Always be in communication with God. There is no end of transmission. This is not a mystical thing. Prayer is not going to happen on its own. We must be obedient to the expectation that Christians are supposed to pray. Obedience is practical. We either choose to do something, or we choose not to. In the spiritual world, we are nobody’s victims. We make our decisions.
We might not always feel like talking to God, but I argue that those are the times when our faith needs Him the most. The bottom line is this: A healthy relationship with God requires constant communication. I urge you, therefore, pray!
To Be Continued…
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Posted on February 17, 2014, in Practical Christianity and tagged Belief, Bible, Christ, Christian, Christianity, God's Will, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Lord's Prayer, Prayer, Purity. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.