- PRAYER IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
- PRAYERS OF JESUS
- TYPES OF PRAYER
- THE MODEL PRAYER
- PRAYER ESSENTIALS.
- FINAL THOUGHTS
All scripture references are based on the NIV translation unless otherwise noted.
I THESS. 5:17 – Pray without ceasing (KJV)
In the dictionary, prayer is generally defined as making a plea to God in a humble manner. However, I believe that there is more to prayer than simply asking God for our needs. It is our method of communicating with God. Most Christians will not deny the importance of prayer, but many will still neglect prayer in the lives. This may often be a sign of a more serious spiritual problem. The importance of prayer can be seen throughout the Bible. The word pray in some form is mentioned 342 times in the scriptures. We also have people’s prayers recorded where the word prayer is not mentioned. While here on this earth Jesus took time to teach people how to pray. Religions besides christianity have prayer because they realize the need to communicate with their gods. These lessons are designed to look at prayer in the Bible so we can determine anything we can do to improve our personal prayer life. While it may not be a complete study of prayer, I feel it covers enough scriptures to serve as a starting point to better understand the subject. If we can improve our prayer lives and know how to talk to God in a better way, I believe he will bless us so that we can be stronger servants to Him.
PRAYER IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The writer of Psalm 109:4 says that he was a man of prayer. It is evident throughout all of the Old Testament that the people that followed God knew that they had to pray to God in order for them to understand what they had to do to please Him. As one reads these accounts they see many aspects of prayer, including attitude, the types of things to pray for, and things that are associated with prayer. The following passages tell about some of these aspects in more detail.
In Job 16:17, Job states that his prayer is pure. One might ask how a prayer can be impure? This question has to be answered because we have to realize that our prayers must be pure or they will not benefit us in any way. The following passages discuss some of the things that can make a prayer impure.
1. 2 Chr. 6:38 – In order for a prayer to be effective, a person must have their mind focused on God. This is not to say that you have to be facing a particular direction physically, but our thoughts must be centered on God when we are praying. In my life there have been times when I felt that the person I was having a conversation with was thinking about something else and not really paying attention to me. It has probably happened to everyone at least once. How does this situation make you feel?
2. Ps 17:1 – Some people think they can lie to God. This is impossible. How does it make you feel when someone is talking to you and you know that they are not telling the truth? God always knows when we are lying to Him, but some people still try it.
3. Jonah 4:2 – Jonah used this particular prayer to justify a previous mistake. When we pray to God, He is the one to be glorified. Many people make the mistake of using prayer to glorify themselves. Jesus told of the folly of such an act in his parable about the two men praying in the temple. Although Jonah does give the Lord some praise in his prayer, he stresses the fact his own knowledge led him to do the things that he had done. It is obvious that Jonah is not sorry for the error he had made in not doing what God had told him to do. Jesus’ parable makes it clear that this is not acceptable to God. Jonah is also very angry when he prays to God. This is a major reason for the kind of prayer Jonah prays. We realize that many things said in anger are later regretted. It is true of things said to God also.
4. Job 21:15 – Prayer is not going to work if we do not believe in it. The scriptures talk about the fact that anything not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). To doubt that our prayers will be effective shows a lack of faith. If we don’t believe God can answer the prayer, why pray for it?
THINGS TO PRAY FOR
As mentioned earlier, some people think of prayer as a way to present God with a wish list. The first thing most people pray about is their health. The next is the basic necessities of life. Some people simply pray for the things they desire. Looking at some of the prayers of the Old Testament may help us to realize some of the other things that we should pray for.
1. Judges 13:8 – One of the greatest concerns in the church today is young people. We wonder what we can do to help them live closer to God. Manoah here shows how he determined the best course of action in raising his own child. He prayed to God for help in this matter. We face decisions every day about our plans for our future here on this earth. God is willing to help us in these matters if we ask him, especially if it concerns how we can help ourselves and others live closer to Him.
2. 1 Sam 12:19 – Someone once observed that one of the main differences between christianity and other religions is the fact that we are offered forgiveness for the wrongs we commit in our lives. In order to receive that forgiveness, we must ask God for it.
3. 1 Kings 8:28 – Another great quality of God is the mercy that he shows to his children. We can never do anything to justify the many things God has done for us in spite of the way we live our lives. People often use the phrase “Lord, have mercy” in a very casual manner and do not consider it as a request to God. However, his followers should realize the importance of such a statement because our Lord is merciful.
4. 2 Sam 15:31 – Once we become a christian, the rest of our lives will contain a never ending struggle with Satan. Many followers turn from God because they feel there is no way to win this fight. This particular verse shows that we can pray for help in this, one of our greatest needs as a christian.
5. 1 Kings 13:6 – Christians are instructed to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). One way we can do this is through prayer. As we learn to love each other the way we should, it will become natural to remember more than our needs when we pray to God.
The preceding examples are just a few of the needs people prayed for in the Old Testament. Looking at our own individual lives can determine the things that we need to specifically pray for to help us here on this earth.
OTHER IMPORTANT POINTS
1. 1 Sam. 1:15, 2 Chr. 6:19 – Prayer can be a very emotional thing. Christians sometimes try to get rid of all emotion when they pray in order to avoid being considered “showy”. However, if we are discussing our most serious problems and needs with God, letting our emotions show would only be natural.
2. 1 Sam 12:23 – When we think of all the sins in the world, would failing to pray be on the list?
3. Neh 4:9 – While we pray to God for help with our problems, we still have to take action. People often expect the Lord to answer all our prayers in some miraculous fashion. Christians must remember we ask for help and strength to serve God. We should not just lay back and wait for God to be the servant.
4. Exo 8:8 – Pharaoh realized it would be useless for him to pray to the God of Israel because he did not worship or serve him. God will only listen to the prayers of those that are trying to serve Him.
PRAYERS OF JESUS
Whenever we pray to God, we should remember that we are talking to our Father and our Lord. This is not easy for some people. For many people it is difficult to talk to someone that you cannot physically see or hear. As a christian, we should always look to Jesus Christ and his example to see how he did things that are difficult for us to do. This is especially true of prayer. Jesus not only shows us what to pray for, but also how to pray for it. Let’s now look at the prayer life of Jesus and see what we can learn from it.
WHAT JESUS PRAYS FOR
1. Mat. 11:25 – This is a prayer of praise. It is important to note that he says why he praises God. He also acknowledges the fact that the things God does is good. We should do this when we pray so we can keep the power and greatness of God fresh in our minds at all times.
2. John 17:1 – Jesus starts this prayer asking to be glorified. This might sound improper if we did not read the rest of the prayer. The key to the verse is why Jesus wanted to be glorified. The ultimate purpose was the glorification of our heavenly Father. Whenever we ask the Lord for something, it should be something we intend to use for his benefit. This includes health, wisdom, talent, or whatever we feel we need on this earth.
3. John 11:41 – Here we have a prayer of thanksgiving. One of the common errors christians make in their prayer life is lack of giving God thanks for the things he gives us. Is it because we are not thankful or deep down we don’t really believe that God is not responsible for the blessings that we have? In these cases or for any other reason God would be displeased if we did not show thanks for the things he has done for us, especially if it something we have specifically asked for. Verse 42 points out another valuable lesson. Jesus Christ did this for the benefit of others. While we should not pray to impress other people, letting those around see us thanking God for the things that we have might help us to lead some that are lost to Him. 4. John 17:20 – There are many references to Jesus praying for others. Much of the prayer in John 17 talks about Christ and his relationship with his followers. He also stresses that we wants these things so they can go out into the world and be more effective in their service for God and the kingdom. As always, putting God first is foremost in all of Jesus’ prayers.
HOW JESUS PRAYS
1. Mat. 14:23,26:36 and Mark 1:35 – It is very evident that Christ feels the need to be alone when He prays. These and other scriptures make this very clear. This is consistent with human nature. Talking with someone in a one on one manner is much easier than having a productive conversation in a group situation. Sometimes it is much easier for us to admit our mistakes to God if no one else is around. Concentrating is also easier when other people are not around. Luke 9:18 points out Jesus manages to be alone when others are nearby. A news story from a few years ago illustrates how this can be done. A high school student was asked her opinion about the controversy of prayer in schools. Her response was that she prayed every day during study hall and it had never been a problem. Many times people are around but we are still by ourselves. There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this story. In our hearts we can pray to God at any time. This is part of the beauty of our relationship with him that we should always remember.
2. Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12 – Jesus always made time to pray and prayed as long as necessary. Some people pray a specific amount of time at a specific hour every day. While this is a good starting point for a prayer life, sometimes situations arise when prayer should override other things we have in our lives. A prayer life that becomes a stagnant routine often turns out to be repetitious, a situation that Christ warns us about (Mat. 6:7). If a close friend is injured in an accident at 9 p. m., do we wait until our appointed prayer time next morning to pray for them? Probably not. Praying whenever you need to will be much more effective than praying when you have to.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
Luke 3:21, Mat 26:37-39, Luke 9:28 – Jesus’ baptism, the transfiguration, preparing to go to the cross. At all of the important events in the life of Jesus, He goes to God in prayer. As we think about the important times in our life, did you think to pray? Of even more importance may be whether we pray for the seemingly unimportant times in our lives. I have heard people make the statement that they didn’t feel it was necessary to pray for them when they were ill because they weren’t too sick. I do not feel this is the proper attitude for a christian to have. If we pray for what might be considered a small problem, God may help us make sure it does not become a big problem.
PUBLIC VERSUS PRIVATE PRAYER
As a person reads and studies the word of God, they will see that two types of prayer are discussed in the Bible. These are public (or group) and private. While both of these are similar in most respects, there are some things we need to remember concerning them.
1. Acts 1:14 – This verse indicates that as this group was praying they were joined in prayer. Today in public worship services someone will be called on to lead the group in prayer. While this person may be the only one speaking, the entire group should be praying! Some people let someone else do all of their praying for them. The Bible speaks a great deal about unity. Unity in prayer is important to unity in other aspects of service to God.
2. Acts 1:24 – It is clear to all that read the scriptures that asking God for our needs. We know that in our individual prayers we pray for our individual needs. It follows that prayers offered by a group should be for the needs of the group. This group can be an entire congregation, the leaders, a women’s class, a family, high school students, etc.. This is not to say that an individual cannot pray for a group or a group cannot pray for an individual. Acts 12:5 tells of the whole church praying for Peter. The point to be understood is that oftentimes it is when a group as a whole is meeting is when we best remember the needs of the group and it will be easier to remember to pray for those particular needs at that time.
3. Mark 12:40 – This verse warns us for our prayers to not be for the purpose of glorifying ourselves before others. We can fall victim to this especially in a public prayer. Therefore, we should take special caution to not allow this to creep into prayers in a group setting. As stated earlier, a person leading prayer is not praying for the whole group.
THE MODEL PRAYER
The sermon on the mount is probably one of the best known passages of scripture in the world. Within this sermon is what many people refer to as the Lord’s prayer. However, a study of the passage shows that Christ is using this as an example of how we are to pray and not an actual prayer that we are to repeat. In Matthew 6:9 Christ tells the people to pray after this manner. He is specifically telling them that this is a guide. It should also be pointed out that Jesus has just finished warning the people about using vain repetitions for prayers. It would not make sense to then turn around and tell the people the exact words to use in their prayers. Do not misunderstand me to say that it is wrong to ask for the things Jesus mentions here. We should pray these things if they are on our heart. The point is that simply repeating these few verses when their are so many things we need assistance and help for in our lives would hardly seem adequate. Now that we see what Christ intended to teach with these words, let us look at his model prayer (KJV).
Our Father, which art in heaven – Any prayer to God should acknowledge His existence. Even more, we should acknowledge that he is superior to us. Jesus points out that God is in heaven, a place we cannot attain without his help. Also, we should remember in our prayers that God is our Father and we are his children.
Hallowed be thy name – Not only did Jesus recognize the fact God was above us in power, he also honored Him for it. Many times we know people that are more powerful than us that we do not honor. WE should not do this with God.
Thy kingdom come – We should always be looking for the second coming. Are we? Do we really want Christ to return?
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven – We know that God’s will is going to be done in heaven. However, some people think Satan’s will is going to be carried out here on this earth and there is nothing we can do about it. With help from the Father, this can change. Jesus showed that this is what God wanted and was willing to do if we prayed for it.
Give us this day our daily bread – After praying for our spiritual needs, we pray for our physical needs. Two things are shown by the way Jesus phrases this part of the prayer. One, Prayer should be a daily thing. We should not expect to become a christian, pray one prayer that we will be taken care of the rest of our lives, and then think our need to pray is over. Two, Jesus is praying for these needs beforehand. We often see images of children saying their prayers before they go to bed. While this is a good practice, praying to God in the morning might help us to remember him throughout the day and serve Him more effectively.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors – As Christians, we are to have a changed lifestyle. The purpose of this phrase is not to glorify our own deeds, but to remind us of our commitment to God.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – The devil is going to try and tempt us away from God. The Father is the one who can help us win this struggle. We cannot do it on our own. If there is one need we must consistently pray to God about, it is our daily confrontation with Satan. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen. – Jesus starts out as he began. He acknowledges the greatness and power of God. He realizes it will be that way through all of time. Also the kingdom belongs to the Father. When we remember these things when we pray, we can have more confidence that the things we request will be granted – if they are in accordance with God’s will.
While the scriptures point out the importance of prayer in a christian’s life, many christians today still question the need for prayer. This is often caused by not understanding everything that must be associated with prayer. In this final lesson, let us look at some things that need to be part of our prayer life.
1. James 1:5-6 – As pointed out previously, no prayer is going to be effective if without faith. We often hear stories about people asking for something expecting to be turned down. They then seem surprised when they don’t get what they ask for. Many people use this same attitude in prayer. God makes it clear that we are to have confidence in his power when we pray for things.
2. John 15:7 – God listens to the prayers of those that are trying to serve him. Here is a verse where people need to take note of the word “if”. It also adds to the meaning of the previous point. A lot of people say they believe but they do not abide in God or let His words abide in them. Whenever we here people complaining about God answering their prayer, we should try and help them see the importance of this verse.
3. Mat. 26:39 – We must again remember our purpose and goals as a christian when we think about the things that we pray for in our lives. All of our thoughts and actions should be based on pleasing God. Therefore, anything that we pray for should have this objective in mind. If Christ can consider the Father’s will more important than avoiding the cross, we should be able to see that his will must be the guiding force in our prayers and our lives.
4. Mark 11:24 – We must have an attitude of sorrow for the wrong we have done in our lives. Acts 8:22 points out that we should repent before we pray. As the model prayer says, we want be forgiven like we forgive others.
5. Acts 16:25 – Prayer is only one aspect of our worship and service to God. We cannot just pray and expect God to take care of everything. Sometimes we do only one thing when we should be doing and participating in all forms of worship. I also believe that if we are praying to God and have confidence that he is answering our prayers, we will have something to sing about!
I hope that the thoughts and ideas put forth in these lessons will be beneficial in our prayers lives and, in turn, our relationship with and service to God. One thing mentioned in lesson 1 was the fact that emotion should be involved in our prayer. The emotion most people might think of is sadness. This is because we are praying for things that are heavy on our heart. However, Philippians 1:4 mentions another emotion associated with prayer, the emotion of joy. One might ask how we can be joyful in our prayers considering the things we must pray for at times. Two thoughts come to mind concerning this. One is the fact that when we think of all the blessings we have, we should be a joyful people. The second is pointed out in Deut. 4:7. God is near and hears our prayers. If this were not the case, all of our prayers would be useless. So as we go through our lives as christians, remember that God is near and will answer our prayers. With this thought in our minds, we can and will have joyful and effective prayer lives.