As Jews, the disciples of Jesus were accustomed to the concept of praying. They often saw Pharisees praying in public and there were prayers made during worship. However, it seems curious that on one occasion they asked Jesus how to pray. (Luke11:1) His reply was what today we call the Lord’s prayer. The prayer that Jesus prayed was in John chapter 17 while he was on the way to the garden of Gethsemane where he prayed more. The model prayer that Jesus offered them would be better described as the disciple’s prayer.
Much of the significance of this prayer has been lost because of its frequent use in repetition and in presentation. What we call the Lord’s prayer is repeated by rote without much grasp to its depth or intended example for us.
The question of how to pray does remain. Many books on prayer deal with the necessity of praying, the location of prayer, the frequency of prayer, and who is to pray. Very few of those books specifically deal with the question of how to pray. Here are some suggestions.
Think about the illustration of a football game. It is a very intense game. The quarterback decides to throw a long pass over the goal line to the receiver. The two determinant factors of reaching a win for the team is the quarterback and the receiver. The quarterback must throw the ball correctly. The runner must be in the correct position to receive the ball over the goal line.
In this illustration, the quarterback is God and the runner is a person. There is no question that God knows how to throw the football. That would mean blessings, healings, guidance, or success if the ball is caught. The runner is the one in question. If the runner is not where the quarterback expects him to be, the ball will not be caught.
So, our first point is that we must be in the right position or place with God. If there is sin in our life that is not confessed, that could be an issue. If there is disobedience in our behavior, that could be an issue. We must have a clean relationship with God. Yes, God does answer prayer out of the goodness of his mercy, but not because he is responding to the sincere prayer of one of his children. It is important for us to see ourselves as God’s children once we accept Jesus as our Savior. We should not be living the former life we once lived. We may even need to cut off certain relationships that are bad influences on us. God must be first in our lives.
Next, when we make a request of God, it must honor him. Our request should not be made just because they are made. We cannot ask God to do something that is sin. We cannot ask God to do something in favor of our own revenge. We cannot ask God to undo the consequences of our behavior. God may forgive us, but we will still bear the weight of consequences.
A request carries no significance with God if it is not submissive to his perfect will. There are times God answers prayers out of his permissive will, not his perfect will. His perfect will is that which he wants to have happen for us and that will ultimately bring him glory. Perfect will is that which is in the plan of God.
Then we must keep in mind that it is a privilege to come before the heavenly father. Before Jesus it was not possible to think of direct access to the Almighty. Now Jesus is our mediator and we are invited to come boldly with humility to the throne of grace. (Hebrews 9:15)
There can be times we pray foolishly. An example would be for someone to pray for an historical event. How could we expect God to bless what already happened? There are times a person is tempted to pray in a rambling pattern. For instance, when asked to bless the offering to be taken during worship service, the individual may pray about this, that, the other. The offering may never be blessed because the prayer includes Sunday school, children’s worship, the sermon that was already preached.
In coming to God, we may need to be persistence. (Luke 11:5-10) We are told to knock and keep knocking. If we pray, in the right attitude, God hears the voice of his child. It does say to him and confirms to us that we are serious for what we are asking. A glib request given in a shallow manner and not heartfelt can mean very little.
Daniel prayed for many days and never got the answer until eventually the angel came and said that the evil one had interfered with his arrival. (Daniel 10) This is another reason to be persistent because Satan does not want us to gain good pleasure from God.
Our request must express a genuine concern. Our first concern is to please God. He must come before all the things. In the depths of despair, we can have joy and peace with the reality that God loves us and will eventually answer prayer. In jail Paul and Silas sang while chains were binding them. It is not so much what is happening around us but for what purpose it is happening or to see what God is going to do with it. (Acts 16: 25) Faith has that special sight.
The death of a Christian may bring great sorrow to the loved ones, but because of that Christian’s testimony someone may be affected and accept Christ as Savior. We do not always know the outcome of our burdens.
We can know that God is good and still in charge and we can trust him. This was the case of the first martyr of the church. His name is Stephen. (Acts 7, 8) Christians were told by God to disperse from Jerusalem. Instead they stayed there and became comfortable. It took the stoning of Stephen to frighten them enough so that they left and went elsewhere preaching the gospel.
The eventual consequence of Stephen’s death was the conversion of Saul who became the apostle Paul. At the scattering because of Stephen’s death, there are believers all around the world. At that time no one could forecast Stephen’s death to have any meaning, but now looking back we serve Jesus as a result.
As we pray, our request will undoubtedly include the needs or condition of other people. The Holy Spirit may lay that concern on our hearts to utter a prayer for someone. Or it might be a relative on which we should focus. In any case, we must be genuine as we express our prayers. It is so easy to say something to God and only halfway mean it or to not even be so concerned for something to happen as a result of our intercession.
Our prayers must contain an attitude of thanks. In the Psalms the writer often gave thanks to God. In the New Testament Paul gave thanks for the spiritual condition of people, for their good behavior, and for how God was working among them. (2 Thessalonians 1:3) Giving thanks should be on a moment by moment basis.
It might mean we need his help to find keys or for a green light to hold so we can get through for an emergency. When simple and good things happen to us, at that moment we should give thanks. Avoid speculating whether it happened because of God or not. Give him thanks anyway.
Giving thanks includes the observation of nature’s beauty. Make a habit of looking up into the skies and see the formation of clouds and the various colors. of the rainbow, the stars. When you see nature, give thanks for its beauty.
How could we ever say a prayer to a god that we do not love? It is important to have a love relationship with God. It is important to keep in mind how much he loved us. (1 John 4:19) Routinely visualize Christ on the cross. Think of his agony, his suffering, and even at one point his abandonment from the heavenly father. (Matthew 27:46) And then think that he could have come down from the cross if he chose.
This is God’s love to us from the cross as expressed in John 3:16. And while thinking of the cross also think of the resurrection tomb. The cross would be nothing had Jesus not been resurrected. He suffered for our sins and then showed us his victory from the tomb. How exciting it is to keep his resurrection in mind as we pray. If he can be resurrected, he can answer our prayers.
Our prayers can be a motivation to obey God and to witness for him. By being in a good position with God giving thanks and glorifying him, we can enjoy the Holy Spirit abiding within us. (1 John 4:13) God is with us every moment of every day of our lives. However, we must be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit which will make us alienated from God’s good pleasure. Let us say you are tempted to go into a house of ill repute. (Ephesians 4:30) As a believer keep in mind that you are taking the Holy Spirit in with you. Then in what condition would you be to pray? How would it be to come before God at that time with sin on your heart?
Praying should be a natural reaction and a natural hunger to fellowship with God because we belong to him. We long for his soon return and his fellowship i by n the reading of Scripture while he delays his return. Our prayers are based on God’s authority. Our persistence in prayer is from his authority. We are told to pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) That does not mean that we need to be on our knees in a closet 24 hours a day. It means that we should have an attitude of prayer and whisper pleasant thoughts to our father in heaven.
While in seminary I had a professor, who said he would shoot prayer darts at God’s people. As he walked across campus, when he saw a student or staff member coming toward him, he would say a one sentence prayer. It might be for them to have help in their homework. It might mean for them to have a deeper understanding of Scripture to teach to the students. It might mean a personal issue that is difficult to face. Prayer darts came from the professor and I am sure he shot them at me as well. And for that I am grateful.
The result of our prayer is not just to get something, but to surrender to God’s will regardless of the consequence. We must align ourselves to him as God pushes back evil in the lives of other people and ourselves. There is a Scripture that is often misquoted. (John 14: 13, 14) Jesus said that if we ask anything in his name, he will do it. However, in the next chapter, Jesus said that we must be in his will. (John 15:7) It is while we are living in his will, that we pray best. If we have something for which God already agrees, that is a simple matter for the prayer to be answered. To live in his will means to surrender all that we are, have, and want to be so that his perfect will is accomplished.
There is God’s permissive will. It is not God’s first choice as a prayer answer, but the result is acceptable to him. He may use that permissive will to answer in such a way for the benefit of his kingdom and the blessing of other people. God may also grant by permissive will a request from a man and the result would be negative. (2 Kings 20) An example of that was King Hezekiah. He was told that he would die soon. He turned to the wall and prayed, and he begged to live longer. Then the prophet Isaiah foretold that the nation would fall to Babylon.
There are times, probably quite often, that as we pray, we become distracted. We want to pray. We have a sincere need. Yet, something comes into our mind or there is an external distraction. We stop praying and start thinking about whatever it is that came before us. We might make a catastrophe in our mind of what could happen if the prayer is not answered and ruminate about that.
The good thing is that we can only think one thought at a time. We cannot think of a chair and a television at the exact same moment. So, should this distraction occur the simple answer is to immediately come right back to prayer. Do not fight the distraction. Do not follow it to a certain end. Return to the prayer and the need that you are bringing for the heavenly father.
There may be times in which we feel like we cannot put something in exact words. The Bible says that when that occurs the Holy Spirit will prayer in our behalf with words that cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26) God knows our heart and how sincere it is. He even knows the prayer that we are praying before we utter it. The importance of the prayer is our connection with God. When those times appear in which words fail us, keep dwelling on God how much he loves us, how wonderful he is, and how powerful he is. And the Holy Spirit will pray in your behalf.
Avoid thinking that you are alone in this prayer time. The Bible says that Jesus is our mediator to the father. It is through Jesus and because of Jesus that we can enter the throne room of God. Should Satan want to accuse us for sins we have committed, Jesus is there to plead his blood and remind the father that we have already asked forgiveness for that sin. Jesus is our friend as he walked this earth and our friend in heaven speaking in our behalf.
Prayer is more than an utterance of words. Certainly, prayer should not be done to bring attention to ourselves. Prayer is a conversation between the father and the child. The child speaks out of childishness. The child is aware of the identity of the heavenly father. As newborn Christians or Christians who have served God for many years, we can review our status with God as we pray. He wants to hear about that which troubles us. And he wants to receive our appreciation and honor for the person he is. He wants our fellowship. The best way to do that is by talking to him and then listening.