By Larry White
One of the greatest needs in the life of a Christian is prayer. And yet this need is the one that we are most likely to under-estimate, or avoid, or shirk it as an unpleasant chore.
I would like to deal with the subject of prayer and suggest some things to motivate us to consider our habit of prayer and what role it plays in our lives.
I have chosen the outline: What, Who, How, Where, When, and Why.
1.) What is prayer? (Define the words.)
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Supplications = Gk. δεήις, means a seeking, asking, entreating; imploring God's aid in some particular matter. [Thayer]
So it is the idea of a petition, when we ask God for something.
Prayers = Gk. προσευχή, is a general term of prayer to God. It carries the idea of devotion and a worship, of coming near to God.
Intercession = Gk. έντεύξη, means a falling in with, meeting with, an interview, having a confiding access to someone for conversation or conference.
Thanksgivings = Gk. εύχαριστίας, means a giving of thanks. (from where we get our word Eucharist)
So supplication is the idea of petitioning God for some personal need, prayer is the general term emphasizing devotion to God, intercession is the child-like confidence to come before God in a familiar way and hold a conference in respect to something or on behalf of someone, and then the thanksgiving is the overflowing gratitude in joy when our hearts spill over with prayer and praise, also the acknowledgement of God's hand in supplying every benefit we have and enjoy.
2.) To whom should we pray?
There is some controversy among brethren about this and I know this will not surprise you, that some have even had a falling out over it. You may have some views of your own - that is between you and your God. I will just look at some scriptures that deal with the question.
“Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
“And in that day you will ask me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from God."
"Me" has the emphasis. "In my name" means, for instance, when someone makes a name for themselves then it becomes their reputation derived from everything you know about that person, everything they have manifested to you about themselves. So "In Jesus name" is according to everything we know about him. But more, according to everything he has manifested about his own being and purpose. In Jesus was the manifestation of the being, the person and the will of the Father. So it is according to everything we know about that.
In Jesus name - according to his holiness.
In Jesus name - according to his purpose and will for us, and thus knowing and acknowledging what those are.
In Jesus name - according to how his will is being realized in our lives.
So if all this is in order, the disciples could ask the Father as if they were Jesus himself. In Jesus' name. So it suggests the exalted position before the Father that we have by the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ.
Therefore our prayers are to be to the Father in the name of Jesus. You have the same thing in Paul's prayers.
"Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead..."
"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man..."
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you...
...giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
That seems to be the method; and yet you have Paul beseeching the Lord in 2Cor.12:8 that the thorn in his flesh might be taken away, and he seems to be addressing Jesus. Then in 1Tim.1:12 he thanked Christ Jesus for putting him in the ministry.
So it is my belief that prayer should be addressed to the Father, because that is what Jesus told us to do, especially if you are wording the prayer for others, like in the public assembly. But there are people, who in their own prayers might want to speak to the Lord Jesus; and if that is your desire - then that is between you and him.
3.) How should we pray?
The disciples asked Jesus in Lk.11:1-13, "Teach us to pray." He then gives them a model prayer which would be acceptable to God. It was just an example.
Now it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, that one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is
indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
And he said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?
I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
So we find these simple guidelines:
Address it to the Father.
Hallow his name, i.e. reverence him and show him respect.
Submit your will to him.
Ask for your needs whatever they be.
Ask for the forgiveness of your sins.
Ask for his guidance and protection.
Then he gives examples of how we should pray with importunity, i.e. a kind of brassy confidence that God will indeed hear and that he will grant you what you ask because you have asked him. Importunity is a shameless persistence in asking for what you want. And Jesus' point here is that if shameless persistence will get a friend to help you, just think what fervent, confident petitioning will get from a God who wants to do you good.
So we are to pray humbly and respectfully, but also confidently. Our prayers must be vigorous and fervent if we really want them answered. A brave-hearted urgency in our requests, and pressing our prayers upon God will get a strong answer. If we really want what we are asking for - then we need to ask for it confidently and not give up until we receive what we have requested of God.
Jesus gave the example of the widow and the judge.
Then he spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying:
“There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary.’
And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”’
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge his own elect who cry out day and night to him, though he bears long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth [land]?”
Jesus is saying, "Don't give up simply because you didn't get an immediate answer, God's going to answer, just confidently hang in there." Be persistent in your praying and God will come through.
When we go to God in prayer for a specific need, the idea is to obtain that for which we pray. Right? When we ask another person for something we want, we obviously have the idea that there is a possibility the person will give it to us. If we didn't, then we would not even bother asking. The main thing in asking, is the obtaining that for which we asked. Let us be honest. If we do not expect a specific answer for a specific petition, then why do we even bother asking? We are just filling the air with words. If you do not really 100% expect God to give you something or cause something to happen in your life, then do not ask him for it.
Gently then; but if you do want something from God then ask him for it expecting him to give it to you simply because you asked.
What this does is it trims all the fat and lazy thinking out of our prayers. It makes our prayers strong and effective and confident. We have a specific need and we go to our Father in prayer for that specific need, and we should confidently expect him to answer specifically in the thing we requested - or else why did we ask?
4.) Where should we pray?
Jesus said this:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
But you, when you pray, go into your private room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your father who is in the secret place; and your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
We need, of course, not to pray to be seen praying, but to have a secret place that only you and God know about. Pick a place where you can be alone and undisturbed away from the world and the family; a quite place where you can hear what you are thinking and be aware of God and really open up your heart to him.
Jesus used to retire from the bustle of the world and go off to a solitary place up on some mountain and there pray. I do not know why, but some people think you are strange if you do that. Well, then Jesus was strange.
This quite place is essential in the life of a Christian. To live a peaceful, confident, trusting life before the world, we have to retire from it and draw close to God.
A lot of Christians do not know what it is to be spiritual, and to be intimate with God - because they have never been alone with him. They have never given their full undivided attention to seeking God's face and conversing with him.
I have always been impressed with the story of Isaac and Rebecca and how they came to meet. It is a good story about the providence of God. But where they met was interesting. Isaac had walked off into a field to "meditate", then he lifted up his eyes and saw Rebecca coming.
How long has it been since you walked off to be alone with God? I did that very thing once to get away from the stress and bustle of what was going on at the time in the house. I just followed my nose up to a hillside and sat down and communed with God. When I returned I found several people frantic about where I had disappeared to and were about to call the police. I assured them that I was just fine. So here's a little advice: Leave a note.
Peter used to go up on the top of his house to the roof to pray - that may be what we have to do to get away. Where you pray matters only so far as it is amenable to quieting yourself, and to being alone with God without distraction
5.) When should we pray?
David said, "I will awake early." and "My God, early will I seek you." Jesus would rise a great while before sunrise and pray. Daniel prayed morning, noon and evening.
How unnatural it is to go all day without saying one thing to our father. It is only in time of dire need or emergency when we discover again the habit of prayer. That is probably why we had the emergency.
We busy our day with worldly matters and hardly give a second thought about our God. Then just before bed we remember, "Oh, I guess I ought to say my prayers."
Our conscience feels guilty, our spirits feel unfed and estranged from God, our lamps - untrimmed. Then the words and the thoughts we know we need to express to God won't come. We are out of touch with God.
It would be far better to begin the day with God. Touch base with him before we face the world, and remember him during the day. We need to secure more time for private prayer and devotions to God. To lead a meditative life.
But we might say, "Where am I going to find that kind of time? I work an eight hour day and come home to duties around the house, the TV is going, the kids are running and screaming and wanting my undivided attention. Where am I going to find an hour or two for solitude and prayer?"
We will just have to make the time. We might even have to give something up. Every one of us needs the time and opportunity to retire and get away from it all and in solitude and deep meditation, reflect on God and his word and lift our hearts to him in prayer.
I think that it is interesting that Paul gives instruction in 1Cor.7 about abstaining from marital relations, and the reason was to give yourselves to fasting and prayer. To get away, be alone, give yourself to prayer. If we dedicate ourselves to prayer for that dedicated time, then God will give us abundantly more of the same kind of attention.
"Because he has set his love upon me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him my salvation."
6.) Why should we pray?
We in the church are shamed by those of the world who claim a devotion and prayer life greater then our own. Why should we pray?
A. Because we all need God.
The full soul, full of the world and fat on the plenty and pride of this world, will not be a person who prays. He doesn't need anything. The hungry soul longs for God and tirelessly searches for God.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
"Where is your God?"
It was the Laodiceans who thought they were rich and increased with goods, who had need of nothing, who did not realize that they were wretched and miserable, poor, blind and naked. When we recognize our emptiness without a close communion with God, that is when we will seek God out and strive to come near.
Surely, those who would know best the great power and benefit that can be had by a close and personal walk with God would be his children. Yet in order for God to deal with us as with sons, we have to respond to him as with a father. Think about how Jesus walked and talked and relied upon the Father. It was always Jesus' burning desire and need to be in constant prayer to his father. His desire and devotion to God was so intense, he would go without sleep - all night in prayer to God. He would begin the day in prayer. The ever abiding hunger and need of his soul was that close contact and communion, that communication with his father.
We now, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, have that same relationship. Look at the relationship and the intimate, filial, and familiar contact that Jesus had with the Father and see how that compares with your own. We need to be more personally devoted to God.
B. Because the church needs God.
The Apostles knew how important prayer is. They knew they needed to spend much time with it and were jealous over the time they had when they had to see to other matters. This was the reason given for appointing servants (deacons) in Acts 6 to take care of the Hellenist widows. That they (the apostles) might give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word. Prayer is put first here and their relation to prayer is put strongly, "give themselves to it", make it their business, surrender themselves to it with urgency and perseverance.
Paul says, "night and day praying exceedingly". Not only are the members of the church to pray, but the church is to be prayed for. Paul wanted Christians to be filled with all the fullness of God, and for this cause he bowed his knees to the Father.
Epaphras labored fervently always in prayer that the Colossian brethren might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
In your prayer in secret, do you pray for the church here? One of the constant purposes of the apostles was to get the church to pray.
Thessalonica. "Finally brethren pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified even as it is with you."
Rome. "Now, I beseech you brethren for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayer to God for me."
Ephesus. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and for me, that utterance may be given unto me."
Colossi. "...withal praying also for us, that God would open for us a door of utterance."
Corinth. "You also, helping together by prayer."
C. Because the world needs God.
A lot of the work of the church is prayer to God. We are a kingdom of priests to God. What is our sacrifice? The fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. What is our incense? It is the prayers of the saints rising up to the throne of God. That is a good part of our work.
Jesus, seeing the ripe fields of the earth, told his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would send laborers into his harvest. Prayer will spread the borders of the kingdom. Prayer will help the church grow. If we want to see our church become perfect and complete in all the will of God, strengthened with all might and utterance and fully supplied to every good work, then we need to ask God for it.
The power of prayer is only limited to the power of God - and his power is unlimited.
Prayer will bring us nearer to God and bring the supplies of heaven down upon the church. Let us get back into the habit of prayer.
In Isa.64:7, Isaiah lamented that there was no one who "calls upon your name, that stirs up himself to take hold of you." Our time and nation is a lot like Isaiah's, and we need people who really pray. The church needs men and women who stir themselves up to take hold of God. The church needs saints in the truest sense. Our strength and vitality as a congregation of the Lord's people is dependant on the individual holiness and devotion of each of our members.
Let us, each one, make a humble and concentrated effort to come nearer to God, to take hold of him and his blessings - to know God and speak to him in our prayers.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, OR. March 24, 1985)