An ABC of Prayer
Prayer has been the topic for countless books. So, is there really still something to say?
I do believe there is, simply because it is such an important topic about which we can never read or learn enough.
Is prayer really necessary?
Millions of people today live without ever feeling the need to pray. So, is it really still necessary in this modern day and age?
Yes, approaching God in prayer is not only necessary, but crucial.
Because Jesus died for us on the cross of Calvary, we are free – free from the bondage of sin, and free to live for God – just the way God originally planned it.
But in order to be able to live as God wills, it is absolutely essential to live in communion with Jesus every day of our lives. Our communion with Jesus is based upon his love for us.
In John 15 Jesus compares our relationship to Him with the relationship of the grapes to the vine – without the vine the grapes can’t even exist, but if they stay on the vine and get their food from the vine, the grapes grow to their full potential.
We can only make our lives meaningful IF we live them in thankful obedience to God’s will. And finding God’s will is only possible if we study his Word and pray in all earnestness.
That is why prayer is essential – it’s the only way for us to have a meaningful life.
Jesus promised that we could have whatever we asked in prayer IF ONLY we abide in Him. This is where all effective prayer starts – in close and intimate fellowship with Jesus.
So what is prayer?
Simply stated, prayer is talking to God. But that’s not where it ends.
Prayer is, has always been and will always be something that people want to do, even feel an inner need to do.
But simultaneously, prayer is probably one area about which people have the most uncertainty in their lives. They have questions like the following:
- How do I pray?
- How often must I pray?
- For how long must I pray?
- What posture / position must I assume when I pray?
- What are the best words to use in my prayers?
- How can I be sure that God really hears my prayers?
- Is there a “recipe” for successful prayer?
- Is it a sin to ask for things that I want in my prayers?
- Is it a sin to ask for things that I have already asked for but not received?
- …and possibly dozens more…
In this article I’ll try to answer these questions, and maybe even some others that are not in the list…
Prayer is an indescribable privilege
Although many people don’t realise it, our ability to approach Almighty God in prayer is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us.
Think about it – can you walk into a room where the Queen of England sits and start speaking to her? Or any other king or queen?
Not a chance! First you have to get past a myriad of guards and security.
And then, IF you finally make it into the presence of the queen / king, you can’t simply start talking.
Oh no, you have to wait until you are addressed, and then you may respond.
Now think about God – the Almighty, the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords, the ruler of the entire universe. He is so great that no human brain can even begin to comprehend his greatness.
And yet ... you and I can simply go to God and address Him in prayer.
Without going through security. Without having to ask for permission.
What a wonderful privilege!!
Prayer is a command of Scripture
Jesus Himself taught his disciples to pray the well known “Lord’s Prayer”, and Scripture tells us in many places and in many ways to pray.
In Ephesians 6:18 we are told to “pray on all occasions, making your requests known to God”.
And the Bible tells us to “pray without stopping” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
Prayer is a big responsibility
Because prayer is something that God expects us to do, wants us to do, and has commanded us to do, it carries with it huge responsibility.
If the president of your country gives you a task to do, and tells you that it of great importance that you do it well, will you not do your absolute best with the particular task?
Sure you would.
Now then, because God has asked, no commanded, you to pray, don’t you think that you should do your best with it?
Especially since God is immeasurably more important (and more powerful) than the presidents and kings of all countries in the world combined?
Of course you should!
Prayer is a necessity
Prayer has been described as oxygen for the soul.
You wouldn’t be able to survive without breathing, will you? Of course not! The same can be said for the survival of your soul.
Because your soul is spiritual, it doesn’t need normal food (like burgers, etc) in order to survive. But it does need “food”.
And that food is provided to your soul during the act of prayer.
Just like your physical body grows stronger from good quality food, so too does your soul prosper from getting good quality spiritual food (read: good quality prayer).
But what is a “good” prayer?
Is it even possible to describe what a “good” prayer is?
Is it not too vast a terrain to be able to say what is “good”? Is it not true that what one person considers good is not necessarily good by anoter person’s definition?
Yes, it is almost impossible to say what a “good” prayer is.
But still, there are some guidelines:
- Good parayer honours God
- Good prayer seeks God
- Good prayer acknowledges God as the Giver
- Good prayer is prayed in the Namf of Jesus
God gives us no indications in Scripture as to the “how” we should pray regarding the following:
- Should we pray long or short prayers?
- Should we stand, sit or kneel when we pray?
- Should we pray out loud or whisper or just pray in our minds?
God did, however, cause the following to be noted down in Scripture:
- Pray ONLY to God Almighty: “Don't pray to other gods or even mention their names” – Ex 23: 13
- Make time to be ALONE with God: “About that time Jesus went off to a mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night there” – Luk 6:12 and also Matt 6: 6, “When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you”
- Don’t show off: “When you pray, don't be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward” – Matt 6:5
- You don’t need MANY words: “When you pray, don't talk on and on as people do who don't know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers” – Matt 6:7 and then we have this very short prayer in Luk 23: 42, “ Then he said to Jesus, "Remember me when you come into power!" And we know from the next verse that Jesus answered his prayer when He replied, “I promise that today you will be with me in paradise”
- We must pry in FAITH: “If you have faith when you pray, you will be given whatever you ask for” – Matt 21: 22
- Have a CLEAR CONSCIENCE before you pray: “Whenever you stand up to pray, you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins” – Mar 11: 25
- Pray FOR OTHERS: “Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you” – Luk 6: 28
- Know that you are a SINNER: “The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, ‘God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.’” – Luk 18: 13. And in the next verse Jesus informs them that this man’s prayer was pleasing to God
- KEEP ON praying: “Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God's people” – Eph 6: 18
- Pray in ALL circumstances: “If you are having trouble, you should pray. And if you are feeling good, you should sing praises” – Jas 5: 13
The Lord’s prayer
Now here is an example of a good prayer.
It is good because it was given by Jesus. Yes, Jesus taught his disciples to pray.
And the prayer He taught them is not complex, neither is it very long. We know it today as the Lord’s prayer, and it can be found in Matt 6: 9 – 13 (this version taken from the King James Bible):
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
It is a short prayer, and doesn’t use very academic-sounding words.
Simple, yet expressive and very rich in meaning, is how we can describe the Lord’s prayer.
But can I pray the Lord’s prayer?
In fact, I would suggest that you not only may and can pray the Lord’s prayer – you also must.
Here’s a suggestion: Pray the Lord’s prayer in its entirety.
Then begin again from the start, but this time do it in fragments.
Take one phrase at a time; reflect upon that phrase; consider what it means (for example consider the enormity of being able to call Almighty God your “Father”, or what it means for God’s kingdom to come).
Then take the thoughts that you have learned through your reflection and pray further, based upon those thoughts.
Then return again to the Lord’s prayer and repeat the process with the following phrase.
Some ideas on the Lord’s prayer
Our Father -- What a great privilege to be able to call God your Father. Just like earthly fathers, God wants only the best for you. But unlike earthly fathers, God is perfect and He never makes any mistakes! He loves you and you must also love Him.
in heaven -- But you also need to remember that you are talking to God Almighty. You should address Him with the necessary respect because He is the only true God who created all things in this universe (including you).
Hallowed be thy name -- Keep in mind that God is SO TOTALLY different from you. He is holy, sanctified and consecrated. He, and He alone, is worthy of ALL praise, honour and glory!
Thy kingdom come - When you pray this phrase you not only acknowledge that His kingdom is coming; you also pray that Christ will return soon to establish His kingdom and reign for eternity.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven -- When you pray for God’s will to be done on earth you are primarily praying, not so much that other people do his will, but that YOU do his will! Thereby you are praying to be able to bring glory to God.
Give us this day our daily bread -- With this phrase you are asking God to: (1) Provide you ONLY what you NEED; and (2) only what you need TODAY. You also acknowledge that ALL THINGS come from God. And asking for today only automatically also implies that you need to pray again tomorrow.
forgive us our debts (or transgressions) -- In praying this phrase you acknowledge that ALL transgressions are, in fact, actually transgressions against God, who has commanded you to love Him and to love your fellow man.
as we forgive our debtors (transgressors) -- Any and all persons in your live with whom you come in contact with are included in this group. But an even more weighty implication of this phrase is that, in effect you are saying, “Lord, if I don’t forgive somebody, then please also don’t forgive me!!”
Lead us not into temptation -- With this phrase you are asking God to help you recognise evil and temptation and to avoid falling into it, so that you can be free to focus on God alone.
but deliver us from evil -- Here you ask God to help you steer clear of the evil one – Satan – who wants to drive you away from God.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever -- Although some commentators believe that his phrase was not originally part of the Lord’s prayer, and that it was added at a later stage, I think it gives a magnificent end to the Lord’s prayer. It emphasises once again God’s greatness, power and glory.
Another beautiful prayer
Here follows what is commonly known as “The Prayer of St Francis”.
Although not from the Bible, it is based on biblical principles and teaches us a lot about how a christian should live before God Almighty.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
and Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
As you can see, it is absolutely NOT self-centered at all! This is how God wants us to live - for Him, and for our fellow man.
More to come
In a next article I’ll write about the “Prayer of Jabez” - watch out for it!
But in the meantime, pray to God.
May your prayers become ever more godly and wonderful!