1 Thessalonians 5:17 - “Pray without ceasing...”
I looked up the word “prayer” on an online concordance and found in about 365 verses (appropriate number considering the above verse).
Altogether, prayer is mentioned in the Bible some 500-600 times, depending on the source and the translation. The count could be possibly even higher if you were to count all the times someone “cried out to the Lord” or simply spoke to God, which I would consider prayer.
It’s hard for me to imagine that something mentioned that many times in the Bible could not be significant!
What is Prayer?
My definition of prayer would be direct communication with God. I say direct communication because we don’t need to go through a priest (besides our true High Priest, Christ) to make this communication with our God.
Psalm 86:1 [ A Prayer of David. ] Bow down Your ear, O LORD, hear me; For I am poor and needy.
Psalm 66:19 But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.
Just as we read earlier in 1 Thessalonians, we should be constantly praying! Prayer is a very essential part of a Christian’s life! When we fail to pray, we our doing a terrible disservice to ourselves and are damaging our relationship with God!
The Power of Prayer
The Bible is full of examples of prayers that God has answered. There are accounts of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, the Apostles and so many others that prayed to God and were blessed through answered prayers! I would argue that the power of prayer is as infinite as the power of God, seeing that God is the force behind prayer!
Jesus says the following of prayer in John 14:13-14: And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
As a former preacher often pointed out, “This does not mean that God is like Santa Clause.”
We must understand that God draws the line at requests that are outside of His will... But more on that later!
The Benefits of Prayer
Let’s examine some of the benefits of prayer... But really, how could talking to God, your Creator, not be a benefit?
- Letting God know your needs - Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
- Thankfulness - Colossians 4:2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving...
- Comfort/Strength in desperate times - Psalm 34:18 The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
I should mention that such prayers do not denote a lack of faith. Quite the opposite! Remember that Jesus prayed for strength while in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest (Luke 22:44).
- Forgiveness - 2 Samuel 24:10 [ The Judgment on David’s Sin ] And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
- Escaping temptation - Mark 14:38 - “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
How to Pray
Wouldn't be great if the Bible gave us instructions on how to go about praying? Guess what... God's Word does just that! The disciples asked of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” in Luke and He shared with them what is commonly referred to as the "Lord's Prayer".
Luke 11:1-4 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: Our Father in heaven, 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.”
While it is not necessary that every prayer we offer up match the Lord's Prayer exactly, we can derive a pattern from Jesus' prayer. Notice that Jesus offered his prayer to God, that He prayed with a proper reverent attitude, that He prayed that God's will be done, that He thanked God for blessings, and that He asked for forgiveness of sins and strength in the face of temptation. Again, we do not necessarily have to repeat Jesus' exact words in our prayers, but we should follow His example.
Jesus Himself often sought solitude to pray.
Luke 5:16 - So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.
Jesus encouraged others to also pray in secret.
Matthew 6:5-8 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 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. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
We should pray with sincerity and humility! The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is a great example of how to pray and - just as importantly - how not to pray!
Luke 18:9-14 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
When to Pray/What to Pray for
We must realize that prayer is not just for Sunday. Likewise, it seems that many people think that you can only pray at church, or just before a meal or other special occasions. Prayer can be done whenever, wherever!
We need to remember others in our prayers.
James 5:16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
We should pray for family, friends, enemies (Luke 6:28 - Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.), neighbors, co-workers, those who are sick, leaders
We can also pray for ourselves. It’s not selfishness to pray for yourself! Praying is a sign of humility and is pleasing to God. I think refusal to pray for yourself would actually be a sign of pride.
The Holy Spirit’s Role in Prayer
Sometimes we get flustered with words and feel like we've messed up a prayer because maybe we have said something incorrectly. We don’t need to worry about that because the Holy Spirit make intercession for us.
Romans 8:25-27 “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
Just as a lawyer may speak on your account to the judge, the Holy Spirit is your advocate in prayer to God.
Personal Tips on Prayer
Make prayer a priority! Be persistent! The Parable of the Persistent Widow demonstrates the necessity of persistence.
Luke 18:1-8 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 really find faith on the earth?”
Note: I think that the widow’s persistence is different from “vain repetition” because she is demanding justice.
Have a prayer list next to your bed. Oftentimes I pray before going to bed. Something I did years ago that helped me was making a prayer list that I kept near my bed.
Read Scripture Probably even better than a prayer list would be to read scripture before praying!
Pray with your spouse!
What about "Unanswered Prayers"?
Many say that their faith is tested when God doesn’t answer their prayers.
As we have read before, we must pray in accordance to God’s will. We must realize that God is the one answering the prayer, so He decides whether it’s in His will or not.
Sometimes we ask for things that are not in God’s will. Even still, God does indeed answer these kind of prayers. We must realize that "No" is a possible answer to a prayer.
There is actually account of Jesus Himself engaging in such a prayer, just before His crucifixtion.
Matthew 26:39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Matthew 26:42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
Did this prayer make Jesus sinful for asking God for something that was not in His will? Certainly not! Who would want to go through the agony of the cross? Even though Jesus prayed for some other way, He ultimately recognized and submitted Himself to God's will.
My point is this: Just because God doesn't answer a prayer with a "Yes" doesn’t mean that we should question Him. Nor does it mean that we are sinful. He knows what’s best for us in the long run and can see the big picture even when we can’t.
I’ve heard people sometimes say “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” Which sounds like a funny thing to say, but because of our short-sightedness, we sometimes pray for things we don’t actually need and God knows this!
Isaiah 55:8-9 “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Does God hear the Prayers of the Unrighteous/Those who are not Christians?
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately and is a pretty hot topic of debate: Does God hear/answer the prayers of the unrighteous?
Two verses in particular are often cited in this debate:
Proverbs 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.
Proverbs 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.
Based on these two verses alone, it appears that God does not hear/answer the prayers of the unrighteous.
However, I think there is a difference between an unrighteous person and someone who is lost but seeking truth. I believe God hears the prayers of those truly seeking Him.
Obviously, God is not going to answer a prayer from an unrighteous and unrepentant person wishing ill on someone else. But on the other hand, I believe God does hear and answer the prayers of those that may be lost but sincerely seeking God.
We read of a situation like this in Acts chapter 10 in the account of Cornelius. If you recall, at this point in Acts, Cornelius would have been considered lost because he was a Gentile and was not yet a Christian.
But we read that Cornelius was a person who was diligently seeking God and we read that his prayers were answered even before he became a Christian!
An angel visiting Cornelius said in Acts 10:31: Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God.
We must remember that when praying, faith is necessary!!!
Matthew 21:22 And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.
Cornelius, despite not yet being a Christian, had faith in God. Thus, his prayers were heard and even answered!
Conclusion - Prayer's Role in Salvation
Proverbs 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.
Whether we are asking for comfort or forgiveness, if we are in an unrighteous and unrepentant state, the Lord is far from us which is the complete opposite of what we want! We should be seeking righteousness so that God will be near us in our prayers!
In this study we covered a lot of topics concerning prayer, but one thing we did not talk about was prayer’s role in salvation.
Reading further into the account of Cornelius, we see that he was eventually led down the right path through an answered prayer, but we know that he was not yet a Christian until he repented and was baptized. It was not a prayer that saved him.
We must recognize that there is not mention of a “Sinner’s Prayer” anywhere in the Bible.
There are, however, several steps to salvation that are mentioned in the Bible, and Cornelius himself (and others like him throughout the book of Acts) followed these steps as he sought to please God.