Prayer is one of the most important practices of the Christian. It is the means by which a believer communicates with and fosters an active relationship with God.
BY STEVE CHA
A life of weak prayer is usually indicative of a life of weak spirituality. This is why prayer must be a strong part of every Christian’s life. For the non-believer, it is essential as well. For it is the initial prayer, or conversation, if you will, with God to ask Him into one’s heart, that makes a difference for eternity.
Admittedly, prayer can be difficult. Excuses for not talking to God are many: Prayer is boring. Prayer is repetitive. Prayer seems questionable in its efficacy. Prayer takes up a little too much time out of our schedule. If God is sovereign, then why pray? These are some common reasons why people don’t pray as much. Add to that our culture’s plethora of distractions in the form of media devices and entertainment, it’s easy to see why many Christians are distracted.
Christians who pray on a regular basis sometimes struggle with the content or manner of their prayer. What are the things I should pray for? Is praying just about asking and receiving, or are there more aspects than that? Although there is no real wrong posture or time of day to pray, there is a wrong attitude we can adopt in prayer. Sometimes, people pray to God as if He were a butler or a genie. They come to Him only to ask or demand of wants and needs, usually in a time of crisis. The Bible teaches us that although petitions to God are an important aspect of prayer, it is not the main reason that we are commanded to pray.
Prayer is not about us getting what we want out of God. Rather, it is a time in which we align ourselves with God’s will (Matthew 6:10; Luke 22:42). In discovering and vowing to abide by God’s will, we find joy and purpose in prayer, which results in effective and answered prayer (1 John 5:14). In essence, prayer is not for our glory, but for His (John 14:13). Everything we do in prayer should cause us to examine and deny ourselves for the sake of serving the Lord, which results in confession of sin (1 John 1:9), casting our burdens upon Him (1 Peter 5:6-7), and seeking to do the Lord’s work (Matthew 6:10).
The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 is a good guideline of what things a believer should pray for. It is like the Ten Commandments of prayer. We are to begin prayer by acknowledging the transcendent greatness and authority of God. Our entire prayer must glorify God, which is expressed in praise, thanksgiving, and, at times, joyful singing (Jeremiah 25:11; Matthew 6:8). It must be a time in which we acknowledge our desire to fellowship with God (Psalm 27:4; 42:1; 84:1-4). We offer thanks for His past blessings, especially in saving us from our sins (Philippians 1:3-6). This is a time in which we relate to God with our praises, and meditate on His word from Scripture (Psalm 119:105). Through reverential prayer, we acknowledge the worth of God’s holy name and desire to represent it well in our daily speech and conduct.
Prayer is also a time in which we ask God to use us for His kingdom work. We desire our actions to make an impact on the culture around us. We want the gospel to spread. We pray for the salvation of the lost (Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 2:1-2), and for the sanctification of fellow believers (Ephesians 1:15). We intercede on behalf of others so that the Great Commission might succeed in our circle of influence, and even around the world. Because we are servants in God’s kingdom, we ultimately seek for its arrival to earth via Jesus’ second coming, which is what we anticipate (Titus 2:13).
We praise God, but we also depend on God for our needs so we can be supplied to do His work. This involves petitioning for our daily needs, which is a day-to-day dependence on God for food, clothing, and shelter (Matthew 6:11). God is ultimately responsible for our physical and financial well being, which is why we depend on Him. Though we are called to work for our daily living, we understand that God is sovereign in the outcome, which should relieve us from fear and worries (Philippians 4:6). As much as we have material needs, we also have spiritual needs. Prayer must be a time in which we continually examine our spiritual growth to see if there are any impurities that need to be confessed and forsaken, and any virtues that need to be put on. We find peace in prayer as we are freed from the guilt of sin (Psalm 32:1) and restored to an unhindered relationship with the Father in heaven.
In prayer, we should properly express our desire to obey God and not fall into the temptation of sin. We ask God for wisdom (Jason 1:5) because we know that Satan lurks in the world to cause all people to sin against their Creator. We ask God to deliver us from situations that cause us to be tempted and to even be rescued from the troubles we are in (Psalm 20:1), because we know that our sinful choices cause us to reap the results of our mistakes.
This is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. This is how one prays according to God’s will. If a Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit and prays in His name, then he is in the best possible position to have his prayers blessed by the Lord. The prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:48).
It must be noted that even if we are Christian and pray according to God’s will, there are some practices that can hinder prayers from being answered and blessed. Aside from not knowing Christ as Lord and Savior (John 14:6), our prayers can go unanswered if we pray with an unrepentant heart (Psalm 66:18). That is why confession is an integral part of prayer. It fosters humility, and achieves practical restoration between the Christian and God. Prayer also becomes futile when we pray as a public display of piety (Matthew 6:5). People who pray in this way do so for attention and approval, and God does not honor this kind of prayer. Empty prayer is also composed of meaningless repetition (Matthew 6:7-8). This happens when saints pray or recite words without really thinking about it or putting their heart into it. It is like an empty routine. God does not answer prayers when Christians pray with a covetous or lustful heart (James 4:3). God is not obligated to answer prayers with wrong motives. As equally dangerous is a petition to God when we are mistreating our spouses or family members (1 Peter 3:7). God cares for the weak and the poor, which is why abuse of them is abhorrent in God’s eyes. Even neglecting the poor is a cause for unanswered prayers (Proverbs 21:13). The poor, the widows, and the orphans should be our focus of concern. Finally, prayers go unanswered when lifted onto God with a faithless, unbelieving heart (James 1:6-8). Christians must pray in full faith and submission, and not half-heartedly.
In contrast to fleshly prayer, true biblical prayer is very God-centered. It changes the believer more so than it changes God. It brings believers to a closer understanding of who God is and what Christians need to do to become more Christ-like. As such, prayer involves petition, intercession, praise, confession, and attitudes like waiting on God’s promises and watching for spiritual danger. Prayer can be spent in as little as five minutes or as much as three hours a day. Though Christians will certainly be rewarded for their long passionate prayers, it is better to have quality 15 minute prayer than to have an unfocused, meaningless three hour prayer.
No matter how much time we spend in prayer, we should always have an attitude of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.