There is nothing strange or difficult to understand about the meaning of the word prayer. It is the equivalent of communication and conversation between members of an earthly household. We are children of God, and we belong to the “household of faith”, and therefore the parallel is simple to follow. At its best, it is just talking to God as our Father, because we are His children. It is spontaneous, natural, and can take place anywhere, at any time of day or night, silently when travelling on a bus, out loud when walking in the fields. It should be a cherished activity, accepted as a great privilege, and should always be looked upon as a continuous contact between heaven and earth.
However, even though this should be the norm, it is seldom developed to that blissful degree. Many treat prayer as something that one should engage in at certain times during the day, and has to follow certain patterns laid down by books of devotional instruction. Sometimes unnatural positions are required, or certain language forms are recommended, such as using Thou instead of You, even an unnatural tone of voice is considered good. But all this tends to cramp one’s style, and destroy the spontaneity of talking with our Father.
One should ask whether God is pleased with an unnatural approach. Does He answer nicely formed prayers more readily than sudden cries for help? Does He expect us to adopt ecclesiastical forms of prayer? Well, let it be said that in human terms we are always careful how we address people in high positions in life. How should we reply if asked a question by the Queen? Yes, a certain reverence, a certain deference, is therefore required when speaking to God as our Father. But having said that, there is no place for anything that smacks of falsehood. The man who cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, was being straightforward, and God could speak to him almost as we might say, “man to man”. But the Pharisee who began to talk to God in a flattering, unnatural, false manner, would have caused the Lord to turn away, because there was nothing real about his speech.
Perhaps the Pharisee thought he was a “nice” person, and that God would be pleased with him. Let’s see what C.S.Lewis had to say on this topic.
If you are a nice person – if virtue comes easily to you – beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel; and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an Archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.
What we are saying is that although we are God’s children by new birth, it is not the whole picture. However nice it is to talk to our Father, as we might talk to Daddy on earth, yet there are other factors to be aware of, and these will become the substance of our present writing.
So much then for the basis of prayer; what does the Bible have to say? Are there specific instructions for us to abide by? Does the Lord teach us how to pray? Let’s have a look. Remember that the disciples actually asked that question of the Lord, and His answer was what we now call “the Lord’s prayer”. Of course, it was never meant to be said over and over again. The Lord said that we should pray “in this manner”, (in other words it was a “pattern prayer”.) What manner? First and foremost, one notices the amazing brevity of the prayer, no flowery language, nothing to weary the Father’s ears.
It has been observed by many Bible commentators that our Lord frequently referred to His Old Testament in respect of His walk amongst men, and the example He gave His disciples. It could well be that He was thinking of the following verse when requiring brevity in prayer.
Ecc.5:2 Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and you upon earth: therefore let your words be few.
Undoubtedly this was in His mind as may be seen by His words –
Matt.6:7 When you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him.
Much more can be said about the contents of that pattern prayer. “Our Father” is the most wonderful beginning, telling us that God relates to us as His family, and when we address Him, we have the privilege of using that title. Furthermore, the Lord encouraged us to speak to His Father in a certain way, as seen in John’s Gospel –
John 16:23-24 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.
John 14:13-14 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.
What an amazing promise!! But we cannot treat God as a slot machine. These words were spoken to His disciples who had been trained in a special school, and were ready to go forth in ministry prepared for them at Pentecost. We cannot just take these words of Jesus, and expect that He will grant us anything we ask. As we shall see, there are other conditions that must be met.
And why is this “formula”, in Jesus’ name, necessary? The simple answer is that none of us has the authority to speak to God as our Father unless first we have acknowledged our sin and come to the cross of Jesus. Therefore at all times when we speak to our Father, we should say “in the name of Jesus”. In such manner we glorify God’s Son.
Then, in the pattern prayer, we are led to request that the honour of God’s name should at all times be hallowed, that is, set apart from all other names and revered. As already stated, we must remember who we are, and who God is, and this requires reverence in our speech. It was part of the Ten Commandments that God said –
Exodus 20:7 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
Next comes mention of His Kingdom. God asks that we should be focused on His plans, rather than our own plans. Seeking God and His righteousness as a first priority means that God will take care of our daily needs almost without them being mentioned!
Matt.6:33 Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [such as clothing, food and shelter] will be added to you.
Our daily bread is next mentioned. But as we have explained elsewhere, this should read“Give us tomorrow’s bread today”, and refers not so much to the contents of our larders as spiritual provision in readiness for God’s Kingdom. The Israelites in the wilderness gathered twice the normal supply of manna on Fridays in readiness for the Sabbath. Likewise we need at all times to “collect” wisdom and understanding relative to God’s Great Sabbath Rest, the Millennial Kingdom, as we treat the days of our lives as one continual Friday.
Paul saw the need of this, and when writing to the Ephesians, he said, –
Eph.1:15-18 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.
If this was Paul’s prayer, then it is also a pattern prayer for us. We should frequently be asking the Lord to reveal His purposes to those of His Church, especially those entrusted to us as members of a local fellowship.
Finally, the Lord said that we should ask for leading and deliverance, leading away from temptations and tests and deliverance from the Evil One. Once again, this becomes a pattern prayer. –
1 Thess. 5:23 May your spirit, soul, and body be preserved entire , without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The closing ascription of praise reminds us that we have enormous benefits poured out upon us from the throne of grace, and at all times should be rendering praise and thanksgiving to our Father for all His benefits.
And so the “Lord’s Prayer” gives us much to ponder in respect of our prayer life. Although it is a pattern prayer, this does not mean that we should not utter it at appropriate times, but always with our minds concentrating on the meaning of the words, rather than just gabbling it whilst thinking of something else. In that case, the prayer becomes an example of “vain repetition” which the Lord condemned as inappropriate and unacceptable.
We saw that Paul, in Ephesians, was praying for the bestowing of God’s wisdom. Undoubtedly we should also ask for this wisdom ourselves, especially if we know it is lacking in any respect. James has a good word –
Jas.1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
We are now presented with a new thought, that of asking something from God in faith.What does this mean? Quite simply, it means that God has promised in His Word that He will give us wisdom, and therefore in asking for it, we shall be quite in order to say words to this effect – “Father, I lack wisdom, and I know that You have promised to grant it to all who ask. Please may I have this wisdom because I am relying on Your word, and therefore I do not doubt that I shall receive of Your bounty”.
Our Lord said on the occasion of the withering of the fig tree –
Matt.21:21-22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive”.
Frequently God’s children come up against mountainous problems that seem from the human viewpoint incapable of resolution, but the Lord said that if we have faith, He will transplant our difficulties in the sea. Why the sea? Simply because if a literal mountain was cast into the sea, it would be totally invisible, out of sight, out of mind. That is God’s promise to us when our faith has grown. Insuperable difficulties can just vanish away. Many are the writings of well-known believers, showing just how honourable and reliable is God’s word in respect of the removal of mountains. Faith is the key to God’s victory, for thus says the word of the Lord.
Another important principle is given in the following word –
Psalm 145:18-19 The LORD is nigh unto all those who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfil the desire of those who fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them.
Two things the Lord looks for in us when we come to Him, first of all TRUTH. It is pointless asking anything of God if we think we can fool Him. He is able to read our minds and hearts, so that if we present a false front He will turn away from us. We have already seen how this was the subject of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Publican. Coupled with Truth is THE FEAR OF THE LORD. This type of fear may best be called reverence. How many times in the Old Testament do we read that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.
Here are a few other texts from the Old Testament which help us to see and know God’s attitude to people in respect of their prayers –
Psalm 66:18. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
Is.59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Prov.28:9 He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.
Prov.15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
Prov.15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked: but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
Once again, we find it imperative to preserve a clean and open heart before the Lord. If so, then we read that our prayers will be delightful to the Lord. On the other hand, failure to pay due attention to God’s laws may even cause our prayers to be abominable, and that is a very strong word.
The Apostle John has some heartening words for us when we have a good conscience before God –
1 John 5:14-15 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
1 John 3:20-22 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
Notice once again that he refers to keeping God’s commandments. And for those who are a little fearful, we are shown the loving heart of our Father. He knows all our weaknesses, and if only we confess them to Him, rather than trying in our own strength, then He undergirds our prayers and gives us confidence.
James has a salty word for us –
Jas.4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
It is at this point that we are brought up with a jolt. Are we constantly seeking things from God which come under the heading of “bless me”? Are we more intent on having, using, enjoying for our own pleasure? If so then we may well find that God withholds His hand from granting our requests. His denial would then be His gracious answer, thereby to bring us up to the red lights and make us realise that we have been more interested in ourselves than others, or even God Himself.
Here are two verses which give us courage and confidence –
Isa.40:31 Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Matt.7:7-8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone who asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.
Here is yet another aspect of prayer that has not been found before in our searches, that ofwaiting on the Lord. What does this mean? Simply that although God wants us to talk to Him, He also wants us to listen. Maybe we think that the Lord doesn’t speak to His children today, but that is not true. In these New Testament days His voice is to be heard by all His children, if only they will learn to hear. It comes with practice, and to remain silently in the presence of the Lord instead of letting off a volley of requests and saying Amen, is the way forward. When Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given you”, He was not teasing us, but telling us that God will answer if only we would just wait. Prayer should become a two-way communication between the believer and His Father. There are many ways by which our Father can communicate with us, not only in a spoken word audible to a spiritual ear, but flash thoughts which are known to be from Above, verses of Scripture which just seem to be highlighted on the page, even testimonies from others in literature – so many ways.
But once having learned to hear, we are sometimes strangely left without contact for a season. David Wilkerson wrote about this recently –
I know what it is like to face divine silence, not to hear God’s voice for a season. I have walked through periods of total confusion with no apparent guidance, the still small voice behind me completely silent. There were times when I had no friend nearby to satisfy my heart with a word of advice. All my patterns of guidance from before had gone awry, and I was left in total darkness. I could not see my way, and I made mistake after mistake. I wanted to say, “O God, what has happened? I don’t know which way to go!”
Does God really hide his face from those he loves? Isn’t it possible he lifts his hand for a short while to teach us trust and dependence? The Bible answers clearly: “God left him [Hezekiah], to try him,
that he might know all that was in his heart”. (2 Chronicles 32:31).
Now we return to James once again –
Jas.5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Here is a wonderful incentive from the Apostle. It is the basis of all true fellowship. Just as we have said that a purity of life, and a rigid honesty, are necessary before the Lord in prayer, so also it becomes us to act in a similar way towards our brethren – confession, that is always ready to say, “I’m sorry, brother, forgive me. I acted wrongly towards you”.
Pray for one another, that you may be healed. Healing is not just a physical thing. Oftentimes a healing of the soul is important, and we are told that effectual prayer is able to accomplish much. Elijah prayed for drought, and it didn’t rain for 3½ years. Moses prayed for deliverance from the Egyptians and the sea opened for them to cross.
However, A.W.Tozer has an important word in this connection –
Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late – and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work. To pray for revival while ignoring the plain preceptlaid down in Scripture is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble. Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.
Tozer was aware that in all historical cases of revival those called upon to pray were initially dealt with quite harshly by the Lord, whereby they became clean vessels, obedient servants of the Lord, before the blessing could be poured out on the larger population.
Finally in this writing, we are going to look at the prayers of the Godhead. We have kept the most wonderful aspect of prayer to the last. How deeply we are indebted to our Lord, and to the Holy Spirit, for their prayers. Not only do they pray for God’s children, but also for the whole world that Jesus may become the springboard of redemption for all by His shed blood.
Isa.53:12 Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He has poured out his soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
Heb.7:24-25 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Rom.8:27 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.
Rom.8:34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is alsorisen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.