Early in my years as a pastor, a visitor came to the church I was serving and participated in the Sunday morning worship service. Afterward, she also attended a lunch that was hosted at one of the church member's homes. During the meal, she walked up to me and began asking me various questions about the church while telling me that it was much different from the tradition she had grown up experiencing. Then she made a statement that I don't think I'll ever forget. She said, "When you prayed, it didn't look like you were reading anything. It seemed to me like you were talking directly with God!"
I assured the woman that that's exactly what I was doing. She was fascinated by that concept. For some reason, she seemed to be under the impression that talking to God directly wasn't something we as human beings could actually do. She was surprised to hear me do that, and I was surprised to learn that she didn't fully appreciate the fact that it was possible.
Prayer is a beautiful and powerful thing. When Scripture speaks of prayer, it's describing the privilege we have as those who trust in Christ, to come to God personally, collectively, and directly, and communicate with Him. In prayer, we can praise Him for who He is, confess our sins and struggles, thank Him for the work He's accomplishing in our lives, and make requests for His divine help and intervention.
We can pray out loud, or silently. Sitting, standing, or kneeling. In a church building, a car, at home, or in a field. We can pray during seasons of happiness. We can pray during seasons of sorrow. We can pray short prayers. We can pray long prayers. We can place our hands on the person we're praying for, raise them to the sky, or place them in our pockets. But if we pray, let's pray with an understanding of what Scripture teaches us about the purpose and pattern for prayer, as well as the power and peace we can receive through utilizing it.
I. The purpose for prayer
Prayer is an act of communication and worship. It is a means through which we can glorify the Lord and it's something He instructs us to do all throughout His word. Time and time again, He gives us examples of believers who sought Him in prayer, and who subsequently were blessed by His intervention in one fashion or another.
In his epistle, James encourages the church to be prayerful. He specifically encourages believers to ask our generous God for wisdom because the Lord delights to bless His children with that gift. James also stresses that when we come before the Lord in prayer, we ought to come as an expression of our trust in God. We're challenged to bring our requests before God in faith that He can and does act on behalf of His children. We're encouraged not to doubt God's willingness to answer prayers that are submitted to His will.
Speaking of God's will, prayer helps us to discern the will of God. God's moral will is clear from His word, so generally speaking, reading the Bible will help us understand God's will as the Holy Spirit makes the words clear to us. In addition to that, it's also wise to pray and ask God for His help to apply the Scriptures correctly to the appropriate life circumstances. Through prayer we seek His help to make these decisions. Through prayer we seek His guidance in the midst of life's pivotal moments.
Prayer is also the method God has ordained for certain things to be accomplished. There are many things that will not be accomplished in any other way, other than through supernatural means. Spiritual battles taking place within us and around us need to be bathed in prayer. Pray needs to be offered for obedient servants of Christ, who are focused on His mission, to be raised up in the church. We're also specifically told to pray for those who govern us that they would lead well and that their service would be a joy. God has ordained that prayer be the means through which these activities will be accomplished.
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." -Luke 10:2
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." -1 Timothy 2:1-2
Prayer also reminds us that God is near. When the pattern of our lives is one of continual prayer, we're shown that God isn't distant, disinterested, and uninvolved. He isn't far away. He's right here in the presence of His children who call on His name.
Likewise, Scripture teaches us that confession of, and cleansing from sin are facilitated through prayer. 1 John 1:9 states, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Through prayer, we acknowledge the sin we're struggling with, admit it to God who already knows about it anyway, and receive His divinely orchestrated cleansing so we don't need to walk each day in the shame and guilt of the errors we're trying to bury somewhere deep in our soul. Instead, He makes us able to approach today as a new day where we can live in the joy of being a new creation that has been forgiven and cleansed through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
II. The pattern of prayer
Since prayer is so important to the Lord and since prayer is pivotal in the facilitation of our ongoing relationship with Him, how then should we pray? Is there a particular pattern or some guiding principles recommended to us in Scripture?
During the era of Christ's earthly ministry, some of the most visible examples of prayer were given through the actions of the religious leaders of the day who, unfortunately, were more concerned with being praised themselves, than giving praise to God. Their prayers were long, verbose, and showy. But Christ recommended a different pattern. The pattern He spoke of emphasized authenticity. He wasn't forbidding public prayer. Rather, He was encouraging a return to genuine prayer when He invited us to find a private place to pray to God the Father who delights to reward His children.
I have been asked, more than once, "Who should my prayers be addressed to?" As Christians who believe the teaching of Scripture, we understand that God exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God, yet three distinct persons eternally existing in perfect unity. So should our prayers be addressed to the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit? Or should we pray to all three? Or does it even matter?
Since the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, I see nothing wrong with addressing our prayers to any member of the Trinity, but there is a pattern we're given in Scripture that, generally speaking, I think is proper to follow. The pattern that we're shown is to address our prayers to the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let me show you what Scripture teaches.
In Matthew 6:9, Jesus said, "Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.'" He also stated in John 14:13, "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." Additionally, the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:18a, "praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication."
So, taking these Scriptures together, we're being shown a pattern of addressing our prayers to God the Father (who eternally operates as the head of the Trinity), in the name of Jesus (through whom we have access to God's throne of grace), by the power of (with the help of, or under the control of) the Holy Spirit.
Additionally, there's at least one more facet of prayer that we should consider, and that's the importance of submitting our requests to the Father in accordance with His will. Jesus demonstrated this quite vividly just prior to being crucified. Luke 22:41-42 states, "And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, 'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.'"
It can be tempting to lift up our prayers to God in accordance to our own will, but part of trusting Him means we trust that He can see things we cannot see. He always has the big picture in mind and is continually working things together for our good, even when it's difficult for us to perceive what He's doing. In the midst of our trials and needs, it can be very challenging for us to see beyond our pain, but that's the perfect time to trust God's will. He is glorified through our faith when we rest in the peace and assurance that we don't need to force His hand or change His plans because His will is perfect and we can be at peace in that knowledge.
III. The power and peace experienced through prayer
As we wrap up this examination of prayer, let me take a moment to emphasize something else that is key to understanding the impact prayer can have on our lives. Prayer isn't meant to be a bland, lifeless, routine activity for us to waste time engaging in simply because it might make us look or feel religious. On the contrary, through prayer we are given access to both the supernatural power of God and His lasting peace which governs our hearts and minds.
Miraculous things happen through prayer. With my own eyes, I have witness the Lord powerfully answer prayers to miraculously heal people. I have also witnessed Him use His power to soften hard hearts that were dead set against Him. I think it's also worth noting that Jesus made it clear that the power of certain forms of demonic oppression or possession can only be resolved through prayer. The power of God is accessed by us through prayer.
And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” -Mark 9:28-29
Lastly, please don't forget the kind of peace we can only receive through the Lord's intervention in our lives through prayer. In your life and in my life, there are experiences and seasons we may go through that seem to prompt an excessive amount of worry and anxiety in our lives. Maybe you're going through one of those seasons right now. But our Lord has promised us His peace through prayer. He brings rest to our anxious hearts and minds. He reminds us that we can't control the things we've been trying to control, predict what we're tying to predict, or perfectly resolve the situations we're trying to resolve in our own strength. Only He can accomplish these things. We can trust Him to safely handle the things that are weighing us down and worrying us. We don't need to worry about them any longer.
"do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4:6-7
I don't know if prayer is a regular facet of your life at present, but I do know that the Lord wants it to be. He demonstrates its purpose and pattern in His word. He convinces us of the power and peace we can experience through it. And He makes it clear that He delights to be in continual communication with His children. If it's been a while since you've expressed your gratefulness to the Lord for who He is and what He does, today would be a great day to rekindle that aspect of your relationship with Him.
© John Stange, 2018