PRINCIPLES OF PRAYER
How to Pray
By Insight for Living Pastoral Ministries
Prayer. The word draws a variety of mental images. A man with a shawl draped over his head hums Hebrew prayers from a tattered book. A minister in a tailored suit raises his arms and shouts his prayers before the congregation. A small child kneels beside her bed, reciting a nighttime prayer.
Whatever your perception of prayer, one common element remains true. Prayer is talking with God.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? However, prayer doesn't always come that naturally to us. We can feel awkward talking to someone we can't see or hear. How do we address God? What do we say? And what's the point, anyway? Does prayer really accomplish anything?
These are important questions. To answer them, let's first take a deeper look at the nature of prayer.
What is Prayer?
Prayer is making deliberate contact with God in word or thought. It is the voice of faith, whose whisper can be felt across the street or across the world. It is what pries us from our seats as spectators and places us as active participants with God. Prayer expresses itself in many ways:
* an outpouring of praise
* a confession of wrong
* a request for help
* a declaration of need
* a statement of thanks
* intercession for others
What Does the Bible Say about Prayer?
Through prayer, we draw near to God with confidence (Hebrews 4:16); ask, seek, and knock at the door of His generosity (Matthew 7:7-8); release anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7); and gain wisdom (James 1:5). Prayer is the discipline of mind that is always appropriate for our needs (Ephesians 6:18). And it is the way we align ourselves with the Lord to see as He sees and want what He wants.
Prayer is, in fact, such an invaluable discipline that we are urged to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This doesn't mean non-stop verbal praying-it means an attitude of prayer. As one student of Scripture put it, "It means rather to live with Christ in such a way that you can talk with Him, or listen to Him at any moment." There should be nothing between your soul and the Savior. Praying without ceasing is consciously living each moment in the presence of Christ.
Why Is Prayer Important?
First, prayer is important because it refocuses our perspective. Without prayer, we see only the visible; with prayer, God shows us the hidden dimensions of life.
Second, it quiets our fears and calms our nerves. We may come to prayer fearful and anxious, but when we give our worries to the Lord, we come away calmed and assured (Philippians 4:6-7).
Third, prayer transfers our burdens. It takes the big load we've been carrying and shifts it to the shoulders that can handle its weight (Matthew 11:28-29; 1 Peter 5:7).
Fourth prayer upholds others who are in need. It is the way we help bear one another's burdens and lift them to the One who knows best.
How Do I Pray?
It follows that Jesus, who is our spiritual guide, is the master of prayer. "Lord, teach us to pray," the disciples asked Him once when He returned from His prayers (Luke 11:1). Jesus taught them by using a model prayer . . . the Lord's Prayer, it has been called. Actually, it could be called The Disciple's Prayer, because it was meant as a teaching tool for learners like us.
Pray to the Heavenly Father. And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father . . . .'" (v. 2). Jesus doesn't tell us to call God, "Friend," as though we are equal with Him. Or "King," as though we were one of the masses. Our relationship is that of child to parent.
Pray with a Reverent Attitude. "'Father, hallowed be Thy name'" (v. 2). When we approach our heavenly Father, we are approaching a hallowed Person. We must keep in mind whom we're talking to-the Father, yes, but also the holy Sovereign of the universe, who has a glorious plan for His creation.
Pray with a Submissive Heart. "'Thy kingdom come'" (v. 2). Here we acknowledge that His plan for the world and for our lives surpasses our own plans. We come glorying His name and submitting ourselves to His agenda, not demanding our own.
Pray for Daily Needs. "'Give us each day our daily bread'" (v. 3). Jesus gives us permission to be practical. He invites us to pray for our physical necessities-food, clothing, shelter. The Father wants us to depend on Him each day for life's essentials.
Pray for Spiritual Cleansing. "'And forgive us our sins'" (v. 3). What food is to the body, forgiveness is to the soul. To receive cleansing of sins, simply ask.
Pray for Purity. "'Lead us not into temptation'" (v. 4). Jesus isn't implying that God tempts us. This is a prayer for God's protection from Satan's insidious traps. Each day, Jesus is saying, pray that the Lord will remind you of your vulnerable areas, guard your eyes, guide your thoughts, and keep you pure.
Does Prayer Work?
Does prayer really make a difference? If God is in control of all the events in the world, does it matter whether we pray?
Scripture consistently teaches us that prayer works. "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much," James writes (James 5:16b). Prayer does change things-it certainly changes us!
Prayer is a tool that God uses to accomplish His will on earth. It has meaning because God gives it meaning-not because our efforts make it work. God does not need our prayers to accomplish His will. Yet He chooses to work through our prayers to accomplish His will, which begs the question: Why? Why would God, who has ultimate power over His creation, choose to work through our prayers?
The ultimate reason for prayer is relationship. As we pray, we get to know God in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. Through prayer, we slip our hand into God's hand as He moves mountains. Of course, He could have moved those mountains without us, but He wants us to feel a sense of partnership with Him. And that "togetherness" with God through prayer will change your life!
Further Suggestions. To get started, set aside a few minutes every day for focused prayer time. Record your prayers in a journal, where you can track God's answers. Meet with another believer regularly for prayer. And be sensitive to the prompting of God's Spirit. When He brings to mind someone in need, pray for that person.
For further examples of prayer in Scripture, please read the passages below. And may God bless you in your desire to draw closer to Him in prayer.
Worship: Psalm 92:5
Confession: Psalm 51:1-4
Dedication: 2 Chronicles 6:40-42
Intercession: 1 Timothy 2:1-8
Spiritual Warfare: Ephesians 6:12, 18
Fasting: Acts 14:23
Thanksgiving: Philippians 4:6
Healing: James 5:13-15
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