Study 8. What About Prayer?
(A LOOK BACK)
1) What weakness does an individual have, even after he becomes and Christian (I John 1:8; compare I Corinthians 10:12)?
2) What is one means of help with this problem available to the Christian (Hebrews 4:14-16)?
INSIGHT: Communication is basic to any relationship. People who never talk to one another can hardly expect to grow closer together. Prayer involves talking to God and expressing to Him what's in our hearts. It is one half of a conversation. Through the Bible, God talks to us. We respond to Him in prayer.
A. THE PRIVILEGE OF PRAYER
3) What is God's promise to the believer (James 4:8a)?
4) Who set us an example by spending time in prayer (Mark 1:35; 6:46)?
INSIGHT: "To whom should we pray?" The answer is we are to pray to God. But more specifically, we are to pray to God the Father. That is why the Lord's Prayer begins, "Our Father in heaven..." (Matthew 6:9). Scripture does not say it is wrong to pray to Christ, or to the Holy Spirit, but that is not the pattern God has given us. The Bible says, "Through Him [Christ] we...have access by one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:18). God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have a role in our praying, but it is to the Father we pray.
INSIGHT: The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) was given by Jesus to His disciples in response to their request that He teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). It is certainly a wonderful prayer. But several points are worth noting.
1) It was intended as a pattern, showing some things our prayers should include. But the Lord never intended that people pray exactly these words and no other words. (We never read of anyone praying exactly these words afterward.)
2) There is no merit in simply saying these words over and over, with no thought of their meaning, and without the proper attitude of heart. Jesus condemns this, in the same passage, calling it using "vain repetitions as the heathen do" (verse 7). God want us to pray, not merely say prayers!
3) It is important to remember that this prayer was given on the other side of the cross. Therefore, it is lacking some of the truth God revealed later (about the cross itself, the church, and so on). Though a good prayer, in that sense it is incomplete. We now have more to pray about!
5) At what time of day did David promise to pray (Psalm 55:17)?
6) What other time is suggested for prayer (I Thessalonians 5:17)?
INSIGHT: It is good to have at least one time each day set aside to read a portion of God's Word and pray. But the verse in Thessalonians is speaking of chronic, habitual praying, of going through the day in a spirit of prayer. It is a great comfort to recognize that God is with us all the time, and that we can speak to Him wherever we are.
7) Who should be praying, and how, according to Matthew 6:5-6?
8) Who should be praying, and how, according to Matthew 18:19-20 (compare Acts 12:12)?
INSIGHT: There are things the Christian can deal with in private prayer that are personal between the Lord and himself. But there are also advantages to what is sometimes called "corporate" prayer--people praying together.
9) What benefit can you see in getting together with another person (or several others) to pray?
INSIGHT: It is important to realize that there is absolutely no power in prayer itself--beyond perhaps what's called the "power of positive thinking." (And having a positive attitude is fine, but it is not prayer!) Offering a prayer to the clock on the wall, or to a berry bush in the garden, will get us nowhere. Not even if it is a long and earnest prayer. Why? Because the power does not rest in prayer, but in the object of prayer.
The benefit of prayer is that it calls upon the power of Almighty God, at His invitation, and taps the resources of heaven (Philippians 4:19). There is a saying: "Prayer changes things." But it would be more accurate to say "God changes things, in answer to prayer."
B. SOME SUBJECTS FOR PRAYER
INSIGHT: As we have seen from Hebrews 4:16, prayer is a means of expressing needs to God, so the believer can "find grace to help."
10) Why do some miss out on this blessing (James 4:2b)?
11) What common human problem can be eased by entrusting our needs to God (Philippians 4:6-7)?
INSIGHT: We also saw, in the previous study, that prayer is an important means of confessing sins to God, and experiencing His cleansing and forgiveness (I John 1:9). For Christians to allow sin to remain in their lives, unconfessed, is to say they know better than God what is right for them. But the Bible says, "God resists the proud" (James 4:6), and, in contrast, "the Lord is near to those who have a broken heart" (Psalm 34:18).
12) Prayer is also a means of obtaining God's help in what (Mark 14:38)?
INSIGHT: Prayer is one way God provides protection from the devil. He says, "Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil....praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverence and supplication for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:11, 18).
INSIGHT: One of the great privileges the Christian has is praying for other people. As well as bringing our own needs to God, we can bring before Him the needs of others. This is sometimes called "intercessory prayer."
13) According to the following verses, for whom should Christians be praying?
I Timothy 2:1
I Timothy 2:2
II Thessalonians 3:1-2
INSIGHT: Another significant use of prayer is to worship God. The word "worship" comes from the Old English word worthship. It means to declare the worthiness of God. To honour Him for who He is, and what He is like. It is the duty and privilege of each child of God, to "give unto the Lord the glory due to His name" (Psalm 29:2).
14) What are some of the things about God which make Him worthy of worship (Psalm 145:5a, 7, 8, 9)?
INSIGHT: Praise and thanksgiving are slightly different from worship, though at times the words are used almost interchangeably. Worship focuses on the Person of God. Praise and thanksgiving call attention to things the Lord has done, and what He has given to His people.
15) For what should we thank the Lord (Ephesians 5:20; or I Thessalonians 5:18)?
16) Which is easier: to thank the Lord for pleasant and enjoyable things He gives us? Or to thank He for the burdens and challenging circumstances He allows to come into our lives?
17) Humanly speaking, doing the latter may sound foolish. But why is it not (Romans 8:28; II Corinthians 4:17)?
C. HELPS & HINDRANCES IN PRAYER
18) What is one important condition if our prayers are to be answered (Mark 11:24; Hebrews 11:6)?
19) What is a second condition required if our prayers are to be answered (I John 3:22; compare Psalm 66:18)?
20) What is a third condition if our prayers are to be answered (I John 5:14-15)?
INSIGHT: In a sense, God always answers the prayers of His children. But sometimes His answer is "No." Like a loving parent, God knows that some things the believer asks for are impractical, or even dangerous for us. When God does not answer when or how Christians think He should, it is usually because He has something better for them up ahead.
21) What is an important quality of prayer (Luke 18:1; Colossians 4:2)?
INSIGHT: The difference between this kind of praying and the stubborn insistence that God must do whatever we ask is often one of attitude. The believer must have a trusting heart that is submissive to His will.
INSIGHT: Christians, when they pray, often end with the little phrase "in Jesus' name. Amen"--or some similar expression. This is based on an instruction given several times by the Lord Jesus. Preparing His followers for the time He would leave them, He said, "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). And, "Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).
It is good to use the words, "in Jesus' name." But this instruction means much more than simply putting the words at the end of a prayer. It involves a recognition of at least two important truths identified in the questions below.
22) First, by what right or authority is a person able to come into God's presence and ask Him for things (Hebrews 10:19-22; Ephesians 1:6)?
23) Second, according to John 14:13, what is the purpose of asking for things "in Jesus' name? And what is the opposite of this (James 4:3)?
INSIGHT: When a born again Christian prays in Jesus' name for that which will glorify God, he is assured that God will provide what is needed to accomplish this. But too many of our prayers focus on our own self interests and comfort.
INSIGHT: The indwelling Holy Spirit also has a role to play in our praying. The Spirit of God warms our hearts with love for God, as we cry out to Him (Romans 8:15). He strengthens us to pray effectively. When we pray "in the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:18), we pray by His enablement.
One other thing deserves mention. Consider the following paraphrase of some verses from Romans.
(NOTE: A paraphrase expresses the basic meaning in other words, to help us understand the sense of what is being said. When this is done with Scripture, it can be helpful. But we must always be watchful that the paraphrase does not stray from the truth of the passage.)
Romans 8:26-29. "The Holy Spirit helps us in our present limitations. When we do not know what we should pray for, or how we should pray, He intercedes for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words. The Father, who can read our hearts, also knows the Spirit's intent, because it is in harmony with His will for us. And we can be sure that God works in everything for the good of those who love Him, and are the called according to His purpose (which is that we be molded into the likeness of His Son)."
24) According to the above passage, what is God's ultimate purpose for us?
25) How will this relate to the believer's prayers? (Compare your answer to Question 23, above.)
26) If you have time, please read Isaiah 40:21-31. What is it about prayer that makes it an amazing and thrilling privilege for the child of God?