Prayer is the most neglected power on earth. God has given us two wonderful tools with which to get things done: work and prayer. C.S. Lewis called these the dignity of causality which God has given to His creatures. A.W. Tozer wrote that there are three legitimate ways a desire may be obtained, “one is to work for it, another is to pray for it and a third is to work and pray for it. These are clear methods by which God gives His good gifts to His people.”1 There is no doubt which of these two methods is the most powerful and safest. Yet most believers spend 95% of their energy in work and 5% (if that!) in prayer.
Bible reading is also an unused blessing, but most believers probably spend more time in Bible reading than in prayer. H.A. Ironside wrote, “Prayerless Bible-reading becomes dry and unprofitable, leaving the student heady and cold-hearted. But prayerful meditation on the inspired pages will nourish the soul in divine affections.”2 In Bible reading one can sail along, not thinking about the words being read without too much effort. Though prayer can also be full of distractions and straying thoughts, it still takes more effort to remain in an extended time of prayer than in reading. Invite some friends over for a “Bible Study” (which is often a spiritual excuse for fellowship) and you might get a houseful. Invite some friends over for a time of evening prayer and you may be fortunate to have anyone. The pastor is discouraged to see only 25% attendance at a choir practice, but is elated to see 25% attendance at prayer meeting!
The disciples were correct in their request of the Lord about prayer. They did not ask Him to teach them how to pray. They said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1). So Jesus, in answering their request, said, “When you pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven” (Lk. 11:2). A child does not wait until he goes to school to learn to talk to his father, he merely begins talking, at first on a very rudimentary level, but soon in broader vocabulary. A father is never so pleased as when he hears those first words. No long treatise is necessary to translate the love and affection that comes in those first baby syllables. It would be but a stunted natural growth for a youth not to talk, but it would be an insult and a travesty for a youth to be able to talk and yet not talk to his own father. Prayer comes from both ability and love. We are able at any time because we possess the Holy Spirit; we must desire communication with our Father if we are to start.
It is helpful for us to remember a few things about prayer as we begin. The Scriptures are overwhelmingly encouraging to the believer when it comes to the details of prayer. The more we learn about the subject, the more we will be encouraged to pray. In reality, no subject in the Bible is so deep and yet so easily done. Nothing else calls all of heaven into action and moves every power on earth more easily and efficiently than a believer’s simple prayer.
The Purpose of Prayer
I believe the old saying that hung above my grandfather’s rocking chair, “Prayer Changes Things.” But it also should be understood that a godly believer will only want what God wants because he knows that only His ways are just and righteous altogether. The apostle John twice repeated the need to align our prayers with God’s perfect will. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 Jn. 3:20-21). Also, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15).
If we desire for God’s will to be done, even when we can’t see all of the implications of our prayers, we will be satisfied with a different answer or with no answer at all, which, of course, is enough of an answer for us. Our prayers should be disinterested enough with our own desires that our true joy is to see His will accomplished. Didn’t James warn us, “ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts: (Jas. 4:3)?
The Persons of Prayer
The prayers of the saints truly engage the thrice-holy Godhead. God the Father has invited us to come to Him and call Him Father. Peter quoted the Psalmist when he wrote, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12). Literally, His ears are bent down toward His child to hear his faint cry! God the Son has opened the way into the holy place in heaven that we might come into the Divine Presence. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). God the Spirit comes with us as our Divine Interpreter. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
There are two other important persons involved in prayer: ourselves, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16); and also others, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask; and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death” (1 Jn. 5:16).
The Procedure of Prayer
Some may find it difficult to actually start praying. This may be due to misconceptions about what must happen before or during our prayers. We will deal with some physical difficulties below, but for now a few Biblical thoughts might make praying easier. Prayer does not have to be long. In fact, the Lord warned us not to make long prayers especially with vain repetition (Matt. 6:5-8). Let your prayers be as long as your desire to pray. We are to “always” pray but realize that this means to always be ready, willing, and in a constant state of awareness. Our prayers may actually be short “ejaculatory” prayers such as, “Lord, help me now with this situation. Amen.”
The Bible often uses the word “mention” when speaking of the apostles’ prayers. Paul made “mention” of the churches in his prayers (see 1 Thes. 1:2, Rom. 1:9). This word “mention” means a memorial like a marker such as a tombstone. Sometimes our prayers are simple mentions of things before God. On the other hand, remember that Jesus prayed often and sometimes all night. As we adjust our schedules by priority, our prayers will fit where they should.
The Position of Prayer
Homer Kent wrote, “The bodily posture of bowing the knees is a common one in Scripture, although not the only one (see 1 Ki 8:54; Lk 22:41; Ac 7:60; 9:40; 20:36; 21:5). It is a posture which reflects the attitude of heart in acknowledging the greatness of God, and is especially appropriate at this point. The wonder of God’s plan as seen in the church should drive any Christian to his knees.”3 Kneeling, with our eyes closed and our head bowed is to place ourselves in the most vulnerable position a human being can be in. This is a good reminder for the Christian as he prays.
Kneeling in prayer is perhaps the best position but it is not necessary to pray nor is it the only position we find in the Bible. Jesus fell on His face to pray in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39); the thief on the cross cried out to God hanging on the cross (Lk. 23:42); a group of women prayed while meeting by a river side (Acts 16:13).
The Place of Prayer
Just as the position of prayer often varies, so does the place of prayer. Our daily routine finds us in many places where we call out to God for help. We will all pray sitting at the dinner table, perhaps in a restaurant, to thank God for our food (1 Tim. 4:3-5). We will pray standing in church or at a public gathering, or perhaps with our spouse at the close of day.
Still, the place, as with the position, does have some Biblical direction. We are to pray both in private and in public. Jesus instructed us, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6). Private prayer is absolutely vital to the believer. Maybe this is an actual closet, or maybe this is just a quiet room by oneself, or a favorite spot where one can be alone. God delights in the humble heart that needs no audience to pray.
Also, we are to pray in public, that is, with other brethren. Jesus said that where two or three were gathered in His name, He would be there (Matt. 18:20). The size of the group makes no difference. God doesn’t turn up the power relative to the number of people. Rather, to gather “in my name” is the important thing. There is no sweeter time of my week than on Wednesday night and Saturday night when I kneel or bow in prayer with fellow saints of God.
The Pitfalls of Prayer
The first pitfall is not to pray at all! Only a prosaic barbarian never bows his head to his Maker. But when we do there are warnings all around: “vain repetition” (Matt. 6:7); “to be seen of men” (Matt. 6:5); our prayers “hindered” by quarreling with our spouse (1 Pet. 3:7); sleeping and falling “into temptation” (Lk. 22:46); “fainting” in our Christian walk because we do not pray (Lk. 18:1); selfishly asking “amiss” (Jas. 4:3).
Pitfalls like these happen more to people who rush into God’s throne room with little thought or reverence for what is about to take place. The overly cautious soul should not let his backwardness deter him, but rather let it be a good and natural governor to proceed on and learn what holy boldness is all about.
The Possibilities of Prayer
Yes, prayer changes things! No one can explain exactly how Almighty God can be Sovereign over His whole creation and yet heed the prayers of His children. But, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16). “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12). “Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Lk. 11:9-10).
We do not have to understand everything about prayer in order to do it. We are praying to the God of the universe! If He has asked us to ask, then we should ask!
G. Campbell Morgan gave this English story of church prayer:
One day in a Yorkshire prayer-meeting there came a stranger who did what many men are in the habit of doing—God forgive them—he made a prayer. When he had been talking twenty minutes, and no living man ought to pray in a prayer-meeting above five, and had been giving the Almighty information of which He had been in possession long before the man was born, at last he said, ‘And now, O Lord God, what more shall we say unto Thee?’ An old man who knew how to pray audibly replied, ‘Call Him Feyther, mon, and ax for summat.’4
And So . . . .
We must put away our fears and inhibitions and find our way back to our knees. Whether we understand how God saw our prayers before the foundation of the world and took our requests into consideration or not, we dare not be disobedient to the Creator and Father by neglecting to come to Him in confession, praise, and request. We have never needed it so much as now and He has never been any more willing to hear and answer than He is today.
Notes: 1. A.W. Tozer, The Next Chapter After The Last (Camp Hill: Christian Pub., 1987) 120. 2. H.A. Ironside, Holiness, The False And The True (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, nd.) 136. 3. Homer Kent, Ephesians: The Glory of the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971) 57. 4. G. Campbell Morgan, The Practice of Prayer (London: Fleming H. Revell, 1906) 118.