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Interviewing "Prayer" - Why Pray?
Last week we looked at the question, "What is Prayer?," to see how the Bible defined prayer for us. We found two ways that the Bible defines prayer. First it was defined as a memorial (Acts 10:4) and the second definition we found was as incense (Ps 141:2, Rev 5:8, 8:3-4).
We looked at how Cornelius, a roman centurion, was told by God in a vision that his prayers and gifts to the poor have come up before God as a memorial. We looked at what a memorial was and found several examples of memorials from the old testament and how they were used as a way to remember what God had done in the lives of the Israelites. As we know that God does not forget, the fact that Cornelius's prayers were a memorial could not be for God's to remember but for Cornelius's to remember.
When we looked an prayer "like incense" we saw that when prayer was defined this way, it defined as God view's of our prayers. We looked then at the usage of incense in the Old Testament. We saw that God command a very special formula of incense to be mixed and burned all day and all night in the Tabernacle by Aaron, the high priest of the time. We compared this to several places in the New Testament about prayer, where we are told to constantly or at all times be in prayer. We also looked at the seriousness of the incense in God's plan. First, the formula could not be used for personal usage. Anyone who did was cut off from their people (their family). We also saw that no other incense could be used to burn in the tabernacle before God. We even saw a case where God took the lives of Aaron's sons as they offered "strange" or unknown fire and incense before God. We compared this to Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit and lost their lives because of it. We also looked in James at a double minded man, how he is unstable and will not receive anything from the Lord (James 1:5-8). We compared this to our reason for praying, how God knows the true intent of our heart and how we can't fool or think we can manipulate God just because we take time to pray to him. Our prays must be offered with the correct attitude.
This leads into the question for this week. I thought a lot about this, where should we go next and there were a lot of good directions to go. We have looked at what prayer is, at least in part, so the next logical question to me was, "Why Pray?" And even that was a very large question. There can be a lot of reasons we pray, some of them I know are Biblically founded, but I am also sure we could come up with really good sounding answers that if we really looked at what God has said about this, we would find that they are man's answers to "Why Pray?" not God's.
So, as we did last week, let's start with how you would answer this question. Why Pray? (please add comments below)
The reason I think this is a difficult question to answer because "Why Pray?" is so broad. It needs to be refined so that we can really look for the answer.
Prayer for "Things"
The first thing I want to take out of the discussion today is the things we pray for or about, and there is a reason. The Bible is full of examples of people praying for things.
- Peter in Prison - Acts 12:5 NIV So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
- Selfish Requests - Pharaoh
- Deliverance - Psalms
- For Gifts - Acts 8:15 NIV When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit
- A Wife - Genesis 24:45 NIV "Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, 'Please give me a drink.
- Repentance - Ezra 9:5-6 NIV Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God (6) and prayed: "O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens
- For Help - 1 Timothy 5:5 NIV The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.
There are many many more that I could list as I am sure you could also, and I am not saying these are not good reasons to pray. If I were sick and dying of cancer, I would sure be praying for my healing as would you, but all these can be answers for the question "What do we pray about or for?" and that is not what I am wanting to answer today. I want, and I don't like putting it this way but can't think of any other, deeper answers. These are the "milk of the Word" answers and I want the "meat of the Word" answers. What I really want to find out is why is prayer so important to our relationship with Christ? I know it is, even without looking for that answer, but why. So I want to refine the question to "Why does prayer matter?"
I'm not going to say that some of the verses we will look at won't have "things" in them that we should be praying for or about, but the "things" are not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on the result of the prayer, the changes that it can bring about that makes prayer significant.
Why Does Prayer Matter?
It's a Command
How about we start at the very basic reason prayer matters. We are told to pray, so if we don't we are being disobedient.
Ephesians 6:18 NIV And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Colossians 4:2 NIV Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV pray continually;
These may not sound like a command ("You must Pray!"), but read them again. There is no "if you'd like to," or "it would be a good idea to," anywhere in these verse, is there? What does it say? Pray in the Spirit on all occasions...., always keep on praying, devote yourselves to prayer, pray continually.
So how many people want to disobey Christ? Anyone? Come on raise your hands so everyone can see. No one, then what do you need to do?
So we understand that we need to pray because God wants us to pray, but why does he want us to pray?
There are a lot of reason, but there is one that is found in the old testament that I want to look at.
Deuteronomy 4:7 NIV What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?
This is echoed through the Bible. Many of the Psalms have verses that talk about being near to God.
Psalms 145:18 NIV The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
I think we all understand that there is only so much we can do to be near to God, right? After all, if we were able on our own to reach God then Christ did not have to die for us, but He did die for us because we can't reach God. But as you can see here, when we pray, God is near to us. We haven't taken a large step toward God, we might not have taken any steps at all. If you look at the old testament, many times it talks about praying toward the temple? Any idea why? Does it matter what direction you are facing when you pray?
1 Kings 8:44 NIV "When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to the LORD toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name,
1 Kings 8:48 NIV and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name;
2 Chronicles 6:20-21 NIV (20) May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. (21) Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.
2 Chronicles 6:26 NIV "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them,
Of course not, but what was at the temple? Maybe I should ask Who was at the temple? God's Spirit was there. When they talk about turning toward the temple to pray, is it not a symbol of turning to face God when you pray? We may not be able to take ourselves any closer to God, but we can turn to Him, and look what happens when we do. God is near!
James 4:8 NIV Come near to God and he will come near to you...
When we "come hear to God" even as little as turning toward Him, He comes near to us, and unlike us, He can reach us. But that is not all that the verse says, so let's not forget the rest.
James 4:8 NIV Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
We have to remember that we cannot just sort-of turn toward God. We have to come to Him in the right attitude. We can approach Him only because of the blood of Jesus spilled out on the cross for us.
Ephesians 2:12-13 NIV remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (13) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Protection from Temptation
My final point will be a very practical one. We have seen that God tells us to pray and He promises to be near us when we turn toward Him and pray, but does that really do anything for us? Oh sure, being in God's presence is great, but we all have days when it seems like our prayers just "bounce off the ceiling." Is there anything tangible that we get out of prayer, and I am not referring to the answers to the prayers, but the pray itself?
Mark 14:38 NIV Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
These are the words of Christ to the disciples as He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. When I read this before digging into it, I always just breezed over it. After all we are suppose to avoid temptation and praying to stay out of it is a good idea. But when I dug into this more, I was something different.
Jesus is not telling them to pray to avoid temptation, he is telling them to pray so they will not willingly go into temptation. The words "so that" in the original Greek indicate a voluntary action. What Jesus is saying here is that prayer can keep us from putting ourselves into a place where we can be or will give into temptation! That struck me like a bolt of lightning. I never thought about that before. I know that 1 Cor says God will never let us be tempted beyond what we can bear (1Co 10:13) and I know that James says temptation is born of our own evil desires (Jam 1:14-15), but for some reason it never really hit me that if I am in prayer, not only won't I be walking into a situation to be tempted, but also if I find I have, prayer is my way out. Prayer can keep us from temptation and ultimately sin. And I don't mean praying to avoid it, but just praying, turning toward God and letting Him draw near to us.
Do we have an answer for the question of the week? What did we learn about why prayer matters?
- It is a command
- It is an act of turning toward God, and He in turn comes near to us when we do
- It is a protections from ourselves, our own evil desire to sin
Interview Prayer Articles
- What the Bible says about prayer | Fox News
It seems that the urge to pray only comes in unfortunate times. Yet, you don't need to wait until a crisis looms to begin your relationship with God.
- Interviewing "Prayer" - What is Prayer?
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- Interviewing "Prayer" - Where Should we Pray?
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- Interviewing "Prayer" - When Should We Pray?
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