What Christians Should Know (#WCSK): What Prayer Is
What is Prayer?
Prayer is personal communication with God. Prayer is also the external expression of the internal faith that we have in God. Our faith therefore is the fuel that drives prayer (Matthew 21:22, c.f. Mark 11:24; James 1:6-8, 5:14-15). Understanding prayer is crucial because its effects impact every aspect of our Christian lives. Prayer to God implies dependence on Him and humility, and the act directs our attention to the reality that The Lord is greater than us in every way possible. Prayer is the reasonable response of a levelheaded creation to the omnipotent Creator.
Despite God’s majesty, He never shuns our prayers nor is He indifferent to them; He delights in them as a loving Father who seeks to provide for His children. Prayer is the conduit by which we enter into the presence of the King.
What is Prayer? (cont'd)
Prayer moves in many directions: we speak to God, who then (figuratively speaking) speaks back to us. Of course, in rare instances, people can also literally hear the voice of God.
Does God need our prayers? He does not. Prayer exists for our benefit and the fact that it does exist to help us highlights God’s grace. When we pray we imitate Christ who demonstrated perfect obedience. In fact, prayer is one of the few things that we can do just as God does (e.g., Matthew 11:25-26, 14:22, 15:36, 19:13-15; Mark 1:35-36, 7:31-37; Luke 5:15, 6:12-13, 9:18, 9:28-29, 10:21, 11:1; John 6:11, 11:41-42, 12:27-28, 17:1-16). Prayer animates and energizes our spiritual lives.
The Holy Spirit compels us to pray, reveals what we should say (See Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20; c.f. Ephesians 2:18; Revelation 1:10), and these Spirit-inspired prayers cross the bridge (Jesus) between us and the Father. So, prayer is made effectual because of Jesus, who is our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15, 7:26-27, 10:19, 22) that intercedes for us. Prayer reflects the operation of the Trinity in our lives, and because we entreat the Lord of Lords, we ought not to approach God in a casual way. Our speech and conduct must reflect and honor the presence of the King that stands before us.
Because prayer brings glory to God, and when a person does this they profit spiritually. Because I Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” We pray because it shapes our spiritual vessel so that we may receive from God. Indeed, prayer does not change God’s character but it does change things—notably people and circumstances. For example, consider God changing the circumstances (Exodus 32:14) after a prayer by Moses in verses 11-13.
We pray because The Lord already told us that it will change things: “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
We pray because James 5:16 says that, “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Pay special attention to what the text says: effective prayer of a righteous person. The next hub on how to pray will go into exact detail about what makes prayer effective, but take note that the prayer of an unrighteous person will not be successful. Hence, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31).
Why Pray? (cont'd)
Furthermore, this powerful verse validates the reality that the prayers of the righteous are a natural vehicle that God uses to materialize His divine will. How do we know that prayer produces changes in real-life? Because the Bible tells us so (c.f., Genesis 32; Judges 15, 16; II Kings 19; Jeremiah 29:11-15; Matthew 21:22; Mark 9:29; John 14:13-14; Acts 9:40; James 1:5; I John 5:14-15). Here are some examples:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive’” (Matthew 21:21-22).
“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” (Mark 11:24).
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
Before you pray for a miracle, know the miracle formula
When Should We Pray? How Long? How Often? To Whom? In the name of Jesus or not?
The honest answer is that the Bible does not give explicit answers to a majority of these questions. The Old Testament speaks of the prophet having a “tongue of disciples” (Isaiah 50:4) in the morning, but the Bible never prescribes how often or when to pray. The Bible does describe in Psalms 55:17 and Daniel 6:10 a person praying three times a day. In the Synoptic Gospels, the text describes Jesus praying at several different times. We are instructed to devote ourselves to prayer (Colossians 4:2) and to pray at all times in Ephesians 6:18. Of course, times of strife and big decisions warrant more prayer time. For example, before He chose the twelve disciples (Luke 6:12), Jesus was engaged in prayer for the entire night.
Most of the time in the New Testament, prayers are addressed to the Father through Jesus (e.g., Matthew 6:9; John 16:23; Ephesians 5:20), but there are some instances where people pray directly to Jesus (Acts 7:59; Revelation 22:20). Logically, Jesus never prays to Himself and only addresses His prayers to the Father (see Matthew 11:25-26).
In the name of Jesus or not?
In some particular instances (John 14:13-14, 15:16; c.f. Ephesians 5:20), Jesus tells His disciples to pray in His name. The Bible informs us that Jesus intercedes for us in heaven, so praying “in the name of Jesus,” is not analogous to chanting a spell but does petition the One who stands as a mediator between humanity and the Father. John 14:13-14 Jesus says:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”
What's your biggest barrier to prayer?
The significance of "in the name of Jesus"
In the time of Jesus, people couldn’t check you out by typing in your name in Google search, nor could they see what you’re about on Facebook. Back then, a name meant a lot and in many cases was the exclusive thing a person hung their reputation on (see Proverbs 22:1; Ecclesiastes 7:1). So if you acted “in the name of” someone else, this implied that they had approved your course of action. What this means for us in the 21st century is that praying “in the name of Jesus” means we are praying based on Christ’s prior authorization and character (see Matthew 26:39; I John 5:14-15).
Christ will never authorize anything that defies God’s will or goes against His character. Hence, “in the name of Jesus” will never guarantee results nor will it “add some flavor” to a prayer request that is not in line with God’s will. Whenever we say, “in the name of Jesus” that ought to cause us to reflect on who Jesus is and what He has done for us to ensure that what we are praying about is in line with God’s character. What this means practically is that, no, you can’t pray for a Bentley “in the name of Jesus.” God is and has always been much more concerned with your internal spiritual life and heart condition (prayer as transformational) than He is with external things (prayer as transactional). So, a sincere prayer lacking “in the name of Jesus” is not void and an insincere prayer with “in the name of Jesus” is void.
Of course, some of prayers in the New Testament explicitly do not mention “in the name of Jesus.” The most notable of these instances is when Jesus instructs His disciples how to pray using the blueprint of the The Lord’s Prayer! (Matthew 6:9-13).
So how exactly are we supposed to pray? That is the topic of the next hub where I will analyze the Lord’s Prayer and provide everyone with Christ’s “prayer formula.”
More to follow next week.