Learning to Pray
January 1, 2008 - One of our grandchildren, who was very young, had trouble going to sleep. One night she called out, “Daddy!” but heard no reply; then “Mommy?” No answer. She called to her brother, but still no answer. Each time her voice got louder. In desperation, she cried, “Jesus! Jesus!”
by Ross Rhoads
Sometimes a little child in the dark shadows is afraid and thinks her parents don’t hear, not realizing the ones who love her most are there all along. In the dark experiences of life, we, too, can fail to understand that our heavenly Father is always with us and that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
God would not be God if He could not do more than what we can think or imagine. The premise of all prayer is who God is—an ever-living Lord to Whom nothing is unknown. To say otherwise is inconsistent with God as God. He is all-powerful, ready to respond and never indifferent. God is transcendent, above all time and space; immutable and perfect; unlimited in His love; from everlasting to everlasting. How amazing that we can turn to Almighty God in prayer.
Crying Out to God
The way prayer is first described in the Bible is to “call on the name of the Lord.” It’s interesting that there is no record that Adam and Eve ever prayed or repented after their disobedience. After Cain and Abel, Adam had another son, named Seth. Seth had a son named Enosh, and the Bible says that during his lifetime, “men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26).
God’s people have been crying out to Him ever since. The psalmist repeatedly expressed, “He heard my cry.” Abraham pleaded for Sodom; Elijah shouted at Mount Carmel, “Hear me, O Lord, hear me” (1 Kings 18:37); Hannah sobbed, overwhelmed in barrenness; David cried out to God to be delivered from his enemies; Daniel prayed three times a day; Peter, sinking in the Sea of Galilee, called out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30).
But the blessed Lord Jesus prayed the prayer of all prayers as He faced the cross. He was in anguish and prayed earnestly. His sweat appeared as drops of blood, and He was “exceedingly sorrowful unto death.” In the hour of His glory, with anguish and tears, Jesus yielded to the holy will of His Father (John 17:1, Matthew 26:38, Luke 22:44).
What the Bible Says About Prayer
Prayer, first and foremost, is impossible without a trusting relationship with God the Father. The Son of God said, “When you pray, say ‘Father’” (Luke 11:2) and “If you ask the Father for anything in my name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23, NASB). Prayer is asking and receiving. It is the means by which the child of God asks the Father to meet every need. However, the Scripture cautions: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3, NIV).
Scripture teaches us many other things about prayer, such as the following:
- Prayer is to be offered only in Jesus’ Name. No one but Jesus Christ is the mediator between people and the Father—not Mary the mother of Jesus or any of the saints. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, NIV).
- Prayer is never offered to the Holy Spirit. It is always to the Father; through the Son, the Lord Jesus; and by the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26, NIV).
- Prayer is personal, spontaneous, unrehearsed, from the heart, filled with adoration and praise. Jesus warned that it should not be with repetitious empty words. “When you pray,” He said, “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6, NIV).
- Prayers are to be prayed with confidence. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV).
- Above all, prayer must be made with a pure heart. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18, NIV).
Teach Us to Pray
One day when the disciples heard Jesus praying, they said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). They knew what prayer was, but they were really saying, “Lord teach us to pray like that.” Was it the tone of His voice or the choice of His words? How the Lord had prayed and what His specific prayer was are not in the Gospel record, possibly to prevent anyone from believing that that specific prayer had special divine power, making all other prayers seem less effective.
But Jesus said to them, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV). The emphasis is on His will being done. The proof of our faith is seen when we obey what God desires and comply with what He requires. If I know what God wants and what His will is, I will not ask for anything contrary to His will. This is the meaning of Jesus’ words, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14, NIV) and “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24, NIV).
Prayer is the evidence of contriteness and dependence on God. President Abraham Lincoln confessed, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” Honesty and sincerity are preludes to prayer. Martin Luther confessed, “I am more orthodox when I pray than when I preach.”
Through prayer, we can overcome worry and anxiety. The biblical word for anxiety means to be pulled in different directions, to be confused. Worry is increased anxiety. God’s Word advises, “Don’t worry over anything whatever; whenever you pray tell God every detail of your needs in thankful prayer, and the peace of God, which surpasses human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, Phillips).