"Lord, Teach Us To Pray"
By Don McCord and Aaron Risener
"Brethren, pray for us," Paul simply petitioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:25. We believe and know that great things can happen when children of God all over the world lift up their prayers for any particular matter. We offer the following as a brief survey of the Bible's teaching on prayer.
Prayer is a precious gift from God. It is one of those great spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). It is an awesome realization to know that one individual out of millions may have an audience with the Creator of all the universe whenever he simply bows his head and prays in Jesus' name. Given the supreme importance of prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Matthew 26:41), and the power found therein (James 5:17-18), a disciple of Christ does well to come to his Lord beseeching, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). When that disciple in Luke 11:1 asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus did not tell them it did not matter how they prayed--He did not say they could do it any way they pleased. He showed them how to pray, indicating there is a right way and a wrong way to pray.
The Lord teaches us to pray today through His all-sufficient, inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When we read from the pages of the Bible, we learn what true, effective prayer really is. We also learn that only certain people are on praying grounds with God. The former blind man spoke truly in John 9:31 when he said, "Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth." This is confirmed by the words of John in 1 John 3:22: "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." James says "the effectual fervent prayer of a RIGHTEOUS man availeth much" (James 5:16, emphasis mine; see also 1 Peter 3:12). If one wants his prayers to be heard and effective, he must be an obedient child of God. Those who have not submitted themselves to the gospel have no access to the privilege of talking to God until they possess a faith made perfect by obedience (James 2:14-26).
Not only does the Lord teach us through His Word concerning who may pray, but also that for which we are to pray. God tells us to pray for all men, including those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Jesus exhorts us to pray even for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We should pray for the work of the Kingdom (Luke 10:2; Colossians 4:3-4). You may not be able to do much visibly in the work of the Kingdom, but you can labor for the Cause fervently in prayer (Colossians 4:12). The church needs those who are faithful and righteous battling on their knees in prayer!
We also may--nay, we must--bring our personal needs and supplications to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). What a joy to know you can cast all your care upon Him, "for He careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Paul gives us the broad scope of prayer there in Philippians 4:6 when he says, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." A Christian needs to be in the habit of taking everything to God in prayer, coming boldly before His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
But not every request the Christian makes will be granted in prayer. Notice the words of John: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (1 John 5:14-15). God grants a request made in prayer only when such request is in accordance with His will. Christians should recognize this and pattern their prayers after Christ's prayer in the garden in which He said, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42; see also Matthew 6:10). If the Lord is willing, we shall receive our requests. Paul asked God three times to remove his thorn in the flesh, but since this was not God's will, his request was denied (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). One thing we can be assured of when we pray is this: although God does not always give us what we want, He always gives us what we need (Matthew 6:32-33; Matthew 7:7-11).
Not only will God deny certain requests when made, but also some requests should not be made in prayer at all. John says, "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. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death" (1 John 5:16-17). When we see a brother involved in sin, and he confesses to us such sin and desires to repent, we have a duty to pray for him (James 5:16). Such a prayer leads to spiritual life, or forgiveness of sins, for the brother who was in error. However, when a brother stubbornly refuses to repent of his sin, we are not to pray for his forgiveness, since such is impossible as long as the erring brother hardens his heart against the truth. His sin is then a sin unto spiritual death and separation from fellowship with God.
Of course, we may pray for the salvation of those who are lost, whether erring brothers or alien sinners (Romans 10:1). We can pray to God that they will come to acknowledge the truth and submit to the gospel, thereby removing the curse of sin on their souls. Since God has this desire, it follows that God's children should have it too (1 Timothy 2:4). When we pray for sinners, our desire is not that God will save them in their sins, but that God through His Word will turn them from their sins.
Finally, the Bible gives further instruction concerning how we are to pray: Prayers must be offered in faith, or we cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:5-7); prayers must be accompanied with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6); prayers must be fervent (James 5:16); prayers should be offered in humility as we ask God for mercy, but they also should be offered with boldness because of our great High Priest (Luke 18:13-14; Hebrews 4:14-16); finally, prayers should be offered with the right motives. A disciple may "ask amiss," and not receive his request (James 4:3). Those to whom James wrote were asking with the wrong motives, that is, to spend (or squander) what they received in answer to their prayers on their pleasures, rather than on improving themselves or others spiritually.
May the children of God learn to utilize the
immeasurable gift of prayer. May they imitate their Lord,
finding time to go "apart to pray" (Matthew 14:23),
bringing their petitions before God, knowing that fervent prayer
avails much (James 5:16).
Everything to God in prayer.
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