Sunday, April 20, 2014

How to Pray

We all have some things to learn about prayer, no matter how mature of a Christian we might be. We need to learn, and to continue to learn, how to pray so that our prayer lives may continue to grow and so that we may help to develop the prayer lives of others. Therefore, we have enrolled in the Lord’s “school of prayer”, and the first lesson we learned was that Jesus intends our minds and our hearts to be involved in what we are praying. To pray hypocritically is a misuse of the purpose of prayer – diverting it from the glory of God to the glory of self. To pray mechanically is a misuse of the nature of prayer – degrading it from a real and personal approach to God into a mere, mindless recitation of words. Christian prayer should be “real”. By this we mean sincere instead of hypocritical and thoughtful as opposed to mechanical. Real prayers seek to glorify our Father in Heaven not to glorify ourselves or others. Real prayers are God-given means to communion with the Heavenly Father, not simply religious mantras to be mindlessly repeated.

So real prayers are what we should offer, but how do we pray real prayers? Answering that question will be the focus of this lesson. Here is the answer: Real prayers are offered to God the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and offered with confidence.

Praying to God

  • Matthew 6:6 – Pray to thy Father which is in secret…”
  • Matthew 6:9 – “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which are in heaven…”
  • Acts 12:5 – Prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”

Perhaps you are thinking, “Duh! It’s obvious that all prayers are offered to God.” That is not true. Some prayers are offered to idols, and many prayers are offered to “saints” (not that there is much difference between the two), and don’t forget what we learned (or were reminded of) last week. Many prayers are made for the benefit of one’s self or for the audience. Prayers that are more concerned with impressing the listeners than with approaching God are not made to God in Heaven but to man in the pew. It is not necessary to be a Pharisee or a pagan to pray like one.

When you pray, are you more aware of who is listening, what your requests are, how busy your schedule is, or are you focused on the truly awesome fact that when you pray you are approaching Almighty God?

R.A. Torrey was an evangelist and pastor from early in the 20th century. This author owns two small but powerful books on prayer written by Torrey. They are How to Pray and The Power of Prayer. The latter will be quoted in this lesson. Here is the first reference:

“If there is to be any power in our prayer, if our prayer is to get anything, the first thing to be sure of when we pray is that we have really come into the presence of God, and are really speaking to Him. We should never utter one syllable of prayer, either in public or in private, until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to Him.”

Torrey was taught to pray from his childhood, but he admits that for many years prayer was nothing more than a hollow habit. Prayer was, to use his words, “a mere matter of form” with “little real thought of God, and no real approach to God.” But there came a day when he realized what real prayer meant. He realized that…

“…prayer was having an audience with God, actually coming into the presence of God…And the realization of that fact changed my prayer life. Before that, prayer had been a mere duty, and sometimes a very irksome duty, but from that time on prayer has not been merely a duty but a privilege of life. Before that the thought I had was, ‘How much time must I spend in prayer?’ The thought that now possesses me is, ‘How much time may I spend in prayer?”[1]

We all need to either learn or be reminded of this lesson. Prayer is not “wish fulfillment”, nor is it just a time to “vent”. Yes, we may make our requests known unto God. Yes, we may, and should, pour out our hearts to Him; however, we must understand that Jesus teaches us that in prayer we are approaching God’s presence and truly communing with Him.

As the first church did when Peter was arrested (Acts 12:5), we are to pray “unto God.” This raises a two-part question. How can we come into the presence of God, and how can we be sure that we have come into His presence? The answer to the first part is that we come into God’s presence…

Through the Lord Jesus Christ

  • Hebrews 10:19 – “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.”

Real prayer is offered to God through Jesus Christ, because only Jesus Christ may provide access to the Heavenly Father. There is no other way by which sinful men can approach holy God. As Jesus plainly stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

This is simultaneously a glorious and a humbling thought. It is humbling because we have no acceptability before God in ourselves. None. We are, all of us, unrighteous, unholy sinners. Even the best of us may not enter into God’s presence, not even for a moment, based on their own merit or goodness. BUT through Jesus Christ even the worst of us may, by turning from our sins and trusting in His shed blood and resurrection, be made righteous and acceptable in God’s sight (Romans 10:9-10; 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:5-7). As unrighteous and as sinful as we are, God has still provided a way for us to come into His presence. Through Christ Jesus, we who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The worst sinner on the face of this earth, who has turned from his sin and accepted Christ as his Savior, can come any day of the year, at any hour of the day or night, and with boldness make his requests and praises and thanks known unto Almighty God.

There is the glory!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

 

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior![2]

Prayer is to be offered to God the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.

In the Holy Spirit

  • Ephesians 2:18 – “For through him [Jesus Christ] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”

What does it mean to pray “in the Spirit”? It means that the Holy Spirit leads us into the presence of God. The Greek word translated “access”[3] in Ephesians 2:18 means, “an introduction; the act of bringing to.” It is the work of the Holy Spirit to take us by the hand, so to speak, lead us into God’s presence and make God real to us when we pray, while also instructing us how we should pray. As Paul said to the Romans:

“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. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (8:26-27)

Most, if not all of us, have had the experience of kneeling to pray but sensing that God is distant; not real to us at the moment. What should we do at such times? Do not stop praying! At those moments when we least feel like praying, when God is least real to us, those are the moments we need to pray the most. Instead of quitting, first search your heart for unconfessed sin. David wrote in Psalm 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me

If confession needs to be made, make it. Then be still and look to God – not necessarily with physical eyes but definitely with spiritual eyes – and ask Him to work through His Holy Spirit to make Himself real to you and to lead you into His presence. Do this and you will discover, as many others have, that the most wonderful seasons of prayer are often those that began with no real or clear sense of God’s presence but ended with a full and satisfying realization of Him.

How do we pray? We pray to God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and with confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers.

With Confidence

Remember that we do not pray mechanically, babbling in vain repetitions like pagans do because we do not believe in a god who hears us because of our many words. Our Father in Heaven knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:7-8). Therefore, we may pray with confidence because God is more willing to answer our prayers than we are to pray!

  • 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.”

That has to be one of the most remarkable prayer passages in scripture, but we must understand that this promise to receive whatever is asked is not made to every professing believer. Before you rip up this lesson booklet in righteous indignation, read over the verse again, and ask yourself if you are one of the “we’s.” The words from this verse that usually grab our attention are “whatsoever” and “receive.” Read the verse slowly and notice the “we’s” and their condition:

“And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep His commandments, and [here the “we” is understood] do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”

Know God’s Word, seek to keep His Word by the power of His Spirit, and endeavor to please Him in every aspect of your life. Not only does this glorify God but it is best for us, and by so doing we can confidently pray to God through Christ in the Spirit!


[1] Rueben Archer Torrey, The Power of Prayer (Zondervan, 1971, orig., 1924), 61

[2] Hallelujah! What a Savior, Philip Bliss, 1875

[3] Strong’s G4318, pros-ä-gō-gā’, feminine noun

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