Do we have a prayer? There are a lot of ways we can consider that question. As examples, we’ve probably all heard someone say, “You don’t have a prayer” when the odds of what is hoped for are overwhelmingly against it. There are last-resort appeals, sometimes referred to as “foxhole prayers,” in which a soldier cries out to God to save him from the enemy overrunning his position. There are “a deal with the devil” invocations. Some prayers also take on the form of incantations that supposedly can manipulate the powers of the universe by being spoken. Within Christendom, prayer too often has become an attempt to manipulate God. Positive confession, which is basically commanding God to act, is a favored technique among growing numbers of Christians. Throughout the years, TBC’s articles and books have dealt with the many abuses of prayer. Our objective in this article is to focus on biblical prayer—primarily, what does the Bible say about it, and are we as believers conforming to its teachings?
From our beginning here at The Berean Call, prayer has never been theoretical or theologically academic. In fact, we never begin our workday without first spending time together, as a staff, in prayer. Our Thursday morning staff meetings are dedicated to intercessory prayer for others who call, write, or email us with their prayer requests. We wanted to establish that right up front in this article because, as we look at what the Scriptures declare about prayer, we’ll be referring back to our prayer time as a testimony to the truth of God’s Word.
“In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians:4:6). First and foremost, prayer is a believer’s personal communication with God. In nearly all religions and belief systems, prayer is usually memorized and ritualistic, lacking any personal interactive qualities. Biblical Christianity is the exception because a true Christian, one who is born again by the Spirit of God, begins his or her life in Christ in a very personal way: with a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. Rote, mechanical, or ritualistic prayer impersonalizes what should be very personal communication between the believer and the Lord. Yet one of the latest trends within Christendom that claims to promote the personal and experiential practice of contemplative prayer teaches repetitive praying (Lectio Divina), e.g., saying a word or phrase over and over again, sometimes hundreds of times. That is not only impersonal but it’s nonsensical communication. In spite of that, an influential evangelical leader within the Emerging Church Movement claims that he prays to Jesus each morning by repeating His name hundreds of times. More importantly, this practice is unbiblical: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them” (Matthew:6:7-8). All the teachings on prayer throughout the Scriptures clearly reveal its personal aspects.
Although the popular question, “What would Jesus do?” seems to have morphed into somewhat of a marketing scheme (e.g., the bracelet and ball cap emblem “WWJD?”), it could motivate us to check out what Jesus actually did. Prayer is definitely something He did, and He did it continually. The Son was ever in communication with the Father. In spite of the fact that He was daily being sought by the crowds, He nevertheless made time to get away to pray: “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew:14:23). If that was important to the perfect, sinless God/Man, it should speak volumes to our own less-than-perfect hearts that are vulnerable to sin and terribly needy. We need to do it. Scripture tells us further that He “continued all night in prayer” (Luke:6:12) and that He referred to the Temple as “the house of prayer” (Luke:19:46). Our Lord prayed for Peter that he might be protected from Satan: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not…” (Luke:22:31-32). He told His disciples to “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Matthew:26:41), to love their enemies and to “pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke:6:27-28). Jesus gave His disciples a pattern for prayer (Luke:11:1-4), and for believers and new believers He declared: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John:17:20).
Sometimes we forget (if we once knew) that Jesus not only exhorts us to pray, but He has prayed for us, and He continues to pray for us. He prays for our protection and effectiveness in the world: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John:17:15). “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he [Jesus] ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews:7:25). “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans:8:34).
Having Jesus pray to the Father for us is as good as it gets regarding intercessory prayer. I certainly don’t know how that works, but I do know that it was important enough for the Holy Spirit to tell us this through God’s Word. Furthermore, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we are given instructions regarding how we are to function in prayer. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that prayer is not an incidental issue for a believer in Christ. Prayer is more often than not accompanied by the words “without ceasing” or similar expressions. The Apostle Paul, who used those terms more than any New Testament writer, presented his own life as a pattern and example of how believers should live their lives in Christ (Philippians:3:17; 1 Thessalonians:2:10), and his emphasis on prayer underscores all that he did. To the Ephesians he wrote that “[I] “cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (1:16). To the Colossians he wrote, “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (1:3) and “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (v. 9). And to the Thessalonians he said that “Night and day [he was] praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians:3:10).
Paul wrote that, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do” (Philippians:4:9). He was such an outstanding believer that we may lose sight of the fact that he was no different from those of us who are believers. He was a sinner saved by grace, as all believers are. His life was lived by God’s grace, which is available to every believer. So what was his “secret” for spiritual success? No secret at all: Prayer! He not only prayed continually for others, he continually asked others to pray for him. “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints” (Romans:15:30-31). “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians:6:18-20). “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds” (Colossians:4:2-3).
Paul had no problem with asking others to pray for him, but believers are sometimes reluctant to ask. The primary excuse, especially as it’s related to family members, is “I don’t want to worry them.” Although there are exceptions, too often it is a “lame excuse” or worse. By our own self-consciousness, we deprive others of the opportunity to petition the Lord for His grace and mercy on our behalf. Moreover, it eliminates the opportunity for our fellow believers to see God’s intervention, and without a knowledge of one’s situation that needs prayer, the encouragement that could come from a praise report may be lost. There are other excuses for not asking for prayer, yet they nearly always involve some form of pride, some form of what others may be thinking about us. Even, “it’s too small a deal to bring before God or to ask others to do so,” which translates “I can handle this myself.” Seriously? When “self” enters the picture nothing good can come of it.
Those of the “God helps those who help themselves” groups (Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac gospel and the Positive Confession confessors’ mantra) tell us that deferring to God’s will is a “copout” that undermines our “faith” in ourselves. Aside from the fact that our faith in ourselves needs to be “undermined,” what biblical Christian would ever think that God’s will—what He desires for us—would not be the absolute best that we could conform to and receive? Jesus certainly encouraged that by asking, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew:7:9-11). Didn’t Jesus, at perhaps the most difficult point in His life, pray to God the Father, saying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done?” (Luke:22:42). Was that a “copout?”
Prayer is sort of a mystery in the sense that God knows what we need before we ask, and He knew what we would ask for. Some would question, “Why then pray to God if He knows all that?” Well, He knows; we don’t. How would we know if God were intervening in our lives if we had no prayerful communication with Him? If there are no requests, then there can be no confidence that God is doing things for us.
Another aspect of prayer is what may involve our prayers never reaching the throne of God. Hebrews:4:16 exhorts us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” What blocks our prayers? “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts”; “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (James:4:2-3; 1 Peter:3:7). Walking in disobedience to the instructions given in God’s Word stops any request cold: “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Peter:3:12).
Dave Hunt, my best friend in the Lord (who is now with the Lord), had a wonderful sense of humor, and it was often self-deprecating. He would say (tongue-in-cheek), “People avoid my speaking engagements by the thousands.” Congregations would laugh, knowing that was hardly the case for their gifted speaker. But here is something that is not laughable: Christians avoid prayer meetings by the thousands…and more. Not convinced? Have your church schedule a weekly prayer meeting and do a head count after the second or third week. Although we praise the Lord for the exceptions, the initial enthusiasm (which may be an overstatement) goes away in a short time.
The most grievous part of such a development is what those who avoid prayer meetings and those who bail out on them are missing. As just one example, we refer back to TBC’s daily staff prayer time. First of all, we all know one another, love each other, and care about what is going on in each one’s life. Therefore we pray five days a week or more for each other’s needs and requests. That continuity enables us to hear many of the details of how God has answered our prayers, which is a tremendous encouragement and confidence builder in our Lord as He confirms the teachings of His Word. That’s an abundance of prayer requests and praise reports. It also reinforces the fellowship we are to have as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Prayer is neither a suggestion nor a “pray when you feel like it” option for biblical Christians. In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul tells him to urge the believers in Ephesus to pray for others: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (1 Timothy:2:1). Everything a believer does, in the sense of “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”; “whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus”; “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (1 Corinthians:10:31; Colossians:3:17, 23), needs to start with prayer and be sustained by prayer. Again, our prayer must be a continual, personal communication with the Lord seeking His help in all that we do.
Do we have a prayer? Absolutely. And it’s our prayer that prayer will be our primary modus operandi–our continual way of going about what we do—for the year ahead, all for the glory of God and that His grace and mercy will be abundantly manifest in our lives. TBC