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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Prayer: What, Why, and How

Simply defined, prayer is a dialogue between God and His people. Prayer often involves individual and group needs and concerns; however it’s much more than merely asking and receiving. Prayer is part of a relationship, which means it involves a dialogue, not merely a monologue.

While God wants us to talk to Him about our problems, plans, and concerns, there are also times when we should be silent before Him and rest in Him so we can be sensitive and receptive to His desires and direction. Prayerful meditation upon a text of Scripture is an especially helpful way to listen to God.

Prayer also is a spiritual resource, which triggers the supernatural. An effective weapon when unsheathed, it too often remains in the scabbard. As a powerful spiritual resource, prayer is the prelude to all effective ministry. It has been said that “Satan laughs at our toiling, mocks our wisdom, but trembles when he sees the weakest saint on his knees.” The real spiritual battle is won on the field of prayer; ministry simply claims the territory that has been gained.

This gift of open communication with God and immediate access to Him through prayer is one of the great benefits of the salvation Jesus purchased for us. An infinite and holy God could never commune with sinful and rebellious creatures. It’s the goodness, grace, and love of God, most clearly seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ, that brings all who trust in Him into a position we could never hope to earn. Because of this grace and the free access we have been given to the Father (Ephesians 2:18), we have the opportunity and responsibility to “draw near” in all times of need.

Why Should We Pray?

The Scriptures describe a number of reasons why we should pray. Here are 10, briefly:

  1. Prayer enhances our fellowship and intimacy with God (Psalm 116:1-2; Jeremiah 33:2-3).
  2. The Scriptures command us to pray (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:1).
  3. When we pray, we follow the example of Jesus (Mark 1:35; Numbers 11:2; 1 Kings 18:36-37; James 5:16-18).
  4. Prayer appropriates God’s power (John 15:5; Acts 4:31; Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 4:2-4).
  5. We receive special help from God when we pray (Hebrews 4:16).
  6. Prayer makes a genuine difference (Luke 11:10; James 5:16-18).
  7. Prayer develops our understanding and knowledge of God (Psalm 37:3-6; Psalm 63:1-8; Ephesians 1:16-19).
  8. Our prayers and God’s answers give us peace and joy (Philippians 4:6-7; John 16:23-24).
  9. Prayer helps us understand and accomplish God’s purposes for our lives (Colossians 1:9-11).
  10. Prayer changes our attitudes and desires (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

How Should We Pray?

The model prayer Jesus gave His disciples (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4), and gave us through His disciples, illustrates the various elements of prayer: adoration and thanksgiving (praising God for who He is and what He’s done), affirmation (agreeing with God’s will and submitting to it), supplication (making requests for ourselves or others), confession, and renewal (appealing to God’s grace to grow in intimacy and righteousness).

We may be familiar with the purposes of prayer, but we may still feel unsure how to incorporate prayer into our lives, or we might find ourselves stuck in a prayer “rut.” Following are some undesirable and desirable prayer habits that I’ve found helpful.

5 Undesirable Prayer Habits:

  1. Predictability (using canned phrases and clichés that have lost their meaning)
  2. Generality (praying too broadly or vaguely, so we’ll never recognize an answer if we get one)
  3. Dishonesty (masquerading in God’s presence, which is like wearing a tie while naked)
  4. Smallness (minimizing our risks and hedging our bets, thus confusing mediocrity with safety)
  5. Repetition (excessively repeating certain words, like “you know” or “just”)

14 Desirable Prayer Habits:

  1. Choose the best time for dedicated, daily personal prayer.
  2. Choose the best place, with minimal interruptions and distractions.
  3. Be consistent, regarding your prayer time as a daily appointment on your calendar.
  4. Set a minimum time, but stay realistic and prioritize quality over quantity. Start with a few minutes and build up.
  5. Plan special times of prayer, e.g., a half- or whole-day retreat, perhaps in conjunction with an important decision you’ll need to make.
  6. Bring prayer into your relationships, including your home/family life as well as friendships.
  7. Make prayer part of your Christian service, not only preceding action with prayer but making sure prayer flows together with it.
  8. Focus on the person of God, not the activity of prayer.
  9. Come before Him in humility, recognizing you’re in the unmediated presence of the holy God.
  10. Come expectantly to the throne, with the simplicity and trust of a child before his or her Father.
  11. Strive for balance—incorporating all types of prayer mentioned above.
  12. Pray in the Spirit, the One who initiates and energizes our prayers, and is our strength in the face of an invisible, spiritual enemy.
  13. Do not do all the talking, but have times of silence and listening before the Lord.
  14. Practice the presence of God. Seek to live your entire day before God, weaving prayer into your ordinary activities, so your life becomes “one ceaseless and uninterrupted prayer."[1]

[1] Basil the Great, quoted in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philp Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature, 1895), xix.

Copyright © 2018 Ken Boa, used with permission. Download Ken Boa's Perspectives on Prayer booklet.

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