P R A Y E R
Date published: January 18, 2013
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said unto Him, “Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” – Luke 11:1 (NIV)
Why are believers urged to pray? What are the basic forms of prayer?Does prayer change God’s mind? What are some good models for prayer in Scripture?
Prayer is the essence of Christian experience. Christianity is fundamentally a relationship between God and people. Relationships are established, maintained, and enriched by good communication. Prayer is the communication between ourselves and God. We are urged to pray because by doing so, we are engaged in the primary activity which keeps faith vital and strong.
The expression of prayer takes various forms. Adoration affords us the opportunity to praise God. Confession opens the way to forgiveness and restoration. Thanksgiving enables us to express gratitude for specific acts of God in our lives. Intercession invites us to pray for others. Petition gives us permission to pray for ourselves. Each of these types of prayer may be expressed audibly or silently, privately or corporately. Prayer occurs in public worship and even more frequently in private devotion. Most often, it happens as we move through our daily routines. The ordinary circumstances of our lives can be filled with prayer. We can be in a prayerful relation with God all day long. In these ways we fulfil Paul’s exhortation to “pray continually” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Prayer increasingly becomes a disposition of our mind and heart as we relate all of our life to God’s will and direction.
We do not go far in our praying before we confront the question, Does prayer make any difference? Sometimes we pray and we don’t seem to get an answer. Does that mean that God does not hear our prayers? Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that God hears us when we speak to Him. He not only hears us but He answers our prayers. In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus says, “Ask, and God will give to you.” God indeed does not always give us what we ask for, but perhaps what we ask forisn’t good for us. Jesus tells us that He won’t give us things that will harm us. He compares our requests to God with a child’s request to his parents. He goes on by saying, “If your children ask for an egg, would you give them a scorpion?” The implied answer is no. Parents don’t give their children things that will harm them, and neither will God.
The Bible teaches two things that appear contradictory to us from our limited human perspective. The first is that God is in control and knows what He is doing, even from before the beginning of time. And the second is that our prayers influence His actions. A striking example is when Abraham appeals to God for the city of Sodom. In Genesis 18:17-33, God responds to Abraham’s intercession by reducing the number of righteous people required to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from fifty to ten! The entire passage resonates with the passionate requests of a sincere man and the compassionate response of a Holy God. Abraham is not timid, and God is not put off by his prayer.
Psalm 5:1-3, Jeremiah 12:1-13, John 17, and Acts 12:6-17 show us that genuine, honest conversation takes place in prayer. God truly hears and responds. Prayer is influential. We may not always know how precisely that is so, but are told enough to know that prayer is real two-way talk between ourselves and God.
The most compelling case for the value and power of prayer is Christ Himself. Jesus prayed. He prayed often and about many things. Prayer was the “lifeline” between Himself and the heavenly Father. From prayer He received inspiration, guidance, and strength. His teaching and example served to encourage others to pray. From Christ, we learn that the most important proof of prayer’s value is not whether or not it “works,” but whether or not it keeps us in touch with God, whose grace can sustain us though both good and bad times. If we limit prayer to “getting answers,” we will lose sight of its grandeur, and we will make it more akin to magic than true communion with the living God.
Paul demonstrates this as powerfully as anyone in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, he prayed three times that his “painful physical problem” would be taken away. But the problem remained. In response to his request God replied, “My grace is enough for you.” There’s no indication that Paul thought any less of God or prayer because of his experience. Through his example we learn that prayer is much more about receiving grace than it is about getting positive answers.
As the importance of prayer grows in our lives, we will see why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with the specific model of the Lord’s Prayer here in Luke 11:1-4 and again in Matthew 6:5-15. Through an economy of words we are shown the basic elements of prayer. We can take each phrase in the Lord’s Prayer and expand it into a wide range of expressions.
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