“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of Go in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
There is so much that could be said on prayer, it’s hard to know what to include in this little book. I’m talking in this chapter about private personal prayer, not communal/group/church prayer.
My hope is to just get you started doing it, and not worry about too many details. My goal here also is to at least have pointed out some of the nonsense that is taught about this subject, so you can watch out for that. While there are many right ways to pray, there are some “wrong” ways to pray also that Scripture warns of. Those warnings should be heeded of course.
Prayer is simply the way that a Christian talks with God his Father who is in heaven; note that it’s not talking to God. Remember, God is not a material being (i.e. flesh) like we are – God is a Spirit. Please also remember that God is not some “magic genie lantern in the sky” that you just make wishes to and expect/hope to get them granted.
It is perhaps instructive first to say what prayer is not, since many have preconceived notions on this area that they have learned or been taught from childhood.
Christian prayer is not some mystical chanting or new age mantra involving rituals, babbling, incantations, repetition of “Hail Mary’s”, talking in weird “tongues” or other such nonsense.
Christian prayer is supposed to be simple open and honest communication with God, much like a child talking with their father. In fact such a relationship conveys a lot of understanding how we are to view ourselves with respect to the Lord. This sets up a proper humble and contrite heart and sets up a proper mentality of respect in our approaching God.
First, there are no magical sets of words that you must say when you pray. Prayer is simply genuine, honest communication with God. You let Him know your feelings, desires, needs, wishes, and anything else on your mind. Remember, that nothing is hidden from God. So it is ok to express your hurt, anger, frustration, etc with Him; but remember to do so in a respectful way. For His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.
You can pray kneeling, standing up, sitting down, standing on your head, in the morning, at night, during the day, while in the car at a stop-light, etc. It doesn’t matter if your eyes are open or closed, hands clasped or not, head bowed or not, etc. God searches the heart, not the postures. Of course, any posture or position which enhances your humility is generally good!
Remember that you are having a heartfelt talk with the Creator of heaven and earth, the Almighty Lord God Himself, face to face; you should approach prayer with reverence, honor, respect and humility and contriteness of heart!
In fact, a Christian should spend much of their day in prayer, in communication with God their Father. I think it’s prudent however, whenever possible, to humble yourself on your knees in prayer; I’ve found myself that doing so helps keep the spirit of pride in me somewhat at bay, as pride is always there waiting and ready to consume you.
It is written that God communicates in a still quiet voice, and if you follow the example of Jesus, he often prayed early in the morning, in the stillness of the early hours of the day, before the noise, clamor and distractions of the world begin to take hold on us. I have found early morning to be great also.
You are told to have prayer in the “inner room” of your house, i.e. a place of quiet and stillness and without distraction. But you can also pray in the middle of traffic while sitting in your car. In fact, I’ve found that prayer spots are available all day long, nearly all the time. You can pray while waiting in an elevator to go up to the next floor even.
It is wise as instructed in the Bible to keep your words few, and concise and not to “babble” with many words, as some like to. That doesn’t indicate a more devout prayer, that just indicates that you are babbling.
It can also be profitable to simply come before God without trying to tell Him things; simply make yourself available for Him by quieting your mind so He can talk to you. I do fully realize how hard it is to take my own advice on this; truth be told, I need to do a much better job in this area myself. Writing this book has been a blessing, as it has helped me realize some of the things I need to do better myself.
Also, adding the “In Jesus Name” words at the end of the prayer is not required, and in fact, those who habitually and without thinking “tack on” those three words at the end of each prayer as if they are some magical incantation are showing a superficial understanding of Christ’s instructions in this area. In ancient times, and in some places today also, the name given to a person indicated their character, their nature. Praying “in the name” of someone, means according to their name; so what Scripture is telling us is to pray according to Jesus’ character. That simply means that if your prayer requests are according to God’s will, and in Jesus’ character, they will be heard. And if your prayer is really in Jesus’s character, it will be honored, because His character is selfless, humble, pure, noble, kind, merciful, gentle, gracious, giving, loving, etc.
Oftentimes, prayers are not for yourself, but for others.
Also, contrary to nearly every teaching out there, the “where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name I am there”, and “whatever 2 or 3 ask for in my name will be granted” does NOT relate to prayer, as if by magic, if 2 or 3 Christians prayed together for a Ferrari car, that they would magically get one. Those verses are about Church discipline, NOT prayer!
I think it’s also prudent for a Christian to begin and end their day, each day, in prayer with the Lord.
Finally, we are not to pray to Mary, or the dead (e.g. the saints of old, family members, etc.) or whatever nonsense people come up with.
So just be you, talk with God your Father, as if He were your father right in front of you, knowing that nothing whatsoever can be hidden from Him; your deepest darkest fears, desires, failures, ill thoughts, etc.…they are all wide open to God. Do not try to hide them; in fact, confess them, ask him to take that burden from you! That is when prayer really becomes wonderful. Knowing you can fully trust in the Lord, and give your burdens to Him.
We are also to come directly into His presence, we don’t have to beg or ask permission; we are in effect coming right into His throne room in prayer, into the equivalent today of the “holy of holies”!
If you know absolutely nothing whatsoever to pray, this simple one will help you get started:
“God, thank you for the gift of today, and for your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for everything Father. Father, create a clean heart in me O’ God, and renew a right spirit in me! Amen!”
If a new realization of your sins (or past sins) come to you, confess them in prayer before God, and He is righteous and just to forgive you.
It is also taught in Scripture that we are to be persistent in our prayers and petitions, that’s ok to do. This is taught in the Parable of the Lady and the Judge in the book of Luke.
I think it’s very instructive to look at the verses about how, when and where Jesus prayed; these should help us know how we should likewise pray. And if Jesus, being fully God, but fully man, needed to pray to communicate with God the Father, how much more should we be doing the same. And I full confess, my prayer life even today is now where I’d like it to be. It does take time and perseverance and desire to set aside things and activities of this world, in order to spend alone time with the Lord.
It’s good to stop and reflect in astonishment at the wonder, awe and amazement that the God, Creator of heaven and earth and of all the universe, takes time out of His busy schedule to talk directly with you, anytime you want to! You don’t have to schedule an appointment with Him or try to fit into His schedule. He’s always there, ready and waiting for you. Imagine trying to do that with a man of any importance? And yet, God allows us to do just that through Jesus Christ. Amazing!
I’ve included in the Scripture below a prayer by Daniel, who was highly esteemed by the Lord. This is fantastic example of prayer; in fact, Daniel’s prayer was heard immediately and a messenger (the angel Gabriel) dispatched to him from nearly the time he started praying. Now that’s one powerful prayer!
Sometimes I receive an answer to a prayer almost immediately, and other times can take white a while, maybe even years. But know that God hears you and He also knows what you need (not always what you want), and He has promised loving kindness to those who call on His great name!
Note that Daniel’s prayer shows the proper elements of a good prayer: acknowledging God as Lord sovereign and showing respect, approaching the throne with boldness but with humility, confession of sins (even for others) along with sincere repentance, petitions and supplications, and thankfulness and gratitude. The prayer also shows an attitude and expectation of the prayer being heard and answered. We may not always get the answer we like, and the answer will come in God’s time, not our time, but prayers are answered.
Remember that a Christian’s life this side of heaven while we are still in our mortal fleshly sinful bodies is one of continued repentance. While a Christian does not live in continued willful habitual sin, you will still sin even after you are born-again. However, as you are convicted of sins you have done, be honest with God and confess them, and He is faithful and true to forgive you. You use prayer to confess your sins before God, and Christ as mediator intercedes for you with forgiveness. How amazing is this! Please don’t use this of course as justification for sinning willfully, as that is not abiding in Christ, and does harm to Christ’s name instead of glorifying Him, as others (especially those who are not yet believers) see and watch your actions as a Christian very carefully! They are looking for anything whatsoever which is a lie or hypocritical in your life; you are now living for Christ and a public example of what a true Christian is.
This is not presumption on our part; scripture tells us this is proper. It shows trust in the Lord showing that you understand that He always does what He says He will do, and that you are believing in Him beyond just mere words.
Using Scripture in your prayer is fine and in fact strongly encouraged. God’s Word was given to you to use, not just read. Reminding God of what He has promised in His Word is not disrespectful.
Finally a good prayer includes any heart felt cries of emotion that you have. It’s fine to cry out to God in pain and anguish, during trials and tribulations here in earth. He hears those prayers! In fact, the more you lean on Him in times of distress the more He can help you.
In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch. – Psalm 5:3
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. – Matthew 14:23
After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. – Mark 6:46
It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. – Luke 6:12
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. – Mark 1:35
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. – Luke 5:16
And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” – Luke 9:18
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. – 1 Kings 19:11-12 (KJV)
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:5-6
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition [babble] as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” – Matthew 6:7-8
Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. – Mark 11:24-25
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. – Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)
[A note on the Matthew verses above: Those verses are often called the “Lord’s Prayer” and which are often much abused and misunderstood. First, in actually, it’s not really the “Lord’s prayer”, it’s really “our” prayer, i.e. a prayer for us. For a proper “Lord’s Prayer, please see John 17. Also, these verses are just a sample prayer, a template, that can help show you the structure for a proper prayer; they are not some magical incantation in and of themselves that we are to blindly repeat. Noting the prayer components can help us: 1) Addressed to the Father, 2) Approached with humility and respect, 3) Acknowledging Him for who He is, 4) Asking for His will to be done instead of ours, 5) Requesting that we have the right heart, and 6) Acknowledging His ultimate authority and power. Note also, that at the time this prayer was given to the disciples, Christ’s kingdom had not yet come, hence they were to pray for it to come. Today, we are IN Christ’s kingdom, so we aren’t to still blindly pray for “your kingdom come”. Doing so, shows a lack of understanding of His Kingdom and disrespect for Christ and the fact that He is right now, this very instant, seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling and reigning over and in His Kingdom from heaven. Those who advocate a future “earthly millennial kingdom” of Jesus on earth in Jerusalem, disrespect Him, and His rule and reign right now; those who preach and teach this are only pursuing the nationalistic, political and economic agendas of man, they are not serving the Lord Jesus Christ.]
Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. – Ecclesiastes 5:2
You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. – James 4:3-4
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. – 1 John 5:14
I [Jesus] do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. – James 5:13
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 6:18-20
Therefore let us draw near with confidence [and boldness] to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:16
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:14-19
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” – Matthew 26:36-46
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You. – Psalm 51:10-13
[Note: In my experience, I believe this is one of the most powerful verses you can pray. When a Christian prays those lines above, God honors this prayer 100% of the time. There are no exceptions.]
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44 (Note: I confess myself how hard this one is!)
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. – Acts 16:25
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
But the prayer of the upright is His delight. – Proverbs 15:8
I have called upon You, for You will answer me, O God;
Incline Your ear to me, hear my speech. – Psalm 17:6
[Note: this verse illustrates boldness, boldly approaching the thrown of God, in humility also of course.]
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. – Romans 12:9-13
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer. – Psalm 4:1
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth. – Psalm 145:18
The Lord is far from the wicked,
But He hears the prayer of the righteous. – Proverbs 15:29
“‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’” – Jeremiah 33:3
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. – James 1:5-6
In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears. – Psalm 18:6
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! – Matthew 7:7-11
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. – Colossians 4:2-4
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:1-4
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
“I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds. – Jeremiah 17:10
For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. – Luke 8:17
“The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” – 2 Chronicles 16:9
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Therefore, thus says the Lord God… “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.” – Isaiah 65:1,24
Daniel’s Prayer: So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.
“Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; nor have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.
“And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have been wicked. O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
Gabriel Brings an Answer
Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision. – Daniel 9:3-23
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:1-8