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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PRAYER (part 1): What, Why, and How

Introduction

If you are a Christian - a follower of Jesus - then ministers and teachers undoubtedly taught you about prayer. Many people have written books and study guides to teach other people what prayer is, how to pray, of what prayer is comprised, and whose prayers are heard. This Bible study is an earnest seeking of everything the Bible says on prayer and praying - noun and verb. There are over 130 verses in the Bible regarding prayer, praying, calling out, supplicating, asking, petitioning, and requesting.

In this Bible study, I researched and found 132 verses that speak on this topic. Of the 132 verses studied, sixty-four related to four of the fifty-nine areas of prayer denoted within the verses. That means of the fifty-nine areas related to prayer, the Bible spoke of four areas in over half the verses. That is statistically significant.

Before getting to that discussion, let us understand what this study will show us. By studying the Bible, we find answers to the following questions concerning prayer and praying.

·         What is prayer?
·         What do we do when we pray?
·         How do we/are we supposed to pray?
·         What is expected of the pray-er?
·         When should we pray?
·         Should we expect God to answer prayer?
·         What happens when we pray?
The study of God’s Word - the Bible - is a discipline every Christian should follow. A person cannot grow in his or her relationship with God without knowing more of Him and striving to become more Christlike. The Bible teaches both these things. The people in the Bible understood what prayer is. Jesus Christ taught His disciples how to pray and modeled it regularly for them. If for no other reason, these should compel us to pray, too. Join with me in the first of a two-part Bible study series on prayer as we learn what the Bible teaches on prayer and the person who prays – the pray-er.

What is Prayer?

The word “prayer” according to 2 Samuel 7:27 (the first place in the New American Standard Bible to use the word prayer) comes from the Hebrew word tephillah and means prayer, to pray a prayer, hear prayer, and house of prayer[i]. In this passage, David talked with God regarding building His temple. God promised him his royal line would not vanish. Notice prayer is listening and speaking.

For a relationship to exist and grow, communication must occur. People of every era know having a relationship with their god or with Yahweh, the One true God, requires praying to their god or God. For Abraham and his descendents - blood descendants (the Israelites) and faith descendents (Christians) -praying was being in conversation with the One and only God, Yahweh/Abba/Jehovah.

Most people learn for communication to occur, each person involved in the conversation must listen and speak. If one side does all the talking, no true communication or growth of relationship occurs. The verbose person uses the other person as a sounding board only. With that in mind, for true communication to happen between a person/people and God, the person/people must listen to God listen to and speak to Him.

From this understanding of communication, we know prayer is a person or group of people listening to and speaking with God – communicating and communing with Him. Before David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 7:27, other people spoke to God. Consider Moses at the burning bush or on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandment tablets from God. Besides this, consider Abraham when God spoke to him concerning being the father of many nations and Samuel hearing and speaking to the LORD when he was a small boy working with Eli. These men spoke to God and He spoke to them though the writers of these parts of the Bible did not use the word “prayer.” At other times in the Old Testament, the writers used specific words that describe how or what the person or people prayed – crying out, petitioning, thanking, etc. Other places in the Bible that refer to speaking with God through prayer are: 1 Kings 8:28, Job 16:17, Job 22:25-27, Psalm 18:6, Psalm 19:14, Jeremiah 7:16, Daniel 9:20, Luke 3:21, Acts 10:2 & 9, Acts 20:36, Ephesians 6:18, and 1 Timothy 2:8.

People throughout time prayed to God. They sometimes queried whether God listened to them when they prayed. God spoke of hearing the prayers of His people in Jeremiah 29:12. This verse is part of a covenant - a promise - He gave to His children, Israel, and to His adopted children through faith. Second Samuel 7:27 records David’s recognition that God heard his prayer relating to his desire to build His temple. Along with this verse, Daniel 2:23 and 9:20, and Acts 9:11 speak of God answering Daniel’s prayers and speaking to Ananias. Daniel requested God’s will concerning his circumstances. He gave him an answer. In the second reference, Daniel prayed to God and God sent His messenger, Gabriel, to help him. Ananias received word from God through a vision telling him to go to a blind Saul and restore his sight. These each show positive conversations from God. God often told His servants/prophets not to pray to Him for Israel (negative conversations) because He would not listen nor answer the prayers. Jeremiah 7:16 and 11:14 record these conversations.

One other point must be made regarding to being in a vital relationship with God, a relationship where two-way communication occurs. God desires to be in a relationship with every person. This desire requires a person be cleansed from his or her sin by the blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The relationship with God is so precious to Him that John recorded in Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 that the prayers of the saints (believers) are incense to Him, a sweet and pleasant fragrance to Him. Our relationship with God is sweet and pleasing to Him and blesses us. Prayer is not only important as a sounding board for us, but for developing a pleasant, harmonious, and blessed relationship with Yahweh, too.

What do We do when We Pray? 

Prayer is life-giving – vital - for our relationship with God. When we pray, we recognize God for Who He is – Creator, LORD, Provider, and Lover of our souls. He gave His own Son to die in our place so we could be saved and live forever with Him in heaven. When we relate to God in a positive way, we realize God is greater than anything we can perceive and all we know. With that in mind, we understand why the Bible shows us how to relate to God and approach Him in prayer. We must recognize seven things relating to God and respond to Him with reverence so we do not abuse/misuse our relationship with Him. He is God and we are just part of His creations.

David expressed in six of his psalms and in 2 Samuel who God is. His writings teach us today how to approach God in prayer. To approach God in prayer, we must recognize these things regarding God.

Ø  Recognize God is to be Revered – 2 Samuel 7:27
Ø  Recognize God’s Mercy – Psalm 4:1
Ø  Recognize God Exists – Psalm 65:2
Ø  Recognize God’s Power – Psalm 65:2
Ø  Recognize God’s Faithfulness – Psalm 143:1
Ø  Recognize God’s Righteousness – Psalm 143:1.
Other Bible writers such as Luke, Paul, and Job recognized some of these same things in relation to God and approaching Him in prayer. Consider the following verses –

·         Acts 10:2, 1 Corinthians 11:4 (revere God)
·         Job 22:25-27 (recognize God’s power)
Besides remembering these six aspects of God when approaching God in prayer, Solomon, Nehemiah, Daniel, Luke, and James spoke of another thing to recognize or do when praying to God. They said to recognize God lives in heaven, so pray towards there. Recognize God is greater than themselves - is eternal and all-powerful - so keep focused heavenward – keep focused on God. First Kings 8:28, Nehemiah 1:6, Daniel 9:20, Acts 8:22, and James 5:16 teach this.

The final thing spoken concerning what we do when we pray comes from Acts 20:36 and Colossians 4:3. Luke and Paul taught our prayers are to give testimony of God. This testimony comes from the previous seven things listed here and from what God has done for you. If your prayer is not a testimony of who God is and what He has done for you, then your prayers are just a laundry list of “gimmes,” like a child’s Christmas wish list. If a gimme list describes your prayers, then your prayers - your supposed two-way conversation with God - are not effective. Your relationship with Him is not vibrant and growing. How should we pray then?

How Should We Pray to God?

When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher taught me to pray to Jesus for other people and myself. As a teenager, a minister taught more on prayer. He said prayers to God should include the acronym A.C.T.S. – Adoration, Confession, Thanks, and Supplication. Considering the latter, I find it interesting the Bible records more concerning petitioning God for one’s self and others than any other part of A.C.T.S. I believe this occurs because people throughout time realized their need for God to provide for them and intervene for them where they lived. Most people approach God when his or her body or life is under threat. Do we forget Him at other times and only realize our need for Him in our lives when we face dire days? We see this truth for many of God’s children. Yet for those who strive to have a growing faith and relationship with God, prayer is more than an SOS. It concerns relationship. Let us consider how we pray to God.

Petition for Self.

Both the Old and New Testaments record people praying to God as petitioning Him to help them. Authors of books in the Bible recorded twenty-four times when people petitioned God to help their own selves. The New Testament records these prayers nine times. Consider these verses:

·         Judges 15:18,
·         2 Samuel 7:27
·         1 Kings 8:28, 8:38
·         Nehemiah 4:9
·         Job 21:15
·         Psalm 5:2, 18:6, 35:13, 66:17
·         Jeremiah 29:12
·         Daniel 2:23, 9:20
·         Matthew 7:11
·         Mark 11:24
·         Luke 11:13, 21:36
·         John 16:26
·         Acts 7:59, 8:24
·         Philippians 4:6
·         1 Thessalonians 3:10
·         2 Thessalonians 3:1
·         James 1:5-7, 4:2
·         1 John 5:14-15
Besides these verses, which in specific mention “praying for” or “petitioning” the Lord for one’s self, other verses that record people “crying out to” or “pleading for” the Lord’s help in their plight. These verses include 1 Kings 8:45; Psalms 4:1, 17:1, 35:13, 66:17, 88:2, 118:5, and 143:1; and Lamentations 3:8.

Petition for Others.

As mentioned in an earlier paragraph, petitioning to God for other people occurred often in the Bible. Both petitioning for one’s self and for others occurred twenty-three times in the Bible. Sometimes these petitions to God for self and others occurred at the same time. The verses that record these prayers are –

·         1 Samuel 7:5, 12:19
·         1 Kings 8:28
·         Job 42:8
·         Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:22
·         Daniel 9:20
·         Luke 22:32
·         Acts 13:3
·         2 Corinthians 1:11
·         Philippians 1:19, 4:6
·         Ephesians 6:18
·         Colossians 1:9, 4:3
·         1 Thessalonians 3:10, 5:25
·         2 Thessalonians 3:1
·         1 Timothy 2:1-2
·         Hebrews 13:18
·         James 5:16
When people petition for other people, they care enough for the other person to intervene for them with God asking His help or protection for the person. Notice, when we pray to God as part of a growing relationship with Him, we do it because of love for Him. When we pray for other people, we do it because of our care/love for those people. This shows we follow what God taught in the Old Testament with the Ten Commandments – love God and love other people. It shows, too, what Jesus taught with the Greatest Commandment – love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus taught His follower to go a step further than this with His next teaching.

Pray for Persecutors.

Jesus taught what God did in the Old Testament, but He took it a step further. He taught the people the neighbor they were to love could be their enemy. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies and pray for them, even those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44). To love and pray for their enemies, Christians must be in a growing relationship with God. They must become more Christlike. By doing that, the love of God for the person’s enemy grows in the Christian. From that growth of love, the believer can love and pray for their enemies. By loving and praying for one’s enemies, the believer will be like Jesus when He loved and prayed for those who persecuted Him.  

A.C.T.S.

You may ask,  “What happened to A.C.T.S.?” The Bible writers wrote so much regarding petitioning God and asking Him to help it appears adoration, confession, and thanks are unimportant. That is not true though. Remember, in communication we ask for people to help us, and encourage them, thank them, and often confess sins/faults to them. These must be part of our conversations with God, too. They are more important with our conversations with God than with people.

Confession

When we sin, we sin against God. Remember, sinning separates us from God because He cannot be in the presence of sin since He is holy. We must be made holy again and so must confess our sin to Him and ask for His forgiveness. This will keep our relationship with Him unstrained. God is holy and all-powerful. That means He is merciful and cleanses sin from us when we confess and ask for His forgiveness. David, Nehemiah, Daniel, Luke, James, and John each speak on this in these verses –

·         1 Kings 8:28
·         Nehemiah 1:6
·         Psalm 42:8
·         Daniel 9:20
·         Acts 8:22
·         James 5:16
·         Revelations 5:8

Thanksgiving

Throughout the Bible, the authors of individual books and Jesus taught that prayer includes thanks to God, too. To be in a growing and strong relationship, communication must include thanking the person for caring, helping, and praying for you. A relationship with God through Jesus Christ should include thanks to Him, too. God does and has done many things for us individual people over the years and as a group from the beginning of time.

David spoke in his prayer that only those who lived with God could thank Him (Psalm 6:5). Daniel thanked God for giving him power and wisdom (Daniel 2:23). Jesus thanked His Father for the fish and bread to feed the 5000 people (Luke 9:16-17). Paul taught people to thank God for what He would do in answer to their prayers (Philippians 4:6). He told them to devote themselves to prayer and thanksgiving to God, too (Colossians 4:2). Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 each Christian should pray and petition God for people in authority and give thanks for those leaders. Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 6:16-18, he told the people of Thessalonika to give thanks in everything. As seen, thanks to God should be part of every prayer. Believers must thank Him for what He has done and will do in their lives and the lives of other people for whom they pray. 

Adoration

Praising and exalting God is adoration. God deserves praise because He is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (all places at once), and because He is the One true God. David, Daniel, Paul, James, and Luke praised God and taught other followers of Jesus to adore (praise and exalt) Him.

David called God His Rock and Redeemer. He was the strength upon whom David could rely (Psalm 19:14). He said God was merciful (loving-kindness) in Psalm 66:20. David called God his King and extolled (praised and exalted) Him (Psalm 5:2 & 66:17). Daniel recalled his ancestors followed Yahweh God, and He carried them. He said God gave him wisdom and power (Daniel 2:23). Paul and Silas gave testimony of God’s greatness and love while they were in prison (Acts 20:26). Paul taught believers to rejoice always because the Lord was their God. He aligned this with thanking Him in all circumstances and praying continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). James taught people to pray with cheerful songs to God. John saw people bowing before the Lamb in a vision while on Patmos (Revelation 5:8).

Adoration - praise and exaltation - is a form of prayer/song to and about God. Adoration is different from thanks because it does not necessarily refer back to what God has done, but always to who God is. We praise God because He is greater than anything life can throw at us and we know God – our God – conquers all things. We can have hope in the midst of trying times because we know we will be in heaven with Him one day. Knowing God as our Lord, Redeemer, Creator, Protector, and Provider gives us joy and hope and that should flow back to Him as praise and exaltation – adoration. Adoration and thanks to God come out of our love as believers for God.

Recap

In this lesson, we learned that prayer is communicating and communing with God, which requires speaking to Him and listening to what He says. For communication to be effective and growing, it must be two-way. God listens to our prayers and responds to them as David and Daniel found out. He is faithful to His children even if they are unfaithful to Him.

In the second part of this lesson, we learned we have to recognize God for who He is and approach Him reverence. We must recognize His mercy, existence, power, faithfulness, righteousness, and that He rules over all from heaven. Besides this, when we pray and revere God, we give a testimony regarding God through our prayers. Paul and Silas did this while in prison.

The final part of this lesson (lesson one on prayer) taught us how to pray. Whether using the acronym of A.C.T.S. or remembering the specific parts from the Bible verses above, we must remember prayer – communication with God – include each aspect as seen in the teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and other Bible writers. Besides this, for our prayers to be genuine - providing a growing relationship with God and a growing Christlikeness - we should praise and exalt God, confess and ask forgiveness, thank Him, and petition for ourselves and other people, including our leaders and enemies. By offering prayers in each of these areas, we show love for other people and for God. We will have a continual growing relationship with God for which He provided salvation for every person.

Relevance and Conclusion

How active and vibrant is your prayer life? Do you just go to God when you need help or want something? Is He your super-Santa? That should not be.

If you are a Christian, you should continue to grow in your relationship with God. This relationship occurs because He provided the cleansing from our sins that separated us from Him through the blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ, who died for each person’s sin penalty. If you pray regularly, do you remember to adore, praise, and exalt Him? Do you thank Him daily? Often we have our needs supplied and we do not give a thought that God’s faithfulness to us provided what we needed before we asked. The bed you slept on last night for example. You probably bought or received it years ago, but forget to thank Him for it and praise Him each day for knowing in advance just what you needed before you did. That is God’s omniscience. That is God’s faithful love to you, too.

Do you ask God to help you see your sins of the day so you can confess them and ask for forgiveness from Him? God’s righteousness means He cannot be in the presence of sin, which means in your presence. His righteousness has a flip side, like a coin. Because He is righteous, He must bring judgment for sin, yet because of His mercy and loving-kindness, He provided the penalty-bearer (Jesus Christ) before your birth and later sin. This action for you means He genuinely wants to be in a relationship with you. Have you confessed your sin today so God can give you His love and mercy today?

Praying for things is as natural as breathing to most of us. Want, need, and desire remind us to pray for our circumstances and our selves. Praying for other people is not as easy to remember. Just as we breathe and petition God for ourselves, we should petition for other people, including our enemies.

What is prayer? It involves and affects our relationship with God. Prayer is two-way communication with God that brings growth in our relationship with Him and in our Christlikeness. It produces Christian virtues and leads us closer to Him and closer to perfection through salvation in Christ.

It is time to reflect upon ourselves. What are our questions today?
v  Do you pray each day?
v  Do you recognize God for who He is and revere Him?
v  Are you in a growing relationship with the Lord so you do not have a Christmas wish list, but love and effective communication?







[i] Brown, Driver, Bringgs, and Gesenius. “Hebrew Lexicon entry for Tephillah.” “The NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon.” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/tephillah.html).