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Monday, April 25, 2016

PRAYER: What is Prayer and How do We approach God?


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 in the New American Standard Bible 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?
·         How do we approach God?
·         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 part of this 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 (noun) and means prayer, to pray a prayer, hear prayer, and house of prayer. To pray (verb) comes from the Hebrew word ‘athar  and means to entreat, supplicate, plead, or prayer. In 2 Samuel 7:27, David talked with God regarding building His temple. God promised him his royal line would not vanish. Notice prayer is listening and speaking. Notice David acknowledged he heard God tell him He would establish his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:13). God spoke first to David in this chapter and then David spoke to God. Their communication was two-way – hearing and listening. Prayer, true communion with God, requires speaking and listening to Him.

For a relationship to exist and grow, communication must occur. People of every era have known having a relationship Yahweh, the One true God, requires praying to Him. For Abraham and his descendants - blood descendants (the Israelites) and faith descendants (Christians) - praying was/is being in conversation and communing 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 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 people speaking to God through prayer are:

*      1 Kings 8:28 – “Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today.”
*       Job 16:17 – “Although there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer (tephillah) is pure.”
*      Job 22:25-27 – “Then the Almighty will be your gold and choice silver to you. For then you will delight in the Almighty and lift up your face to God. You will pray (‘athar) to Him and He will hear you, and you will pay your vows.”
*      Psalm 18:6 – “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 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
*      Jeremiah 7:16 – “As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.”
*      Daniel 9:20 – “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…”
*      Luke 3:21 – “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven opened…”
*      Acts 10:2 – “A devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually…”
*      Acts 10:9 - “On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.”
*      Acts 20:36 – “When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.”
*      Ephesians 6:18 – “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...”
*      1 Timothy 2:8. – “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting holy hands without wrath and dissension.”

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. Each of these 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 types of conversations.

*      2 Samuel 7:13 – “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (David heard God speak.)
*      Jeremiah 7:16 – as above
*      Jeremiah 11:14 – “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster.” (Jeremiah heard God.)
*      Daniel 2:23 – “To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for You have given me wisdom and power; even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, for You have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel recognized God spoke to him)
*      Daniel 9:20 – as above
*      Acts 9:11 – “And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the streeth called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.’” (Ananias heard God speak to him.)
One other point must be made regarding 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.

How Do We Approach God?

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 creation.

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 –

Ø  Recognize God is to be Revered - Acts 10:2, 1 Corinthians 11:4
Ø  Recognize God’s Power - Job 22:25-27
Besides remembering these six aspects of God when approaching Him in prayer, Solomon, Nehemiah, Daniel, Luke, and James spoke of another thing to recognize about God or do when praying to God. They said to recognize God lives in heaven, so pray towards heaven. Recognize God is greater than themselves - is eternal and all-powerful - so keep focused heavenward – keep focused on God.

Ø 1 Kings 8:28
Ø Nehemiah 1:6
Ø Daniel 9:20
Ø Acts 8:22 J
Ø James 5:16

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? Next week’s lesson will teach us what the leaders of God’s people in the Bible - men and women of God - did and taught about how to pray.