Christian Churches of God
Teach Us To Pray
(Edition 2.0 19950506-19990912-20070809)
This paper examines the correct structure of prayer under the direction of Jesus Christ. The meaning of the terms and the significance for prayer in worship are explained. Hindrances to prayer are examined and guidelines in prayer are suggested.
Teach Us To Pray
The purpose of prayer is to petition God so that He might listen and respond. God gives each of us gifts and talents, but prayer is everyone's gift and privilege. The door to God's throne room is open to us through prayer. There are right and wrong ways to pray, so we need to know what the Bible teaches in order to have fervent and effective prayer.
Many of us grew up chanting and vainly repeating structured prayers, praying before pictures and statues, and praying to those who are dead. For many, it is a difficult process to pray to a God we have never seen without trying to form some image in our mind. When God opens the eyes in the calling process, and the individual begins to study the Bible, the knowledge that the individual had been praying the wrong way is made evident. The understanding of God the Father as the object of prayer and worship is part of the process of the call to repentance and the gift of salvation (see the paper The God We Worship (No. 2)).
Examples from the Bible teach us to pray. This process is simply to follow in the footsteps of our teacher, Jesus Christ. There are many examples in the Bible that show us Jesus was a man of earnest prayer.
Luke 6:12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. (RSV)
Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." (RSV)
Luke 22:41 And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed. (RSV)
In Luke 11:1 the disciples asked of Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray". In a corresponding passage in Matthew, Jesus established some general rules concerning prayer and followed with a model prayer, which we call the Lord's Prayer.
First Christ gave a negative teaching on prayer, in Matthew 6:5-8.
Matthew 6:5,7-8 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. ….7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Then he gave a positive teaching.” (NKJV)
Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (RSV)
Then Jesus followed with the model prayer.
Matthew 6:9-13 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 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. (KJV)
Introducing this prayer, Jesus said, "After this manner therefore pray ye". He did not say to chant the words of this prayer repeatedly in meaningless repetition. It is a model, and the structure of this prayer should be the pattern of our prayers. There are three main elements to the Lord's Prayer.
The first element of this model prayer focuses attention on God as the object of worship. There is no question that there should be any object of worship other than God the Father. Our prayers should begin by worshipping God, glorifying Him and focusing on His goodness. We should begin with an act of adoration, e.g. "Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name". The name of God is identified from the Old Testament as Eloah (Prov. 30:4-5).
All authority is derived from God through His name. He is extolled by His name, which in its root form is JAH (Ps. 68:4). Hence, the ancient Hebrew name for God, YAHO, from which comes Yehovah (SHD 3068) and Yehovih (SHD 3069). Thus Yahovah (Ex. 6:3) is derived from JAH, who is Yahovah of Hosts. The name of God was in the Angel in the Wilderness, the Being who became Jesus Christ (Ex. 23:21).
The Lamb stands on Zion with the 144,000, all having his Father’s name written on their foreheads (Rev. 14:1; 22:4). The name of God itself becomes the seal of God for the risen elect. The physical symbols of this are also found in the Sabbaths and Passover. In time, the name of God transcends all else as Christ became a son of God in power from the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4)
The second element is petition in which our attention is turned towards our own needs, e.g. "Give us this day our daily bread".
The provision of our needs is an ongoing responsibility of God once we have placed ourselves in His hands. He accomplishes this through His Son as the messenger. He sent this Son, as messenger or Angel, to the Patriarchs as the Elohim of Israel.
Genesis 48:13-16 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, 16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. (KJV)
The clear view of Israel was that the Angel was the elohim or god who had blessed him and fed him all the days of his life. This Angel also redeemed him from evil. The future here is past tense. Messiah thus completed this act by God’s will. For the righteous the promise is given that their bread and water shall be sure (Ps. 37:25; Isa. 33:15-16).
The third element of prayer is forgiveness for transgression. That was primarily through the intercession of Christ, but it occurs with the elect on an ongoing basis. When we become concerned about the needs of others, forgiveness is accorded to them on the same principle of agape love as God accords to us, e.g. "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors".
Forgiveness is the central issue in our relationship with God. Above all else, God requires obedience from us. The requirement for forgiveness arises out of offence. Others offend us as we also offend God through disobedience to His Laws. Offence to others arises out of the breach of God’s Laws. Either it is in breach of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) or in their extension as the First and Second Great Commandments (Mat. 22:37-39). David could say to God that against Him only had he sinned.
Psalm 51:1-4 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (KJV)
The essential aspect to be borne in mind is that transgression against a neighbour is trespass against God. As we forgive others so are we forgiven. Unforgiving attitudes towards others result in the individual being dealt with by God and if the lack of forgiveness persists, then the individual is removed from the Kingdom and dealt with in the general resurrection. We cannot harbour grudges against anyone. Nor can we set our face against people with bitterness, especially those of our own family. ‘Roots of bitterness’ destroy the Holy Spirit in the elect and remove them from the Kingdom. We must set an example of our forgiveness to others so that they can see the Holy Spirit at work in us. That does not mean that we should be blind to transgression. Nor should we be in respect of persons in our attitude to sin. Unrebuked sin in the elect is a shame to all, as is also unrepented sin. The essential element in the development in our relationship with God is to put on the divine nature as did Christ, and thus agape love is central to our thought process.
Unless we first establish a relationship with God there will be no answer to our petitions and no power in our prayers of intercession for others. In other words, the line must be open between our heavenly Father and ourselves. If we are always in the right attitude we can pray at any time to God and He will hear us. We should not be discouraged in faith. Jesus said in Luke 18:1, that men ought always to pray and not lose heart. Paul urged us in 1Thessalonians 5:17: pray without ceasing. God corrects with judgement and not in anger, in order to preserve us (Jer. 10:24). Discouragement is the greatest weapon of the Adversary.
These Scriptures do not mean that we should always be praying, but we should always be in the right attitude with and towards God. If we remain close to God, we can come to Him quickly and in emergencies. When our petitions fail we need to look at ourselves, or the circumstances of our request. There are many reasons in the Bible for unanswered prayer.
How often we pray is a personal decision, however, we see from the example of Daniel that it was his practice to go down on his knees three times a day.
Daniel 6:8-10 Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked." 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict. 10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (RSV)
That text tells us that the elect are to pray three times a day, and they are not to allow worldly ordinances to interfere with that.
If there is unconfessed sin, God will not hear us.
Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear. (RSV)
Psalm 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. (NKJV)
Proverbs 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight. (NKJV)
An unforgiving spirit towards a brother or anyone else hinders the answer to prayer.
Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (NKJV)
Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (RSV)
The problem with forgiveness is often self-righteousness, while at other times it is wounded pride. If there is a problem with forgiveness, then we should examine our attitudes and look at our relationship with God. Do we really see our own worthlessness in relation to God, or do we view ourselves as being superior to others? We should not compare ourselves to others, but merely establish our position with our Father and extend to others the love He extends to us. If we are guilty of self-righteousness, then we are in a serious position. It is virtually impossible for God to prepare us for the First Resurrection with a self-righteous attitude. Some people have even decided the matter of their own Church attendance on the basis of other people who attend. Others choose their Churches on the basis of the ministers and not the doctrine.
Luke 18:10-14 shows the problem of self-righteousness in the eyes of God.
Luke 18:10-14 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (KJV)
The Pharisee was comparing himself to others and in the eyes of God he was not justified and was rejected. This was the most prevalent sin in the Churches of God in the twentieth century, and is in fact the hallmark of the Laodicean Church.
Revelation 3:14-19 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (KJV)
The poorness was in the Spirit. The gold refined in the fire was the Holy Spirit. This Church thought that it was rich in the Spirit, but it was wretched. It was spewed out of God’s mouth because it was indifferent to the Laws of God. It was not zealous even though it thought that it was. It was called on to repent. Very few of that Church were justified and given a part in the Kingdom. The same was true of the Sardis Church. It was dead, but not all of it. It had to strengthen that which was ready to die (Rev. 3:2). It was imperfect in its works. However, the self-righteousness of the Laodiceans was not the major problem of Sardis.
Lack of faith is another reason for the failure of prayer.
James 1:6-7 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. (NKJV)
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (NKJV)
When Jesus healed people, he said over them: "Thy faith has made thee whole" – from Matthew 9:22, Mark 10:52 and Luke 17:19.
Romans 10:17 says:
So then faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God. (KJV)
More correctly, the text should read:
So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. (RSV)
We should have faith in God's word and promises as given through Christ and know that He will deliver us.
To know what God promises, we need to study the Bible. God has recorded His will in the Bible. The Bible contains instruction for living a successful life now and to qualify for eternal salvation. Titus 1:2 tells us that God cannot lie.
Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began. (NKJV)
We should believe God is going to answer our prayer, and begin thanking Him for it in advance. The hope of the elect stems from their faith. Hope thus becomes quiet confidence.
Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (RSV)
Luke 11:9-10 And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (RSV)
Often timing is important in prayer. God will act in the best time for the purpose He has determined. Delay is often because the purpose will be better served at the appropriate time. Often prayer is for the wrong reason and the motives of the individual have much to do with the question of faith.
In John 11:41, Jesus thanked God in advance for the resurrection of Lazarus.
John 11:41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. (NKJV)
An inconsistent home life will cause prayers to go unanswered or to be hindered.
1Peter 3:7 Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. (NKJV)
We sometimes ask amiss.
James 4:2-3 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (NJKV)
We can become selfish in our prayers when we concentrate too much on our own needs. The primary object and purpose of prayer should be to glorify God and to establish a relationship with Him. We tend to go on with our lives, making our own plans and only asking God's will when things go wrong or when we have insufficient within our view of material welfare. Prayer is more than just repeating words. It is the establishing of a vital contact between God and the self through Jesus Christ.
We are called upon to follow in Jesus' footsteps. So when we pray we ask in the name of God’s son, Jesus Christ.
John 14:13-14 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (NKJV)
To achieve this position we must obey the Commandments (Jn. 15:10). Christ’s words abide in us through action. What we do is a reflection of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The retention of the Spirit is predicated upon obedience to the Law of God, summarised by the Commandments.
1John 3:21-24 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us. (RSV)
Proverbs 28:9 One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is an abomination. (NKJV)
We must also pray to the right God.
1Corinthians 8:5-6 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth -- as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords" – 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (RSV)
This text shows clearly the numerical divisions of the elohim or theoi. The terms theoi and kurioi for gods and lords refer to the Host. There is no diminishing of the words of the text in the original. The text shows us that Christ is given to us as Lord under the One True God (Jn. 17:3; 1Jn. 5:20).
There are things God expects us to do ourselves. If God has given us a remedy, we should use it. For example, if we ask for food, we have to be prepared to go to work and earn the money to pay for it. A farmer may pray for a good crop but, unless he ploughs, sows and cultivates, God is unlikely to provide the crop.
If we ask God to help the poor and keep our own purse closed then we are hypocrites.
James 2:14-17 says:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (NKJV)
If we are in a position to provide and do not, it is no use praying to God. God wants us to do something too, and then He will answer our prayers.
We must repent of sins and change.
Isaiah 55:6-7 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (RSV)
James 5:16 says:
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (RSV)
This does not mean we confess our sins in public or our private sins to each other. We confess our faults to one another and confess our sins to God. The healing process is spiritual and psychological rather than physical.
God is no respecter of persons and He has promised to answer the prayer of the righteous. There are many examples of this in the Bible.
Proverbs 10:24 What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. (RSV)
Proverbs 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight. (RSV)
James 5:16b The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (RSV)
Psalm 102:17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and will not despise their supplication. (RSV)
Psalm 10:17 O LORD, thou wilt hear the desire of the meek; thou wilt strengthen their heart, thou wilt incline thy ear. (RSV)
1) We should pray with thanksgiving in whatever situation we find ourselves:
Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. (NKJV)
Colossians 4:2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving. (NKJV)
We should recognise God as the source of our blessings and we need to thank Him.
2) Pray for each other:
Ephesians 6:18-19 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel. (NKJV)
Romans 15:30 Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me. (NKJV)
John 17:9 I [Jesus] pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. (NKJV)
3) Pray for our leaders:
1Timothy 2:1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men. (NKJV)
4) Pray for our enemies:
Luke 6:28 Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. (NKJV)
And when we do not know what to pray for, we are given assistance.
Romans 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (NKJV)
If prayers remain unanswered we are encouraged to keep on praying.
Luke 11:9-10 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (NKJV)
In the parable of the persistent widow, the unjust judge finally answered her pleas.
Luke 18:1-8 And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, `Vindicate me against my adversary.' 4 For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, `Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'" 6 And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (RSV)
Sometimes God makes us wait to learn patience and overcome sin or to learn certain lessons. We may not be ready to receive the answer, or God may have something else in mind for us. Often it is a matter of the correct timing for certain circumstances of which we are unaware.
It is not wrong to reason with God. In fact, God urges, "Come now and let us reason together" (Isa. 1:18). Through this process our thoughts can be clarified. Our pleas are heard based upon the attitudes we display and the love of God. Abraham pleaded with God concerning His plans to destroy the city of Sodom (Gen. 18:22-33). Moses pleaded with God about the rebellious Israelites. God had stated that He was going to punish them for idolatry but Moses interceded and the Israelites were spared. This served as a witness to them and to us (Ex. 32:9-14).
Thy will be done
It was God's will that Jesus suffered humiliation and death. We are called upon to follow in Jesus' footsteps so we know it is not God's will to spare us all hardship. Our prayers should be in harmony with the will of our God. We need to include God in our plans from the beginning and not start praying about something as a last resort. This helps us to formulate our objectives in a godly manner at the outset. We should not merely go to God when things go wrong.
God can be moved by prayers that are offered with feeling and respect. In other words, we need to pray fervently. We should put our whole heart into our prayers. We are not alone in our struggle. God holds all power and has all knowledge. He is ready and willing to help us live the Christian life.
Isaiah 66:2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. (RSV)
God is looking for a humble attitude and wants our prayers to be heartfelt. Jesus prayed earnestly with all his heart, as we saw in Luke 22:44.
Luke 22:44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (NKJV)
Prayer is not a matter of forcing God to do the things we ask, but coming to God in absolute faith that He will give us what we need. God answers believing prayer but not always in the way we desire. He knows best what our daily needs are, our spiritual needs being more important than the material ones. We need to recognise the great privilege it is to come into the very presence of Almighty God in prayer. We know we should pray because in Matthew 6:7, Jesus said: "But when you pray", not if you pray. Thus, by praying we acknowledge our dependency on a source outside ourselves – a Higher Power. We make God a part of us, which is the plan. God thus becomes all in all (1Cor. 15:28; Eph. 1:23).