NOBODY who is even faintly religious
would deny that prayer Is part of the religious life. People who
have had little to do with a church, who have seldom picked up a
Bible, who have given scant attention to God, will, faced with a
crisis, turn to prayer. Many a helpless individual, faced with the
stark reality of death, has gone down on his knees in prayer. It
sometimes comes as a surprise to discover that some of the most
powerful men in history have been men of prayer.
What is Prayer?
What then is prayer all about? Is it just an exercise in bringing
pleasant thoughts into the mind? Is it a way of miraculously
solving impossible situations? Is it a religious ritual by holy
people on behalf of the rest of us? Is it the public recital of
noble thoughts and ideals or the repetition of certain forms of
This booklet is concerned with
Bible teaching on the subject. This is because those who are
truly followers of the Lord Jesus Christ must, like him, be guided
in all matters of faith and practice by what the Bible teaches.
For the Bible consists of "the sacred writings which are able to
instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2
Timothy 3:15, R.S.V.).
The Bible leaves us in no doubt
that believers ought to pray:
"Men ought always to
pray and not to faint" (Luke 18:1).
"Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
"In everything by
prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God"
(Philippians 4:6, R.S.V.).
To fail to pray is regarded as a
sin; Samuel the prophet declared:
"God forbid that I
should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel
The Starting Point
So how does prayer start? Its springboard is need. We may
be having great difficulty in coping with life; we may be faced
with seemingly insuperable problems; we may be conscious of our
failings and desire some kind of spiritual cleansing; we may be
trying to search out the meaning of life. In fact the very
problems which confront us have a significance in emphasizing to
us that for all man's great achievements, we are frequently
helpless in the midst of human failure. Failure is more often at
the start of the road to God than success.
In the Gospels we read of men who
commanded great armies, of people in high office in government, of
mothers and fathers seeking the best for their children, of
farmers and fishermen, tradesmen and craftsmen -- people of all
types and backgrounds who sought out the Lord Jesus Christ because
some need or other could not be fulfilled elsewhere. And as we see
Jesus always finding time to listen, to advise, to help, we see
how he reveals to us the character of his Father:
"Whoever would draw
near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those
who seek him" (Hebrews 11:7, R.S.V.).
The Bible makes it clear that God
wants to help us. We should never feel that it is only good
people that He will hear. In fact if we think we are rather good
and managing quite well on our own, the chances are we shall be
less inclined to rely upon God.
Two Men ...
Jesus told about two men who went up to the temple in Jerusalem to
pray. One was a Pharisee -- a member of a leading religious sect
of the day. The other was a tax-collector. Since the land of the
Jews was occupied by the Romans, we can imagine that a Jew
collecting taxes on behalf of the hated invaders was treated with
contempt. So the parable portrays a member of the religious
establishment and an outcast. But Jesus says the Pharisee prayed
"with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men,
extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, I give tithes (i.e. 10% given to the
religious authorities-the temple) of all that I get'." Obviously
this man thought he was doing a good job for God and expected to
"But the tax
collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to
heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a
sinner!' " (Luke 18:9-13, R.S.V.). This man's circumstances had
made him keenly conscious of a sense of personal failure. In that
frame of mind he begged God to help him. Jesus tells us that his
prayer did far more good than the boasting of the Pharisee.
God's Mercy --
The seven words of that man's prayer perfectly summarize the right
approach to God. It begins with God and ends with "me, a sinner".
God and the sinner are brought together through the divine mercy.
W. F. Vine writes of the word mercy: "It assumes need on
the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet
the need on the part of him who shows it" (Expository
Dictionary of New Testament Words).
So we pray because we are conscious
of a need and we recognize that God alone can meet that need. To
accept that God can do what we cannot do is to bow to His
greatness, to acknowledge His infinite wisdom. This is praise.
Praise, when it finds expression in words, is an attempt to
describe the ways in which God is superior to man; it is to give
God glory. Through praise we reflect on what God is, and what
resources He has to meet our need.
Listening to God
Since God knows best, we must listen to what He says to us.
Through the Bible God speaks to us. The Psalmist could say: "Thy
word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm
119:105). The Lord Jesus stated:
"Scripture cannot be
broken" (John 10:35). The apostle Paul wrote: "All scripture is
given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for
reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that
the man of God may be perfect" (2 Timothy 3:16).
It is vital to realize that prayer
cannot be divorced from a knowledge and understanding of the Word
of God. For prayer is communication with God. The communication is
two-way. It is not enough that we should speak to God. He expects
us to listen to Him. In fact, we shall often be better occupied
meditating on His Word than trying to talk to Him at great length.
The Bible itself warns:
"Let not thine heart
be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and
thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Ecclesiastes
The Lord Jesus himself emphasizes
"When ye pray, use
not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they
shall be heard for their much speaking" (Matthew 6:71).
We must not come to God full of
ourselves, ready to tell Him what we think. That would be
like the person who asks a question, not because he wants to know
the answer', but because he wants the opportunity to air his own
knowledge. If we come to God as those who do not know the answers
and believe that He does, then what folly if we ignore what He has
already told us through the Scriptures! Rather we must read them
regularly and reflect on them in order that we may attune our
minds to the mind of God, as the words of a hymn direct us:
the ancient seers,
Who wrote from Thee the sacred page,
A light for all succeeding years,
A lamp in this degenerate age:
Wisdom to us Thy words impart,
And with Thy comfort fill our heart."
The many examples of prayer in the
Bible make it clear that God responds only when man prays in
accordance with His will. After all, God knows best what is in
man's interests and can control events accordingly.
Elijah, for example, was "a man of like passions with us, and he
prayed fervently that it might not rain: and it rained not in the
earth by the space of three years and six months" (James 5:17).
What was the point of God responding to such a prayer? When we
read through the narrative of 1 Kings 16:29 onwards we discover
that the people of Israel-God's witnesses-were in desperate need
of reformation. The point of Elijah's prayer and God's response
was to make the king and people realise that only by submitting to
God would they be able to survive. The prayer of faith was
designed to bring healing from the sickness of sin, to convert
sinners from the error of their ways.
Just as there had been a special
demonstration of the power of God when Israel were brought out of
Egypt under Moses, so during the period of Elijah and Elisha there
was a spate of miraculous activity to accompany the working of
God's prophets. Elijah's overriding concern was that God's will
should be done, and his prayer was answered because it accorded
with God's will at that time. (There was of course another epoch
of miraculous activity associated with the ministry of Christ and
Daniel's prayer, recorded in Daniel
9, is another example of prayer which was fully in tune with the
will of God. From the beginning of the prayer we see how right was
Daniel's attitude. At the time, Daniel was living in Babylon in
exile with the Jews. The nation was suffering the consequences of
failing to heed God's earlier warnings to serve Him faithfully.
Daniel, praying on behalf of his people, accepts that God is
righteous and that his people need forgiveness for their sins.
This leads to his request in verses 16 and 17 that God should once
more restore the fortunes of Jerusalem, which would mean the end
of enforced exile.
Two points can be noted: firstly,
anyone familiar with earlier writings of the Old Testament, and in
particular the first five books of Moses, will realize that phrase
after phrase of Daniel's prayer echoes what has gone before.
Daniel is praying as one who has filled his thinking with God's
thinking -- and he has done this by regular reading of the books
of the Bible which then existed.
Secondly, his prime petition-that
his people should be forgiven and allowed to re-establish
themselves and their worship in Jerusalem-was something that
Daniel knew God had promised He would carry out. Jeremiah, for
example, had prophesied:
"For, lo, the days
come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my
people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to
return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall
possess it" (Jeremiah 30:31).
In addition, Daniel knew from
Jeremiah 25:11-12 that the period of captivity would last 70
years. Since the people were not taken into captivity all at once,
he did not know exactly when the 70 years would end. But he knew
approximately, as a result of which he fervently prayed that God's
will should be done soon.
So Daniel prayed as a man who had
humbled himself before God, who listened to God and became
thoroughly familiar with what God had revealed in His Word and who
prayed in harmony with what he knew to be the will of God. He was
the sort of person referred to when God earlier declared:
"To this man will I
look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and
trembleth at my word" (Isaiah 66:2).
Relationship with God
Effective prayer assumes and depends upon a relationship with God.
"This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true
God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). Such
knowledge is to be found, in the first instance, in the inspired
writings of the Bible-and nowhere else. But to know God is not
simply to know about Him. When a husband and wife know each other,
they do not just have in their minds a pen-portrait of their
partner. Their knowledge is intimate and deep, because of the
nature of their relationship. It depends upon continued, regular
contact, the acceptance of responsibilities and the desire to grow
in knowledge and understanding of each other.
To acknowledge one's need as a
sinner, whose imperfection is in marked contrast to the glorious
perfection of God's character; to develop that "poor and contrite"
spirit, which desires to be moved by the power of God through His
Word, as the leaves on a tree tremble at the passing of a breath
of wind; to realize from the knowledge of God's gracious dealings
with men and women of past ages that the same grace can be
extended to us today-this is to begin the process of praise and
thanksgiving which marks the beginning of uttered prayer.
There is no room here for the
casual or the careless. God is in heaven, man upon earth. We
cannot assume familiarity or presume upon His loving kindness. It
is God's to command, ours to obey. We cannot call God "Our
Father", without at the same time hallowing His name. And we
cannot do that unless we seek to do His will upon earth as it is
done in heaven. If we are to benefit from the privilege of
being called His sons and daughters, we must, after serious
consideration, come within His family:
"Hereby we do know
that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3).
As our knowledge of God's commandments grows, so we learn the need
for repentance-sorrow at our personal sin and inadequacy and a
commitment to turn away from sin. We learn of God's love in
providing a perfect Son, "the way, the truth and the life",
through whom alone men may come to God. We learn that to be
associated with that saving work we must be born again, that is,
we express our faith and obedience by baptism-immersion into water
as a symbol of our association with the death of Jesus and with
his resurrection, as we rise from the water to "newness of life".
"As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on
Christ" (Galatians 3:27). As newly born sons and daughters of God
we seek to behave according to His high standards. There is held
out to us the hope of sharing Christ's glory when he comes to rule
over the earth in peace and righteousness:
"Behold, what manner
of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called
the sons of God . . . when he shall appear, we shall be like him"
(1 John 3:1,2).
Belief, repentance, baptism, a life
of faith, the hope of eternal life granted at the judgement after
the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, when he
will establish the kingdom of God and fulfil the hope of
Israel-this is but a brief summary of what we need to understand
if our commitment to God's family is to have any real meaning.
The Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer was uttered in response to his disciples'
request for instruction in prayer. Clearly the prayer given by the
Lord is not something to repeat vainly, like a magical
incantation.. Its true meaning can only be appreciated by those
who know the teaching of Christ, have committed themselves to his
discipleship and have become children of God, hallowing thereby
His name and striving to live in anticipation of His coming
kingdom when all the world will be governed according to His will.
It is good that we should meditate
upon the weight of those solemn words:
"Our Father, which
art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be
done on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10)
What to Pray for
For many people prayer consists of asking God for favors. For some
the proof of whether God is actually there or not consists of
testing out whether God will grant a particular request. Did not
Jesus say: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall
find" (Matthew 7:71)
We are told how Jesus welcomed
little children and took them up in his arms. In this he reflected
the character of his Father, who welcomes all who seek Him in
sincerity and simplicity. But whereas the particular purpose of
God at the time of the Lord's ministry and during the subsequent
establishment of the ecclesias involved frequent miraculous signs
that this was indeed the Lord at work, we shall be sadly misled if
we expect God to work a miracle in response to every request we
This is not to say that God's power
is not demonstrated today, or to imply that God is not interested
in us. There is a children's prayer which simply states a truth:
listens whenever we pray,
He's never too busy to hear what we say.
"Thy will be done"
No prayer is disregarded when it comes from those who sincerely
seek the Lord. But the answer is not always Yes; it may be No, or
Wait. What is vitally important is that we keep on praying,
thinking over God's ways and, with the help we gain from His Word,
coming to terms with the situation. When Hezekiah received a
threatening letter from the commander of the Assyrian forces, his
reaction was to "spread it before the Lord" (2 Kings 19:14). So,
too, we should talk out our problems before God. At the very
least, it will help us to get them in perspective.
But prayer does not produce instant
answers to every request. Imagine the chaos if it did, since often
God-fearing folk are praying for exactly opposite things One
person might be praying for sunshine for some important event;
another for rain to water vitally needed crops. Someone may be
seriously ill. One relative might pray for his recovery; another
that he should peacefully die.
We tend to see things very much
from a human perspective, finding it hard to step outside the
arena of our immediate needs to gain an overall view. Yet often,
after years of bitter disappointment because some hope or ambition
has not been realized, we may look back and feel that, after all,
things turned out for the best. And even if we never do understand
the meaning of certain experiences, we have the assurance that
"all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans
Of course some of our requests are
petty and even selfish. We cannot expect the Almighty to perform
conjuring tricks for us. James warns those with such a limited
view: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may
spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3).
Praying for Others
What is more difficult is that our request may be of an entirely
selfless nature, on behalf of some thoroughly worthy cause. Very
often such prayers arise from the desire to alleviate suffering,
which it is felt a God of love would naturally want to do. It is
not so easy to explain why such earnest requests are sometimes
But the fact is that as a result of
man's imperfection, or sin, the whole creation has been subjected
to "bondage", as the Bible puts it. In other words, we are
enslaved to a system which does not function perfectly as a result
of the separation from God which sin has caused. Thorns and
thistles grow up as well as beautiful flowers and wholesome
vegetables. The human body is capable of the grace of a ballet
dancer or the speed and stamina of an Olympic runner. But it can
be handicapped from birth, be prone to infection and terrible
As the apostle Paul puts it: "The
whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain" (Romans 8:22).
Around us are constant reminders that we are in an imperfect
world; without these reminders we would forget our moral and
spiritual imperfection. Just as certain fish can adapt to living
in polluted waters, so man could adapt to living in a world of
muddy values and murky principles, if he did not experience the
regular shock of situations which cry out to him of his need to be
saved. In the face of such situations, people tend to get on their
Of course, many of the problems can
be traced directly to human sin and stupidity. The pregnant mother
who smokes must bear the responsibility for any damage she causes
her baby. But many of the evils which afflict us are not of our
own personal making, nor are they always the result of foolish
collective policies or wicked systems. In a world that has
separated itself from God, both social and natural laws are
affected by the curse of sin. Even the man who puts all his trust
in God will suffer the consequences. The book of Job is a vivid
dramatization of this truth. Catastrophes will not be fairly
distributed in such a world; nor will life's bonuses:
"The race is not to
the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the
wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men
of skill . . . as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as
the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men
snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them"
What we must realize is that God has not abandoned us in this
situation. He asks us to trust Him, to believe in His Word, to
obey His commandments as far as we are able and to look forward to
a time in the future when He will intervene in human affairs to
establish a society which will be governed by just and fair
laws, in which nature itself will ultimately be in harmony with
its perfect Creator.
We must understand therefore that
God's concern for us is to do with our eternal welfare and
it may not be best for us to have every problem, big or small,
solved instantly. The very set-backs of life can be turned to
advantage in the development of our characters:
"We rejoice in the
hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our
sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3, N.I.V.).
The experiences of our present life
can find meaning in the context of God's eternal plan. In the
kingdom of God, we shall be able to look back, by God's grace, and
see the value of even the most testing crises in our lives. So
Paul the apostle could write:
"We do not lose
heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are
being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are
achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2
Corinthians 4:16, N.I.V.).
Paul could write from personal
experience. He had suffered many trials in the course of his
preaching work (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-29) and, to make matters
worse, he had some kind of physical disability which handicapped
him further. He states that three times he prayed to God that this
"thorn in the flesh" might be removed. But then he came to accept
that, after all, the very weakness which afflicted him made him
all the more aware that his own strength was insufficient: he must
depend upon the power of God:
"He said unto me, My
grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in
weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my
infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. I take
pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in
persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak,
than am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
"Learning all the
worth of pain"
God never allows us to be tested more than we can bear (1
Corinthians 10:13) and the Bible reveals how God Himself is
personally affected as He enters into the feelings of human
experience (see, for example, Isaiah 63:9; Acts 9:4). There is no
greater demonstration of this than in the willing suffering of
God's only beloved Son, who "when he suffered, he threatened not,
but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously". The Lord
was greatly strengthened throughout his life by prayer, not least
in the hour of keenest trial:
"In the days of his
flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with
strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from
death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet
learned he obedience by the things which he suffered, and being
made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all
them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:7-9).
Here our theme is vividly
exemplified. It could be said that the Lord's prayer was not
heard, for the suffering was not removed. Scripture, however,
clearly states that he was heard, but it was not in God's
will that the experience should be removed. What good, then, was
it to pray? The Gospels record that in the very process of laying
his situation before his heavenly Father, even in the midst of his
mental agony, Jesus was actually coming to terms with the
necessity of the cross he was to bear:
"Father, if thou be
willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but
thine, be done" (Luke 22:24)
A Source of
But this was not all. Prayer is not only the way we may sort out
our problems in God's presence. It can provide a very real
"And there appeared
an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him" (Luke 22:43).
Our prayers, then, must not be
selfish, though we may lay all our problems before the Lord. Even
in our best and apparently selfless requests, we must accept that
God knows best: "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and
shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). Whatever we ask must be
conditioned by the Lord's phrase, "nevertheless not my will, but
thine be done". This does not apply, of course, when we are asking
God for things which He has clearly declared to be His will. It is
unnecessary, for example, when we pray for the coming of the Lord,
to add "if it be thy will", since we know it is God's will.
Even though God may not choose to
work a miracle on our behalf as we would like it to work, it is
not because He does not care. It is because He is working in us
the miracle of transforming our characters to be like that of His
Son. For the true believer, there is nothing that can separate him
from the love of God in Christ Jesus:
"Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4).
The petition in the Lord's Prayer,
"Give us this day our daily bread", reminds us of how simple and
unadorned are our basic needs-and reminds us too of our overriding
need of that living bread from heaven which we eat when we share
the self-sacrificing life of our Lord: "The bread that I will give
is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world", said
Jesus (John 6:51);
"Lord, who Thyself hast
bidden us to pray For daily bread,
We ask thee but for grace and strength this day Our path to
We have already seen that to make our prayers effective, we need
to think in harmony with the mind of God. Right thinking will have
practical consequences. The first commandment is to love God; the
second to love our neighbor. The second is the consequence of the
first and must result in practical concern for the welfare of
"Forgive us our
sins", the Lord taught his disciples to pray. Indeed, without that
forgiveness of sins we cannot enjoy the relationship with God
which enables us to address Him as "Our Father". We have to accept
the practical consequence of asking God for forgiveness. Firstly
we are told, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved"
(Mark 16:1 6). Following from this act of faith, we are no more
"strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints,
and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19). That relationship
with those who are now our brothers and sisters in the Lord makes
demands upon us and requires us to exercise our responsibilities
as members of God's family. And this in its turn requires us to
show love and compassion to all men, preaching the Gospel of
forgiveness in Christ by word and deed.
The Lord emphasized these practical
consequences when he added to the words "Forgive us our sins" the
heart-searching confession, "for we also forgive everyone who sins
against us" (Luke 11:4, N.I.V.). The Bible roundly condemns those
who honor God with their lips but have hearts that are far from
Him. "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and
in truth" (1 John 3:18). Prayer cannot be effective if we
are acting in ways that are patently inconsistent with the
relationship we claim with God through our prayers.
A Concern for
"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without
anger or disputing", Paul advised Timothy (1 Timothy 2:8, N.I.V.).
The person who bears a grudge against his brother, or is refusing
to speak to him, or stirs up trouble against him, cannot expect
God to forgive him. "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and
there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave
there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be
reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift"
(Matthew 5:23-24). This is the teaching of Jesus.
The apostle Peter makes a similar
point, this time emphasising the importance of right relationships
in our homes and the exercising of our responsibilities within our
considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with
respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the
gracious gift of life, so that nothing Will hinder your
prayers" (1 Peter 3:7, N.I.V.).
It is good that in our prayers we
should bring before God the needs of others. Not only will this in
itself help us to see our own problems in perspective, but it will
remind us of our responsibility to do something for those about
whom we pray. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian
believers he recalled how regularly he prayed on their behalf, but
he also recalled the practical steps he took to minister to their
needs when he sent to them Timothy, "to establish you and to
comfort you concerning your faith" (1 Thessalonians 1:2; 3:1-3;
People receive great strength from
the knowledge that prayers are being offered on their behalf and
many can testify to the ways in which prayer has opened up doors
confident and humble mind,
Freedom in service I would find,
Praying through every toil assigned,
Thy will be done."
"Lead us not into
This petition is directly connected with the need for forgiveness
of sins for our relationship with God to be sustained. In prayer
we need to review our spiritual progress before the Lord,
confessing to Him our failures, in the knowledge that those who
have entered into fellowship with Him through the Lord Jesus are
assured of the forgiveness of those sins: "If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us
from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Naturally, we are not expected to
go straight out and deliberately commit the same sin, though it is
very likely that in spite of our best endeavors, we shall often
fail. There is a distinct difference between deliberate and
calculated sin and sin which recurs because of weakness. Watching
is frequently associated with prayer. It implies alertness, being
on our spiritual guard, a determination to avoid falling into the
snare of sin. So Jesus exhorted his disciples: "Watch and pray,
that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing,
but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). If we pray for help to
avoid sin, we shall certainly receive that help if we allow
ourselves to be influenced and guided by God's Word, if we
associate with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, if we avoid
those situations which we know will weaken our resolve.
When, Where and
There is no aspect of the spiritual life which is not touched by
prayer. Therefore to "pray without ceasing" is not about non-stop
talk to God. The point is that every moment of our lives should be
lived in the consciousness of the presence of God.
Nevertheless, we do well to set
aside certain times when we concentrate our minds in communion
with God. The law of Moses prescribed that the High Priest should
burn incense, a symbol of prayer, morning and evening. It is good
that we should begin the day with God and that we should review
before Him the day's activities before we go to bed. Mealtimes
provide an opportunity, particularly when we are with our
families, for more than a perfunctory saying of grace -- an
opportunity to speak to God with our families about various needs
and concerns. Other opportunities will arise in accordance with
each person's circumstances and commitments.
It is not necessary to adopt a
particular position for prayer. We may be able to kneel by our
bedside at night; in other circumstances we may be standing,
sitting or flat on our backs. When Nehemiah stood in the presence
of the king of Persia and was given the opportunity to make a
request on behalf of his people, he first made a silent request to
God for help (Nehemiah 2:4). How well this reveals the practical
nature of prayer. There is no circumstance in which it is not
When we read the life of the Lord
Jesus, we see how much prayer was a part of his daily experience,
the source of renewal, guidance and strength that enabled him to
fulfil his taxing r6le. We have glimpses of him on a mountain
alone, spending all night in prayer before making momentous
decisions, or seeking help before an exhausting preaching tour. If
ever there was a man whose life exemplified the power of prayer,
it is the Lord. If, as we should, we feel inadequate in our
efforts to commune with God and to express those innermost
longings that lie in our hearts, then we have the consolation of
knowing that if we have given him our allegiance, he will bear our
feeble efforts into the presence of his Father, perfecting that
which is lacking:
"He is able to save
them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever
liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).
We have an individual responsibility to cultivate the habit of
prayer and this responsibility extends to our families. We have
already seen that effective prayer must lead to acceptance of the
Gospel through belief and baptism, with the responsibilities which
follow as a result of becoming members of the family of God. Jesus
himself prayed for the effective witness of those who, through the
preaching of the word of truth, should be united together (John
Men and women who are united on the basis of the teaching of the
Lord must certainly pray together. We read how those who were
baptized on the day of Pentecost after the preaching of Peter
"continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship,
and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). When the
believers met together, as they did on the first day of the week
for remembering the sacrifice of Christ through the breaking of
bread, and at other times whenever opportunity permitted, prayer
was a natural part of their worship and witness. Some moving
scenes are presented to us in the Acts of the Apostles as the
disciples strengthened one another, often in trying circumstances.
We read of the apostle Paul urgently reminding the elders of
Ephesus of their responsibilities: "And when he had thus spoken,
he kneeled down and prayed with them all" (Acts 20:36). Later on
the same journey, Paul and his companions stopped briefly at Tyre.
They did not hesitate to look up the disciples there and when they
came to leave, "they all brought us on our way, with wives and
children, till we were out of the city; and we kneeled down on the
shore and prayed" (Acts 21:5).
It is, of course, possible for a
person to live in isolation from his brothers and sisters in the
Lord. Visits, letters, telephone calls are all possible to help
maintain vital fellowship. But when we can meet regularly together
to share in the work and witness of "the household of faith" we
are without excuse if we shirk our responsibilities. Besides
failing in our duty to strengthen others, we shall ourselves be
denied the power which comes from united prayer and worship:
the world I am, In whatso'er estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts To keep and cultivate;
A work of lowly love to do For him on whom I wait."
The Blessings of
What blessings flow from the fellowship which is possible for
those who seek the will of God through His Word and are united by
their association with the person and teaching of the Lord Jesus
Christ! A study of the lives of great men in Bible times reveals
how the practice of prayer was woven into the pattern of their
lives. How wonderfully David, for example, was able to triumph
over the turmoil of his life and achieve a state of calm and
joyful assurance on the basis of his faith in the Lord. The Psalms
which he wrote provide numerous examples of the power of prayer:
"O taste and see that
the Lord is good; Blessed is the man that trusteth in him" (Psalm
The Lord God Himself challenges us
to test for ourselves the benefits of that trust and obedience
which is the basis of true worship:
"Prove me . . . saith
the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven,
and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough
to receive it" (Malachi 3:10).
An invitation is extended to each
one of us that we, "by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving"
may come to share the hope of the Gospel, as a result of which
"the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your
hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
Are you willing to pray the words
of the Psalmist that follow?
"Let thy mercies come
also unto me, O LORD, Even thy salvation, according to thy word"
day with God
Kneel down to Him in prayer;
Lift up thy head to His abode,
And seek His love to share.
Open the Book of God;
And read a portion there;
That it may hallow all thy thoughts,
And sweeten all thy care.
Go through the day with God,
Whate'er thy work may be;
Where'er thou art, at home, abroad,
He still is near to thee.
Converse in mind with God;
Thy spirit heavenward raise;
Acknowledge every good bestowed,
And offer grateful praise.
Conclude the day with God;
Thy sins to Him confess;
Trust in the Lord's atoning blood,
And plead His righteousness.
Lie down at night with God,
Who gives His servants sleep;
And when thou tread'st the vale of death,
He will thee guard and keep.
Several of the quotations in
italics are from The Christadelphian Hymn Book, as follows:
p. 4, no. 120; p. 14, no. 105; p. 15, no. 106; p. 18, no. 89.