Three ways to live

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The basics of prayer – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:46 pm on Saturday, March 8, 2008

Our church is doing a series of topical studies on prayer in the month of March, and this is the topic we are also discussing in out small group.

1) What is prayer?

There are two main words which mean pray/prayer in the Bible, Hebrew “palal” and Greek “proseuchomai”. The meaning of both words is roughly the same – making requests to God. So in a away, it is completely correct to split the prayers into “thanksgiving prayers”, “petition prayers”, “meditation prayers”, as all prayers should contain some petition. But as the Bible also shows, alongside the petitions, the prayer usually contained meditations, thanksgivings, etc.

2) Why should we pray?

We don’t have to pray, we have the privilege to pray. Deuteronomy 4:7 (NIV)

7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

Prayer is God’s given access to Him. Until we understand this, prayer will always be a grind, something that we have to do but don’t really want to.

3) What should be the petition part of the prayer for?

Many, many things are mentioned in the Bible, including such things as daily needs, health, withholding of judgment, wisdom, Holy Spirit, forgiveness, guidance.

4) Whom do we pray to?

This is not as obvious as it sounds. All Old Testament and Jesus’ prayers were addressed to God directly. New Testament has one examples of prayer addressed to Jesus, see Acts 7:59. We are also to pray to God by through Jesus Eph 5:20, since he is the one who intercedes for us Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25. Spirit also intercedes for us, but by helping us from inside, Rom. 8:26-27.

So the Christians should be praying to God, through Jesus, in and by the Holy Spirit. Note that this stands in stark contrast with the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox teachings suggesting prayers to God through saints (including Mary, the mother of Jesus). Their reason is that since these saints are now with God and have access to him, they can help us with our requests. Yet, in my opinion, this transforms the mediating authority from Jesus to these saints. This practice is never mentioned in the Bible and only appeared (mistakenly or not?) during early church years.

5) What time, where, In what position to pray?

Scripture does not suggest single correct time, place, or posture for prayer. People pray while standing, kneeling, lying down, lifting their hands, sitting, bowing or pounding their chest. They pray in the morning, afternoons, evenings and nights. Some pray alone in secluded locations, some in public.

Having said that, the external factors do matter, as they often are a good reflection of our heart attitude. Desire to pray in public only may stem from pride. Praying while lying on a couch signals our misunderstanding of whom we are speaking to.

6) How to make the prayer more effective?

a) Faith. The faith does play a role – you have to believe that the prayer will be answered, as Mark 11:24 says “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ”

b) Hypocrisy and Sin. Prayers may be ineffective because of hypocrisy, see Matthew 6:5-8 and

Mark 11:25 (NIV)

25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

or sin, Isa. 1:15-17; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24.

c) Powerful people. In the Old Testament, the outcome does seem to depend on who prays. For example, Moses and Samuel seemed to have greater access to God. The Lord once said to Jeremiah: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. ” (Jeremiah 15:1). However, the presence of an “important person” is no guarantee, as even Moses’ prayers sometimes have been rejected, see Exodus 32:30-35

However, the idea of some people having greater access to God has almost disappeared in the New Testament. The often quoted verse from James 5:16-17

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.

is often misunderstood. The righteous man here refers to us, people who were declared righteous by God through the sacrifice of Jesus. This grants us the same access to God as Elijah used to have!

d) Attitude. Often biblical characters suggest to God that he should act in a given way because his honor, glory, grace, mercy or trustworthiness demands such a response. The narrative accounts of these prayers leave the distinct impression that God is pleased when his character is appealed to but not presumed upon (Ex 32:11–14; Num 14:13–22; Deut 9:26–29; Neh 1:4–11).

e) Content. The content bears great importance. God would grant us things if it is according to his will:
1 John 5:14-15 (NIV)

14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

7) Remaining questions. The basics mentioned above do not address all the issues. Even after going through all the points, our group still had many questions, of which I mention the main eight:

1) Why pray if God knows what you will ask him before you actually do (Matthew 6:8)?
2) Why pray if God will only grant your request if it is according to his will, but if it is according to his will, he will do it anyway even if you don’t ask him. In other words, can prayer (or its absence) really change God’s mind and if it cannot, why pray?
3) What is the point of praying in groups, should we just do it individually? Is it more effective?
4) Is it a good idea to pray for something or somebody we are not very familiar with or don’t really care about and hence might not care much about the outcome?
5) If we pray for non-Christians, should these prayers be limited to their salvation or we can pray for other things too, e.g. health?
6) Should we continue asking God about the same thing again and again or trust that he has heard us the first time and have faith that he will eventually act?
7) Can we say that if our prayers do not get answered, then we are doing something wrong?
8) What does it mean to pray in and by the Spirit?
9) What can we pray for? Should it be only about important things or mundane ones too? Where do we draw the line? When do we let go and let God?

We will try to address all these question in our study next week.

1 Comment

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Comment by Mister Snitch!

March 18, 2008 @ 1:05 am

It’s a good mindset that prayer is privilege.

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