Ask 10 different people how to pray, and you will get 10 different answers. Some will say you must wash various parts of your body or assume a certain position. Others will insist that you pray at specified times, make certain gestures, or have beads or charms in your possession to begin prayer. I can say with all confidence that all of this is pure nonsense. How can I be so bold? Because 2000 years ago, a man asked God Himself how to pray, and this is what God had to say.
Luk 11:1 And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. Luk 11:2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Luk 11:3 Give us day by day our daily bread. Luk 11:4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
Those are the words of Christ Jesus. If you question whether Jesus is God, see the article titled What is God? This prayer is often called the "Lord's Prayer" or "Model Prayer" and that is how it will be referred to here.
Jesus also gave a remarkable sermon often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon gave instructions for how everyone should conduct themselves. In this sermon, Jesus specifically told us how to pray and also how not to pray.
Mat 6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Mat 6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Mat 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Mat 6:8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. Mat 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Mat 6:10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Mat 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread. Mat 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Mat 6:13 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.
What did Jesus tell us to do here? He told us to pray in private. We should not stand on the street corner and pray to gain attention or to show how "righteous" we are. It is hard to read these verses without recalling images of men rocking back and forth at certain "holy" places, or others spinning wheels, or still others bowed down on carpets at certain times of the day. One may see how these practices conflict with the above verses.
One of the latest fads to come along is the posting of private prayers on Facebook or in emails. Do we need social media or email to communicate with God? Certainly not. For what purpose are these prayers posted then? Our prayers are between us and God. They are not to be shared with the world. Will the world answer our prayers? God alone will answer our prayers, and there is nothing righteous about showing others how often we pray. This does not mean that we should never gather with others to pray or that we should not pray for others. However, if we make a post to social media that begins with the words "Dear Heavenly Father" or ends with the word "amen" or "Thank you Lord," those are good indications what we are posting is a prayer. Actual prayers should be communicated between people and God, and they have no place on social media. Furthermore, doing so may cause more harm than good as Matthew 6:5 makes clear. There are post on social media that say something like "1 like = 1 prayer." Clicking the like button is not how we pray. That said, there are times when social media can play a role in prayer. For instance, one might use social media or email to ask friends and relatives to pray about a certain situation. However, the actual prayers should not be performed on social media.
As stated before, there are absolutely times when group prayer is desirable and acceptable to God. The following verse shows by example that praying together can be proper.
Act 12:12 And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
I would say the same rules we saw earlier also apply to group prayer. We should not gather on the street corner to pray together in order to draw attention. Rather, we should gather in a house of worship or in private homes. The purpose of the gathering should be to pray to God and not to make a spectacle of ourselves or to put our faith on display.
The next point Jesus makes is to tell us who to pray to. This is a most important statement and one which many people pay little attention. Jesus tells us that after we "shut thy door," or in other words, after we ensure that we are in a private place, we should pray to the Father. Some will tell us that we should or could pray to Mary, holy queen, mother of mercy, the pope etc. Jesus, Himself tells us to pray to the Father. We must pray to God alone, and no one else. Some will say there is an intercessor in Mary. The scriptures tell us otherwise.
1Ti 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
If we are praying to something or someone other than God, we certainly cannot expect God to answer those prayers. If those prayers are answered, we would be foolish if we did not ask by what power they were answered. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Certainly not.
The next point that Jesus makes is to tell us not use vain repetitions. That would leave chanting out. What about praying the "rosary"? Besides violating "who" to pray to, praying the rosary also appears to violate this point. What about those long winded prayers with all the "thees and thous," but with very little substance, which we have all been witness to in church services? Are these prayers fruitful? If we ask the same thing in 10 different ways, will it help? According to Christ, it will not help. I will use the following circumstance as an example. A group of people are gathered together to pray for Bob and Sue who have cancer. One person prays a 10 second prayer for Bob and a second person then prays a 5 minute prayer for Sue. Will the 5 minute prayer be more fruitful? Is the power in the words of the person praying or in God? Some people will not attend or will not participate in group prayer meetings. These people may think that they do not know how to pray properly because they lack the ability to stretch a 10 second prayer into a 5 minute prayer. Jesus tells us clearly that more speaking is not better.
Mat 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
God knows what we need. We do not need to explain it to Him in 10 different ways.
Jesus gives us the words to the Lord's Prayer again in Matthew 6:9 - 13. Does this mean we should only pray this prayer exactly as it is relayed here? Not at all. To begin with, the Lord's Prayer as listed in the book of Luke differs slightly from the Lord's Prayer as listed in the book of Matthew. The Bible goes further though and tells us to ask God for what we want.
Php 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Notice that none of these verses instruct us to pray at a certain time. They do not tell us to wash any part of our bodies before praying. They do not tell us that we must have certain beads or charms to pray. They do not say we must assume a certain position to pray. They do not say we must make certain gestures. This is the Word of God specifically telling us how to pray. If any of these things were required, God would have given that instruction in these verses. There is no question. If these things were required, He would have told us in these verses.
When should we pray? I stated before that people will often tell us that we must pray at certain times of the day. These people will often pull out a few scriptures to make their point. For example this verse says every morning and evening.
1Ch 23:30 And to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD, and likewise at even;
There is also this verse which says evening, morning and at noon.
Psa 55:17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
However, this next verse says all the time.
1Th 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
Which is it? To say that we must pray at a certain time of day is missing the big picture. The next verse puts it all into perspective.
1Th 5:17 Pray without ceasing. 1Th 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Praying is not just asking God for something whenever we decide we want something. Praying is a way of life. Praying is a constant communication with God throughout each day. Praying is praising God. Praying is giving thanks to God for all of the little things that enrich our daily lives. Praying is also asking for the things we want or need. Prayer is our way of communicating with God. The creator of the universe is always listening for your prayers. He wants to communicate with you.
Sometimes we get the idea that we must assume a certain position in order for our prayers to be heard. It would be hard to pray without ceasing if we were to assume a certain position each time we prayed. There are plenty of verses that speak of people bowing or falling on their faces before God. There are also verses which depict people lifting up their hands, standing, singing and even dancing.
Psa 134:2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.
Psa 28:2 Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.
1Ch 23:30 And to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD, and likewise at even;
Psa 149:3 Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
Is there a time when praying is not enough? Is there a way to supercharge our prayers? The answer is yes. We learn this in several verses, but none make the concept clearer than Matthew 17:14 - 21. A man had a son who was possessed. He brought the child to the disciples, but they could not rid the child of the devil. Jesus then rebuked the devil which departed out of the child. When the disciples asked Jesus why they were not able to cast the devil out, he replied.
Mat 17:21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
Here are a couple more verses which indicate that fasting is a way of supplementing prayer.
Psa 35:13 But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.
Joe 2:12 Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
Jesus also gave us some instructions on fasting during the Sermon on the Mount. The instructions are very similar to the instructions for praying. We are not to advertise the fact that we are fasting.
Mat 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Mat 6:17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; Mat 6:18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Will God answer all of our prayers? The short answer is no. I am sure that every one of us, at one time or another, has wanted something that would not have been good for us. God can discern what is good for us much better than we can discern for ourselves.
No article on prayer would be complete without speaking to the issue of praying for money. If we pray that we will win the lottery, our prayers will not be answered. There are many verses which warn us away from the love of money. Here are two.
1Ti 6:9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 1Ti 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Notice that verse said the love of money is the root of all evil. This verse is often misquoted as "money is the root of all evil." Money is neither good nor evil, and money alone cannot effect one's soul. It is the love of money that causes people to fail. It is the love of money that causes brother to betray brother. An abundance of money gives a false sense of security. It is often easier to trust in money than in the word of God. Yet money can be taken away in an instant. How many have gone from millionaire to dead broke in the twinkling of an eye at the whim of Wall Street? Jesus said it best.
Luk 18:25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
This is because we tend to trust, and put our faith in, money when we have an abundance of it. We should put our faith in God, not the things of this world. This is not to say that being materially wealthy is a sin. Solomon was given great wealth, but Solomon did not ask for it. Solomon asked for an understanding heart. God granted his request and made him the wisest man to ever live, past, present and future. In addition, God gave him wealth and honor. This is an example of God giving abundantly when a person prays with a pure heart.
1Ki 3:5 In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee. 1Ki 3:6 And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 1Ki 3:7 And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. 1Ki 3:8 And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. 1Ki 3:9 Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? 1Ki 3:10 And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. 1Ki 3:11 And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; 1Ki 3:12 Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. 1Ki 3:13 And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. 1Ki 3:14 And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.
That was an example where God gave much more than Solomon asked for. There are also many reasons why God may not answer a prayer. All too often, I think God is treated like a magic lamp to be pulled out in time of emergency. I do not think it is reasonable to ignore God until we are affected by some major event and then whip out a quick prayer and expect God to serve us. We must serve God. We must not expect God to serve us. We must develop a relationship with God in our daily lives. Only then, can we expect our prayers to be answered. Even then, some prayers will go unanswered. Here is one instance in the Bible to illustrate this point.
David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. To read this story, start reading at 2 Samuel 11:1. Bathsheba became pregnant with David's child. David first attempted to trick Uriah into believing it was his own child. That plan failed, so David had Uriah carry his own death sentence to Joab. Uriah was killed in the heat of battle just as David had planned. Of course, God was displeased with David. God sent Nathan the prophet to make David aware of his sins and also to tell David that the child would die. Bathsheba then gave birth, and God made the child sick. David prayed and even supercharged his prayer by fasting, yet God did not answer David's prayer, and the child died. David's prayer was in opposition to the will of God. We can expect no less when we pray. If our prayers are in opposition to the will of God, our prayers will not be answered.
What should we do when our prayers are not answered? We will go back to the story of David and Bathsheba and pick up where the child dies.
2Sa 12:15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. 2Sa 12:16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. 2Sa 12:17 And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. 2Sa 12:18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? 2Sa 12:19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. 2Sa 12:20 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. 2Sa 12:21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. 2Sa 12:22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? 2Sa 12:23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
These verses tell us when our prayers go unanswered, we must submit to the will of God, and we must get back on the proverbial horse. We must accept that God's ways are perfect. We must accept that we cannot begin to understand the wisdom of God. We must continue to praise God and to serve Him.
Does praying really do any good? Absolutely. Here is one example where a man was given 15 additional years of life, simply by asking God for it.
2Ki 20:1 In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. 2Ki 20:2 Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, 2Ki 20:3 I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. 2Ki 20:4 And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 2Ki 20:5 Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. 2Ki 20:6 And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
Is God only for the Jewish people? No.
Rom 10:12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. Rom 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
What is required to have effective prayer? We must have faith. Great faith. It does no good to pray to a God in whom we have no faith.
Jas 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. Jas 1:7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. Jas 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
What if we lack faith? How can we get it? We must open the Bible and begin reading. We must listen to the word of God.
Rom 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
If we seek God, He will respond.
Luk 11:9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Luk 11:10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Luk 11:11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Luk 11:12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? Luk 11:13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Jesus tells us in these verses, if we ask, we will receive. He then goes on to tell us that if we as sinners know how to give good gifts, then God knows how to give the greatest gift of all: the Holy Spirit. One of the first things we may encounter when we begin to read the Bible is the realization we do not understand what we are reading. Many people will change the Bible they read at this point. I urge anyone reading this to not fall into this trap. See the article titled "Which Bible should I read?"
We should not attempt to modify God or the word of God. We should modify ourselves to be in line with the will of God. If we ask God for understanding, He will provide understanding.
Jas 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Perhaps, this should be the first prayer anyone makes. I can speak from experience that having answered prayers is more about coming into line with the will of God than anything else. Having our prayers answered is about modifying and molding ourselves into the person God would have us be. It is then we begin to appreciate and ask God for the things that are within His will for us. There are a lot of folks out there preaching to itching ears. They are telling people they can have anything their earthly heart desires. This is true. Anyone can have whatever their earthly heart desires, IF they are willing to pay the price. The price may be to betray the living God. Feeding the lusts of the flesh is not of God.
"God spoke to me." The last point I want to cover is the phrase "God spoke to me." This phrase may be a great stumbling block for some people. We hear this phrase all the time. Pastors often use it, and we sometimes see it posted on social media. It seems God is speaking to everyone. He is telling this person to claim a car or that person to claim a motorcycle for their ministry. He is telling one pastor He is coming soon. He is telling another pastor it will be a little while longer before He comes. He is telling another pastor that a great earthquake will hit a certain area. He is telling another pastor to build a bunker and lay up arms and ammunition. The truth is that God is not speaking to any of these people. If we read our Bible, we will see that God does not normally work that way. God sends angles and prophets to communicate. God uses the earth to communicate, but it is on very rare occasions when God actually speaks to man. Take a look at these verses.
Deu 4:32 For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Deu 4:33 Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?
These verses tell us from creation to that point, which is after the flood and after God had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, it was a rarity for anyone to hear the voice of God. It is rare that God verbally speaks to Man. God spoke to Adam and Eve. God spoke to Noah. But for the most part, God uses prophets, angels, and dreams to communicate with man. Do not be dismayed if it seems that God is speaking to everyone but you. If someone says "God spoke to me," we can be assured that God did not speak to them. I recently heard a pastor tell a congregation that the Lord had spoken to him in a dream. The pastor went on to give the details of the dream in which a pagan idol had turned into Jesus and spoke to this pastor. I quickly concluded that there may have been someone speaking to the pastor in this dream, but it was not God. We cannot let the boasting of these people cause us to lose faith.
We must build our faith to communicate with God on His schedule. We will know when God is working in our lives, not because He tells us, but because we will see the changes in our circumstances and ourselves. We will understand what kind of person God would have us be and we will see ourselves becoming that person. It may appear at the time that God works very slowly. However, in hindsight, He may appear to work at lightning speed. The impossible becomes possible. Our eyes are opened little by little. I will leave the final word on prayer to the Master.
Luk 18:10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. Luk 18:11 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. Luk 18:12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. Luk 18:13 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. Luk 18:14 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.
Would you like to pray, but you are not quite sure how to begin? Perhaps, you pray often, but you think you may not be doing it correctly. Have you prayed, but what you prayed for did not come to pass? Would you like to supercharge your prayers? This article will address these concerns and more. Most of the words are not my own. I have simply copied them from the Bible and humbly present my understanding along with the scriptures. The format of the article makes clear where God's words end and mine begin.
How to Pray
By Robby Lockeby