Communicating with God

Prayer

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.—Philippians 4:6, NIV

Tim Thomassen

If this is our way of life, then the following verse describes the result: "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (verse 7).

Prayer has to do with entreating, interceding, supplication, and worship. Prayer involves an earnest request to God for something. It is an act or practice or an instance of beseeching, petition, the offering of adoration, confession, and giving thanks to God.

The following quotations emphasize the nature and importance of prayer. They reflect the attitude of many who are endeavoring to worship God in spirit and in truth:

"It is not necessary to dogmatize by saying that prayer is magic, or soliloquy, or communion, or petition for this and that, in order to see that it is the expression of a human need."

"Prayer is the flight of the alone to the Alone, a conversation between creature and Creator."

"My prayers are always answered with a yes, a no, a maybe or a wait."

"I pray for support—and I also pray for results. I pray for victory, and I pray that God will get the glory from it in some way. But above all, I pray that his will be done."

"Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed; the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast."

"While prayer is a privilege and not a command, yet our condition makes it necessary."

"Prayer is very essential, absolutely indispensable, to Christian growth, yea, to spiritual existence."

"Prayer does not always change things for you. But it does change you for things."

"The wonder of it all is that we are not praying all the time."

The words of Paul in Philippians 4:6 indicate that the Lord’s followers are to pray with respect to all of their requests. This includes our wants, afflictions, embarrassments, trials, successes, and everything related to our spiritual condition. There is nothing which pertains to our hopes, desires, conflicts, losses, or fears regarding which we may not go and pour out before the Lord.

Prayer as Communication

Prayer is worshipful communication with the true God. Mere speech to God is not necessarily prayer for prayer involves devotion, trust, respect, and a sense of dependence on the one to whom the prayer is directed.

Petitions and supplications, of course, can be made to men. The original language words are sometimes so used in the Bible (see Genesis 44:18; 50:17; Acts 25:11). But the English word "prayer" used in a religious sense, does not apply to such cases. One might beseech or implore another person to do something, but in so doing, he would not view this individual as his God. He would not, for example, silently petition such a one, as he does in prayer to God.

The entire Scriptural record testifies that God is the one to whom prayer should be directed (Psalm 5:1,2; Matthew 6:9). It also indicates that God is the "hearer of prayer" (Psalm 65:2, 66:19). In Mark 11:24 and Ephesians 3:20, we are told that God has power to act on behalf of the petitioners.

Even during the period that Israel was God’s "private property," so to speak, his covenant people, foreigners could approach Jehovah in prayer by recognizing Israel as God’s appointed instrument and the temple at Jerusalem as his chosen place for sacrifice (2 Chronicles 6:32,33). Later, by Christ’s death, the distinction between Jew and Gentile was eliminated (Ephesians 2:11-16). Peter said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right" (Acts 10:34,35, NIV).

The determining factor, then, is the heart condition of the individual and what his heart is moving him to do (Psalm 119:145; Lamentations 3:41). Those who observe God’s commandments and do "the things that are pleasing in his eyes" have the assurance that his ears are also open to them (1 John 3:22; Psalm 10:17; Proverbs 15:8; 1 Peter 3:12).

Prayers involve confession (2 Chronicles 30:22), petitions or requests (Hebrews 5:7), expressions of praise and thanksgiving (Psalm 34:1; 92:1) and vows (1 Samuel 1:11; Ecclesiastes 5:2-6). The famous prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples, as recorded in Matthew 6, was a model. Jesus himself and his followers did not rigidly adhere to those specific words in praying.

Initially this ideal prayer concentrated on the prime issue: calling for the sanctification of God’s name which began to be reproached by the rebellion in Eden, and for the realization of the return of the divine will through the promised kingdom.

Prayers for Kings

In 1Timothy 2:1,2 the apostle spoke of prayers being made regarding all men, for kings and all those who are in authority. However, on his final night with his disciples, Jesus, in prayer, said that he did not make request concerning the world, but for those whom God had given him, and that these were not of the world but were hated by the world (John 17:9,14).

Therefore, it would seem that prayers regarding the world’s leaders are not without limitation. The apostle’s further words indicate that such prayers ultimately benefit God’s people. Paul said that the outcome would be "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty."

Nehemiah prayed that God would "give him mercy before King Artaxerxes" (Nehemiah 1:11). God instructed the Israelites to "seek the peace of the city" (Babylon) in which they would be exiled, praying on its behalf, since "in its peace, there will prove to be peace for you yourselves" (Jeremiah 29:7).

Acts 4:23-30 demonstrated that Christians in the early church prayed concerning the threats of rulers in their day. Most likely their prayers on behalf of imprisoned Peter also involved the officials with authority to release him (Acts12:5). And, following Jesus’ teaching, they prayed for those persecuting them (Matthew 5:44; Acts 26:28,29; Romans 10:1-3).

It is probably safe to say that ultimately it is knowledge of God’s will that should regulate the essence of one’s prayers. If one’s prayer is to be granted, it must please God. Knowing that the wicked and those disregarding God’s word have no audience with him, the one who prays should not request that which is unrighteous and opposed to God’s revealed will, including the teachings of God’s son and his inspired apostles (John 15:7,16).

Prayer Requests

Petitions regarding the asking of "anything" (John 16:23) should not be taken too literally. "Anything" does not include things that an individual knows, or has reason to believe, are not pleasing to God. "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him" (1 John 5:14,15, NIV).

Prayers must be made to God on right matters, those in harmony with his declared purposes. Prayers must also be made in the right manner, through God’s appointed way, Christ Jesus. Prayers must be uttered with a right motive and a clean heart (James 4:3-6). Along with this, there is need for persistence. Jesus said to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking, not giving up (Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-7).

We must remember that God’s concept of time is quite different than ours. The seeming delay on his part in answering some prayers is not due to any inability nor to a lack of willingness, as the Scriptures make clear (Matthew 7:9-11; James 1:5,17). In some cases, the answer must await God’s "timetable" (Luke 18:7; 1 Peter 5:6; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 6:9-11).

It is evident that God allows his petitioners to demonstrate the depth of their concern, the intensity of their desire, and the genuineness of their motive (Psalm 55:17; 88:1,13; Romans 1:9-11). At times, they must be like Jacob in his wrestling long to obtain a blessing (Genesis 32:24-26).

Delays are not refusals. Many a prayer is registered, and underneath it the words may read: "My time is not yet come." God has a set time as well as a set purpose, and he who orders the bounds of our habitation orders also the time of our deliverance.

Some men may feel pressured into acting. Although this is not true of God, it does seem that he notices the extent of concern shown among his servants as a body, taking action when they collectively show deep concern and united interest (Exodus 2:23-25). Where a measure of apathy exists, God may withhold action.

Intercessory Prayer

The Bible stresses the power of intercessory prayer, whether by an individual or a group. It was in regard to praying for one another that James said: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16, NIV). Another example of this type of prayer is found in Hebrews 13:18,19, NIV. A very human request that all humble, sincere Christians must often make of their brethren is contained in the following words: "Pray for us. We are sure that we have a pure conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon."

The reference in Philippians 4:6 is to both prayer and supplication, suggesting that there is a similarity between the two. However, the word "supplication" is a stronger term than the word "prayer." It is the mode of prayer which stems from the sense of need or want. Supplication would suggest a pleading or appeal for God’s promised, providential care. We further note that our prayers and supplications should be made "with thanksgiving." In Colossians 4:2 it is written: "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving."

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving should always be connected with prayer. This connection is also shown in 1Thessalonians 5:18: "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." We should always find something to be thankful for, no matter what may be the burden of our wants or the special subject of our petitions. It takes supreme confidence in the wisdom, power, and love of God to give "thanks for all things." This does not mean that we delight in pain and suffering. We simply cling to God’s unchanging attributes.

It is easier to be happy when everything seems to be going our way. We might quickly express thanks to God when we receive the things we desire. But there are times we may have an opposite response when we find ourselves in adverse situations and our heavenly Father does not grant our requests. However, the trusting child of God learns to praise the Lord in every circumstance.

Romans 8:28 has become familiar to many. It is a comforting truth that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose." If we really believe that, then we will give thanks in everything.

"Thanks for thorns as well as roses.
Thanks for weakness and for health.
Thanks for clouds as well as sunshine.
Thanks for poverty and wealth."

It might be well to read and heed these words: "If you do not get everything you want, think of the things you do not get that you do not want."

"‘Twas new to me, yet old to some, This thought that to me has become A revelation of the way We all should live throughout the day. For as each day unfolds its light, We’ll walk by faith and not by sight. Life will indeed, a blessing bring, If we see God in everything."

In Philippians 4:7 (NIV), Paul spoke of the effect of true prayer. The result is the peace of God which transcends all understanding and which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul had just said that we should think of our special needs and so offer our petitions. Then he declared that God would give us something infinitely better than any benefit we can conceive. He wrote in Ephesians 3:20 of him "that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" and there he told the nature of this blessing which surpasses all that we can ourselves imagine. God bestows his peace, the knowledge that he is with us and that we can rest on him.

Prayer is the link that connects us with God. This is the bridge that spans every gulf.

The Supernatural Power of Prayer

Do we know the power of our supernatural communication? Do we dare use it with the authority of a faith that commands as well as asks? God is not wanting great individuals, but he is wanting those who will dare to prove the greatness of their God.

We should beware in our prayer of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by thinking that we know what he can do. Expect unexpected things above all that we ask or think. Each time we pray, we should be quiet first and worship God in his glory. Think of what he can do, and expect great things!

Are you in sorrow? Prayer can make your affliction sweet and strengthening. Are you glad? Prayer can add to your joy a celestial perfume. Are you in extreme danger from outward or inward enemies? Prayer can set at your right hand an angel whose touch could shatter a millstone into smaller dust than the flour it grinds and whose glance could lay an army low. What will prayer do for you? All that God can do for you!

"Wrestling prayer can wonders do,
Bring relief in deepest straits;
Prayer can force a passage through
Iron bars and brazen gates."

We are to have the spirit of prayer in all that we say and do. Our hearts should be going out continually to the Lord for guidance in all of life’s affairs, that we may do with our might what our hands find to do. We would do well to remember and heed these words of our Lord: "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."

Watch and Pray

"Some make the mistake of praying without watching; others make the mistake of watching without praying; but the safe and only proper method is that which our Lord directed, to combine the two. We are to watch, and to be on guard against the encroachments of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are to watch for all the encouragement of the Lord’s Word, the evidence of their fulfillment, the signs that betoken his presence, and the great changes of dispensation just at hand. We are to watch for everything that will strengthen us in faith and hope and loyalty and love and while watching we are to pray without ceasing. We are to pray together as the Lord’s people; we are to pray in our homes, as families; we are to pray in secret, in private."—Reprints, page 2775.

Do you feel guilty because you are not able to spend long periods of time each day in prayer? Perhaps you have a regular but brief time when you read the Bible and pray, but you lack a sense of God’s presence in your life. Do you feel that you aren’t communicating enough with your heavenly Father? That problem plagues individuals whose lives are constantly busy. Here is some advice from the 17th-century French writer François Fenelon: "Learn to make good use of chance moments. When waiting for someone, when going from place to place, or when in society where to be a good listener is all that is required—at such times it is easy to lift the heart to God and thereby gain fresh strength for further duties. ... One moment will suffice to place yourself in God’s presence to love and worship him, to offer all you are doing or bearing, and to spill all your heart’s emotions at his feet."

We can train ourselves to maintain an awareness of the Lord’s presence with us throughout the day and to talk with him as we are able. That’s how we can fulfill the Savior’s directive to "abide in me" (John 15:4).

"There is no time of night or day
When God can’t hear us as we pray;
There is no time, there is no place,
When we can’t draw upon his grace."

"To make the most of your time, take time to pray."

Trusting in Prayer

As Christians, we can certainly trust in the power of prayer. The ways God chooses to answer the sincere requests of his people are his domain, not ours. Sometimes even the timing of God’s answers may be the result of activity that occurs in the spiritual realm.

Perhaps it is a good thing that we don’t fully understand how prayer works or we would be too overwhelmed or intimidated to come before the throne of heavenly grace. But whatever is happening in the heavenly realm, our Father delights in our prayers.

At one point in his ministry, Jesus "went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when evening was come, he was there alone" (Matthew 14:23). Jesus felt the need of perfect solitude.

We know how much interaction with others draws us away from ourselves and exhausts our powers. The man Christ Jesus knew this too, and felt the need of being by himself, of gathering all his powers, of realizing fully his high destiny, his human weakness, his entire dependence on the Father. How much more does the child of God need this, to be alone with spiritual realities, to be alone with God. If ever there was one who could dispense with special seasons for solitude and fellowship, it was our Lord. But he could not do his work or maintain his fellowship in full power without his quiet time.

Someone once wrote of a secluded walk in his garden where his mother always spent a certain hour of the day, upon which nobody ever dreamed of intruding. It was the holy garden of the Lord to her.

Seek thy private chamber! It is in the solitude that we catch the mystic notes that issue from the soul of things.

Time spent in prayer is not lost with respect to the affairs of life. The happiest men and women in the world are those who pray, and pray regularly, who bow the knee as did Daniel.

The moments thus taken from earthly affairs are well spent and bring more than commensurate blessings upon the worshipper and all with which he has to do. It is impossible to live a consecrated life while neglecting prayer.

What would Daniel have been without his praying time? How would his faith in God have persisted in that heathen land? How would his loyalty to principle have maintained itself in the midst of corruption had it not been for his communion with his maker?

To the Christian this privilege is enhanced by a realization that "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous" (1John 2:1). It is in his all-prevailing name that we may approach with courage the throne of heavenly grace, and obtain mercy and find grace to help in every time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

"Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care.
And bids me at my Father’s throne,
Make all my wants and wishes known!

In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief.
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer."