What Is Prayer?
The Christian faith is all about a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. The key to any good relationship is communication, the more we communicate with our family, our friends, and those we meet every day, the more we get to know them, and the stronger our relationship grows.
Prayer likewise is communication with God; When we pray we talk to a God who loves us, and who wants the best for us. This communication is not just one way, when we pray God speaks to us.
Why Do We Pray?
When we pray, it brings the power of God to bear on the situations that we are concerned about. Prayer is one of the ways that God is able to work in our lives and in the lives of others, and it opens new possibilities. So we can freely bring all of our concerns, our thoughts and desires, our hurts and our needs to Him, knowing that He is our loving Father, who wants to hear from us.
How Do We Pray
If you are not used to praying, it can be sometimes difficult to know how to start.
Jesus said, 'When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.' (Matthew 6:6)
The wonderful thing, is that we can pray to God at any time, and in any place. We can also pray about anything at all, simply tell God what is on your heart, how you are feeling, what has made you happy today, or what has made you sad, what you are worried about, or what you would like to see change in your life, the life of someone else, or in the world.
It is helpful to set aside a particular time of the day to pray and read their Bibles. If you are a morning person, you may like to pray first thing, if you are an evening person you may pray last thing at night. What matters is that you find a time, and a place (somewhere where you are not going to be distracted) to be with God. Of course you are not limited to praying at this fixed time. You can pray whilst you are walking, or driving the car, doing the washing up, in fact anywhere!
One structure for prayer is given by the acronym 'ACTS', representing adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication (or intercession.)
Adoration: In the Bible we are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). As we start to pray we begin by worshipping God, praising God for who He is, and for all he has done for us.
Confession: We acknowledge that we have said, done and thought things which have damaged our relationship with God. All of us have sinned. St John writes 'If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.' (1 John 1:8-9)
Thanksgiving: From childhood we are brought up to say 'Thank You' when someone does something for us, or gives us a gift. Each moment God is blessing us, every minute we can recall the wonderful things that God has done for us, and the gifts that we have been given. And so, we need to be constantly thanking God for his blessings. In writing to Timothy, Paul makes it clear that we also need to be giving thanks for everyday, worldly things 'I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.' 1 Timothy 2:1.
Supplication or Intercession: Finally we come to ask God for our needs and the needs of others. In the Lord's prayer Jesus taught us to pray 'Give us today our daily bread' (Matthew 6:11) This reminds us that God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, and that we can pray about anything.
Some areas you may wish to think about praying for:
Pray for others: We can pray for our family members, and for neighbours and friends. It's also good to pray for those who don't know Jesus to come to faith - many Christians have come to believe in Christ through the prayers of others.
Pray for world issues: for peace in difficult situations, for leaders and those in influential positions, for global issues such as care of God's environment, justice for the poor, relief of suffering in less developed countries, and other issues that come to you.
Pray for your own needs too: We can pray for our own particular needs and concerns, and ask God to help us through life.
Does God Always Answer Prayer?
The simple answer is yes. But sometimes the answer is not the one we hope for, or expect.
For example God will not act in a way that is inconsistent with his character or nature. So if our prayer request is wrong, or misguided the answer may be 'No'.
Sometimes we don't get the answers we hoped for because unconfessed sin causes a barrier between us and God. This barrier must be removed before we can expect God to hear and answer our prayers.
Sometimes we pray with the wrong motives, and this can be a hindrance to getting what we ask for. Not every request for a new Porsche gets answered! James, the brother of Jesus, writes:
'You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.' (James 4:2-3)
Sometimes prayers are not answered because what we are requesting is not good for us. If a five year old wants to play with a carving knife, a good parent will say 'no!'. God will answer 'no' if the things we ask for are 'either not good in themselves, or not good for us or for others, directly or indirectly, immediately or ultimately' (John Stott).
Sometimes the answers to our prayers are 'wait'. We should be grateful that God doesn't always answer our prayers in the way we would expect. Ruth Graham (married to American Evangelist Billy Graham) told an audience in Minneapolis, 'God has not always answered my prayers. If he had, I would have married the wrong man several times!'
Sometimes we do not know why the answer to our prayers is no, even if the request was good. In these circumstances the challenge for us is to go on believing and trusting in God in spite of the fact that we don't understand why a prayer wasn't answered in the way we would have hoped for or expected.
Bill Hybels in his book 'Too Busy Not to Pray' writes:
- If the request is wrong, God says 'No'
- If the timing in wrong, God says 'Slow'
- If you are wrong, God says, 'Grow'
- But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, 'Go!'