How to Pray
In his instructive little book, Method in Prayer, W. Graham
Scroggie has aptly said: “One of the greatest mistakes that a Christian can make, is to imagine that increased social or spiritual activity can be any compensation for the lack of secret communion with God. A prayerful life is always a powerful life; and a prayerless life is always a powerless life. If we cannot pray aright, we really can do nothing aright; but how slow we are to believe that. We find a spiritual law at work in the uniform experience that the more we pray, the more we need to, and want to; and the less we pray, the less is the desire to do so” (p. 11).
This study is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment on prayer, but rather an earnest attempt to thoughtfully consider several basic principles of prayer, and this, with a view to gaining a fuller knowledge and understanding of effectual praying. In order to more conveniently handle the numerous elements which enter into our subject, we want to develop it around five couplets, the first being
The Pattern and Prominence of Prayer
The Pattern. The perfect pattern, or example, of prayer is the Lord
Jesus Christ. It would be well for every believer to read the Four Gospels through with the express purpose of marking and studying the prayer life of Christ. His revealed prayer life may be looked at under four simple headings as follows:
1. His prayers at the great events in His life (Luke 3:21; 9:29; 22:39-46).
2. His prayers in the course of His ministry (Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; 11:1).
3. His prayers at His miracles (Mark 1:35; 6:41; 7:34; John 11:41).
4. His prayers for others (Luke 22:32; 23:34; John 17:6-19, 20-26). It may be a well worn point, yet it’s nonetheless true, that if it was necessary for Christ to pray as He did during His earthly ministry, how much more for us! Also, let us never lose sight of our Lord’s present and continual intercession for His people during His present session at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 4:14; 7:25ff.).
The Prominence. Throughout the New Testament, apart from appealing to the Old Testament, God’s people are exhorted to pray (e.g., Luke 18:1; Acts 2:42; 8:13; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Pet. 4:7; Jude 20).
Our second couplet concerns —
The Place and Posture of Prayer
The Place. Prayer may be offered to God anywhere. There is no limitation whatsoever as to place, but the best kind of place is revealed in Matthew 6:6 (don’t be too lazy to look it up!). Our place of prayer may be a room, a quiet little nook, or even a secluded spot out-of-doors when the weather permits our use of it.
The Posture. Generally speaking, the best physical posture in prayer, and the one set forth most frequently in the Scriptures, is kneeling (e.g., 1 Kings 8:54; Dan. 6:10; Luke 22:41; Acts 9:11, 18, 40; 20:36; 21:5). However, much more important than the physical posture is the inward posture of the heart (cf. Matt. 21:22; Jas. 1:6; see the illustration of 2 Kings 13:14-19).
Our third couplet involves
The Phraseology and Parts of Prayer
The Phraseology. The Word of God plainly teaches that prayer should be addressed to the Father (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2), in the Name of the Son (John 14:13; 16:24; Acts 4:7-10; 1 Cor. 5:4), and in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20). There is no Scriptural basis for praying to the Holy Spirit, though it is in order to address the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer (John 14:13-14). However, the specific divine order is succinctly expressed in the words of Ephesians 2:18.
At this point it might be well to interject a few comments on another aspect related to the phraseology of prayer. In our praying, both privately and publicly, the question is sometimes raised as to the pronouns we use in addressing God. With numerous modern day translations much in vogue, the familiar “you,” “your” and “yours” are employed by many, especially by today’s young people, as opposed to the more formal “thee,” “thou,” “thy” and “thine.” I do not for a moment question either the sincerity or earnestness of those who use the less formal language in their praying, yet the writer strongly favors the more formal address, both from the standpoint of reverence and the needful realization of the God with whom we have to do (cf. Phil. 2:12-13). Perhaps you will disagree with me on this matter, and if so, I am hopeful that (to use an old platitude) you will “agree to disagree without being disagreeable.”
The Parts. W. Graham Scroggie has ably summed up the parts, or elements, of prayer as follows:
1. ADORATION, the worship of God (Psa. 9; 66; 1 Sam. 2:1-10).
2. CONFESSION, the acknowledgment of sin (Psa. 66:18; Matt. 5:23-24 with 1 John 1:9; 3:20-22; Isa. 1:10-18).
3. PETITION, faith’s claim for personal need (Jas. 4:3 with 5:17).
4. INTERCESSION, the soul’s ministry at the Throne of Grace on behalf of others (Col. 4:12-13; 1 Thess. 1:3).
5. THANKSGIVING, the heart’s expression of joy in God (Psa. 105:1; 107:1; 118:1; Eph. 5:19-20; Phil. 4:6; Col. 1:12).
Our fourth couplet centers upon --
The Promise and Perseverance of Prayer
The Promise. In John 14:14 the Lord Jesus Christ said: “If ye shall ask any thing in My name, I will do it.” These words embrace the requirement, extent, condition and promise of prayer. The closing words may be literally rendered: “I will get to work” (there is no “it” in the Greek text).
G. R. Harding Wood has said: “Over your barren life today there hangs a cloud of blessing — just what you need. Your believing prayer is like the current of air that brings the shower down upon the hard soil.”
The Perseverance. Though this has always been one of the mysteries about prayer, the Word of God plainly teaches perseverance in prayer (e.g., Gen. 18:23-33; Dan. 10:2ff.; Luke 18: 1-8). It is well to remember that God, in His perfect wisdom, does not always answer our prayers in the affirmative. If He delays in answering our prayers, His delays are not necessarily denials, but may be for one of several reasons:
1. Our asking may not be in faith (Jas. 1:6).
2. Our asking may be for self, rather than for the glory of God (Jas. 4:3).
3. We may be harboring unconfessed sin (Psa. 66:18; Isa. 1:15).
4. God’s revealed will may be contrary to our asking (2 Cor. 12:8-10).
5. God’s unrevealed will may be contrary to our asking (Rom. 8:26).
We come now to our fifth, and concluding, couplet which concerns —The Price And Practice Of Prayer
The Price. Adequate TIME for prayer is an absolute necessity, the most natural times for it being in the morning and in the evening (Psa. 5:1-3; 92:1-2), with some of the saints establishing set times, as in the case of Daniel (Dan. 6:10). Whatever your daily habit of prayer (if you have one at all!), it should be unhurried and faithfully kept.
The Practice. Like the disciples of old we sense our need to be taught to pray (Luke 11:1). Happily, the Lord has given to us the necessary teaching, along with all other needed provisions, in order that we might learn to pray intelligently and effectually. We have, of course, Christ’s perfect example in the Word of God, the complete and fully adequate revelation of the Scriptures themselves, and the Holy Spirit who indwells every true believer (cf. Heb. 5:7; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 8:26 with 1 Cor. 6:19-20). The key thing is to PRAY!
Prayer will be no problem when there is a burning love and devotion in the heart, as was the case with David (Psa. 42:1). Such love, such hungering and thirsting after God to whom we owe our all will make prayer a delight, something that is as natural and necessary for us as breathing, and that which will issue in a life of continual and deepening fellowship with Himself (cf. Neh. 1:1ff.; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17).
It was Alford Tennyson who wrote: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” If we really believe this, then certainly we should pray more than we do.
Maybe the words I heard one day from the lips of Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer best pinpoint the problem with most, if not all, of us in this vital matter of prayer. “Prayer,” he said, “is hard work, and we are inherently lazy.”