Lesson 10 Teach Us To Pray

Those who are drowning, dying, endangered or distressed seldom have difficulty in crying out to God. It is as natural as breathing. Nor does there seem to be as much an inclination to mechanical repetitions or formal prayers uttered by rote. In these circumstances prayer is not a boring duty hurriedly observed while a conscience is eased. There is simply a desperate utterance to God born of a deep burden of personal need that only He can meet. “O God, please help me!” is the cry of those no longer too busy, too self-sufficient, too faithless to pray. They seek no one to teach them how to pray. They simply pray. Christians commonly confess that their prayer life is the weakest part of their regular spiritual life. They admit that success in spiritual work is dependent on prayer and that failure is associated with its lack. Yet, though almost all pray, there are few men of prayer.

The Lord’s School Of Prayer

The disciples sensed this lack in themselves. “Lord, teach us to pray,” they said, “as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The request came on an occasion when they watched Him at prayer—He who was a man of prayer. They sensed His constant reliance upon it day by day. He arose early before day to seek the Father’s face (Mark 1:35). At times He prayed all night (Luke 6:12). He prayed for their welfare and that of others (John 17). Prayer was not an emergency measure with Him but a way of life. He wanted them to pray and said they should do so without wearying or giving up (Luke 18:1). His school of prayer was in session by example and by word every day. He said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). The force of the appeal is expressed in the sense of continuing action with rising intensity. Ask, and keep on asking. Seek, and keep on seeking. Knock, and keep on knocking. He illustrated this teaching with the story of a beseeching friend persistently knocking on a door at midnight (Luke 11:5-9).

God has always invited believers to call on Him freely (Jeremiah 33:3). The Lord Jesus broadened and intensified this, linking it to His own person. “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you … ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24). The invitation is almost unbelievable, but God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). To disbelieve what He says is to make Him a liar (1 John 5:10). God is true though every mortal man is a liar (Romans 3:4). R. A. Torrey wrote, “Praying is going to the bank … that has the largest capital of any bank in the universe, the Bank of Heaven.”3

Conversing With God

What is prayer? Here are various popular, but incorrect views. Some see prayer merely as a psychological activity. Certain medical centers have noted the effect of prayer upon the emotional well-being of terminally ill patients, the remission of certain diseases and the hastening of healing. They consider it as having a psychosomatic effect upon the body. Others view prayer as an emotional crutch. They would say, “If you think it helps you, that’s fine.” Some class prayer as superstition. They have little knowledge of the God of the Bible. To them prayer is like the practice of magic—it works the same whether it be used by the witch doctor, the priest or the religious faker. Others talk at God rather than with God. Thus some “say their prayers,” merely as a rote exercise. None of these ideas hold to a concept of communication with the true God in an intelligent way, bringing about the release of His power. These views do not recognize God as One who hears, intervenes, and acts as a result of prayer.

Prayer is a direct conversation with God, based upon the revelation of Himself in Scripture, with spiritual principles or laws governing access and response. It is a lifting up of the soul to God (Psalm 25:1), a crying out with deep feeling (Exodus 2:23; Psalm 5:2; 18:6). Cameron Thompson has written, “Prayer is the spreading out of our helplessness and that of others in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ before the loving eyes of a Father who knows and understands and cares and answers. Prayer is the breathing and panting of the spirit after God. It is a taking hold of the willingness of God, rather than an overcoming of His reluctance.”4 Prayer has been called “the key that unlocks God’s treasure house.” It is not a matter of acquainting Him with our needs, for He knows them even before we ask (Matthew 6:8; Luke 12:30). It is not a matter of altering His eternal purposes, but of praying in harmony with them. He chooses to work through our prayers just as He chooses to work through our faith. Prayer is, in fact, an activity of genuine faith. Amazingly, it is the means by which we are permitted to take hold of God (Isaiah 64:7). Sometimes we are prone to think of prayer only as asking. Yet it has a wider scope. What conversation or fellowship could be devoted totally to asking? Here are the major aspects of prayer.

1. Adoration. “Enter … His courts with praise,” we are told (Psalm 100:4). What better way to come into God’s presence? “Praise the Lord,” or its Hebrew equivalent, Hallelujah, is a characteristic phrase of the Psalms. Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that God seeks worshipers (John 4:23). Worship is concerned with what God is in Himself, not what He does for us, a distinction lost to most believers. It involves giving to God, rather than receiving from God (Psalm 96:8). Mary sang, “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46). To magnify is to make large, to speak proudly about (Psalm 34:3). Study His attributes to give substance to your praise.

2. Thanksgiving. The companion to praise when we enter God’s presence is thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4; 95:2). In spite of the Lord’s many blessings, the unsaved world lives in a state of ingratitude (Romans 1:21). Jesus healed ten lepers at one time, but only one gave thanks. He asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17). We should review our many blessings when we come before the Lord and “name them one by one.” There are physical blessings of health and daily necessities and spiritual blessings in the Lord and in the fellowship of His people. There are even difficulties, yet God is working in them for our blessing (Romans 8:28). We are told “in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18; cf. Ephesians 5:20). Thanksgiving prepares the way for further blessings.

3. Confession. Our God is a holy God, and whatever defiles our thoughts or actions is a hindrance to fellowship and likewise our prayers (Psalm 66:18). These sins are to be confessed and forsaken (Proverbs 28:13). We must be honest with God about failure to do what we should have done, as well as sinful thoughts or actions. The Psalmist pleaded, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). We need to have clean hearts in order to walk with the Holy One. Nearness to God increases awareness of sin (Isaiah 6:5). When you have honestly confessed your sins and failures, accept His forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

4. Intercession. Concern for others and a conviction that prayer changes things will drive us to God in prayer. Intercession has been called “prayer with names on it.” Moses was a mighty intercessor with God. We are clearly left with the impression that his prayers had something to do with sparing his sister Miriam and the nation of Israel from the judgment of God (Numbers 12:1-13; Exodus 32:7-14). Our Lord Jesus Himself continues daily to intercede for us at the Father’s side (Hebrews 7:25). The New Testament letters are filled with intercessions for churches and individuals. Earnest intercessors have prayer lists which they systematically take before the Lord. The hordes of unconverted people about us, the sick and the suffering are in need of our prayers. Other great needs, such as laborers for world missions, should also occupy our attention (Matthew 9:37-38).

5. Petition. Daily needs are to be brought to the Lord (Matthew 6:11), but we are not to be preoccupied with worry over them (Matthew 6:25-34). Spiritual issues are important, such as asking for understanding of His Word (Psalm 119:34) or seeking deliverance from iniquity or the oppression of man (Psalm 119:133-134). We need guidance on the path of daily duties and in important decisions. He who knows the sparrow’s fall and numbers the hairs of our heads does not consider any matter too small for prayer (Matthew 10:29-31).

Conditions Of Prayer

Prayer must be according to truth, according to the principles, conditions or laws of prayer. These are set down in Scripture and may vary from what we imagined, felt or learned from childhood days. When we pray according to the truth of God, we may confidently expect God to respond. It is well to remember that prayer is a privilege conferred by God. It is not a right. God accepts the humble and contrite spirit, not the demanding and complaining spirit (Isaiah 66:2; Psalm 51:17). Pride or arrogance in any form is exceedingly offensive to Him (1 Samuel 2:3; 15:23). Consider these ways in which prayer is our blessed privilege.

1. The Privilege Of God’s Child. Believers are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus and in no other way (Galatians 3:26). All of God’s children are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. All unsaved people are children of disobedience and wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). We can enter God’s presence boldly, but only through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19). It is not the right of every man. Jesus said that it is not right to give the children’s bread to outsiders (Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27). Prayer must be in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-26). No one can come to God except through Him (John 14:6). God is glorified in His Son. This does not deny the right of God to respond to any man if He chooses, but that right belongs to God—not man. In Jesus’ name is not a magic phrase tacked to the end of a prayer. Rather, it indicates the ground of our approach, that we are bringing before Him that which is in accord with His character and desires, insofar as we are able to determine. Ideally, praying in Jesus’ name is inviting the Spirit of Christ to control all that we pray to God. Let us come boldly (Ephesians 3:12)!

2. The Privilege Of The Believing. A man has very little faith in God when he only comes to him in prayer after first trying everything else and having it fail. The one who prays with wavering doubts about the truth of God’s promises concerning prayer dishonors Him. He is called a double-minded man. “Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (James 1:7). The Lord reproached the faithless disciples who failed to appropriate His power (Matthew 17:17; Luke 9:41). Doubt short-circuits the mighty works of God (Matthew 13:58). Faith as small as a mustard seed when placed in the right object, God and His Word, is mountain-moving faith (Matthew 17:20). The Lord would sometimes ask people if they believed He could do what they asked. When they said “Yes,” He replied, “According to your faith be it unto you,” and the believers saw the result (Matthew 9:28-30). “All things are possible to him that believeth,” He said to a pleading father, seeking the healing of a child. The father replied, “Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief (Mark 9:23-24). Jesus delivered the child, even as He answered the man’s prayer. The centurion knew little about prayer, but his faith was in the right person (Luke 7:2-10). It is impossible, not difficult, to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). Do you expect an answer? If not, do not bother to ask. Let us come believing with the prayer of faith (James 5:15).

3. The Privilege Of The Willing. God’s good and perfect will blesses those who commit their bodies to Him (Romans 12:1-2). When we accept His will in advance, then we can pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15). How can we know His will in matters not expressly covered by Scripture? The will of God is revealed in the clear promises of Scriptures which we can claim, in principles which we can follow, in commands which we can obey and in warnings which we can heed. When we ask according to the will of God we will not be selfish and will not ask amiss (James 4:3). What of prayers for those who do not know the Lord? We can claim the lost for Christ because He wants all of them to be saved (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). There is a close connection between the prayers of believers and the salvation of the lost. Beseech God on their behalf. What of prayers for the sick? Can we believe that He will heal them all if we pray? Some of God’s dear children are convinced that this is so. Yet we must consider the experience of Paul (2 Corinthians 12:8-9), of Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23) and others, all of whom had sicknesses while walking with God. If healing were the right of every child of God, none would ever die of any illness. Christ healed many, as did the apostles. Multitudes have been healed since in His name. The prayer of faith still can deliver the sick (James 5:15). If before the Lord we have a conviction that healing is His will, we can pray accordingly. What of prayers for circumstantial decisions such as where we live, work, travel and labor for God (James 4:13-15)? Are we willing to do His will (Luke 22:42)? Will we accept godly counsel (Proverbs 11:14)? Are we willing to wait until we have peace about an action? Are we willing to decide on the basis of His interests (Matthew 6:33)? Then He will guide us (Proverbs 3:5-6). Let us come willing to do His will (John 7:17).

4. The Privilege Of The Obedient. Reference has been made already to the necessity of being undefiled in God’s sight. Sin turns the heavens to brass (Deuteronomy 28:23). But positive obedience in every area brings with it the promise of God’s blessing (Isaiah 1:19; Jeremiah 7:23). The Lord Jesus was obedient in every area of life. “I do always those things that please Him,” He said (John 8:29). It is significant that He was heard whenever He prayed. Let us abide in Him that we might receive whatever we ask (John 15:7).

Answers To Prayer

Will God always answer our prayers if we meet these conditions? The answer is yes. We must remember that God’s answers come in several ways. Lehman Strauss defines four of them as direct answers, delayed answers, different answers and denied answers.5To these might be added damaging answers to those requests better left unasked.

1. Direct Answers are seen in the release of Peter from prison while the church prayed (Acts 12:5-11) or in the prayer of Elijah, which first shut up the heavens and then opened them (James 5:17-18). The Psalmist rejoiced that God responded to his prayers (Psalm 116:1-2).

2. Delayed Answers might be illustrated by the appeal of millions of believers for the Lord Jesus to return (Revelation 22:20). The time is not yet ripe. Mary and Martha appealed to the Lord Jesus to hasten back and heal their brother, but He delayed until Lazarus died (John 11:3-6, 14-15). This provided occasion for Him to work a greater miracle by raising him from the dead. Waiting on the Lord is often not easy—but it pays (Psalm 69:3; 37:7, 9, 34).

3. Different Answers are opportunities for God’s best to replace our requests. The Lord had something better for Paul than removing the thorn in the flesh. It was His sustaining grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). The prayer of the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane was, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). The Father’s response resulted in the salvation of millions of lost men and women through the shed blood of His Son.

4. Denied Answers are illustrated by Elijah’s request that he might die (1 Kings 19:4-5), uttered in a time of despair and weakness; he was strengthened and restored instead. The disciples suggested that fire be called down from heaven to consume a village of the Samaritans (Luke 9:54) but the Lord had come to save them, not destroy them.

5. Damaging Answers are seen in Israel’s complaining request for a king (1 Samuel 8:5-18), which was a rejection of God, and in Hezekiah’s desire to postpone his death (2 Kings 20:1-6), which turned into days of tragedy (20:12-19). That it is possible for God to grant our request and yet give “leanness of soul” ought to make us more desirous of being in His will when we pray (Psalm 106:15).

Further Blessings Of Prayer

1. Spiritual Strength comes to us as we pray, tapping the Source of renewal for our souls (Isaiah 40:31).

2. Spiritual Holiness is the portion of the one who heeds the Lord’s call to “Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41; 6:13).

3. Spiritual Impact in our ministry comes as we pray for boldness (Acts 4:29-31) and seek the wisdom from above to answer our opponents (Acts 6:10).

4. Spiritual Fellowship with God in prayer enables us to see things as He sees them and to mature in our knowledge of Him and His ways (Acts 10:9-35).

5. Spiritual Illumination comes as we ask Him to open our eyes to understand His Word (Psalm 119:18) and the way that our feet should walk (Psalm 119:105).

Remember the unlimited resources of the One to whom we come. He can supply every need “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). He asks the challenging question of our hearts, “Is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27; Genesis 18:14). If we believe and do not doubt we will know the answer.

3 The Power of Prayer (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1924), p. 69. Used by permission.

4 Master Secrets of Prayer (Lincoln, Nebraska: Back to the Bible, copyright © 1959), pp. 10-11. Used by permission.

5 Sense and Nonsense About Prayer (Chicago: Moody Press, copyright © 1974), by Lehman Strauss, pp. 117-118. Used by permission.

Teach Us To Pray

1. What two aspects of prayer are mentioned in Psalm 100:4? How would you define the difference between the two? Which is the harder for you? Why?

2. In Psalm 103, what “benefits” does the Psalmist thank the Lord for? How does the Psalmist praise the Lord for His attributes and character?

3. Make a list of things God has done for you and thank Him for what He has done. Make a list of the characteristics of God and praise Him for Who He is.

Reasons for Reasons for

Thanksgiving Praise

4. What does David pray about in Psalm 32:1-5? What does David say about the state of a person before and after confession to God?

5. What importance did Samuel place on praying for others (1 Samuel 12:23)? For whom should we pray?

Ephesians 6:18-20 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Luke 6:28 James 5:16

What can you do practically to ensure that you pray regularly and effectively for others?
Use the prayer list form (Appendix B) for a week. You may wish to devise your own method

6. For what personal needs should we pray?

Psalm 37:5 James 1:5

Matthew 26:41 1 Peter 5:7

Hebrews 4:16

How can reflecting on your own needs help you as you pray for others?

7. Identify conditions for successful prayer:

John 15:7 1 John 5:14-15

John 14:13 Matthew 21:22

In your opinion, what does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?

8. Identify hindrances to effective prayer:

Proverbs 21:13 Matthew 6:14-15

Proverbs 28:9 James 1:6-7

Ezekiel 14:3 James 4:2-3

Malachi 1:8-9 1 Peter 3:7

9. Match the types of answers to prayer below with the appropriate Scripture passage:

Direct a. John 11:3-6, 14-15

Delayed b. Acts 12:5-11

Denied c. Numbers 11:18-20; Psalm 106:15

Damaging d. 1 Kings 19:4-5

10. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) Philippians 4:6-7.

How would you evaluate your own prayer life in relation to this passage? What changes do you propose to make?