Dr. James Naismith

Basic Studies In Christian Living For Young Believers, #2

If the Word of God is the spiritual nourishment that sustains the believer’s life, prayer is the very atmosphere in which he should live day by day — an atmosphere of communion with God. “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air.” Yet, though essential for our spiritual wellbeing, perhaps nothing is so frequently and easily neglected. The devil sees to it that as many of us as possible live in a spiritually rarefied or poisoned atmosphere, and are deprived of the blessing, refreshment and power that result from constant fellowship with God. Our lives will be fruitless, our study of God’s Word unprofitable, and our witness ineffective unless we “spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.”

1. Passages for Special Study

A. Matthew 6:5-15. Much of the scriptural teaching on prayer came from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our study is directed especially to His teaching on the subject —which He perfectly exemplified in His own life. In the course of His ministry, He enunciated many of the essential principles that should govern our prayer-lives. Notice three of these in this passage: (1) Secrecy of prayer (vv. 5, 6). Intimate communion with God can only take place if our ears are closed to the noise and bustle of earth. The “closet” we select need not have four walls, a roof and a door. We might well emulate the example of our Lord who chose as His “closet” “a solitary-desert-place” (Mark 1:35), “a mountain apart” (Matt. 14:23), and “a garden” (Matt. 26:36-39).

(2) Sincerity of prayer (vv. 5, 7, 8). In contrast to the religious “hypocrites” and the “heathen” of the Lord’s day (and their modern counterparts), we should not pray to be “seen of men” or to be “heard for our much speaking,” but with the sincerity of a child expressing himself to his father. (3) Simplicity of prayer (vv. 9 - 13). What a model of reverent simplicity is this prayer given by our Lord to His disciples —not as a formal prayer to be recited, but as a pattern to guide! Careful study of it will be amply repaid and many lessons will be learned — for example, regarding (a) The Person we address (v.9), (b) the Praise we offer (vv. 9,13), and (c) the Petitions we present — relating first to God’s things (v. 10), and then to our needs, both physical (v. 11) and spiritual (vv. 12, 13).

B. Luke 11: 1-13. From this important passage on prayer, we can note four simple lessons: (1) An Excellent Example, “As He was praying” (v. 1). He was God. He created and upheld all things by the word of His power. Yet, as dependent Man, He prayed — and this is only one instance of many recorded from a lifetime of constant communion with His Father. What a pattern for us! (2) A Disciple’s Desire, “Lord, teach us to pray” (v. 1). The disciple was impressed by His example — and the more we behold Him and consider His prayer-life in contrast to ours, the more will that same desire become the earnest longing of our hearts. (3) A Pattern Prayer (vv. 2-4). (4) An Illustration of Importunity (vv. 9-13). Human friends are sometimes reluctant to respond to our requests, but can be roused by persistent, persevering petition. How much more our Bountiful Father who is willing to give the very best gifts to His children if they but ask, seek, and knock, and keep laying hold upon Him in faith!

2. Suggested Outline of Study

A. The Bible Provides Instruction On Prayer

(1) Time: We should pray “always” (Luke 18:1), “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). This does not, of course, mean that at every moment of our lives we should be speaking to God in prayer, but that we should live continually in the consciousness of His presence and in the spirit of prayer, so that at any time we can speak to Him and listen to His voice to us.

(2) Place: The Scriptures instruct us to pray “everywhere” (1 Tim. 2:8), alone, in private (Matt. 6:6), and in the company of others (Matt. 18:19, 20, Jude 20).

(3) Content: When we pray, we should not simply make requests to God for our wants and needs. Our prayers should include worship —adoration and appreciation of all that God is; praise — expressing all that He has done — His works and ways; thanksgiving — for all that He has given; intercession — on behalf of others; supplication — expressing our intense longing desires for others or ourselves (Phil. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:1).

(4) Subjects: Our hearts and lips need never be silent for want of prayer topics. The Apostle Paul has given us a wide scope (and he evidently had a very long prayer list himself) — “In everything by prayer” (Phil. 4:6); “supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:18); “prayers… for all men” (1 Tim. 2:1). Are we as inclusive in our prayers?

(5) Manner: Prayer should be reverent (Matt. 6:9), earnest (James 5:16), sincere (Matt. 6:5), persistent (Luke 18:7), believing (Matt. 21:22) etc.

B. The Bible States Conditions For Effective Prayer

(1) In Christ’s Name (John 14:13, 14; see also Matt. 18:19, 20). This does not mean to simply append His name to all our wants and expect Him to supply them; but to make our requests for His glory, in His interests, for His sake — not for our selfish ends (James 4:3).

(2) Abiding in Him (John 15:7). As the branch abides in the vine and derives all its strength and nourishment from the vine — and can only live as it depends on the vine — so the believer depends utterly on “the True Vine,” lives and feeds on Him, and finds his all in Him. In such a dependent attitude should we lisp our desires.

(3) Obedience to Christ (John 15: 7b; I John 3:22).

(4) Faith (Matt. 21:21, 22; James 1:6).

(5) Fellowship and Agreement with others (Matt. 18:19, 20). The Lord taught that we should not only pray alone (Matt. 6:6), but also with others, and in these two verses He gave two very wonderful promises to those who meet together in His name and pray in harmony — answered prayer (v. 19), and His assured presence (v. 20).

(6) Earnestness and Persistence (James 5:16, 17; Eph. 6:18).

(7) Spirit - direction (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20; Rom. 8:26, 27).

As we ponder these conditions —and others that we find in our study — let us apply them to our own prayer-lives and so experience more fully the power and blessing of prevailing prayer.

C. The Bible Makes Promises To Those Who Pray

Not only do the Scriptures assure us of answers to our prayers, but fulfilment of our desires if expressed in accordance with the above conditions. Other blessings are also promised to those who pray, e.g. peace (Phil. 4:6), power (Isa. 40:31; James 5:16-18; Acts 4:31). Prayer changes things! Prayer also changes people!

“Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in Thy presence will prevail to make!” (Trench)

D. The Bible Abounds In Illustrations Of Prayer

The lessons we have learned from our study can be reinforced by examining numerous examples from both Old and New Testaments:

(a) of People who Prayed: e. g. Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Daniel, the early apostles and churches, Paul, and, supremely, the Lord Jesus Christ. Study His prayer-life in particular, noting the occasions when He prayed, the places He chose, the attitudes He adopted, and the manner in which He addressed and expressed Himself to His Father. (b) of the Prayers They Uttered. The Scriptures have recorded for our instruction and profit some of the actual utterances of men who prayed, e.g. Abraham (Gen. 18: 22-23), David in many of the Psalms, Solomon (1 Kings 8:22-53), Asa (2 Chron. 14:11), Nehemiah (Neh. 1:4- 11), Daniel (9:3-19), the early Christians (Acts 4:24-31), Paul (e.g. Eph. 1:15-23, 3:14-21), and the Lord Himself (e.g. John 17). (c) of the Results of Their Prayers. (e.g. Acts 4:31, James 5:17, 18).

We conclude with a resolution from the Old Testament: “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray” (1 Sam. 12:23), and an exhortation from the New Testament: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5: 17).