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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Prayer

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In today’s world, prayer is mentioned a lot!  When tragedy comes, friends, family, and acquaintances will often feel compelled to say, “I’ll keep you in my prayers” or that “I’ll pray for you for this or that thing.”

Often, though, prayer is sometimes associated with some form of wish list.  “Gee, I pray that I get that raise.”  Or “I pray that it doesn’t rain tomorrow.  Sure would like to get in 18 holes of golf.”

Are these really the appropriate uses of prayer?  You may ask what’s wrong with saying I’ll pray for someone if they’re in an accident or sick.  There’s nothing wrong with it if you mean it and follow through with it.  But there’s also something else that should be considered.  To whom and in what way will you pray?

With the way the world looks at religion, prayer can be construed differently for every person.  According to Wikipedia, prayer is:

…a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a god or spirit through deliberate practice…Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one's thoughts and emotions…Most major religions involve prayer in one way or another. Some ritualize the act of prayer, requiring a strict sequence of actions or placing a restriction on who is permitted to pray, while others teach that prayer may be practiced spontaneously by anyone at any time…Scientific studies regarding the use of prayer have mostly concentrated on its effect on the healing of sick or injured people. The efficacy of petition in prayer for physical healing to a deity has been evaluated in numerous studies, with contradictory results. There has been some criticism of the way the studies were conducted.

Prayer is often misused or misunderstood.  The problem that the world has with prayer is a complete disregard for the One whom it should be directed.  It also neglects the fact that He has given prayer to us as a means of petitioning and worshiping Him.  Prayer, as noted in the above definition, is often directed inappropriately or inaccurately toward something or someone other than God.  The reason I say this is because there are some that would believe that praying to a past family member or a saint, as determined by some religious doctrine, is one way of offering up our prayers to God.  And, of course, there are others that pray to other “deities,” which can lead to a form of demonic worship.

I understand by saying this that I’m inviting some disagreement.  However, I stand by my convictions that the only communication that matters is to Almighty God, the One who gave us life and breath and sustains us through His Spirit and power.  One argument includes a verse in Revelations where it appears that the elders are bringing our prayers to God.  In this Scriptural reference, it indicates that in Revelations that the twenty-four elders were “holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”  To be honest, I don’t fully understand the symbolism behind this verse.  In looking at some commentary, it appears that this is symbolic of incense being offered up to God as a fragrant aroma.  In any case, I do not see this as the Bible endorsing people to pray to the twenty-four elders in order for them to intercede on our behalf to God.

It is not my wish to debate this endlessly.  However, my question to you would be, “Why would you bring your prayers to anyone other than God?”  Is He not the object of our worship?  Our praise?  Our gratitude and thanksgiving?  If God is omniscient and omnipresent, and not limited or contained by time and space, isn’t He more than capable of hearing and responding to every person’s prayers?  All throughout the Bible, God is drawing us to Him for the express purpose of engaging in a relationship with Him.  It seems contradictory that God would point us to Mary, St. Paul, or any other person – past, present, or future for the purpose of prayer.  So ask yourself why would you?  I can’t think of any reason or purpose to go to anyone other than straight to the Source of my hope, future, salvation, peace, comfort, etc.

There is the issue of intercessory prayer though.  Some ask whether or not we intercede for others on their behalf.  Of course we do!  But are these people praying to us and then asking us to pass the prayers on to God?  Of course not!  Intercession is about God bringing His people together for the purpose of prayer.  Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”  There is significance when we come together to pray to God as a family of believers.  But nothing is mentioned about offering our prayers to someone else first.  Praying for others is also demonstrated by Paul in Colossians 1:9-10, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

What we need to do is understand what prayer really is for and about.  One website, abibleaday.com, has a very good definition of prayer:

Prayer is simply communication with God.  This can be through spoken words, written words, thoughts, meditation, or song.

God desires us to commune with him; prayer is one way of doing so.

Prayer is not principally for us to selfishly ask God for things (as in "give me this"), but to honor and glorify God by spending time with him.

Many people think of prayer as being one-directional -- us talking to God.  Yet prayer can, and should, be bi-directional, with us also listening to what God has to tell us.  God can speak to us through the Bible, through others, through circumstances, but especially through his Holy Spirit, who can put specific words and thoughts in our minds, and even communicate via audible words.  (For some verses on God's audible communication, see 1 Samuel 3:4-14, Psalm 18:13, Luke 3:22, Acts 9:4, 2 Peter 1:18.

Another website, billygraham.org, also discusses what prayer is.  This is a really good explanation.  Look at what it says:

Have you ever asked yourself what prayer is? Prayer is simply talking to God—and the most important thing I can say about this is that God wants you to talk to Him! He loves us and He has promised to hear us when we pray. How can you learn to pray? First, understand why prayer is possible.

Prayer is possible because Jesus Christ has removed the barrier between us and God—a barrier caused by our sins. You see, sin separates us from God, and because of that we have no right to come before Him. But by His death on the cross, Christ paid the penalty for our sins and removed the barrier. God then gives us the privilege of coming into His presence when we commit our lives to Christ. The Bible says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). If you have never done so, ask Christ to come into your life today.


Then understand that God now welcomes you into His presence and promises to hear you—and He cannot lie. The Bible says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us" (1 John 5:14). Trust His promises and learn to bring every concern to Him in prayer.

I believe what Billy Graham’s website is saying is very important and is worth repeating.  “God then gives us the privilege of coming into His presence when we commit our lives to Christ.”  Some may ask why that is.  Why doesn’t God listen to a person’s prayers before committing their lives to Christ?  1 Peter 3:12 gives us some insight into that question.  “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  Proverbs 15:29 says, “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”  And Proverbs 28:9 states, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.”

Listen to what these verses are saying.  God chooses not to listen to the prayers of the unrighteous.  Does that mean you have to be good for God to hear you?  What about those who are Christians?  Are they more righteous than others?  No, not even Christians can claim that they were righteous in God’s sight before they committed their lives to Jesus.  Romans 3:9-20 shows us that none of us were righteous before God.  It’s only because we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins are we made right before God.  It is only the Christian who by faith, believes that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rose again from the dead, who is able to accept Jesus’ righteousness as his/her own.  The answer to the issue of righteousness lies with Jesus.  Romans 3:22-26 says:

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

So when Christians receive Jesus’ righteousness, God then hears their petitions and requests.  But like Billy Graham’s website was stating, there is one other specific prayer that God hears.  It’s the first and foremost important prayer.  It’s the one that at the moment you confess Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior that God hears your prayer and moves to action.  It’s the prayer of a contrite and broken heart crying out to Him.  If you haven’t yet made that decision, you should consider it today.  Even now.  Only then will God hear your prayers.

One last note on prayer.  And this is really where the text in Romans really applies to the subject at hand.  As I’ve been going through Romans, I’ve been struck by God’s amazing sovereignty over every aspect of our lives.  Even His sovereignty toward the steps that it took for us to come to Him and believe.  If we look at it from beginning to end, God is in control of when we first hear His Word, when His Word takes root and grows in our hearts, to the moment when it comes to fruition and we believe.  He even gives us the faith it takes to believe.  And it’s not like He’s done with us once we accept Jesus into our hearts.  Oh no, He is constantly at work in our hearts and lives till the day we step into eternity to be with Him!

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that in Romans 8:26-27, the Holy Spirit actually helps us when we pray.  Look at this text:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Do you see how God even helps us in our praying by having the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf?  Isn’t that cool?  Earlier, I was contesting the notion that we should pray to other entities other than God so that they could intercede on our behalf.  Can you see how crazy that idea really is now?  The Holy Spirit is much more capable of taking care of our prayers, even interceding for us because we don’t know what we really should be praying for.  That verse in itself should settle that discussion.  God, from beginning to end, knows what we need and even knows what we should be praying for, and then even intercedes on our behalf.  How amazing is our God?  That He has that much control even over prayer, the means by which we’re able to approach Him, communicate with Him, and enter into His presence is astounding.  If you’re not in awe of God now, you should be checking your pulse.  Because that is how much He loves you.  And me.  Praise God!

7 comments:

  1. "Life is like riding a bike, in order to keep your balance you gotta keep moving!"
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  3. I do realize that all seem to say, I prayed or will pray, with a casual meaning. I take it seriously of course. I know there is a God that answers prayers but I would reverence that...
    kim

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  4. Kim -

    A lot of people do say that they'll pray, even meaning well I'm sure, and then don't follow through. I've been guilty of that. I try to be careful because I want to reverence God and the gift of prayer and know that if I say I'll pray that I will come to God with my petitions and requests.

    But like the Bible talks about praying without ceasing, we should be coming to Him all the time. God has given us a wonderful gift.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. God bless!
    Dean

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  5. Prayer is simply talking to God is probably one of the best explanations of prayer I've ever heard. And, as always Jesus is our great example. He taught us how to pray the way we should. Praise His Holy Name!

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  6. Ron -

    You are absolutely right. Jesus is the best example. The Lord's prayer shows us how we ought to pray through worship, recognizing who He is (GOD!), giving thanks, confessing our sins, and bringing our petitions and requests to Him.

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting! Hope you have a great week! God bless!

    Dean

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  7. God created Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden and gave them the freedom to choose between right and wrong. They chose to sin. Sin is doing that which is contrary to the nature and will of God. For example, God cannot lie; therefore, lying is sin. The sin of disobeying God that Adam and Eve committed resulted in them being expelled from the Garden of Eden as well as suffering the effect of death.

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