Christians are to be known as a people of prayer. Why? We are children of God (Romans 8:16). Prayer is how we communicate with our Father (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is to be part of our lives as individuals (Matthew 6:6; 14:23) and our collective assemblies with God’s people (Acts 2:42; 12:12). It is important then to study the topic of prayer to learn and to be reminded how to be most pleasing to God in this area of our lives.

The Power of Prayer

James wrote that we should pray for one another. The reason we are to do this is because “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). He then went on to cite the example of Elijah. He “prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:17-18; cf. 1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-45). This example, while certainly a miracle, shows us the power of prayer.

However, we need to remember that the power in prayer lies with God, not with man who offers the prayer. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16), but not because of any power that lies in the righteous man. A righteous man’s prayer is effective because “the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayers” (1 Peter 3:12). We make requests and appeals (Philippians 4:6) and His will is done (1 John 5:14-15). We can have confidence in the power of prayer because of the omnipotence of the One to whom we are praying.

The Privilege of Prayer

Prayer is a privilege, not a right. Paul reminded us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). But we can be granted the privilege to approach Him in prayer. We should value this opportunity and not take it for granted. Having an audience with a king is a privilege (Esther 4:15-5:2). How much greater a privilege it is to have an audience with God since He is a greater ruler (Romans 13:1; Acts 5:29). And just as a king, He extends this privilege only to those He chooses (1 Peter 3:12).

Through Christ, we have direct access into heaven (Hebrews 4:14-16). In the days of the Old Testament, a man (priest) served as an intercessor between God and man (Hebrews 7:27). Today, Christ is our intercessor (Hebrews 7:25). We do not need any other man to serve as our link to God in heaven. In collective prayer, one may lead others in prayer; but he does not pray on their behalf. In public prayer, we are all active participants, not passive listeners (1 Corinthians 14:16). Let us never take for granted the great privilege we have to approach God directly in prayer.

The Purpose of Prayer

There are several reasons why we pray. One is that it teaches us humility because it forces us to recognize our dependence upon God. In teaching about prayer, Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). Yet we pray to God and are reminded of the fact that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

We also pray in order to have peace. Paul told the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). We can have peace in prayer knowing that God is willing and able to take care of us (1 Peter 5:7).

We pray for those things which impact the spiritual well-being of ourselves and others. We are to pray that we might avoid temptation (Matthew 6:13; 26:41), pray for opportunities to teach (Colossians 4:3) and for preachers in their work of teaching (Ephesians 6:19). We should also pray for the sick (James 5:13-15) and for our rulers and our freedom (1 Timothy 2:1-2). “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16), provided that our requests are according to God’s will (1 John 5:14).

One thing that prayer is not for is for the building of our faith. Some people have faith in God because they believe He has answered their prayers. Others do not believe in God because He did not answer their prayers (at least not in the way in which they were expecting). Our faith must be derived from the word of God (Romans 10:17), not based upon any supposed response by Him to our prayers. We must put our complete trust and faith in Him no matter how He answers our prayers. Remember, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). We might also add that He knows what we need even when we do not.

The Practice of Prayer

There are a few additional things that are basic points we must remember that relate to the practice of prayer. We pray to the Father (Matthew 6:6, 9). The Bible also indicates that we can pray to Christ (1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Corinthians 12:8; Revelation 22:20). We have already noticed some things for which we are to pray. Jesus mentioned a few general things in the sample prayer He gave His disciples (Matthew 6:9-13). We can pray to praise God, pray for the kingdom (church), for His will to be done, and for our physical and spiritual needs.

Paul said we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This does not mean we say one unending prayer that lasts until we die, but that we regularly pray to God (Acts 2:42). We are to pray everywhere and “in every place” (1 Timothy 2:8). We are not limited to a temple or other such place, but can pray to God anywhere. Some make a big deal about prayer being prohibited in public schools, but that is not completely accurate. Individually, you can pray anywhere, anytime.

How are we to pray? The Bible does not specify a posture we are to use (such as kneeling), but we are to approach God with a certain attitude. We must come before Him in humility, recognizing Him as the Creator of the world and the one who has extended His mercy to us (Psalm 8). Paul wrote, “I bow my knees before the Father” (Ephesians 3:14), meaning that he humbly came before God. Humility is essential in prayer because “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

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