What is Prayer?
Prayer is a matter involving the spirit and no specific method of prayer can be of any avail which does not recognize this fact. In order for prayer to be a happy and abiding experience, we must seek out methods which are reasonable and essential. We must pray to God, through the Holy Spirit, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We should regard prayer as being as essential to our souls as is our daily meals are to our bodies. For every child of God some time should be reserved for private communion with Him. What time it should be, or for how long, is a matter only you can determine. Perhaps it could be early when you first arise. It might be at bedtime; or perhaps it could be both times.
However, we can also pause in the course of a day’s activities when a special need to pray arises or when we just feel like we need to pray or give a praise and silently pray. We do not have to close our eyes. We do not have to leave our work and seek out a place we can kneel. Certainly God hears and honors these prayers. Dr. Falwell frequently speaks of talking with the Lord when he is alone, driving down the highway.
Do you have a designated time each day to get alone and study your Bible and pray? If you do not, we would urge you to establish a specific time and get into this habit. You might start with just a few words of prayer, asking God to bless the reading of His precious Word. Then begin to read and meditate on the His Word, searching out each verse for a blessing for the sake of obtaining food for your soul. As you read and meditate on the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will intercede and reveal to you how you should pray.
God will always hear and answer our prayers (regardless of whether we are sitting, standing, or kneeling; regardless of whether our eyes are open or closed, and regardless of when we pray)–IF we do not have unconfessed sin in our hearts, and IF we pray with faith. However, we must not forget that His answer may not be the same answer we desire because He knows our needs better than we know them. We should always pray “If it be Thy will.”
The complete idea of prayer should include:
- Adoration (the worship of God)
- Confession (the acknowledgment of sin)
- Petition (faith’s claim for personal need)
- Intercession (our sincere prayer on behalf of others)
- Thanksgiving (the heart’s expression of joy in God)
How best these various precepts of prayer may be included in your prayer time can only be determined by you. If time does not permit you to cover each idea at every prayer session, then focus on each precept on a regular basis.
Also practice pausing momentarily during the day and silently praying for a specific need or silently praising the Lord for a specific victory or joy. You will find yourself thinking more and more of our precious Savior as a Friend and prayer will become increasingly easier.
How To Pray
Prayer is the simplest act of the Christian life. It is basic communication with God, requiring neither wisdom nor experience. The weakest believer, like a simple child, can call upon his heavenly Father. The poorest sinner, like an impoverished beggar, can reach out to God in prayer. The ability to call on God is one of the attributes that distinguishes men from animals. We are not merely biological beings. We are spirit beings, created in the image of God.
Many elements of prayer enhance our communication with God. These must occur spontaneously, not artificially. Each element teaches us to pray more effectively.
While praying is natural for the believer, we must remind ourselves about the seriousness of praying to a holy God. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, Let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God (Ecclesiastes 5:2). When Abraham spoke to God, he acknowledged that he was dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27). Job said, I abhor myself (Job 42:6). Moses recognized that he was on holy ground when he stood before God (Exodus 3:5).
Reverent prayer recognizes the holiness and majesty of God. It avoids formality and vain repetition, and addresses the heart of God with an appeal from the heart of man. Prayer is reverent conversation with almighty God.
The daily habit of genuine prayer enables us to persevere in our pursuit of God. The apostle Paul admonished, Pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17). By this he meant that we are to keep on praying as the regular habit of our lives.
Jesus and His disciples often prayed all night in order to persevere. In fact, the night before He went to the Cross, our Lord urged His disciples to watch and pray (Matthew 26.41). They would have done well to heed that admonition.
The strength of prayer is more important than the length of prayer. We don’t need to shout to get God’s attention, but we must pray earnestly and fervently. That is why prayer is often described in Scripture as crying, knocking, wrestling, laboring, or striving. The Bible says our Lord Himself offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears (Hebrews 5:7).
Intensity of prayer is an expression of our faith in God. It is the realization that prayer is no casual conversation. J.C. Ryle wrote in A Call to Prayer, “Faith is to prayer what the feather is to the arrow.” Earnest prayer involves pleading the promises of God by faith. Psalm 119 is filled with things asked according to thy word. When we pray according to the promises of God, we have every reason to expect answers from Him.
When we pray with holy boldness we express our confidence in God, addressing Him with hope and assurance, as our loving Father. The writer of Hebrews urges, Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). He predicates this appeal upon the fact that in Jesus Christ we have a great high priest who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:14-15).
As our High Priest, Christ makes intercession for us to the Father. Through His shed blood we have access to the throne of grace. So it is then that the poorest sinner may call on God for salvation, and the humblest saint may bring his petitions before God’s throne.
Asking God for help is one thing. Thanking Him for His help is another. Asking and praising are separate aspects of prayer. The apostle Paul said, By prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God (Philippians 4:6). The expression of thanksgiving in our prayers is itself an expression of our faith in God.
As you commune with God in prayer, thank Him in advance for answering your prayers. Let Him know that you are confident that He will answer you according to His will. Praise Him for who He is, for what He has done for you, and for what He is going to do in the future.
How To Be Closer To God In Prayer
The first step in being sure you can get prayers answered is to be sure Jesus Christ is your Savior. Sometimes people put their trust in their church or in works instead of in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and for the salvation of their souls.
The Bible teaches in John 1:12: But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.
We can see from this verse that God tells us if we want our sins forgiven and our souls saved, all we have to do is receive or accept Jesus into our heart as our Savior. If we accept Him, God will accept us into His family. If we turn from our sins and set out to live for Jesus a life trying to please him, then the first step we should take in trying to live a life to please Jesus is to make the decision definitely and personally to accept Jesus into our heart as our Savior. If you have never been saved, would you, right now, ask the Lord Jesus to come into your heart and save you?
Live a Life Honoring To God
The second step in being sure you can get your prayers answered is to be certain you are trying to live a life to please Jesus. It is good to start a time of personal devotion by daily Bible reading and daily prayer. It is important that you ask God to help you with those sins that have crept into your life and are displeasing unto God.
It is important to get into a good, strong, Bible-believing, soul-winning New Testament church. Such a church will teach salvation through Christ alone and not through works or church membership. Church membership is important, but the church cannot save and the preacher cannot save. Some churches teach baptism has a part in salvation, but this is not true. Salvation is between an individual and Jesus alone. And, if we get into the right kind of church, our hearts will be warmed, our minds will be instructed, our lives will be uplifted by the example of others with whom we are having fellowship, and we will begin to grow remarkably in spiritual strength and likeness to Christ.
Another thing to be sure to do in trying to get our prayers answered is to seek the help of God’s Holy Spirit, who is given to all saved people as our prayer partner (Romans 8:26). He will help us know what the will of God is, what we should pray for and what we should not pray for. Then let us find some promises in God’s Word and claim those promises for the things for which the Holy Spirit lets us know are right to pray.
There are two instances in which God will not answer prayers:
- If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (Psalm 66:18).
- And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive (Matthew 21:22).
God will always hear and answer our prayers–if we do not have unconfessed sin in our hearts and if we pray with faith. But we must not forget His answer may not be the same answer we desire because He knows more about us than we know ourselves.
Great Examples of Prayer
The Bible is filled with many examples of men and women who learned how to pray with power.
Prayer is not limited to a select few who have special privileges with God. Prayer is something we can all learn to do. It is the one element of Christian service open to every believer. No matter what your position in life, you can pray. Regardless of any limitations you may possess, you can pray.
Learning to pray has enabled ordinary people to become extraordinary saints of God, bringing them to new heights in their relationship with God and their influence with mankind. You too can learn to pray with power. Let’s look at a few examples.
The first great intercessor in Scripture was Abraham, the man of faith. As his story opens, God is talking to him, but as it closes, Abraham is talking to God. Yet, throughout his life, Abraham had a lot to learn about how to pray. Many of his early prayers were vain and futile: his request to make his steward his adopted son (Genesis 15:2); his appeal that Ishmael be his heir (Genesis 17:18); and his unsuccessful intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-33).
Later in Abraham’s life, God spoke of him to Abimelech. He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live (Genesis 20:7). On several occasions, Abraham built an altar and called there on the name of the Lord (Genesis 21:33). His eldest servant followed his example and prayed for direction while seeking a bride for Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 24:12).
At the most crucial point of his life. Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command. As they marched to Mount Moriah, Isaac asked, Where is the lamb for a burnt offering? (Genesis 22:7). Abraham replied by faith, God will provide himself a lamb (Genesis 22:8). When God did intervene, Abraham named the place Jehovah-jireh (The Lord sees and provides). Abraham’s journey of faith taught him to have confidence in God.
The Book of Exodus is filled with Moses’ prayers. From the time he stood before the burning bush until he crossed the Red Sea with the children of Israel, Moses learned how to pray.
As with Abraham, Moses’ early prayers were filled with excuses: Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh? (Exodus 3:11); Behold they will not believe me (Exodus 4:1); I am not eloquent (Exodus 4:10). But by the time he faced Pharaoh, the Scripture says he was like a god to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1), meaning that he reflected the power and glory of God.
Later, when Moses received the commandments of God on Mount Sinai, he actually glowed with the glory of God (Exodus 34:35). Time and time again he prayed to God on behalf of the people of Israel, and he finally brought them to the border of the Promised Land.
One of the most touching prayers recorded in Scripture is that of Hannah when she begs God for a son and vows to give him back to the Lord (I Samuel 1:10-16). Her prayer was so fervent that Eli mistakenly thought she was drunk. But Hannah replied, I . . . have poured out my soul . . . out of the abundance of my complaint and grief (I Samuel 1:15-16). Eli was so impressed by her sincerity that he told her God would grant her petition.
Some months later Hannah bore Samuel, and while he was still a child she took him to Eli to serve the Lord at the tabernacle. There God revealed himself to Samuel and called him to be a prophet of God (I Samuel 3:1-2 1). Thus, her prayers were answered when she prayed, For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord (I Samuel 1:27-28).
The shepherd boy who was destined to become the king of Israel was called a man after God’s own heart because he was a man of prayer. The many Psalms he wrote are an expression of the prayers of his heart. In them he prays for guidance, deliverance, protection, and wisdom. His prayers exalt the praise of God: Bless the Lord, 0 my soul (Psalm 104:1). They express thanksgiving: 0 give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name (Psalm 105:I). Psalm 119 is filled with requests: Teach me, give me, make me, remember me, help me.
Many of David’s prayers grew out of the experiences of his own life: his persecution by Saul, his sinful failure, the rebellion of his son Absolam. Yet, in each crisis of his life he drew nearer to God than ever before. Out of the depth of his need came some of the greatest prayers ever recorded in Scripture: I will extol thee, 0 Lord; for thou has lifted me up (Psalm 30:1). I acknowledge my sin unto thee . . . . (Psalm 32:5, 7). Have mercy upon me, 0 God . . . Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:1-2).
Taken captive by the Babylonians as a teenager, Daniel survived the 70-year Exile because he knew how to pray. Early in his experience as a prisoner, Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself (Daniel 1:8). God honored him for that commitment and brought him to a place of prominence in the Babylonian Empire. Later, when his own life was threatened, he and his friends went to prayer to desire mercies of the God of heaven (Daniel 2:18). Time and time again God delivered them.
The greatest story of prayer in the life of Daniel occurred when he was in his eighties. Having lived through the entire Babylonian captivity, Daniel was confronted by a new law passed by Darius the Mede, the new governor of Babylon under the Medes and the Persians. Darius was tricked into passing a law that for 30 days no one could pray to anyone other than himself. By this new law, his advisors hoped to get Daniel in trouble. They knew he prayed regularly three times a day (Daniel 6: 1 0).
Daniel refused to obey the new law and continued praying with his windows open! This led to his being thrown into the den of lions, and to his miraculous deliverance. The story ends with the words, So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius (Daniel 6:28).
One of the most unusual prayers recorded in the Bible is that of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly (Jonah 2:1). God had told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, to preach repentance. The Scripture says that Jonah rose up to flee (Jonah 1:3). He took a ship for Tarshish (Spain) in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Eventually he was thrown overboard during a great storm, was swallowed by a great fish, and remained in the belly of the fish for three days (Jonah 1:17).
While he was in the fish, Jonah cried unto the Lord. Acknowledging his disobedience and begging for deliverance, He promised God that he would give Him the sacrifice . . . of thanksgiving (Jonah 2:9) for His deliverance.
You probably know the rest of the story. Jonah was deposited on shore by the fish and went on to preach at Nineveh, where the people did indeed repent, even to Jonah’s surprise.
Our Lord was a man of prayer. Before every major event in His earthly life, He prayed to the Father: before His temptation (Matthew 4:1); before He called the 12 disciples (Luke 6:12); at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19); in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:5-13) and showed them how to pray by His example.
Jesus’ longest prayer is recorded in John 17:1-26, at the end of the Last Supper as He prepared to go to Gethsemane and on to the Cross the next day. In this High Priestly prayer, our Lord prayed for His own.
He called on the Father to glorify Himself and to unify the believers that they all may be one (v. 21). In this prayer our Lord promised eternal life to us and prayed for our sanctification (v. 17). This beautiful prayer expressed the heart of God for His people.
Now consider these examples of prayer for a moment. If leaders like Daniel and Moses needed to pray, do you not need to pray? If men of faith like Abraham and Daniel needed to pray, do you not need to pray? If people as desperate as Hannah and Jonah got their prayers answered, should you not pray? If our Lord prayed often during His earthly ministry, should not we pray often? The truth is all too clear. Men ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1).
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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.
We have a tendency to believe that we need to be in control of our lives and, oftentimes, of the lives of our family, our coworkers, and our neighbors. We build up burdens upon ourselves and when we are completely stressed, then we run to God.
But God says, “come to me,” “trust in me,” “have faith the size of a mustard seed,” before you are worried and weak. He wants it all. He can handle it and he can give us the grace we need and the strength we need to follow his will. Trust in him and, above all, have faith.
True surrender requires unwavering faith and humility. We are called by God to trust completely. We are called to let go and allow him to take control. He will send us all we need and we must humbly accept the help of others.
Lord, as I confront the challenges of my day, help me to know that together we can handle anything. All worry and all stress I lay in the palms of your hands.
Lord, lift the weight of the day from my shoulders. Help me to remember to allow others to help. You gave us community so that we would not have to do it all ourselves.
Teach me humility. I do not have to do this alone. Take this day into your hands, and show me your way. Give me the grace I need to let go.
Image: Rui Rocha.
In Times of Great Doubt and Despair
Do not lose your peace. Continue to embrace our crucified Lord, and give him your heart and consecrate your mind to him with your affections just as they are, however languid they may be. —St. Francis de Sales
Lord Jesus, I need you now more than ever. I have hit bottom. I cannot trust myself or anyone else. Take my hand. Pull me from this present darkness.
I need you. Lord, I need you.
In Serious or Chronic Illness
Over and over we pray, thinking we are not heard as we grow weaker. We contemplate the Sorrowful Mysteries and all we can do is unite ourselves with the sufferings of Jesus and pray.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done. Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.” —Luke 22:42, 43
Lord, I am questioning where you are in all of this. Give me faith. Give me strength. If it is your will, take this burden from me, for I am weak and tired, and I need to feel your healing touch. If I must endure this pain, help me to accept each day with grace and dignity.
Help me to feel your presence. Help my unbelief.
For Healing of Family Relationships
Many of us struggle with family relationships. In our relationships with family, we must learn to admit our failings and ask forgiveness. And we must learn to forgive in return. For only then can relationships heal.
Lord, family is a special gift, but even the best families at times can struggle with one another. Now is our time. We should be building one another up, but life has turned us around, and we are hurting one another.
Help us to forgive quickly so that we do not waste life in regret. Holy Spirit, guide us in mind and in heart. Help us to let go of our pettiness and heal our family.
Lord, you have made me part of this wonderful family filled with differences of opinion and strong wills. Help me to let go of my self-righteousness. Help me to forgive first. Teach me your virtues of humility and charity and kindness, so we may live in peace and unconditional love.
Holy Spirit, be our guide and our healer.
Click here to read a favorite prayer of Mother Teresa’s!
Prayers to Grow in Virtue
The proper ordering of lesser loves places us in a position to receive and embody a greater love for both God and our neighbor. Turning away from vice allows the growth of virtue. Virtue is not only the fruit of our discipline and effort but the fruit of our relationship with Christ himself. —Ralph Martin
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that virtue “allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself ” (CCC, 1803).
As we give our best, as we turn to God in faith and hope and love, and as we learn to detach ourselves from the things of the world, we grow in virtue. As we grow in virtue, we grow in our relationship with Jesus.
For Courage (against Fear)
Though the path is plain and smooth for people of good will, those who walk it will not travel far, and will do so only with difficulty if they do not have good feet, courage, and tenacity of spirit. —St. John of the Cross
Lord, give me courage in my everyday life. Courage to speak your truth and to defend the faith. Courage to follow your commandments and to live your beatitudes.
Courage to live a moral life, even if it means losing friends. Courage to pray. Courage to love others, especially the poor. Courage to visit the sick and the lonely.
Lord, may I not fall back in fear, but may I do your will, strengthened by your love.
Image: St. John of the Cross. wikimedia commons.
For Compassion (against Harshness)
Often the world pushes us to be tough, to go against our natural instincts of gentleness and kindness. We are called to help calm the storms—and transform the world throughlove.
Lord, preserve my gentle spirit, especially in the midst of chaos.
The world pushes, and I want to push back. Help me to be more like you: forgiving and loving, yet strong. Teach me kindness and gentleness in all I do and say. Give me the strength to handle the ways of this world with love.
Lord, I trust in your ways. Come Holy Spirit, fill me with compassion for others. Ignite in me the fire of God’s love. Help me to reach out to those who will cross my path today. I want to participate in your compassion.
I want to reach out with your heart, with your power of mercy and love. I want to do more. Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart, so that it may overflow with compassion for all I meet today.
For Charity (against Self-Centeredness)
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. —Luke 6:30–31
Lord, teach me true charity. So often I give when it’s easy to give or when I know others see. I want to be more than that to others.
Teach me your way. Show me how to give without being asked, how to let go without wanting in return.
Help me to treat others as I wish to be treated, with respect, with kindness, with love. Lord, help me to see your face in those in need today.
For Patience (against the Need to Control)
Be patient, not only under the great and heavy trials which come upon you, but also under the minor troubles and accidents of life. —St. Francis de Sales
Jesus, I have very little patience. Teach me your ways. Your apostles struggled to trust you. You showed them patience.
The Sadducees and the Pharisees tried to trick you. You showed them patience. The scribes and Pharisees brought you the woman caught in adultery. You showed them patience.
Help me to be patient with those who question my actions or who purposefully misquote my directions or judge me. Show me your ways, Lord, that I may be a good example to my coworkers, my neighbors, my friends, and my family.
Image: Saint Francis de Sales, St. Paul Catholic Church. Westerville, Ohio. wikimedia commons.
For Trust in God (against Distrust)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. —Proverbs 3:5–6
How often do we question ourselves when we are trying to do the right thing? How often do we find ourselves fearful of the consequences of our actions despite our best efforts? In the words of St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid!”
The God who loves us enough to die for us, can be trusted to care for our every need. All he asks in return is acknowledgment.
Offer this little prayer of St. Faustina Kowalska’s.
Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.
For Wisdom (against Ignorance)
Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy. —Proverbs 3:13–18
Lord, I seek wisdom.
Teach me your ways and guide me to do your will. Help me to be persistent, to be salt and light, strong in my beliefs so that I can witness to the faith.
May what I learn change lives, bring peace and understanding to the world, and bring glory to you, O Lord.
These are a selection of prayers from Julie Dortch Cragon’s newest, Talking to God: Prayers for Catholic Women. Please click the image below
for a free sample.