When you think of prayer, what do you think of?
Prayer has been the way people who follow Christ, and even those who came before Jesus’ time here on earth, communicated with God. You can pray about all kinds of things. When you have a relationship with God, He wants to know what’s going on. Even though he’s all knowing anyway, He wants to know what we know is on our minds. As with any other relationship communication is key, and it’s a two way street. When we pray, it’s tempting to just give God our list of stuff that we want to get done without stopping to listen to what He wants to do with us. Some people say they have heard an audible voice when they pray, but that would be the exception. I’ve never heard a voice. That doesn’t mean God hasn’t spoken or is ignoring us. The way we most commonly listen is to read scripture so that we can know how God wants us to live our lives and do the things that please him, while avoiding the things that make Him annoyed. When we stop to listen, and we’re reading the Bible, perhaps some passages will come to mind that are helpful, or convicting, in whatever the situation may be.
What kinds of things do you pray about?
Let’s take a look at a few examples in scripture of the things people prayed for.
21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.
-Genesis 25:21 NIV
In the culture of that time, women who were married really wanted to have children because having kids meant you had a future. If you couldn’t have kids, for one reason or another, then you were supposedly doomed and had no future.
Let’s move on to the next example.
18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human
2 Samuel 7:18-19 NIV
You can pray because you noticed God do something amazing in your life, or just because you’re thankful for the things He’s done for you and continues to do for you every day. Just before that passage, God had told King David that his offspring would succeed him as king over Israel long into the future.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
James 5:13-15 NIV
We can pray for healing. Also, this passage points out that we can ask other people to pray for us, and we can and should pray for the needs of other people.
When you pray, does God always give you the answer you want right when you want it?
I have a friend named Steve. He’s cool. Whenever he talks about prayer there’s one thing he likes to remind everyone in the room every time.
God has three answers to prayer. Yes, no, and wait.
-My friend Steve (He’s cool.)
So far, I’ve given you examples of God’s positive answers to prayer. However, there are times when God may not answer our prayer at all, because we’re not praying for the right kinds of things. Or because we already know what He wants us to do through reading scripture, and we’re just stalling. Other times He might delay an answer to prayer because the timing isn’t right for Him or us, even though we may think it is in our own limited point of view of how things are going.
But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things[a]; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri,[b] the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. 2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water. 6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” 10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
Joshua 7:1-12 NIV
The Israelites already know that God wasn’t into stealing, especially from His own treasury, or telling lies. Moses, who lead Israel before Joshua, had already brought down the Ten Commandments, it’s not like this is new information. And Joshua decides to pray, when it is obviously a moment for action instead. What Joshua was praying about was not going to get answered the way he wanted it to because God had already told him the kinds of things that were good and what was not tolerable in the Israelite camp.
There are other times where God may not answer our prayers right away with a yes or no. Sometimes he makes us wait so we can build up patience, or because the timing is not right at the moment. Isaac prayed and waited quite some time before his wife Rebecca gave birth.
It’s important that we approach prayer with the right attitude. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a good example of how to pray.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:9-10 NIV
We should be praying with the attitude that God is Holy, right off the top and that no matter what the result of our prayer is, it is God’s will that matters most.
God also wants us to pray about the things we’re worried about, as well as the things we need, and the things we’re thankful for. Repenting of sins we know about, and asking forgiveness. God is huge on that.
Does prayer seem complicated to you?
It’s important to know that prayer is not for show. You don’t get bonus points for how many big words or even how long it is. If you don’t believe me on that, let’s check out what Jesus had to say about that idea.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:5-8 NIV
There’s no word count on your prayers. It’s talking to a King, so there is reverence and respect there. However, it’s talking to a King who is friend of sinners and knows you better than you know yourself. So, He knows when you’re faking it by using words you wouldn’t normally use just to sound “cool.”
Prayer is not something we need to be afraid of, though it can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before or if you’re praying out loud in a group.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV
The apostle Paul also encourages us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without stopping. You don’t always have to pray out loud, so technically it could be done. Prayer as a habit doesn’t come over night. It’s something that can be challenging to someone who’s never done it before and it takes practice to work it into our everyday lives.