The question of prayer has long been an obstacle over which I have had to prevail. No, not that I have had problems with whether we should pray or not, that has been made clear in the Bible. We are instructed to pray always (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and for everything (1 Timothy 6:17). The problem I struggled with for many years is that of when, how, for how long, and for what to pray. You may not have struggled with this, and think I am being silly. Because of my character, I tend to do better when I have rules to follow, than when I am supposed to freelance it. For example, if the Bible were to tell me that I was supposed to pray, and give no instructions on what is to be expected of me, I would become confused and frustrated. This would only result in my praying less often, and for smaller amounts of time. It definitely would not be one of my favorite things to do.
Early on in my walk with God, I learned several truths about the Lord that has formed my understanding of my God since. For God to be a true God (at least in my opinion), four things, at minimum, must be true:
- God must be omnipotent (all powerful – Matthew 19:26, Ephesians 3:20).
- God must be omniscient (all knowing – John 3:10).
- God must be omnipresent (able to be anywhere and everywhere, at the same time).
- God must be perfect (incapable of error or failure – Matthew 5:48).
If even just one of the above were not true of our Lord, then he would not be God. In this case, though, as the above Scriptural references will sustain, He is definitely the One True God. But, it was the second point above which threw the proverbial wrench into the works for me. If God knows everything, then why must I tell Him again what He already knows? Of course, that also created a conundrum for me. Watch this, since God knows everything, this means He knows what I am going to say before I say it, right? (Matthew 6:32 and Luke 12:30) So if I don’t pray, because I believe He already knows what I am going to say, then He also knows I didn’t say it, because I didn’t pray. But, if I pray so that I actually say it, then I know He already knew what I was going to say which means I did not have to say it to begin with, right? It is confusing at times.
Secondly, His omniscience means He already knows everything going on in my life. Since this is true, then why must I have to tell Him about it? The Bible teaches that God loves me (John 3:16), and that He wants me to live in joy (John 16:24). It even emphasizes that nothing is impossible for God (Mark 10:27), so then why doesn’t God just meet those specific needs, without us having to pray for them specifically? Is there something inherent in praying, or does He like hearing us ask Him for things, or what? Since God already knows everything, and He knows the desires of our heart (Psalms 37:4), why doesn’t He just meet those needs to begin with? This way we could cut out all that begging and crying on our part (this was said “tongue-in-cheek”).
As a believer, I know that God meets all my “needs.” This means that whatever God decides are my “needs,” He will meet those “needs”. This does not mean that He will necessarily meet my perceived (from my perspective) needs. Let’s say I ask God for money for some expense or desire (telling myself that it is a “need”), and hoping He will agree with me, and give me the money. God will, for example, instead, and without question, meet the need of my learning patience by putting me through a series of situations and circumstances which will result in my learning the characteristic. In God’s eyes, I need to learn patience (Hebrews 10:35-36), so that is a need He will supply whether I ask for it or not. I may or may not get the money I asked for, that will depend on whether He decides if indeed it is a need.
On the other hand, Scripture says we “do not have” because we “do not ask” (James 4:2). But, then when we do ask for what we think we want, we are told that we do not receive because we ask with wrong motives (James 4:3). Yet, the Scriptures do not go into detail as to what is specifically considered “right” or “wrong” motives. Remember, all humans are selfish. We were born that way. It is our nature. That is the way God created us. Why do you think Adam chose to disobey God? Our sinful (selfish) nature. So, with that in mind, everything and anything we want will be tarnished by our selfish nature. Even when we convince ourselves that we are being selfless, there will still be some inner, unspoken, selfish motivation. The truth is that nobody does anything for nothing, we always have some personally satisfying motive for what we do, even if it is just that we feel good about what we have, or are doing. That is our nature.
So, even if we play like God does not already know what we are going to pray about, there are certainly some “rules” we have to follow when praying!? And, I thought I would just be able to open my mouth and start spewing out all of my requests and demands (just kidding). Nevertheless, there should be no argument that there are “rules” which must be followed. To begin with there are two from the James verses above:
- Ask or you may not get anything.
- Ask with the “right” motive.”
Then, we run across Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24, they tell us that we have to “believe” that we are going to get what we pray. And, what does the word “believe” mean in that verse? Does it mean that we are to know we are going to get that for which we prayed? How can someone know that something is going to happen when it is dependent on someone else (like God) doing it according to their own opinion and perspective? Have you ever prayed for something that you never got? I have. Maybe I was asking in the “wrong” way (there, that’s one way to make excuses for prayers that fail).
On the other hand, some people do pray in “wrong” way. Matthew 6:5 basically states that some people like praying in public (that probably means where people can hear and see you praying, like in church [??] for instance). Instead, the next verse (v.6) instructs us to pray privately (uh, does that mean not to pray at church either?). Likely not. Still, we are told to pray privately. In fact, we are told to go into our “Prayer closet” and pray there (I guess that could mean that someone has a private room in which they normally pray). It goes on to say, “And your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Does that mean our prayer are to be secrets, or that we should pray secretly?
If that was so, then why would our Lord, Jesus, publically teach the disciples how to pray? In the books of Matthew, verses 9-13, and Luke 11:2-4) He gave them a pattern by which they could pray. Still, I will agree that He did not tell them to pray publically at that time either. I was about to write that Jesus often prayed around His disciples, but then remembered that He would walk away from them to be alone and pray (for example, Luke 22:41). On the other hand, James 5:14 tells the sick to call on the elders of the church to come and anoint them and pray over them. This obviously cannot be done in “secret.” The “secret prayer will not have the intended result, that of comforting the sick person, and them hearing that their sins have been forgiven.
Besides all of the above, there seem to be a couple more “rules.” It seems that the disciples, at least at times, had trouble staying awake during prayer time. In the book of Luke (18:1), our Lord had to get onto the disciples for falling asleep during prayer time. Have you ever fallen asleep during prayer time? I have. Lots of times over my 33 years as a Christian. There were those times when I was praying along just fine, and ran into a block. What I mean by this is sort of like a “writer’s block.” That means that someone is writing a book, or novel, or something like that, and they come to a point where they suddenly cannot think of the next word they need to write. They might be having a problem with where to head the story, what problems to create for the protagonist, or whatever. The point is that they hit a mental wall, a block. I have had many of these in my prayers. I suddenly just stop and try to come up with something else I am supposed to say, but cannot think of anything. Some of those times, I fell asleep thinking of what I was supposed to be saying.
Of course, another question is, “Are we supposed to do all the talking during prayer? You know, non-stop? I mean, it’s not like we get an audible response from God right? Or, at least, I never have. I think if I did, I would faint from fright, and my prayers would end there anyway. Of course though, regardless of what obstacles we do encounter during prayer, we are urged not to give up praying (Luke 18:1). Just because we often cannot think of the next word, this does not mean to pray less. Instead, we are also urged to lean on the Holy Spirit for His support. Romans 8:26 and 27 speak of the way the Holy Spirit will help us when we are having trouble praying. Since God’s Spirit lives in us, then His Spirit in us (who knows all of our thoughts and desires) speaks to the Father directly and prays on our behalf. At those times, we may start speaking in a language that we do not understand, but since the Father and His Holy Spirit do understand each other, they know what is being said. I have found that when I run into these prayer blocks, it is easier for me to begin speaking in tongues, and turn the prayer over to the Holy Spirit and let Him speak for me. He has a better grasp on this prayer thing than I ever will.
One more important point, and that is that we are supposed to be praying directly to the Father. Jesus plainly says this in John 16 verses 23-24. I think He is trying to get us to concentrate on our relationship with the Father as being the primary source of meeting our needs. As a father myself, I love it when my sons come to me for help, as well as them just spending some time with me. Often, just helping them meets a need in me. If the Father is in any way like that, I would say He longs to bless His children, for two wonderful reasons:
- Because He loves us.
- Because He wants us to hurry back and spend time with Him (and He doesn’t mind “bribing” us with blessings).
Truly there are some “rules” which are to be applied to our prayer life. The following are some I have identified in this article:
- Ask, or you may not get anything.
- Ask with the “right” motive.”
- Don’t pray just to impress
- Pray in secret, unless you are praying for a person in need.
- Follow the prayer pattern which Jesus taught.
- Don’t ever give up praying.
- Don’t fall asleep while praying.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for you, when necessary, by praying in tongues.
- Direct all your prayers to the Father, He wants to hear from you directly.
Please don’t decide that I am being religious about these “rules.” I believe that God is more interested in you just making the time to spend with Him, than He would care about all the “rules” together. On the other hand, our Lord is a God of order. He created overall plans for creation, set them in order, and enforces the rules which keep His plans furthering towards the intended goals. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you spend lots of time with Him asking Him about all of this J.
So, I go back to my initial question, “Do you REALLY take time to pray?” After writing this article, I will confess something to you. I pray, not only because we are supposed to, and but also because I love it when God blesses me. I have a great big, selfish, desire, for more, and more, of whatever God wants to bless me with. Let it rain down on me, Lord!