"QUITE TIME OF PRAYER"
PRAYER IS HALF OF A CONVERSATION WITH GOD
God talks to His people through the Bible. God's people talk to Him through prayer. Therefore, prayer is one half of a heavenly conversation between God and His people. This fact is the basis for understanding prayer.
Although prayer is talking to God, it is a different than the normal conversation between two people. Our prayers are not just casual and polite conversation. We are not just passing the time of day with idle chitchat or small talk until we find something better to do. For one thing, the conversation is not between equals. Prayer is what a creature says to his Creator. For another thing, the conversation is between a sinner and a holy God. Even people who are saved have bodies that lust after sin with which they struggle all their lives, including the times they go to God in prayer.
And yet, these realities do not discourage God's people. Instead, believers are motivated to talk to God for many reasons. They believe that He is listening (Psalm 66:19). They believe that He understands them (Heb. 2:11-14, 4:15,16). They believe that He really can do something about their concerns if He wants to (Psalm 115:3, 135:6, Matt. 8:2). They believe that He cares about every detail of their lives (Matt. 10:30,31) and is always willing to do the best for His children (Luke 12:29-32, Eph. 1:5).
SOME WRONG IDEAS ABOUT PRAYER
Unfortunately, many people have wrong notions about prayer. When people ignore or misunderstand what the Bible says about prayer, when people base their thinking upon superstition, mysticism or some other human philosophy, they will either stop praying altogether or not pray as God desires. Therefore, it is important that we consider and set aside some wrong ideas of prayer.
Prayer itself does not have supernatural power. All power is in God. He is the supreme Sovereign. He has the wisdom and power to do always what He pleases, no matter what anyone says in prayer. Therefore, we must not think that prayers have the ability in themselves to change circumstances. Prayers themselves do not change anything. God alone does.
Prayer is not some mysterious ritual by which the person who prays gains entrance into a holier state. We must not think that prayer is equal to a magic incantation or an entrancing mantra by which the person who prays elevates himself to a higher consciousness. Prayers themselves do not make the people who pray righteous. Prayers themselves do not change the hearts and souls of the people who pray. God alone does.
Prayer is not a religious activity which especially impresses God. For one thing, when people pray, they must not think that they are doing God a favor. God does not need their prayers. They need to pray. For another thing, when people pray, they must not be full of self- congratulation for the effort, as if their prayers gain for them some credit or merit. When people seek the praise of men for their prayer, that is all they will receive (Matt 6:5). And even more perilous, when people seek the favor of God for their prayer, they are practicing a gospel of works.
We should also mention that many people hold to the view that prayer has little real value. For them, prayer seems like a weak thing to do, sort of a last resort to be tried when nothing else works. That distortion springs out of hearts that are self-confident and earthly centered rather than God-confident and heavenly centered.
Remember, prayer is talking to God Almighty. We should not expect a man's words to have any special power or value. And they do not. Also, we should expect God alone to have all the wisdom and power needed to meet the needs of those who pray. And He does.
Because people are sinners, ego, self-centeredness, worldly desire and a trust in self are closely bound to their minds and hearts and distort their view of prayer. Therefore, we must put aside any man-centered or earthly ideas of prayer in our attempt to think about prayer as accurately and clearly as possible.
THE PERSONAL VALUE OF PRAYER
Colossians 3:1,2 commands God's people to set their affections, or thoughts, on "things which are above," where Christ is, and "not on things on the earth." To that end, one of the supreme values of prayer is that it focuses a person's mind and heart upon God. In honest prayer, a believer is thinking of the Person to whom he is speaking. When the images of both the attractions and threats of the world fade from his mind as he is talking to God, he has found the blessing of prayer. When talking to God reminds him of the vanity of his self-confidence and reminds him of his dependence upon God for all things, he has found the blessing of prayer. When earnestly talking to God crowds out the suggestions of sin which so easily beset his mind with the result that he lives a more holy and faithful life, he has found the blessing of prayer. When talking to God draws his heart closer to his loving Savior and Lord, he has found the blessing of prayer (Isaiah 26:2, Phil. 4:8,9).
However, prayer is not a psychological trick designed to make people think better thoughts and so feel better about themselves and the world. We must remember that all wisdom and power are in God, so that a mind fixed upon God is hopeful and expectant of the blessings that can come from His hand. People who pray are thinking of something true about God to whom they talk. They know God is wise and able to do all things well. They know that it is His good pleasure to do all things for good for them who are His children. Instead of focusing upon their problems to the extent that the problems dominate their minds and smother their hope, believers thoughts include the truths that God is on the throne, hears their prayers and does all things well, in His great time and way (Matt. 6:24-34). One great value of prayer is the peace and comfort that comes to people who abandon their own wisdom and strength and pray that God would take complete control of their minds and hearts as they struggle with trials and personal sins.
Prayer also has real value in helping true believers grow in grace. Many things that God does within His people, to strengthen their
characters and help them conform to His word, are done in His own secret way, unknown to anyone but Him. Nevertheless, we do know that, over time, through the specific and concrete actions of Bible study and prayer, God's people begin to show the fruits of His wise and wonderful work within them. God uses His peoples' prayers to mold their lives to conform to and display His will. That change is another value of prayer.
PRAYER IS A TOOL IN GOD'S HAND
God does not need the prayers of His people to do His will. In fact, He has done and still does many things without the accompanying prayers of any of His people. For example, He created the universe without the prayers of anyone. Also, no one can intelligently pray for all that is needed to sustain it in all of its amazing detail. And yet, in God's wisdom, He has decided to use the conversation He has with His people to accomplish His will, especially His will of salvation. Like a father who delights to work with his child, weak and bumbling as that child is, God has chosen to create a desire to pray for His will in the hearts of His people and then answers their prayers.
Perhaps we can better understand this dimension of prayer when we compare it to God's method of spreading His Word. As in all things, God's salvation plan is totally in His hands. He does not need the participation of His people to send His gospel into the world. But as an expression of the love He has for His people, He has included them in the joy of spreading His Word. As an expression of the love He has for His people, He works with them in the fields as they plant and water and as He brings the increase. God is wise and powerful enough to do His will without the prayers and efforts of His people. But He is loving enough to patiently use the tools of both His peoples' prayers and their distribution of His word to build His kingdom and prepare the world for His return.
However, we must not think that God is compelled to bring revival in response to a campaign in which many people pray earnestly for a mighty work of God. It is true that God's children ought to pray because God does respond to and answer the prayers which express the desires of their hearts, as we read in Psalm 37:4. However, the full understanding of that verse is that God gives His children the heart to desire His will and then He fulfills that desire. That is, God always answers prayers in agreement with His own will. Fervent zeal, even for an apparently good purpose, is not a substitute for a knowledge of God's will. Therefore, rather than insist that, because they have a holy desire, they can expect God to work as they
request in their prayers, people who pray must always be concerned about God's will. "Thy will be done" is more than a pious appendage to prayer. It is an accurate and honest recognition that God knows best, and some of the things He may do will surprise His people. As always, God's will is done and that is the real desire of God's people.
THE SHAPE OF PRAYER
Usually when people ask about prayer their questions are about the details of prayer, such as, "How should I pray? What words do I use? How long should I pray? When do I pray? Where do I pray?" These questions can be good, but they must not lead us to be so concerned about the mechanics of our prayers that they strangle the joy of talking to God, which can then paralyze our efforts.
And yet, if it is true that God's children pray out of a love for God, ... if it is true that those who pray respect His sovereignty and majesty, ... if it is true that those who pray truly believe that God is listening to them, ... if it is true that those who pray are concerned about the matters about which they talk to God, ... if it is true that those who pray want God's will to be done, ... if it is true that those who pray care about the people for whom they pray and greatly desire that God bless them, then we understand why they have a concern to pray in a way that honors and pleases Him. With this in mind, it is proper to think about the form of their prayers, as it helps them to serve God as faithfully as possible. To this end we shall briefly look at the Bible's place in prayer and the questions of when and where we pray.
How do we pray? The place of God's word, the Bible
The key to answering questions about the content and form of prayers that please God is God's word the Bible. In short, the answer is, "Use God's words in your own prayers." God's words express the thoughts and intents of our hearts better than our own words do because God who wrote the Bible understands us better than we do ourselves.
Does that mean that our prayers are only quotations from the Bible? What about our own words? Where do they fit in? Our own words will dominate our prayers. That is expected and is as it should be. The reason is that we talk to God as a friend, expressing all our own thoughts and feelings about the immediate and detailed issues of life as we encounter them each day. Our prayers should flow spontaneously out of
our hearts. They should express things that maybe we have not even thought out carefully previous to our time with God in prayer.
However, true believers spend time in the Bible. Their conversation with God is not a one-way street. Listening to God, who talks to them in the Bible, is also part of their conversation with Him. As they spend more and more time in the Bible, God's words, both the vocabulary and the syntax, become part of their thoughts. They begin thinking about what God says, and begin to think about it in the way God says it. God's word shapes their thinking and their speech, including what they say to God in prayer.
More than that, the Bible mentions some specific things about what we believers ought to say when we talk to God. The Bible tells us to address God as "Our Father" as we pray (Matt. 6:9). This is one command of the Bible which shapes our prayers. It also recognizes the fact that God is not a "buddy" with whom we hang out and chew the fat, but that we are talking to the Almighty Creator of the universe. The Bible also tells us to pray in Jesus' name. This command is given, not in order to attach a proper ending to our prayers as someone would end a letter, but to recognize that Jesus has sacrificed His own life in order to make a way for us to the Father (John 14:13; 16:23). This recognizes the great mercy of God that allows us to come boldly to the throne of grace. The Bible also tells us to pray according to God's will (I John 5:14). This does not mean just to use the words "according to Thy will," but to desire and trust that God's will be done, no matter what it is that we might want.
As God's people grow in grace, their prayers are more and more shaped by God's word. But this does not mean they parrot some biblical formula. The Bible warns against prayers of vain repetition (Matt. 6:7). For example, some people encourage those people to whom they witness to pray the "sinner's prayer," as if once certain words are spoken, their salvation is assured. In another example, some people use the "Lord's prayer" as their chief expression of prayer, as if the prayer is especially holy and will assure that they are heard by God. In one more example, some people use some convenient phrase at the dinner table day after day, without any change, as if in the exercise of saying "grace" they have paid their dues and are assured of God's blessing, at least during the meal they are about to eat. These are all wrong ways to use the gift and privilege of prayer. We must keep in mind that prayer is talking to God. No one talks to his friends in some artificial formula. God has not given His people the Bible to be used as a ritualistic prayer book or mindless mantra. Instead
James 5:16 - The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
A Song of degrees.
121:1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
121:2 My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
121:3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee
will not slumber.
121:4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
121:5 The LORD [is] thy keeper: the LORD [is] thy shade upon thy
121:6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
121:7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve
121:8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from
this time forth, and even for evermore.