Ask Steve: The Art of Prayer













Question: Steve, I seem to have a difficult time praying. How do you pray? Is there a right way and a wrong way to pray? Is there anything that can make prayer more effective or less effective than what I am currently doing as a Christian?

Answer: Prayer is one of the most important practices of Christianity. It is the means in which a Christian communicates with and fosters an active relationship with God. A life of weak prayer is usually correlative with a life of weak spirituality. This is why prayer must be a present aspect in every believer’s life.

Admittedly, prayer is difficult. We find it hard to talk to our Lord for many reasons: Prayer is boring. Prayer seems repetitive. Prayer seems questionable in its efficacy. Prayer takes up a little too much time out of our busy schedules. If God is sovereign, why pray? These are some common hindrances to a life of pleasing prayer. Even for Christians who pray on a regular basis, some struggle with whether they are praying correctly. What are the things that I should pray for? Is praying just about asking and receiving, or are there more aspects to it?

Although there is no real wrong posture or time of day in which to pray, there is a wrong attitude in which we tend to pray. Mainstream Protestants, and even people of other monotheistic religions, pray to God as if He were a butler or a genie. They come to Him only to ask or demand of various wants and needs, usually in a time of crisis. The Bible teaches us that although petitions to God are an important aspect of prayer, it is not the main reason to pray. Prayer is not about us getting what we want out of God, making God cater to our sinful will. Prayer is a time in which we align ourselves with God’s will (Matt 6:10; Lk 22:42). In discovering and vowing to abide by God’s will, we find joy and purpose in prayer, which results in effective and answered prayer (1 Jn 5:14). In essence, prayer is not for our glory, but for the glory of God (Jn 14:13). Everything we do in prayer should cause us to examine and deny ourselves for the sake of serving and growing in the Lord, which results in confession of sin (1 Jn 1:9), casting our burdens upon Him (1 Pet 5:6-7), and seeking to do the Lord’s work (Matt 6:10; Eph 6:19-20).

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 is a good guideline of what things a believer should pray for. It is like the Ten Commandments of prayer. We are to begin prayer by acknowledging the transcendent greatness and authority of God. Our entire prayer must glorify God, which is expressed in praise, thanksgiving, and, at times, joyful singing (Jer 25:11; Matt 6:8). It must be a time in which we acknowledge our desire to fellowship with God (Ps 27:4; 42:1; 84:1-4). We offer thanks for His past blessings, especially in saving us from our sins (Phil 1:3-6). This is a time in which we relate to God with our praises, and meditate on His word from Scripture (Ps 119:105). Through reverential prayer, we acknowledge the worth of God’s holy name and desire to represent it well in our daily speech and action.

Prayer 2Prayer is also a time in which we commit ourselves to do kingdom work. In our prayers, we ask God for our actions to make an impact on the culture around us. We want the gospel to spread. We pray for the salvation of the lost (Rom 10:1; 1 Tim 2:1-2) and for the sanctification of fellow believers (Eph 1:15; 3:14). In other words, we intercede on behalf of others so that the Great Commission might succeed in our circle of influence, and even around the world. Because we are servants in God’s kingdom, we ultimately seek for its arrival to earth via Jesus’ second coming, which is what we anticipate (Tit 2:13).

After recognizing the priority of God and His will for us, we move onto expressing our dependence on God for our needs so we can be supplied to do His work on earth. This involves petitioning God for our daily needs, which is a day-by-day dependence on God for food, clothing, and shelter (Matt 6:11). God is ultimately responsible for our physical and financial well being, which is why we depend on Him. Though we are called to work for our daily living, we understand that God is ultimately sovereign in the results, and we are relieved from fear and worries (Phil 4:6). As much as we have material needs, we also have spiritual needs. Prayer must be a time in which we continually examine our spiritual growth to see if there are any impurities that need to be confessed and forsaken, and any virtues that need to be put on. We find peace in prayer as we are freed from the guilt of sin (Ps 32:1) and restored to an unhindered relationship with the Father in heaven.

In prayer, we should properly express our desire to obey God and not fall into the temptation of sin. We ask God for wisdom and the strength to carry it out (Jas 1:5) because we know that Satan lurks in the world to cause all men to sin against the Creator. We ask God to deliver us from situations that would cause us to be tempted, and to even be rescued from the troubles we are in (Ps 20:1; Jonah 2:1), because we know that our sinful choices cause us to reap the results of our mistakes.

This is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. This is how one prays according to God’s will. If a Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit and praying in His name and in His will, then he is in the best possible position to have prayers answered. A prayer of a righteous man avails much (Jas 5:48). That is the secret to answered prayer.

Prayer 3It must be noted that even if we are a Christian and we pray according to God’s will, there are some practices that can truly hinder prayers from being answered. Aside from not knowing Christ as Lord and Savior (Jn 14:6), our prayers can go unanswered if we pray with an unrepentant or prideful heart (Ps 66:18). This is why confession is important in prayer. It fosters humility, and achieves practical restoration between the Christian and God. Prayer also becomes futile when we pray as a public display of piety (Matt 6:5). People who pray in this way do so for attention and approval, and God vows to never honor this kind of prayer. Empty prayer is also composed of meaningless repetition (Matt 6:7-8). This happens when saints pray or recite words without really thinking about it or putting their heart into it. It is like an empty routine. God does not answer prayers when Christians pray with a covetous or lustful heart (Jas 4:3). God is not obligated to answer prayers with wrong motives, which is why our hearts must be pure. As equally dangerous is a petition to God when we are mistreating our spouses or family members (1 Pet 3:7). God cares for the weak and the poor, which is why hatred and misuse of them is abhorrent in God’s eyes. Even neglecting the poor is a cause for unanswered prayers (Prov 21:13). The poor, the widows, the orphans, and sojourners should be our focus of concern, not ignoring or mistreating them. Praying while harboring hatred or bitterness towards another is also what blocks prayers from being heard (Mk 11:25-26). It is better, and more necessary, to reconcile with another person than to offer up sacrifices onto the Lord (Matt 5:19-26). Finally, prayers go unanswered when lifted onto God with a faithless, unbelieving heart (Jas 1:6-8). Christians must pray in full faith and submission, and not be half-hearted or double-minded.

In contrast to fleshly prayer, true biblical prayer is very God-centered. It changes the believer more so than it changes God. It brings believers to a closer understanding of who God is and what the Christian needs to do to become more Christlike. As such, prayer involves petition, intercession, praise, confession, and attitudes like waiting and watching. Prayer can be spent in as little as 5 minutes or as much as 3 hours per day. Though Christians will certainly be rewarded for their long passionate prayers, it is better to have a quality 15 minute prayer than it is to have an unfocused, meaningless 3 hour prayer. However much time we spend in prayer, we should always have an attitude of praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17; Eph 6:18) in our daily lives.

Recommended Resource: The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman