What is prayer? Certainly a good question. Our childhood experiences may well influence how we view prayer, especially if we have been raised with a religious background. But prayer is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as ‘the act of speaking to God, to express thanks or to ask for help’. Simply put, it is communicating with God. How we view God will very much effect how we pray. The longer we have walked in a relationship with Him, will have an impact on how we communicate with Him.
There are five different types of prayer. Theses include: adoration (praising God and admitting our dependence on Him), confession (owning up to sin and asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness), thanksgiving (for all our many blessings), petition (making our requests known to Him) and intercessions (praying for others). But God loves no greater prayers than our authentic ones. He longs for us to pray from our hearts.
When I was in Jerusalem a few years ago, I was walking through the city and saw a little child who had stopped to see something in a shop window. His father had carried on walking, ‘Abba, Abba’, the child cried as he thought his father was fading from sight. The father turned around and the child ran to him and was scooped up into his arms. Abba is the name in Hebrew for ‘Daddy’.
It reminded me of Romans 8:15. In it Paul says, ‘the Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again. Rather, the Spirit you have received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry. “Abba, father.” This is how our Father in heaven wants us to know Him, as our Abba, our Daddy. It was the term Jesus used when addressing God and is the term God wants us to use when addressing Him.
Have we sensed His care? 1 Peter 5:7 says, ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you’. Do we truly know Him as a loving Father? In John 16:27 Jesus was speaking to the disciples when He said, ‘the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.’ If we believe that Jesus came from God, then we can be assured that God the Father loves us.
We can walk in peace
So if we can truly believe that He loves us then we can be open and honest in our prayers. He already knows all we are about to say anyway. We can speak to Him as we would to a perfect Father. It is an evolving means of interacting with God. It can be spontaneous, very personal and unorganised. Prayer changes things. Even if we don’t see an immediate physical change, the very act of praying turns the situation over to God and in so doing we can walk in peace.
One of my favourite verses in scripture is, ‘And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes’, Rom 8:28. That means that even when we have to go through bad or difficult situations we know that God can and will work it all for good. Difficult situations cause our growth, understanding and empathy for others going through the same. And so as we lift our difficult situations to Him, let us be assured that He will deal with them and use them for our good.
Prayer In that beautiful moment When song-birds fill the air I seek the quietness of my room To be with You in prayer. Away from the busy world I can in You convey My thoughts, my hopes and dreams As I kneel to pray. Gentle glowing embers Warm my inner being Though darkness may fill my eyes It’s You, I’m clearly seeing. Beyond the far horizon More deeply I’m aware That my gentle, loving Jesus Is alive with me in prayer. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
The soul’s ascent toward God
Henry says – In prayer we are directed to be sincere. When you pray (Matt. 6:5). It is taken for granted that all the disciples of Christ would pray. As soon as the Apostle Paul was converted, he prayed. It is easier to find a living man who does not breathe, than a living Christian that does not pray. For this shall every one who is godly, pray. Yet in prayer Jesus cautions us against two great faults: vain-glory (doing it out loud for self-glorification) (Matt. 6:5, 6), and against vain repetitions (those prayers that have no sincerity, just read by rote), Matt. 6:7, 8.
We must not be proud and vain-glorious in prayer, not aiming at the praise of men for this is the way and practice of the hypocrites. In all their exercises of devotion, it was plain, the chief thing they aimed at was to be commended by their neighbours. When they seemed to soar upwards in prayer (and if it be done right, it is the soul’s ascent toward God), yet even then their eye was downwards upon others as their prayed.
The hypocrites chose to pray in the synagogues, which were proper places for public prayer, but not for personal. They pretended to do honour to the place of their assemblies, but really did it to do honour to themselves. Choosing to pray on the corners of the streets, they caused themselves to be taken more notice of.
They prayed standing which is a good posture for prayer (Mark 11:25; When you stand praying), but kneeling is the more humble and reverent gesture. Jesus Himself ‘knelt down and prayed’, Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60; Eph. 3:14. Yet the hypocritical Pharisees stood and prayed, to be seen by men.
Close the door and pray to your Father
The result of this is, they have their reward in full. They have all the compensation they can ever expect from God for their service, and a poor reward it is. How will it benefit us to have the good word of our fellowmen, if our Master does not say, Well done? Whatever passes between God and our own souls must be out of sight.
What is the will of Jesus Christ in opposition to this? Humility and sincerity are the two great lessons that Christ teaches us. You, 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 (Matt. 6:6). Secret prayer is to be performed in our restful times when we may be unobserved and when we are going to be undisturbed. This is so we may avoid distraction and be unheard, and so may have greater freedom.
Pray to Him as a Father, as your Father, ready to hear and answer. He is graciously inclined to pity, help and relieve you. Pray to your Father who is in secret. God is present in all places. He is there in your room when no one else is there. He is there especially close to you when you call on Him. By secret prayer we give God the glory of His universal presence (Acts 17:24), and may comfort ourselves in it.
Pray in secret
For your Father sees in secret. His eye is upon you to accept you, when the eye of no man is upon you to applaud you. Christ said to Nathaniel ‘I saw you under the fig-tree’, John 1:48. He saw Paul at prayer in such a street, at such a house, Acts 9:11. There is no secret, or reaching out to God in our hearts or speech that He does not see or hear.
He will reward you openly. For praying in secret you shall be rewarded. The reward will be open and it shall be given over and above. Sometimes secret prayers are rewarded openly in this world by signal answers (that others take notice of). But at the Great Day there will be an open reward, when all praying people shall appear in glory before angels and men.
We must not use vain repetitions in prayer, Matt. 6:7, 8. Though the life of prayer lies in lifting up the soul and pouring out the heart, yet in joint prayers words are important. The Lord’s prayer which follows in this chapter is a joint prayer. Yet we are warned against using ostentatious language and expression either alone or with others.
Your Father in heaven knows what things you have need of before you ask Him, and therefore there is no occasion for an abundance of words. However it does not follow that we do not need to pray. For God requires you to own your need of Him and dependence on Him. We are to open our case, and pour out our hearts before Him, and then leave it with Him.
His eyes run to and fro through the earth
We need to consider that the God we pray to is our Father by creation and by covenant. Therefore our addresses to Him should be easy and natural. Children do not need to make long speeches to their parents when they want anything. Let us come to Him with the disposition of children, with love, reverence, and dependence. We are taught to say, Abba, Father.
He is a Father who knows our case and knows our wants better than we do ourselves. He knows what things we have need of. His eyes run to and fro through the earth, to observe the necessities of His people, (2 Chron. 16:9). He often gives before we call (Isa. 65:24), and more than we ask for (Eph. 3:20), and if He does not give His people what they ask, it is because He knows they do not need it, and that it is not for their good. He is a much better judge than we are for ourselves.
Lord all my desire is before You
We do not need to use many words in representing our case. God knows it better than we can tell Him. Yet He longs to hear from us (what do you want Me to do for you?) When we have told Him what it is, we must refer ourselves to Him, Lord all my desire is before You, Ps. 38:9. We are not to prescribe, but subscribe to God.
There were then and still are many corruptions that had crept into the Christian duty of prayer, so Christ saw fit to give a new direction in prayer. He showed His disciples what ought to be the matter and method of prayer. He gave us the Lord’s prayer, it is of His composing and is very comprehensive. It is a letter sent from earth to heaven (as is every prayer). It is directed to, our Father, and where, in heaven. Within it are several assignments and the close of it, for Yours is the kingdom with a seal of, Amen. The date too is stipulated, this day. The next blog will cover The Lord’s Prayer in more detail.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Prayer for the Day
Father I come to You. Lord I pray that You teach me to pray. May my prayers go deeper and reach higher. Help me to have a better understanding of You, that I may pray more effectively. Cause me to see You as a loving Father, ready to hear my prayers. Help my prayers to be full of humility and sincerity. Remind me to pray in times of rest when I will be unheard by others and undisturbed. May I own my need of You and my dependence on You. I declare that You are my Father by creation and covenant. You have covenanted Yourself to me through the shed blood of Jesus. May I come to You with the disposition of a child, with love, reverence, and dependence. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.