This Sunday, we began exploring the topic of prayer. We will be looking at prayer over the next few weeks, addressing what it is, what it isn’t, and why it is important to the believer. We will also be looking at some myths and misconceptions about prayer that can temper a believer’s expectations and understanding of prayer in the wrong direction.
In class, we began looking at what prayer is and we set out from the beginning to dispell this idea that prayer is like climbing up on Santa’s knee and asking for your toys, all the while trying to convince him that you were good enough for him to oblige your requests. This, unfortunately, is often how God is treated with prayer. We try to convince Him that we have been good enough (righteous enough) for Him to oblige our requests and then we hop down and go on our way, waiting for God to deliver the goods.
I asked if “God answers prayers” and most said, “yes”, but as I indicated in class, it is a trick question. It is a trick question because it makes a presumption about prayer itself – that prayer is a question to be answered. I think a much better question would be, “How/When is God involved in prayer?” This question seeks to get to the bottom of God’s involvement in prayer and to what extent that involvement entails without making a presumption about prayer itself.
We did look at various examples of prayer in scripture and noted that prayer is often of a vaster scale than what we may think.
We looked at Number 11:1-2, where Moses prays on behalf of the people for God to cease the firy judgment He sentenced upon the innermost part of the camp of Israel. This is an example of prayer being a REQUEST.
We looked at 1Samuel 1, where Hannah prayes (REQUESTS) a child from God because of the barreness of her womb. We see in 1Samuel 2, where Hannah prays to PRAISE God for His provision and REJOICES therein. This is an example of prayer being a time of PRAISE and/or REJOICING.
We looked at 1Samuel 8, where Samuel is praying to God out of FRUSTRATION because Israel is demanding a king instead of being ruled by God Himself.
We looked at Luke 5:16, where Christ prays, but withdraws Himself first. This isn’t an example of prayer itself, but demonstrates that prayer is not just a public event, but is something that happens in solitude as well.
We looked at Luke 2:36-37 where the prophetess Anna was in the temple, awaiting the salvation of God (Jehovah Saves, Jesus Christ) and it says that she SERVED God with her prayers. Prayer is an aspect of SERVICE.
We looked at Colossians 4:12 where we see that Epaphras fervently LABORED in prayer on behalf of the Colossians. Prayer is LABORIOUS (but, perhaps not in the same sense as ‘back-breaking work’, but a labor of love).
Finally, we looked at 1Timothy 2:1-2, where we see that prayer is to be made for everyone for the purpose of a believer living a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness. Prayer produces something in the believer’s life, in this instance. This isn’t the only thing, as we’ll see as we progress with this topic, but this is one of the important products of prayer that we should understand.
In Summary (and this wasn’t an exhaustive display of prayer), but it should give some good insight that prayer involves quite a bit of various COMMUNICATION reasons.
Prayer includes: requests, praises, rejoicing, frustration (venting). Prayer also is an act of service, a labor of love, and a means to impact the life the believer lives. This is hardly Santa’s knee!
We turned our attention to what prayer is not. I think we showed that prayer is not limited to questions that need an answer, but there are other aspects of prayer that we wanted to call out.
First, prayer is not a ritual. Anytime we attempt to ritualize God, we have completely missed the point and really should just stop. Prayer is not something that happens at a set time, in a set setting, for a set period of time. It is not something that has a set vocabulary and delivery. Prayer is something that can be very circumstantial – as in the example of Moses and Hannah, but prayer can likewise be something that is quasi-continuence (as in the example of Anna and Epaphras). If we believe we are impressing God with a very rigid, ritualistic approach to prayer, think again. If you have set up your “prayer life” in this fashion, stop – instead, yield of the Spirit of God and see how that changes not only the flavor of your prayers (what you pray about), but also the frequency.
Secondly, prayer is not a time to convey one’s academics. Ever known folks who seem to be giving an expose on how much they know in a prayer?
Thirdly, prayer is not a public display of self-righteousness. We looked at Matthew chapters 6 and 23, where the Pharisees and Scribes used prayer as a means to express how great they were. They thought they would be heard for their “much speaking”, but yet their words were nothing more than “vain repititions.”
Fourthly, prayer is not an indiciation of spirituality. In other words, do not assume “being spiritual” is directly correlated to one’s “prayer life” – again, see points 1, 2 & 3 above. And, being spiritual has NOTHING to do what what you do anyway, but has everything to do with God making you spiritual in the person of Christ. Spirituality belongs to HIM and HIM alone – His grace simply bestows HIS spirituality upon us.
Fifthly, prayer is not a means to down others. You might hear this called, Prayer Gossip. This is when someone feels they have the right to reveal someone’s problem or sin simply because it is wrapped in a prayer request. Paul says that all things should edify the believer – even prayer.
Lastly, prayer is not spiritual collateral. In other words, having the “right kind of prayer” is not what God needs in order to distribute blessings. He doesn’t hold blessings ransom until you have ponied up the right amount of prayer to cover it. The reality is, you have already been blessed with ALL spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3) by being in the personification of said blessings, Jesus Christ.
Next week, we’ll continue on and explore prayer by answering these questions:
How to Pray (is there a specific formula)?
What to Expect from Prayer?