A Bible study on prayer shows prayer to be a critical part of the life of every Christian.
The story is told of a little boy who went to bed and kneeled down and said this prayer, “Dear God, please take care of my daddy and my mommy and my sister and my brother and my doggy and me. Oh, and please take care of Yourself. If anything happens to You, we’re gonna be in an awful mess.”
The Bible stresses the importance of prayer. In the New Testament alone, reference to prayer is found well over one hundred times and is referenced in most of the New Testament books.
Prayer was a critical part of Jesus’ life. He would often remove Himself from the crowds and go to a place of isolation, usually upon a mountain, where He would spend all night in prayer to God.
So important is prayer that the inspired writers recorded the contents of many of His prayers. In fact, the night in which Jesus was betrayed, the night before His crucifixion, He was in great anguish of spirit. It was a time when He was perhaps the most distressed He had ever been with His impending death. What did He do? He went to God in prayer. That’s a lesson we all need to learn. One of the longest prayers recorded is the one uttered by Jesus in John 17.
Prayer is so important that Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. This implies that there is a right way and a wrong way to pray. As much as has been revealed in the Bible about prayer, surprisingly there is much about prayer that is misunderstood.
If you study the words in 1 Timothy 2.1, you will find the bible concept of prayer.
Notice the four words that Paul used in this verse:
Let’s begin our Bible study on prayer by first of all considering Who is involved in the process of prayer.
When you study the Bible on prayer, you will find that there are three different deistic beings who are involved in the our prayers.
When we pray our thoughts are directed and addressed to God. In fact, we can read in Philippians 4.6, “Let your requests be made known to God”.
When we address God, we are not just addressing God as some distant, uninvolved, personality. We are addressing Him as our Father. Jesus said to pray saying, “Our Father in heaven” Who is Our God and Father in heaven whom we are addressing in prayer?
In the first verse of the Bible, we read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1.1). In the book of Psalms, David praises God.
Have you ever stopped to consider how vast our universe is? If you were to somehow step onto a spaceship and travel 186,000 miles a second (speed of light), it would still take you well over 150,000 years to go from one side of our galaxy to the other. Then consider that there are innumerable galaxies in this universe each having the approximately the same amount of stars and spanning the same distance as our own. This is the power of God. He just spoke, and this universe came into existence.
When you pray, you are addressing your thoughts and your concerns to that same God. Jesus said that when we address Him, we see Him as a Father. “Our Father in heaven…”.
When we pray, we find a second person involved in our prayers, and that is Jesus Christ. Notice carefully the above text. It is a context of praying. Remember that “supplications” is asking God for a favor. “Prayer” is talking to God. "Intercessions” is talking to God on behalf of someone else. “Giving of thanks” is talking to God and expressing gratitude.
When we come to verse 5, we are told that there is “one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” As we pray, we are addressing our prayers to God as our Father, and right in between us and the Father whom we are addressing is a Mediator. According to verse 5 that Mediator is Jesus Christ. We approach God as our Father in prayer, but we approach Him through Jesus Christ as our mediator.
Let’s give some thought to who Jesus is.
God has a system, a means by which He operates. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. As a member of the Godhead, the Father spoke this universe into existence. But when He did so, it was done through another member of the Godhead.
The Father is One who has deistic power, and He exerted that power to create this universe. He did so through another who also has deistic power, who is Christ.
Let’s take that back to our thoughts on prayer. God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and you are addressing your prayers to Him as your heavenly Father. When you pray, your thoughts are going through the powerful, deistic, Jesus Christ who wants you to think of Him as a brother. In fact, the Hebrew writer wrote, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2.11).
To be sanctified means to be set apart for God. The One who sanctifies is Jesus. The ones who are sanctified are the ones who have been set apart for God. Those who have been sanctified are Christians. So this passage says that both Jesus Christ and Christians are all one. If we back up in the text, we learn that Jesus became flesh just as you and I are flesh. In that sense we are all one. We are unified in that we all have the commonality of having flesh and blood. That’s what this passage is saying.
For this reason, since you and I are flesh and blood, and since Jesus also as the One who sanctifies became flesh and blood, “For this reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” The Holy Spirit who inspired this writer presents Jesus Christ, not just as our Savior, not just as our Lord and Christ, but as our brother.
Let’s put this together: You pray addressing your prayer to the Father, and when you do, your prayer goes through Jesus as your brother. When we pray, we are going through Christ with whom we have a special relationship as brother because He became flesh and blood and shed His blood on the cross of Calvary. We are addressing the Father with whom we now have a relationship as Father because of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is involved in our prayer as a Helper. The reason why you call the Holy Spirit a Helper is because that is the way that Jesus presented Him. Just before Jesus was crucified, He told His disciples that He was departing. “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14.16).
In His absence, He makes a promise to send the Holy Spirit. If we skip down to John 14.26, He continues, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14.26).
The Greek word for “Helper” is parakletos. Literally, it means, One who comes to your side when you call. The Holy Spirit is our Helper. He comes to our side when we call Him in this context of prayer.
How does the Holy Spirit help us? The answer is found in a statement the apostle Paul made in Romans. In reference to prayer, Paul wrote, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Rom. 8.26)
The Father knows the minds and hearts of man. When we pray, the Holy Spirit comes to our side and helps us when we do not know what to say.
In the context, it was a time of many sufferings. Have you endured sufferings so great that you want to go to the Father through Jesus Christ and pray, but your heart is aching so much that you just don’t know how to put the raw feelings, the pain and anguish, the pleas to help into words? Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night because of something that was weighing heavily on your mind, and you wanted to take it to God in prayer, but you just didn't know what to say?
In such cases, the Holy Spirit is our Helper. He helps us in our weaknesses. He does not enter our hearts and help us form the words so that we say the right things when we pray. He helps us in that He takes the thoughts, the pain, the groanings in our hearts, and He conveys them to God. He says, here is what this person means. Here is what he is intending to communicate.
Prayer is such a mystery to so many. Even the disciples who saw Jesus praying came to Him and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11.1). Prayer is something that needs to be learned.
It is important to realize that prayer is merely talking to God. The Bible does not have a series of prayers for us to memorize and recite. The prayers we have recorded in the Bible are individuals or groups of people expressing to God what is in their hearts.
May I offer a suggestion? Just talk to God. Get rid of all the formal language, “thee”, thou”, mimicking the same phrases and terminology that you hear repeated over and over every Sunday as if that somehow legitimizes your prayer. Just talk to God.
I had a discussion recently with someone who asked me how to pray. I reminded her that in the Bible people just talked to God. So when you pray, just talk to God. There is no formal prewritten prayer that you recite. Prayer is just talking to God. Tell Him what is on your mind. Tell Him what concerns you. Tell Him what troubles you, with your own words, with your own vernacular. Tell Him how thankful you are for your blessings.
Have you ever heard the term, “The Lord’s Prayer”? In Luke 11.1, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus then said, “When you pray, say...” (Luke 11.2), and Jesus gives a list of things to say when we pray to God. This sample prayer is often referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. Jesus never meant for this model prayer to be memorized and recited. It is a sample that gives us some general ideas of what to include in our prayers.
These merely provide an example of the kinds of things we might want to include in our prayer, but it is not the Lord’s Prayer. Actually, the Lord’s Prayer is not found in Luke 11, but in John 17. In context, we find Jesus on the night before He is crucified, and He offers a deeply personal, heart-felt prayer to God. In this prayer as well as some additional passages, we learn some things about how to pray.
We know God as Yahweh, Jehovah God, the One that was, that is, and that always will be. We know Him as the great I AM. We know Him as the Creator of all things, the One who gives life, breath, and all things. But we also know Him as Our Heavenly Father.
The night in which Jesus was betrayed, the night before His death, from when He was in that upper room instituting the Lord’s Supper to when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He used the word Father 53 times. And many of those times were used in John 17 as Jesus prayed. (John 17.1,5,11,21,24,25)
When you offer prayer to God, remember that you are praying to the Creator, our heavenly Father, and give Him the respect He deserves.
Here is Christ who was Deity before the foundations of the world, who was given all authority just before He left this world to be reunited with God (Matt. 28.18). Between those two times, He lived like a man, a human being, and He goes to God asking for the glory that He once had but now does not. Do you see the humility?
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus even said of Himself, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11.29). Jesus was “lowly in heart”, and this humility was expressed in His prayer to the Father.
When we are praying, that is something that we need to remember. We are creation who is speaking to the Creator. We need to have humility. When you pray, remember the words of Peter who wrote, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5.6,7).
Repeatedly throughout this prayer you read Jesus referring to the world and how He does not want His disciples to be influenced by the world.
He says that He is not going to be in this world anymore, but these disciples are. He prays for the Father to keep them from the evil one in the world. Sanctify them by His word. That’s how one is sanctified, by the way, in keeping and living by the Bible. Jesus was constantly concerned about the purity of His disciples. When He prayed, Jesus had purity in His heart, and He desired purity in the heart of His disciples.
When we pray, that’s something to keep in mind. We cannot live the way we want indulging in worldliness, giving into our fleshly desires, and then go to God in prayer and expect Him to hear our prayers. We are to be holy as God is holy. Is that not what Peter wrote? “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1.15,16)
In context, Jesus teaches about the proper way to pray, and He warns not to be like those who pray using vain repetitions believing they will be heard by their many words.
When we address the Father in prayer and we make our petitions, our Father, know the things we have need. When does the Father have that knowledge? Before we ask Him!
If that is the case, then why do we even need to ask? Perhaps it is because we need to learn to depend on Him for our needs. What this tells us is that prayer is not for God. Prayer is for us. There doesn’t even need to be communication between us and God for God to know our needs. Communication exists so that we can know that we need God.
Notice that it doesn’t say that the peace of God will guard you only when He says “yes.” You stop worrying about your troubles. Instead talk to God about it, and then back off. And when you learn to trust in God knowing that He knows what is best for you, you will have this peace that surpasses all understanding.
When we face the storms of life that threaten to disrupt the calm of our minds, would you like to be able to be at peace on the inside? That is what prayer will do.
The word “anxious” comes from a Greek root that means “to divide”. From this root forms another word that means “to give thought”. And the idea is that of one going about living his life, going to work, going to school, but then there is something that causes his attention to be divided. And now he can no longer give his full attention to his family because there is trouble at the workplace and all he can think about are the problems at work. Or he goes to work but he cannot concentrate because he is in the middle of a financial crisis, and it is weighing on his mind, and he has a hard time thinking about anything else. Have you ever felt that way? Paul says not to allow yourself to be so troubled by the cares and concerns of life that they become a distraction.
Instead, “by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” If you are distressed and anxious so that you are distracted by those thoughts, and you wonder what you are going to do, go and talk to God and make your petitions to Him.
In doing so, do not forget to be thankful. Remember that even though you are struggling with something you are well blessed by God. Don’t forget that. Things are never all bad. No matter how bad you have it, there is always something good in your life that you can point to and be thankful.
When you do that, you will have this peace that cannot be explained. It is a peace that is beyond our comprehension. Do you want to be at peace, to have peace that does not make any sense to some people. They see what you’re going through and they ask, “How can you be so calm and cool headed?” It is because you trust in God, and know that He has your best interest in mind. And whatever He does, it will be for good to those who love the Lord.
When you pray, knowing who is involved in my prayer, you will have peace that surpasses understanding.
The phrase “without ceasing” translates from three Greek words: “a”, “dia”, and “leipo”.
Actually, in ancient Greece, "adialeipo" was a medical term used to describe a hacking cough. When you are sick you get a stuffy, runny nose. You may experience painful sinus pressure. Your eyes may water. After some time you start to feel better. But it always seems like the cough is the last thing to go. How many times have you said, “I feel fine, but I just have this cough”? It is a cough that just doesn't seem to want to stop. This constant ongoing cough was given a medical term adialeipo: “without ceasing”
Paul writes that we are to pray without interruption or interval. Our prayers need to be as constant and ongoing as a hacking cough. Do you realize that the average Christian prays less than three minutes a day? Does this mean that we are to pray 24/7? Does it mean that we are to have a prayer in our minds and on our lips every waking hour? Of course not.
What it does mean is that prayer needs to be integrated into our daily routine.
Prayer needs to be a constant part of our day. It’s called persistence.
I suppose what is most misunderstood in relation to a Bible study on prayer is in reference to if and how God answers prayers. When we pray, our prayers are to be offered by faith and no doubting. But often we will wonder if God really hears our prayers and will answer them.
If our requests are not granted, it is tempting to question God. We realize that He is there for us, and we know He has the ability to do what we am requesting.
So we turn inward and question ourselves. We read in James 5.16 that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” So we begin to wonder if we have sin in our lives that would make us unrighteous. What have we done that would cause God to not hear and answer our prayers? What should we be doing that we have not been doing?
So we am tempted to question God, we question myself, all because God has not answered our prayers. I would suspect that there are many of you who have had those struggles yourself.
Let’s give some attention to the Bible and see why prayers may seem to go unanswered.
When Jesus began His ministry, He began it with prayer. In Luke 3, as Jesus was being baptized, the moment He came up, with the water still dripping from His body, He prayed (Luke 3.21).
As Jesus hung from the cross, the last thing that He said with His last dying breath was a prayer (Luke 23.46).
He began and ended His ministry with prayer. Jesus taught that men always ought to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18.1). Studying prayer in the Bible it becomes clear that prayer is the key to enduring life’s heartaches, and prayer is the key to enjoying life’s blessings. But prayer is a gift, a blessing belonging only to those who are His saved people.
Even among those who are saved, prayer is only heard by God if we are right with Him. Peter quoted a passage from Psalm 34.11-16. From this quote, Peter wrote, “Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Peter was addressing those who were the people of God (1 Pet 2.9,10). To those who were saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, Peter warns that if we are not living a life of righteousness, God’s ears are not open to our prayers.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13.5, to “examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.” If God does not answer your prayers, perhaps an honest self-examination is necessary.
John reminds those who are faithful Christians that we can know that when we pray to God we will have the things we have asked. But there is a condition. It is only when the things we ask are according to the will of God that we can have this assurance.
How do we pray according to the will of God? First, when you study prayer in the Bible, you will discover that there are some things we can know because God has revealed it to us. In the context of 1 John 5, the will of God is revealed.
What is the context? John is writing about asking God for forgiveness. It is according to the laws of God to forgive sins when we sincerely repent and ask Him to forgive us. Therefore when we as Christians come to God repenting of our sins and we ask Him for forgiveness, we are asking according to His will. And when we ask according to His will, He gives us what we ask.
Are there times when one might ask, but will not receive because it is not according to His revealed will? Absolutely! Notice this observation made by James.
James 4.2,3: “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Is it possible that you are not being given the things you are asking because you are not asking with the right motives? Will God grant our petition if we ask for a large sum of money to spend of pleasure? Will God grant our petition if we ask for our boss to get sick or even lose his life? These are not prayers that are according to the will of God, and we know that because this is what He revealed.
Second, when you study prayer in the Bible, you will discover that there are times when we cannot know the will of God because God has not revealed all that He desires in every circumstance in our lives. Notice again a statement made by James.
James 4.13-15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’”
Is it God’s desire that you travel to this or that city? We don’t know. Is it God’s desire that you profit in business? We don’t know. Is it God’s desire that you live or die? We don’t know. Therefore we need to develop the attitude when we pray that as we ask for this and that, we have an attitude of compliance. We ask for this or that if it is God’s will to grant it.
In this Bible study on prayer, we think about this question of whether God will answer our prayers. Sometimes we confuse the idea of answered prayers with the idea of being granted the petitions that we have asked of Him. Most people think of answered prayers, but what they are really asking is will they receive the petitions that they have asked of Him. However, God can answer our prayers without giving us what we have asked for as the answer can be “no.”
Consider the example of David. In 2 Samuel 7, God told David “no.” David did not lead a perfect, sinless life. In fact he had sinned in ways that you and I would find difficult to believe. But when he sinned, he also repented and begged for forgiveness, and God did forgive him, and he praised God for His mercy.
God did not tell David “no” because of his sinfulness. God did not tell him no because what he was asking for was something that God did not have the ability to do. God did not tell him no because God did not love him or was not involved in his life. Nonetheless, God told him no.
In 2 Samuel, we read David’s request in verse 2: “the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.’ Then Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.’” (2 Sam. 7.2,3).
David calls Nathan the prophet and makes a request. The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God, and this Ark of the Covenant rested in the inner room the Holiest of all. So what David was saying is that he was living in a nice home, a house of cedar, but God was living in a mere tent, and he wanted do something about that.
When the prophet Nathan heard what David had proposed, he thought that was a marvelous idea. He could not imagine God objecting to such a request. Have you ever prayed for something thinking how could God possibly say no to this. You are praying for your sick relative to get better, how could God be against that? That’s what Nathan was saying. Nathan tells David to go and do what was in his heart. After all, why would God be against it?
When we come to verse 4, God came to Nathan that night and said for him to go back to David and tell him, “no”.
Sometimes, in God’s wisdom being able to look at the big picture, knowing what is best for us better we know what is best, will answer our prayers, but the answer is “no”. And sometimes we just have to accept His answer.
There is not found in the scriptures the idea that when we pray for something, we need to just stop asking and that by continuing to ask we show a lack of faith. There is not found in the Bible the idea that we are to stop praying because we don’t get what we want. Sometimes we throw up our hands in defeat and we wonder, what is the point? Why should we keep praying when it seems God does not grant us our requests?
In Luke 18.1, I read, “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” Jesus told a parable of the persistent widow who constantly approached theking with her request. In this parable, Jesus did not say that we should pray only as long as we are getting what we want.
Paul said to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5.17). He did not say to pray without ceasing until you stop scoring, then you can stop. When God answers your prayer, keep praying. When God answers your prayer, but says no, keep praying.
Prayer needs to be such an important part of the life of
every Christian. May the Lord give us
tender hearts and calloused knees rather than calloused hearts and tender