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Lessons on Prayer

Compiled by Bruce Atkinson
August 24, 2020

"I call on You, O God, for You will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer."
- Psalm 17:6

The primary purpose of prayer is not to get us what we desire... unless that desire is to develop a closer relationship with the divine. Prayer is first about relationship.

Prayer requires humility... which is just honesty about ourselves. We don't deserve to approach God, but we come to God because He tells us to do so. We are all sinners and He wants our attention because of His mercy.
We can never enter God's presence for prayer when we are in our pride. Paul reminds us, in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31, that in our Salvation, through Jesus, we can "boast" only in the grace provided to us by God: "And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'". We can only enter God's presence when we humble ourselves in Jesus. Humility and penitence before God invites His presence -- "Here I am, Lord; just as I am; have mercy on me a sinner." - Foley Beach

What does God most want of us? First things first: you know the first and greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37)

John recorded these words of Jesus: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3) If we put these Scriptures together and it becomes clear that there is a prior condition to loving God--we first must know Him.

Jesus told us to seek first God's Kingdom and spiritual things, and then everything else will take care of itself (Matthew 6:20-33). Moreover, it makes sense that we best seek the Kingdom by getting to know the King. Paul (Philippians 3:7) wrote: "... I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord ..." Knowing Him is that important, because to know Him is to love Him.

But how can we know Him unless we intentionally seek Him and spend time with Him? This is why God wants us to pray. "You shall seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). He can be found, and there are immense rewards for doing so: "Delight yourself in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4).

From the Scriptures it is easy to see that the God (who is love) values personal relationship with Him above other things. For a loving God, any time we spend consciously in His presence is better than none. God wants us to know Him, and that requires time, effort, and persistence.

Secondly, it is God's purpose is to make us Christ-like: "...being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory..." (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV), and, "What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him." (1 John 3:2; see also Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 15:49, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 3:21, Colossians 3:10, Romans 12:2).

Anything that increases our unity and intimacy with God is expected to make us more Christ-like. It helps to remember that prayer is not only a process of communication, but of communion and "spiritual osmosis": "If one sitteth long and speaketh with another, the two shall become much like the other" (old English proverb). This is why we are enjoined to "pray without ceasing."

Another purpose of prayer is for making requests for our own and others' needs, through which God shows His love and power by answering. Here is what James wrote: "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy: let him sing songs of praise. ... Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:13-16)

Intercession is a vitally important ministry. Jesus Christ is our Great Mediator and intercessor-- He tore down the barriers between the Father and us. He continues to speak for us at "the right hand of God." But now He wants us to be actively involved as well: "My new command is this: love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12). The Apostle Paul taught us to "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) "On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:11).

We thereby have the opportunity to share in and lighten the load of others. In due time, we also will see and share in the glorious outcome produced by God's response to our prayers. We join with God in changing the universe for the better every time we pray for the welfare of others.

"In your personal relationship with God, you come before God on behalf of yourself or others in intercessory prayer. You are given the privilege of following Moses' example for intercessory prayer because of what Jesus has done for you. Jesus has given you the privilege of entering the Throne Room of God to have access to God the Father -- the Creator of the Universe. This access to God is through prayer.
In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, we are told the importance of intercessory prayer: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
As a follower of Jesus, can you think of a greater "gift" than prayer, which has been given by God's Grace through Jesus, that you have ever received? Do you use God's powerful gift to speak directly to Him due to your personal relationship with Him? If not, why not!"
- Archbishop Foley Beach


"The proper way for a man to pray," said Deacon Lemuel Keys,
"and the only proper attitude, is down upon the knees."

"No, I should say the way to pray," said Rev. Dr. Wise
"is standing straight with outstretched arms and rapt but upturned eyes."

"It seems to me his hands should be austerely clasped in front
with both thumbs pointing toward the ground," said Rev. Dr. Blunt.

"Las' year I fell in Hodgkin's well, headfirst," said Cyrus Brown,
"With both my heels a-stickin' up, my head a-pointin' down
I made a prayer right then and there-- best prayer I ever said.
The prayin'est prayer I ever prayed, I was a-standin' on my head!"

This traditional (anonymous) poem is not only humorous, it is instructive. The moral is this: it is not external appearance that counts but inner attitude! As Jeremiah 29:13 reveals, God is knowable and He hears this kind of prayer: "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." Moreover, this 100% type of attitude seems to happen most when we have hit bottom, with our "heels a-stickin' up" and our heads "a-pointin' down." As it has been said, "The walls of hospitals have heard more sincere prayers than the walls of churches."

I believe that it is common for these heartfelt prayers (and how God responds) to remain with us, functioning as personal signposts which keep us pointed in the right direction.

It is said that prayer brings God close. Actually, God is always close.
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20) What prayer really does is to bring US to a greater awareness of God, to the consciousness of the fact of His near presence. Only when so "tuned in" to God are we able to receive all that He has to offer us through His Holy Spirit, such as comfort, peace, joy, and guidance for daily living.

Devotional prayer is intensely personal. Jesus addressed the Father as "Abba" which is like our saying "Daddy." Formality is fine for public prayer, but formality can create a sense of distance between you and God. Liturgy can beautifully express in corporate prayer what we want to say to God, but the use of strict forms is not the way we really talk or think. When talking to God in individual prayer, we should be transparently ourselves, not putting on any kind of an act. In private, we should speak conversationally, as we would to our closest and dearest friend, not formally and distantly. Honesty with God is definitely the best policy. How can we be totally honest and yet also comfortable in God's presence? Remember: God knows our true feelings anyway. God will not punish us for expressing our frustrations and even anger if we keep the communication lines open and bring our issues to Him.

"In your prayers there is no need for high flown words, for it is the simple and unsophisticated babblings of children that have more often won the heart of the Father in heaven. Try not to talk excessively in your prayer, in case your mind is distracted by the search for words. One word from the publican sinner sufficed to please God, and a single utterance saved the thief. Talkative prayer frequently distracts the mind and deludes it, whereas brevity makes for concentration."
-- St. John Climacus, The Spiritual Ladder, 28

Prayer involves listening as well as speaking. In his "Meditation After Communion" (from Letters and Prayers from Prison, written while imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting his death) Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) wrote: "Now when we have received our Lord personally into our body, let us not then let Him alone, becoming involved in other things, looking no more to Him, but rather let all of our business be about Him. Let us say with the prophet, "I will hear what our Lord will speak within me."

It has been said that God gave us two ears and only one mouth because He intended that we listen twice as much as we speak. But we do not normally think of prayer as listening. And few of us have developed the disciplined patience to wait in silence for as much as 15 minutes, shutting out our own thoughts and external noises and really listening for that "still, small voice of God." This discipline is worth our practicing.

Does God answer prayer? Always. Will we miss His answer? Truly, we may miss it if we are not listening. Fortunately, God is so powerful and creative that He can answer our prayers in more ways than we can imagine. He can answer in the simple form of the human voice in our mind, but more often He answers from deep within-- with images, ideas, and "intuitive nudges." He also often answers from without, using our brothers and sisters in Christ and/or through providential circumstances. I cannot tell you how often He has answered my prayers through the scriptures.

Say not my soul, "From where
Can God relieve my care?"
Remember that Omnipotence
Has servants everywhere.

His help is always sure,
His methods seldom guessed;
Delay will make our pleasure pure:
Surprise will give it zest.

His wisdom is sublime,
His heart profoundly kind:
God never is before His time,
And never is behind.
-- J.J. Lynch

God always gives us what we ask for... or something better. According to the great Christian teacher J. I. Packer (Your Father Loves You): "He gives us the thing that we would have asked for had we been perfectly wise and our hearts entirely right. If we have confidence in His fatherly goodness and thereby trust what He is doing, we learn something from each such experience. The assumption we must NOT make is that God does not hear our requests or want us to have the best. He does!"

"Always keep on praying. No matter what happens, be thankful, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

"The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And then the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:5-7)

The three vital elements of the Christian's life of prayer:

(1) Prayer involves a consciousness of God's presence; its purpose is to develop and intimate relationship with Him,

(2) Prayer fosters an "attitude of gratitude" that overflows with praise, and

(3) Prayer makes us available and ready to hear and obey God's direction.

But like the Apostle Paul, I find that I cannot do this constantly or even consistently. Of course, I should pursue the goals of "rejoicing always," "praying without ceasing" and "in everything giving thanks" anyway-- seeking progress even if I can't have instant perfection. I know that God's grace will be sufficient-- to keep me close enough: "The Lord is faithful and He will do it."
In the final analysis, my welfare and destiny are not about me; they are all about Christ--His love, His grace, His wisdom, and His keeping power. My business is simply to trust Him and to keep praying.

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
(Matthew 21:22)

Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

(Psalm 66:20)


A little boy was spending his Saturday morning playing in his sandbox. He had with him his box of cars and trucks, his plastic pail, and a shiny, red plastic shovel. In the process of creating roads and tunnels in the soft sand, he discovered a large rock in the middle of the sandbox. The lad dug around the rock, managing to dislodge it from the dirt. With no little bit of struggle, he pushed and nudged the rock across the sandbox by using his feet. He was a very small boy and the rock was very large.
When the boy got the rock to the edge of the sandbox, however, he found that he couldn't roll it up and over the little wall. Determined, the little boy shoved, pushed, and pried, but every time he thought he had made some progress, the rock tipped and then fell back into the sandbox. The little boy grunted, struggled, pushed, shoved -- but his only reward was to have the rock roll back, smashing his chubby fingers. Finally he burst into tears of frustration.

All this time the boy's father watched from his living room window as the drama unfolded. At the moment the tears fell, a large shadow fell across the boy and the sandbox. It was the boy's father. Gently but firmly he said, "Son, why didn't you use all the strength that you had available?"

Defeated, the boy sobbed back, "But I did, Daddy, I did! I used all the strength that I had!"

"No, son," corrected the father kindly. "You didn't use all the strength you had. You didn't ask me.
With that the father reached down, picked up the rock, and removed it from the sandbox.

Do you have "rocks" in your life that need to be removed? Are you discovering that you don't have what it takes to lift them? There is One who is always available to us and willing to give us the strength we need. The apostle Paul faced times of a broken spirit, sapped strength, and even a "thorn in the flesh" which God would not take away. Paul proclaimed to the Corinthian church that God had told him, "My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, then My power is made perfect in you" (2 Corinthians 12:9b). When we are broken in spirit and our strength is spent, we can turn to the Lord. He is our supernatural power; this means that our real power is in prayer.

"I can do everything necessary through Him who gives me strength." (Phil 4:13)

Each day, preferably first thing in the morning, do the following:

God will not force Himself upon you; you have to invite Him in. Therefore, in prayer, surrender your life to the Father, to Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. This means giving to God (to reshape as He knows is in your best interests) your hopes, your innermost desires, your personality, your habits of thinking and behaving, your feelings, your everything. God wants to re-create you into "the image of Christ" and to work through you to accomplish good works. He has the power to do it; you cannot do it yourself. But you can give Him permission with your life. Renew daily your total commitment and trust.

Ask God to help you to be aware of His presence during your day so that you can have constant fellowship with Him and so that you can learn to see your world and other people like He does.

Ask that God, through His Holy Spirit, guide you throughout your day so that your decisions and actions come closer and closer to His will for you. What would Jesus have you do?

Sample Prayer: "Holy Father, Creator of the Universe and Author of Salvation, you are loving and holy beyond my comprehension. It is my desire and my prayer that your will be done in my life. Cause me to want what You want for me. Make me love You above all-- and empower me to show it by loving and helping those people that You put in my life's path. Cause me to love doing Your will, and open my eyes to see Your will in my everyday circumstances. Thank you for Your love and for the operation of Your grace and power in my life. In Name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Lord, and our very Life, Amen."

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