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Covering Mississippi in Prayer
Teaching

Praying – Asking, Communicating, Meditating

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THE MYSTERY OF PRAYER

What is prayer?

BIBLE READING: Genesis 18:16-33

KEY BIBLE VERSE: The two other men went on toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham for a while. Abraham approached him and said, “Will you destroy both innocent and guilty alike? Suppose you find fifty innocent people there within the city—will you still destroy it, and not spare it for their sakes?” (Genesis 18:22-24)

Prayer is an opportunity to bring our will into line with God’s plan. Did Abraham change God’s mind? Of course not. The more likely answer is that God changed Abraham’s mind. Abraham knew that God is just and that he punishes sin, but he may have wondered about God’s mercy. Abraham seemed to be probing God’s mind to see how merciful he really was. He left his conversation with God convinced that God was both kind and fair. Our prayers won’t change God’s mind, but they may change ours just as Abraham’s prayer changed his. Prayer helps us better understand the mind of God.

Prayer is an opportunity to demonstrate our trust in God. Why did God let Abraham question his justice and intercede for a wicked city? Abraham knew that God must punish sin, but he also knew from experience that God is merciful to sinners. God knew there were not ten righteous people in the city, but he was merciful enough to allow Abraham to intercede. He was also merciful enough to help Lot, Abraham’s nephew, get out of Sodom before it was destroyed. God does not take pleasure in destroying the wicked, but he must punish sin. He is both just and merciful. We should be thankful that God’s mercy extends to us.

BIBLE READING: Psalm 4:1-8

KEY BIBLE VERSE: You can be sure of this: The LORD has set apart the godly for himself. The LORD will answer when I call to him. (Psalm 4:3)

Prayer is speaking with God. The godly are those who are faithful and devoted to God. David knew that God would hear him when he called and would answer him. We too can be confident that God listens to our prayers and answers when we call on him. Sometimes we think that God will not hear us because we have fallen short of his high standards for holy living. But if we have trusted Christ for salvation, God has forgiven us, and he will listen to us. When you feel as though your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, remember that as a believer, you have been set apart by God—and he loves you. He hears and answers, although his answers may not be what you expect. Look at your problems in the light of God’s power instead of looking at God in the shadow of your problems.

BIBLE READING: Hebrews 4:14-16

KEY BIBLE VERSE: So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:16)

Prayer is an awesome privilege. Prayer is our approach to God, and we are to come boldly. Some Christians approach God meekly with heads hung low, afraid to ask him to meet their needs. Others pray flippantly, giving little thought to what they say. Come with reverence because he is your King. But also come with bold assurance because he is your Friend and Counselor.

MOTIVES FOR PRAYER

Why should we pray?

BIBLE READING: Genesis 25:19-34

KEY BIBLE VERSE: Isaac pleaded with the LORD to give Rebekah a child because she was childless. So the LORD answered Isaac’s prayer, and his wife became pregnant with twins. (Genesis 25:21)

Prayer reflects our dependence on God. As Isaac pleaded with God for children, so the Bible encourages us to ask—and even plead—for our most personal and important requests. God wants to grant our requests, but he wants us to ask him. Even then, as Isaac learned, God may decide to withhold his answer for a while in order to (1) deepen our insight into what we really need, (2) broaden our appreciation for his answers, or (3) allow us to mature so we can use his gifts more wisely.

BIBLE READING: Exodus 17:1-7

KEY BIBLE VERSE: Tormented by thirst, they continued to complain, “Why did you ever take us out of Egypt? Why did you bring us here? We, our children, and our livestock will all die!” (Exodus 17:3)

Prayer is far better than complaining to each other. Again the people of Israel complained about their problem instead of praying. They had followed God’s leading into the desert, but now were doubting his ability to take care of them. Some problems can be solved by careful thought or by rearranging our priorities. Some can be solved by discussion and good counsel. But some problems can be solved only by prayer. We should make a determined effort to pray when we feel like complaining, because complaining only raises our level of stress. Prayer quiets our thoughts and emotions and prepares us to listen.

BIBLE READING: Judges 16:23-31

KEY BIBLE VERSE: Samson prayed to the LORD, “Sovereign LORD, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me one more time so that I may pay back the Philistines for the loss of my eyes.” (Judges 16:28)

Prayer can restore relationship with God. In spite of Samson’s past, God still answered his prayer and destroyed the pagan temple and worshipers. God still loved him. He was willing to hear Samson’s prayer of confession and repentance and use him this final time. One of the effects of sin in our life is to keep us from feeling like praying. But perfect moral behavior is not a condition for prayer. Don’t let guilt feelings over sin keep you from your only means of restoration. No matter how long you have been away from God, he is ready to hear from you and restore you to a right relationship. Every situation can be salvaged if you are willing to turn again to him. If God could still work in Samson’s situation, he can certainly make something worthwhile out of yours.

METHODS OF PRAYER

How should we pray?

BIBLE READING: Ezra 8:1-36

KEY BIBLE VERSE: There by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. (Ezra 8:21)

We should pray with an attitude of deep respect for God. Ezra knew God’s promises to protect his people, but he didn’t take them for granted. He also knew that God’s blessings are appropriated through prayer; so Ezra and the people humbled themselves by fasting and praying. And their prayers were answered. Fasting humbled them because going without food was a reminder of their complete dependence on God. Fasting also gave them more time to pray and meditate on God.

Too often we pray glibly and superficially. Serious prayer, by contrast, requires concentration. It puts us in touch with God’s will and can really change us. Without serious prayer, we reduce God to a quick-service pharmacist with painkillers for our every ailment.

BIBLE READING: Neh. 2:1-10

KEY BIBLE VERSE: The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.” (Neh. 2:4-5)

We should pray with confidence in God’s grace. With little time to think, Nehemiah immediately prayed. Eight times in this book we read that he prayed spontaneously (Neh. 2:4; Neh. 4:4-5, 9; Neh. 5:19; Neh. 6:14; Neh. 13:14, 22, 29). Nehemiah prayed at any time, even while talking with others. He knew that God is always in charge, is always present, and hears and answers every prayer. Nehemiah could confidently pray throughout the day because he had established an intimate relationship with God during times of extended prayer (Neh. 1:4-7). If we want to reach God with our emergency prayers, we need to take time to cultivate a strong relationship with God through times of in-depth prayer.

BIBLE READING: Matthew 6:5-15

KEY BIBLE VERSE: When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matthew 6:7-8)

We should pray with humility and sincerity. Some people, especially the religious leaders, wanted to be seen as “holy,” and public prayer was one way to get attention. Jesus saw through their self-righteous acts, however, and taught that the essence of prayer is not public style, but private communication with God. There is a place for public prayer, but to pray only where others will notice you indicates that your real audience is not God.

BIBLE READING: Col. 1:1-14

KEY BIBLE VERSE: We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard that you trust in Christ Jesus and that you love all of God’s people. (Col. 1:3-4)

We should pray for others. Sometimes we wonder how to pray for missionaries and other leaders we have never met. Paul had never met the Colossians, but he faithfully prayed for them. His prayers teach us how to pray for others, whether we know them or not. We can request that they (1) understand God’s will, (2) gain spiritual wisdom, (3) please and honor God, (4) bear good fruit, (5) grow in the knowledge of God, (6) be filled with God’s strength, (7) have great endurance and patience, (8) stay full of Christ’s joy, and (9) give thanks always. All believers have these same basic needs. When you don’t know how to pray for someone, use Paul’s prayer pattern for the Colossians.

MODEL PRAYERS

What are the characteristics of prayers in the Bible?

BIBLE READING: Joshua 7:1-26

KEY BIBLE VERSE: Joshua and the leaders of Israel tore their clothing in dismay, threw dust on their heads, and bowed down facing the Ark of the LORD until evening. (Joshua 7:6)

Biblical prayers are marked by humility. Joshua and the elders tore their clothing and sprinkled dust on their heads as signs of deep mourning before God. They were confused by their defeat at the small city of Ai after the spectacular Jericho victory, so they went before God in deep humility and sorrow to receive his instructions. When our life falls apart, we also should turn to God for direction and help. Like Joshua and the elders, we should humble ourselves so that we will be able to hear his words.

Biblical prayers are marked by honesty. Imagine praying this way to God. This is not a formal church prayer; it is the prayer of a man who is afraid and confused by what is happening around him. Joshua poured out his real thoughts to God. Hiding your needs from God is ignoring the only one who can really help. God welcomes your honest prayers and wants you to express your true feelings to him. Any believer can become more honest in prayer by remembering that God is all-knowing and all-powerful and that his love is everlasting.

BIBLE READING: 2 Chron. 6:1-42

KEY BIBLE VERSE: He prayed, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven and earth. You keep your promises and show unfailing love to all who obey you and are eager to do your will.” (2 Chron. 6:14)

Biblical prayers are wide-ranging and specific. As Solomon led the people in prayer, he asked God to hear their prayers concerning a variety of situations: (1) crime (2 Chron. 6:22-23); (2) enemy attacks (2 Chron. 6:24-25); (3) drought (2 Chron. 6:26-27); (4) famine (2 Chron. 6:28-31); (5) the influx of foreigners (2 Chron. 6:32-33); (6) war (2 Chron. 6:34-35); (7) sin (2 Chron. 6:36-39). God is concerned with whatever we face, even the difficult consequences we bring upon ourselves. He wants us to turn to him in prayer. When you pray, remember that God hears you. Don’t let the extremity of your situation cause you to doubt his care for you.

BIBLE READING: Matthew 6:5-15

KEY BIBLE VERSE: Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Biblical prayer is personal. The phrase “Our Father in heaven” indicates that God is not only majestic and holy, but also personal and loving. The first line of this model prayer is a statement of praise and a commitment to honor God’s holy name. We can honor God’s name by being careful to use it respectfully. If we use God’s name lightly, we aren’t remembering God’s holiness.

Biblical prayer recognizes God’s position. The phrase “May your Kingdom come soon” is a reference to God’s spiritual reign, not Israel’s freedom from Rome. God’s kingdom was announced in the covenant with Abraham (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28), is present as Christ reigns in the believer’s heart (Luke 17:21), and will be complete when all evil is destroyed and God establishes the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:1).

Biblical prayer recognizes our position. When we pray “May your will be done,” we are not resigning ourselves to fate, but praying that God’s perfect purpose will be accomplished in this world as well as in the next.

Biblical prayer demonstrates complete dependence. When we pray, “Give us our food for today,” we are acknowledging that God is our Sustainer and Provider. It is a misconception to think that we provide for our own needs. We must trust God daily to provide what he knows we need.

Biblical prayer asks God for guidance. God doesn’t lead us into temptations, but sometimes he allows us to be tested by them. As disciples, we should pray to be delivered from these trying times and from Satan (“the evil one”) and his deceit. All Christians struggle with temptation. Sometimes it is so subtle that we don’t even realize what is happening to us. God has promised that he won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13). Ask God to help you recognize temptation and to give you strength to overcome it and choose God’s way instead.

BIBLE READING: John 17:1-26

KEY BIBLE VERSE: I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me because of their testimony. My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:20-21)

Biblical prayer recognizes the spiritual warfare around us. This entire chapter is Jesus’ prayer. From it, we learn that the world is a tremendous battleground where the forces under Satan’s power and those under God’s authority are at war. Satan and his forces are motivated by bitter hatred for Christ and his forces. Jesus prayed for his disciples, including those of us who follow him today. He prayed that God would keep his chosen believers safe from Satan’s power, setting them apart and making them pure and holy, uniting them through his truth.

Biblical prayer is not escape from the world. Jesus didn’t ask God to take believers out of the world, but instead to use them in the world. Because Jesus sends us into the world, we should not try to escape from the world, nor should we avoid all relationships with non-Christians. We are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and we are to do the work that God sent us to do.

Biblical prayer binds us with other believers. Jesus prayed for all who would follow him, including you and others you know. He prayed for unity (John 17:11), protection from the evil one (John 17:15), and sanctity (holiness) (John 17:17). Knowing that Jesus prayed for us should give us confidence as we work for his kingdom.

This material is adapted from The Handbook for Biblical Application, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 1, 2000), as referenced from WORDsearch 8, Product 2030, WS8 Discipleship Edition. Used by permission.