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Covering Mississippi in Prayer
Teaching

Bible-based Praying

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Throughout biblical history God’s people have relied on prayer to commune with Him in times of need or celebration. The Bible contains some great prayers, and these can serve as guidelines for us in personal and corporate prayer.

Personal Prayer

All of God’s choicest leaders were people of prayer. As we read their prayers in the Bible, we are reminded that prayer is listening as well as talking. In prayer, Abraham (who at this point was known as Abram) sensed the prompting of God to leave his land and family behind and travel to a land God would show him (Gen. 12:1-3). This prayer led Abraham to go by faith in obedience to God. In prayer God tested Abraham’s faith by asking the patriarch to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:1-3). Then God affirmed Abraham’s faith and told him not to kill Isaac (Gen. 22:11-12).

Moses struggled in prayer with God’s call to go to Egypt to set the Israelites free (Ex. 3:1 – 4:17). Moses also shared in prayer his burden for the Israelites. He asked God not to destroy them in spite of their stubbornness (Ex. 32:7-14).

King David demonstrated an attitude of repentance in confessing his sin before God (Ps. 51:1-19). Solomon initiated his kingship by asking God for wisdom (1 Kg. 3:5-14). Through prayer Isaiah and Jeremiah sensed God’s call to be prophets (Is. 6:1-13; Jer. 1:4-19). After receiving a threatening letter from Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, King Hezekiah of Judah spread the letter before the Lord in the Temple (2 Kg. 19:14-19). Daniel prayed as he meditated on the book of Jeremiah (Dan. 9:1-27).

In Psalm 86 we see wonderful suggestions for prayer. We need to confess our need for God, affirm His graciousness and awesome power, request His instruction, praise Him and share our burdens with Him (Ps. 86:1-17).

Jesus’ entire ministry was undergirded by prayer. He prayed all night before choosing The Twelve (Lk. 6:12). He taught about prayer (Mt. 6:5-15). He sought to be alone in prayer (Mk. 1:35). Just prior to Jesus’ arrest He agonized in prayer for God’s will to be done (Mt. 26:36-46).

Corporate Prayer

The Bible has many examples of corporate prayer. In the OT and NT eras God’s people gathered regularly and on special occasions to pray.

Prayer in corporate worship should be helpful and dynamic. Within Christianity some traditions have favored written or prescribed prayers. Others have favored free or extemporaneous prayers. Both approaches can be helpful. Interestingly, those who feel uncomfortable with prescribed prayers may experience a lot of repetition and very similar wording in the context of free prayers in their worship services. With some forethought and training, prayers can become more meaningful and helpful. Observing that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray, Jesus’ disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray (Lk. 11:1). Perhaps we could profit from such instruction.

Public prayer is not the same as private prayer. People leading in public prayer are not simply addressing God with their own concerns while the congregation just listens. Those praying seek to lift up the concerns of the congregation as a whole, and the people are praying with the prayer leader.

Each prayer in the service has a primary purpose. How do we fulfill each purpose? Thinking about the purposes of each prayer may lead to more appropriate praying. In one service where I was supply preaching, four prayers were offered. In each prayer the one praying offered a petition for my safe travel home. Before I travel, I always ask for God’s protection, and I appreciate others praying for that as well. Some overlap of prayer concerns not only will occur but on some occasions should occur. If each of those four persons was prompted by God to offer the same petition, that is great. However, if they were simply praying out of habit, was it that helpful?

In addition, we do not need to use prayer to focus on informing God of what is occurring in our lives. We naturally will include some information in our prayers to set the context for our petitions. I sometimes get the feeling, however, that those praying believe God has to be told in detail about what is happening before their petition will be complete.

The invocation is the first prayer in a worship service. The focus is on adoring God for His greatness and goodness and also requesting God to bless us and make His presence known during the service. Ideas for prayers of invocation may be found in Psalms 120-134. We lift up our eyes to the hills from where our help comes. Our help comes from the Lord (Ps. 121:1-2). We are glad when others have said to us, “Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1). We who trust in the Lord cannot be moved (Ps. 125:1).

In the offertory prayer we thank God for His generous provision and recognize all that we have is from His hand. Yet, do we have to specifically say, “Bless the gift and the giver” or, “Use these offerings to further your kingdom’s work?” Although these are valid requests, if repeated too often, these phrases can lose their relevance and power. Yet we can hear these words in almost any Baptist church as if they were written in a litany for worship. Scriptural guidelines for offertory prayers can help us pray with greater relevance. We are to honor the Lord with our substance and the “first fruits” of our income (Pr.3:9-10). God told us to bring the tithe into the storehouse and see if He will not bless us (Mal. 3:10; Lk. 6:38). We are to give not reluctantly or forcibly but cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7).

The invitation prayer provides an opportunity to encourage people to make decisions for Christ. The focus is on spiritual examination, surrender and commitment to the claims of Christ. Joshua challenged the people to choose whom they would serve, God or some false gods (Jos. 24:14-15, 23-24). Elijah asked the people how long they would hesitate between two different opinions. He said if the Lord is God then follow Him (1 Kg. 18:21). Jesus invited people to come to Him and promised them rest (Mt. 11:28-30).

At the end of most worship services a benediction is spoken. A sameness often occurs in our churches as evidenced in the words, “Lead, guide and direct us.” I am not sure what the difference is between these verbs, but many feel the need to say all three. Benedictions should be brief. They could refer to what was experienced in worship and anticipate what worshippers will face in the days to follow. Scriptural benedictions are found in passages like Num. 6:22-27; Rom. 16:25-27; 1 Th. 5:23-24; Heb. 13:20-21. They affirm traits of God’s character and His ability to bless and strengthen us. Benediction prayers could be a Scripture or based on a Scripture. After the Lord’s Supper a common benediction is a hymn, which in many churches tends to be “Blest Be the Tie” or “There is a Fountain.” Several other songs could be equally or even more helpful in a particular Lord’s Supper service.

Another prayer that could be included in worship services is a “pastoral” prayer, which needs to be led by a staff member or mature lay person. This could be a longer prayer that encompasses praise, confession, petition and intercession. Examples of this type of prayer may be found in Ps. 86:1-17; Eph. 1:15-22; Col. 1:9-14.

Directed prayers focus on specific concerns such as our country, a crisis or an upcoming revival. Guidelines for directed prayers can be found in 1 Kg. 3:5-14; 2 Kg. 19:14-19; Dan. 9:1-3. In these prayers, no need exists to also repeat petitions spoken in other prayers. The focus and brevity may be more effective than simply listing often-repeated requests. Guided petitions and silent prayers are also helpful means of communicating in worship with our awesome God. These can be used as a means of focusing on prayer concerns such as burdens for an issue or confession of our sin.

Prayer is an incredible privilege. We are able to commune with our Creator and Savior. How we participate should help us to be filled with awe and gratitude because we worship a great God. Although some repetition of prayer concerns is inevitable, our prayers always should be fresh and heartfelt rather than simply repetitions of requests offered almost every time we pray. Perhaps we all tend to pray for the same or similar requests out of habit or because we tend to have limited prayer concerns. As we reflect on prayers in the Bible we can learn how to be more effective in our communication with our awesome God.