Biblical prayer is one-way communication made available to man by the grace of God in order that man may communicate with God. While today God primarily speaks to man through His written Word (the Bible), He encourages man to speak to Him through prayer. Prayer is not complicated or difficult. In a nutshell, it is simply talking to God. Prayer is a grace-gift from God to man, that is, man does not deserve such a privilege and can never, by his own works, merit it.
The Bible’s first clear reference to prayer, i.e., talking with God, is found in Genesis 3:10, when Adam replies to God in the Garden of Eden; although it is assumed that Adam had many conversations with God prior to this time. From that point (fall of man) on God and man continued to talk, even outside the Garden of Eden (Genesis 4), but it was not until Genesis 4:26 that . . . men began to call on the name of the LORD. The word “call” in this context is the Hebrew word, gara, which may be translated any number of ways, e.g., to call, to call out or shout, to recite, to proclaim or to summon. Here it is an expression of “dependence and trust,” that is, from that point on men began to summon God through prayer for strength and direction in their physical and spiritual lives.
Christians are urged and encouraged to pray (1 Chronicles 16:11; Matthew 6:7, 8; 7:7; 26:41; Luke 18:1; 21:36; John 16:24; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 5:13-16).
God cherishes the prayers of His children (Revelation 5:8; 8:3).
Characteristics of Prayer
Prayer is faster than the speed of light or any speed of anything known by man. In fact, because God is omnipresent (God is everywhere regardless of time or dimension) and omnipotent (God is all-powerful), He not only hears prayer immediately, but He even knows the content of prayer before it is formulated by the one praying. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. (Isaiah 65:24)
Prayer is speaking to God, not God speaking to man. Although there may be different elements of prayer (listed below), all are directed to God. Never does the Bible speak of prayer as God speaking to man, even though His contact with man is part of His grace-communication process. Even though God has verbally or by means of telepathy spoken to man in the past, His primary means of speaking to man today is through His written Word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
Non-dependent upon Physical Posture or Activity
Prayer is effective from any physical position – kneeling, sitting, standing, lying or when one is standing on one’s head. It is not affected by physical activity – immobility, walking, running or jumping rope.
Prayer has no language barrier. Even though man thinks and speaks in different languages, God understands all of them. God even searches the hearts of His children and thereby knows their motives, needs and desires (Romans 8:27).
Since God knows both the hearts and thoughts of everyone, man may think a prayer as well as speak, sing, write or sign one.
Nonracial and Non-cultural, Yet Exclusive
Anyone, regardless of culture or race, may pray to God. God loves all mankind, no matter their race or culture. He loves the lost as well as the saved; although, there will come the day in everyone’s life when God will either usher that person into eternal bliss or eternal torment, depending on what that person did with Jesus in his lifetime.
Even though a lost person (one who has not placed his faith in Jesus Christ) may pray to God and God, because He is omnipresent, will hear that person; there is no indication in God’s Word that God will acknowledge or answer that person’s prayer, unless, of course, it is a prayer reflecting that person’s repentance, that is, the turning from all self-effort or any work’s system and turning only to Jesus Christ to place his faith in Him as personal Savior.
The Bible establishes that prayer is the exclusive property of God’s children. When Christ outlined the “model prayer” in Matthew 6, He said in verse 9 that believers pray to their “Father.” This reflects that prayer is based on a spiritual relationship between a person and God the Father. By faith alone in Christ alone a person establishes this spiritual relationship – that is, he is born again from above (John 3:3-7). He becomes a “child of God” by this act of faith (John 1:12; Romans 8:16; 9:26; Galatians 3:26; 4:7; 1 John 3:1). From that point on, he has the privilege to address his requests and supplications to his Father in heaven.
Originators of Prayer
Therefore He [Jesus Christ] is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
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. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26, 27)
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)
Elements or Types of Prayer
Petition – prayers for self (Matthew 6:11-13)
Intercession – prayers for others (Ephesians 6:18)
Thanksgiving – prayers of gratitude (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Praise – prayers of adoration (Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peters 2:9)
Degrees of Prayer Intensity
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7; cf. Luke 11:9; 18:1)
Asking – Greek, aiteo, a request
Seeking – Greek, zeteo, a striving (more intense than a request)
Knocking – Greek, krouso, a rapping, a thumping or pounding (even more intense)
Protocol of Prayer – Keys to Prayer Success
God has set forth procedures, which if followed, will insure success in prayer.
1. Prayer should be in the power of the Holy Spirit
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit . . . .
In the first place a believer should understand that upon his acceptance of Jesus Christ, he was instantaneously indwelt by, baptized by, sealed by and filled with the Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit indwells him, affecting His spiritual birth and union with Jesus Christ (John 7:39; Romans 5:5; 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:24), baptizes him, affecting his immersion into the Body of Christ – the spiritual union of all believers – the “Church” (1 Corinthians 12:13), seals him, affecting his spiritual security for all eternity (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30) and “fills” him, empowering him for Christian service. The Holy Spirit is a person and as such the believer receives (is filled with) the whole person – not part of Him. All happens at the moment of the believer’s spiritual birth. They are not events that individually or collectively must be prayed for at a later time – a mistake, although well-intentioned, made by many believers today.
For certain, Christians are commanded to be “filled with [‘walk in’] the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:16-25), but to properly understand this requires one to “compare Scripture with Scripture” (1 Corinthians 2:13). Comparing Ephesians 5:18-20 with its companion passage in Colossians 3:16 reveals that to be “filled with the Spirit” is comparable to letting “the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
To say it in another way, the more we allow God’s Word to permeate us, the more we are transformed, the more God’s Spirit can control us, the more we are able to “walk” in Christ, to focus on Christ (the Author and Finisher [Perfecter] of our faith [Hebrews 12:2]) until Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19). This is essentially what Christ meant when, as He was praying for His disciples, He said, “Sanctify (set apart [to holiness]) them by Your truth, Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).
Simply put, the filling with the Spirit is the degree in which the Christian absorbs God’s Word throughout his life. As he reads, studies, and absorbs God’s Word, the more he is transformed by the Word, resulting in Christ being formed in him.
Again, how is the Christian filled with the Spirit? There is only one way. Since there is a unique and definite link between Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and the written (God-breathed) Word of God (the One reflecting the Other), the Christian is to immerse himself in the “implanted Word,” which will transform him progressively to spiritual maturity and the eventual salvation of his soul. The comparison between the companion passages of Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16 confirms that a Christian is “filled [controlled] with the Spirit” when “the Word of Christ dwells in him richly.”
To be “filled” by the Holy Spirit is to be fully empowered by the Holy Spirit. This condition allows the Holy Spirit to control the believer in all matters, even prayer. But since God never takes away a believer’s “freedom of choice” (his will), the believer may make choices that will quench or “limit” the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
Even though the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave the believer (not even by degree or in part) when the believer allows sin into his life, the Holy Spirit becomes limited in His ability to influence and work through the believer. This is why the believer is urged to not “quench” or “grieve” the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Once he allows sin in his life, he becomes “carnal” (i.e., “limited” in so far as the Holy Spirit’s influence and work through him is concerned).
Therefore the question is, “How does a Christian maintain the ‘fullness’ of the Spirit of God?” The answer is not “to pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit,” a misconception of a vast number of Christians today. Since the only thing that blocks or limits the control of the Holy Spirit is personal sin, it stands to reason that the only way to regain the “filling” of the Holy Spirit is to have the sin removed. And the ONLY way a believer can have personal sin removed from his life is by adhering to 1 John 1:9, as follows:
If we confess [acknowledge — take responsibility for] our [known] sins, He is faithful and just toforgive us our [known] sins and to cleanse us from all [unknown or forgotten] unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Since this is the only way a believer may be assured that he is “in the Spirit” and since God will not hear the prayer of a believer who holds on to his known sin (Psalm 66:18), the believer should always first search his heart, identify any known sins in his life and then confess these sins at the start of his prayer. Once this is done, he may be assured (see the next point) that instantaneously God will keep His Word by forgiving his known and unknown sins and restoring the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, this should be a frequent activity throughout each Christian’s life – this process of confession, to be activated immediately upon a believer’s realization that he has committed sin. Once the believer has been restored to the fullness of God’s Spirit, he then has been restored to a position of “obedience to Christ’s command to love,” which is indicative of the Spirit-controlled life (1 John 3:22; John 15:9-17).
2. Prayer should employ the Principle of Faith
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done and whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21, 22; cf. Matthew 17:20; Mark 11:24; Luke 17:6)
I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Timothy 2:8)
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
The Principle of Faith is interwoven throughout the fabric of the spiritual life. A person starts the spiritual life not by works but by faith (John 1:12; 20:31; Ephesians 2:8, 9), and he is to live the Christian life not by works but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7; Colossians 2:6, 7; Hebrews 11:6; Proverbs 3:5, 6) – and this includes prayer.
Once a believer confesses his known sin, he is to have faith (believe) that God will keep His word according to 1 John 1:9, which assures the believer that God will then forgive him of his known sins and cleanse him of all other unknown, unrecognized and forgotten sins. Then he is simply to exercise the Principle of Faith by believing God will answer his prayers in accordance with His Word – God’s will.
3. Prayer should be in accordance with the will of God
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14, 15; cf. 1 John 3:22)
And how does a believer know the “will of God?” He can only know it by consuming, by digesting, by understanding, by studying His Word, the Word of God.
If you remain in me and my Words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. (John 15:7)
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; cf. Romans 15:4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Peter 1:20, 21)
4. Prayer should be directed to God the Father
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name . (Matthew 6:9; cf. Luke 11:2; e.g., Ephesians 1:17; 3:14-16; Colossians 1:3, 12; 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3)
This has previously been covered in this commentary. Suffice it to say that nowhere in God’s Word is the believer instructed to pray to God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. The believer is a child of God the Father by faith alone in God the Son. He is to pray to the Father and in the name (i.e., for the benefit and in honor) of the Son (Colossians 3:17).
5. Prayer should be in the name of God the Son
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:13, 14)
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. (John 15:16)
And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (John 16:23)
Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:20)
And what does it mean to pray “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, other than simply saying by rote the phrase at the end of a prayer? It means that whatever a believer prays for is for the honor, glory and benefit of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As a reminder, it is only by the study of God’s Word that a believer may have confidence that he is praying “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
6. Prayer should be continuous
Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18; cf. Luke 18:1; Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2)
This means to maintain an attitude of prayer. The believer should make it a practice to talk with God at all times, e.g., when he awakes, when he walks down the street, when he’s driving a vehicle or flying an aircraft, when he’s in an elevator or at a business board meeting, when he’s at a ball game or in church – simply at any time and in any place. Much of his praying will be by “thought process,” as he petitions God during his various activities throughout the day.
Length of Prayer
Mark this down! God is not interested in show, nor is He interested in quantity. He is interested in genuineness and quality. Christians all too often pray long, flowery prayers in the presence of other Christians – primarily to impress those around them. The believer should make it a practice to reserve long prayers for when in a private setting, only before God. In public, the prayer should be brief and to the point!
Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5-8)
Remember, brief prayers in public and long prayers in private. And at all times, be specific and to the point. Don’t bore God with your fancy rhetoric and do not waste His time by trying to impress Him with your elaborations, replications and loquaciousness.