Prayer is not limited to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
People around the world pray for inner peace through meditation or outer peace for others, as well as solutions to worldwide, country-wide, state-wide, city-wide, and personal problems that plague us all. How many times have we heard the expression "Prayer works!"? Well, in a very narrow way, you will get no argument on that from me.
However, if you claim that prayer to a sacred brick or a "spirit" conjured up by a medium who connects with Eleanor Roosevelt will compensate for all the bad luck in your life, I will disagree. Now, this is not to say that things will not happen if you pray to these things, but the answers you get will, in my opinion, NOT work to improve your life. It is also likely that any answer you do get will not come from God.
What is prayer?
For some of the non-Christian groups, prayer is just a meditation. They consider the act itself a cause of the benefits they claim to receive from it - things like inner peace, concentration for increased knowledge, and "getting in touch" with nature. Others pray in obedience to some type of authority which they feel controls their world or the entire universe. Some of these groups have ancient documents that are the basis for their beliefs, others are based on some more recent prophet or guru that has given instructions to be followed. However, for this page, we will narrow the discussion to instructions and commands that Christians are given by the Bible.
God tells us how...
Specifically, however, there is some question about the effectiveness of prayer. Yeah, I know, "How can you say that?" Well, there's this Book out there that discusses prayer and everyone comes away with different impressions about what can happen when you pray. Let's start by taking a look at a list of verses that refer to prayer. At Bible Study Tools, you can find this list of 39 verses from the Bible that pretty well cover the topic of prayer:
John 1:9 Mark 11:24 Proverbs 15:29
1 John 5:14 Matthew 5:44 Matthew 6:9-13
1 John 5:15 Matthew 6:7 Matthew 7:11
1 John 5:16 Matt 26:41 Luke 6:12
1 Chronicles 16:11 Proverbs 15:18 Luke 18:1
2 Chronicles 6:21 Psalm 17:6 Romans 8:26
2 Chronicles 7:14 Psalm 102:17 Philippians 4:6
Ephesians 1:18 Psalm 141:2 Colossians 4:2
Ephesians 6:18 Romans 12:2 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Jeremiah 29:12 Romans 12:12 1 Timothy 2:8
Psalm 4:1 Psalm 145:18 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Job 22:27 Luke 11:2-4 Hebrews 4:14
John 17:15 James 4:3 James 1:7
But, we change even that
If you look near the top of the column on the left, you see three verses that are sequential (1 John 5:14, 15, and 16), but not joined like the second one down in the column on the right (Matt 6:9-13). Now, without knowing the reason why the site would list these verses in such a way, let's look at them to see if we can find a reason, or at least see what happens if you read them individually.
For grins, let's first look at all three of the 1 John verses:
14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
15 And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.
16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.
Take pieces to fit what you want?
If you read verse 14 alone, you get the feeling that you can't just ask for a new Cadillac, but it must be something according to His will. However, if you just read verse 15, you lose the whole concept of asking within His will. Now, if you read only verse 16, you get the impression that you can save a brother or sister just by praying, ignoring the need to gently discuss the sin and make sure they understand the will of God. Each of these verses has a piece of the concept of prayer, but few group them so that the whole message is presented. People will wonder why their prayers seem to fall on Deaf Ears.
"You mean there are rules?"
Some of you say that's a bit judgmental. Would God withhold healing because of someone else's prior sinful actions? How do we know? Complicated, isn't it? Maybe, but if you look at the verses the way they are listed and not all together, you do NOT get the full idea that there are requirements for prayer to work. Yes, sinner's prayers will work, but only if the sinner is seriously repentant. Yet, we do not see that listed in these verses.
"Listen up, God!"
Not fair? OK, let's look at the other set of verses - Matthew 6:9-13, but first, let's look only at verse 11, separating it from the rest as was done with 1 John 5:14-16:
11 Give us today our daily bread.
Knowing this is a prayer, but not knowing it was part of a single, larger prayer, would you think that if you prayed this way that you would get your daily bread? Not showing the reverence in the first verse (9), or asking for His will to be done (10), and not confessing the sins (debts) we have committed (12), makes this prayer a demand for something we want, not a prayer for the will of God to be done.
The right way
If, though, you put them all together:
9 "This, then, is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.' "
then they convey a humility to the authority of the One who has the power to grant the prayer. That is what I see lacking in the churches of today. Oh, the faith is there, and the love is there, but the humility is missing because we blatantly disobey God's instructions and warnings required to qualify us for His attention and still expect the answer we want or need.
"But, those rules are for the Jews!"
Disobey? Absolutely. Think about the Sabbath and pagan celebrations we call Easter, Halloween, Christmas. We use the excuse that the rules are only for "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
), as though we somehow want to be God's people, but don't want to be associated with God's people. How can we expect to have both?
It was written for a reason
We read all the verses that say "And I will do whatever you ask in my name," and assume that Jesus is a genie who grants wishes if we just throw His name into the request. But, we forget to read the rest of the verse (John 14:13): "so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." This qualifies the whole promise as being useful to those who ask in the will of God. If we add the concept from 1 John 5:16 about the "prayer of a righteous man", we then know how to approach God in prayer.
What else is in the list?
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
is another qualification for prayer, suggesting a way to approach God. This is the biggest qualification - confess our sins. Not so we can keep doing them, but to show that we are willing to start fresh and follow Him.
24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
is another popular verse to quote about getting everything you want with prayer. However, how many people include the verse before and the one after that quote from Jesus? The whole passage
"Have faith in God," Jesus answered.23 "Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." (Mark 11:22-25)
includes faith in God and clearing your life of issues that block God from forgiving your sins. Faith in God means that He will do as He promised if you follow Him, obey Him, and seek His will for you. He did not promise to grant wishes to anyone who ignores Him.
The Lord is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
(yeah, yeah, the Old Testament) is clear as a bell. Who are the wicked? Those who pretend to be His, but do not follow His commandments and should know better (Isaiah 29:13
The Lord says:
"These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught."
, Romans 1:32
32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
, Matt 23:2-3
2 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
just confirms what we said in the last few paragraphs. We don't see answers to our prayers because we seek things for ourselves - better job, better car, a raise at work, better school for our kids. And when you think you received an answer to prayer, are you sure? There are those influences that help us to stay on the wrong path by "rewarding" our greed, making it seem as though God rewarded us. (Malachi 3:15
14 You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'
16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
Last one for now
One more before we move on. In the list above, one of the most pertinent verses to our discussion about prayer is 2 Chronicles 7:14
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
, but this one is the Old Testament. According to the modern Sunday pastors, it only pertains to the Israelites anyway, I guess. Evidently, we Christian Gentiles can continue to break the ten commandments and follow pagan ways, but still expect God to hear because we are so, uh, forgiven, that Jesus would never expect us to act like His people.
Funny, that sounds a lot like they are saying, "When God looks at me, He sees Jesus, so I can go on living like I want outside His will and He won't notice." That assumes that Jesus has kept you cloaked in His grace after you demonstrate that you do not stay in the will of God. Remember John 1:1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
and Luke 6:46
Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
? God and Jesus are One and the same Person. In case you haven't realized it, He has noticed.
There are more that we have not seen here, but if you look closely at those verses that describe how to pray and when to pray, you will see a qualification nearby that assumes an attempt to keep a righteous heart and clear mind devoted to God and His will. Those who deliberately do not stay on that path will find restrictions on their answers, if they get any at all. Those who seek that path will be heard and blessed.
How about a Real World example?
My wife and I know a woman who frequently has promiscuous sex with different men. She often shares clandestine sexual encounters with a man she knows is married. She also works for a state agency that hired her for a position. This position had requirements, including completion of a master's degree program, attendance for which is paid by the agency. Also, there are some strict rules about interacting with other workers and the clients of the state.
After accepting the job and working for some time, this woman has decided that she does not want to get her master's degree, and does not follow some of the other rules required by the position. Because of her statements about the degree program and not following the rules, she has noticed that they seem to be gathering information to be used to let her go. She is distressed at this realization and called my wife to ask for advice.
Now, based on just this information, what do you think would be her attitude as to her course of action? Well, you might think so, but here is what she told my wife:
It's all God's fault. She says she loves Him and prays to Him every day, all the time. She claims to do what He tells her to do on a daily basis. However, in her view, He has fallen down on the job. In fact, she has proof that it is God's fault. She has told Him that she does not like crickets, and the other day, she found one in her bedroom. She hates God and wants him to take care of her problem with the job (and the crickets) before she will stop hating him.
Think about it
Now, knowing only this much, does the state have cause for termination? Is God at fault for her problems? Is she acting in the will of God? Should she expect her prayers to be answered?
Of course we should pray. Ephesians 6:18
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.
tells us to pray for all kinds of things. However, most leave out the first five words of that quote, "And pray in the Spirit". That is what most people seem to miss. The Spirit is not looking to give you a new car or let you keep your job if you are not following your boss's rules. Nor will He rid your home of crickets if you are blatantly ignoring the rules of His Boss. Get on His path, then He will hear your prayers. Of course, He may not answer them right away or as you expect, but He will then listen.
Well, this example is not all that different from what we can see all around us with "Christians" who claim to be God's people but won't do what He says. We're not talking about those little slips for which we are truly sorry. No, this is doing those things God clearly said not to do, as well as not doing those things He said to do. Remember Luke 16:46
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
Come to Him if you want Him to come to you
Instead, we see so many who ignore the commands of God, yet still expect Him to answer their prayers (1 John 2:4
Whoever says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
). You can't keep telling God to take His laws and shove them, and still expect Him to see you as His. Remember, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32
11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.'' So he divided his property between them.
13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.'' 20 So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate."
) went his own way with complete freedom and recognition of his decision, but did not receive the welcome celebration until he decided to come home on his own. How do you think his father would have responded to a letter saying:
Broke and desolate. Please send money so I can stay here and do more of the same.
Love, your son
We can't do it our way and expect God to throw us parties (or answer prayers) for disobedience. He is telling us how to act in His will, we just need to listen to Him the same way we expect Him to listen to our prayers.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at email@example.com and give us your view.