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What is Prayer?

In the Bible, prayer is an English word, which translates a goodly number of Hebrew, and Greek words. The original words convey many meanings, such as ask, beseech, call upon, appeal to, request, exhort, entreat, vow, supplicate, intercede, as well as praise, give thanks, and worship.

Apart from the ideas of ‘praise’ and ‘worship’, all the rest are words which we use in our everyday lives with each other. They form the basis of human conversation, the social intercourse of everyday events. Here then is our basic answer to the questions, ‘What is prayer’ It is conversation with God. Because we are speaking to god, we give it this special name and call it prayer.

We may take this one stage further. In human conversation, it is always a dialogue. Both parties speak. But one is brought up to think of prayer as a monologue. Very few would ever expect an audible answer from heaven! In fact, if such an answer were forthcoming, it might cause great fear. But prayer is meant to be a dialogue. The teaching of the New Testament clearly shows that the hearing of God’s voice is a Christian’s new-birth-right. All of us who have believed have the potential of hearing the ‘still small voice’ of the Lord God.

In the Old Testament days, things were different. God chose out special people to hear His voice. They become the ‘prophets of Israel’. But Moses said on one occasion, "Would God that ALL the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29)

But on the Day of Pentecost Peter declared that the power of God’s Spirit was poured out upon all who would receive, so that "Your sons and your daughters will prophecy." (Acts 2:17)

It is clear therefore that after believing, one should await the filling of ‘power from on high’ and then to learn to hear God’s voice.

We cannot emphasise this point enough. The present stand of the churches is most misleading on all aspects of prayer, and mostly on the necessity of prayer becoming a dialogue. All believers who have received the baptism of the spirit have also received the ability to bear the voice of the Lord, and it is up to them to ‘wait upon God’ and to know the sound of Hid voice.

In the quietness of our private prayers, as we wait upon God, so we shall learn to hear Him speak, not always in the manner we might expect, and not always at the times when we ask, but nevertheless, the Lord will communicate His mind to us.

The majority of Christians, if they were real with themselves, would not expect their prayers to be answered! Think about it. If we found that everything we asked for was being performed, we should be far more careful about what we asked. However, most of us never expect to see the performance of our prayers, either immediately or shortly afterwards. We may HOPE that our prayers will produce some beneficent effect and leave it at that. God does not look upon such utterances as prayer.

Let us see what Jesus said. "Ask and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you." Matthew 7:7 Our Lord expected us to ask IN ORDER TO RECEIVE. If we keep asking for things, but do not really expect to receive, then why are we asking? Is not this a mockery of God’s word? In Matthew 21:22 we read of Jesus saying,

"All things whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive." It is not that we should only expect a FEW things to be granted, but ALL things.

However, one may ask, "How can you say such things we all know that this just does not happen." Yes, we do know, and it should be bringing us to our senses and making us come to terms with what the Lord is teaching us. The clue to the matter is found in one word from the above text.

It is the word BELIEVING. Whatsoever you ask in prayer, BELIEVING, you shall receive. What does this mean? Does it mean that when you ask, you must tell the Lord that you really mean it, and really believe that He will answer? No, it cannot mean that, because many true believers have tried this out, and it just does not work.

The truth about BELIEVING was set forth in our last paper, "What is Faith?" and so we shall not repeat it all here, but it must be said loud and clear that we can only BELIEVE in what God has already spoken. This is why we must emphasise the necessity of hearing God speak. When God reveals His will to us, then we may pray accordingly, and with much confidence, claim what God has already defined as His will.

All this takes time and much patience. George Mueller of Bristol, when sailing to New York was held up in fog. He prayed with the Captain very simply and briefly. When the Captain began to pray he restrained him, saying, "There is no need. You will not believe what you ask, as see, the fog has already lifted." He was a man who had learned the hard way to hear God speak, and to trust God implicitly.

There are no short cuts. It is God’s way for us all. The truth of the matter is, that far too much prayer is being offered to God. Some people believe that if they gather a large group of Christians together, and pray all night, then God will answer them in proportion to their numerical size, the time they spent, and the earnestness of their entreaties. But this is not so. We ourselves can remember such occasions being followed by the opposite of what was being asked, which generated much bewilderment.

It is not wrong for many people to gather for prayer. But they should be willing to WAIT UPON GOD for His word. When the Lord speaks, and makes known His will, then everyone may have faith in that word, and what is more important, see it come to pass.

Only in such a manner can we learn to dispose of self-orientated prayer, which if granted would be only for our own benefit or that of the one for whom we pray. James tells us "You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your own desires." (James 4:3) There are several other things which can hold up or completely throttle the power of our prayers. Let us see a few.

Peter tells us (1 Peter 3:7) that husbands and wives should express a true relationship with each other "in order that their prayers be not hindered." The Psalmist (Psa 66:18) says that "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Similarly the writer of the Proverbs declares, (Proverbs 15:29)

"The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous." Again, in the same book (Proverbs 28:9) we read "He who turns his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination."

Ezekiel speaks from the Lord in saying (Ezekiel 14:3) "These men have set up idols in their hearts, and put the stumblingblock of iniquity before their face; should I be enquired of at all by them?" Isaiah 1:15) has a strong word from the Lord to say, "When you spread forth your hands I will hide my eyes; when you make many prayers I will not hear; your hands are full of blood" (i.e. they had much guilt of one kind or other)

Repentance and humility are true requisites of prevailing prayer. The repentant man is told by the Lord through Jeremiah 29:13 "You shall seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart." As Paul says in Romans 8:26 "We know not what to ask for as we ought, but the Spirit helps our infirmities." God has provided the ministry of the Holy Spirit to enable us to know what is His will, and so ask with confidence.

It is all of God’s grace that we can ask at all, " the Father knows what we need before we ask" (Matthew 6:8) but even so God encourages us to enter the closet, the place of private prayer, and seek His presence. If then we "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) and say "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", we shall begin to find the overall will of God. "If then we shall ask anything according to His will, it shall be done."

(1 John 5:14-15)

All the foregoing has related to intercession, to our asking God for things. But prayer also has its spectrum of thanksgiving and praise. It may seem that we do not need to wait upon God in quite the same way in these areas. But this is not true. Our praising and our worship would all be far more acceptable to God if we waited upon Him first. The Holy Spirit would anoint our hour of worship, and the sweet smelling incense of our prayers would then arise well pleasing to the Lord.

But above all, we must repeat again that it is our duty before God to enter into the practice of prayer, and especially that of private prayer, by ourselves in our own rooms and within our own hearts. To wait upon God and commune with Him in the quietness of our prayer times means to arise with spiritual strength, know the will of the lord, walk by fait, and see the work of God being performed day by day.

From the evidences around us we must come to the conclusion that very few of us ever reach that place before God. The Bible has shown us all the way, and we must encourage each other to follow that way.

Finally, we must quote from Ecclsiastes 5:1-6. "Keep your foot when you go to the house of God. Be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter anything before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth, therefore let your words be few, - - a fool’s voice is known by his multitude of words.

When you make a vow to God, delay not in paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay it.

Do not allow your mouth to cause your flesh to sin; neither say before the Angel that it was a mistake; why should God be angry at your voice and remove the work of your hands?"

No doubt a whole book could be written on prayer. This brief paper has the purpose of pointing out a few basic important facts AS A BEGINNING to a life of prayer. No doubt, Jesus’ disciples were just as puzzled about prayer as many of us. So they asked, "Lord, teach us to pray."

And the Lord gave them a ‘pattern prayer’. A close study of the ‘Lord’s prayer’ would bring a rich reward in every way, not only in how to pray, but also in the content of our prayers. God’s Kingdom is the focus, His will is uppermost, only then do we speak of our daily needs. Above all, note the amazing brevity of the prayer!

The authors of this paper are Arthur and Rosalind Eedle.