Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”1 Thess 5: 16-18, NKJV
Is prayer a waste of time? In a culture that increasingly embraces atheism and nihilism, is prayer an outdated relic, left over from prior ages of superstition? Or are we wired deeply within our very creation as spiritual beings? Are there measurable benefits to our health related to the very act of prayer? What do the scriptures say about prayer?
If God is real, and if the scriptures are His method of communicating to us, a person might reasonably expect the principles found in the scriptures to prove beneficial somehow in our lives. Scripture perspectives on prayer, as well as the impact of prayer on our mental and physical health as noted in the research are explored in this series. The first part of this series will explore what the scriptures teach us regarding prayer.
What does the Bible say about prayer?
Is God a cosmic vending machine, a sky-genie ready to bestow all your pleasures based on a simple ask? As a kid I asked for a room full of bubble-gum–didn’t happen. That prayer was stupid, but some prayers that are perfectly reasonable also go seemingly unanswered. If God is real, why does He not always answer our prayers…is there more to it?
A sincere relationship with God is essential
For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call upon him in whom they did not believe? and how shall they believe on him of whom they did not hear? and how shall they hear apart from one preaching?“Roman 10: 13-14, Young’s Literal Translation
How can you call on a God that you do not believe in, and how can you believe in God unless you hear about Him–His characteristics and teachings, who He is and what He expects from you? Is it not a bit empty to approach a God you do not know, and only when things go wrong in your life?
Or, to only approach Him when you want a quick and sudden fix? Is it not empty to live a life of disobedience and disinterest with God, then suddenly to petition Him when you want something? God is not mocked.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”Galatians 6: 7-8, NKJV
A solid faith in God built on sincere seeking is required
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”Hebrews 11: 1-3, NKJV
We are not asked to have a blind faith. In fact, faith is to be built on evidence. The scriptures tell us that the evidence for a God can be found manifested within His created world. There are many modern scientists and historic scientists for whom science serves to unravel mysteries of a higher law, purpose, and power. In fact, there is a 27-page (and growing) list of modern scientists who reject the notion of a naturalistic, Darwinian process for explaining the complexities in life forms. Our faith must be built on diligent seeking:
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”Hebrews 11: 6, NKJV
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 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. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”James 1: 5-8, NKJV
Our sins place a barrier between us and God
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened,Isaiah 59: 1-3, NKJV
That it cannot save;
Nor His ear heavy,
That it cannot hear.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity.”
We are to humble ourselves and turn from our sins when approaching God
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 will forgive their sin and heal their land.”2 Chron 7: 14, NKJV
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”James 4: 8-10, NKJV
Prayers are to be given with a submission to His will
Going back to confronting the “sky-genie” approach, the scriptures are clear that prayer requests are granted to those of a humble heart, who approach God in sincerity and faith, and prayers are granted in accordance to God’s will–not necessarily ours. Sometimes, our desires are knowingly or unknowingly in opposition to God…if granted, such desires may result in more harm than good in our spiritual journey during this limited life.
…Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?James 4: 2-5, NKJV
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
Accepting His will means sometimes, the answer is “no.”
Many people grow angry at God or give up their belief in God when God does not answer their prayers in accordance with their wishes. A humble believer must recognize that even Christ and Paul were denied some of their requests. The scriptures are clear that suffering and death are components of this life. Christ himself pleaded the night before his crucifixion for another way, a way aside from the torture he was about to endure.
…and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.” He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”Mark 14: 33-36, NKJV
Paul, a writer of numerous books in the Bible and one of the greatest messengers of God who ever lived, was denied three prayer requests concerning a “thorn in the flesh…,” a suffering he had to endure. Paul acknowledges his prayer request was denied, but noted that the suffering served to strengthen his resolve and reliance on God.
and that by the exceeding greatness of the revelations I might not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of the Adversary, that he might buffet me, that I might not be exalted overmuch. Concerning this thing thrice the Lord did I call upon, that it might depart from me, and He said to me, ‘Sufficient for thee is My grace, for My power in infirmity is perfected;’ most gladly, therefore, will I rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of the Christ may rest on me: wherefore I am well pleased in infirmities, in damages, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses — for Christ; for whenever I am infirm, then I am powerful;”2 Cor 12: 7-10, Young’s Literal Translation
We are to approach God with a spirit of gratitude
Paul is a great example of resilience despite the circumstances of his life. Recounting his sufferings, he states:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?“2 Cor 11: 24-29, NKJV
Yet, in spite of his hardships, he instructs us:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”Philip 4: 6-7, NKJV
What the Lord’s prayer teaches us about praying
The Lord’s prayer as presented by Christ serves as a model for our own prayer. Not that we need to repeat this prayer word for word, but rather, it demonstrates the mindset with which we are to approach God when we make our petitions to him. As recorded in the book of Matthew:
And — praying — ye may not use vain repetitions like the nations, for they think that in their much speaking they shall be heard, be ye not therefore like to them, for your Father doth know those things that ye have need of before your asking him; thus therefore pray ye:
‘Our Father who [art] in the heavens! hallowed be Thy name. ‘Thy reign come: Thy will come to pass, as in heaven also on the earth. ‘Our appointed bread give us to-day. ‘And forgive us our debts, as also we forgive our debtors. ‘And mayest Thou not lead us to temptation, but deliver us from the evil, because Thine is the reign, and the power, and the glory — to the ages. Amen. ‘For, if ye may forgive men their trespasses He also will forgive you — your Father who in the heavens; but if ye may not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”Matthew 6: 7-15, Young’s Literal Translation
Christ’s attitude towards God was one of deference, worship, and respect. This attitude played out in his life on earth. In his prayer, Christ acknowledges God’s rule, God’s promise of a kingdom to come, and acknowledges His will as supreme. The prayer requests our daily needs be met, while with humility, requests forgiveness. It fosters a spirit of grace within us, that we forgive others just like we want forgiveness. Finally, we are to acknowledge our own fallibility, acknowledging that we are tempted, and we pray for deliverance from these temptations.
This series will cover aspects of prayer and in the next post, discuss the impacts of prayer on our mental and physical health. However, understanding prayer from a scriptural perspective helps ground us, helping us to approach our Creator with the mindset He intended. Prayer, in accordance with the Biblical perspective, is not the same as pressing a button on some cosmic vending machine. Rather, prayer is a mental exercise in cultivating an attitude of gratitude, of forgiveness, and of humility. Prayer is an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty in our lives, an opportunity to reflect on our needs, and a request for divine-given strength against our own destructive lusts and desires.