As we come to the final practice of the original church listed in our Key text of Acts 2:42, we should also bear in mind that this also has individual and corporate applications. It is a very big subject with varied opinions on what constitutes prayer. My attempt here is to show what the Word of God says about the practice.
At it’s most basic level, Prayer is communication with God. It is not accomplished through some intermediary but is direct with God Himself personally. According to Easton’s Bible Commentary, it “presupposes a belief in the personality of God, his ability and willingness to hold intercourse with us, his personal control of all things and of all his creatures and all their actions.”
Prayer may be verbal and spoken (as Jesus did in John 17, for example), or it may be silent (as described by the Psalmist David in Psalm 5:1 when he says “consider my groanings” and like passages). It may express joy and worship, or it may express grief and sadness. Overall, it is the way we communicate with God.
The Lord Jesus gave us a great pattern prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 when asked by the discples how to pray. Jesus said, “Pray then in this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.] (The part in brackets does not occur in some manuscripts, and it is not my intention to discuss whether it was part of the original prayer, I include it for completeness.) What can we notice about this prayer?
First, our address is to our Heavenly Father, the source of everything. He is our creator, and He is our provider. Our address is to the King of the Universe. Second, it declares the holiness of God, which is a part of worshipping Him. We should always approach God in reverence. Third, it implores God to do His will on Earth as it is done in Heaven. Prayer should always be given in the context that God is God and he can do whatever He feels is best. Fourth, we ask for our daily provision. Fifth, we ask for forgiveness with the caveat that we are walking in His example of forgiveness. (Remember, Jesus forgave His crucifiers from the cross.) Sixth, we ask for protection from the enemy of our souls. Finally, we close with more worship. This is the Lord’s great pattern prayer, not to be memorized and recited mindlessly, but instead a pattern to be followed as we communicate with God.
But why pray at all?
Matthew 21:22 says “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” John 16:24 gives us another secret – “Until now, you have asked nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” Jesus Himself says that as we pray in His name and authority, God will answer those requests. There are three answers I have encountered over the years – yes, no, and wait. A positive answer needs no explanation, for God has fulfilled the request. An answer of “not yet” is harder to take, but God is not restricted by our timetable or agenda, and so grants these things at the perfect time. The answer of “no” is the hardest to understand.
When God answers “no” to a request, it is for one of two reasons. The first of those is because it is not the best for us. “Oh God,” one once prayed, “let me be a rich person so that I may serve you better.” What the person did not understand is that great wealth would have harmed them more. The second reason God does not answer prayer is selfish sin. James 4:3 says “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” 1 John 3:22 says “and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. [Emphasis added.] We need to give consideration to our motives in asking, and that we are walking with Christ.
This most cursory examinations on the practice of prayer in the Bible is by no means complete. I recommend books written by E. M Bounds around the end of the US Civil war or a more recent book by Paul E. Billheimer called Destined to Overcome for the serious seeker.
As always, contact me if you have questions!