by David Wraight
Prayer is communion with God
Prayer is primarily communication and communion with God, and is the means by which we share our life with Him and provide Him with the opportunity to speak into our life and direct our ways. It is as much about ‘listening’ as it is about ‘telling’ and involves far more than presenting God with a ‘shopping list’ of requests. Rather, our prayer life should be epitomized by the words of Psalm 139:23:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Prayer is an act of obedience
In God’s Word we are commanded to pray. It is not an optional exercise but is an act of obedience and an expression of our faithfulness to Jesus. If we choose not to pray then we are disobeying a direct instruction from our Lord. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are commanded to …pray continually. And in Ephesians 6:18 we are instructed to …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 saints.
When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a model for prayer he didn’t say “if” you pray, He said “when” you pray (Matthew 6:5-15). The expectation of our Lord is that prayer is an integral part of the life of a follower of Him.
Prayer is powerful and effective
Does prayer make a difference? When we pray do things happen? Does what we pray influence the course of history and impact events and outcomes of our lives and the lives of others?
According to God’s Word prayer can and does influence the circumstances and outcomes of human life and world affairs. In James 5:16 we read that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
There are endless examples in Biblical and Church history of the intervention of God in the affairs of humankind in response to the prayers of His followers. James uses the example of Elijah in establishing that prayer is a powerful tool that is available to any believer:
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17, 18
Prayer can have a huge impact in the life of a believer and those He prays for, but there are conditions to our prayers being effective.
Alignment with God’s Will is essential for effective prayer
One of the most common misunderstandings about prayer is the view that prayer is a means to get God to do something for us. We see things in our life that we don’t like, issues that we are adversely affecting us, or things that we think God should be doing, or that would make life easier or better for us and others, and we ask God to deal with these things, projecting on Him the outcome we expect.
However, prayer is first and foremost an alignment of our will with the Will of God’s, rather than aligning God’s Will to ours. When we approach God in prayer we must first seek His will in our lives and in the world and then align our prayers with His revealed will. God’s Word is very clear on this being a prerequisite to effective prayer:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14
God’s will is primarily revealed in His Word, and any prayer that is contrary to the truths and values of the Bible will be ineffective and powerless. When we pray, it should always be in the context of the establishment of God’s Kingdom values in our life and in the world around us – that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Beyond this, we need to seek God’s specific will in our life so that we can pray according to His will with regards to our unique life experience and ministry opportunities. This is best achieved through Biblical evaluation of our decisions and plans, spending much time with our God in prayer and meditation, and testing the validity of our visions, plans and direction through consultation with others in the context of Christian community.
The prayer life of Jesus
Jesus modeled a life of prayer. In the Gospel accounts Jesus’ life and ministry is infused with prayer. When Jesus walked this earth he spent much time in solitude with His father – often all night – particularly at moments of major decisions and ministry challenges. And Jesus’ prayer life was focused on seeking His Father’s direction and will, rather than asking His Father to do things for Him:
I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. John 5:19-20 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. John 12:49, 50 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42
As believers Jesus commanded us to follow Him. He modeled the life we are to live. Self-denying prayer was a pivotal and vital part of Jesus life and ministry on this earth, and He asks nothing less of us. If we are authentically following our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then our daily walk should be one that is infused by self-denying prayer that is characterized by seeking the Fathers will and way in every aspect of our life:
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
Faith plays a key role in the efficacy of prayer
Believing in God’s capacity to answer prayer is another key element to effective prayer:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. James 1:5-7
This faith element of prayer is grounded in a recognition and acknowledgement of who we are praying to. We are praying to the Creator of the universe – our sovereign, all powerful God – and when we pray we must in faith believe that our God can and will answer our pray according to His Will. It is recognition of the God of the impossible that enables us to pray for the impossible.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27
Spiritual warfare and prayer
One of the ‘mysteries’ of prayer is that when we pray things happen in the ‘spiritual realm’ that are largely beyond our limited worldview and human understanding. When Jesus disciples failed to drive out a demon, Jesus explained to them that their failure was due to a lack of prayer (Mark 9:29).
This concept of prayer being a vital weapon in spiritual warfare is also found in Ephesians 6 where we are told that:
…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
To combat these spiritual forces we are instructed to put on the full armor of God and employ this armor through prayer:
…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 saints. Ephesians 6:18
The value of corporate prayer
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19, 20
As we agree together in the context of Christian community the impact of our prayers extends beyond the physical realm in which we live and allow us to engage in the affairs of heaven. In corporate prayer there is also the potential for a greater sense of God’s presence and a greater sensitivity to His direction and will as we interact and fellowship with each other and as we encounter our Lord in and through the lives of those we join with in prayer.
If we see prayer as essential to aligning our will with God’s Will, as a means of seeking and binging about the establishment of God’s rule in the lives of those we are called to minister to, and as the powerhouse of battling the spiritual forces arrayed against us, then there is great value in gathering people together to pray.
It is not a matter of using prayer as a currency to buy God’s favor – that the more people we get praying the more we can convince God to do something – rather, it is a matter of mobilizing God’s people through prayer to do battle in a spiritual dimension where prayer has significant implications to our capacity to overcome the enemy, advance God’s Kingdom and protect and empower God’s people. The more we are walking together in unity in the will of God and contending for the salvation of lost souls through prayer, the more effective we are going to be in authentically representing Jesus to a watching world and bringing others into the Kingdom of God.