Answers About Christian Prayer
What is Christian Prayer?
Prayer is the most central, the most important of spiritual activities. Through prayer we build a relationship with God. Prayer is not only about speaking, but also listening to what God wants us to know.
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16
The Bible contains guidelines about prayer and provides examples. But how we should pray is not prescribed in detail, unlike the “salat” of Islam, which must follow strict rules.
The main objective of prayer is to communicate with the Lord.
Who should pray?
Everyone should pray. Everyone needs to build a relationship with God. There is no one too young or too old to pray. As soon as a child can talk he can learn to pray.
Who should we pray to?
We must pray to God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
During his ministry on Earth, Jesus Christ said that we should pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9). Later, as we read in the Book of Acts in the Bible, after Jesus’ resurrection, people also prayed to Jesus himself. See the example of Stephen just before he died, crying out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). The second last verse of the New Testament is a prayer to Jesus, “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)
John 5:22-23 says that we should honor Jesus: “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”
So we can pray to the Father, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, since each is God.
When should we pray?
There are no set times for a Christian to pray. We are advised to pray continually. So we can pray while walking, working, resting on our beds, in other words, at all times.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
It is advisable to set aside a time daily when you can pray, in private and without interruption. This enables us to focus our attention on communicating with the Lord. As a guideline, I would recommend a prayer session lasting 15 minutes or more. Sometimes it is hard to get started, and I find that it is helpful to read some Bible verses first, to help with getting into it. Once one has started to really connect with God in a prayer session, it is often a delight to continue for longer – as much as an hour or more! We would not necessarily be speaking all that time, but also listening and thinking. Prayer is a time for listening to God, as well as talking to him. I find it helpful to keep a pen and paper available to write down thoughts that come to mind during a prayer session.
Is it right to call God our Father?
Yes, we do have the right to address God as our Father. This is because he has adopted us as sons, as is described in the book of Galatians and in other verses in the Bible:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Jesus teaches about prayer
In chapter 6 of the New Testament book of Matthew, the Lord Jesus gave his followers some guidelines regarding prayer.
“5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
The following is a prayer outline given by Jesus. Let us read through it, and then see what we should learn from it. It starts with verse 9 of Matthew 6:
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.’”
This example prayer is not one that we have to recite. Rather we learn the principles, and use them in our own prayer. Let us look at the principles:
“Our Father in heaven”
We address our prayer to God the Father. We may also pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
“hallowed be your name”
We confirm that God is holy, and worthy of our worship. We offer him our praises. In the book of Psalms there are many examples of praises. Read Psalms 145 to 150, or any of the other psalms of praise. We can even read these psalms out to God, if we cannot find our own words of praise.
“your kingdom come”
We look forward to the second coming of Jesus, when he will rule over all, and wickedness will no longer be tolerated.
“your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
We cry out for God to intervene in this world, where unbelief, pain and sorrow are so widespread. We associate ourselves with God’s work, which is to spread the message that salvation is achieved only through faith in Jesus.
“Give us today our daily bread”
We ask the Lord to provide for our needs, whether they are physical, emotional or spiritual. God is dependable, and both caring and powerful, so we can confidently ask him to meet our needs.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”
The Lord is willing to forgive our sins, and he insists that we should forgive others just as he forgives us.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
We realise our weakness and our inability to resist temptation by our own strength. And we have a spiritual enemy, Satan, who likes to tempt us to sin and wishes to harm us. Therefore we cry out to God for protection and to fill us with his Spirit so that we can resist the temptations to sin. In addition to examples of praises that we find in the book of Psalms, there are many psalms containing heartfelt cries for God to help us in our troubles. Psalm 31 is just one example of a plea for help.
The prayer in Matthew chapter 6 provides us with a guideline. But the guideline does not limit us in what we pray about. The Lord wants to hear from us. He wants us to express what is on our hearts and minds, to tell him of our plans, needs, hurts and joys.