Understanding God's Word... 'Teach Us to Pray'
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When my employer first instructed me to learn to use a computer, my mind went numb. My idea of high tech was using a mechanical pencil. Now I felt overwhelmed, plunging into an unfamiliar world.
A friend, however, gave me a few pointers in the basics of computer technology, and, as I began to increase my skill and comfort level, the simple documents I produced got more sophisticated. Today I don't know how I would do without computers in my work.
God uses a form of spiritual technology, a system of communication that may seem baffling at first to many people. It's called prayer. Effective prayer also requires training. Even Christ's disciples, knowing they needed to pray, asked Him to teach them how. In this study I hope to give you some pointers concerning this dynamic spiritual technology. As with my computer experience, although your first attempts may seem basic, as you become more comfortable with this communication tool it will enhance your life as it changes it.
Discussion: What, exactly, is prayer? Simply put, it is our line of communication with God, a precious gift of time that the awesome Creator of the universe longs to have with His children. This is a time we can look forward to each day as we express our love and thankfulness to our Heavenly Father for His calling and grace. It is during this special time that we come to our loving spiritual Father to talk about our needs, hopes, fears and concerns for others.
Discussion: What role did prayer play in the lives of some of the great men and women of God through the ages? Consider the prayers of Abraham (Genesis 20:17-18), Isaac (Genesis 25:21), Jacob (Genesis 32:9-12) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-18; 2:1-10). In these prayers we see certain common threads:
• These people of God were sincere, trusting and open with God.
• They recognized the power of God to miraculously intervene in their time of need.
• They had genuine conversations with God, not recitations of memorized wish lists.
The ministers and other members of the early New Testament Church had a vibrant prayer life and were obviously close to God. Note such scriptural examples as Acts 1:14; 9:36-42; 12:5-17; 16:13; 21:5 and Romans 1:9.
Note: Some of these people were the same ones who had earlier asked Christ to teach them to pray! Through the power of prayer they developed an intimate relationship with God, and He often responded to their requests in miraculous ways.
Discussion: The examples above are only a few to illustrate the effectiveness of prayer. But are there any prerequisites, skills to be learned or limitations in the use of this spiritual technology?
• Do humans have an automatic ability to tap into this power source, or can certain conditions interrupt the flow of power? (Isaiah 59:1-2; John 9:31; 1 Peter 3:12).
Note: God does not hear those who by choice are actively involved in sin. Sin creates a barrier between ourselves and God in which the working of His Spirit within us is diminished (Psalm 31:10; Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:25-32; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Obedience to God aligns us with God's will and opens up the channels of communication with Him.
• What factors does God view as necessary for a successful prayer life? (Isaiah 66:2; John 4:23-24; 1 John 3:22).
Note: God does not hear us when we are proud and thinking only of ourselves. However, He reaches out to the humble (James 4:6-10) and those who worship Him from the heart in humble obedience.
• When one's attitude is right, what does He promise to do? (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Note: God will always hear those who genuinely seek Him according to His will (1 John 5:14-15).
Now let's examine even further some of the basic applications of prayer.
• What principles did Christ tell the disciples, and us, when they asked Him how to pray? (Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:9-13).
Note: The "Lord's Prayer" quoted here was not designed to be stated as an end in itself. Jesus Christ specifically noted that we are not to "use vain repetitions" (verse 7), repeating such words from memory without giving thought to their meaning. This prayer is actually an instructive outline or a model prayer, designed to show the broad areas of life that we need to discuss with God. One can greatly expand into details the various points on this prayer agenda.
• We humans have our own perspectives of prayer, but what about God? How does He view the prayers of the saints? (Acts 10:4; Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4).
Note: Incense, "an aromatic compound which gives forth its perfume in burning" (Unger's Bible Dictionary), is symbolic of prayer (Psalm 141:2). The view here is that God enjoys our conversations with Him as we would enjoy the fragrance of a fine perfume! Also note that this conversation that God so richly enjoys can be about any topic that we bring to Him-as a loving Father He simply wants us to share our lives with Him.
• Giving God thanks would be a second use of this tool. What reasons would there be for us to give thanks to God? (Luke 17:11-19; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6-7; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).
Note: We owe everything to God, and we are totally dependent on Him for everything: our physical existence and sustenance, the blessings we enjoy and a fabulous future. God alone is worthy of our continual thanks for all He has done, continues to do and will do in the future.
• Praise to God is another important aspect of prayer. What do these scriptures tell us about praising God in prayer? (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 16:25; Psalm 28:6-7; 100:1-5; Hebrews 13:15).
Note: God has given us so much and has astounding plans for us. He is worthy of our worship and praise. Worship-from the Old English worth-ship-means to express our acknowledgment and appreciation of God's worth to our lives.
• God expects us to make our needs known to Him (1 Peter 5:6-7). What other examples and instructions regarding this element of prayer does He give us? (Psalm 142; Isaiah 38:1-5; Jonah 1:17-2:10; Proverbs 2:3-6).
Note: God is our loving, faithful Father (2 Corinthians 6:18). He loves us and cares for us. He is our helper who will always be there for us in a time of need (Hebrews 13: 5-6).
• Praying for others (sometimes called "intercessory prayer") is one of the greatest ways to serve and love our neighbor as ourselves. What does God tell us regarding such prayer? (1 Timothy 2:1-8; Colossians 1:9-12; Numbers 14:11-20; Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16).
Note: When we pray for others, God is in no doubt that we are following more perfectly His way of giving and outgoing love for others (1 Corinthians 12:31 - 13:13). God especially delights in such selfless prayers.
• Because humans are imperfect and sin, we need to come boldly before God and pray for His mercy through forgiveness. God is compassionate and wants to share His love with us in this way. What common thread runs through the following verses and what does this tell us about the relationship God desires to have with us? (Psalm 51; Luke 18:9-14; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 1:9).
Note: One of God's names is Faithful (Revelation 19:11). God is faithfully and permanently committed to those whom He calls (Philippians 1:6). When we sin and fall short of God's standard of perfection (Matthew 5:48)-as we all continue to do-we can totally rely on God's mercy and forgiveness as we humbly confess and turn from our sins.
Discussion: Any tool can be used to accomplish a great deal of work provided it is put to use! The same is true of prayer-an intimate relationship with God cannot be achieved, nor can powerful answers to prayer come, until we actually pray! With this in mind, let's remember a few items that will enable us to more effectively use this tool.
Prayer is a tremendous opportunity to talk to the Almighty God of the universe. Therefore, when we pray we should "labor fervently" to not allow ourselves to treat God disrespectfully with half-hearted effort. In that sense, prayer is work (Romans 15:30; Colossians 4:12).
Effectual prayer is also from the heart. God is especially attuned to earnest, heartfelt prayer (Luke 22:39-46; James 5:16).
We must commit ourselves to the effort of prayer (Luke 18:1-8). Many people carry personal planning calendars to remember important appointments. In our prayer life let's remember to schedule time with God! (Daniel 6:10; Psalm 55:16-17).
Further Bible study about prayer
We suggest you use this material as a springboard for further study about prayer. A study of prayers in the Bible (especially in the book of Psalms) will help you see how David and others talked with God about every situation in life. You'll identify with many of these thoughtful prayers, and they will lead to your developing a more effective and personal relationship with God.
We hope that through this study you have come to better understand the basics of God's spiritual technology of communication-prayer!