Why, when and how should we pray?

The Almighty God of heaven and earth speaks to us through the Bible and prayer is the way in which we can speak to Him. It is an important part of a believer’s personal relationship with Him. To be able to pray to God in heaven is a great privilege that He has given to those who are humble and recognize His greatness:

In Isaiah 66:1,2 we read: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool… But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

Why do we need to pray?

In Psalm 139:1-4 we read that God knows everything about us. He sees all that we do and knows all that we think. We do not need to tell Him anything about ourselves. Jesus said to his disciples, “… your Father knows what you need before you ask him”  (Matthew 6:8). But God does want us to pray to Him, for Jesus continues by teaching his disciples how to pray.

Prayer helps us to see outside our own lives and consider our Maker. It raises our thoughts to a more spiritual level and helps us to see ourselves as God sees us. Prayer is part of our worship, and it gives us the opportunity to think things through in the presence of a God who loves us and wants what is best for us. Thinking and praying about the needs of other people helps us to appreciate our own blessings. So prayer is for our benefit, as well as to praise and thank the Creator for His love. One of the main reasons for prayer is that God wants people to trust and rely on Him and not on themselves, or on other people. We must speak to God with the greatest respect at all times.

How should we pray?

It is important to realize that we cannot expect God to hear our prayers if we do not try and follow Him. James 5:16 tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”. We have to be right with God if we want Him to hear our prayers. Proverbs 28:9 explains that God will not hear the prayers of those who ignore His Word: “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination”.

There was an occasion when God would not hear the prayers of Israel because of their wickedness: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15).

  1. We should pray in accordance with God’s will – We must not pray in a demanding way, expecting God to provide whatever we ask. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours, be done”  (Luke 22:42). This was the principle of his life, and we should pray in the same way. We learn about God’s will by studying His Word. This will help us to stop praying for things that God will not want us to have. The apostle John wrote: “And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
  2. We should ask in faith – We must believe that God hears our prayers and that He has the power to answer them. James 1:5,6 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind”. However, this does not mean that God will give us everything we ask for. God does not take away all our problems in this life but He offers us a place in His kingdom. If we pray in the right way then God will hear us and He will answer in ways that help us to grow spiritually and develop more Christ-like characters, which will prepare us for that kingdom. God knows what is best for us and may not always give us what we ask for. Sometimes He grants our request after making us wait. Isaac prayed but had to wait a long time for his sons to be born see Genesis 25:20-26. Sometimes God disciplines us by the circumstances of life. But we can still ask Him to help us accept these problems and learn from them.
  3. The right attitude – We need to be humble when we approach God in prayer, recognizing His greatness and how small we are before Him. We need to be totally honest with ourselves, with a deep awareness of our sins and our need to be forgiven by Him. Jesus told the parable about the prayers of a tax collector and a Pharisee. The despised tax collector bowed his head and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Jesus said that such a man would be heard by God because he humbled himself, unlike the Pharisee who was very proud of his own efforts at living a good life. His prayer was not acceptable. Psalm 138:6 shows that God is not interested in us when we are proud: “For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.”

When should we pray?

We can pray at any time and in any situation, as often as we wish, whether we are at home or travelling or at work. Jesus liked to go somewhere quiet on his own. But we can also pray in the middle of an emergency, as Nehemiah did – Nehemiah 2:4. Many people find it helpful to have regular times for personal prayer, often to start and end the day – Psalm 92:2. Paul said, “pray without ceasing” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17. This does not mean that we have to speak to God every minute of the day, but means that every part of our life should be lived prayerfully, talking everything through with God.

God is holy and righteous, so sinful man cannot directly approach Him. But now that the Lord Jesus Christ has opened up the way for those who have been baptized to come to God, they can seek forgiveness knowing that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9. Baptized believers must therefore pray to God through the Lord Jesus because he presents our prayers to God. This is why we start (or end) our prayers with a phrase such as “through Jesus Christ our Lord”, or “in Jesus’ name”. The Lord Jesus had human nature like us and so he understands us and can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).

The risen Lord is at the right hand of the Father, and is now a mediator – or intercessor – for those who pray to God through him: “… Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding (mediating) for us” (Romans 8:34).

The Lord Jesus Christ does more than simply pass on our prayers to God. Because of his love for us, and because of the authority which he has been given (Matthew 28:18), he is concerned to bring our needs and desires to the Father: “He [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession [plead] for them” Hebrews 7:25). Remember what he promised to his disciples before he died, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23). The Lord Jesus Christ is active on behalf of his followers, to help them bring their prayers to God; and works in the lives of believers in answer to their prayers.

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