What The Bible Teaches About Prayer


      There is no question about it, prayer is one of the greatest privileges and most powerful means available to man! There is also not a doubt that prayer is seriously misunderstood and neglected. Man does not innately possess knowledge of proper prayer. This is evidenced by the question posed to Jesus, "…Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples" (Lk. 11: 1). Jesus did not rebuke the disciple in view of his request, but proceeded to teach him (vss. 2-4).

     Definition of terms rendered pray(er). There are about twelve Hebrew words and nine Greek words which are rendered prayer. Four of these Greek words are nouns and five are verbs. Let us briefly consider a few of the more picturesque of these words. Euchomai is a verb which is translated prayer and means "a desire" (2 Cor. 13: 7). Erotao means "an asking of God, especially in the climate of asking God for others (Jn. 14: 16). This word, some believe, can have the thought of "begging." Deomai is used by Paul in I Thessalonians 3: 10 and means a "wanting due to lack." Hence, it is translated "praying exceedingly" (I Thes. 3: 10, KJV). Parakaleo is another verb of interest which means to call to ones aid (Matt. 26: 53, Acts 16: 9). This word especially suggests "calling on God for divine help, the desired thing being understood as not being able to accomplish without God's help."

     The most often used noun is proseuche. This word simply "suggests the fact of man approaching God." Deesis is more intense, "meaning supplication" (Rom. 10; 10. The noun enteuxis is of special interest in a study of prayer because it is translated "intercession" (I Tim. 4: 5).

     The elements of prayer. When one analyzes prayer, one discovers a number of components, if you will, which constitute prayer. There are six obvious elements. They are: confession (Ps. 51: 1-3, I Jn. 1: 9), praise (Lk. 11: 2), thanksgiving (I Tim. 2: 1), supplication (Phili. 4: 6), intercession (Rom. 15: 30), and petition or asking (Lk. 11: 9).

     The reasons for praying. There are many reasons for approaching God in prayer. In the first place, prayer is a commandment of God (I Thes. 5: 17). God' s children are to maintain an attitude of prayerfulness and continue in regular prayer. One prays for forgiveness of sin (Lk. 11: 4), to obtain deliverance from evil (Lk. 11: 4), and to find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4: 16). The child of God also prays for wisdom and for others (Jas. 1: 5; I Tim. 2: 1 ff).

     Some requisite conditions for answered prayer. Beloved, God has never promised to simply answer all prayers. One must pray believingly (Jas. 1: 6, I Jn. 3: 22), unselfishly (Jas. 4: , 4), and in Christ's name (Jn. 16: 23, more later). One must abide in Christ and be obedient in order to expect their prayers to be answered (Jn. 15: 7, 8; I Jn. 3: 22).

     There are a number of possible hindrances to prayer seen in the scriptures. Family problems can present an obstacle (I Pet. 3: 7). Failure to forgive, lack of repentance, and idols in the heart can all prevent prayer from being answered (Matt. 6: 12, 14, 15; Isa. 59: 1; Ezek. 14: 3, 4).

     Prayer is a blessing for the faithful child of God. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law," God's word says, "even his prayer shall be abomination" (Prov. 28: 9, cp. I Jn. 3: 22).

     The case of Cornelius. Some cite the example of Cornelius as proof that God in general hears and answers the prayers of the lost. Cornelius was an outstanding man and a scripturally significant Gentile (through him the door of faith to the Gentiles was opened, Acts 10 –14: 27). We read of Cornelius in Acts chapter ten and eleven. We are told Cornelius "prayed to God always" (Acts 10: 2). We are also told God heard Cornelius’ prayers (10: 31). Cornelius, though, was lost. Cornelius was very religious, but he was not saved (10: 2, 11: 14). Cornelius had to hear the gospel and obey it in order to become saved (11: 14, 10: 34-48). Notwithstanding, God "heard" Cornelius’ prayers before he was saved!

     How, then, do we reconcile God hearing Cornelius' prayer with such verses as I John 3: 22 which says, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight"? Beloved, God heard Cornelius’ prayers ("come up as a memorial before God," Acts 10: 4) in that God providentially arranged for Cornelius to hear the gospel and learn how to become saved (Acts 10: 5-48). Jesus promised, "Seek, and ye shall find…" and "if any man will ("willeth," ASV) to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine…" (Matt. 7: 7, Jn. 7: 17). In a broad sense, God hears all prayers. If not, how can the prayer of Proverbs 28: 9 be an abomination to God? Concerned reader, prayer which God hears and, in general, answers belongs to the faithful child of God (I Pet. 3: 12). The case of Cornelius does not negate or contradict all the plain teaching found throughout the Bible on this subject!

     Prayer must be asked in Jesus' name. Jesus taught, "And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you" (Jn. 16: 23). Prayer in the name of Jesus, then, is of great importance. Jesus is mediator between God and man. Paul through the Spirit taught: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2: 5). Jesus officiates both as "advocate" and "High Priest" in the matter of man praying to the Father (I Jn. 2: 1, Heb. 2: 17, 18). Jesus' mediation, advocacy, and High Priesthood are involved in praying in Jesus’ name.

     Prayer in Jesus' name means more than simply praying by Jesus’ authority. To do something in another’s name usually means simply by their authority (Acts 4: 7, the view that "in the name of Jesus" only constitutes a formula which must be said is incorrect, cf. Col. 3: 17). However, Jesus had heretofore taught them regarding prayer (Matt. 6: 5-15). Yet, Jesus said, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name…" (Jn. 16: 24). A key to understanding prayer in the name of Jesus is "And in that day…" (vs. 23). Jesus had to die and resurrect (vss. 19-22). His resurrection would proclaim him "to be the Son of God with power…" (Rom. 1: 4).

     Beloved, to ask in Jesus’ name means to acknowledge Jesus’ authority, especially in the sense of his power or ability as the resurrected Son of God, the High Priest, advocate, and one mediator between God and man. Through Jesus’ efficacy and man’s fidelity, the Christian enjoys answered prayer! Without Jesus and his power, there is no hope (Eph. 2: 12).

     Expressed prayer as opposed to unexpressed "thought" or "silent" prayer. The scriptures do not teach the popular practice of what some call "silent" prayer (Ps. 64: 1, 66: 19, 77: 1). The example of Hannah would come the closest to silent or thought prayer, but even "her lips moved, but her voice was not heard…" (I Sam. 1: 13). As I understand the scriptures, prayer is more than just an isolated, random thought. Prayer involves the organizing of our thoughts and an "expression" of the same.

     The posture of prayer. Some have attempted to bind certain physical postures. We read of people acceptably praying while kneeling and standing (Acts 21: 5, Mk. 11: 25). Jesus prayed on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth (Matt. 27: 46). The physical posture, then, is insignificant compared to the mental posture of the person engaging in prayer.

     Prayer addressed to Jesus. Jesus is, no doubt, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father (Jn. 3: 16, see "Jesus" in the subject index located on the Archives page). He was both God and man while on earth and is presently reigning on his throne in heaven (Jn. 20: 28, Acts 2: 29). Jesus accepted man's worship, but taught that prayer is to be addressed to the Father (Matt. 2: 11, 6: 9-15). In the matter of prayer, Jesus officiates as mediator, and High Priest (I Tim. 2: 5, Heb. 4: 15, 16). Jesus pleas the case (prayers) of the Christian to the Father (I Jn. 2: 1, 2). Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are divine, but is prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit (see "Godhead" in subject index, Archives)? If the case of Paul and Stephen constitute prayer to Jesus, they would appear to be the exception and not the norm (2 Cor. 12: 8, 9; Acts 7: 56, 60).  (To read more about prayer to Jesus, click on "Prayer Addressed to Jesus.")

     Beloved, the power of prayer is enormous. Instead of being anxious and worried, the Christian is to, "be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phili. 4: 6,7).