Part A | Part B | Part C | Part D
GOD'S PROVISION FOR HIS CHURCH: PRAYER
All of the worlds major religions emphasize prayer. The Buddhists repeat their prayers fervently, although they do not believe anyone is listening. The Hindus pray regularly, believing one of the many Hindu gods may be listening, but they do not really expect any response to their prayers. The Muslims pray five times a day. They believe that Allah is listening, but he will not alter his plans to meet their needs. Devout Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims consider Christianity a prayerless religion, because they rarely see Christians praying. Yet Christians are supposed to believe they have a God who not only hears their prayers, but will answer them in mighty power! The Christian concept of prayer is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. David gave the church a rich heritage of prayer in the Psalms, and many modern Christians have added new meaning to their prayer lives by studying them. But the Christian learns his greatest lessons about prayer from Jesus Christ. Generation after generation of Christians have come to Christ, as His disciples did, and said, "Lord, teach us to pray." (Luke 11:l)
Jesus taught by both word and example. His life was full of prayer. The Bible records that He arose very early in the morning to pray (Mark l:35). He is seen spending time in prayer either before or after every important event of His life (Luke 6:6-13; 9:28-29, Mt. 14:19; 15:36; John 17). Prayer was certainly a regular part of His life, and a very prominent feature of His death. From His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk. 14:32-41), to His final words of prayer on the cross, Jesus moved in an atmosphere of prayer. In addition to the deep impact that His prayerful life had on His disciples, Jesus commanded them to pray (Jn. 16:24), and taught them many things about prayer (Mt. 6 & 7). Jesus even gave His followers a model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). In this prayer, we are taught to glorify God, seek His perfect will, look to Him for our daily needs, seek His forgiveness as we give our forgiveness to our fellowmen, rely on Him in temptation, and praise Him.
Jesus Christ also gave us the thrilling privilege of praying in His name. This is not a "magic formula" that guarantees results, if tacked unto the end of a list of demands. It is the privilege of going into the very presence of God and being received as Jesus is received! Praying in Jesus name implies that our will and purposes are one with His. It is in this sense that Jesus was able to say, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." (John 14:14). Jesus chose to use one of His greatest miracles, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, to teach another important point. John tells us that, Jesus raised His eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here..." (Jn. 11:42). Note that God always hears Jesus prayer. He also hears every prayer raised in Jesus name. The Muslim idea that Allah is so great he has everything under his control and therefore won't change anything in answer to prayer, seems impressive at first. But this teaching of Jesus is even greater. Our God has chosen to use prayer as a means of displaying His power! As His children call upon Him, He will change circumstances and events that are adversely affecting His work. He has eternally planned to do this!
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. Do you have a model of a proper prayer life in mind? Does it include a standard of time? Does it include goals of content?
2. Why did Jesus pray? What are some of the topics of the prayers we have of Jesus?
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The simple faith of the New Testament church is most dramatically evident in their attitude toward prayer. While awaiting the promised Holy Spirit, they prayed (Acts 1:24). When seeking a replacement for Judas 120 of the believers gathered to pray, and they were in prayer again when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them (Acts 2). Following this great event, they returned to prayer (Acts 2:42). When they were threatened by the authorities they prayed (Acts 4:23-31). This prayer can be a model prayer for Christians facing persecution. In this prayer the church recognized the sovereign power of God, recalled the scriptural prophesies that persecution would come and accepted this fact. They did not pray for deliverance from persecution, but asked for boldness and power. Note that God was pleased with their prayer and dramatically answered (Acts 4:31).
The early church's dependence on prayer is evident throughout the book of Acts. Whether faced with persecution from without (Acts 7:59-60), strife within the fellowship (Acts 6:1-4), or the need to empower new believers (Acts 8:1417), they turned to prayer. When the Lord desired to make changes in the course of the church, He did it through their prayers. He sent Peter to the first gentile believers as Peter prayed (Acts l0:9), and set apart Paul and Barnabas as the first missionaries as the church in Antioch prayed (Acts 13:2-3).
The apostle Paul set a consistent example in prayer from the beginning to the end of his ministry. He considered prayer so important that he made some reference to it in everyone of his letters. His teaching enlarges upon the brief teachings of Christ. Especially important are these verses:
"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." (Col. 4:2).
"Pray continually." (I Thess. 5:17).
"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (I Tim. 2:1-2).
Paul had a great deal of personal experience with persecution, and his response was to pray (Acts 16:25). He experienced Gods miraculous deliverance and believed that the deliverance was in answer to prayer (II Cor. 1:9-11). James also emphasizes the practical importance of prayer. He teaches that we can expect to receive needed wisdom in answer to prayer (James 1:5-6). He also gives clear teaching on praying for healing (5:13-17).
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. Consider the disciples prayer in Acts 4:23-31. How do we know the Lord was pleased with this prayer?
2. What did Paul mean when he said, "Pray continually;" I Thess. 5:17). Is this possible?
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As we study the things that the Bible teaches about prayer, we see that prayer is basically communication with God. Through prayer, we praise God and thank Him for His grace, mercy and blessings. This is a very important aspect of prayer. God deserves our praise, and the Scriptures repeatedly encourages us to praise Him (Psalm 105:1, 2; Ex. 15:11). God does not need our praise, but we need to praise Him! Our praise is a testimony of our faith in His sovereign power, even when our circumstances are very difficult. Mature Christians living under persecution have frequently urged us to turn our hearts to praise, because in this way we are acknowledging the sovereignty of God, bring glory to His name and strengthening ourselves. They assure us that God honors our faith when we praise Him in spite of difficult circumstances. It would be possible to tell of many specific cases where God has responded to the prayer of praise by divine intervention. And remember, whether God changes the circumstances or not, He is GOD and He deserves our praise!
Another important aspect of prayer is confession of sin. Since all of us fail the Lord and sin, we rejoice in His promise to cleanse us as we confess to Him (I John l:9). When we enter the holy presence of God through prayer, we should allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of those things that are displeasing to God and immediately confess them, confident that He will forgive. Our confession should be specific and include a willingness to make any restitution the Lord may lead us to make. We will deal at length with this matter of the confession of sin in Lesson VIII.
The third aspect of prayer is when we bring our needs to God. These needs may be of many different types. We may request strength for the tasks before us, or to bear the burdens He has permitted us to share. We may desire wisdom to handle a problem or to know how to reach a lost person for Christ. We may evoke God's blessing upon our families, our church or others. One of the amazing things about the Bible is the great promises it makes concerning prayer. If it only promised occasional answers, we would pray much as a man gambles, hoping to be one of the fortunate ones. But the Bible makes such broad promises as: "And I will do what ever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father." (John 14:13). "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you." (Mt. 7:7). "Call to me, and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things, you do not know" (Jer. 33:3). These promises should encourage us to bring every need to the Lord, as long as our motives are correct (See James 5:13).
The last aspect of prayer that we will consider is listening to God. Throughout our prayer time it is important to be open to the Spirits guidance. The Holy Spirit will help us to praise God, and He will remind us of needs we should be praying about. Sometimes He will clearly show us action that we should be taking in connection with matters we are considering in prayer (Jn. 16:13-14). Often He will guide us to a passage of Scripture which will meet our need. The Living Bible translation of James 1:5, is very clear on this point. "If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you, for He is ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask Him; and He will not resent it."
With all this biblical teaching on prayer, and the many examples we have in the Bible of prayer and answers to prayer, it would seem that this particular teaching would be clearly understood. And in fact, church doctrine on prayer is generally adequate, but in practice many modern congregations have earned the charge that followers of pagan religions often make about Christians--they say we are "prayerless," because they do not see us pray in public as they do. Many congregations have only one or two group prayers each week. One member, often the pastor, prays aloud and the members are supposed to be silently following and participating in their hearts. Often, however, the prayer is so general and irrelevant that peoples minds wander. Few will recall later what the prayer consisted of, and they will never know if it was answered. The private prayer lives of the individual Christian may not be much better, because most of what they know about prayer has been learned by this kind of example. Obviously, this kind of prayer life will not sustain a believer in hostile circumstances. Congregations that have the freedom to pray openly together should be teaching "powerful and effective" prayer (James 5:16), by example. In addition to including the four aspects of prayer mentioned earlier, prayer needs to be specific and expectant. Only by praying specifically can we experience the faith building thrill of seeing needs met in our lives, in our church, and in the lives of our friends and loved ones. It is helpful to keep a record of these requests so that we can later record the Lords answers to our prayers. This, of course, implies we will be praying expectantly. Some Christians are afraid to ask God to meet specific needs, because they dont really expect Him to answer. Their faith is weak, and they do not want to face the possibility that their prayers may not be effective. If we study the Scriptures we will find that God wants us to pray with expectancy. "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer , believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mk. 11:24).
Whether or not an individual Christian has learned to have real communication with God in prayer may be the single most important factor in determining if he will survive victoriously as a Christian. The same would apply to the victorious survival of any group of believers in hostile circumstances.
How can a group of Christians develop this kind of effective prayer communication with God? First, they must study what the Bible teaches about prayer. Review the examples, given in the Scriptures, of those who exercised power with God through prayer. You must know the teachings of Scripture before they can affect your life. Sound biblical teaching about prayer should be continuously presented and practiced in your fellowship group. There are valuable passages in both the Old and New Testaments that show the practical application of prayer. It is good policy for each new believer to be given a mature Christian as a prayer partner, if at all possible. These two should meet regularly to pray together and to learn the various types of prayer by study and practice. When the young believer has become a seasoned prayer intercessor, he should become the prayer partner of another new believer.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. What four types of prayers do we find in the Bible?
2. Which of these types of prayer do you most often use? Why?
3. How does keeping a record of prayer requests challenge our faith? Are you willing to accept the challenge?
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To become strong in prayer the church must learn to recognize needs that must be prayed about. Crisis prayer is found in the Bible, and is encouraged. But frequently, our crises are the result of our lack of prayer earlier. If we bring our needs to the Lord when they are still small, fewer crises may develop. Our God is not too busy to be interested in our small problems. The Scripture specifically tells us that our God is interested in such little things as one sparrow and the number of hairs on our heads. Sometimes young believers get the idea that they can only pray about "important" things. We need to show them that our God is interested in every detail of our lives. Repeated teaching of the promises of God is important. We expect God to answer our prayer because He promised to do so. This sense of expectancy can become exciting. When we pray for specific needs in our lives and base our prayer on a specific promise of Scripture, we will see the answer and our faith will be strengthened. This is one reason why it is important to make specific requests and keep track of them. New believers are always amazed to see God move in answer to specific prayer! This makes it possible for them to pray and expect God to answer their prayers, too.
In 1972, one area of the northern part of what was then South Vietnam was under rocket attack and the Communists forces were expected to take it over any day. Everyone knew that the defenses were inadequate and the area could be taken at anytime. But a young Vietnamese Christian prayed earnestly for peace in the area so that the Gospel could be spread to his extended family. This seemed humanly impossible, but the Lord gave the young Christian peace of heart that his prayers would be answered. Much to the amazement of the defending forces, for the next two years the Communists moved around that area until they had taken the whole country. Of course, the area came under Communist control at that time, but by then the church had grown, was strengthened, and had a number of mature believers, including the young man who had prayed! Our God will answer specific, expectant, prayer!
It is important to understand the difference between needs and wants. Many weak Christians fail on this point. They demand that God give them their wants, but God knows this thing is not for their best and He denies it. So they become discouraged and become easy prey for the enemy. In those rocket attacks in Vietnam, for example, the Lord assured the young Christian that no Christians would be killed, but a short while later the one doing the praying was seriously wounded. Even with pain of shrapnel in his legs, he praised the Lord that no one was killed. Obviously, he would have preferred to avoid the pain of the wound, but the Lord used the incident to strengthen the faith of several new believers.
What about the circumstances of prayer? The Bible records examples of people praying while bowing (Gen. 24:26), kneeling (I Kings 8:54), on their faces before the Lord (Mt. 26:39), and standing (II Chr. 6:12). Apparently, the physical position is not too important. In fact, in Nehemiah 2:4-5, we see a man being questioned by the king quickly pray before he responds. He certainly did not assume a prayerful position or appearance as he made this brief prayer, yet the Lord certainly heard and answered him. Many Christians under pressure or persecution have found this type of prayer very effective. When we are faced with difficult situations, we can call upon the Lord in our hearts, and know He hears. While it is often useful to share our prayers in an audible manner so that others can pray with us, it is also important to learn to pray silently. Nehemiahs short prayer before he answered the king was certainly a silent prayer. The church needs to learn that sometimes it is best to pray fervently, yet silently. Open audible prayer can be detected and stopped by the authorities. Silent prayer that expresses the deep desire of the heart can be presented to the Lord completely undetected. We can pray silently while working in the fields, standing at a machine, or even while attending a propaganda meeting!
Another lesson the church needs to learn about prayer is to pray patiently. God meets our needs "at the proper time" (Gal. 6:9). Too often Christians weary of praying, and give up. This is often justified on the basis that Gods failure to answer means the request is not according to His will. Remember, God can say "No," or "Not yet." Christ urges us to be persistent in prayer (Luke 11:5-8). This does not mean that God does not want to meet our need and that we need to try to persuade Him. It simply means that only God, who completely understands the whole situation, can know when and how to answer. Only when we have assurance in our hearts from the Lord, should we remove a matter from our prayer list. Let's say with Samuel, "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray..." (I Sam. 12:23).
Many times Christians lose heart in prayer because they do not recognize it when the Lord does answer their prayers. Sometimes this is due to the fact that they did not pray specifically enough, and sometimes because they have decided in advance how God must answer. Perhaps they think that only a great miracle can meet their need, but the Lord may change the circumstances so that the need seems to be supplied "naturally." Mature believers should recognize that the events of everyday life also come from the Lord. Our daily bread and safety are miracles of God in this troubled world! Let us not presume to tell God how to answer, and let us praise Him for His daily care. The old saying is certainly true, "God gives His best to those that leave the choices to Him."
The church that is threatened by bitter opposition must allocate extended time for prayer. It is a great mistake for a body of believers to set aside only a brief portion of one weekly meeting to share prayer requests, rejoice in answers to prayer, and join together in prayer. It would be much better if time were provided in every gathering of believers for this critically important activity. Even informal meetings of Christians should be seen as an opportunity to pray together.
The church should schedule small group prayer meetings, and meetings for prayer partners every week, as well as strongly encouraging daily personal prayer by every member. Some churches in the free world have begun to move in this direction by de-centralizing their mid-week prayer meetings. Instead of one meeting at the church, the prayer sessions are held in homes scattered throughout the community. This encourages lay leadership, stimulates personal involvement, and makes young Christian realize that the Lord can be present in meetings outside of the formal sanctuary. In addition to home prayer meetings based on geographical areas, the church should encourage various groups within the fellowship to gather for prayer together: housewives, farmers, students, factory workers, etc. If open persecution comes to a local assembly that has learned to pray in these various ways, the prayer life of the church will continue. Even if Christians are scattered, they can continue to share prayer requests and answers to prayer with one another by mail. It is easy to write about such things in a way that will not draw the attention of the authorities. As will be discussed in Lesson X, the prayer and devotional life of the Christian family remains the basic unit of spiritual power. When Satan has won the temporary victory of completely scattering a local body of believers, the prayer fellowship of the family remains.
In many cases individual Christians have found prayer their only source of strength when they have been unjustly imprisoned or exiled. Many fine books have been written sharing the thrilling experience of such martyrs. Prayer is the Christians first spiritual experience, the highest spiritual experience, and the most powerful spiritual experience. Learning to pray effectively is undoubtedly one of the greatest lessons a Christian can learn.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. Consider this quote; "Nothing strengthens our faith in prayer like seeing God answer."
2. Is it best to kneel when praying? Why have some "positions" been popular among Christians for centuries?
3. Have you seen God answer your prayer? Share your experience.
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