TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

II. Praying to God

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Chapter 24  Part II

Praying to God

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Prayer is one of the greatest privileges and one of the greatest responsibilities of being a Christian. It is also one of the main sources of vitality for our lives as Christians, and is critical to our effectiveness in our endeavors for God’s kingdom. At the end of our lives, quite possibly many of us will see prayer as the main thing that we should have done more often. As the saying goes, “Life is short; pray hard.”

The Importance of Prayer

Prayer is portrayed as an offering to God

Rev 8:3-4  [John, describing a scene in heaven:] Another angel holding a golden censer came and was stationed at the altar. A large amount of incense was given to him to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar that is before the throne. 4The smoke coming from the incense, along with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.  NET

Prayer is very powerful . . .

James 5:16b-18  The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! 18Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest.  NET

. . . If we ask God for things, he will give or do them

Matt 7:7-8  [Jesus:] Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  NET

Matt 18:19-20  [Jesus, to his disciples:] Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.  NET

The tremendous promises of answered prayer in this subsection are obviously not an automatic guarantee that every request will be granted (cf. Epilogue:  God’s Response to Requests). Amongst other things (cf. Making Requests), such prayer must be consistent with God and Jesus Christ’s purpose and will (cf. 1Jn 5:14-15) – which Jesus may have in view here with his reference to those asking being “assembled in my name” (v. 20). Nevertheless, such wonderful promises should greatly encourage us to pray fervently and persistently – which is in view with the use of “ask”, “seek” and “knock” in Matthew 7:7-8 above.

We help others by praying for them

2Cor 1:10-11  [Paul, referring to God’s deliverance:] From such terrible dangers of death he saved us, and will save us; and we have placed our hope in him that he will save us again, 11as you help us by means of your prayers for us. So it will be that the many prayers for us will be answered, and God will bless us; and many will raise their voices to him in thanksgiving for us.  GNT

We are called on to pray

Col 4:2  Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.  NET

 Questions for Section A

Praying before God

Pray before God, in his presence

1Ki 8:28  [Solomon, to God:] Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, …   ESV

Neh 1:4b  [Nehemiah:] I fasted and prayed in the presence of the God of Heaven.  ISV

To pray “before” God (cf. 1Ki 8:28 ) effectively means to pray in his presence (cf. Neh 1:4b ), being mindful of his presence.

Approach God with confidence

Heb 4:15-16  For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.  NET

In view of Jesus Christ’s role as our high priest (v. 15) we are to approach God with confidence – both in regard to him receiving us and to him hearing our prayers (v. 16).

Be reverent . . .

Eph 3:14  [Paul:] I kneel in prayer to the Father.  CEV

Kneeling in prayer – “fall to my knees and pray” (NLT) – is indicative of reverence for God, and submission to him.

. . . and humble yourself before God

2Chr 33:12-13  In his pain Manasseh asked the Lord his God for mercy and truly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. 13When he prayed to the Lord, the Lord responded to him and answered favorably his cry for mercy. The Lord brought him back to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh realized that the Lord is the true God.  NET

Pray to God as a caring father

Matt 6:9  Therefore, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.  ISV

Matt 7:9-11  [Jesus:] Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  NET

Having a holy and loving Father in heaven should inspire us to make requests of him, doing so in awareness of him being such a Father. Note that the term “evil” (v. 11) is used here in a relative sense – in comparison to God and his standards.

Pray in the Holy Spirit

Jude 1:20  But dear friends, use your most holy faith to build yourselves up, praying in the Holy Spirit.  NCV™

Having the Holy Spirit, believers are to pray “in the Holy Spirit”. As such we are to consciously rely on the Holy Spirit’s help, to empower and guide us in our prayers.

 Questions for Section B

Physical Aspects of Prayer

Pray aloud . . .

Acts 4:24  When they [the believers] heard this, they all raised their voices to God and said, “Master, you made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them., …  ISV

. . . or pray in your heart

1Sam 1:13a  She [Hannah] was praying in her heart so her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.  NCV™

Pray anywhere

Acts 10:9  About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.  NET

Acts 21:5b  We knelt on the beach and prayed.  CEV

Pray anytime

Ps 55:17  [David:] Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.  NKJV

Pray constantly

1Thes 5:16-18  Always rejoice, 17constantly pray, 18in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  NET

Spend long periods alone in prayer – like Jesus did

Luke 6:12  Now it was during this time that Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent all night in prayer to God.  NET

Keep alert to pray

Eph 6:18b  Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.  GNT

Postures used in prayer

Acts 20:36  And when he [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.  ESV

2Sam 7:18a  Then King David went into the Tent of the Lord’s presence, sat down and prayed …  GNT

Mark 11:25  Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your sins.  NET

Note: Do not pray for show and do not babble on

Matt 6:5-8  [Jesus:] When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 6When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you. 7When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. 8Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.  CEV

 Questions for Section C

Making Requests

Note that the teaching on prayer in general in the previous two sections – Praying before God, and Physical Aspects of Prayer – is also very pertinent to this section on making requests to God in prayer.

Ask for things in Jesus Christ’s “name”

John 16:23, 26a  [Jesus, to his disciples:] On that day, you will not ask me for anything. Truly, I tell all of you with certainty, whatever you ask the Father for in my name, he will give it to you.26On that day, you will ask in my name.  ISV

In Jewish thought, a person’s name represented or embodied their whole person – including their nature, authority and purpose/s. As such, to ask in Jesus Christ’s “name” is to do so in accordance with all that his name signifies. It is prayer that is compatible with Jesus Christ himself and his purposes – and made on his authority.

When praying, people often use the phrase “in Jesus Christ’s name” (or “in Jesus’ name”) to signify that they are asking for something in Jesus Christ’s “name”. The usage of the phrase does not by itself mean that the prayer is necessarily in accordance with Jesus Christ’s “name”. Along with being conscious of and acknowledging Jesus Christ’s authority and role in our making of requests to God, the content of the prayer is also at issue. Thus asking for things in Jesus Christ’s “name” concerns both how we ask and what we ask. Bear in mind that the deeper one’s relationship with Jesus Christ becomes, the better-equipped one becomes to make requests of God in Jesus Christ’s “name”.

Note that in the above verses, “On that day” (vv. 23, 26a) refers to the time following Jesus’ ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – inclusive of the present age.

Ask earnestly . . .

Ps 119:145  I cried out with all my heart, “Answer me, O Lord! I will observe your statutes.”  NET

Luke 22:44  And in his anguish he [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  NET

. . . Even fast when making requests of God

Ezra 8:21, 23  [Ezra:] I called for a fast there by the Ahava Canal, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek from him a safe journey for us, our children, and all our property. … 23So we fasted and prayed to our God about this, and he answered us.  NET

Ask persistently

Luke 18:1  Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray all the time and never give up.  ISV

1Tim 5:5  But the widow who is truly in need, and completely on her own, has set her hope on God and continues in her pleas and prayers night and day.  NET

Believe and do not doubt that what you ask will be granted

James 1:6-8  But when you ask God, you must believe and not doubt. Anyone who doubts is like a wave in the sea, blown up and down by the wind.  7-8 Such doubters are thinking two different things at the same time, and they cannot decide about anything they do. They should not think they will receive anything from the Lord.  NCV™

Matt 21:18-22  Now early in the morning, as he [Jesus] returned to the city, he was hungry. 19After noticing a fig tree by the road he went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. He said to it, “Never again will there be fruit from you!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20When the disciples saw it they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” 21Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.”  NET

Belief is vital in petitioning God, particularly in regard to things that seem impossible, as Jesus figuratively points out (v. 21). But belief is not merely making yourself “believe” what you do not really believe. Instead, it involves an understanding of God’s will and genuinely trusting in God to fulfill his will (cf. Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary).

Give thanks when asking

Phil 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.  NET

Note: “The Lord’s Prayer” – the prayer Jesus gave as an example

Matt 6:9-13  [Jesus:] So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, 10may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us today our daily bread, 12and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  NET

In v. 10, “your will be done” is speaking of people acting in accordance with God’s will and/or the fulfillment of God’s plans for the world. Note that the conclusion of “The Lord’s Prayer” as it is often prayed in church – “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen” – is contained at the end of this passage in some manuscripts.

 Questions for Section D

Epilogue: God’s Response to Requests

Note that a number of the subsections in the previous sections regarding how to pray are very pertinent to the theme of this section – because for prayer to be answered, it should be presented appropriately.

God answers those who obey and please him . . .

1Jn 3:21-22  [John, to believers:] Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.  NET

The clause “if our conscience does not condemn us” (v. 21) refers to having a clear conscience before God, from obeying and pleasing him (v. 22b).

. . . God does not listen to those who do evil rather than good

Job 35:12-13  Then they [the wicked] cry out – but he does not answer – because of the arrogance of the wicked. 13Surely it is an empty cry – God does not hear it; the Almighty does not take notice of it.  NET

Ps 66:18  [A psalmist:] If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.  NET

God grants anything we ask that is in accordance with his will . . .

1Jn 5:14-15  [John, to believers:] And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.  NET

. . . Further verses regarding prayer and God’s will

Luke 22:41-42  He [Jesus] went away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.”  NET

Jesus requested that his impending suffering be avoided – if this was in God’s will. The request was not in accordance with God’s will and so was not granted – in line with Jesus’ qualification that it only be granted if it was God’s will.

Rom 1:9b-10  [Paul, to the Roman believers:] I mention you 10always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.  ESV

Paul appears to pray that his request be in accordance with God’s will or, similarly, be achieved through God’s will.

Sometimes God may not appear to answer, or does not answer immediately

Ps 22:1-2  [David:] My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? I groan in prayer, but help seems far away. 2My God, I cry out during the day, but you do not answer, and during the night my prayers do not let up.  NET

Hab 1:2  [Habakkuk:] How long, Lord, must I cry for help? But you do not listen! I call out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene!  NET

Sometimes God and Jesus Christ refuse requests

Deut 3:23-26  Moreover, at that time I [Moses] pleaded with the Lord, 24“O, Lord God, you have begun to show me your greatness and strength. (What god in heaven or earth can rival your works and mighty deeds?) 25Let me please cross over to see the good land on the other side of the Jordan River – this good hill country and the Lebanon!” 26But the Lord was angry at me because of you and would not listen to me. Instead, he said to me, “Enough of that! Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.  NET

2Cor 12:7b-9  [Paul:] Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. 8I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.  NET

Examples and affirmation of God answering prayer

Acts 12:5-7, 11  So Peter was kept in prison, but those in the church were earnestly praying to God for him. 6On that very night before Herod was going to bring him out for trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the prison cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly!” And the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.11When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from everything the Jewish people were expecting to happen.”  NET

Acts 28:8  His [Publius’] father was in bed, sick with fever and stomach trouble, and Paul went to visit him. Paul healed the man by praying and placing his hands on him.  CEV

Ps 65:5  [David, to God:] You answer our prayers by performing awesome acts of deliverance, O God, our savior. All the ends of the earth trust in you, as well as those living across the wide seas.  NET

 Questions for Section E

Pray for persecuted Christians