TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Intermediate 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 Power of Prayer

Prayer is very powerful

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.   James 5:16b-18  NET

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

[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.   Matthew 7:7-8  NET

[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.   Matthew 18:19-20  NET

The tremendous promises of answered prayer in this subsection are obviously not an automatic guarantee that every request will be granted. Amongst other things, such prayer must be consistent with God and Christ’s purpose and will – 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.

Praying before God

Pray before God, in his presence

[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, …   1 Kings 8:28  ESV

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

Pray to God as a caring father

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

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!   Matthew 7:9-11  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, rather than in a general sense.

Pray in the Holy Spirit

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

Be reverent when praying

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

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

Making Requests

Ask for things in Jesus Christ’s “name”

[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.   John 16:23, 26a  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 and persistently

I cried out with all my heart, “Answer me, O Lord!   Psalms 119:145a  NET

Jesus told his disciples a story about how they should keep on praying and never give up: …   Luke 18:1  CEV

Do not doubt but believe that what you ask will be granted

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.”   Matthew 21:18-22  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. ZBC).

Give thanks when asking

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

God’s Response to Requests

God answers those who obey and please him

[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.   1 John 3:21-22  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 grants anything we ask that is in accordance with his will

[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.   1 John 5:14-15  NET

Pray for persecuted Christians