Prayer Lesson 2: What is Prayer?

What theologians have and now say about prayer

Now we come to the defining moment in our study. We will define what God means by prayer. You will be hard pressed to find a Christian who does not believe in prayer. It is a universal truth among Bible believers that prayer is an essential part of the Christian life. Yet, Christians define prayer in many different ways.

Roman Catholics pray. But when you ask a Roman Catholic to define prayer, he may tell you things that you will not believe. He may tell you that you are able to pray to saints. Mystics (eg. Quakers and Charismatics) pray. But when you ask them about prayer, they may tell you that God verbally speaks to you in prayer. Arminians pray. But when you ask an Arminian about prayer, he may tell you that prayer changes things. Therefore, we need to seek the Scriptures and define what prayer is. For it is in the Scriptures that we have an absolute definition.

This task is not easy. Men throughout the centuries have studied the Scriptures and given great understandings as well as errors. We will look at how the theologians understood Scripture’s teaching and glean from their works. Second, we will consider some key biblical passages and correlate them into a working definition of prayer.

The theologians’ definitions

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

Question 116: Why is prayer necessary for Christians?

Answer: Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us;a and also, because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them.b

a Psa 50.14–5; b Mt 7.7; Lk 11.9,13; Mt 13.2; Psa 50.15

Westminster Larger Catechism (1648)

Question 178: What is prayer?

Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God,a in the name of Christ,b by the help of his Spirit;c with confession of our sins,d and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.e

a. Ps. 62:8; b. John 16:23; c. Rom. 8:26; d. Ps. 32:5–6; Dan. 9:4; e. Phil. 4:6

Question 179: Are we to pray unto God only?

Answer: God only being able to search the hearts,a hear the requests,b pardon the sins,c and fulfil the desires of all;d and only to be believed in,e and worshipped with religious worship;f prayer, which is a special part thereof,g is to be made by all to him alone,h and to none other.i

a. 1 Ki. 8:39; Acts 1:24; Rom. 8:27; b. Ps. 65:2; c. Micah 7:18; d. Ps. 145:18–19.

Charles Hodge (1872)

“Prayer is the converse of the soul with God. Therein we manifest or express to Him our reverence, and love for his divine perfection, our gratitude for all his mercies, our penitence for our sins, our hope in his forgiving love, our submission to his authority, our confidence in his care, our desires for his favour, and for the providential and spiritual blessings needed for ourselves and others.

Prayer Lesson 1: An Introduction and Outline of the Study

The subject of prayer enjoys wide attention in Christendom.[1] Christian bookstores devote sections of shelving units to the subject. It seems that every year, Christian publishers highlight a new book is introduced on the subject of prayer. Traditionally, our churches dedicate one night to prayer – usually called the Wednesday Night Prayer meeting. Christians, generally speaking, view prayer as a vital part of the Christian faith and practice.

The recognition that prayer is a vital part of the Christian faith and practice may come from the fact that the Bible itself contains at least 650 prayers and 450 answers to those prayers.[2] One cannot read God’s Word without reading a prayer on occasion.

This study and preaching series will exhort us to pray with theological accuracy and earnestness and answer the following questions:

  • What is prayer?
  • How does God use prayer?
  • Why is prayer so essential to the Christian faith and practice?
  • How (form and content) did the saints of the OT and NT pray?
  • How should we pray?

Tonight, we will outline our study of prayer and consider common, yet erroneous, concepts of prayer.

An overview of this study

Part 1: a systematic theology study of prayer

Before we can pursue this study, we need to have a biblically full definition of prayer. We have to take into account what the Bible generally says about prayer. A systematic approach will do at least two things:

  • It will prevent us from making theological blunders. For example. Bruce Wilkinson, in his recent book, The Prayer of Jabez, attempts to explain and apply the prayer as normative for the believer. He fails to take into account dispensational peculiarities in Jabez’s day. Also, many things in the book contradict other passages of Scripture. This illustrates the danger of forming one’s opinion on prayer by focusing on one prayer.
  • It will enable us to think correctly about prayer. From an overview of biblical teaching, we will see how prayer relates to the character of God. We will further see what is expected of the New Testament believer and how prayer fits into his individual and corporate worship.

We will examine the following:

  • Common, yet erroneous, ideas regarding prayer
  • Prayer in the theologies
  • Various forms of prayer
  • Prayer and the Sovereignty of God
  • Prayer and Evangelism
  • Prayer and Edification
  • Persistence in Prayer
  • Hindrances in Prayer

Part 2: a biblical theology study of prayer

Biblical theology is different than Systematic theology. In relation to prayer, whereas Systematic theology seeks to identify what all of Scripture says about prayer, Biblical theology focuses on what a particular Scripture writer understood about prayer.

We will examine the following:

  • A lesson on prayer in the Old Testament followed by expositional sermons on the prayers of Moses that was rejected to enter the Promised Land (Dt 3.23–27), Jabez that was answered (1Ch 4.9–10), Solomon for wisdom, riches, and a long life (1Ki 3.7–14), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4.34–37), and Jonah in the belly of the great fish (Jnh 2).
  • A lesson on prayer in the Psalms followed by expositional sermons on David’s repentance (Psalm 51), the imprecatory prayer of the Babylonian captives (Psa 137).
  • A lesson on prayer in the Gospels followed by an expositional sermon on the Disciple’s Prayer (also known as the Lord’s Prayer)
  • A lesson on Paul’s prayers followed by expositional sermons on worthy petitions (2Th 1.1–12); a passion for people (1Th 3.9–13), church’s call to pray for authorities (1Ti 2.1–4), praying for power through His Spirit (Eph 3.14–21), and prayer for ministry (Ro 15.14–33).
  • The Puritans and prayer
  • Prayer and Revival
  • Concerts for Prayer in Cambuslang, Scotland vis-à-vis Concerts of prayer today.
  • The Layman’s Prayer Revival of 1858
  • Prayer of Faith taught and used by Charles Finney
  • George Mueller
  • Spurgeon and prayer
  • Prayer and its role in church planting

Part 3: a historical theology study of prayer

Common Ideas of Prayer

Some believe that prayer is ultimately a tool we use to receive things from God

Unfortunately, in recent decades (and days) prayer has been thought of as a tool to get things from God.

John R. Rice, now deceased, wrote a popular book that clearly reflects this thinking – Prayer, Asking and Receiving. The book is filled with many illustrations “proving” that prayer works. It is a tool by which we get things from God.

In his recent work, Bruce Wilkinson exhorts the believer to pray the Prayer of Jabez (1Ch 4.9f) because it is “a daring prayer that God always answers … [and] it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God.”[3]

Some believe that prayer is a tool we use to alter God’s plan

“Prayer changes things” is the battle cry of this group. Note what theologian, Wayne Grudem says about prayer:

“Prayer changes the way God acts … when we ask, God responds…. If we were really convinced that prayer changes the way God acts, and that God does bring about remarkable changes in the world in response to prayer, as Scripture repeatedly teaches that he does, then we would pray much more than we do.”[4]

Though Grudem would agree with us that God is Sovereign, and does as He pleases, at this point, he has a lapse in his theology. What is taught by this quote is that prayer is ultimately a tool that we use to get God’s attention, in a sense prayer “wakes God up” and informs Him that His current plan has a flaw.

Compare this with Scripture:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matt 26:39

Some believe that prayer is a two-way communication

The mystic believes that during prayer, God speaks to him and mystically communicates revelation.

The mystic, Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) composed a prayer (Dialogue) that implies two-way communication. In that prayer, she uses the word “light” synonymously with “divine revelation:”

“Having first given the grace to ask the question, thou repliest to it, and satisfiest thy servant, penetrating me with a ray of grace, so that in that light I may give thee thanks.”

Prayer is a one-way communication. We communicate to God. He does not “speak” to us in prayer.

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” (Jn 5.39)

… and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2Ti 3.15–16)

Some believe that prayer is not formed by words

The 19th century evangelist, Charles Finney denounced written prayers. In his day, some strictly relied on formalized prayer books in worship. We would agree that is a problem. However, he went too far in saying that prayer is not formed by words:

“Prayer does not consist of words. It does not matter what the words are if the heart is not led by the Spirit of God.”

Prayers are propositional. What we mean by that is; prayer must contain words. Without words, there is no language. We readily admit that our prayers are not necessarily limited to our vocabulary level, or inability to recall precise words that express our desires. At those times, we rely upon the fact that God knows our thoughts and the Spirit intercedes on our behalf (Ro 8.26) However, to say that prayer does not consist of words is wrong.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, he taught them propositionally. That is, Jesus taught his disciples by using language.

“This, then, is how you should pray: ”‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come … (Mt 6.9)

Some believe that written prayers inhibit one’s prayer life

While it has already been noted that some rely strictly on prayer books and written prayers for their worship, it goes too far to say that prayers should not be written.

All of the prayers we find in the Bible were eventually written. The Psalms are prayers that were written and later prayed by the nation of Israel. Therefore, one should not say prayers should not be written.

Writing one’s prayers is beneficial. Few people can pray accurately and clearly in ad lib fashion. It takes practice to pray without having an outline. Writing causes one to think clearly. It allows one to preserve his/her thoughts for later reflection. Written prayers may also be used as a guide in formal prayer.



[1] This is good and bad. Good in the sense that much information can be found on the subject of prayer. It is bad in that much written is not biblically based and God glorifying.

[2] Herbert Lockyear, All the Prayers of the Bible, foreword.

[3] Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez, preface.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 311.

Praying: Table of Contents

Prayer by Brad Anderson
This series of lessons is designed to encourage believers to pray rightly by examining what the Bible says about this critical spiritual discipline.
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Dan 9:3And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:

Mt 17:21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Ac 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

1Co 7:5 Defraud ye not one the other, except [it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

The spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting are mentioned together repeatedly in the Bible.

  1. Definition
    1. Fasting is voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual reasons. More broadly, a fast is any time you refrain from doing something you usually do, for spiritual reasons. The Bible refers only to fasting from food.
    2. The NT indicates that fasting is appropriate at certain times. Jesus stated more than once that his disciples would fast (Mt 6:16-17, 9:14-15, 17:21) and the early church participated in fasting (Acts 13:2, 14:23). However, Paul mentions it only once (1Cor 7:5) without recommending it as normal.
    3. Is fasting a necessary element of the Christian life? Apparently not. One is not required to fast in order to live a godly Christian life. Fasting is a practice that Christians may and perhaps should participate in from time to time for certain reasons. But it does not seem to be a universal expectation for believers.
    4. Types of fasts:
      1. In a normal fast, one abstains from all food except water (or other liquids). The human body cannot normally function without water for more than 2-3 days (Luke 4:2).
      2. In a limited fast, one abstains from certain kinds of foods or liquids (Dan 1:12).
      3. In a congregational fast, the whole congregation agrees to abstain for a designated period in order to pursue spiritual goals (Acts 13:2).
      4. In a supernatural (miraculous) fast, biblical characters abstained from both food and water for extended periods without sensing any need for such. For example, Moses spent 40 days on the mountain without eating food or drinking any water (Deut 9:9). This was a miracle, and we should not expect the same to be repeated today.
      5. Other fasts: in the OT, several occasions are mentioned that require fasting. E.g., Lev. 23:14; Num. 29:7; Esther 9:30–31
  2. Reasons to fast

Remember that biblical fasting must have spiritual reasons. There may be beneficial health reasons associated with fasting, but that’s not what we are concerned with here. If one fasts, it should be for one or more of the following biblical reasons.

  1. To strengthen prayer: Fasting brings a note of urgency and sincerity to our prayers. Fasting doesn’t guarantee that God will answer prayer in the way that we desire, but it does show that we are serious and sincere about a matter. Fasting is often associated with prayer (Ezra 8:23;Neh 1:4;Dan 9:3;Acts 13:3). We abstain from food for the purpose of seeking God.
    1. Pray and fast in times of affliction or distress (2 Sam 12:16-17; Ezra 9:5; Lk 4:1-2). Fasting is sometimes described as “afflicting one’s soul” (Isa 58:3). Tearing one’s clothes, weeping, and the application of ashes indicate one’s affliction, humility, and submission to God (cf. Est 4:3).
    2. Pray and fast for wisdom in making decisions (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23). Significant decisions may require additional spiritual exertion.
    3. Pray and fast for deliverance or protection (2 Chron 20:1-4; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16).
    4. Pray and fast to express repentance for sin (1 Sam 7:6; Neh 9:1-2; Joel 2:12).
    5. Pray and fast to express and/or renew your dedication to God and to worship Him or in preparation for ministry (Luke 2:37; Acts 13:1-3). Fasting as an element of worship seems to have been a normal practice in the early church.
    6. To humble yourself before God (1King 21:27-29; Ps 35:13) (Note: it’s possible to fast without humility [Luke 18:12]). One fasting should not make it publicly visible by looking gloomy (Mt 6:16-18).
    7. To express grief: Especially in the OT, fasting is associated with death and grief (Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 31:13; 2 Sam 1:11-12).
    8. To discipline your body and/or to overcome temptation

While fasting is not an essential aspect of the Christian life, it may be a common part of it, depending on one’s circumstances. It should be more common than it is. Fasting is thoroughly appropriate in many situations, and participation in fasting may support your spiritual health.

Note: Always seek medical advice before fasting. Some physical conditions make fasting dangerous.

Lessons in this Course
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer

Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer

Jesus assured his disciples, “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Mt 7:7), and that “all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Mt 21:22). Why do believers not usually experience this sort of answered prayer? What other factors pertain to answered prayer?

Today, we’ll explore several biblical requirements for effective prayer.

  1. Hindrances to effective prayer
    1. Unbelief  (Mt 21:21; James 1:6-7). “Wavering” (KJV) is “doubting.” The word literally means “to divide, to discriminate,” in the sense of being internally divided or doubtful. “Double-minded” (James 1:8) is another way of expressing the same idea.
    2. Disobedience  (Isa 59:1-4; James 4:4). God refuses to hear the prayers of unrepentant, worldly people.
    3. An unforgiving spirit (Mark 11:25; cf. Mt 6:12-15). God’s willingness to forgive us is limited by our willingness to forgive others. A bitter, unforgiving spirit marks an unbeliever.
    4. Unconfessed sin (Psalm 66:18; Prov 15:29). To “regard” iniquity (KJV) is literally to “look upon it” with affection and approval. We naturally gaze upon what we find attractive and turn away from what we find repugnant. Hypocritical prayer is ineffective.
    5. Failure to ask or asking with wrong motives (James 4:1-3). “Amiss” (KJV) is literally “badly, evilly.” Prayer must not be for the gratification of one’s sinful passions. Those who intend to (lit.) “squander it on your pleasures” (James 4:3) should not expect anything from God.
  2. Prerequisites to effective prayer
    1. Pray  (Mt 7:7,21:22;Lk 18:1;James 4:2)
      1. Prayer is a basic Christian responsibility (see Lesson 1 on the importance of prayer).
      2. Lack of prayer is one obvious reason our desires remain unmet.
    2. Pray in faith (Mk 11:24) and according to God’s will.
      1. We must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb 11:1, 6).
      2. We must have confidence that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14-15).
      3. We must trust that God can do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). All things are possible with God (Mt 19:26).

Note: Believing a thing will not necessarily make it happen. We must take into consideration all the other prerequisites to prayer as well. Further, unanswered prayer does not necessarily imply that one does not have faith. Even a small amount of faith is enough to move mountains (Mk 17:20).

  1. Pray in the name of Jesus (Jn 14:14,16:23).
    1. Specifically, prayer should be made to God the Father, through the authority of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    2. The “name” of Jesus stands for his entire person, character, and nature. To pray “in Jesus’ name” means that we are asking for things that would be consistent with Jesus character. All the blessings we enjoy as Christians come to us via Jesus’ “name,” i.e., his person and work. We should ask only for things that are consistent with Jesus’ great name.
    3. Further, we approach God through the merits of Jesus, not by virtue of our own goodness or work. We have the right to come to God in prayer only because of our union with Christ and his intercession on our behalf. Jesus’ name stands for his authority or privilege; this is the basis for our bold approach to God in prayer.

Note:  Merely tacking on the phrase “in Jesus’ name, amen” to prayer does not satisfy this condition. On the other hand, not saying this phrase does not mean you are not praying in Jesus’ name.

  1. Pray while abiding in Christ (Jn 15:7). Failure to abide in the vine results in fruitlessness, which indicates an immature (at best) or unsaved (at worst) condition. Perseverance in the faith is necessary for prayer to be effectual.
  2. Prayer must be offered by those who have forgiven those who offend them (Mt 18:21f;Mk 11:25-26). Extending forgiveness to others is a mark of genuine Christianity.
    1. Theologically speaking, we know that God’s forgiveness of our sins does not depend upon our forgiveness of others. Justification comes by faith, not by works (Rom 5:1). All our sins are forgiven at the point of salvation.
    2. Failure to forgive others indicates an unregenerate heart.
    3. What is the proper way to handle offenses among brethren? Mt 18:15-17
    4. Prayer must be accompanied by obedience and a desire to please God (1 Jn 3:22).
      1. Obedience – obey his commandments, and particularly, the command to love one another.
      2. Pleasing God – Even when we don’t have a direct command to follow, our desire should be to do what would please God. Broader biblical principles guide us in this case.
    5. Prayer must persevere (Lk 18:1; Rom 12:12; Col 4:2; 1 Thes 5:17). We must continue in prayer steadfastly, attentively, and carefully.

Only when we meet the prerequisites to we have assurance of answered prayer.

 

Lessons in this Course
Table of Contents
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms

Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms[1]

The Psalms include a multitude of expressions of Israel’s communion with God. Believers of all ages have been encouraged and challenged by the prayers of the Psalms, which include a variety to prayer types. Christians may use any or all of these forms in their personal and congregational prayers.

  1. Lament/petition
    1. “Lament” commonly refers to an expression of grief, sorrow, or deep regret. Some psalms appeal to God for divine intervention in the face of a national disaster (communal lament). Other psalms are addressed to God in the context of an individual disaster, and appeal for God’s help (individual lament). Typically, the psalmist makes petition to God for his compassion and concludes with an expression of confidence in God’s help or with words of praise. The psalmist petitions God for God’s presence, good health, spiritual help, moral strength, material good, long life, rich progeny, victory in war, and the like. An example of petitionary prayer is Psalm 13 (read).
    2. Christians are easily tempted by the feeling that we are forgotten by God when we are in trouble and deep sorrow. But God does not forget us. We should cling fast to the truth that God is merciful to the believer who cries out for help and deliverance.
    3. Prayer strengthens our faith. In Psalm 13, the psalmist’s faith was not strong enough to proclaim his confidence in God’s help at the beginning of his prayer. But later, at the end of his prayer, his heart is flooded with confidence and praise. Such is the power of prayer and the effect it can have.
  2. Penitential prayer
    1. Penitence is an expression of repentance. The psalmist confesses that the chastisement of God comes to him because of his own sin. Psalms 32, 38 and 51 are recognized as penitential psalms. Read Ps 32:1-5.
    2. Although the penitent clearly expresses his own responsibility for the present wretchedness or calamity he is suffering, it is remarkable that he confesses not only his own sins, but also the hereditary sin, the fathers’ sins (Ps 51:5; 79:8; 106:6ff.).
    3. The penitent heart touched by God’s mercies cannot be silent: it must praise him and tell of his deliverance to others. Such an testimony will be a more powerful message to unbelievers than the message of those who do not deeply experience God’s forgiveness of their sins. Here, the psalmist seems to teach that the praise and witness of the forgiven penitent are also the privilege and duty of all other forgiven penitents.
  3. Intercessory prayer

Intercessory prayer asks God for something on behalf of someone or something else. Such prayer is often found in royal psalms in which the king plays a role. Psalms 20 and 72 are examples of an intercessory prayer found in “royal” psalms. The ideas and hopes expressed in this psalm lead the people to look not only to the present, but also to the future messianic king who will bring them all to fruition. Read Ps 72:1-4.

  1. Thanksgiving or confident prayer

When God answered some prayer or delivered an individual (or the nation) from trouble, the man (or the nation) offered thanks to God. So the thanksgiving prayer is a prayer of praise for the specific deed which God has just done for the one giving thanks. Psalms 9 and 40 are good examples. Read Ps 40:1-4

  1. Hymnic prayer
    1. Hymnic prayers expresses adoration directed exclusively to God. In such a prayer, the psalmist praises God for his greatness and might or for the beauty and wisdom of his creation. Psalms 8, 29, 33, 65, and 113 are examples of hymnic prayer. Read Ps 8.
    2. Hymnic prayers are usually full of hymnic expressions without making any petition to God. These psalms are not prayers of petition, but prayers of praise. Many of these psalms were likely liturgical songs sung at Israel’s worship.
    3. Recognizing the greatness, majesty, strength, holiness, and goodness of the Lord, a sincere believer cannot but praise him. As Christians, we should learn to pray to God in such hymnic adoration focused exclusively on God. Contemplating God’s nature and his abundant grace, we may say that our prayer should be first hymnic prayer, and then petitionary prayer.


[1] Kyu Nam Jung, “Prayer in the Psalms,” in Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000), 36-49.

 

Lessons in this Course
Table of Contents
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality

Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality

Spirituality is a broad concept. People from nearly all religious traditions, and even secularists and atheists, may think of themselves as “spiritual” in some sense of the word. Christian spirituality, of course, is distinct from other forms of spirituality. How does prayer fit into Christian spirituality?

  1. Definitions
    1. The Gk. word for “spiritual” is pneumatikos. It’s the word for spirit (pneuma) and a suffix –ikos which denotes “pertaining to.” Thus, pneumatikos / spiritual means pertaining to the Spirit.
    2. The word conveys the sense of belonging to the realm of Holy Spirit or being under the control of the Holy Spirit. One who is led by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, and displaying the fruit of the Spirit could be called spiritual.
    3. Ephesians 5:18 contrasts drunkenness and Spirit-filling. Just as a drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he consumes, so a Spirit-filled Christian is controlled by the Spirit. This will cause him to act in ways which are unnatural to him, not erratic or abnormal, but not the ways of the old life. Control by the Spirit is a necessary part of spirituality.[1]
    4. The Holy Spirit ministers to the believer in various ways: teaching (John 16:12–15), guiding (Rom 8:14), assuring (Rom 8:16), interceding (Rom 8:26), imparting spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7), battling the flesh (Gal 5:17), and all of these depend on the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18).
    5. The spiritual man is the Christian’s ideal or goal. Essentially, spirituality is Christian maturity, Christian adulthood. The goal or pattern to strive for is maturity in the faith.
  2. </span></div><div style=”text-indent: 18pt; margin-left: 18pt; margin-right: 18pt; margin-bottom: 3pt; position: static; “><span style=”text-indent: 18pt; position: static; “>TheSince malkjsSinceSinceSpirituality and prayer
    1. Prayer is obviously a spiritual, as opposed to secular, activity. If one does not believe in a supernatural realm, he will never pray. If spirituality is control by the Holy Spirit, then those under His control will pray. People who are led by the Holy Spirit pray. Since Christian maturity would include regular times of prayer, one cannot be mature in the faith if he does not pray.

Eph 6:18  through every prayer and petition, praying in every season in the Spirit, being watchful to this same thing with all perseverance and petition concerning all the saints.

Php 1:19  For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

  1. Prayer is a mark of Christian maturity.
    1. Christian maturity develops through prayer. One must pray in order to grow and mature as a believer. The strongest Christians are those who pray much.
    2. Mature Christian people handle life situations with prayer. Prayer is an essential response to the ups and downs of life. Prayer is appropriate in times of joy and thanksgiving as well as in times of grief and pain. Prayer accompanies all events in the life of a mature Christian.
    3. One of the weaknesses of immature Christianity is a lack of prayer, or at least a lack of consistent prayer. Those who don’t make prayer an essential part of their lives cannot mature in the Christian life.
    4. Prayer requires trust in God. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is” (Heb 11:1). We come to God in prayer believing that he is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). We come boldly before the throne of grace (Heb 4:16) to make our requests (Phil 4:6) because we believe that God hears us and has the power to change things. Mature Christians cast their cares upon the Lord (Ps 55:22; 1 Pet 5:7) and experience the “peace that passeth all understanding” (Phil 4:7) as a result.
    5. Prayer is seeking the Lord. God repeatedly invites believers to seek him (Isa 55:6; Heb 11:1). One of the ways we do this is through prayer. In prayer we present our requests to God, but our attitude should always be “thy will be done” (Mt 6:10; cf. James 4:15). The glory of God should be our primary goal. We should desire that God would get the honor and praise through the granting of our requests.

2 Chron 7:14If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

  1. Prayer is worship. Our expressions of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and supplication to God are key elements of Christian spirituality. We worship God through prayer.
  2. Prayer is congregational. A significant expression of Christian spirituality is congregational prayer. We should follow the pattern of the early church by continuing steadfast in prayer (Acts 2:42). The church should pray “without ceasing” for the needs of its members (Acts 12:5; cf. James 5:14). The church should pray that “the word of the Lord may have free course [lit. “run”], and be glorified” (2 Th 3:1) as more laborers go out into the harvest fields (Mt 9:38).

 

 



[1]Ryrie, “What is Spirituality?” Bibliotheca Sacra (Vol. 126, Page 204-205). Dallas Theological Seminary.

 

Lessons in this Course
Table of Contents
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers

Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers

Most of the primary figures of the OT were people of prayer. A detailed examination of the prayers of all the OT saints is far beyond the scope of this lesson, but we can highlight some valuable lessons to learn as we observe how prayer functioned in the OT.

  1. God’s people pray.
    1. The main OT characters pray (e.g., Job, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Elijah, Ezra, Daniel, etc.).
    2. Even the minor characters in the OT pray (e.g., Abraham’s servant, Jabez, Samson’s parents, etc.). People of God, both extraordinary and ordinary, pray.
  2. Prayer must be combined with action. Prayer is no excuse for passivity.
    1. Exod 14:15
    2. Josh 7:6-11
  3. Unbelief and disobedience hinder prayer.
    1. Prov 28:9
    2. Isa 59:1-2
    3. Zech 7:13
    4. Submitting questions to God is not necessarily an act of unbelief (e.g., Jer 14:19; Ezek 9:8, 11:13).
  4. Pray at all times and in all places.
    1. Daniel prayed three times a day (Dan 6:11; cf. Ps 55:17).
    2. Believers can worship God anywhere (cf. John 4:21-24). God fills heaven and earth (Jer 23:24); he’s not a local deity and is not confined to any particular location.
  5. Pray using any reverent position.
    1. The OT mentions a variety of physical positions one might assume while praying: standing, kneeling, flat on one’s belly, etc. Sometimes one’s hands are lifted up or spread out in prayer (cf. Ps 28:2).
    2. No particular posture is required. By the way, nothing in the Bible says that one must close his eyes or bow his head during prayer.


  1. Pray with fasting.
    1. Fasting is associated with prayer from earliest times. The Israelites fasted on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). Later, four other annual fasts were observed (Zech 8:19) and perhaps a fifth (Esther 9:31).
    2. Fasting was especially associated with grief and penitence and with seeking God’s guidance. But abstinence from sin was more important than abstinence from food, just as a broken heart was more important than torn clothes (cf. Isa 58; .Joel 1:14; 2:12, 15).[1]
  2. Pray for miracles.
    1. The OT contains numerous remarkable miracles that God performed in answer to prayer.
    2. Examples:
      1. Joshua’s long day (Josh 10:12-14)
      2. Hezekiah’s deliverance from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19) and his prayer for an extension of his life (2 Kings 20).
      3. Elijah on Mt Carmel with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)
      4. Elisha with the Syrians (2 Kings 6:17)
  3. Prayer may include vows, oaths, invocations, benedictions, and curses/imprecations.
    1. Vows (Deut 23:21-23; 1 Sam 1:11; Ecc 5:2-7): A vow is a voluntary promise to God in return for certain benefits one hopes to receive from God. No one need make a vow, but once made, keeping the vow was one’s sacred and binding duty. Thus, one should not make a vow lightly or flippantly.
    2. Oaths (2 Chron 15:14-15): An oath is a solemn appeal to God, often prefaced with an expression like “As the Lord lives,…” or “The Lord do so to me and more also, if…” An oath calls down a curse upon oneself if he fails to keep a promise.
    3. Invocations (Num 10:35-36; Judg 5:31; Ruth 2:12; 1 Sam 24:12): An invocation calls upon the Lord to do something or invokes God’s name in expressing a desire.
    4. Benedictions (Gen 9:26-29; Num 6:24-26): A benediction is an expression of a desired blessing from God.
    5. Curses/imprecations (Deut 27:15f; Josh 6:26; Mal 1:14): An imprecatory prayer asks God to uphold the terms of his covenant by punishing the disobedience of a transgressor. The aim is not personal vengeance but the vindication of God’s name based on a zeal for God’s righteousness and justice. Cf. Proverbs 8:13 and 2 Chron 19:2. It seems doubtful that imprecatory prayers are appropriate for the church age.

 



[1]Howard Peskett, “Prayer in the OT Outside the Psalms,” in Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000), 25. Much of the material in this lesson follows this article.

 

Lessons in this Course
Table of Contents
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers

Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers

We often learn best by following the example of an expert. Other than Jesus, the NT example of expert prayer would have to be Paul. He urges us to follow his example as he follows Christ (1 Cor 11:1; cf. Phil 3:17, 4:9). Paul’s prayers function as models for Christians in every age and culture.[1] So what can we learn about prayer for how Paul prayed?

Perhaps the most obvious thing about Paul’s prayers is their volume and frequency; Paul prayed a lot! We find evidence of prayer in almost all of the NT books bearing his name. Paul was surely a man given to prayer (cf. Acts 6:4).

What kind of prayers do we find in Paul’s prayer life?

  1. Prayers for God’s blessing
    1. Prayers for grace and peace (Rom 1:7, 16:20; 1 Cor 16:24). Most of these prayerful expressions come from salutations or benedictions of the epistles.
    2. Prayers for spiritual virtues like patience, unity, joy, peace, hope, love, stability, holiness, knowledge, discernment, sincerity, and fruitfulness (Rom 15:5-6, 13; Eph 3:14-19; Phil 1:9-11; Col 1:9-12; 1 Thes 3:11-13; 2 Thes 1:11-12)
    3. Prayers for success in various tasks or journeys (Rom 1:10; 1 Thes 3:11)
    4. Prayers for the Lord to return (1 Cor 16:22)
  2. Intercession on behalf of others
    1. Continuous prayers for others (Rom 1:9, 12:12; 1 Cor 1:4; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Thes 3:10; Phm 4)
    2. Asking that others would pray for him (Eph 6:18-19; 2 Thes 3:1-2)
  3. Petition for Personal Needs

2 Cor 12:7-10 appears to be the only place where Paul gives direct insight into the way he prayed concerning his personal needs. Even this special prayer experience was intimately connected with his mission. Whatever the nature of the “thorn in the flesh,” it appeared to be such a handicap to his life and ministry that he pleaded with God three times for its removal. The answer to his prayer was not what he sought: the affliction remained but the promise was given: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s contentment with that answer indicates a clear conviction that it was the Lord’s gracious and wise provision for him in that. Paul’s experience of bringing his need confidently before the Lord thus became a means of discerning God’s will for his life and growing in Christ-likeness (cf. 13:4).

This incident suggests that there is a time to cease asking God for something and to rest in the same grace and power of Christ promised especially to the apostle in his distress but available to all who seek such divine enabling (cf. Eph. 3:14–21).

  1. Praise and Thanksgiving

Paul spontaneously breaks into praise or thanksgiving at various points in his letters (cf. Rom 1:25, 6:17, 11:33; 1 Tim 1:17).

  1. Prayers thanking God for various blessings—salvation, the Gospel, faith, hope, love, etc. (Rom 1:8-10; 1 Cor 1:4-8). Thanksgiving is recognizing God as the source of all the good things we enjoy and being grateful for all the benefits he bestows. A thankful attitude and the explicit giving of thanks to God is a basic duty of mankind.
  2. Prayers glorifying God or expressing worship (doxology) (Rom 11:33-36, 16:27; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 3:20-21). A doxology (the Greek word for “glory” is doxa) is a formal expression of praise, glorifying God for who he is or what he has done.
  3. It is interesting to note that almost all of Paul’s expressions of thanks are directed to God, not to other humans. God is the ultimate source of blessings, even though people may play a necessary role (e.g., Phil 4:14-18). Paul never stoops to cheap flattery when expressing his thanks for how others have ministered to him.
  4. Conclusions
    1. Each of these categories ought to find a place in our personal prayer lives. We ought to be praying continually for God’s blessings upon others, and especially for the growth and development of spiritual virtues among fellow Christians.
    2. Praise and thanksgiving should make up a larger part of our prayers. We should spend more time expressing worship and praise to God for his person and work (cf. Ps 150:2).
    3. Prayer for our own personal needs should perhaps receive less time and attention than it usually does. Spiritual well-being is more important than physical condition and should be a main focus of our prayers.
    4. The life of prayer and thanksgiving should not be confined to set times and places; the acknowledgement of God’s character and providence should be a natural part of everyday conversation for the Christians.
    5. We should continue steadfast in prayer as we remember various people and their needs.

 

Paul’s praise introductions, and the benedictions, doxologies and outbursts of praise throughout his letters are an invitation to others to join in with him in glorifying God for who he is and what he has done for them.

 



[1]David G. Peterson, “Prayer in Paul’s Writings,” in Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000), 85. Much of this section is based on Peterson.

 

Lessons in this Course
Table of Contents
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer

Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer

One of the reasons that prayer is such a difficult part of the Christian life is that prayer often requires persistence. God may be pleased to answer a prayer very soon after the believer sends his request heavenward. But God may be just as pleased to withhold an answer for an extended time and require that the believer continue praying. Giving up on prayer is easy; persisting in prayer is hard.

  1. Texts calling for persistent prayer
    1. 1 Sam 12:23Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.
    2. Ps 55:17Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
    3. Matthew 26:41Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
    4. Luke 18:1  Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.
    5. Acts 12:5Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.
    6. Rom 1:9For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,
    7. Eph 6:18  [Pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints
    8. Col 1:9  On account of this we also, since the day we heard, do not cease praying for you, and asking that you may be filled with the full knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
    9. Col 4:2Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;
    10. 1 Thes 3:10night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and to perfect what is lacking in your faith?
    11. 1 Thes 5:17Pray without ceasing.
  2. Principles of persistent prayer
    1. Both direct biblical commands and examples require believers to persist in prayer. We see biblical characters praying persistently and direct commands tell us to do the same. Virtually every aspect of our lives ought to be “covered” by prayer. Prayer should be our constant, recurring experience, part of our daily lives. Lack of persistent prayer ought to be the exception among believers.
    2. The spiritual battle we are in (Eph 6:10f) requires constant prayer. Our adversary the devil does not let up in his attempts to devour us, so neither should our spiritual warfare against him let up. One of Satan’s most potent devices is to lure us into believing that prayer is ineffective or unneeded.
    3. We must not heed the temptation to quit praying during times of prosperity. Lack of adversity does not call for the cessation of prayer. If our own lives are temporarily lacking tragedy, plenty of other people and situations call for our attention in prayer.
    4. It is natural to grow weary and tired in prayer (e.g., Mt 26:37-41). Persistent prayer for the same request may become tiresome and even discouraging. We may wonder if God is hearing us. But we must remind ourselves to “not faint” (Lk 18:1) when we are tired and ready to quit.
    5. Prayer need not be lengthy. Persistent prayer may be swift and silent. The length of the prayer is not significant; the intensity and devotion of the prayer are what matter. “Short, pungent prayers thrust heavenward … are just as effective as extended periods of vocal prayer.”[1] Quality, not quantity, matters most in prayer. The attitude of the heart is far more important than the number of words. Cf. Rom 8:26.
    6. Why can’t we simply pray once about something and not mention it again? Direct biblical commands and examples seem to require that we repeat our prayers (e.g., Luke 18:1-8; 2 Cor 12:8-9). There is no harm or sin in repeating a request.
    7. Why does God wait in answering prayers? Why does he require us to persist? Several possible reasons:
      1. Persistent prayer reminds us that we are totally dependent on God (2 Cor 1:9). “It is only when we come to the painful realization that our own resources are insufficient that the all-sufficiency of God strikes home.”[2]
      2. Persistent prayer helps us differentiate between temporary, surface desires and deep-seated, sincere needs. Perseverance helps us weed out those petitions that may be improper or untimely. Continuing in prayer purifies the contents of our requests.
      3. Persistence develops patience. Through persistence in prayer, we learn how to wait on God. What we desire now may not be within God’s providential will at this time. We must learn to desire God’s will, not our own, and wait for his timing (cf. Mt 26:42).
      4. Persistence is our duty whether we perceive the reasons God requires it or not. God calls on us to “watch and pray,” even when we are tempted to lose heart. We should ask God to give us the faith and commitment to “pray without ceasing” no matter what obstacles or situations hinder us.