Prayer Lesson 7: Prayer’s Problems

Prayer [1] is a response of obedience to God, obedience to His commands, exhortations, and invitations to pray. Regardless of whether we see specific positive answers all the time, or whether we think it is good to pray or not, we must pray because He has enjoined us to do so.

Prayer is a mark of perseverance in grace. Prayerlessness and habitual unwillingness to pray indicate fundamental disobedience, and calls into question one’s status in grace.

Despite all we know about prayer and despite all we know about God, there are problems and questions that lurk in our minds that may affect our experience in prayer. An effective prayer life recognizes these difficulties and tries to understand and explain them, but does not let them deteriorate into prayerlessness or unbelief.

When the Answer is “No”

A “no” answer is difficult to accept especially when many people have made fervent prayer. This may be a problem to young Christians. It is easy to get bitter, frustrated, or even angry with God over a “no” answer. Christians not seasoned in the faith don’t necessarily want assurance, encouragement, or comfort at those times, they want answers, either to their prayers or as to why God apparently said no.

Why is prayer answered with a “no,” or a seeming “no,” at times?

Because of Sin

Willful sin, a patently foolish request, insincere motives in prayer, or a request definitely out of the will of God will explain in many cases why a “no” came from God.


Isaiah 1.13–15 Israel’s prayers were so highhanded and impudent that God refused to respond, which is the most contemptible way for God to say no.

1 Kings 19.4 Elijah’s request to die was out of the will of God; he was wallowing in unbelief and self-pity.

Deuteronomy 3.23–28 Moses’ request to enter the Promised Land was denied because he was asking out of the will of God. God had promised to chasten him (and Aaron) for taking to themselves the prerogatives of God at the waters of Meribah.

2 Samuel 12.15–18 David’s request for his child to live was denied. Note God’s reason: the living child would bring harm to the Cause. He would be a “living monument” to David’s sin and thus a continual reproach to God (v. 14).

Some Prayers May be Answered In a Superior Way.

2 Corinthians 12.7–9 Paul’s request for the removal of the thorn was answered with something better than a miracle of healing C the sustaining grace of God.

John 11.21, 32; cf. v. 40 Greater glory to God came about because the prayer wasn’t answered in the way they supposed. A resurrection was better than healing in this case. The resurrection of Lazarus was part of the choreography Jesus used to insure a huge crowd for His ride into Jerusalem. Cf. John 12.9 Raising Lazarus was in the February preceding Passover. (Other parts of Jesus’ preparation for the Triumphal Entry were [1] the preaching of the 70 C in October preceding Passover; Luke 10.1; [2] The Passover season itself. Passover was one of the pilgrimage feasts when the men of Israel had to journey to Jerusalem; Exodus 23.14–17; [3] The miracles Jesus performed on His final journey to Jerusalem.

Matthew 26.39 Jesus’ prayer in the Garden. This prayer is hard to classify. In one sense it was answered positively since He prayed “not my will but thine be done.” In another sense His prayer was denied in that the cup did not pass from Him, but He drank it to the dregs. But in so doing salvation came to the world.

Some Prayers May be Delayed For God’s Reasons.

God hears these prayers and the answer is on the way, but we may not see it for weeks or months.

1 John 2.21–22 John is saying that a believer with an approving conscience because of a pattern of biblical love evident in his life has a confidence or an openness and boldness, which assures him of God’s openness to him. A believer can ask and receive because he is obedient (v. 22), but the request may be delayed or deferred. However, delay is not necessarily denial. Delay may cultivate a persistence and patience in prayer. It may cause one to focus more properly on the actual request, or on God Himself.

Sometimes the Substance of the Prayer is Granted But Not In the Manner Prayed For.

Romans 1.10–13 Paul’s prayer to go to Rome. He requested that the believers pray to that end (Ro 15.32), but the answer came via imprisonment, shipwreck, etc. (Ac 23.11).

Sometimes Unanswered Prayer is a Mystery.

Here is where true faith enters in; here is where submission to His sovereign will is tested. This is really living by faith. We must trust God that all of the pieces of the puzzle really fit together even when we can’t see the big picture. Do we really believe that God has no loose ends in His universe?

Maturity in the Christian experience gets accelerated when we can let go of the “why” questions and simply trust God. (Not that the “why” questions are always wrong [Mt 27.46].) But sometimes we wonder, “where is God when it hurts?” As a matter of fact, He is listening to the pleas of our Advocate who endured all the suffering of sin. He suffered the effects of sin alone so Christians won’t have to. He can sympathize with our weakness (Heb 4.14–16).

Praying in Error

What happens when one sincerely prays for the wrong thing? The answer seems to involve motives to a great degree.

If Prayed Sincerely, God May Interpret Our Prayer in Its Sincerity and Answer In His Superior Knowledge.

This assumes that the prayer is within biblical guidelines and otherwise meets biblical standards.

Romans 8.26 The Spirit makes intercession. God may read our intentions through the intercession of the Spirit.

2 Chronicles 6.7–9 There may be analogy in David’s prayer. While the answer was technically no, there is the implication that David’s desire was right and that this desire had some mitigating effect and was still calculated by God in the answer.

If Prayed From Wrong Motives, God May Refuse to Grant the Request.

James 4.3 God is sometimes used as a great Cosmic Vending Machine, and these prayers are simply out of His will and He can say no.

If Prayed From Wrong Motives or in Opposition to God, God May Grant the Request To the Detriment of the One Who Asks.

Genesis 13.5–13 Example of Lot. Cf. Gen 13.12–13 and 19.1.

Psalm 106.13–15 Especially v. 15. Israel wanted meat instead of the manna. God granted the request but this set off a series of events that culminated in the disobedience at Kadesh Barnea when Israel refused to enter the Promised Land (Nu 11–20).

2 Kings 20.1–11 Hezekiah asked and received 15 years added to his life, but these weren’t the best years for him.

2 Kings 20.12–13 He showed the Babylonians his wealth out of his pride (2Ki 20.14–19; 2Ch 32.25), and later the Babylonians carried Israel captive.


[1] This lesson is by Dr. Rolland McCune

Prayer Lesson 6: Praying for Other Believers

Lessons from the prayers of Paul[1]

How do we learn how to pray? Many of us have learned from our parents. We may have learned from older, more mature saints in prayer meetings at church. Maybe some of us have learned how to pray by listening to the pastoral prayers on Sunday morning. It is probably safe to assume that most people have learned how to pray from life examples.

While imitating mature believers is a great way to learn to pray, one ought to study the prayers found in the Bible. Paul’s prayers provide clear, directly applicable examples for how we should pray.

It was Paul’s practice to continually pray for other believers

In nearly every book that Paul wrote, he speaks of praying for other believers. Often these prayers are included at the beginning of his books. We find essentially four ways Paul spoke of praying for others in his writings.


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1.3–4)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1.3–11)

Prayer reports

These are passages where Paul tells his readers that he is praying for them and for what he is praying:

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. (1 Corinthians 1.4–9)

Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1.8–11)

Prayer wishes

These are passages where Paul refers to God in the third person. Often this prayer takes the form “May the God of all peace….”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15.13)

Exhortations to prayer

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. (Romans 15.30–33)

My point in identifying these various forms speaks to Paul’s understanding of the nature of prayer. He not only prayed for other believers, he thought it necessary (and edifying) to tell other believers he was praying for them (listing the things for which he was praying).

Further, he exhorted them to pray for himself and others who needed prayer.

It should also be noted that Paul saw prayer as such a vital part of his ministry that every book he wrote (God-inspired) has at least one passage relating to the topic of prayer.

How did Paul pray for other believers?

Paul made God the focal point of his prayers

We see that most all of Paul’s recorded prayers began with God. In many cases, his prayers begin with a statement of thanksgiving/praise to God:

  • First, I thank my God … (Ro 1.8f)
  • May the God who gives endurance … (Ro 15.5f)
  • May the God of hope fill you … (Ro 15.13f)
  • I always thank God for you … (1Cor 1.4–9)


While Paul’s pattern usually begins with a statement of thanksgiving/praise to God, he will also begin by identifying the relationship fellow believers have with God:

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Ro 15.30)

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (2Co 9.12)

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. (Eph 1.15)

Paul prayed out of love for the people of God

Paul did not pray discriminately. That is, Paul did not pray only for the “good, fun-to-be-with saints.” Paul prayed for all the saints – the pleasant and the difficult. He states that clearly.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1Co 1.4–9)

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Th 1.2–3)

He prayed for their spiritual growth

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Php 1.3–6)

He prayed for the good of others

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker a in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless…. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. (1Th 3.1–5, 9–10)

Paul did not tell the Thessalonians that he was praying to be with them so that he would be personally blessed. Paul’s sense of ministry was sincerely others-oriented.

Paul was well-liked by most believers and well-respected. He did not give any hint in his that he enjoyed ministry because of personal advantage. Instead, Paul enjoyed the ministry because it was ministry. It was serving others that he enjoyed, not the being served. For Paul, the goal was “How can I be most useful?” not “How can I feel the most useful?”

Those who are engaged in praying for the good of others will seek ministry opportunities for God’s sake.

[1] For a particularly good treatment of this subject, one should read D.A. Carson’s, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Baker, 1992). Much of this lesson has been extracted from his chapter “Praying for Others” pp 63–77.

Prayer Lesson 5: Praying Evangelistically

How should we pray evangelistically? Typically, believers develop prayer lists with the names of unsaved people. This practice is good, but is it enough? This lesson will focus on what the Bible says about praying for the lost. Is it enough to pray through a list of names? What about our responsibility to pray for the one giving the gospel? The Bible teaches that not only should we pray for the lost, the bulk of our praying should be for ourselves and others involved in gospel-bearing activity?

Praying for the lost

Reading through the NT, you may be surprised to find that there are no explicit commands to pray for the lost. That does not mean we are not to pray for the lost. It does suggest, however, that praying for the lost is not our primary objective.

While there are no explicit commands to pray for the lost, there are passages, which principally teach that we are to pray for the lost.

It was the Apostle Paul’s pattern to pray to God for the salvation of the Israelites

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. Romans 10:1

It was the Apostle Paul’s manner to labor in gospel-bearing activity while depending on God to save some

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance
(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. 1 Timothy 4:9-11

It was the Apostle Paul’s teaching to pray for all men because it pleases our saving Lord

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. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,
who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Though we find no explicit command to pray for those who are lost, it is clearly expected that we do so.

First, God desires the salvation of all mankind. God provided, through His Son, an atonement of infinite worth for all. He invites all to come and be saved. God considers all mankind as savable.[1]

Second, since God desires the salvation of all mankind, we should as well. We should pray for our friends, neighbors, and relatives. We should pray in at least the following ways:

  • Ask God to draw them to Himself.
  • Ask God to bring them repentance and faith
  • Ask God to work in their lives in such a way that when the gospel is presented they will be ready and willing to accept biblical truths.

Pray for the laborers

Pray that more laborers would give themselves to the task of gospel bearing

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9.37–38

As the Lord Jesus Christ prepared to send out the twelve disciples, he exhorted them to consider the multitudes of people in the region of Galilee. In those days, Galilee consisted of “some three million people … in some two hundred cities and villages.”[2] Compared to the twelve who were being commissioned, this would be no easy task. Therefore, Jesus exhorted them to pray. Notice the implications of his instructions:

  • Prayer is our primary duty. The first ministry the disciples were to devote themselves to was that of prayer.
  • Prayer is to be directed to the Lord. The owner of the harvest is the Lord. He chooses His workers. The workers must not conceitedly think that their activity is their own. It is the Lord’s. Their being sent is a result of the Lord’s work. Therefore, when we pray for the lost, pray that the Lord would work in the lives of believers to urge them to do the work of the evangelist.

Pray that laborers would have more opportunities

Colossians 4:3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

The Greeks spoke of “open doors” to refer to a person “being free to go anywhere.”[3] In the NT, this picture was often used to speak of being free to proclaim the gospel:

Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 2 Corinthians 2:12

Paul spent a week in Troas. By God’s grace, the people were so hungry for the Apostle’s teaching that Paul kept talking all night. He spoke so long that a young man fell out of the window and died. The young man was miraculously raised from the dead and the believers continued all night until the morning.

On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27

This is referring to the time when Paul was in Derbe and led many people to the Lord.

We tend to think that “open doors” is equal to “no opposition.” That is clearly not the case. Paul still considered those life-threatening situations to be “open door” opportunities:

because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me. 1 Corinthians 16:9

The point is that we ought to pray for more opportunities. We should pray asking the Lord to give us the tenacity, boldness, and energy to present the gospel in all situations.

Pray that laborers would remember the gospel message, have clarity of speech, and be bold

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:19–20

Paul was about to face the Roman authorities, possibly the emperor himself. Paul’s request to the believers is twofold: he would open his mouth with words given to him and that his manner of speaking would be fearless.

The phrase “open the mouth” was a common phrase for making a public address or a long defense. When making that defense, Paul asks that he would have “words given to him.” This is not to suggest that words be given to him that he did not previously know (divine revelation), it simply means what we mean today that we would not stumble over our words in nervousness.[4]

Further, Paul asks the believers to pray that he would be fearless” in his manner. This is one of Paul’s favorite words. It means to speak with frankness and uninhibited openness of speech.”[5]

Other passages that speak of praying for the labors of the gospel

Romans 15:30-32: I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.

2 Corinthians 1:10-11: He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our a behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

1 Thessalonians 5:24-25: The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Brothers, pray for us.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-2: Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.

[1] Rolland McCune, “Prayer and the Sovereignty of God,” unpublished work.

[2] Hiebert, Working with God Through Intercessory Prayer, 26.

[3]Peter T. O’Brien, vol. 44, Word Biblical Commentary : Colossians-Philemon, electronic ed., Logos Library System;Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998).

[4] O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Pillar, 487.

[5] ExBC.

Prayer Lesson 4: Prayer and the Sovereignty of God

Below are statements found in a brochure regarding a national “Fasting and Prayer” conference[A1] .

“Through the process of intercession and prayer, there was enough power in this room to move the hand of God.” Dr. Thomas Trask, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God.

“I know that when we pray and fast, it gets the attention of heaven, and God moves in and with His people” Dr. Jim Henry, President, Southern Baptist Convention.

These statements blaspheme God. They treat God as if he is a puppet (”[our prayers] move the hand of God”) and as if He were sleeping on the job (”[our prayers] get the attention of heaven”). To say that the will of man moves the hand of God and causes Him to move in with His people is what one writer calls, “rank infidelity.”[1]

God is sovereign and we must respond to Him as such. When we say that God is sovereign, we mean:

  • He rules over all things

He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations – let not the rebellious rise up against him. (Psa 66.7)

  • He has decreed that we exist and all the events of our lives are a result of that decree.

“The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world. (1Sa 2.6–8)

  • He determines the placement of every molecule, and the rotation of every planet.

He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. (Job 26.7)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, (Psa 8.3)

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Col 1.16–18)

  • He decreed the day of our birth and death.

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:10

There is no doubt that God is sovereign and every event of our lives is under His control. This doctrine has major implications for prayer. If our God was not the sovereign God, our prayers would be ineffective. We would be like the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, praying incessantly to a god who cannot use our prayers. However, since it is quite clear that our God is sovereign, we have great comfort because He decreed our prayers and will use our prayers to accomplish His perfect purposes.

As one author states, “Every problem in prayer is traceable to a misconception about God.”[2] Another wrote: “Perverted notions about God soon rot the religions in which they appear.”[3] Those who deny God’s sovereignty will find that their prayers are hollow and ineffective.

Effective prayer is rooted in our dependence on our sovereign God!

We must pray because we are needy people who depend on our sovereign God

Consider the word “prayer.” The very fact that one prays means that he admits, consciously or unconsciously, that he is needy. He knows he is a creature who needs God.

Recent events[4] in America have shown this to be true. All across our nation, people, religious or not, have been praying that God would “bless America.”

The Bible records for us many individuals who have both recognized God’s sovereignty and their need to pray.

Nebuchadnezzar, prayed because He was needy and depended on the sovereign God (Da 4.34–37)

King Nebuchadnezzar became very wealthy. One day while walking on the roof of his palace, he noticed his acquisitions. He bragged to himself (with others possibly standing by) “Look at what I have done. I am a great king!” At that very moment, God took all of this away from him, caused him to become like an animal and live in that state for seven years. God will share His glory with no one!

In Daniel 4, we read that Nebuchadnezzar finally admitted that he was a needy person and no longer sovereign in his life.

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Dan 4.34–37)

The early church prayed because they were needy and depended on their sovereign God (Ac 2.42, 4.21–24)

Early church believers were known to be praying people. From the earliest days of the church’s existence, prayer was a part of the believers’ worship:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Ac 2.42)

This verse provides for us some of the elements of an ideal church.[5] From the beginning of the establishment of local churches, prayer was one of the fundamental elements. This verse does not detail all of the fundamental elements of a church, but it does detail some of them.

Theoretically, if a group of believers gathered together, sang, preached God’s Word, but did not pray, it could not be considered a New Testament church.

Prayer was essential to the survival of this new church and for the mission of the church to expand. They faced many threats and needed God’s sovereign protection and power to continue.

Turn to Acts 4, only two chapters later, we find the church engaged in prayer to their sovereign Lord:

21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. 23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. (Ac 4.21–24)

If you continue reading the book of Acts, you will find 28 more references to the early believers praying.

How then do we pray to our sovereign God?

We are to pray according to God’s revealed will

God’s revealed will is found in God’s Word, the Bible.

Scripture reveals to us many things about prayer:

  • For whom we pray

1 Timothy 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone

  • How often we are to pray

1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray continually

  • The manner in which you are to pray

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Mt 6.5–8)

  • The content of your prayers

“This, then, is how you should pray: This, then, is how you should pray: ”‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mt 6.9–15)

We are to pray according to God’s desires

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. (Eph 5.10)

    “ . . . if we ask anything according to His will . . .” 1 John 5:14

God’s desires must be the focus of our lives. Therefore, we must pray with God’s desires in mind. Often we use the phrase, “if-it-be-Your-will,” but do we mean it? Do we really want God’s will?

We have to ask the question, “What does God desire?“ when we pray. When we read God’s Word, we know for whom we ought to pray, the manner by which we are to pray, and the basic content. We know what God expects for godly living. We know that we are to be content, not greedy people.

So, applying this truth can present us with distinct challenges at times:

Knowing that God detests gluttony, how then do we pray when we sit down to eat at Home Town Buffet?

Knowing that God detests lavish materialism, how then do we pray for that new car, home, or snowmobile?

We are to pray realizing that our sovereign God will use our prayers

If you have read Paul’s letters, you will know how much he depended on his sovereign God.

Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there. (Ro 15.31)

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Eph 6.19)

3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Col 4.3–4)

pray continually. (1Th 5.17)

Brothers, pray for us. (1Th 5.25)

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes:

3.1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.

Paul prays that the gospel will advance, and when it advances it will do so rapidly and be honored (accepted) by the lost.

There is nothing peculiar about this prayer. It is a simple, straightforward exhortation for the Thessalonians to pray for the gospel. What is interesting is that Paul; just a few verses earlier spoke about God’s sovereignty.

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you a to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Th 2.13–14)

In 2.13, Paul says that God chose you. The Greek word translated “chose” is in the middle voice. When the writer uses the middle voice, he wants to communicate that someone is doing something for himself. In this case, God is doing the choosing and He is doing it for Himself. So clearly, according to this verse, the salvation of sinners depends on God.

Paul saw no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and praying. In fact, Paul viewed them as complementary truths. Paul knew the Thessalonian prayers would not advance the cause of Christ without a sovereign God using them.

The bottom line is this. Not only did God decree the salvation of sinners, God also decreed that we pray for their salvation.


If you say you do not believe in God’s sovereignty, you are making a grave error. The unbeliever says the same thing. If you say that God is sovereign and do not pray, you do not believe it! It is tantamount to saying, “God, You are sovereign, but I don’t need you!”

Notice what one writer says:

“If I pray aright, God is graciously working out His purposes in me and through me, and the praying, though mine, is simultaneously the fruit of God’s powerful work in me through His Spirit. By this God-appointed means I become an instrument to bring about a God-appointed end. If I do not pray, it is not as if the God-appointed end fails, leaving God somewhat frustrated. Instead, the entire situation has now changed, and my prayerlessness, for which I am entirely responsible, cannot itself escape the reaches of God’s sovereignty, forcing me to conclude that in that case there are other God-appointed ends in view, possibly including judgment on me and on those for whom I should have been interceding!”[6]

[1] AW Pink in his book The Sovereignty of God, 110. writes: “To say that ‘human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man’ is rank infidelity – that is the only proper term for it.”

[2] C. Samuel Storms, Reaching God’s Ear.

[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 12

[4] September 11, 2001 tragedies and war against terrorists

[5] F.F. Bruce says “Luke gives an ideal picture of the Spirit-endowed community of the new age.” The Acts of the Apostles, 3rd rev., 132.

[6] D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 165.

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Prayer Lesson 3: Various Forms of Prayer

The OT & NT terminology related to prayer

Let’s review what prayer is: Prayer is one way we worship God. For when we pray, we recognize that God is the all-wise, all-powerful, all-worthy One to use our prayers. Since He decreed all things and knows all things, we are able to freely pray, honestly bearing our soul to Him. Therefore, we pray, expressing to Him our reverence, love for his divine perfection, and gratitude for all his mercies. Genuine prayer is consistent with God’s revealed and desired will. Prayer involves repentance for our sins, our hope in his forgiving love, our submission to his authority, our confidence in his care, our desires for his favor, and for the providential and spiritual blessings needed for others and ourselves.

Biblically, God is the focus of our prayers. We pray because God uses our prayers.

Old Testament terminology related to prayer

The OT has several different expressions and words for prayer. You will not find one generic word for prayer. Unlike the NT, which has one overall word for prayer, the OT believer used several words and concepts to speak of prayer. Why is this the case?

It seems that progressive revelation provides the answer. We know that the OT believer did not have the same amount of divine revelation as the NT believer. So, throughout the OT, the terminology for prayer begins with a very generic verb “to call” and later becomes a more specific noun “prayer” hL;piT]. The OT terminology related to prayer expanded as divine revelation increased.

The conceptual OT term for prayer

The very first mention of a prayer is found in Genesis 4.26:

“… at that time men began to call on the name of the LORD”

The word “call” (ar`oq]li) simply means “to call out.” It should be noted that there is some question whether this is the first prayer mentioned. The word ar`oq]li may mean to “call out for help” or “to proclaim.” So, we must turn to the context to determine whether this “call” was a prayer to God for help or “a statement that men began to proclaim the Lord to others.”

This verse is in the context of the evil events when Cain murdered Abel. The narrator followed the lineage of Cain, showing that another savage was born in the Cainite family. Lamech, the great-great-great grandson of Cain murdered a man himself.

As the narrator concludes his description of the wicked Cainite lineage, he states that some good had developed. Adam and Eve bore another child, Seth. And Seth bore Enosh. And concludes with the statement “at that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.”

It seems then that the narrator contrasts the Cainite lineage with that of the Sethites. The Godless Cainite family relied on their own wickedness to cope in the world, but the Sethite family depended upon the Lord (YHWH). Therefore, the context suggests that the “calling out” is an expression of dependence upon the Lord, the background idea in prayer.

Other passages make it clear that “calling out” was an expression used for prayer:

Genesis 12:8 From there he (Abram) went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

1 Kings 18:24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

The specialized OT term for prayer

As man understood more of his relationship to God via divine revelation, so the concept of praying became a noun – pray. This is essentially the only OT word for “prayer.” It’s verb form means, “to intercede.”

Various OT prayers and their content

The prayer of Moses, Numbers 14.13–19

Moses sent Joshua and others as spies to explore Canaan. They reported that the land was very fertile (full of milk and honey). They also reported that the land was full of very strong people and well fortified cities. The Israelites, focused on the seeming impossibility of entering the Promised Land, their impending death in the desert, and became very disgruntled.

Moses prayed that God would deliver the Israelites. He was concerned that if the Israelites died in the desert without conquering Canaan, the Egyptians would have reason to further blaspheme God.

OT saints often prayed out of concern for God’s reputation.

The prayer of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2.10

Hannah was barren. However, God answered her prayers and gave her a son – Samuel.

Now, Hannah and her husband took Samuel to live and serve in the temple. Having left Samuel with Eli, Hannah prays to God. One of the most notable things about Hannah’s prayer is not what she prays, but for what she does not pray. She does not ask anything. She does not ask that the boy be returned soon. She does not pray for the boy and his success as a temple servant. Instead, the prayer is a “’descriptive praise of God,’ telling who God is, what he is like, and what he has done in the past.”[1]


The prayer of David, 2 Samuel 7.18–29

The prophet Nathan just revealed to David that the Lord wants to build a temple for Himself and David is the chosen one. This news surely excited David for God promised that he would be one of the greatest men to have ever lived and would do great things, especially related to building the temple.

David sat[2] before the Lord acknowledged God’s greatness and faithfulness in keeping His promises.

The OT terms and various prayers are full of praise to God, concern for His reputation, confession of sins, and acknowledgement of His faithfulness.

New Testament Terminology

Like the OT, the NT has a comprehensive term for “to pray” is proseuchomai. It simply means “to pray.”

However, since divine revelation has been made more full to the NT saint, we find many other words used for prayer. In 1 Timothy, we find a majority of these terms:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone (1Ti 2.1)

The words, requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving refer to the content of a person’s prayer. There are subtle differences between these words that should not be unduly pressed, but there are variations that should be found when you pray. One commentator states that the very reason that these words are used together point to the “richness of prayer” itself.

Prayers (dehvsei~): This is the more general term meaning to pray. This refers to the act of praying. That is, praying that God would listen to and regard our prayer.

Requests (proseucav~) The verb form of this word has the sense of “to ask” or “to seek” or “request.” The word is most often found with an object. One needs to pray for something. This word is used when Paul prayed for his missionary plans. This word is used when Jesus prayed for Peter. The object of the prayers here is supplied. “For everyone, kings, and authorities . . . salvation”

Intercession (ejnteuvxei~) This word is often understood as a person who approaches a king or an authority and asks for something on behalf of another. In this context, we are to recognize that God, our ultimate authority, will do as He pleases. With that confidence in mind, ask our king to do something for someone else, and He is more than able to accomplish that task.

Thanksgiving: (eujxaristiva~) This last term describes the attitude in which we must pray. All of our requests, prayers, and intercessions must be with an attitude of thanksgiving.

[1] NIDOTT, “prayer”

[2] The posture of prayer is sometimes exaggerated. Some suggest that one must kneel before God when he prays. This example shows that kneeling is not the only God-ordained posture in prayer.

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