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.

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