Reprinted from the February 2014 issue of “Gospel Advocate” Magazine.
Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV).
When was the last time you reached for your cellphone in a sudden emergency and prayed that the loved one/doctor/fire department on the other end would be there to answer? How would you describe that sense of relief when you heard a familiar voice or the response of a competent professional? Because they answered, you knew that help was available, and you were assured you were going to make it with a little help from a friend.
We are not alone; that is the point. Life is indeed full of multiple opportunities to experience the blessing of human interaction, the need for others, and the comfort of aid. We are not alone, for we were created to be gregarious beings; to accomplish good works; and to be the recipients of kindness, generosity and help.
Yet a far greater blessing available to man is, without a doubt, communication with the divine. From the very beginning of the history of the human race, God spoke only to His greatest creative act: man and woman. The Genesis 2 account reveals an idyllic garden setting, where God placed the only beings with a soul who can hear and comprehend His voice. The fall had the necessary effect of separating Adam and Eve from physical immortality, but not from the loving and holy “ears” of God: The descendants of the first family were said to have begun “to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26), which is a way of saying they began to cry out to the One who created them.
To pray is to petition the divine, to speak with God. It is both astonishing and obvious that this should be available to man – an incredible privilege, yet a necessity of creation. Surely God would not fashion us in His image (Genesis 1:27) and then ignore us. He is not a god who designs and disappears; He is not a god who is distracted and absent. On the contrary, “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12).
Scripture prescribes no specific posture for prayer. All of the following can be found in the Holy Writ: kneeling (Daniel 6:10; Ephesians 3:14); sitting (Luke 22:14-17); lying down (2 Samuel 12:16); lifting one’s hands (Nehemiah 8:6); prostrating oneself (Matthew 26:39); bowing one’s head (Exodus 4:31); facing a wall (2 Kings 20:2); and looking upward (John 17:1; Acts 7:55-60). All of these are governed by the overarching principle of not praying to be seen by men (Matthew 6:5).
Should the act of prayer be public or private? The correct answer is both because prayer is not just ritual, nor is it for show. True piety is always judged by the intentions of the heart (Matthew 6). Our worship to God and our Christian lives must be offered and lived from the proper motive. To pray is to worship, and worship must have prayer interwoven throughout its fabric.
“Sincerity” is required – a word in English that has its origins in the Latin phrase sine cera (without wax). An ancient terra cotta pot that showed cracks in the firing process was made to look good by filling the imperfections with wax. As a “hypocritical” vase is useless, so is the prayer of a hypocrite: They are both exposed when things get heated up.
Jesus turned the tradition of the scribes and Pharisees on its head: A prayer life that is acceptable to God should begin in the secrecy of your room when the door is shut and then spill over into the congregational worship moment. Ultimately, prayer must be practiced in the public square as well. The wording of our prayers should be simple because there is no need for meaningless repetition. Our tone should exude assurance because “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
The model prayer that Jesus gave to His apostles in the Sermon on the Mount contains essential ingredients like a perfect recipe (Matthew 6:9-13). Adoration is where you start (“our Father in heaven”), and submission is next (“Your kingdom come”). Confession is a natural response to being in contact with a holy God (“forgive us our debts”). Supplication is then the privilege afforded only to men and women (“deliver us from evil”).
We are to pray for the sick, for forgiveness of sins, for our daily bread, and always for the Lord’s will to be done. Some of those for whom we are instructed to pray include kings and all those in high places as well as, incredibly enough, those who persecute us. But prayer is not a magic lamp; God is not a genie. He hears and answers in accordance with His will (yes, no or later) if the Christian prays in faith (James 1:6).
Have you ever noticed the extent of Paul’s reliance on prayer? Nearly every one of his 13 letters contains a prayer, and Ephesians actually has two. Normally, Paul included these at the beginning of his letters, telling his recipients the specifics of what he took to the throne of God on their behalf. He prayed for greater love, for knowledge and for wisdom; he gave thanks for faith, for grace, and for the encouragement of fellowship in Christ.
I have had occasion to listen to the private prayers of my wife for our six children. It was moving, comforting, defining and humbling. When I heard a godly man lead a public prayer at worship recently, it was inspiring, encouraging, thoughtful and meaningful. They knew they were talking to God, and it was clear they did it often because they have each had a profound relationship with their Maker for a lifetime. They have found God’s “number”; they have a “phone” that dials up the Creator. What astonishing power is inherent in that reality! I find myself again in awe of the relationship that is possible between the Father and His children.
All faithful believers have that “number” available. God wants to hear from His children. When was the last time you took full advantage of the blessing of prayer? Reach out, and find grace to help in time of need. Give thanks, and pray.
Terry L. Edwards is a professor of Bible and humanities at Faulkner University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.