Learning to Pray

by Tim Isbell

Prayer, an essential part of every Christian’s private worship, is a personal communication with a Loving God, who sometimes changes the flow of events in response to prayers

A teaching on prayer

Prayer is a conversation with God. Sometimes prayer is formal, but usually prayer is an intimate conversation with a personal God. Christians mature by spending 10-20 minutes in prayer each day, and another 10-20 minutes reading scripture. Our part of prayer includes praising God for his attributes, confessing our wrongs, thanking God for what he has done for us, asking him to intervene in our world, and affirming that we are fully available to him. Many Christians develop lists to guide their prayer time. It is also important to spend some time inviting God to speak to us, and holding still to listen for his response.

Since God knows everything and is in control of our world, you may wonder why we need to pray at all. But this presumes that our prayers’ only real purpose is to promote conversation that enhances our relationship with God. While that is one benefit, there are plenty of reasons to believe that prayer changes the course of history. You can read about it in scripture. Numbers 14 describes one of the Israelite rebellions, which resulted in God’s decision to destroy them and start over with Moses. But Moses asked God to change his mind, and the Bible says that God did just that. Luke 18.1-18 records one of Jesus’ parables, which makes this same point. It is the story about a persistent widow who pesters the judge until he hears her case and gives a favorable judgment. Another example is our salvation. God offers salvation to everyone, but the actual saving action comes only in response to our prayer. Hallesby, a Norwegian theologian, describes it well. “God has voluntarily made himself dependent on our prayers.” Or consider E. Stanley Jones: “For in prayer you align yourself with the purposes and power of God, and He can do things through you that He couldn’t otherwise. For this is an open universe, where some things are left open, contingent upon our doing them. If we do not do them, they will never be done. So God has left certain things open to prayer - things that will never be done except we pray.”

The Bible teaches us that our faith is important to having prayers answered. Charles Finney proposes, and answers, an important question, “When are we bound to believe that we shall have the very things for which we pray? [Finney] answers: When we have evidence of it. Faith must always have evidence. ... It is the height of fanaticism to believe without evidence. Where do we get this evidence? From the scripture itself.” From scriptures like 2 Chron 15.2 which promises that if we seek God we will find him. Now suppose you have a friend who is seeking God but feels like God cannot be found. You might go to God in prayer, entreating God to apply this verse in 2 Chronicles to your friend. You could use Luke 11.12-13 in a very similar way to ask God to supply more of his Holy Spirit to you or someone in your world. Suppose you are tempted to sin. You could ask God to apply 1 Cor 10.13 when you are tempted to sin. The concept is to find a general promise in Scripture and ask God to apply it to a particular situation in your world. This provides a good reason to believe you are praying in God’s will, as you are using scripture promises as evidence for your faith.

Another useful approach to prayer is to find some of the prayers that in the Bible. Often these can be modified, or personalized, for our use. Several of these biblical prayers are included in this lesson.

A biblical example of prayer: Matt 6.5-15

This scripture is called the “Lord’s Prayer.” Another version of it is in Luke 11. There are many examples of prayer in the Bible, but this one is undoubtedly the most familiar. A listing of other biblical prayers is found later in this lesson.

ACTSS prayer template

The following model is widely used by Christians to guide their daily prayer time. Sometimes the last “S” is omitted, but we think it is an important part of the template.

Adoration... or praise, this is recognizing God’s greatness and goodness.

Confession... invite God to identify any area that you need to confess, and then confess it, ask forgiveness, and believe that the blood of Christ covers it.

Thanksgiving... for what God is doing in your life and the world.

Supplication... ask God for help with issues in your life, or the lives of others. This is a good time to ask for help to overcome temptations.

Submission... let God know that you are completely available to him; as much as you can discern his will for your life you are committed to follow it.

In what part of the template could you use:

  • Ps 51.17
  • Ps 107.1?
  • Ps 139.23-24?
  • Dan 2.20-23?
  • Matt 26.39?
  • 1 Cor 10.13?
  • 1 John 1.9-10?

Additional Questions

  1. Who has the responsibility to initiate the prayer for healing? (James 5.14-16)
  2. What are the conditions listed for the promise in 2 Chron 7.14?
  3. How can we be assured that when we look into our hearts the desires that we discover were put there by the Lord? (Psalms 37.4-6)
  4. What does the Lord require of you; what does he promise? (Ps 37:5-7 & 39-40)
  5. What promise can you depend on when you don’t know what to say in your prayers? (Romans 8.26-27)
  6. What will you receive if you turn over all of your needs to God? (Phil 4.4-7)
  7. Once you begin a partnership with God, of what can you be confident? (Phil 1.4-6)
  8. What does the Lord say he will faithfully do if we pray? (2 Thess 3:3)
  9. What does God promise to give and why? (2 Peter 1.3-4)
  10. If we sin, what does Jesus Christ promise to do for us? (1 Jn 2:1)
  11. Paraphrase Ephesians 3.14-21 into a form that is a prayer for some particular person close to you.
  12. Paraphrase Col 1.9-10 into a form that is your prayer for yourself.
  13. Jabez prayer asks for four things. What are they and could you ask God for the same things? (1 Chron 4.9-10)
  14. When we feel powerless, who can we turn to? Name one issue in your life right now that you need God’s power to change. (2 Chron 14.11)
  15. Why is a prayer that’s as old as the Bible still relevant today?
  16. In Acts 10.1-19, as a result of Peter’s prayer, what exactly changed in the life of Cornelius? his family? and in the life of Peter?
  17. In Exodus 3.7-10, how does God intercede when the Israelites pray for help? How does it affect Moses’ life?
  18. Reflection Question: How does talking to God affect you? How does it affect God?

Memory verse

Matthew 6.9-15

Optional reading

  • Baillie, John. A Diary of Private Prayer
  • Pennington, Basil. Centering Prayer
  • Willard, Dallas. Hearing God
  • Keller, Timothy. Prayer

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