I’ve had prayer on my mind for about 3 weeks now. Is there a certain way to pray or do we just go to God and start chatting our mouths off? Prayer is how Jesus communicated with God while he was in the flesh. That makes prayer a very big deal. So, this study is going to focus on prayer. We are going to break it down as much as we possibly can.
Why is it important that we pray? Why even bother with it? Well, God made us and redeemed us so that we can fellowship with Him. Prayer happens to be an important part of this fellowship.
1 Corinthians 1:9
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
See! The verse above says that we were called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Okay, let’s grab a literal meaning of fellowship to further this understanding.
According to the dictionary from Google, fellowship is a group of people meeting to pursue a shared interest or aim or is defined as a friendly association, esp. with people who share one’s interests.
So then, prayer can be viewed as us simply going to spend time with God. God speaks to you and I in and through the contents of the Bible. The Holy Spirit opens the Scripture to us and applies it to us which enables us to understand it. Understanding what we’ve read and studied, we can then go to God and speak to Him about Himself, ourselves, and people in His world, shaping what we say as a response to what He has said. This way of communication goes on as long as we live.
I certainly hope that above has not confused you. It’s the best way that I can think to describe how we communicate with God and how He communicates back. When praying, we have both private prayers and public prayers. We are going to look at both of these and try to break them down based from scripture. Let’s begin with private prayers.
I. Private Prayers
5And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
These are the guidelines on how to pray in private. Verse 5 and 6 are straight forward in that it says in verse 5 not be like hypocrites because they enjoy standing in public, being seen while praying. Verse 6 says to instead, go be in secret with the Father, away from anyone else. It then says that the Father recognizes that you are praying in secret and will be rewarded.
Oh, let’s define what a hypocrite is. The definition from Google dictionary is, “a person who indulges in hypocrisy.” So this isn’t helpful, let’s look up synonyms for a better understanding. The synonyms are: pretender, dissembler, deceiver, liar, pietist, sanctimonious person, plaster saint, phony, fraud, sham, fake.
The summary … don’t be one of these that are listed. Especially when praying.
Let’s continue on to Verse 7: “do not heap up empty phrases.” Say what? That was my initial thought when I read this. After pounding on it for a little while, I learned this. God is not impressed with the quantity of words that you use in prayer. Empty phrases and quantity of words are the same thing in this verse. So, saying a real long prayer has no better meaning to God than saying a short prayer.
Does this mean that we should stop asking God for what we believe is His will? Well, no. Continuing doing that … Luke 18:1-8 tells us too.
1And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.
3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’
4For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man,
5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”
6And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.
7And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
8I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
This widow that is described in verse 3 was helpless. She had absolutely nothing on her side. She was seeking justice, not revenge.
Verse 5: To “beat me down” means that the judge may be afraid that this widow would spread news that he is unable to help his clients which could ruin his reputation.
Verse 7 ends with, “…Will he delay long over them?” God will absolute give justice to his children. It says so … as far as Him delaying; if he does so, there is a reason. So do not stop praying to God.
Verse 8: “…he will give justice to them speedily” Speedily means that God will answer in His own time, not ours. We see a good reference of this in 2 Peter 3:8
2 Peter 3:8
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Verse 8 continues on to say, “…will he find faith on earth?” This is simple saying that when Jesus comes, the characteristic of faith will not be with everyone.
Let’s continue look at Luke 8:9-14 for further reference on how to and how not topray as far as privacy goes.
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayedthus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Woah … pretty good stuff huh? Okay, let’s break it down a little bit. Verse 10 says that two men went to the temple to pray. Don’t get confused, we are still talking about private prayers. Private prayers could be offered in the temple at any time of the day, not only in formal services.
Okay, the Pharisee gets rolling in his prayer and says in verse 12, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
Is a good thing that he fasts twice a week? I’m sure if his heart is right it is but let’s break this fasting down real quick. Fasting was only advised in the law of Moses on the Day of Atonement. We see this in Leviticus 16:29-31 and 23:27. See below…
29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselvesand shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.
30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.
31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.
27 Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord.
Anytime you see “afflict,” the meaning is attached to fasting, not working, and possibly wearing sackcloth. This is a complete different study in itself.
There is a term know as voluntary fasting. It’s a simple meaning which is to fast on your own accord. Voluntary fasting accompanies prayer, penitence, and mourning.
Prayer (Psalm 35:13)
13 But I, when they were sick— I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowedon my chest.
Penitence – (1 Kings 21:27)
27 And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly.
Penitence means to have guilt, regret, remorse, atonement, or sorrow for one’s misdeeds
Mourning (2 Samuel 1:12)
12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
Anyway, by the time of Christ, the Jewish oral tradition had increased the number of fasts expected of the greatly religious (such as the Pharisees). Fasting is a great tool and can be used as a very useful religious exercise. We find this in Luke 5:33 and Acts 13:2-3
33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”
2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Okay, so we see that fasting wasn’t a bad thing if done correctly. We also see that fasting was only advised one time. Fasting, done for the sole reason to receive God’s favor was wrong and was condemned by Jesus. See reference back to Luke 18:11-12.
11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
It was also wrong to fast for the reason of being ostentations (meaning to be characterized by vulgar or pretentious display; designed to impress or attract notice.) Matthew 6:16 and Isaiah 58:1-6
16And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
1 Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,and oppress all your workers.
4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressedgo free, and to break every yoke?
Sorry for getting a little side tracked there. I felt that it was important that we knew a little bit about fasting so we could have an understanding of why the Pharisee was not impressing God. Let’s move on to the tax collector.
In verse 13, the tax collector who standing far off from the Pharisee would even lift his eyes to this heaven. Why is this important? Good question! Looking upward was typical while saying prayer in those days, but the tax collector seemed to be too conscious of his unworthiness to even look in Gods direction.
Here’s where the comparison of the two come in. Verse 14 says that the tax collector was justified when he went home and the Pharisee was not. The Pharisee relied on his own merits, apparently not know that there is no human righteousness that is sufficient before a God, who demands perfection (Matthew 5:48). The Tax collector relied on God’s mercy and found it!
48You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Let’s also define the word justified: to be declared or made righteous in the sight of God.
Okay, we’ve covered why you pray in private and how to do so. We discussed the Pharisee who enjoys fasting and also enjoys for everyone to hear his prayers. The tax collector on the other hand, was by himself and talked to God where no one could hear him. His prayer was not screamed for entire world to hear. Only God knew that the tax collector was praying, no one else.
Let’s stop here for now … we’ll