Principles of Prayer

by Kimberly B. Southall

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Prayer is the righteous person's avenue of communication with God, and it is a vital part of developing an everlasting relationship with Him. There is so much to learn about prayer that many books have been written on the subject. This study concentrates on the basic principles of prayer found in the New Testament.

Preparing to pray. Attitude is the key in the preparation for prayer. The New Testament teaches us to fear God (Acts 10:2), obey His commands (1 John 3:21-22), and remain in the Lord and have His Word remain in us (John 15:7). We are told to confess sins (James 5:16) and repent (Acts 8:22). Bearing fruit (John 15:16), treating others with the proper respect (1 Peter 3:17), and forgiving others (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25) are also requirements for effective prayer. We must be alert, clear minded and self-controlled (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter 4:7). Fasting is an aid to prayer (Matthew 4:1-11; Matthew 6:16-18; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2-3; Acts 14:23).

How to pray. While no two people may pray in exactly the same way, there are biblical guidelines within which our prayers must fall. Christians can and should pray both privately (Matthew 6:6; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 26:36, 42, 44; Mark 1:35; Mark 6:46; Mark 14:32, 39; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:18; Luke 22:41; Acts 10:9) and with others (Matthew 18:19-20; Acts 1:14; Acts 12:12). Above all, though, the motive for prayer should never be to be seen by others (Matthew 6:5; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47). When we pray, we are not to babble like the pagans (Matthew 6:7). Rather, we are to pray according to God's will (1 John 5:14-15). We are to pray believing that our prayer will be answered (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; James 5:5-8, 15). Our prayers should be made humbly (Luke 18:10-14), in reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7), with praise (Acts 4:24), and with joy (Philippians 1:4). We should pray watchfully (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 21:36; Colossians 4:2), thankfully (Romans 1:8; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 1:3; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 2:1; 2 Timothy 1:3; Philemon 1:4), and earnestly (Luke 22:42-44; Acts 12:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; James 5:17-18). Prayer must be without anger or disputing (1 Timothy 2:8). We must devote ourselves to prayer (Acts 2:42; Acts 6:4; Colossians 4:2) and be faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12). This means we should pray constantly (Luke 2:37; Acts 1:14; Romans 1:9-10; Ephesians 1:16; Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 1 Timothy 5:5; 2 Timothy 1:13), no matter how much time we have (Acts 26:29) or what the circumstances are (Acts 16:25; Ephesians 6:18; James 5:13-14). We should pray without giving up (Luke 18:1), and pray even when we don't know what to pray (Romans 8:26)! Our prayers are made through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20) and should always be in Jesus' name (John 14:13-14; John 15:16; John 16:23-24; Romans 1:8). And after praying, we should wait patiently for God's answer in His perfect timing (Luke 1:5-13; Luke 2:37).

Pray for whom? Praying for one's self is a familiar concept to everyone-it's part of our nature to pray for ourselves. Indeed, the scriptures encourage us to do just that (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 22:40, 46; Acts 4:24-31; James 1:5-8). And, of course, we are to pray for other Christians (Acts 8:24; Acts 12:5, 12; Acts 21:5; Romans 15:30-33; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 9:14; 2 Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:16-18; Ephesians 3:16-17; Ephesians 6:18-20; Philippians 1:4-6, 9-11, 19; Colossians 1:3, 9-12; Colossians 4:3-4, 12; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:3; Philemon 1:4-6, 22; Hebrews 13:18-19; James 5:16; 1 John 5:16; 3 John 1:2). But we aren't to stop there. We are to pray for the unsaved (Acts 26:29; Romans 10:1; Ephesians 1:18; 1 Timothy 2:1-4), kings and those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and even those who persecute and curse us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28).

What to pray. We are told to present our requests to God (Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 5:5). And most people don't have any shortage of things to pray about. But we should be careful that our requests are made according to God's will and not just selfish wants. Some good examples of the things we ought to pray for are found in the scriptures: To resist temptation (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 22:40, 46), boldness in spreading the Gospel (Acts 4:24-31), wisdom (James 1:5-8), justice (Luke 18:6-8), the salvation of others (Acts 26:29; Romans 10:1; Ephesians 1:18; 1 Timothy 2:1-4), for the sins of others to be forgiven (1 John 5:16), the health of others (3 John 1:2), and for the name of Jesus to be glorified (2 Thessalonians 1:12). We should pray before making decisions, too (Acts 1:24-26; Acts 14:23).

Results from prayer. The Bible assures us that the prayers of righteous people are answered (John 9:31; Acts 10:1-48; James 5:16; 1 Peter 3:12). When we follow God's Word and pray with the right attitude, the Bible tells us we will receive what we ask (Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; Luke 11:9-13; John 15:7, 16; John 16:23-24; 1 John 3:21-22; 1 John 5:14-15). Of course, when it is for our own good and/or when it is not within God's will, the answer God gives to our requests is "no" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Prayer is surely a wonderful and powerful tool God has provided for the Christian. Some of the wonderful results of prayer are consecration (1 Timothy 4:4-5), justice (Luke 18:6-8), demons being driven out (Mark 9:17-29), and physical healing and other miracles (Acts 9:40; Acts 28:8; James 5:14-15).

A model prayer. Jesus, in His loving wisdom, gave us a good example of prayer:

"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.'" --Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)  (See also Luke 11:2-4)


Copyright © 2000 Kimberly B. Southall. All rights reserved.