What does it mean to pray? When should we pray, what should we pray for, and is there a special way to do it? Most importantly, does it even matter if we pray—does God really hear us?
“In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” (Ephesians 3:12)
Praying—talking to God—is one of the most basic components of being a Christian. It is essential that we pray, because all relationships, including the one we have with God, are two-way streets. God speaks to us through the Bible, and we speak to Him through prayer. Just as a friendship in which you never email, call, or otherwise communicate will quickly deteriorate, our relationship with God suffers when we do not pray. But how should we pray?
The most important requirement of prayer is acknowledging your sinfulness before God, and agreeing with Him that it is only through Christ that you can approach Him. That is the message of today’s verse. Jesus Christ is the one “in whom we have boldness and access [to the Father] with confidence through faith in Him [Jesus].” Hebrews 10:14, 17, 19, 22 tells us, “For by one offering [the death of Christ on the cross] He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified [us!]…[God says,] ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’…Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest [the very throne room of God’s presence in prayer] by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” We pray, not by merely tacking on “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers, but by approaching God through faith in Christ alone.
Jesus taught us what we should pray for in The Lord’s Prayer: “In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven, [He is not a distant or angry pagan deity; He loves us as a father loves His children]
Hallowed be Your name. [We desire that His name be honored]
Your kingdom come. [We desire that everyone that will, come to a knowledge of Him]
Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. [We long for God’s goodness to reign on earth in place of sin]
Give us this day our daily bread. [We ask for what we need-do we understand what we really need?]
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors. [This is so hard; I find myself praying “better than I forgive my debtors!”]
And do not lead us into temptation, [Don’t let it be easy for me to sin]
But deliver us from evil. [What is the biggest evil? That I turn away from God; that I stop hearing Him]
For Yours is the kingdom [authority] and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
This prayer is frequently prayed in church, and some families teach it to their children as a morning or evening prayer, but it is important to understand that while we are not restricted to this particular prayer, it does express what we should be concerned about.
Philippians 4:6 tells us to, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” and gives the promise, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:7) We are to not worry, but let God know our needs and let Him give us the peace that“…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) But are we told when should we pray?
Some pagan faiths prescribe prayer at certain times of the day, but we are to “pray without ceasing.” (I Thessalonians 5:17) While this might seem ridiculous to some, it is actually an expression of the relationship we have with our Lord God. If we know Him, if we don’t hide our sins from Him but quickly admit it when we sin and stop doing it, if we see Him for the incredibly good and loving heavenly Father that He is, the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ in us—will increasingly prompt us to fellowship with Him. We will not be mouthing words at all times, but the lines of communication will be open, and there will be increasing times during the day when we will really truly talk to Him. If we understand that He is with us through the presence of His Spirit and open to hearing us, if we realize that He does love us, and that He wants us to talk to Him, it opens us up to actually live in His presence.
Furthermore, while much of what a new Christian prays for is need-based, a person who has spent some time getting to know who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture will find that more and more of his prayers are worship—a recognition of and praising who He is, and it is this that God is looking for from us. So while a legitimate goal of prayer is to communicate our needs to our heavenly Father, because He already knows this, asking is for the purpose of allowing us the experience of having Him provide, which strengthens our faith. Yet prayer becomes worship when we think about what God is like, and come to see Him for who He really is, because at that point we agree with Him and are blessed to be in His presence. Jesus said, “…the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”(John 4:23) So, in answer to the question of whether it matters if we pray, the answer is a resounding yes, it certainly does matter that we pray, because through praying we both fellowship with God and have our faith strengthened as we experience His responses! Yet, is there ever a situation when God will not hear my prayers?
The answer to this is that God will not hear me if I am in denial, either about my sin—that it is wrong and I have to abandon it—or about Christ being my only forgiveness. Psalm 66:18 tells us, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” Just as the sinner in Jesus’ parable who said, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” went home justified, rather than the proud man who wouldn’t even acknowledge his sins, we whenever we pray we must first submit to God’s assessment of the situation, because it is only then that we can experience the genuine fellowship with our loving heavenly Father!
Thank You that through Christ I can boldly approach Your throne of grace. Help me increasingly see who You truly are, and thank You that I can know You and worship You. Amen.