Prayer is one of the most important Christian activities. Through sustained prayer you are practising a close walk with the Lord, which is foundational to success in other aspects of your Christian life. It also ensures victory in the struggle against the Evil One as, in faith, you commit yourself to the care and protection of the great Conqueror, Jesus Christ. Dr. Andrew Murray said: “I am sure that we will never fully realise what prayer is meant to be, as long as we mainly view it as a method to maintain our own Christian lives. If we learn to view it as the most important part of the work entrusted to us, the foundation and strength of all our work, then we will realise that there is nothing else that we should study and practise as the art of correct praying.”
The request of the disciples was: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). The art of true prayer and intercession can only be learnt from the Great Intercessor, Jesus Christ. It is a learning school in which we must also grow in grace and knowledge. Although prayer in its basic form is so simple that the smallest child can pray, it is also the highest form of dedication and divine service to which human beings are called.
As a holy priesthood, we must learn what it is to intercede with perseverance at the throne of grace for the salvation of souls (Luke 18:1). A priest only lives for the glory of God and the salvation of people. His prayers are not focussed on self-interest. In this regard we must learn from our High Priest: as Christ sacrificed Himself for us, we should also sacrifice ourselves in prayer for the spiritual interests of others.
The Holy Spirit and prayer
Guidance for prayer comes from the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). We must continuously submit ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to control our thoughts, prayers and our whole life. Without this, we will not be able to pray the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man which avails much (Jas. 5:16).
Clarity of prayer requests
Prayer requests should be specific and clearly stated. The Lord Jesus asks: “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark. 10:36). Our prayer should not be vague and without purpose. Don’t just pray general prayers that God must forgive your sins, but mention your sins and unrighteousness by their names (1 John 1:9). In your task as intercessor for others you should also guard against unspecified prayers for the salvation of souls, as well as requests that God must bless all people on earth. Such prayers are not focused on any specific country, community, family, individual or problem, hence you will not know where to look for the answer to your prayers.
Every Christians must maintain a personal prayer relationship with the Lord Jesus. Take care that you have a time and place where you can talk to the Lord alone (Matt. 6:6). Personal prayer is a secret source of power in your life. When it is continuously practised the Lord Jesus will reward you in public. When you are among people and have to contend with temptations and attacks by adversaries, He will strengthen you spiritually by giving you victory in His Name. Your friends, family members and colleagues will notice that you have a level of self-control, calmness, trust, determination, sincerity and firmness of principle that only comes from the Lord.
A special blessing rests upon prayer meetings (Matt. 18:19-20). A child of the Lord not only has a need for secret prayers but also for public prayers with other believers. The same Spirit joins us together as members of the same body, and for that reason we must function together as a group and work together for the realisation of common objectives. From the Scripture quoted above, it is obvious that we should agree on a specific matter. The value of corporate prayer must be discovered and pursued in that every person should agree in his or her heart when another member of the group worships the Lord and makes prayer requests. A prayer meeting, therefore, does not comprise the aggregation of a number of individual prayers, but mutual participation in every prayer offered to the Lord.
The certainty of answers to prayer
The Lord Jesus Himself is the guarantor for prayers offered in His Name (John 14:13; cf. John 16:23; Matt. 7:7-8; Mark 11:24). Biblical promises on the answering of prayer are conditional and it is in the interest of each one of us to ensure that we study these conditions and comply to them: Prayer requests must be aimed at glorifying the Father (John 14:13; Matt. 6:9-10). They must be in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14; Rom. 8:27). Our lives and desires should be in Christ, and His words in our hearts, to keep us from entertaining selfish motives (John. 15:7; Jas. 4:3). Prayers must be aimed at a life of purity and fruitful service to the Lord (1 Thess. 4:3,7; John 15:16). A holy life is a precondition for the answering of prayer (1 John 3:22). We are committed to forgive others when we pray for the forgiveness of sins to the Father (Mark 11:25-26). An unforgiving heart and bitterness will hinder the answering of our prayers. We must also pray in faith without doubting (Heb. 11:6; Jas. 1:6-8).
Themes of prayer
The following are biblical guidelines for prayer themes:
Worship. Praise the Lord for His greatness, goodness and compassion. Worship His Name and offer the reverence due to Him. Use verses from the Psalms for this purpose, e.g. Psalm 103.
Thanksgiving. Thank the Lord sincerely for everything that He has done for the salvation of fallen humanity, and also for you personally. Express your gratitude to Him for all the wonderful promises in His Word. He has promised never to leave or forsake you, to supply all your needs according to the riches of His grace, and to be with you always, even to the end of the age.
The needs of the saints. Pray for provision in the needs of the saints (Eph. 6:18). Pray for their protection against the attacks of Satan. Pray that the Lord will give to them open doors for the ministering of His Word, and also boldness in proclaiming the mystery of the gospel to a lost world (Eph. 6:19).
Your own needs. Make your needs known to the Lord through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving for its fulfilment (Eph. 4:6). If you have sinned, confess it to the Lord (Ps. 51:3-17).
The salvation of souls. The salvation of sinners is the great purpose for which the Lord Jesus has come to the world (Luke 19:10), and we must earnestly pray for its realisation. Also pray that the Lord will send labourers into His harvest (Matt. 9:37-38).
Sanctification and revival. Sanctification is the will of God for all His children (1 Thess. 4:3; 1 Pet. 1:14-16). Pray for a holy and victorious life. Also pray for revival in backslidden churches and congregations (Rev. 2:4-5).
Healing. The Lord Jesus also wants to heal our bodily illnesses (Jas. 5:14). However, we live in a broken and perishing world in which Christians also become sick and suffer afflictions without this condition always having a relationship to sin. In some cases people are healed (Acts 28:9) and in some cases not (2 Cor. 12:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:20). The Lord can heal people directly, but often uses medical science for this purpose. We must be content with our condition after praying about it. Some people who have not been healed are still powerful witnesses to the Lord.
Power to overcome in the spiritual battle. Pray for victory in the battle against the flesh, the world, the devil and sin (Matt. 6:13; 26:41; Jas. 4:7).
The government. Pray for the salvation of your heads of government and their subordinates (1 Tim. 2:1-4). From this Scripture it is evident that we need not pray for blessings upon a godless government but for the saving of their souls, and that the Lord will keep them from creating unbearable conditions for their subjects. The Lord can change any leader’s evil counsel and cause him to make decisions that are in accordance with His will and the prayers of His children (Prov. 21:1).
Israel’s salvation and the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel (Ezek. 36:22-27). We must also pray for the peace of Jerusalem because the attacks of the enemy are particularly aimed at this city (Ps. 122:6; cf. Isa. 62:6-7; Rom. 11:25-26).
Rain and material blessings. God gives rain (Jer. 14:22; Zech 10:1), and also withholds it if a people lapse into sin and rebellion (Jer. 3:2-3). When supplication for rain is offered it should be attended by personal, congregational and national repentance.
The Second Coming and the Millennium. It should be the prayer and desire of every believer that Jesus Christ will come again soon to reveal and establish His government of righteousness on earth (Matt. 6:10; Acts 15:16-17; Rev. 11:15). Jerusalem will then be the capital of the world and Satan will be bound (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:20-22; Rev. 20:2-4).
Warning against false prayers
We are warned against false prayers which are prayed with a wrong motif of self-enrichment and pleasure (Jas. 4:3), as well as heathen prayers which consist of a vain repetition of words (Matt. 6:7). Meditation and the use of mantras is also a heathen form of prayer that must not be practised. These “silent prayers” are referred to as “contemplative prayers.”
Praise be to God that we don’t have to serve and worship Him through the mediation of priests but that each one of us can draw near to the throne of grace in prayer. I am filled with joy for this new and living way which the Lord Jesus, by His death on the cross, has consecrated to me through the torn veil (Heb. 10:19-20). I commit myself to draw near to Him on this way, to mention my requests and desires before the throne of the Lord, and to offer the gratitude and praises of my heart to Him. I thank Him for the privilege to pray with all supplication in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18), and that He is a very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1; 65:2). He invites all who labour and are heavy laden to come to Him (Matt. 11:28) for answers to prayer, for rest with Him and also for grace and power to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12).
1. Explain the importance of prayer.
2. What is the nature of personal prayers?
3. What is the relationship between God’s will and answers to prayer?
4. Name and discuss five themes of prayer.
5. How should we intercede for governments?
Prof. Johan Malan