Bible Study on Prayer
List three weaknesses I have in prayer
Sometimes I am distracted when I pray.
Sometimes I am concerned how I will be viewed by others.
Sometimes I am far too general and wordy.
Prayer is an immense topic. As I was studying for this lesson Scripture after Scripture kept coming up related to the concept of prayer. We could EASILY do a 4-5 month study just on prayer. Prayer is one of the basic disciplines in Christian life. Like the others, we probably mostly know what the Bible teaches on it already. I don’t expect that today I am going to blow you away with some “new” truth or magic formula on prayer. But as we can see in Scripture, it is so important that is reviewed again and again and again. Why? Because it is so important to our relationships to God. My hope is that as we study prayer all of us will be reminded of it’s importance, learn to have more faith in God, and renew our commitment to continual and biblical prayer. As normal it’s not so much a question of knowing, but of doing.
Principles of prayer
Should be a believer. Hebrews 11:6, Matthew 6:9
Of course anyone can pray since prayer is simply talking to God, but it doesn’t make sense to pray to God if you don’t believe He exists. According to Hebrews 11:6 to come to God we must have faith in Him. Many verses in the NT talk about our Father in heaven answering our prayer. If we don’t believe in Christ then God is not our Father. I won’t say God will not answer the prayers of unbelievers for He could in order to show Himself to them, but He doesn’t promise to.
Confess sin. Micah 3:4, John 9:41. The Old Testament mentions a number of times that God doesn’t listen to sinners prayers, which is why the Pharisees said this in John. What are the problems with praying to God while we have unconfessed sin in our lives?
Sin puts a wall in between us and God. Because God is holy, He doesn’t tolerate sin. That is always the first and most pressing issue to address.
It is hypocritical to pray for God’s will in some area when we are sinning against His known will in another area without confessing.
Sin is a form of rebellion against God. It is hypocritical to be rebelling against God and forcing our own way yet ask for His help in another area. Of course we won’t ever reach perfection, but we should always confess our sins to make a clear slate from which we can pray to the holy God.
Be humble. Genesis 32:9-12, Luke 18:9-14. Jacob was a great example of humility in this instance. He had a lot of things and became very wealthy, but he realized it was all from God and that he didn’t deserve it. He acknowledged his unworthiness. He also acknowledged his reliance on God. He told the Lord that he feared Esau and simply asked for His help. Also he claimed God’s promise to him. This prayer has a lot of good elements inside of it. As we will discuss later, eloquence of words is not needed. Jacob prayed sincerely from his heart. His prayer was very simple and he was very humble.
Are we worthy of what we have or what God has done for us? No. We should also realize that whatever we have spiritually or physically is from God. With only our skin we came into this world and now we have become… thanks only to God’s grace in our lives.
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves because they were righteous yet treated others with contempt. If we trust in ourselves why do we need to pray to God? People who trust in themselves will pray to God out of wrong motives. They won’t even pray very much because they won’t view themselves as needing God’s help. Will their prideful prayers accomplish anything? Yes! It will bring about their humiliation! For if we think highly of ourselves God will humble us. Why should we be humble when we pray?
Because we are sinners and it is the right outlook. We should view ourselves as God sees us.
Because we are coming to the throne of the Almighty and asking for His grace (something that is not deserved). Imagine there is a criminal that repeatedly breaks the king’s law. Right after he gets out of prison he goes to the king and asks for a favor. Do you think he will do so pridefully? It would be foolish! How can we pridefully approach God asking for His grace when we sin against Him so much!
We should pray for God’s ears, not people’s. Matthew 6:5-6. This isn’t saying we can never pray in public, but it is saying that we should pray for God’s ears. Prayer is talking to God. If our motivation is to let others hear us, it is better not to even pray at all. Prayer should be largely a private thing in that we should have a very strong private prayer life. What are some signs of praying for people’s ears?
If most of our prayer time is in public.
If we are rehearsing what to pray ahead of time in order to try to make it sound good.
If we don’t pray in prayer groups because we think we are not good enough (that is focusing on what other people will think, not what God will)
If in prayer groups we feel pressure to pray because we think others may have a negative impression about us if we don’t pray.
Be consumed with the glory of God. Numbers 14:11-19, Matthew 6:7-8.
In this event God was testing Moses. He was testing Moses’ heart and commitment. If Moses was selfishly thinking about his own troubles or problems he would have welcomed this idea and his pray may have been something along the lines of, “O LORD, you are just and righteous. You have blessed the people time and time again, but they continued to rebel against You and complain to me. By your power punish them for their unrighteousness.” But he didn’t. He asks God, begs God not to do this. What were his reasons?
He was concerned that if God did this His name would suffer among the nations and that the Egyptians and other nations would think God was weak.
He wanted God to show His power to the world by protecting the people and bringing them into the land.
He wanted God to fulfill all the promises that He had given. What better way to pray than to “remind” God of His promises!
He asked God to show the “greatness” of His lovingkindess.
In Matthew, when Jesus taught the disciples how to pray he taught them to praise God’s name and to pray for God’s kingdom here on earth. Far too often when we pray we are consumed with our own troubles and problems. This is why people so often only pray when they are in trouble. Our prayers are often, “blessed be my life, my happiness come, my goals be met now as well as in the future.” The great men of faith who are famous for their prayers were consumed with the glory of God (Abraham also in Genesis as we will discuss later). So the question is who are you thinking about when you are praying? Are you thinking about your own kingdom or are you thinking about God’s kingdom? If we are focused on our own kingdom our life will be fruitless and empty and our prayers will come back without the results we want. James 4:3-5. On the other hand, if you are consumed with God’s glory you will get the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4. God’s name will be glorified and His will WILL be done so you will live a joyful and fruitful life and your prayers will be answered. So we must have a passion for the glory of God.
Don’t beat around the bush. Be direct and specific.
Genesis 18:22-33. One thing that strikes me when I read the prayers of Moses, Abraham, David etc. is how direct they were. They were incredibly bold and direct when talking to God. They weren’t vague in their prayers. If they were annoyed they expressed it. If they were surprised by something God was doing they said so. After all, God knows everything they were thinking anyway, so why not say it? In this event Abraham bargains with God. He is zealously defending God’s character and in the process says “Far be it from You!” several times. Should we pray like that? I believe it is OK to pray like if we are 100% convinced in the rightness of our request. How can we be that convinced? We can be if it is something that God has already promised in Scripture. Too often we beat around the bush and even pray “weak” prayers. In some cases I know I pray prayers that are clouded with so many conditions it could barely be called a prayer at all. For example we say “if it is your will and the time is right and the people are ready and etc. etc.” Of course we should pray in God’s will, but Abraham knew God’s character so he knew God’s will. In Scripture we know God’s will in many areas. My thinking is that if something is clearly in His will, we don’t need to see, “if it’s your will”. What do you think?
Matthew 6:7-8. God will not listen to us because of the eloquence of our words. It doesn’t matter how nice or spiritual our prayers sound. God already knows what we need. The quantity of words is not important. We should be direct without beating around the bush. In many cases I like hearing a new believer pray because they are very direct and honest with the Lord. Sometimes for those of us who have believed for a long time our prayers get filled with a lot of spiritual jargon. That’s not necessary. You don’t have to be skilled at prayer. It’s not even a skill that can be mastered or something you need to be mature to do or something that you need to practice to “get good at”. Be direct and specific. Being specific can also be a help because then you will be able to see much more clearly when God answers your prayer. If you are so general that everything is a positive answer it will be harder to see God’s answer clearly.
Pray again and again.
Luke 11:5-13, Luke 18:1-9. What is the comparison in these parables? What is the teaching? In both of these cases a person did not want to answer the request, was busy, and was not concerned with the person’s needs. They had no interest in actually helping the person making the request yet because of persistence they helped the person in the end. The point is that if people who are busy and don’t really care about the person making the request will help because of perseverance then surely God will who is not too busy and does care about us. If persistence works in this world of sinners, surely it will work with a loving God.
The picture is really astounding. In both cases the person making the request has no shame! The guy doesn’t make a little knock on the door and whisper and say, “I guess he doesn’t want to help” and then walk away. The widow doesn’t say, “excuse me sir, I’m really sorry to bother you, but would mind giving me some protection? No? Ok, ok, I didn’t think so, really sorry to bother you, bye.” She demands, “give me legal protection from my opponent!” and says the same thing day after day. So don’t be weak-hearted in your prayers and don’t lose heart quickly. If the prayer is right and according to Jesus’ name pray it again and again for decades if necessary.
Pray with a thanksgiving heart. Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thess 5:18, Philippians 4:6
We need to give thanks always and for all things. This tells us that in every situation there is something to give thanks for. We know God causes everything to work together for good if we love Him. It is of course much easier to give thanks for things that seem good to us. It is much easier to give thanks if your stock investments triple than if they fall 70%. But in both cases we need to thank God. Why?
We are commanded to.
God is in control and has a reason for it. He wants us to learn a lesson.
Everything we have belongs to God.
Money isn’t everything. Although 70% is gone we still have a relationship with God.
We still have 30% left!
According to Philippians we need to even request with thanksgiving. What does that phrase “prayer with thanksgiving” mean? Some possibilities:
Not to forget to thank God for past blessings when asking for new ones.
Have thanksgiving for what He is going to do.
Praying with a thanksgiving heart is similar to praying with a humble one. It simply acknowledges that we don’t deserve what we have, but it is because of God’s grace. Too many times we just ask for things. Let’s remember to be thankful!
Pray in faith. Matthew 21:22, James 1:6-7.
From Hebrews we have already discussed that we must believe in God. From these verses we see we must also believe in God’s power. If we pray with doubt in our hearts we are no more than a stick being slammed around by the waves. What do we have faith in?
We have faith in God’s power. This means when we pray we believe that God can do it.
We have faith in God’s character. This means when we pray we believe that God will do it (assuming our prayer is right).
We have faith in God’s will. This means we believe that God will do the very best thing in the situation.
It is not having faith in our faith. What do I mean? I mean it is not a matter of saying I have 100% faith so I am sure the car will appear here. It’s not having faith in ourselves, or in our own confidence. It’s not some kind of magic formula where I can say, “I believe, I believe, I BELIEVE” like in the movies and then boom the prayer is answered. It’s trusting in God and who He is. The point is that it is silly and counter-productive to pray doubting if God or exists or doubting if He can do what we pray. Why ask Him to do it if we think it can’t happen?
Any more thoughts on praying in faith?
Seek to know God’s will not our own. As we can see from all of the principles above prayer is largely for our benefit. It encourages us to confess sin, to be consumed for God’s glory, to be persistent, to be thankful and to pray in faith. The idea shouldn’t be “how can we change God’s mind?” Rather it is “how can we draw closer to the Lord, build our relationship with Him, and know His will.” Prayer is a way of seeking God and drawing close to Him. Proverbs 3:5-6. How does God lead us when we pray?
Mostly through Scripture. As we pray to Him it is likely Scriptures will come to mind.
Perhaps through peace in our hearts given by the Holy Spirit, although mystical feelings are kind of subjective. Scripture always has to come first.
Look for results. Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God. James 5:16-18, Acts 12:1-17. This is closely connected to praying with faith. When we pray we should keep our eyes and ears open to see how God will answer. When Peter was arrested there was a group praying for him. Presumably they also prayed for him to be freed. Yet when he came and knocked on the door they thought the person who opened it was out of her mind! Apparently they were praying with no expectation that God would answer their prayers. Why? Maybe they thought the situation was too impossible. After all, he was imprisoned by the government. Well, guess what? God is over the government. God is over the weather. God is over our boss. God is over everything! When we pray we should expect God to act. How may He respond to our prayers?
Amazingly! James 5:16-18. There are numerous examples of amazing answers to pray in Scripture, such as? (the fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice, Nehemiah’s prayer for the Persian government to not only give permission to, but also FUND the rebuilding of the wall, etc.) If we pray for a car will God give it to us? If we need it, He can, and HE WILL! God stopped the sun for Joshua. You may think all of that was in Bible times, what about now? There are many many examples of amazing answers to prayer much more recently. A group on a boat when the tsunami hit, George Muller, healings, etc. If you don’t think God can answer your “big prayer” then why bother even praying it? If you pray it, expect big results! God is a powerful God.
Giving us what we want, which could be the worse thing for us. Numbers 11. The Jews ignored the principle of thanksgiving, the principle of faith, the principle of being consumed with God’s glory, and the principle of wanting to know God’s will. Theirs was a selfish and complaining prayer. But God still answered. Yet in the end they found His answer wasn’t what they wanted. He gave them quail, so much they became sick of it. If we ignore the principles on prayer and demand God to give us what we want, He may still give it to us, but don’t be surprised if you wish He didn’t later. Mother/daughter candy example. Guy getting married example.
God’s answer may also be beyond our understanding. Habakkuk. In this book Habakkuk is bewildered. He cannot understand why God is doing what He is doing. Habakkuk puts several questions to the Lord including “why didn’t God purge His people and restore their righteousness?” “How could God use the Chaldeans to judge a people more righteous than they?” God’s responses were far from what Habakkuk expected. God said He was sending the Chaldeans to punish the people and also that He would punish the Chaldeans. Yet although Habakkuk didn’t understand he still had a good attitude and trusted in God.
Need to wait sometimes. In 2:1 he resolves to wait to hear God’s answer. Although he doesn’t understand and it seems strange to him, he doesn’t just bash God. He is patient. In the end, God tells Habakkuk that His blessings will come eventually and that He will restore the people eventually, but first they will go through terrible punishment and destruction from the Babylonians. It terrified Habakkuk 3:16. He would never live to see God’s final answer to his prayer, but how did he respond? See 3:17-19. This is just a tremendous response by Habakkuk where he commits to serving the Lord and being obedient to Him even when all this terrible punishment was coming on his people. Even though his prayer got almost the opposite of what he was hoping, he still had faith and loved the Lord. Habakkuk is a great example to us of learning that some answers are beyond are understanding and some need to patiently waited for.
Ten things the Bible does NOT teach on prayer
That God promises to answer everyone
That we will get what we want every time
That God will answer according to our timetable
That we will understand His answer
That we will see the answer in our lifetime
That we need to practice prayer to become good at it
That the eloquence of our words is important
That you have to reach some level of maturity before praying
That saying “in Jesus’ name” is a magic formula to success
That we should pray to the Holy Spirit
That we should pray only when in trouble
That God changes His mind
Ten things the Bible teaches on prayer
He knows our needs before we ask
That our heart attitude is very important
That we should pray to the Father
That the Holy Spirit/Jesus intercedes for us
That believers should pray & fast Matthew 6:16-17
That we have free access to God through Christ
That we should be confident He hears us
That He will answer according to what is good for us
Prayers in the Bible:
Habakkuk 1-3 – God answers completely different than Habakkuk expects, beyond his understanding, even after his life will be long over, yet Habakkuk still resolves to serve and follow God.
1 Kings 8:22-53 – Solomon’s prayer of dedication.
Numbers 14:11-19 – Moses talks directly to God and stands up for God’s glory. He is consumed with God’s glory.
Genesis 18:22-33 – Abraham talks directly to God even bargaining with Him. Abraham is not beating around the bush, but is appealing to God’s righteous character. He is praying boldly.
Numbers 11 – The Jews were complaining to God so God gave them what they wanted. In the end they got sick of it and found it wasn’t really what they wanted. Sometimes getting what we want is the worst thing that could happen. Like if a guy begs God to let him marry a girl and God does only for the guy to find out it is miserable being married to her.
Genesis 32:9-12 – Jacob was extremely humble in his prayer to God. He knew that he was completely unworthy of anything that God graciously gave to Him.
Principles of prayer
Matthew 6:1-15 – The words themselves are not that important. The heart is important. Prayer is largely private. We should pray to the Father. We should be consumed for God’s glory.
Luke 18:10-14 – The parable of the self-righteous prayer and the humble prayer.
Luke 18:1-9 – We must persevere and not lose heart. The parable of the persistent widow.
Luke 11:5-13, The persistent friend and he gracious Father. Contrast and compare the two. Pray persistently.
1 Thess 5:18, Ephesians 5:20 – Pray with a thankful heart.
James 1:6-7- Pray with faith.
Matthew 21:22 – Pray with faith.
James 5:16-18 – Pray expecting results like Elijah. Amazing things can happen.
Micah 3:4, John 9:31 – Sin can impede our prayers so we need to confess first.
Acts 12:1-17 – Negative example where people were praying, but seemed not to expect great results from their prayer. They couldn’t believe that Peter was out and free.
Examples of people praying –
Moses – Exodus 33:11
Abraham – Genesis 18
David – Psalms 51
Jesus – Luke 5:16
Nehemiah – Nehemiah 1:5-11
Negative Example –
Asa – 2 Chronicles 14-16
To finish my nightly praying before I fall asleep.
To not think of others in the room when I pray, but pray to our Father in heaven.
To be more direct and specific.