There is a big difference between knowing about a person and actually knowing a person. A person who never prays can know a lot about God, but only a prayerful person can know God (Psalm 73:25-26; John 10:27-30). We are called to an ever-deepening life of knowing the Lord who loves us and wants us to share our whole lives with him (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Any mature relationship involves “give” and “take.” Because of who God is, we receive far more than we can ever give, but he asks us to offer our:
- Praise — appreciating and enjoying him for what he is (Psalm 96:7-8)
- Confession — getting rid of blotches on the page (Psalm 32:3-5; 51:1-2)
- Thanks — for his gifts, his rescue, and his answers to prayer (Psalm 103:1-5)
- Meditation — reflecting on his Scriptures (Joshua 1:8)
- Ourselves — willingly, gladly for his service (Romans 12:1-2)
Prayer is not twisting the arm of God. Rather, it is cooperating with him in his purposes for the world. In prayer we discover his mind (Ephesians 5:10, 17) and join in his purpose (Matthew 9:38; 10:5). Praying and working go together (James 2:18-26).
Learning to pray
Though prayer is as natural as speech, like speech, it has to be learned.
- Learn by doing. Make regular times for prayer (Daniel 6:10). Pray alone (Mark 1:35) and with others (Matthew 18:20) because, as in a family, we do not learn to speak in isolation. Learn to pray brief “arrow” prayers as needs arise (Matthew 14:30; Nehemiah 2:4-5).
- Learn from Jesus, starting from his great “pattern” prayer (Luke 11:1-13) and going on to his meditation in John 17.
- Learn from books about prayer and, above all else, the Psalms. Hymn and song books can also be a helpful source of inspiration.
- Learn from the Holy Spirit, who is given to us to help us pray (Romans 8:15-16, 26-27).
A suggested way to pray daily (six steps):
1. Turn to God. Find a quiet place and time when you can be alone, and then try to set aside the business and distractions of the day to focus your mind on God, his truth and his goodness. Remember that he loves you and wants to communicate with you, and that he is not trying to make the whole thing difficult! He is with you and only wants to see you open yourself to him.
2. Turn to the Bible. Open the Bible and read a passage through carefully, preferably twice — once to get the feel of it, and once more carefully to pick up the details. Ask yourself what new truths this passage teaches you and what particular relevance it has to your life. See if there is a promise, a warning, an example, a prayer you could use.
3. Turn to your notebook. Without spending too much time, jot down in a notebook the main truths and lessons that have struck you from the passage as you think about it and mull it over.
4. Turn to your notes. At this point — and not sooner — have a look at the Bible reading notes you are using, as they will probably help you with background information, difficult questions, and suggestions for personal application. Read them through, and if necessary make more notes in your notebook.
5. Turn to prayer. Remember, this is a conversation with a Friend! Turn your heart to God and (silently or out loud) talk over with him the Scripture passage you have been studying, thanking him for new light and praying for help to implement any suggestions for your daily life that you may have received. Then you can turn to other needs, personal matters, family, friends, work, the needs of the church, and other issues on your mind. This may not take long to begin with, but the list of people you care about is likely to grow, so you may need a separate page or two in your notebook to jot down people you don’t want to forget to pray for.
6. Turn to the day. Choose from the Bible passage a few words you have found helpful, and take them with you into the day. You may find yourself returning to them as the day wears on, and that will lift your eyes to the Lord.
If your prayers aren’t getting answered, ask these questions: Do you actually pray (James 4:2)? Do you mean it (Matthew 7:7)? Are your goals selfish (James 4:3)? Is there unconfessed sin in the way (James 4:8)? Do you persevere in prayer (Luke 18:1-8)? Are you seeking God’s will (Mark 14:36) Remember that answers do not always come in the form or at the time we expect; we may be meant to answer our own prayer (Matthew 14:15-16); the answer may be no; and sometimes, if God appears not to answer, he may want us to start loving him for who he is, not for what we can get out of him!
Verse to learn
Learn John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
Bible study section
The Bible passage for study is Colossians 1:3-14.
- What are the main things for which Paul thanks God in the lives of these people he had never seen?
- Why is thanksgiving such an important part of prayer?
- Paul is not slow to ask God for things in prayer — but what are the main things he asks for? How should we pray for our friends?
- Paul prays that they may know God’s power. What sort of things will that power do?
- What are the main marks of Christian discipleship in this passage?
Go back over some of the particular matters concerning prayer that struck you during the Bible study or the teaching section, and wrap your time of prayer around those things.