Many would like to have a more personal relationship with God, but just do not know how.
WHY does God seem unreal to so many people? Do you ever find yourself asking, "Does God even exist?" After experiencing two world wars, millions drifted into a modern world where God has no apparent meaning. West Europeans, who at one time were in the heartland of Christianity, became the least religious in the professing Christian world. Now, however, in spite of the commercialism and material mindedness in Western societies, many have an increasing awareness of God. In a very dangerous world they sense a need to be closer to him. So, whether you are one of those who have never been "religious," or among those who have discovered the need of personal contact with God, you can profit from understanding what prayer is and what it is not. The answers may surprise you!
Some Far Away Superstition?
"How do you talk to God?" many have asked us. Should you memorize a mealtime or bedtime prayer? Do you have to be in a church or chapel to pray? Are you supposed to say Bible sounding words such as "thee" and "thou" when you talk to God? These are questions people have about prayer. But for some reason, prayer is something you just don't talk about much. So a large percentage simply do not pray even though they know deep down they should. So let's talk about it. You probably want to pray more than you do. And if you already pray regularly, you probably want to pray more effectively. Unfortunately, when many pray — if they pray — it is out of desperation — when something has gone wrong. In the face of tragedy people cry out in that last moment of panic, "God, save me!" Or "God, help me!" But that's not the time to establish contact with the Creator of heaven and earth. You should not wait for that last moment. You should establish and maintain a close personal relationship with God, now, before a crisis comes.
Christ and Lazarus
One of the most inspiring illustrations of the power of prayer is the moment when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus, along with his two sisters Mary and Martha, had been close to Jesus. He often stayed at their home in Bethany, near Jerusalem. But Lazarus became sick and died (John 11:14). The death of Lazarus was to serve a great purpose. Of course Jesus Christ could have healed him even before he died, but he chose otherwise. Through raising a man from the dead, Jesus would show once and for all the source of his power. By the time Christ arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days and was already buried (verse 39). The glory of God was to be revealed through this momentous event. Jesus gave instructions to roll back the stone that sealed the tomb. He walked to the entrance, lifted up his eyes and prayed, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me" (John 11:41-42, NIV). Have you ever thought about how powerful — but how short that prayer was? As a result of a prayer that lasted 10 seconds, a dead man walked out of a tomb, living proof of the power of God. And the power of prayer. But did you notice what Christ said in that prayer? "Father, I thank you that you have heard me." This wasn't the first time Christ prayed about this fantastic miracle. Christ had already prayed to his Father diligently about this matter. After all it was the final public miracle he would perform. Christ was close to God because of constant prayer. "I know that you hear me always," he said (John 11:42). Knowing his time had come, he could step forth for the final days of his life on earth with full confidence God would be with him.
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
Another example of the power of prayer is Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. God's true religion had almost been lost. Even Elijah thought he was the only one left obeying God (God showed him there were 7,000 others, though). But for the most part the nation was given over to false worship. Elijah finally gathered 850 of the pagan priests and prophets to see who could call fire from heaven to consume an altar. Of course there was no such thing as Baal — not as a living entity. Elijah knew that. But the priests of Baal thought there was. So they began early in the morning to cry out to their nonexistent god. All morning they cried and chanted. Finally about noon they leapt on the altar to scream to their deity. Nothing happened. Throughout the afternoon they continued their wailing. They even resorted to slashing their bodies hoping their "god" would see and hear. They shouted themselves hoarse, but nothing happened. You can read the entire story in I Kings 18:17-40. Late in the afternoon, after waiting through the hours of pagan ritual, incantation and frantic screaming, Elijah stepped forth to prove who the great God is. Elijah prayed to the Eternal, "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again" (I Kings 18:36-37, NIV). After a prayer lasting no longer
You should not wait for that last moment. You should establish and maintain a close personal relationship with God, now.
than 20 seconds, God, responding to Elijah's prayer, consumed not only the sacrifice on the altar, but the wood, stones, dust and water in the trench. That's the power of prayer. In both these examples, the power in these short prayers was the result of daily prayer and contact with God.
To further illustrate the importance of prayer, let's turn to the example of another well-known servant of God — Daniel. You may remember, Daniel was a young Jew deported in the days of the Babylonian captivity of Judah. In Babylon, Daniel had risen to a prominent position. But in late 539 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Medo-Persians. The Persian ruler set Daniel over all the other princes in the kingdom (Dan. 6:1-2). The Persian princes were enraged. They tried to find fault with Daniel, but could find none. They finally saw the only way to get at Daniel was through his devotion to God. They tricked the king into signing a law that forbade worshiping any other god, save the king himself. Daniel had worshiped God through the entire Babylonian domination. He would not stop now — even under penalty of death. What did Daniel do? Read it in Daniel 6:10: "He went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward. Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." Daniel had prayed regularly. Every day. Three times a day. He would not stop that vital part of his day no matter what the penalty. If you remember the story, the jealous governors and princes insisted the king throw Daniel to the lions as a penalty for not calling on the king alone as god. It was the law — even the king couldn't change it. But God who had heard Daniel every day, heard him once again. While the Bible doesn't record any special prayer of Daniel at this time, you can be sure Daniel prayed fervently. Wouldn't you? An angel was sent (verse 22), and the lions didn't even scratch Daniel. That's the power of prayer. Not the desperate last minute, "God save me" prayer. But the result of constant contact with God who will hear you every day.
What About You?
Maybe you will now say, "I wish I could pray like that." Perhaps you really want to pray — every day, even three times a day. But you just don't know how. You wonder what to pray about. Or how long to pray. Or where to pray. Maybe you have had the experience of deciding you would start to pray. But when you knelt down to pray, you felt alone. Like you were just talking into thin air. Just about everyone who has tried to pray has had the same feeling. Throughout Christ's ministry the disciples saw Jesus separate himself from them to pray. Sometimes he went a little distance away from camp. Other times he went out to a mountainside. Still other times he went to a private room. But the disciples knew he regularly prayed to God in heaven. They also knew John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. But the disciples didn't really know how to pray themselves. Christ had told them about prayer on several occasions. He said in Matthew 6:7, "But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words" (RAV). The easy way is to have a memorized prayer to say over and over. But that is not how to pray. Another time Christ had talked with them about public religious displays. Some religious leaders in Jesus' day had a special vanity. They would go to the temple with great pomp and Ceremony. Some would have a trumpet bearer sound the horn, and when everyone turned to see, they would cast their offerings into the temple treasury. Or they would pray piously. These were the same ones who loved to have the chief seats in the synagogue. You know what Jesus called this kind of pretentious worship? Hypocrisy! Concerning prayer, Christ said to his disciples, "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen" (Matt. 6:6, NIV). Personal prayer is not conducted on main street out in the open. It is your personal and private time with God who is your spiritual Father. Of course, it is entirely appropriate to have occasional public prayer such as asking God's blessing on a meal, to open a meeting or important event and the like. But we are talking about the time you spend with God in personal prayer. Let's go back to the example of Christ's disciples. They had observed the many times Christ went out alone to pray. They knew he instructed them not to pray like so called religious people did. Not to use vain repetitions. But they just did not know how to pray privately. They finally got the courage to ask him. Christ had been away praying. When he returned one of them said, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1). Jesus gladly instructed them. But he didn't tell them what a lot of people think. The passage in Luke 11:2-4 shows how to pray. Many today think Jesus told them what to say. That is, they think that Jesus' words are what we are to pray over and over. But remember Christ said, "Don't use vain repetition." The so-called Lord's Prayer is not a memorized ditty to be repeated thousands of times — it is a guide to prayer. Perhaps the best way to phrase the meaning behind this prayer is to call it an OUTLINE of what to pray about. For many that's the biggest problem of all — what to pray about. Once we acknowledge
The easy way is to have a memorized prayer to say over and over. But that is not how to pray.
the need to pray, and pray every day, we face the dilemma of what to pray about. It shouldn't be embarrassing to admit you don't know how. Even the apostles had to be taught to pray. If you find yourself at that point, you have good company. We all have been there. Once you have decided to learn to pray, you need to have a place to pray. Probably the best place for most people is a private room or closet at home. Perhaps the bedroom. Or if you have a basement, a quiet private place there could be set aside as a prayer area. You might have to find your own special place. The main thing is to have a place where you will not be interrupted. And a place you can call your own for the time you pray.
What to Pray About
Christ gave us an outline — a general framework for: prayer. If you only recite the outline, you will be finished praying in a little over 20 seconds. That could hardly be considered meaningful private prayer. But if you use the words of Jesus as an outline, you can pray 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes or more each time you pray. It won't be vain repetition at all. Let's take each of the points of his outline and see just a few things you can pray about. I have talked to a lot of people about prayer. Many have told me how much more personal God has become once they really learned how to pray. Most of us don't have any problem talking with people. We can talk with our parents, a good friend, people at work, relatives and neighbors. Why should it be so hard to talk to God? At first it may not be easy. After all, people are right there with us. They talk back. But God may seem, especially at first, far away. He is in heaven. We may feel as if we don't know where that is. Prayer is our opportunity to talk with the Father in heaven. You don't need to talk to God in archaic grammatical expressions. It isn't more religious to say, "Lord, we thank thee for thy divine providence," than it is to simply say, "Father, thank you for your blessings in my life." Your conversation with God should be normal and natural — not stilted and falsely religious sounding. So once you acknowledge God as Father, Jesus said to give honor and praise to him. If you are happily married, you have terms of endearment you use to express your feelings to your mate. You may call your spouse "sweetheart," or "darling," or "honey," or "dear," or something special that has meaning to you. But you would never use such words or phrases to describe your relationship and feeling for God. Words like awesome, omnipotent, majestic and glorious come to mind. In other words, as you start praying, you need to get your mind on just how great and powerful God is. He is in heaven — a great and powerful spirit being. Each time you pray you can think of different ways to express both the personal and spiritual relationship you have with God. You can actually spend several minutes communicating your feelings and thoughts about the majesty of God.
Then God's Kingdom
After acknowledging God's greatness the most important thing to pray about is his kingdom. Many million times the so-called Lord's Prayer has been recited with no understanding at all of its meaning! How many know God's kingdom is going to be set up on earth? Or know through whom it will be set up? Or its purpose? The message of Jesus Christ from the beginning was the government of God. Notice it in Mark 1:14: "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD." The old English word gospel means, literally, "good news." The message of the Bible is the good news that Christ is coming to establish God's government on earth. To bring the world peace, happiness and prosperity. To abolish war. Isn't that something to pray about? We live in a world of wars and rumors of war. A world of malnutrition, hunger, turmoil. Christ also said, "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36, RAV). A Christian should be aware of world affairs — know what is going on. Know how to understand world events in the light of Bible prophecy. The Plain Truth magazine keeps you informed in this important area and can be used to help you know what to pray about. In this regard, one of the very important prophecies of the Bible needs to be mentioned — Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (RAV). The work of God is certainly something to pray about every day. The apostle Paul, knowing how important prayer is, said, " ... brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you" (II Thess. 3:1). Can you begin to see how prayer is not something that will take only two or three minutes? After a while the problem becomes how to find time for all you need to pray about. Continuing with the outline, Christ then said to pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Luke 11:2, RAV). This first requires a study of God's written Word to know what God's will is. The Bible is God speaking to us. Prayer is when we speak to God. A helpful hint to guide you as you learn to pray is to have the Bible with you. Read a portion of it, such as a psalm or two, for a few minutes; then pray a few minutes. You'll be surprised
Prayer... puts you in contact with the supreme Creator
what you will get out of this technique if you have not tried it. So you should talk to God about his will. His will about world events, and his will about your personal life.
Your Personal Needs
Now, with your mind focused on God and his greatness, on the need for his kingdom to come and on his will being done; you can, next, talk with God about your needs, hopes, desires. But notice how Christ instructs us to think — "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11, RAV). It isn't appropriate to ask God for everything at once so you will not have another worry in the world. (A lot of people think big money would solve their problems.) One of the — most important lessons we have to learn is that of having faith. Trusting God is based on daily contact with him. As you start each day, ask God to provide what is necessary for that day or for the coming week. Then you won't need to worry that much about next month or next year.
The Importance of Forgiveness
Then Christ said to pray, "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4, RAV). Perhaps the greatest comfort we have is the knowledge that God will forgive us when we repent of sin. But he forgives us only as we are willing to forgive our fellowman and woman. Every one of us is wrong some of the time. We slip, stumble and sometimes fall. The knowledge that God is a loving and forgiving God permits us to get up, dust ourselves off and continue our lives. So be willing to forgive others. And pray for others who need to know God's will, too. Then, as you pray, ask God for forgiveness for your shortcomings and for guidance to live his way. The model prayer continues, "Lead us not into temptation [or sore trial]; but deliver us from evil [or better translated, 'the evil one — Satan the devil]" (Luke 11:4). The knowledge of God's forgiveness should lead us to the desire not to sin in the first place. By asking God to help you see where the temptations are and how to avoid them, you find God will give you special protection against the wiles and fiery darts of a very real devil. You see, prayer is a vital part of the Christian life. It puts you in contact with the supreme Creator of heaven and earth. On a personal basis. Contact with God every day will provide you with the help and inspiration you need to make it in a world turned upside down — a world that doesn't even know God and his way of life. Prayer will be your source of strength to meet your daily needs, as well as the big trials that may come your way from time to time. You won't then call out in desperation, wondering if God will hear when you cry, "God, save me!" You will call out to a God who you know will hear. Because you talk to him every day. There is someone up there.