Biblical Prayer: Thoughts from a Recent ABF Study
Written by Bob DeAngelo, Pastor of Youth and Outreach
Of course you are praying, but are you praying biblically?
Every follower of Christ has some sort of prayer life. Unfortunately, many Christians, if they were honest, might characterize their prayer lives as in a “rut,” and possibly in danger of the “vain repetitions” that Jesus condemned in Matthew 6.
It was Socrates who made the statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So it is absolutely and entirely appropriate to ask the questions: “The prayer life that I have settled into…is it biblical? Does my prayer life look like what God intended when He gave us the task and gift of prayer? Does my prayer life look anything like Jesus Christ’s prayer life?”
In a recent ABF study at FBC, we followed the advice of Socrates, examining the biblical teaching and examples of prayer, and also taking the time to put these principles into practice.
(As a note, Daniel Henderson’s book, Transforming Prayer, was a big help as a resource connected to this study.)
1. Biblical prayer is private…but it also involves praying TOGETHER, corporately.
I would suggest that, the most important tasks that we take on in life should be done in community. As members of local bodies of believers, we absolutely should avail ourselves of the immense resources available to us. (After all, that is part of the purpose of the church!)
This includes things like our marriages, our responsibility as parents, managing our finances, overcoming sin struggles…and certainly our prayer lives.
Unquestionably, private prayer is a very important aspect of our relationships with God. But it should be noted that, when Jesus offered the model prayer, He did not refer to His Heavenly Father as “MY Father,” but rather “OUR Father.” There certainly is a case that the Lord’s model prayer was given to us as a pattern to be prayed in community.
If we have a desire to see the power of the first century church, then we should seek to pattern our practices after the early church, and the book of Acts clearly documents the practice of the early church praying together in community. The church was born through a corporate prayer meeting (Acts 1:14, 2:1), and that practice continued through the book of Acts (Acts 2:42; 12:5-12; 13:1-2).
2. Biblical prayer is worship-based, focused on the amazing God that we are addressing in prayer.
As we study the prayers of the Bible, we see an overarching focus on both the Person (praise) and works (thanksgiving) of God. Before heading for our prayer lists and getting those before the throne, I would suggest that it is biblical for us to take time in our prayers to reflect on God’s character and deeds.
When Jesus taught the model prayer, the first subject He brought to God was praise, expressing to God our awe and gratitude for the incredible God that He is. “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
In his book, Transforming Prayer, Henderson expresses it in this manner: “Worship-based prayer seeks the face of God before the hand of God.” He encourages us further: “If all we ever do is seek God’s hand, we may miss His face; but if we seek His face, He will be glad to open His hand and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.”
It is an amazing thought that the God of the universe desires to hear our expressions of praise and awe and thanks and gratitude from our lips, but the Scripture is clear…that He does.
3. Biblical prayer asks for God to fulfill eternal purposes, not just to meet temporal needs.
In Second Thessalonians, Paul is writing to a group of believers that were enduring real, painful, threatening persecutions. Surely, these Christians would have loved to receive some relief from the pressures and hatred and threats around them.
Second Thessalonians 1:11-12 lists one of Paul’s many biblical prayers…and it is interesting that Paul does not ask God to give them relief. Instead he asks that:
– God would count them worthy of this calling.
– God would fulfill the pleasure of His goodness in them.
– God would grant them the work of faith with power.
– The name of Jesus would be glorified in them, and they in Him.
Of course it is by no means unbiblical to ask God for healing and relief…but as we examine the biblical prayers, we must acknowledge that, quite often, requests of eternal significance are the targets of the people praying, not just temporal and earthly needs.
D.A. Carson writes this: “Suppose, for example, that 80 or 90 percent of our petitions ask God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application, and much more of the same. How much of Paul’s praying revolves around these equivalent items?”
Henderson writes that “The fundamental difference between our prayer lists and the prayer concerns we find in the Bible is that we pray about personal problems, while most of the biblical prayers focus on Christ’s purposes.”
James Walker puts it this way: “We spend more prayer energy trying to keep sick Christians out of heaven than trying to keep lost people out of hell.”
I believe that, for many of us, we must push ourselves in this realm of prayer. For example, instead of just praying for God to help a person get better, let’s ask God to help the person get better…but more than that, for God to use the situation to accomplish something through the situation that will result in real, eternal benefits.
And so I encourage us to examine our beliefs and practices when it comes to prayer, and let’s not be content to be stagnant in our prayer lives. Let’s grow in pursuing the biblical principles and patterns of prayer!