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 (Q and A on Biblical Doctrines)
Chapter 13: Prayer
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Q1 What is prayer?

The act of prayer has been practised from time immemorial and is evident in all cultures. It appears to be instinctive, as evidenced by the tendency of people—Christians and non-Christians alike—to appeal to a higher power in times of crisis. It shows that mankind once had a close relationship with the one true God, before sin intervened to create a dividing wall, and before man lost his way by creating false gods and idols (Rom 1:21–23).  

For Christians, prayer is the channel of communication with God. The Bible likens it to an offering of incense or a sacrifice (Ps 141:2; Rev 5:8).

Q2 What can we pray for?

We can pray for anything, as long as it does not go against the glory of God or the welfare of others (Jn 14:13–14; 15:16–17). Apostle Paul encourages us, saying, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).

Q3 Are there prayers that we can learn from?

There are many notable prayers in the Bible, including:

• Jacob’s prayer for deliverance from Esau (Gen 32:11) 

• Moses’ prayer for forgiveness on behalf of the Israelites, after they had worshipped the golden calf (Ex 32:30–32)

• Hezekiah’s prayer for healing from a terminal illness (2 Kgs 20:1–3) 

• David’s prayer for Solomon to be endowed with godly fear and the heart to build God’s temple (1 Chr 29:19) 

• Elijah’s prayer for rain during a prolonged drought in Israel (Jas 5:17–18) 

• Jesus’ prayer on the cross for the forgiveness of His persecutors (Lk 23:34) 

• The prayer of the 120 disciples for the downpour of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:13–15)

Q4 Is there a prayer that all believers can make?

Yes, it is the Lord’s Prayer, which is recorded in Matthew 6:9–13:

            Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors. 
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one. 
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.

Q5 Why is this prayer important?

The Lord’s Prayer is important because it is a model prayer given to us by Jesus (Mt 6:9; Lk 11:2). When we reflect upon the words recorded in Matthew 6:9–13, we gain some important teachings about our relationship with God and the priorities of life:

“Our Father in heaven” (v. 9). This opening address reminds us that we are praying to God, who is our Father in heaven. We call Him “Father” because we are born of Him (Jn 1:12–13), He adopted us as His children (Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5), and He has poured out the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Gal 4:6). Hence, we should fear Him: “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet 1:17). The words also remind us that our true home is in heaven and, for now, we are merely pilgrims in this world (Heb 11:13–16; 1 Pet 2:11). One day, Jesus will return to take us to our Father in heaven (Jn 14:2–3; 20:17).

“Hallowed be Your name” (v. 9). These words teach us to revere God’s name (Rev 15:4), which is “holy and awesome” (Ps 111:9). Today, believers and unbelievers alike often profane God’s name: believers do it when they sin and dishonour God (Prov 30:9; 1 Tim 6:1); unbelievers do it when they blaspheme God’s name, His church and His followers (Rev 13:6).

“Your kingdom come” (v. 10). Jesus began His ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17; cf. Mk 1:15). Where is God’s kingdom? Firstly, Jesus tells us it “is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). He says, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). In other words, God’s kingdom is where He rules: it is both in heaven and within submissive hearts. As Christians, we should pray each day for God’s kingdom to be revealed and to joyfully anticipate the Lord’s second coming, when we shall enter that everlasting place (2 Pet 1:11).

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (v. 10). The Bible says that God’s purpose never changes (Heb 6:17) and that no one can hinder His will (Dan 4:35). Those who help to accomplish His will are the angels in heaven (Ps 103:20–21) and the believers on earth. However, because Satan is constantly trying to obstruct His work, and believers often fail to submit to His will, we need to pray that God’s will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven. Importantly, we should ask Him to fill us “with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col 1:9) so that we can implement it (Mt 7:21).

“Give us today our daily bread” (v. 11). God understands our needs (Mt 6:8, 32). Therefore, when we ask Him for our daily bread, He will answer us. Moreover, by asking, we acknowledge that everything comes from Him and that we are sustained by His grace. God says, “For the world is Mine, and all its fullness” (Ps 50:12).

Asking God to give us our daily bread also reminds us of a number of important biblical teachings related to Christian living:

* “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:33).

* “...Let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Eph 4:28).

* “That you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing” (1 Thess 4:11–12).

* “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim 6:8; cf. Prov 30:8–9).

* “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Lk 6:38).

* “...It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ ” (Mt 4:4; cf. Deut 8:3).

* “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (Jn 6:27).

“And forgive us our debts” (v. 12). We all have weaknesses; hence, even after water baptism, we may still commit wrongs, which can be likened to accruing debts before God. Elder James points out that merely failing to do what we know is right constitutes a sin (Jas 4:17). Therefore, he teaches us to confess our sins before God and to ask for forgiveness (1 Jn 1:7, 9). Thereafter, we should strive to do the “good works” that God has purposed for us and to be fruitful (Eph 2:10; Col 1:10; Tit 2:14).

“As we forgive our debtors” (v. 12). It is the Lord’s will that we forgive one another (Mt 6:14–15; 18:21–35; Mk 11:25–26). “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col 3:12–13); “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’ ” (1 Pet 4:8).

“And do not lead us into temptation” (v. 13). The Bible is clear that God would never tempt us or lead us to sin (Jas 1:13). For this reason, we take these words to be a request to God to save us from falling into sin (Mt 26:41; cf. Rom 1:24; Gal 6:1).

In another sense, “temptations”[1] can refer to the trials of life. We can ask God to protect us amidst life’s challenges, so that we do not depart from Him or do anything that compromises our faith. And when we ask, we can be assured of His help: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man;  but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13).

“But deliver us from the evil one” (v. 13). There are many reasons to ask God to deliver us from the evil one, including the latter’s wish to make us fall. But the devil can only work if we fail to curb our weaknesses: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jas 1:14–15). For this reason, we should ask God to strengthen us, so that we can obey Him, rather than our own desires. In this way, the devil will have no room to work: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7).

• Aside from leading us to sin, the devil may also try to attack us: to harm us physically or mentally, especially while we are serving God. We can see this from the life of Paul who had to face relentless persecutions. After being tried by the authorities on one occasion,  he declared,  “And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.  And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom...” (2 Tim 4:17–18). Hence, he offers us these words of comfort: “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thess 3:3).

• “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” (v. 13). These concluding words remind us that, as Christians, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).  One day,  we will reign with the Lord in His kingdom (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 22:5).

• The Lord’s Prayer ends with Amen[2](v. 13), a Greek word transliterated from Hebrew, meaning “verily” or “so let it be”. In saying this, we affirm the sincerity of our prayer and ask God to fulfil it.

Q6 Who should we pray for?

Christians have a responsibility to pray for everyone (1 Tim 2:1): ourselves (2 Cor 12:8–9); our families (e.g. 2 Sam 12:15–17); evangelists (Acts 12:5; Eph 6:19–20; 2 Thess 3:1–2); the sick (Jas 5:14); the demon-possessed (Mt 17:21); saints (Eph 6:18); sinners (1 Jn 5:16); kings and others in authority (1 Tim 2:2); our enemies (Mt 5:44). 

Q7 What can we pray for?

We can pray for any matter, as long as we seek God’s glory and divine will in the process (Jn 14:13–14; 1 Jn 5:14). Elder James tells us that we sometimes fail to receive things because we do not ask, or else, we ask out of wrong or selfish motives (Jas 4:2–3). What, then, can we ask for?

In relation to the church ministry, we can ask God to:

• send out workers to bring in the harvest (Mt 9:38).

• open the door for the gospel of salvation (Col 4:3; 2 Thess 3:1).

• give us courage and eloquence to preach the gospel (Eph 6:19–20).

• revive His work (Hab 3:2).

• stretch out His hand to perform signs and wonders (Mk 16:17–18; Acts 4:30).

• pour out His Holy Spirit on the believers (Acts 8:14–17).

In relation to our own faith, we can ask Him to:

• grant us the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13; Jn 4:10; 7:37–39).

• strengthen us “with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph 3:16).

• teach us His way (Ps 86:11).

• give us wisdom and knowledge (Eph 1:17; Jas 1:5).

• teach us to do His will (Ps 143:10).

• increase our faith and love (1 Thess 3:12).

• keep us in His love (Jude 20–21).

Q8 How should we begin our prayer?

We should begin each prayer by calling upon the name of Jesus. This is because Jesus says, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (Jn 14:13–14; cf. 15:16). Therefore, when we pray, we should first say, “In the name of Jesus, I pray…”

Another reason for praying in the name of Jesus is because it is God’s name: it was given by the heavenly Father to the Son (Jn 17:11–12). Therefore, we understand that Jesus is God Himself—a truth confirmed by Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6).

Q9 What makes for an effective prayer?

An effective prayer is the result of faith:

            But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

            James 1:6–8

The writer of Hebrews adds, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Also, Jesus offers us this encouragement: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mk 11:24).  

Additionally, the Bible shows that God answers the prayers of those who are righteous (Jas 5:16); humble and penitent (Lk 18:13–14); pure in heart (Mt 5:8; 2 Tim 2:22); devout and God-fearing (Acts 10:1–4); sincere (1 Sam 1:10–18); careful to keep His commandments (Lk 1:6, 13).

Q10 Why does God not always answer our prayers?

Elder John says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 Jn 5:14). From these words, we understand that one possible reason for unanswered prayers is their non-compliance with God’s will. In the Bible, we see such examples: Paul asked the Lord on three occasions to remove “a thorn in the flesh…a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor 12:7–8), but God chose not to answer his prayer in order to keep him from pride and conceit (2 Cor 12:7–8); Moses asked God to let him cross the Jordan to see Canaan, but God would not permit it on account of his earlier disobedience (Deut 3:25–27; Num 20:12; 27:12–14). 

Other reasons for unanswered prayers may include God’s timing (Eccl 3:1) and His desire to train up our faith (Lk 18:1; Rom 12:12). Furthermore, the Bible reminds us to keep watch over the condition of our heart, for God may reject our prayers if we fail to address certain shortcomings:

• Insincerity (Mt 15:8–9)

• Hypocrisy (Mt 6:5)

• Pride and self-righteousness (Job 35:12; Lk 18:9–14)

• Lack of forgiveness (Mt 5:23–24; 6:14–15)

• Doubt (Jas 1:6–8)

• Selfish motives (Jas 4:3)

• Sin and unrighteousness (Ps 66:18; Jn 9:31; 1 Pet 3:12)

Q11 How do people pray?

In the Bible, we see people praying in different ways: sitting down (2 Sam 7:18); standing (Lk 18:13); kneeling (Acts 20:36); falling prostrate (Mt 26:39); with hands lifted (1 Tim 2:8); looking up to heaven (Jn 11:41); with raised voice (Ezek 11:13; Acts 4:24); in silence (1 Sam 1:13); with tears (Heb 5:7); beating the breast (Lk 18:13); with joy (Lk 10:21). Whichever way we pray, it is important that we are motivated by sincerity and devotion to God. Jesus says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24).

Q12 What is the purpose of fasting prayers?

Fasting prayers are for those occasions when we need to devote ourselves to prayer. They enable us to humble ourselves and focus on God (Ps 35:13). People fast and pray for different reasons: to petition God for help in the face of difficulties; to ask for power to do His work; to repent and ask for forgiveness. Before Jesus started His ministry, He fasted for forty days and nights (Lk 4:1–2). The outcome was that He was able to overcome the temptations of the devil and was empowered by the Holy Spirit to take up the work entrusted to Him by the heavenly Father (Lk 4:13–14).

Q13 What words can we use when we pray?

We can pray in two ways: with words of understanding or with spiritual tongues. Paul, who was able to pray in both these ways, said, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding” (1 Cor 14:15). Here, “pray[ing] with the spirit” refers to prayers offered up in tongues—speaking mysteries through the Holy Spirit for self-edification (1 Cor 14:2, 4); while “pray[ing] with the understanding” refers to prayers made in understandable words. 

An important purpose of prayer is to praise God, and the Bible gives us a wonderful word to use:  Hallelujah,[3]  which means “Praise God”. In Revelation 19:1–6, a great multitude praises God with Hallelujahs, creating a sound like that of many waters and mighty thunderings. 

When we pray to God in words of understanding, we should be mindful of Jesus’ advice: “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” (Mt 6:7). His words remind us to pay attention to what we say because God sees into our heart.

Q14 What are the right conditions for prayer?

It is helpful to set aside a time and place for prayer. Firstly, we need to find somewhere quiet so that we can concentrate. We note that Jesus did exactly this: He habitually withdrew into the wilderness to pray (Lk 5:16). The purpose of a peaceful environment is to create the right conditions within our heart, such as inner quietness and devotion. Secondly, we should endeavour to pray at least three times a day (Ps 55:17; Dan 6:10). But, where necessary, we can pray anywhere—a silent prayer on the way to work or college, or a short prayer when we need God’s guidance, or simply to give thanks.

Furthermore, Paul encourages us to pray in the Spirit: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). When we pray in the Spirit, He intercedes for us in spiritual tongues that transcend the limitations of the human language: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:26–27). In short, when we pray in tongues, we have the confidence that the Holy Spirit will articulate our needs in the most appropriate way before God.


© 2012 True Jesus Church.

[1]      Greek, peirasmos. Strong’s reference no. G3986.

[2]      Strong’s reference no. G281.

[3]      Strong’s reference no. G239. Also spelt Alleluia.

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