|The Word on Prayer
Written January 15, 2008 By Joe Cunningham
There have been a lot of prayers being said lately, most recently having to do with our family and friends in So. Cal who are
being affected by the brush fires. This prompted me to finish a bible study that I had started on prayer.
When I began to study Scripture, my eyes were opened to a God that I had never known before. I used to think of God as
this white hair and bearded being, sitting on a giant throne in heaven, watching us as we trudge our way through this life,
completely unwilling to raise a finger to help unless we beg and plead to the point that He is so completely exhausted of
hearing us whine that He grants us our “wish” for no other reason than to simply shut us up so that He can have some
peace. I felt completely unworthy to approach such a powerful God, so I just simply didn’t…I walked away. And sadly, I found
that a lot of people feel the same way…what a shame. Others take a different approach by praying through the Virgin Mary
or the Saints, hoping that these people have a direct line to God’s ear, and may intercede for us.
Why do we feel so unworthy to approach our Heavenly Father?
The God that has revealed Himself in Scripture is a God that wants each and every one of us to know Him intimately in every
aspect of our life. And, He has made a way for us to do just that.
In this study, I hope to address some of the basic components of prayer; Is there a right and wrong way to pray? Should we
pray directly to God, or is it better to use a mediator? Are there any special words that can be said that invoke certain
results? Does God answer every prayer? Is an "answered prayer" when we get what we want, or when we get what God
wants for us?
I write these bible studies because I realized that, growing up, I never had a clear understanding of God. And, in talking to
others, I find that most people don't. The bible is the Word of God and was given to us to answer all of the questions in life.
It really is very easy to understand, if you take the time to study. So don't be afraid to dust off that old bible that has been
sitting on a shelf, and start reading.
In Ephesians 6:13-18, Paul talks about using every piece of God’s armor to protect ourselves from the Enemy. All of the
pieces are defensive tools except for one – “The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Just as a swordsman must
practice to be proficient with a sword, we need to practice to be proficient with the Word.
My feeling is that having a better understanding of what Scripture teaches about prayer can only improve our prayer life.
Our prayer life is the key to our relationship with God.
Jesus is the way
During the Last Supper, Jesus reminded the Apostles of things that He had taught them. He reaffirmed that He and the
Father are one, that He is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father accept through Him. (John 14:6-
11) He promised that the Holy Spirit would come and dwell in them and remind them of everything that Jesus had taught
them. (John 14:26 & John 16:5-8) He told them that they would be saddened by His death, but their tears will turn to joy
when they realize that He is risen (John 16:19-22).
Then, He taught them about prayer. “At that time you won’t need to ask Me for anything. The truth is, you can go directly to
the Father and ask Him, and He will grant your request because you use My Name. You haven’t done this before. Ask,
using My Name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. (John 16:23-24 NLT).
“Then you will ask in My Name. I’m not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father Himself loves you
dearly because you love Me, and believe that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27 NLT)
The point is: Through His death and resurrection, Jesus became the conduit between man and God. In the Old Testament,
the people went to the priest, and the priest would go to God on their behalf in the temple, separated by the curtain that
blocked their view of the Most Holy Place. Jesus is saying that we no longer need the earthly high priest, and that we can go
directly to God on our own, because He Himself is now our High Priest that sits at the right hand of The Father. (Hebrews 2:
17-18, Hebrews 7:23-28, Hebrews 8:1-6)
When Christ died on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, (from God to man) allowing all
people access to the Most Holy Place. (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38)
Now please understand this… this is important: As believers in Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit who is God dwelling within
us. We know the Father is God in Heaven. And, Christ is God acting as the way between man and God. Isn’t it awesome to
think that our God provided us with such a perfect way of communicating and fellowshipping with Him? All three are one in
the same God. Can there possibly be any better link between God and man? (Hebrews 10:19-23)
The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy about prayer by saying, “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile
God and people. He is the God-man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6
The Spirit grieves
Isaiah 63:10 says that the Holy Spirit grieves for us. So, with that said, allow me to ask you this:
“If you were God, and you did all that you have done for us humans, wouldn’t you feel “grieved” at the fact that us humans
feel that we can’t come directly to you?”
He knows all hearts, and He feels our pain. He watches us as we trudge through our lives, dragging the guilt and shame
behind us. The Holy Spirit works constantly and continually to draw us to Himself, and gives us countless opportunities to
turn to Him. But, at the same time, Satan – The Accuser – is whispering in our ears, confirming our beliefs that we are in fact
unworthy to go directly to God. “He won’t listen to you, you’re a sinner! What makes you think that you can talk directly to
the Father? He doesn’t care about you. He’s more concerned about the starving kids in Africa then He is about you. You
got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out.”
It’s one thing for us to feel unworthy – that’s our human condition. But, it is a completely different thing to reject the gift that
God gave us by sending His Son to die for us on the cross, to pay for our sins, and to give us access directly to the Father.
But still, our feelings of unworthiness and shame give us cause for doubt. So we don’t pray at all, or maybe we pray through
a saint or the Virgin Mary, hoping that they might have the spiritual clout to get God’s attention. And, the Spirit grieves.
Let me paint a picture to use as an example: My Mom, Betty, has all 25 of her grandkids over to the house. They are all
playing outside while She and Aunt Dotty are sitting on the couch in the living room. One of the grandkids comes in and asks
Aunt Dotty if she could have a glass of water. Dot looks at Mom and asks, “Betty, is it OK if they have a glass of water?”
Mom replies, “Of course it is.” So, Dot turns to the child and says, “Yes, Grandma says it’s OK.” A few minutes later, another
grandchild comes in and asks Aunt Dotty, “May I have a cookie?” Dot looks at Mom and asks, “Bet, is it OK if they have a
cookie?” Mom replies, “Of course, they may have a cookie.” Dot turns to the child and says, “Yes, Grandma says you may
have a cookie.” After a few more grandkids ask similar questions, Mom would have to be thinking to herself, “Why don’t they
just ask me? I’m sitting right here just as accessible as Dot, I’m their Grandma, I know what they want and I know what they
need. I love them more than Dot, and I can give them so much more because I’m their Grandma! I don’t have to ask
anybody’s permission. I could give them things without them even asking me. So, why don’t they come directly to me?”
I have to think that God feels the same way. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. He knows what we want and what
we need before we even know that we want or need it. His desire is to fellowship with us, to communicate with us, to bless us,
and to give us all that we need. He is our Father, and “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how
much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11 NLT)
The cosmic slot machine
During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “And now about prayer. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love
to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward
they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly.
Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other
religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them,
because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)
We tend to think of God as some sort of a “cosmic slot machine”. If we put in enough quarters (words), and pull the handle
enough times (prayers), we might just hit the jackpot (an answered prayer)… We might just get God to change His mind. Is
that how you see God? Don’t feel alone, most people do.
The Old Testament gives us a glimpse at the attributes of God, and one of those is the fact that He is unchangeable. (1
Samuel 15:29). God absolutely, positively, cannot change His mind. He has been the same from the beginning and will
always be the same. It is His nature. So, if we have absolutely no chance of changing God’s mind, why do we bother to pray?
Jesus continued in Matthew 6:9 by giving us the example of a perfect prayer – It is what we call the “Lord’s Prayer” or the
“Our Father”. Christ just finished saying not to repeat words over and over, and then He gives us the Lord’s Prayer? In
every translation that I could find, verse 9 starts by Jesus saying, “Prayer like this….” Not “repeat these words”. He gave us
the format of a prayer, not the words to say. (1) Give honor and glory to God because it is His and His alone. (2) Trust in
God’s promise that His Kingdom will come soon. (3) Ask God that His Will be done in our lives. (4) Ask God to give us what
He knows we need – not just what we want. (5) Ask Him to forgive our sins only after we forgive others sins against us
(Matthew 6:14-15). (6) Admit that we are powerless against temptation and that we need God’s help.
So, why do we bother to pray?
So, why do we bother to pray? Prayer is our intimate communication with our Heavenly Father. It is our time to give Him
honor and glory, to verbally express our faith and trust in Him, to ask for His forgiveness, to admit our need for Him, to bring
our desires before Him, to align "our will" with "His will" (not the other way around.), and to patiently wait for His perfect timing.
Think about this: If the Father who knows all hearts, knows what we are about to ask – even before we ask it, it would stand
to reason that our words and our petition, are not as important as our faith and trust that He, in fact, is trustworthy in
answering our prayers. Our faith and trust in God is the catalyst that aligns our will with His Will. God’s Will - will be done,
and there is no one or no thing that can change it or stop it.
Let’s stop and ponder that last paragraph. Go ahead and read it again. Prayer is an act of faith that aligns our will with God’
s Will. The definition of an answered prayer is when our will comes into alignment with God’s Will. God’s Will can’t change.
Our will is the one that needs to change.
I’m sure that some may see this as a hopeless situation, and once again, return to the question, “Why bother to pray.” If God
has predetermined the course of our lives, we might as well eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die (That
expression comes from Isaiah 22:13, and Paul quotes it again in 1 Corinthians 15:32). I’m afraid that I might be going off on
a tangent, but I feel it’s important to finish this point: The fact that God knows every second of our lives does not mean that
He determines the course of our lives. We make the choices that determine the direction of our lives. We do….not God.
The simple fact that He knows it doesn’t change the fact that we are fully capable of making a huge mess of our lives.
I believe it all comes down to one simple point: The sole purpose of us taking this walk of life is to align our will with His Will,
though faith. As we walk the walk, we have the choice of either doing it God’s way, or doing it our own way. The more we
learn to do it God’s way, the more we begin to think like Him. And, the more we begin to think like Him will have a bearing on
the choices we make that determine the direction of our lives. And finally, when the direction of our lives is focused on God,
we will begin to see things from His perspective, and our relationship with Him grows.
So, why bother to pray? Because we don’t know God’s Will, and the only way to find out is to ask.
We are part of His family
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome: “So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should
behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into His family – calling Him, “Abba, Father.” For His Holy Spirit speaks
to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16 NLT)
In first century Rome, a slave being adopted into someone’s family was a HUGE legal deal. This meant that the father chose
to bring him into the family. And, because of that, he was given full legal and inheritance rights – equal to his natural
children. In the first century world view, there couldn’t be anything better.
Before his conversion, Paul was first and foremost, a Roman citizen. Born Saul of Tarsus, his training under the great
Gamaliel was the finest available. He was a Pharisee, and a good one at that. He knew scripture as well as it could be
known. He was a Jew by religion, but always a Roman.
Paul was uniquely qualified to speak to the Roman Church in his letter. He knew the significance of a non-Roman being
adopted by a Roman citizen. But, he also knew the significance of a Roman citizen pledging his allegiance to anyone other
than Caesar. This type of treason would result in death. The Roman Christians were being persecuted. Paul reminded
them to be strong in their faith, because they are God’s children. We are also God’s children. Do we have the faith to put
our belief in God before all other titles? We need to.
The Holy Spirit pleads
Then Paul continues, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how
we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who
knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.”
(Romans 8:26-27 NLT)
Sometimes, we just need to learn to be quiet and watch the Holy Spirit work in our lives. God didn’t waste any part of Paul –
his background, his training, his citizenship, his mind, or even his weaknesses. Are we willing to let God do the same in us?
Can we be still and let the Spirit pray for us? Or, are we afraid of the direction He may lead us? Trust in Him.
Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper, or fret about
their wicked schemes. (Psalm 37:7 NLT)
Be still and know that I am God… (Psalm 46:10 NIV)
There have been many times in my life where I didn’t know which way to turn. My mind was racing with so many thoughts and
feelings that I had no idea what to do next. The more I tried to reason them out in my own mind, the more confused I
became. My prayer was simply, “Help me Father, help me. You know what I need, let Your Will be done.” In Revelation 3,
verse 7, Jesus says of Himself, “…This is the message from the one that is Holy and True. He is the one who has the key of
David. He opens doors, and no one can shut them; He shuts doors, and no one can open them.” At times, I simply pray that
He opens the doors that I need opened, and shuts the doors that I need closed. Let the Holy Spirit decide which is which.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in
all of your ways, and he will make your path straight." Can we put all of our human reasoning aside, and put our trust in the
hands of God? More importantly, can we give Him all of our attention - all of our praise and glory - and trust that He will guide
us on the right path?
Shut up and listen
Jesus said, “You have not because you ask not.” So start asking. But, remember to listen. We bring our petitions before
God the same way that a child asks a parent. Only our Heavenly Father is perfect in His wisdom and emotion.
A child may ask their earthly father if they could climb a tree to get a ball that is stuck in a branch. The earthly father could
just simply say, “No – it’s too dangerous”, and leave it at that. The child would most likely go away frustrated and upset.
Hypothetically, Our Heavenly Father would say something more on the lines of, “No – it’s too dangerous”, but let me provide
you with a ladder that would be safer. And, let me hold it while you climb.
The point is that the answer the child was looking for was, YES. Unfortunately, we shut off our ears at the first, No, and didn’t
bother to listen to either answer.
So, do we just give up and say it wasn’t meant to be? It wasn’t God’s Will? Would a child give up that easy? Of course not!
We continue to pray, and we seek God’s Will. He wants to provide for us in a way that only He knows how. So keep asking,
and keep listening.
We need to learn to listen for God’s answer, not ours.
Let’s say, before you go to bed, you pray for the relief of a back pain. You wake up in the morning, and the pain is still
there. You lay there thinking that maybe you need to pray harder, or get a group of people together to pray with you. The
phone rings and a friend asks you to come to the gym and work out. You say, “I can’t possibly work out, I have this terrible
back ache”. The friend goes to the gym without you. You call around and get a couple of friends together to pray with you.
You wake up the next morning and still have the back pain. Your friend calls again to ask you to come to the gym. And
again you say, “I still have this back pain, I couldn’t possibly work out”. Your friend says, “Who knows, it might be exactly
what you need”. You say, “No, I’ve been praying on this, and I have faith that the Lord will heal me”.
Sure the Lord wants to heal you, but maybe He wants you to get off your back and go to the gym in order to do it. Listen for
the leading of the Spirit even though it might not make sense to us at the time.
Don’t just stand there, do something!
I’ve often heard of people who pray for years for specific things. Sometimes it takes years, so by all means, keep praying.
Sometimes we pray that our loved ones will come to the Lord. Or, we pray that Jesus will come again and establish His
Kingdom. These are things that need our continual prayer.
But, sometimes we pray for things that we need to do, and we use God as an excuse for why they aren’t getting done. As an
example; Say, you run your credit cards up, and find yourself owing $50,000. Don’t just sit there and pray that God will
provide you with $50,000 to pay your bills – Get a job!
In Exodus 14, the Hebrews had just left Egypt and realized that Pharaoh changed his mind and sent the entire Egyptian army
to chase them down and slaughter them. They were standing at the shore of the Red Sea, and they were trapped. The
Hebrews complained to Moses that he should have left them in Egypt, because now they were going to die in the wilderness.
But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you. The Egyptians that
you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. You won’t have to lift a finger in your defense!”
Moses felt he was right in saying that, but the Lord had something else in mind.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the people to get moving! Use your shepherd’s staff –
hold it out over the water, and a path will open before you through the sea.” (Exodus 14:15-16)
Sometimes, all we can do is pray. But, when there is something that needs to be done, we need to do it. We can’t always
work in our own comfort zone. Take Moses for example; God called Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt. God
told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go. Moses came up with every excuse he could imagine to get out of this mission
from God. He said, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” “Who should I say sent me?” “What happens if they don’t
believe me?” “I’m not a good speaker, I’m clumsy with words” “Can’t you just send somebody else?” “How about my brother
Aaron, he’s a Levite – He’s good at this kind of stuff.” (Exodus 4) God told Moses, “Now go, and do as I have told you. I will
help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say.” (Exodus 4:12 NLT) God will do the same for us. He will take what little we
have to offer and use it for His Glory. Christ told Paul, “…My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your
weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT) So get moving!
So, what are we afraid of?
So, what are we afraid of? Are we afraid that we are not worthy to stand before a perfect God? Are we afraid that we don’t
have the “clout” to bring our petition before God? Do we think that our need is too simple for God to waste His time
answering? Paul wrote to the church in Colosse;
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation.
Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things
we can’t see – kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through Him and for Him. He existed
before everything else began, and He holds all creation together. Christ is the head of the church, which is His body. He is
the first of all who will rise from the dead, so He is first in everything. For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
and by Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of His
blood on the cross. This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were His enemies, separated from Him by
your evil thoughts and actions, yet now He has brought you back as His friends. He has done this through His death on the
cross in His human body. As a result, He has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as
you stand before Him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand in it firmly. Don’t drift away
from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world,
and I, Paul, have been appointed by God to proclaim it.” (Colossians 1:18-23 NLT)
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God Himself, deserves to be first in all things in our lives. And, through His mercy and
grace, He has given us access directly to the Father. It’s only by His sacrifice that we can stand holy and blameless before
God. It is by believing in Him that we cover ourselves with His blood, and we take on His Righteousness (Romans 5:17). It
has nothing to do with us, it is all about Him. We can never make ourselves right before God. We can’t fast enough, or take
the sacraments enough. We can’t do enough good deeds, or be a good enough person. We can’t praise or worship enough
to earn our way to God. The thing that is so hard to understand is that all we have to do is believe in Christ, and accept His
free gift. (Romans 5:15-19)
Remember this: We are made righteous before God because Christ paid the debt that we could not pay. “For the wages of
sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Examples of prayer
There are hundreds of examples of powerful prayers throughout scripture. In 2 Kings 19:14-19, King Hezekiah of Israel just
received word that the Assyrian army was on its way. Israel would certainly be destroyed. His is an example of prayer when
your enemy is closing in and you feel that you have no way out.
In Psalm 139, King David offers up an incredible prayer of thanksgiving, faith, and trust.
In Daniel 9, all of Israel had been taken captive by the Babylonians. The Israelites had lost all faith and hope, so Daniel the
prophet knelt down and prayed a prayer of intercession for the people of Israel. His prayer was interrupted by the Angel
Gabriel who told him, “The moment you began praying, a command was given. I am here to tell you what it was, for God
loves you very much…” (Daniel 9:23) God answered Daniels prayer before he even prayed it.
From before time even began, God knew that exact moment when Daniel got down on his knees, and in faith, uttered the first
word of his prayer. Daniel could have just as easily said to himself, “I’ve been praying three times a day, every day since I
was a boy, God’s not gonna miss me if I don’t pray this one time.” We’ve all felt that way before, haven’t we? We see a
person in need. We think about praying for them, but we are quickly distracted. We miss that moment in time when our will
would have been in alignment with God’s Will. We know, looking back in scripture, that if Daniel would have made that
choice, world history would have changed.
In Matthew 21:21-22, Jesus teaches that if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
In Mark 11:24-25, Jesus teaches that before you pray you must first forgive anyone that you are holding a grudge against.
In Luke 11:5-10, Jesus teaches to keep praying. “Keep asking and you will be given, keep looking and you will find, keep
knocking and the door will be opened. For whoever asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. Whoever knocks, the door will
Prayer is so much more than getting something from God. It is worship, it is praise, it is fellowship, and it is learning how to
align our will with Gods will. It is the ultimate expression of our faith in God. It is getting to know our Heavenly Father on an
So how do we learn to pray? You simply say what’s on your heart. Say the same things that you would tell your best friend
in secret, or your mom and dad when you’re hurting, or your brothers and sisters when you’re scared. Cry to God when you
feel like crying, speak softly if you’re embarrassed, yell and scream if you’re mad. He won’t hold it against you….He’s a big
God, He can handle it. But, open your eyes, and watch patiently for His answer. That’s the hard part. We tend to look for
the answer that we are asking for. That might not be God’s answer. I mentioned, in a previous bible study, to watch for the
guidance of the Holy Spirit…the road blocks and detours that He puts in your path. All of those are put in place to steer our
will in the direction of God’s Will.
Prayer takes on many different forms. You can pray alone, or you can pray with others. Jesus taught, “Where two or more
are gathered together because they are mine, I will be there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
This is the message of the Gospel that is repeated over and over in the 21 epistles of the New Testament. This is the
message that Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude recorded, and all of the early disciples spread throughout the known world.
This is the Good News.
Again to the church in Rome, Paul wrote: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can’t,
and life can’t. The angels can’t and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries for tomorrow, and even the powers of
hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever
be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NLT)
Nothing can ever separate us from His love… Nothing. But, each of us has to ask ourselves where Christ is in our life. Is He
first in everything as He should be? Or does He take a back seat in our prayer life? Is He the focus of your Salvation, or are
you relying on being a good enough person to get you to heaven? Do you go to church to get something from God, or give
something to God?
Our God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, deserves our worship, our praise, our honor and our glory. He deserves
to be the one and only God, Helper, Counselor, Teacher, Friend, Mediator, and Savior. He longs to be the one to help us
find what we have lost, to lose what we don’t need, and to provide us with everything we do need. And through His Grace
and Mercy, He is always drawing us back to Himself.
So pray to the Father, through the help of the Holy Spirit, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and see what
happens. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “But anyone who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 9:33)
All glory and honor is Yours Almighty Father, forever and ever…Amen.
I hope this study has been a blessing to you. Your questions and comments are always welcome but never necessary.
May the grace of God be with you all,