“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are:] for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do:] for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”
“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as [it is] in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”Matt. 6:5-15
Prayer in History
To better understand the importance of prayer in scripture let us take a look back in history. The first evidence of prayer is noted early in the book of Genesis, “…then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” [Gen. 4:26b Prayer formed an integral part of Israelite life with their religion where its practices were prominently observed, “And it was [so,] that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.” [1 Kings 8:54]
Other records in the Old Testament also indicate not only the importance of prayer but also its prevalence in culture, “And whiles I [was] speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God.” [Dan. 9:20] King David also reflected frequent occurrences of praying to the Lord, where he often is quoted, “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct [my prayer] unto thee, and will look up.” [Ps. 5:3]
It was also the Lord God himself who spoke of the importance of prayer for the Israelites and at times with memorable verses in scripture. One of the most popular scriptural quotations on prayer, humility, repentance and forgiveness is expressed by the Lord as he said, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” [2 Chron. 7:14] Take careful note of the many points stated by the Lord as having importance in tandem with prayer such as being humble, seeking God, and turning from wicked ways.
A Portrait of Prayer
In general, most references to prayer in scripture illustrate the frequency of it, sometimes the intensity of it, the common acceptance of it as part of everyday life and the expectations from it in the form of answered prayer. This is all in contrast to the world today where prayer for the average person is likely quite infrequent, perhaps even unknown or seen as somewhat of a foreign thing to do in their daily lives. This is amidst a multitude of other pursuits and distractions, be it work, dining, fitness, hobbies, social media, entertainment, family, friends, etc., where prayer becomes sequestered aside from unexpected moments of crisis in someone’s life.
The importance of prayer though formed a very large part of religious life and still does for many people. In fact, Jesus is recorded close to twenty times in some form of prayer and at times with very lengthy instances noted in scripture. Even the disciples of Jesus sought his guidance on prayer, “And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” [Luke 11:1]
Repentance and Forgiveness
Jesus also supplemented the importance of forgiveness with prayer. This is reflective of God’s own forgiveness upon repentant people as Jesus stated, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” [Mark 11:25] This mirrored the vital aspect of repentance and forgiveness from Old Testament scriptures. In the following verse it records God’s reaction to prayer from his unrepentant people, “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” [Is. 1:15]
So here, in summary, this week’s scripture reading brings many observations about the importance of prayer. Some of these are as follows – that there is an expectation that people actually pray, that it is important to avoid repetitive prayers, that the heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask, that Jesus suggests a recommended format for prayer, that God’s place and position in life is foundational to faith, and finally that praying for essential needs is acceptable, be it food, deliverance from temptation and evil and that forgiveness forms an important part of prayer.
Simplicity of Prayer
But just how does a person go about praying, especially if they have never prayed to God or have fallen away from prayer in their daily lives? Unlike other and perhaps more regimented religions of the world, Christianity does not mandate specific times for prayer, positions for prayer, i.e. whether standing, kneeling, bowing, on the face, etc., or prayer before images, idols or altars.
In short, prayer should be seen as more conversational, almost like someone is talking to a very dear and close friend who cares for your wellbeing, who listens to every single word you say without interruption, who knows your very needs, whether private or public and who loves you unconditionally, without reservation. That is really prayer to the Lord God.
In today’s world, it can occur any second of the day while walking, running, standing, sitting, kneeling or lying down, while in a plane, train, bus or automobile (eyes open). It does not need to be, nor should it be draped in formalities, pleasantries, incantations, repetitive phrases or anything of that nature. God is a heart seeker and he is looking to see what is in your heart and soul, your inward motives and thoughts. He is after all, the all knowing, all powerful and always present Lord God almighty.
In the early days of Christianity, Paul also wrote about the importance of prayer by teaching people that, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what [is] the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to [the will of] God. ” [Rom. 8:26-27] Here you have the Holy Spirit making intercession for believers while praying; what an incredible blessing to know for believers in faith.
Similarly, Jesus is noted as the mediator for believers in the faith as Paul writes, “For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” [1 Tim. 2:5] With this level of awe inspiring power interceding and mediating on our behalf, one cannot help but be reminded of Paul’s notable comment when he says, “What shall we then say to these things? If God [be] for us, who [can be] against us?” [Rom. 8:31]
For many people who pray, there may often be a feeling that prayer requests are not heard and while God does not audibly converse with individuals in this age, people should never become disheartened. The omnipresent God is indeed hearing prayers as shown in this passage of scripture, “But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard.” [Luke 1:13a] It should also be reassuring for individuals that God’s omnipresence is confirmed in scripture for all who seek him, “For the eyes of the Lord [are] over the righteous, and his ears [are open] unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord [is] against them that do evil.” [1 Pet. 3:12]
A second example of this is found in in this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian [band, A devout [man,] and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” [Acts 10:1-4] In both of the above cases, the Lord God heard the prayers of the faithful and fervent believers in him.
Prayer and Faith
There are also countless instances on the importance of prayer recorded within the letters written to the early churches, serving as excellent examples of godly living, “Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” [Jam. 5:6] Similar comments were written by the apostle John highlighting the confidence in answered prayer while living an obedient life in Christ, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” [1 John 3:22]
Paul, who wrote the majority of letters to the churches in the New Testament, could be described as the proverbial prayer warrior with his frequent mentions of prayer, “Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?” [1 Thes. 3:10] Paul’s comments continue to support the frequency and fervency of prayer life for early Christians as he wrote, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” [Eph. 6:18]
It can be confidently concluded that prayer formed a fundamental part of early Christian life, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” [Acts 2:42] One final example from Paul’s writings helps to further emphasize the importance of prayer in the believer’s life as he encourages us to, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” [Phil. 4:6]
To close off this Bible study on the importance of prayer, readers should consider where prayer could be introduced into their daily lives in seeking God with an open heart as David wrote, “Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.” [Ps. 54:2] Prayer should indeed become part of a believer’s daily walk with the Lord as Paul inspired early Christians with this promise, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Thes. 5:23]
Prayers of Jesus
Finally, let us end with two most notable quotes on prayer from Jesus for lasting inspiration upon your faith. The first one was when he prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon believers, noting earlier how the Spirit intercedes for us in our time of need, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.” [John 14:16] To think that the Holy Spirit will always comfort us in our time of need should be solace to our soul and spirit.
The second and most notable example of a prayer from Jesus was when he was in painful agony during his crucifixion while dying on the cross for the sins of humanity. This helps to illustrate that prayer does not need to be long and arduous; it really only needs to express what is most important at the time. In this case, the Lord Jesus Christ is atoning for the sins of mankind and yet still has such incredible compassion upon people to ask the heavenly Father to forgive his accusers in his last breath, “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34]. That statement alone should be encouragement enough for all of us to come to God in prayer for all of our heartfelt needs!
Bible Study Questions
- In Daniel 9:20, can you identify an important part of prayer that could impede your prayer life if it is not done?
- In the section Portrait of Prayer, name four points about prayer from scripture.
- Why do you think forgiving people forms an essential part on the importance of prayer in life?
- From the section Simplicity of Prayer, how would you describe prayer to someone who was interested in learning?
- In the section Godly intercession, who intercedes for us during our prayers?
- In the section Godly Intercession, who mediates for us during our prayers?
- In contemplating the importance of prayer, who in your life would you like to pray for right now who could use God’s love, mercy and compassion?
WORD GUIDE – * (closet – small room) * (heathen – an unbeliever in God) * (hallowed – holy, sacred) * ( supplication – humble prayer and petition) * ( ought – something against someone) * (alms – giving to the needy) * (effectual – effective) * (fervent – intensity of spirit) * (supplication – humble petition and prayer) * (mediator – one who is an intermediary on our behalf) * ( comforter – another name for the Holy Spirit)