Foundations in Faith 3:

Principles of Prayer

In the moment that we surrender to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we begin a personal encounter with God which will last for all eternity. God's gift to all who have trusted in His Son is not only the forgiveness of our sins but also the great treasure of sharing life with Him, now and forever.  This is abundant life, everlasting life — the life of God.  

As we live this new life, God wants us to grow in our relationship with Him.  One of the ways we grow is through prayer.

No healthy relationship can survive long seasons of silence or miscommunication. Our friendship with God is no different.  In order for a relationship to grow it requires communion and conversation. Prayer involves both.

Prayer is much more than a ritual or a formal religious exercise.  It is conversation arising out of our communion with the God who has reconciled us to Himself. Since prayer is such an essential part of our life in Christ, let’s consider some principles and questions.

A. Take a moment and read Matthew 6:5,6

Jesus advises us not to pray to be heard or seen by people. Rather,“When you pray, go into your inner room” (Matthew 6:5,6). The “inner room” can be any place that we are — it is the secret place of communion with God, a place of intimate fellowship and conversation. In that secret place, “Your Father who is in secret ... sees what is done in secret.” What is it that our Lord sees? Our heart, our true motive in praying. 

He “will reward you.” What is our reward? 

God Himself. It is God who meets us in the secret place and opens His heart and mind to us. He opens the storehouse of resources which He has purposed for us. He lavishes upon us His wisdom, His grace and kindness and mercy. He heals the broken and sets the captive free. He cleanses the guilty and restores that which was lost.

B. Take a moment and read Matthew 6:7

What does Jesus mean by "meaningless repetition?"

If a loved one only expressed devotion with these words, "Roses are red, violets are blue,” would  you wonder about his or her sincerity and passion? If someone only spoke to you in superficial ways, what would you think about their love for you? If prayer is conversation arising out of a personal friendship with God, then what kind of prayer do you suppose is most meaningful to God?

Meaningless repetition isn't about how many or how few words we use.  It's about what our words reveal or fail to reveal about our love for God or for anyone. It’s not that it’s wrong to read or recite prayers, as long as we are sincere and engaged from the heart. But God is not impressed by the multitude of our words or any words without a conscious engagement of the heart. 

God is impressed by the soul that truly, deeply longs for communion with Him.

C. Take a moment and read Matthew 6:8

“For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” If God knows our need before we pray, then why pray? In fact, God knows all truth that could ever be known. Furthermore, God has always known all that He purposes to do, from before the beginning to beyond the end. And God possesses all power and authority to accomplish all that He has purposed.

Then why should we pray?

1. We pray because God has invited us to pray. Even as God invited us into relationship with Himself, He also invites us into conversation with Himself.

2. We pray because God has not only ordained the end point of His purpose in history. He has also ordained the means to arrive at that end. Our prayers are part of the means which God is using to bring history to His conclusion. Prayer, then, is a partnership between God and the one who prays, as the Lord weaves our prayers into the accomplishment of His purpose.

3. We pray because as we pray, God changes us in conformity to the answer that He desires to release in response to our prayer and positions us to be part of His answer.

4. We pray, not to inform God but to agree with what He shows us. We are taking ownership of whatever God is showing us about our life, our family, our church, our nation and our world.

5. We are expressing trust in opening our heart and need to God, demonstrating faith that God cares enough to listen, that He hears us and will act based on perfect wisdom and perfect love.

6. We are placing our lives in a position where we can hear from God. Two beings are communicating — a God-being and a human being.  This is mature relationship.

7. We are opening a door for the release of God's answer.  John Wesley said:  "It appears that God does not move in human history except in response to prayer.” Only God can answer prayer but God only answers in response to prayer.

Foundations in Faith 3:


A Pattern for Prayer

Take a moment and read Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4

“And it happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught His disciples’” (Luke 11:1).

Notice the different versions of this prayer found in Matthew and Luke, both of whom were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Multiple versions indicate that Jesus taught this prayer on more than one occasion and did not intend that we memorize it and recite it back to Him.

The disciple did not ask Jesus to teach him a prayer. He  said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He wanted to learn how to pray effectively.

Jesus responded, "When you pray, say …" (Luke 11:2). In Matthew’s version, Jesus said, "Pray then in this way” (Matthew 6:9). He did not mean, “Write this down on a 3 by 5 card and say it back to me.” He meant, “This is the way of prayer.” He intended that this prayer be used as a guide, as principles for effective praying. 

Let’s examine these principles.

1. (Matthew 6:9)  “Our Father who is in heaven.”

a. What does it mean to pray to "our Father”?

There are many names for God in the Old Testament and God is at times referred to as a Father to Israel but nowhere in the Old Testament does anyone pray to God as Father. However, Jesus consistently spoke of God and prayed to God as Father. The Greek word is Pater but Jesus taught in the common language of Aramaic and used the familiar Abba which is a very personal, informal, childlike word (the English equivalent would be Pappa). Abba, Father, denotes a personal God who can be known intimately.

b. He is our Father “in heaven.”

God transcends our culture, our generation, our universe. He is greater than, other than, all that we know. He is before and beyond all time, Creator and Sustainer of all life. Yet this transcendent God humbles Himself to hear the prayer of the smallest child. Indeed, not a sparrow falls without His knowing (Matt. 10:29). He is Abba but not bound by time or place or ritual.

c. Our concept of God profoundly shapes our relationship with God and our prayers.

If we conceive of God as distant, uncaring, cold or cruel, why would we draw near to that God in prayer. If we think of God as unhearing, deaf to our voice, why would we pray at all?  If we know God to be perfectly wise, just, holy and loving, wanting us to draw near to Him as He has drawn near to us, why would we not pray?

It is important that we grasp this balance: God is our Abba, close, personal, intimately concerned with the details of our life. But though God is present, He is also in heaven, transcending my culture, my generation, unbound by human will.

2. (Matthew 6:9)  Hallowed be your name.

God’s name represents His being, His attributes. His name is the summation of His glory. To hallow God’s name means we reverence God as the Holy One. We move into our prayer time through worship, confessing our adoration, our awe at the majesty, greatness, wisdom, mercy, power and beauty of God. We are saying, "Lord I recognize your holiness, I bow in worshipful surrender before your loving, holy authority."

God wants us to know and enjoy Him in intimate conversation and communion — our Abba.  But He will not be conned or manipulated, as if prayer or any other ritual were a device for trapping Him, drawing Him into our control. Yes, He is our Abba but He is also the holy God who transcends all the universe, the God who is other than and beyond all that we know, awesome in majesty.

3. (Matthew 6:10)  "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

a. Your kingdom come:

This is not a prayer for the second coming of Jesus. That prayer is, "Even so, come quickly."

This is not a prayer for salvation or that insures salvation. We are saved because we place our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, not because of any prayer or ritual. The truth is, many pray the Lord's prayer who do not know the Lord and are not redeemed.

“Thy kingdom come” is an invitation to God to enter our daily circumstances, our community, our church, our nation, our world. We are not just parroting a phrase back to God but praying, interceding for the entrance of God into the times and places of our daily living.  

Circumstances don't change until God enters and God enters because those who have been given authority on earth exercise it through prayer. When we pray according to God's will, we are doing God's will on earth.

Daniel, the Old Testament prophet, was living in exile after the destruction of Israel by the Babylonians. As he read from the prophet Jeremiah, he realized the years were ended for Jerusalem's judgment — it was time to return and rebuild the nation. He prayed with confidence for the restoring of Israel because he understood the will of God (Daniel 9:1-19).

What happened? After he prayed, the king of Persia issued a decree that the Jews could return to their home land. They did and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. The cynic would say, “God would have brought that about even if Daniel had not prayed.” The truth is that God did not move, Israel was not released, the temple was not rebuilt, until Daniel prayed.

Years later, though the temple had been rebuilt, the city of Jerusalem was still in ruins. Nehemiah prayed for the purpose of God to be realized and God moved through Nehemiah for the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4-11). 

b. Your will be done.

The kingdom of God is breaking into history. Our prayer life is part of this inbreaking. God wants our prayers to be broader than our own circumstances. He wants us to embrace His kingdom purpose in history. This keeps us from being near-sighted, self consumed. Prayer is not just about us but us in relation to the eternal purpose of God.

4. (Matthew 6:11)  "Give us this day our daily bread."

a. Do we have the right to pray about common, ordinary needs?

Yes! God does not want our prayer to be so other-minded that we forget our own needs.  God wants us to lift up every concern.  It's true, Jesus said, "Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat ..." (Matthew 6:25). That doesn't mean don't pray — just pray without anxiety.

b. How can I do this without becoming selfish or petty in my praying?

We pray for personal needs while maintaining the perspective that we are active participants in the Kingdom of God. As we pray over our own needs and God answers, this is another sign of the Kingdom of God breaking into history.

c. God already knows my needs, why say anything?

When I pray about the needs of my family, my church, those around me, I am not telling God what He does not know. I am agreeing with what He showed me. I am taking accountability for the resources needed to accomplish His purpose in my life.

5. (Matthew 6:12)  "And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

In order to partner with God in kingdom work, to receive daily bread and to fellowship with God, there can be no unconfessed sin separating us from God. We need daily to confess sin, asking and receiving forgiveness. But we also need to be willing to grant that same forgiveness to others. In fact, in Matthew 6:14,15, we read that our forgiveness of others impacts our experience of God's forgiveness to us. 

Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is dependent on our forgiveness of others. God’s grace is available because of what Jesus did on the cross as the holy Lamb who died for sinners. But as we ask the Father for grace and mercy regarding our failures and sins, we need to release that same grace and mercy toward others. 

If I want to stand in the flow of Kingdom blessing then I must live and pray like a Kingdom person — blessing as God blesses, forgiving as God forgives. The right to come before God and speak to Him in personal fellowship, in intimate communion, belongs to those who are in right relation with God and with their brothers and sisters in the Kingdom community.  

In refusing to forgive others, we are deliberately sinning against God because forgiveness is a command. Unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment and all unconfessed sin can hold up answers to prayer, thereby preventing us from experiencing the blessings that God wants to release to us and through us. Unconfessed sin short-circuits our ability to hear God and sense His presence; grieves God and interrupts our fellowship with God.

The sin of unforgiveness closes a door to the mercy which God has already released. We open the door by letting go of that which has closed the door. God is ready to forgive — are we ready to be forgiven?  A man once said to John Wesley, "I never forgive."  Wesley replied, "Then sir, I hope you never sin.”

Refusing to forgive is costly, has a binding effect on our lives, shutting off avenues of blessing, closing doors of opportunity.  Sometimes God's best for us is bound, not by outward circumstances, but by the inner reality of our unforgiveness.  Forgiveness is an act of loosing someone from their sin against us and in doing so, loosing our own heart from the binding reality of bitterness.  As we are released in our spirit, there is a release of God's purpose and promise toward us.

The Apostle Paul exhorted the church, "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32). This attitude breaks the cycle of hate which breeds more hate and releases kingdom possibilities.  

This teaching on forgiveness is given by the Lord who washed the feet of Judas on the night Judas betrayed Him; who forgave those who crucified Him during the agony of the cross. That's what God’s forgiveness looks like and it was released to all of us.

I cannot possibly repay to God what I owe and God does not ask that I do.  He asks that I be willing to respond to others as He has responded to me.  As I release mercy, I find the door is open to God’s mercy flowing in to me.

6. (Matthew 6:13)  "And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

Does God tempt people? No, never, but how you picture God will determine how you pray to Him.  If you picture God as the source of the tragedy, hardship and temptation that comes your way, then that will produce one kind of prayer.  If you understand God as the Lord your Deliverer, the Lord your Provider and Savior, then that will produce another kind of prayer.

In James 1:13 we read, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” 

Temptations, arise from 3  sources:

a. The devil: "Your adversary the devil prowls about like roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8).

b. Our own unredeemed human nature: "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:14).

c. The world around us, in which the values and priorities are at variance with the Kingdom of God: "Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world" (I John 2:15,16).

We know Jesus is not teaching us to pray, “God don't tempt me,” because God does not tempt anyone. There are temptations and we know where they come from.

However, we know that God will allow tests and the word temptation may also be translated as testing, putting to the proof, discipline.  We may ask Him not to lead us into particular trials, even as Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done," (Luke 22:42). However, it is often God's will that we do encounter tests.

Why does God test us?

a. Tests reveal areas of weakness or immaturity in our personality, areas where we are vulnerable to temptations.  The Lord wants to reveal those areas so we can confront them.  He is not looking at our weaknesses or immaturity in a condemning way but in love, yearning to deliver us, to make a way for us to mature. 

b. Tests cause us to call on the Lord who strengthens us. This glorifies God, as He shows Himself strong on our behalf. When we are willing to be accountable for our weaknesses, God will enable us to grow beyond our weaknesses. 

c. Tests are necessary to fulfill the kingdom purpose of God.  Jesus said to the church at Smyrna, "Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days" (Revelation 2:10).  The word tribulation can be translated weight or pressure.  The Lord could have prevented that test by removing the church from the city or by removing the weight of persecution from the church.  But He wanted a witness in that city, light shining in that darkness. God allowed the test, the  pressure, so that He would be glorified in that city through the witness of those saints.

God allows tests because these cause us to call on Him and as we call on Him, He strengthens us and we grow.  As we grow, God will shine the light of His glory through us.

Then what was Jesus teaching us to pray? A better way to understand this principle of prayer is to hear it like this:

“Father, I thank you that you will not lead me into temptation today but you will deliver me from evil. I pray that there would be no tests today but if there are, I thank you for the grace to endure and I thank you that you are the God who causes me to overcome so that you may be glorified in my circumstances.”

We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who said, “No temptation (or test) has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (or tested) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation (or test) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13).

Jesus was saying that when we pray, do so with confidence that God is not the source of tragedy or temptation but He is the source of every grace, every good and perfect gift that will allow us to grow, to endure and to glorify His name on earth.  There will be situations that challenge and test us but our Father allows them for our benefit and for His glory.

There may be circumstances that will attempt to destroy us but God will always meet us there to bring us through.  Whatever challenging temptation or hardship, whatever test or trial we encounter, we pray with confidence that God is always our Deliverer.

7. (Matthew 6:13)  "For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever, Amen.”

Putting all of verse 13 together, we hear a confident confession of thanksgiving:

"I thank you, Father, that you will never lead me into any situation that violates your love for me but you will deliver me from the evil that comes against me and you will sustain me in every test, by your power and for your glory.”

a. Do you believe that God really is in sovereign control of this universe and of your life?  If so, does that influence your prayer?

b. Do you give God the glory for the good blessing you have received?

This concluding phrase is such a wonderful way to end every prayer, confessing that in every circumstance, God is in control.  His Kingdom is breaking into history, His power is being released into our circumstances, His glory is and shall be revealed in all the earth.

Foundations in Faith 3:


Meditations in Prayer

1. Pray in Jesus' name.

Jesus said, "Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do" (John 14:13 also 16:23,24).

Praying in the name of Jesus does not mean that we attach the name of Jesus to every prayer, like putting a stamp on a letter, and our prayer is automatically carried to heaven where it is promptly answered by God, who has no choice in the matter because we attached the Jesus stamp to our prayer. No.

Praying in Jesus' name means that we pray according to His heart and character, surrendered to His purpose and His will.  This presupposes that we have communed with Him in His Word, "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  As we saturate ourselves with the Word of God and tarry in prayer, the Lord forms, shapes and directs our will according to His perfectly wise and just purpose, according to His perfectly holy and loving heart.  We then pray in agreement with that which God has ordained and our prayers become an instrument for the release of His purpose.

2. Pray with faith (Mark (11:24)

If we are praying according to God’s will, in agreement with His heart, surrendered to His purpose, then we can be assured that He hears us and will answer us. Though we may not always understand His answer, it will be based on perfect wisdom and perfect love. In time, He will move our heart to desire what He desires.

3. Pray with a pure heart and right motives (James 4:2,3)

How do I know if my heart is pure and my motives are proper? If we are sincere, God will always show us the truth and if we ask, He will change our heart and align our motives with His.

4. Take a moment and read Philippians 4:6,7

Rather than be anxious, what are we to do?

What are we saying about God when we give thanks as we pray?

What is God's promise to this kind of prayer?

5. Take a moment and read I Thessalonians 5:17

How do we pray without ceasing?

Does the conversation of two loved ones ever really cease while both are alive?

Is conversation always verbal?

Does the quality of a conversation tell us anything about the quality of a relationship?

Is our prayer life an indication of the health of our relationship with God?

6. When should I pray?

"Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17)

"Praying always for you" (Colossians 1:3)

7. How should I pray?

"Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God"  (Philippians 4:6) 

8. Where should I pray?  

"Therefore I want the men in every place to pray"  (I Timothy 2:8).

9. What happens when I pray? 

"The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much"  (James 5:16).

How is it that my prayer accomplishes anything, when God is in complete control of the universe?  Does God really need my prayers?

Yes. God has not only ordained the outcome of all things but also the means to arrive at that outcome. Our prayers are a means which God uses to achieve the end that He has ordained.

10. What is the ultimate goal of prayer?

The ultimate goal of all prayer, always, is that God is glorified.

"Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).

"If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:7,8).

In answering prayer, God glorifies Himself 

by showing His wisdom, His mercy, His power.

The goal of prayer is not to get but to glorify. 

Always, the goal of every prayer is that God is glorified.