Principles of Prayer

Foundations in Faith:

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 and the quality of the conversation reveals the quality of the relationship. When Paul wrote, “Praying always for you” (Colossians 1:3), he reveals his love for those fellow believers.

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.

1. Pray with humility:

The Lord said to King Solomon, “Then if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). When we call on the Lord with a humble heart, He hears us. Humility draws us into the mercy and grace that God wants to pour out on us.

It should not be too difficult to come before God with a humble heart when we realize that our wisdom, our strength, every gift, every resource, indeed, our every breath is a gift from God. Jesus reminds us, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). This is what James meant when he wrote, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). This is what the Lord meant when He spoke through Zechariah the prophet, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).

A picture of humble prayer is found in Luke 18:9-14. A hyper-religious Pharisee stood at the altar and thanked God that he was better than other men. He received nothing from God. But another man, broken by the knowledge of his sin, stood in the back of the temple, would not even lift his head as he prayed, “God, be merciful to me the sinner.” He received the blessing of God.

This is why 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 humble communion with God, a place of intimate fellowship and conversation. In that 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.

2. Pray with bold confidence: 

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence (come boldly) to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebr. 4:16). Yes, we should come before God with a humble spirit but remember that when Jesus offered Himself on the cross as the holy Sacrifice for sinners, the veil into the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom, signifying that the way was open into the presence of God for all those who are redeemed by the blood of the holy Lamb of God. Now we are invited to come boldly before God with our prayers.

3. Avoid meaningless repetition:

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

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, 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. 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 or eloquence of our words apart from a conscious engagement of the heart. God is impressed by the soul that truly, deeply longs for communion with Him.

4. 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 if we attach the name of Jesus to every prayer, like putting a stamp on a letter, then 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.

5. Pray with faith: 

“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” (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, as the Psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).

6. Pray with a pure heart and right motives:

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).

How do I know if my heart is pure and my motives are proper? Truth is, I often don’t know my heart or my motives but if we are sincere, God will always show us the truth about ourselves and if we ask, He will change our heart and align our motives with His.

7. Pray With Thanksgiving 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7)

Rather than be anxious in a crisis, a challenge, an overwhelming need, we are to pray with thanksgiving. What are we saying about God when we give thanks as we pray? We are confessing that He knows us, hears us, cares about us and is able to deliver us. God’s promised response to thankful prayer is not necessarily that the storm will suddenly dissipate, that the crisis will be instantly resolved. But in the midst of it all, His peace will guard our hearts and minds. 

8. Pray Without Ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17)

What does it mean to pray without ceasing? It means that the conversation of two loved ones never really ceases while both are alive. It may not always be verbal, but it is never silent.

9. Pray Everywhere:

“Therefore I want the men in every place to pray” (I Timothy 2:8). There is no time or place where prayer is irrelevant or unnecessary. There is no time or place when we are beyond God’s hearing. God is present in all places at all times and His Spirit indwells us.

10. If God knows our need before we pray, then why pray?

Jesus said, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). 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?

a. 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.

b. 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.

Paul said to the church at Colossae, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned” (Col. 4:2,3). Paul asks the church to pray in agreement with God’s purpose that doors will open for the preaching of the Gospel.

The prophet Daniel, living in exile after the destruction of Jerusalem, read the words of Jeremiah that the holy city would be restored after 70 years (Dan. 9:2). His response was to pray in agreement with the word of God and as a result, the covenant people returned to their land and Jerusalem was restored. 

In Revelation 8:3,4 we see the prayers of the saints mixed with incense rising before God, followed by the judgment of God poured out on an evil, violent, unrepentant earth. We are reminded that prayer is a partnership with God.

c. 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 may position us to be part of His answer. We see this in the life of Nehemiah. He prayed for the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem and God positioned him to be the construction supervisor.

d. 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. We are agreeing to be part of the solution.

e. 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.

f. As we pray, 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.

g. 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.

11. Remember what happens when we pray: 

“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results”  (James 5:16, NLT).

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. 

12. Remember that 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, His justice.

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

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

Study Questions

1. Why should we pray?

2. What is the goal of prayer?