When I think of prayer, I think of it as the very essence of the Christian's relationship to God. It is our link of communication with him, as the New Testament is his link of communication with us. 1, therefore, regard prayer as a sacred, individual right and privilege. Because of this view of mine, I have always been hesitant to say much about the Christian and his prayers. We must teach what the Bible teaches about prayer, leaving the application of that message to each Christian. I try to do that.
Jesus taught that men ought always to pray (Lk. 18:1). Paul said that we should pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). James taught us to pray for one another (Jas. 5:16). In the application of these instructions, there are certain things that we must keep in mind.
We must prepare our minds to pray by setting aside worldly cares and concerns. We address the prayer to God who is our Father. We are not praying that our will might be done, but that God's will be done (I Jn. 5:14). We are to pray in faith that God will do as his word says he will do (Jas. 1:6-7). Scriptural prayers are offered with humility, in the name of Christ, that is, by his authority and unto his glory (Jn. 14:13; Col. 3:17).
When Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:1), he told him that he should offer supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks for all men. "Supplications" are our requests regarding our needs. "Prayers" are any discourse with God, which would include petitions, praise and thanksgiving. "Intercessions" are our pleas to God on behalf of others. "Thanksgiving" obviously expresses our thanks for the multitude of blessings, both physical and spiritual, which we enjoy in this life.
When we offer our prayers, we always want to remember to be thankful for the multitude of blessings God has bestowed upon us. Christians are saved by the grace of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and through compliance with the terms and conditions set forth in the New Testament. Someone was concerned enough about us to tell us of the love of God and show us the things that we need to do to be saved. Certainly Christians are thankful for this blessing. But, we are also given great privileges, opportunities and comforts that are physical in their nature and it would be an act of utter ingratitude if we were not thankful for these physical blessings as well.
Intercessions, our prayers for others, will include petitions unto God in behalf of many. We intercede for our brethren, our family, our enemies, our rulers, the sick, those who are lost and for elders, deacons and preachers (Phil. 1:9; Matt. 5:44; 1 Tim. 2:2; Rom. 10:1; Jas. 5:13; 2 Thess. 3:1-2). Many prayers are prayers of intercession.
I believe in the power of prayer (Jas. 5:16). I, therefore, would encourage and admonish all of God's people to be regular and fervent in prayer. For some reason, God appointed that we should tell him of our petitions for others, and express to him our gratitude. I could reason that, being God, he knows our petitions and our thanksgivings. But my "reasonings" do not constitute the rules governing prayer. Thus, we must simply do what he told us to do pray!
Something interesting happened the other day. I was listening to the radio and I heard a new song by a country singer. I have thought about a line or two in the song ever since. I doubt that it was his purpose to make it so, but it contained a powerful message. I was so impressed with it that I have planned this article for two weeks. The line said, "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." Think about that a moment.
Suppose a person prayed for wealth. If he got the wealth in answer to his prayer, would he be able to handle the changes it would work in his life? Have you noted some of the problems people have had who have won great lottery prizes? Some of them are in prison for writing "hot cheeks." Great temptation would come to the wealthy. Could you keep your faith intact in the face of these temptations? "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers!"
Or, consider the prayers that we offer for people who are very old or sick. We often pray that they would enjoy greater length of life. But, old age and sickness can be a great burden, not just for those who suffer these things, but for their loved ones as well. Suppose a family member is suffering from cancer. He grows weaker daily, and his pain is immense. Not wanting to give up our loved one, we pray that he might live awhile longer. If the prayer is answered, he has more days of weakness and pain. "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers!"
There are times when we think we know best. Based on that assumption, we petition the throne of God for the things we desire. However, we are aware that we certainly do not always know what is best. That God does know is the essence of our trust in him. When we offer our prayers according to his will, we are not only asking as the Bible teaches us to ask, but we are also asking that his will override ours in the provision of what is best. This is the simple process of, in our minds, granting to God his inherent supremacy in deciding what is best for all concerned. Most of us, if honest, will readily confess that his will is better than ours anyway. Our prayers will always reflect that truth. Continue to pray to God. Let him answer your prayers. But, be prepared when he does not answer as you ask.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 7, pp. 193, 215