Growing By Prayer
noun, often attributive | \ˈprer\
Definition of prayer
1. a (1) : an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought ∙ ‘said a prayer for the success of the voyage’ (2) : a set order of words used in praying
b : an earnest request or wish
2. : the act or practice of praying to God or a god ∙ kneeling in prayer
3. : a religious service consisting chiefly of prayers —often used in plural
4. : something prayed for
5. : a slight chance ∙ haven't got a prayer
When you think of prayer, what comes to your mind? Rosary beads? Shawls and head coverings? Chanting? Bowing? Kneeling? 8lb. 6oz. newborn infant Jesus in golden fleece diapers?
Depending on your experience in churches and with other Christians, your experience of prayer may be vastly different: from austere, rigid catechisms to charismatic weeping, wailing, and laying on of hands. And depending on your view of God, your understanding of the nature and purpose of prayer will also vary greatly.
Some people use prayer as an ATM withdrawal or a rubbing a magical lamp; only praying to God when they want something: health, safety, traveling mercies, and, especially, good outcomes for situations out of their control.
Others pray because they are afraid of God’s anger if they don’t. Some may pray rarely, if at all, worried they might say the wrong thing or that their prayers aren’t “spiritual enough” to be answered by God.
What has been your experience with prayer?
If we are going to have a right relationship with God and this world, we must have a right understanding of prayer.
So what exactly is prayer? And Why do it?
Prayer is still a fairly regular part of Western Society, but for many it’s limited to “saying grace” before dinner, which can be an awkward experience.
Even though, as Christians, we really do want to pray, if we’re honest, a lot of times it feels unnatural, formal, empty, or just plain weird (especially if you are praying next to a hand-holder—what’s with that?!)
And yet, the Bible is filled with commands and instructions to pray, so it must be important to God, right? However, when we start to think about prayer, we can end up with a lot of questions:
How do I pray?
How do I know I’m doing it right? Do I have to have a special place, special words, or a certain posture?
What should I pray for? In what situations should I pray?
Do my prayers really matter, or is God going to do what He wants to anyway?
How can I expect that God has time to listen to my prayers when there are millions of others around the world praying at the same time?
Does praying make me a better Christian? If I don’t pray, will God be mad at me?
Not knowing how to pray or why we’re praying in the first place can be really troubling. The good news is once we know what prayer is all about, the “how” and “why” will fall into place.
Teaching / Study
WHAT IS PRAYER ALL ABOUT?
So what is prayer all about anyway?
Many people simplify prayer by saying, “It’s simply talking to God.” To the extent that this defuses the pressure of formality and frees you from feeling like you have to perform, this definition of prayer is helpful. But it isn’t enough; it’s an oversimplification.
Prayer isn’t just talking to God; prayer is developing and intimate relationship with God.
Jesus told His disciples, “ You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15)
Jesus calls us His friends. What’s the difference between a servant and a friend according to this passage?
As followers of Christ, Jesus calls us friends. Think of that! A friend shares their thoughts and what is on their heart. Friends get the inside story according to Jesus.
Has it occurred to you that God actually doesn’t need us to do anything for Him? He could do it all. But He invites us as friends, through prayer, to partner with Him—because friends do things together.
Our first priority in prayer, then, should be spending time with Him, aligning our will to His and getting our life from Him. It is in prayer where we commit to living and growing as a disciple.
- How does friendship with Jesus and partnering with God affect how you approach prayer? In what way does prayer actually matter?
- Do you feel comfortable sharing the same sort of issues with Jesus that you do with your friends? Why or why not?
Prayer reminds us of the importance of remaining in Christ (see Unit 2). As we pray, we allow the Spirit and words of Christ to remain in us, and we align ourselves with Him and what we ought to be. Then what Jesus promised us in John 15:7 becomes true in our lives: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!”
Prayer is not about:
- Form (what we say or how we say it);
- It’s not about function (what we’re asking for or doing);
- It’s not about passion (how much we “feel it” or want it)
It’s first of all about developing a growing relationship with our Father.
- How has prayer played a role in your relationship with God so far?
What are some of the challenges that prevent you from experiencing an intimate relationship with God?
A Change in Perspective
God knows best for every person and every situation in the whole world. So, when we are faced with struggles, we are not supposed to start by figuring out the solution then asking God to make it happen.
Instead, we are supposed to pray that the will of God be done, trusting in God’s character which includes: love, peace, goodness, self-sacrifice, mercy, and more. (All things that are revealed to us by His Word. See Unit 3).
Does prayer change things? Certainly. But often prayer changes me first, then God leads me according to His will.
What are some of the characteristics and desires of God that you know from the Bible?
Think of a situation in your life or the life of someone you know. Based on what you know of God, and irrespective of the way things have gone so far, what do you believe the will of God might be for that situation?
As we remain in Him, getting to know Him through His Word and by prayer, we start to align ourselves with Him and we become changed in the process. Our character is formed to be like the character of Jesus Himself when we sit in His presence in prayer. Psalm 37:4 says,
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
What that doesn’t mean is that God will give us everything we desire. What God gives us is a new heart that desires the things of God!
How have you become different because of your relationship with God?
Yeah that sounds good, but does prayer work?
The Bible is overwhelmingly clear: prayer matters, and makes a real difference.
Yet God often chooses not to act until His people pray in faith, because he wants us to be at a place in our heart and mind to partner with Him and depend on Him.
Here are just a few of the key passages that instruct us on the importance of prayer for a disciple:
- God wants to answer our prayers – In fact, Jesus instructs us to ask God, promising that the good things we ask for will be given (Matt 7:7-11; John 14:13-16).
- Don’t forget to ask - James said that we don’t have what we need because we don’t ask for it, that we should pray in hardships and for healing, and that our prayers are powerful and effective (James 4:2; 5:13-18)
- Pray boldly - The author of Hebrews said we are to come boldly before the throne of God (Heb 4:16).
- Pray about everything - Paul instructs us to pray about all things, and without ceasing (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Thess 5:17).
According to scripture, we can trust that our prayers are necessary, powerful, and real.
When The Answer Is Not What We Expected.
While we love to see prayer answered, there will be times that we pray and either we don’t get the result we prayed for or it seems God doesn’t answer at all.
At times like this, we need to remember that there is only one God, and we are not Him. God is good and He wants good for us. We have this promise,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.….He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:28, 32)
This verse does not say all things are good, but that they “work together” for our good.
Flour, sugar, raw eggs, salt, butter, and baking powder don’t taste good in themselves. (OK, some of you would eat the sugar.) But “worked together” by a master baker they make a great cake. Imagine criticizing the baker halfway through the process. That’s what we do sometimes.
As God’s followers we have to decide, do we trust His character, wisdom, love, and goodness or not?
When have you prayed and not seen the result you hoped for? How did you handle it?
How can you maintain your faith in those moments when it seems you aren’t getting the answer you pray for? What reassurance do these verses give?
SO HOW DO YOU PRAY?
1. Pray in Faith
The Bible is very clear that we live by faith and that applies to our prayers as well:
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)
Maybe you’re already thinking, “Whatever I ask?” There are other passages that explain that God won’t honor inappropriate desires (James 4:3) of course. Also, God is going to answer according to His will:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
We might ask, “How can I pray in faith if I’m not sure what God’s will is?”
There will be times when we don’t know God’s will in a matter. We still need to pray in faith, realizing that our faith is in our all-wise God, not in our ability to suggest to Him a particular answer. Even if we don’t know God’s will, we do know God!
- Can you think of a time when God answered your prayer in a different and better way that you imagined or asked (Eph. 3:20)?
2. Pray in Jesus’ name
Christians often end their prayers, “In Jesus name we pray. Amen.” That isn’t just an convenient closer someone made up. Jesus Himself told his disciples to pray and ask “in My name.”
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)
“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” (John 16:24)
- What is the intended result of our prayers in John 14:13?
- What is the intended result of our prayers in John 16:24?
- How are these two related?
What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name? It’s not a magic formula we tag on to make God do something. It means to pray relying on the merit of Christ, His authority as the Son of God, not our own worthiness.
Have you ever been given a note by a doctor to give your boss or your school to explain why you needed off? If so, you used their name and authority as the basis of your request, not your own merit.
- If we had to pray based on our worthiness, what would happen?
3. Pray persistently
It’s rare to pray about something just once and see God’s answer. Jesus told us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
Each of these verbs is in the present tense, which in the original language meant to “keep on” doing something.
- What’s the difference between asking, seeking, and knocking? How do they relate to being persistent in our prayers?
4. Listen to God
Prayer is communicating with God, not just talking to Him. As a believer you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. He desires to make God’s thoughts known to you.
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13)
How do we know when God is speaking to us?
Is it just our imagination? Could we just be fooling ourselves?
First, realize that God has already spoken to you in His Word, so ask whether what you think God is saying to you lines up with what He has already said in Scripture.
God will never contradict Himself. He will never lead you in a direction that is contrary to the Bible’s teaching. He will never say, “OK, this time do get revenge on your coworker. This time, do cheat on your spouse. This time do fudge on your taxes, you deserve it!” That would be the world, the flesh, or the devil. Maybe all three.
The more you read, study, believe, and obey God’s Word the more you will also recognize His voice in matters the Bible doesn’t directly address. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice (John 10:4). How? From having followed the Shepherd!
Second, God calls us to walk by faith. At times “on paper” one direction may seem logical, but God’s Spirit leads us the other way (Check out Acts 16:6-10 for a great example of this.).
Share a time God changed your plans, but you now see it his plan was better.
Third, another way we hear from God is by the changes He makes in our heart.
The natural inclination of our hearts used to be toward sin and self. However, as we seek to remain in Him, God will tilt or incline our heart toward doing His will,
"Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain" (Psalm 119:36).
God’s Spirit is working inside you to make this so,
“for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
It may even surprise us when it happens! Suddenly we have the thought or feel the urge to be generous in a certain situation where we used to be stingy. Go with it! The devil isn’t tempting you to be giving. That’s God renewing your heart and mind.
Have you seen this in your life? What are some examples?
Fourth, God may wait until we gather with other believers to speak to us.
There are times we are overwhelmed with a situation—and God’s voice may seem a million miles away. We prayed but we seem to be unable to climb out of the pit we are in mentally. At least not alone! Sometimes to hear God, we need to get with believers, worship, and hear God’s word.
This happened to one of God’s closest followers, a man named Asaph, a spiritual leader who wrote twelve of the Psalms.
We don’t know what happened, but it suddenly dawned on Asaph that there were many evil, greedy people around Jerusalem who were rich and seemed carefree. It was like Facebook envy! Meanwhile he was not doing so well despite having “kept my heart pure” (Psalm 73:13-14).
In his mind God owed him! He struggled with a bitter attitude:
… I almost lost my footing….For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people.…
Did I keep my heart pure for nothing...If I had really spoken this way to others, I would have been a traitor to your people. (Psalm 73:1-5, 13, 15 NLT)
As a spiritual leader he knows he can’t just dump his bad attitude out there, but he can’t seem to shake it either. Until one day he joined others in worship:
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. Truly you put them on a slippery path...in an instant they are destroyed….
Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel.” (Psalm 73:17, 19, 21-24 NLT, emphasis added)
- What are some of the new perspectives Asaph mentions, once he "went into the sanctuary" to worship?
What do you notice about Asaph's honesty as he talks with God?
When we worship, God lifts our view. It's like taking off in cloudy weather then rising above the clouds where the sun was always shining. As we "magnify God," He grows bigger in our eyes and troubles grow smaller.
Describe a time when you heard from God in a church service or other gathering. What did He say? What were the circumstances surrounding that experience?
Describe a time when you felt close to, even one with God? What were you doing? What did you feel?
It's not magic
One final point that is important, especially in our day: prayer is not magic.
Magic is when we believe if we do something “just right,” or say certain words then God has to do what we say. Magic puts us in control. If you can master the formula, you master the situation.
But there is no formula for working with God. God is sovereign; He is not controlled by the methods humans cling to (see 2 Kings 5:11).
Here’s a few common examples of this type of “magical” thinking: When we believe that God will answer our prayers if we really feel them passionately enough, or include certain words, phrases, or postures. Also, when we believe that our prayer has nothing to do with our character or relationship with God. Or, when we think if we pray or do certain things, God will make us prosperous.
Have you been guilty of praying this way? In what circumstances are you most tempted to believe this about prayer?
What Jesus Taught on Prayer
Don’t pray for the purpose of impressing others (Matthew 6:5-6).
Believe it or not, in Jesus’ day and world you could actually gain status by praying loudly on a street corner. Things have certainly changed!
Jesus isn’t saying don’t pray in public. The Bible is full of positive examples of public prayer. He is warning about praying merely to impress others. Trying to be profound, or worrying about how we come across is probably closer to what Jesus warned about.
When praying in a group, take your eyes off yourself and pray humbly, honestly, and simply from your heart as if it were just you and the Lord.
Don’t use empty repetition
Don't think that more words are better than a few. Jesus tells us that God already know what you need. So say it simply, in faith. (Matthew 6:7-8).
Jesus’ Model Prayer
“Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13 HCSB)
Take a few minutes: what observations can you make about this prayer?
Is there an outline? What are the points?
Why is it important to notice that Jesus says you should pray like this (v. 9)?
A Daily Quiet Time of Prayer and God’s Word
One of the habits that can help us grow is a daily time of prayer and reading God’s Word.
Now, the Bible is clear that there is nothing more we can do to win God’s favor – Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are all we need to be in a perfect relationship with the Father.
But picture Rocky running through Philly in the early morning darkness--punching the cool morning air while the city slept. There was no law that said he had to run. He did it because he wanted to be ready for the fight.
One thing that Jesus did consistently was go off on his own to pray. (Luke 5:16). He taught it too, saying,
“when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.” (Matt 6:6).
When we are alone, praying to God, there is no pressure.
You can start by outlining your own prayer after Jesus’ model prayer above. But realize the Psalmists often just started wherever their heart and mind happened to be, even if it was a complaint or a bad attitude they were struggling with.
God already knows where you are mentally, so be honest! But those Psalmists didn’t end there! They openly processed things with God until their hope and faith revived.
Pray through Scripture.
Another way many have found helpful is to pray through a passage of Scripture. Maybe you are reading in Philippians 2 about having the same humble mind toward others as Christ did when He humbled Himself by leaving His glory behind to die on the cross for us. You could easily pause and pray something like, “God, who am I not willing to humbly serve? I know I’m not always that humble, especially to some of the difficult people at work (insert names here). Help me to see them as You do, and love them where they are.”
Tips for a Daily Quiet Time (daily devotional time)
Find a time when you are at your best (for some it could be morning, but anytime that is your best time works!)
Start small and let it grow. Better to start with 5-10 minutes than 30.
If you miss a day, just pick up where you left off. This isn’t a check list.
Find a consistent private place, even if it’s in the parking lot at work a few minutes early
Don't speed read. Take time to reflect and pray. See the Resources for ideas.
If you start something and find you’re not enjoying it, change it! Make it something you look forward to.
- If you’ve had something like a Quiet Time or regular daily devotional, what have you done that has been meaningful to you? Share it with others and encourage them to start a daily time with God!
Prayer is not just talking to God, but with God. It is a relationship.
The Discipleship Pathway - Taking a Next Step!
We grow by taking a "next step." Choose one of the areas below and then either a “walk,” “jog,” or “run” step. The walk steps are beginning or shot term steps, the jog steps intermediate, and the run steps more challenging.
If you are still working on steps from a previous week, don’t feel pressured to do any of these! Or choose a “walk” step for now. Perhaps mark one of these for future action if that’s the case.
Becoming more intentional in my prayers….
Pray a one sentence prayer from time to time throughout the day to bring God into your circumstances.
Spend some time praying through structured prayers on a regular basis - see the “Jesus’ Model Prayer” or praying through Scripture above (and in Unit 3), or see the “ACTS Model” in the “Resources” below.
Read Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels and begin a prayer/quiet time journal.
Establishing a regular Quiet Time….
Give God a one minute prayer every day.
Identify a place and time you can go to meet with God, pray, and read/meditate on His Word. Make it a habit to spend time in this place on a regular basis. Use a Bible reading plan (see Resources)
Set aside some time to go on a spiritual retreat to be alone with God for the day.
Becoming more dependent on God....
Wake up with a prayer of thanks to God every morning.
Read through the Psalms. Note all the times the writer of the Psalms talks about his dependency on God. How do those words describe your own dependence on God?
Fast from food or some object on which you normally depend. Focus on God as you fast, and remind yourself how dependent you are on God for your life. Do this on a regular basis.
Parent Next Steps
Choose one or more of the Action Steps below based on the ages of your children.
Here is a simple way to teach your Preschooler how to PRAY:
1. Thank God
“Hold up your thumb. First, we tell God how much we love Him and how thankful we are for what He does for us.”
2. Tell God what you and others need
“Hold up your index finger. Then we can tell God what we want or need. We can ask anything we want. God might not always give us what we ask for, but He is ALWAYS listening.”
3. I am sorry
“Next, we need to ask for forgiveness for any bad choices that we have made.”
4. Help us do the right thing
“Then we ask God to help us do the right thing.”
“The last thing that we do when we pray is to say, ‘AMEN.’ which means so be it/placing your faith in God for what you prayed.”
In Unit 2, your child started writing in a journal. Inside the front cover of your child’s journal, have them trace their hand. Your child can color their handprint if they wish, then write one of the following above each finger of the handprint:
1. Thank God
2. Tell God what you and others need
3. I am sorry
4. Help me do the right thing
Say: “As you write in your journal, here is a reminder you can look at of what we are supposed to do when we pray. You can read more about how Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:5-13.”
In Unit 2, your student wrote down some things that they are stressing about and areas in their life that did not look like Jesus.
1. Ask your student how those things are going and if they were able to find someone to hold them accountable & challenge them in those areas.
2. Ask your student to think of a peaceful place that they enjoy. (Backyard, the Lake, their room, a park, beach, etc.) Challenge your student to schedule some time in that place this month to talk to God and journal about what their current situation is.
3. Find ways to support your student in this. Maybe you… go with him, pack her a lunch or buy a Starbucks on the way out the door, excuse him from chores that day, etc.
Snap Shot Summary
What is Prayer all about?
A changed perspective
Does Prayer Really Work?
Prayer makes a difference
When the result is not what we expected
How Do You Pray?
In Jesus’ name
Listening to God
Prayer and Hope
It’s Not Magic
What Jesus Taught on Prayer
Two warnings when you pray
Jesus’ Model Prayer
A Daily Quiet Time
Too Busy Not To Pray, Bill Hybels
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster