Have you ever felt helpless in prayer? Perhaps you have felt at a loss to know what to pray for, or even how to begin asking anything from God. Some prayers seem to be so clear and well organized. Yet, in the bewildering, thorny problems of life, don’t we sometimes feel at a loss concerning how to approach God in prayer?
There was a time when Jesus was praying, possibly in the presence of his disciples. So impressed with his clarity and power in prayer, they came to him after he had finished with a telling request: “And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples,” (Lk. 11:1). Jesus sympathized with their request. He did not berate them for their lack of faith or mental clarity. He immediately gave them (and us) several solid principles for constructing scriptural, meaningful and effective prayers.
1. He provided a pattern for prayer. “Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation,” (Lk. 11:2-4). We note that he helpfully reminds us that our prayers are addressed to the God of this universe, and who is yet described as our “Father.” What a beautiful blessing to have an heavenly Father to whom we can speak at any time! He also teaches us that it is helpful to praise God in our prayers, reminding ourselves that he is always worthy of our adoration. He teaches us to focus on the church—on eternal, important concerns, not on temporary, fleeting ideas. And lastly, he directs us to seek heavenly guidance (“bring us not into temptation”), not so much in every little trivial choice, but in the overall and ultimate spiritual direction of our lives.
2. He illustrated the effectiveness of prayer. By telling a story about a neighbor asking for a favor at an inconvenient and inopportune time, Jesus teaches us that we should lay our requests openly and unhesitatingly before God, (Lk. 11:5-8). Don’t hold back. Don’t fear that you are bothering God, or being unrealistic. Be sincere about your needs and righteous desires. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened,” (Lk. 11:9-10).
It’s easy to give up on God, to lose patience or forget that God operates on his time-table—not necessarily on ours. We wonder, “Why hasn’t God fixed this?” But maybe he is “fixing” it in ways we do not yet understand. Is your request righteous? Are you requesting this because it is in keeping with God’s will? If so, don’t shy back, worry or hesitate. Make your requests known to God. “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God,” (Phil. 4:6).
3. He reminds us that God loves us, yet God knows what’s best for us. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him,” (Lk. 11:13). Unlike well-meaning human parents, God is not going to give us something that hurts us. He loves us, and he knows just what we need at all times. Sometimes we ask for things which may not really be for our benefit. God is able to sort through this, and provide the assistance we really need.
4. He made provisions for the Holy Spirit to help us in prayer. One of the most encouraging aspects of biblical prayer is the fact that we are not left on our own. The Lord anticipated that we would have difficulties. He recognized that sometimes we would not know the best prayer, or what to ask for in every situation. Here is where the Holy Spirit helps us. “And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself 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. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose,” (Rom. 8:26-28). So keep praying, and be assured it’s making a difference. Prayer changes things!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.