What Do You Know About Prayer?
PRACTICALLY everyone prays, though some persons do not do so very often. Many times prayer is reserved as a last resort—for use after all else has failed.
For example, during World War II it was said, “There are no atheists on life rafts.” When the airplane was down in the sea, the radio was dead, land was a thousand miles away, provisions were almost gone, and no help was in sight—when all other sources of aid had been exhausted—then men raised their eyes and prayed.
But is that what prayer is all about? Is prayer a last resort, to be dug up from the back of the mind after all else has failed?
That is not what Biblical prayer is all about. The Bible presents prayer as the means by which we should frequently speak to God—not just when in desperate straits. It is a way to ask his blessings, and also to give our thanks for provisions he has made—both spiritual and material.
Prayer is based on the conviction that God exists, hears and answers. In the Bible he is called the “Hearer of prayer.” (Ps. 65:2) The Bible shows that God is approachable by man. We should expect God to listen to proper prayers, for he himself tells his people to pray, and his Word gives many examples of acceptable prayers. (2 Chron. 7:12-16) It tells us that Jesus, by both word and example, showed the necessity of praying.* If the Son of God recognized such need to pray, how much more do we need to do so.
The act of praying to God implies a closeness to him. A leading Bible dictionary points out concerning early Bible times: “The devout Israelite of that day believed deeply in God, and was perhaps more closely conscious of Him” than are many persons today.—A Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, Volume IV, page 41.
The faithful Israelites knew that Jehovah really exists, and acted in their behalf. The psalmist, confident of Jehovah’s direction and help, sang: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths. Make me walk in your truth and teach me, for you are my God of salvation. In you I have hoped all day long.” “God is for us a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses.” (Ps. 25:4, 5; 46:1) The Christian apostle Paul said: “In fact, [Jehovah] is not far off from each one of us.”—Acts 17:27.
What Prayers Are Answered?
That proper prayer is answered is an accepted Bible truth. However, the Bible is equally as emphatic that not all prayers are answered.
Many persons pray for wrong reasons—to win a prize at a raffle or in a contest, to get a big business order, or to win a bet or a sports contest. Is it any wonder that such prayers are not answered?
The disciple James reminded: “You do ask, and yet you do not receive, because you are asking for a wrong purpose, that you may expend it upon your cravings for sensual pleasure.”—Jas. 4:3.
Practicers of non-Biblical religions often consider their worship to be a sort of “magic” that gets their god to do whatever the worshiper wants. But the Creator is not like the fabled jinn of Aladdin’s lamp, waiting to do man’s bidding.
It is true, of course, that Jesus told his followers: “If you ask the Father for anything he will give it to you in my name.” (John 16:23) However, Jesus was speaking to his followers. The things for which they would ask were limited by what they had learned from him, and by their knowledge of God’s purposes.
“Anything” clearly did not include things they knew, or had reason to believe, were not pleasing to God, or things that were not in harmony with his will. If our requests are to be granted, they must please God. We must not request unrighteous things, or those contrary to God’s revealed will. The apostle John stated: “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that, no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.”—1 John 5:14.
But, on occasion, even prayers by God’s servants are not answered. Moses’ prayer to enter the land of Canaan was not. King David’s prayer in behalf of Bath-sheba’s child went unheeded. The apostle Paul’s prayer to be delivered from his “thorn in the flesh” went unanswered. To be heard, prayers must be in harmony with God’s purposes! So, then, even failure to understand God’s purpose in a matter can result in an unanswered prayer.—Deut. 3:23-27; 2 Sam. 12:16, 22; 2 Cor. 12:7-9.
To be acceptable to God, prayers must be through the channel he recognizes. Jesus said: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus also said prayers should be presented ‘in his name.’ (John 14:6; 16:23) Thus, our prayers should acknowledge that the value of the sacrifice of Jesus’ own human life makes it possible for us to approach God in prayer, and that there is just “one mediator between God and men, a man, Christ Jesus.”—1 Tim. 2:5.
Also, for our prayers to be answered, we must be obedient to God. The book of Proverbs reminds: “He that is turning his ear away from hearing the law—even his prayer is something detestable.” When the people had been disobedient to God, the prophet Jeremiah wrote: “When I call for aid and cry for help, he actually hampers my prayer.”—Prov. 28:9; Lam. 3:8.
One reason for Jehovah to withdraw his favor was stated to ancient Israel. It also applies to Christendom today. God said: “For the reason that this people have come near with their mouth, and they have glorified me merely with their lips, and they have removed their heart itself far away from me, and their fear toward me becomes men’s commandment that is being taught.”—Isa. 29:13.
Today Christendom’s churches come near God with their mouths, and glorify him with their lips, but their hearts do not motivate them really to conform to his ways. For example, they push aside the Bible’s high moral standards, and accept with approval persons who practice fornication, adultery and homosexual acts—all forbidden in the Scriptures. (See Leviticus 18:22; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.) Further, they teach ‘men’s commandments’ as doctrines. Among these are their teachings about the immortality of the soul, and torment in hellfire, as well as other pagan doctrines they have adopted from non-Biblical human sources.*
In view of Jehovah’s words through Isaiah, only persons who return to Jehovah’s ways and his teachings, thus drawing their hearts toward him, can expect their prayers to be heard favorably. The apostle John wrote: “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes.”—1 John 3:22.
What Position to Assume
No special position while praying is more “holy” than another. The Bible tells of people standing to pray, raising their hands toward heaven, kneeling, and even prostrating themselves, face down to the earth, as subjects prostrated themselves before a king. Some positions show humility, but the many different circumstances in which prayers were offered in Bible times show that no specific position, either of the hands or the body, is required.—Mark 11:25; 1 Ki. 8:22; Luke 22:41; Neh. 8:6.
While the position of our body is not important, our mental attitude is. Earnestness of heart is a requirement if our prayers are to be favorably heard by God. “Come back to me with all your hearts,” Jehovah said. (Joel 2:12, 13) Before him we have no claim of merit, no ground for self-congratulation, no right to demand. His kindness is not something we deserve. Jesus approved the humble tax collector who said simply: “O God, be gracious to me a sinner.”—Luke 18:9-14.
Where and When Can You Pray?
Examples related in the Bible show that prayer may be offered from any place, at any time. The Hebrews understood that “Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him, to all those who call upon him in trueness.”—Ps. 145:18.
Abraham’s servant prayed when he happened to be by a well in Mesopotamia. Daniel prayed in his room. The apostle Peter prayed alone, on the flat roof of a Middle Eastern house. Jesus prayed publicly, privately, in the quiet of the garden of Gethsemane, and on a mountain.—Gen. 24:10-14, 26, 27; Dan. 6:10, 11; Acts 10:9; Matt. 26:36; Mark 6:46.
A silent prayer can be offered in the presence of others, though unknown to them. Abraham’s servant prayed silently, “speaking in [his] heart.” Hannah prayed “speaking in her heart,” so “her voice was not heard.” Thus, God can hear our silent prayers.—Gen. 24:45; 1 Sam. 1:13.
These examples show that a close communion with the Creator is possible. There is no need of an appointment to approach God in prayer. No schedule needs to be adhered to. We can pray at any time. David kept calling to Jehovah “all day long.” The apostle Paul encouraged: “Be persevering in prayer”; “pray incessantly.”—Ps. 86:3; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17.
Develop a warm appreciation of the privilege of prayer. Sense the spiritual strength it provides. The privilege of prayer should never be taken lightly. It is not to be reserved as a last resort, to be employed only when all else has failed. Instead, prayer should be a part of your daily life. Private prayer, family prayer and congregational prayer will strengthen you in these troubled times. Speaking to God through prayer brings his peace, promotes the flow of his holy spirit, and helps us to be confident of his blessings for an eternal future of life in his righteous new order.
For the Bible’s teaching on whether the soul dies, and whether man is conscious to suffer after death or not, see Ezekiel 18:4, 20 and Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10. These and many other points on which modern religious doctrine and the inspired Bible disagree are discussed in the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life.