How to Pray and Be Heard by God?
SINCE earliest times men have felt the need to pray to God. Realizing their own insignificance and inability to reach him without help, they have invented numerous “aids” to prayer.
Some persons use prayer books. They read prayers that have been written for various occasions, hoping that these will help them to gain God’s favor. Others pray to saints, asking them to intercede with God in their behalf. Another common practice is that of memorizing prayers and using a rosary to keep track of how many times these are said.
However, even some religious leaders in churches that use these aids consider them insufficient. They believe that human language is inadequate in praying to God, and they pray in tongues, using words that they do not understand.
Roman Catholic priest David Geraets, prior of a Benedictine monastery in Pecos, New Mexico, said: “The longer I live, the more I find out that we don’t know how to pray.” He suggested that praying in “tongues” might let the holy spirit “place with you a perfect prayer,” and remarked: “You see, there is a communication gap between the individual and God and this must be bridged, and speaking in tongues may be one way to bridge it.”
However, it is interesting to note what the Bible indicates. It tells about the teachings and customs of Jesus and his apostles and recounts the acts of other faithful men of ancient times. But the Bible does not indicate that there was a “communication gap” between early Christians and Jehovah God.
You might be interested in considering these “prayer aids” one at a time, to see if they help or hinder true prayer. Then we will consider what the Bible says about prayers that really are heard by God.
Use of Prayer Books
Though it may surprise many persons today, the Bible never tells of anyone’s needing a prayer book to know what to say to God. No book of formal prayers, thought up and written down by someone else, was used by God’s people of ancient times in addressing him.
The Bible speaks of God as a Father. (Rom. 1:7) Could you imagine your children having to read someone else’s words to you from a book in order to say “Please,” “Thank you,” “Show me what to do,” or, “I have a problem and need your help”?
True, the Bible contains beautiful prayers. The book of Psalms is a collection of magnificent songs of praise and thanksgiving to God, many of which are exquisite prayers. Of course, persons who appreciate the privilege of prayer would choose their words carefully, in keeping with the privilege of addressing a loving God. But the Bible shows that our prayers can be very simple.
In an illustration, Jesus Christ gave an outstanding example of prayer. He told about a humble tax collector, who was not willing even to raise his eyes toward heaven, but who kept beating his chest, saying: “O God, be gracious to me a sinner.” What could be simpler than that? Yet, Jesus said: “I tell you, This man went down to his home proved more righteous” than a proud Pharisee who exalted himself even in addressing God.—Luke 18:9-14.
The prayers recounted in the Bible—even the splendid Psalms—demonstrate a friendship with God. Jehovah’s servants of ancient times did not consider God to be just an abstract “power for good” in the universe. Rather, they recognized him as a mighty spirit person. They addressed him as Jehovah, using the exalted name he had given himself. This affected the way they spoke to him. They beseeched his favor. They asked his blessing. They sought his forgiveness.—Ps. 39:12.
Really, it is astounding to think that people can talk to God and that he will listen. But the Bible describes just such a relationship. Psalm 139 beautifully indicates Jehovah’s ability to pay attention to one person. If you think that God could not be interested in you as an individual, just read this entire psalm, in which David said, in part: “O Jehovah, you have searched through me, and you know me. You yourself have come to know my sitting down and my rising up. You have considered my thought from far off. My journeying and my lying outstretched you have measured off, and you have become familiar even with all my ways.” (Ps. 139:1-3) Appreciation of this relationship permitted God’s servants of the past to address expressions of supplication and thanksgiving directly to the Creator.
God knows our shortcomings and limitations. Of course, when praying we should speak as well as we can. But what we say is far more representative of our thoughts than what we might read. Using someone else’s words written in a prayer book would actually detract from the sincerity and intimacy of our expressions to God.
Should We Pray to “Saints”?
The Bible does not say that the early Christians prayed to “saints.” It does not tell us that we need them as “intercessors,” or that they will intercede with God in our behalf. The Scriptures give no examples of God’s faithful servants praying to any dead persons, or of their trying to get such ones to do favors for them.a In fact, the Bible indicates that dead “saints” could not do so, for it says that the dead “are conscious of nothing at all.” According to the Bible, the dead are unconscious, in their graves, awaiting the resurrection.—Eccl. 9:5, 10; John 5:28, 29; 11:24.
So, rather than telling us to pray to saints, the Bible says: “In everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6) Thus, the popular French expression, “better do business with the good Lord than with his saints,” is far truer than many persons who say it may have imagined.
Praying to God is not like approaching some European kings of ancient times under whose reign those “whom you knew at court” may have been more important than the justice of your case. The first Christians, whose actions are recorded in the Bible, felt no need to go through anyone in heaven except Jesus Christ, in whose name they addressed their prayers to God. Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and he spoke of ‘asking in his name.’—John 14:6, 14.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits that early Christians prayed to God, not to saints, when it says: “Usually in the N[ew] T[estament], all prayer, private as well as public liturgical prayer, is addressed to God the Father through Christ.” It also states: “Prayer should be an expression of one’s friendship with God.”—Volume XI, pp. 670, 673.
Having “friendship with God” eliminates the need of having someone else speak for you—even if that were possible. Christians do not need to go through “saints” because they are afraid to address God directly. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, showed that we do not need such intercessors with God, for we have “freeness of speech” in addressing him through Jesus. Paul counseled: “Let us, therefore, approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.” (Heb. 4:14-16) If we have such “freeness of speech” in our prayers, other intercessors are not needed.
What About the Rosary?
Look as you will in the Holy Scriptures and you will find no reference to people’s needing a rosary or similar means of counting memorized prayers. In fact, the Bible does not indicate that the same prayer is to be repeated over and over again.
True, the Scriptures urge Christians to “persevere in prayer.” (Rom. 12:12) But this does not mean repeating the same thing over and over. Jesus said: “When praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So, do not make yourselves like them.” (Matt. 6:7, 8) If the same memorized prayer is not to be said over and over again, obviously beads would not be needed to count how many times it is said.
Do “Tongues” Fill a Need?
In view of our human limitations, would “tongues” help the holy spirit to “place with you a perfect prayer”? Those who hold that view are overlooking the intimacy of prayer as indicated in Scripture. Prayer is not some magic formula, the exact repeating of which brings a benefit. Rather, much depends on the way that we speak to God, expressing our appreciation and our needs.
Which expression do you most appreciate from a child—his simple, sincere thanks, or the flowery words someone told him to say, but that he obviously does not understand? Well, then, is it not reasonable to think that an intelligent and loving heavenly Father appreciates your simple, sincere requests and expressions rather than unknown words impressed upon you from an outside source?
The psalmist did not say that he had approached God in an “unknown tongue.” Instead, he said: “I have called with my whole heart. Answer me, O Jehovah.” (Ps. 119:145) How could an expression be from the heart if the person uttering it did not even know what it meant?—Compare 1 Corinthians 14:14, 15.
Jesus gave an example of prayer. It was a very simple one. That Model Prayer (often called the “Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father”) is recorded at Matthew 6:9-13. It gives us the proper perspective of an appropriate prayer. God’s name, his kingdom and the doing of his will on earth come first. Then come the needs of the individual (including the simple material need of “our bread for this day”), forgiveness of sins and deliverance from temptation and the wicked one, Satan the Devil.
There is nothing flowery, no oratory, about the “Lord’s Prayer.” In fact, in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures this Model Prayer contains only 59 words. None of it is hard to understand. No part of it is in an unknown tongue. The one who prays understands what he is asking, and he asks it simply, just as a person would talk with a loving father. In fact, Jesus prefaced this Model Prayer with the reassuring words: “God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.”—Matt. 6:8.
Persons who pray in “tongues” sometimes say that they are using “angels’ tongues.” However, there is no indication in the Scriptures that even Jesus Christ used some special kind of speech in praying to his heavenly Father. Jesus’ own prayers recorded in the Bible were not beyond the ability of human words to express. And how could anyone today have greater things to say to God than Jesus had?
Consider the simplicity of Jesus’ short prayer in Gethsemane on the night before his death: “Abba [a word meaning “papa”], Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36) What could be simpler than that? Yet, Jesus himself prayed it. Even more direct, however, was his last prayer, at the moment of his death. At Luke 23:46 we read: “Jesus called with a loud voice and said: ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ When he had said this, he expired.”
How to Be Heard
We have seen that having our prayers heard does not depend on the specially worded prayers in a book, or an appeal to “saints.” It does not depend on repeating the same thing a prescribed number of times while counting with a rosary. Nor does it depend on using “tongues” to say words that we do not understand. Rather, having our prayers heard requires approach through Jesus Christ and depends on our hearts and on our obedience to God.
The apostle John wrote: “Beloved ones, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have freeness of speech toward God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes. Indeed, this is his commandment, that we have faith in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and be loving one another, just as he gave us commandment.”—1 John 3:21-23.
Our prayers must be in harmony with God’s will and his purposes. Thus, John said: “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.
The Proverb says: “Jehovah is far away from the wicked ones, but the prayer of the righteous ones he hears.” (Prov. 15:29) Those who obey God’s commands and pray in harmony with his purposes have the assurance that his “ears” are open to them.—Ps. 10:17; 1 Pet. 3:12.
It is a great condescension on Jehovah God’s part to let us approach him in prayer. Such a relationship is an inestimable privilege. If we appreciate the opportunity of approaching God, and if we keep our hearts sensitive to his will, our minds will make right decisions and will direct us to act in ways that meet with divine approval. What will be the result? Just the opposite of having a “communication gap” with God. Fittingly, the disciple James wrote: “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.”—Jas. 4:8.
a The Roman Catholic Douay Version of the Bible lists ‘seeking the truth from the dead’ among things “the Lord abhorreth.” (Deut. 18:11, 12) While this passage deals with spiritism, it should make a person cautious about trying to get dead persons—even “saints”—to do favors for him.