Prayer, a Precious Loving Provision
“Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God.”—Phil. 4:6.
1. What facts highlight the miraculous nature of prayer?
IF WE but reflect on this provision of prayer we cannot help wondering at the miracle of it all. Man was highly elated when on January 10, 1946, after extensive preparations, he first made contact with the moon by radar signals, their extremely faint echo returning to him “after an interval of between 2.38 and 2.72 sec., corresponding to the moon’s distance of 221,000 to 253,000 mi.” Man’s radar beams may reach the moon with the speed of light, but what is that compared to our prayers reaching all the way to the throne of Jehovah, which, being far above the material universe, must be countless light-years away, and that in but an instant of time! And how easily we can get in touch with Jehovah in prayer!
2. What is the first condition of prayer, and in what two respects?
2 However, for this miracle to take place we must pray to the one true and living God, Jehovah. (Ex. 6:3; Isa. 46:9) Prayers offered to gods that exist only in the minds of men will never be heard, as the priests of Baal in the time of Elijah found to their chagrin. (1 Ki. 18:26-29; Ps. 115:4-8) The very first requirement for prayer, therefore, is faith. “Without faith it is impossible to win his good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” Note, we must have faith not only that God exists but also that he will reward those earnestly seeking him, that he will answer our prayers. As James emphasizes: “But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about. In fact, let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah.” And as Jesus said: “If you have faith the size of a mustard grain, . . . nothing will be impossible for you.”—Heb. 11:6; Jas. 1:6, 7; Matt. 17:20.
3. (a) What examples does God’s Word give that he answers prayer? (b) What modern example do we have?
3 And do we not have sound basis for such faith? Is not God able to “do more than superabundantly beyond all the things we ask or conceive”? And since he loves us, we may rest assured that he is as willing as he is able so different from imperfect man, who so often is either willing but unable or able but unwilling. Yes, “if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him?” Did not God answer Elijah’s prayer when he faced the 450 prophets of Baal? Hezekiah’s prayer when Sennacherib’s army threatened Jerusalem? the prayers on behalf of Peter when he was taken prisoner by Herod Agrippa? And the prosperity of the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses, and that in spite of all obstacles, is proof that Jehovah God is as able and as willing to answer prayer today as he ever was in times past. True, we may not always understand by what particular means God answers prayer today, but we do know that he uses his organization, consisting of both invisible and visible creatures, his Word and his holy spirit or active force.—Eph. 3:20; Matt. 7:11; 1 Ki. 18:36-38; 2 Ki. 19:19, 35; Acts 12:5, 7.
RECOGNIZING GOD’S CHANNEL
4. Through whom must we come in prayer, and apparently why was this condition not mentioned in Jesus’ model prayer?
4 Further, if our prayers are to reach God we must recognize his appointed way, for Jehovah is a God of order. As the great Sovereign of the universe he is not one to permit his subjects to indiscriminately intrude upon him, and especially not such as are his enemies because of sin. He has a channel which we must recognize if we would have an audience with him, as it were. Since the spring of A.D. 33 that channel is Jesus Christ, even as he said: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” While many may profess to reach God through Mary or other so-called saints, in this they sadly err; for, look where we will in God’s Word, not once do we read of any petitions being directed through these or of any commands for us to do so. “There is one God, and [only] one mediator between God and men, a man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” Since this is so, it might be asked, Why did not Jesus include this requirement in the model prayer he gave his disciples? Doubtless because when he gave that prayer he had not fully proved himself. But by the last day of his ministry he had ‘finished the work his Father had given him to do,’ and so he could say: “If you ask the Father for anything he will give it to you in my name. Until this present time you have not asked a single thing in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.”—John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; John 17:4; 16:23, 24.
5. What should be our mental attitude in prayer, and why?
5 For our prayers to reach God they must also be uttered in all sincerity. Those who pray merely “to be visible to men” pray in vain, for God hates hypocrites. He hears only those who pray “with spirit and truth.” Only “the prayer of the upright ones is a pleasure to him,” for they “are the ones that will behold his face.” Likewise, we must come to God in humility. In view of his greatness and our insignificance, pride would be most unseemly. Besides, in coming to God with petitions we come as beggars, not as customers. We cannot bargain with God, for we have nothing to offer. Most fitting, therefore, is God’s opposition to haughty ones and his granting of undeserved kindness to humble ones.—Matt. 6:5; John 4:24; Prov. 15:8; Ps. 11:7; 1 Pet. 5:5.
6. What about our physical position in prayer, and yet what may be said in favor of kneeling?
6 Incidentally, there is no Scriptural support whatever for the practice of folding one’s hands and assuming a sanctimonious pose in prayer. As God’s Word shows, our physical position is not important. However, kneeling when offering private prayer is to be recommended as an aid to our having, the right mental attitude of humility before our Maker. (Ps. 95:6; Dan. 6:10; Luke 22:41; Eph. 3:14) Also, kneeling aids concentration. It is so easy to let our minds wander or to doze off if we pray while lying in bed. No doubt that is why Paul counseled us not only to be “persevering in prayer” but also to keep “remaining awake in it with thanksgiving.”—Col. 4:2.
IN HARMONY WITH GOD’S WILL
7-10. (a) To be answered, our prayers must be in line with what? (b) What Scriptural examples illustrate this? (c) What lesson is there in this for us?
7 Further, if we would have God hear our prayers they must be in harmony with his will. Jesus both taught us to pray, “Let your will come to pass, as in heaven, also upon earth,” and he himself prayed, “Not as I will, but as you will.” The same condition is noted by the apostle John: “No matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.” That condition is so logical and obvious that it seems strange that most persons praying overlook it—yet, perhaps not so strange when we note how selfish and ill-advised most prayers are. Do not God’s purposes take precedence? Are they not far more important than any interests we personally may have? Besides, do not the prayers of men often conflict, as in time of war when both sides pray for victory? Regardless of his omniscience and omnipotence, God could not answer conflicting prayers.—Matt. 6:10; 26:39; 1 John 5:14.
8 Note how this principle worked in the life of Moses. When he called upon Jehovah at the time Pharaoh and his armies had hemmed in the Israelites, God performed a miracle and opened up the Red Sea, for that prayer was in harmony with Jehovah’s purpose to make a name for himself and to deliver his people from Egyptian bondage. Likewise, when the nation of Israel deserved to be destroyed because of their having made the golden calf and later again because of their rebelling upon hearing the report of the faithless spies, Jehovah nevertheless spared the Israelites because Moses pleaded with Him on the basis of His name and His covenant with their forefathers. Jehovah also heard and answered the prayers of Moses on behalf of his people on other occasions.—Ex. 14:15-28; 32:7-14; Num. 11:1, 2; 12:1-15; 14:11-20; 21:5-9.
9 But not so when Moses prayed to be permitted to enter the Land of Promise. Moses had forfeited his right because he allowed the ‘grumbling Israelites to so embitter him that he spoke and acted rashly at Meribah,’ and Jehovah was not changing his mind. And so although Moses praised Jehovah and thanked him for his goodness and kept begging: “Let me pass over, please, and see the good land that is across the Jordan, this good mountainous region and Lebanon,” Moses prayed in vain. Instead of getting his wish he was rebuked with, “That is enough of you! Never speak to me further on this matter.” Obviously Moses had reached the end of Jehovah’s long-suffering. Moses’ reasons were purely sentimental, for his presence in the Promised Land was not at all essential to the carrying out of Jehovah’s purposes. Had not Joshua been appointed to lead the people? Yes, he had.—Ps. 106:32, 33; Deut. 3:24-28.
10 There are some sobering lessons in Moses’ experiences for us. For one thing, our petitions are more likely to be answered if they involve Jehovah’s name. And, further, a sobering thought is that Jehovah is not at all swayed by sentimentality but is motivated and guided by wisdom, justice and love. Helping to wean us away from all such self-centered sentimentality is the model prayer that Jesus gave us, for it puts first things first. And what comes first? “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will come to pass, as in heaven, also upon earth.” Letting the universal triumph of righteousness in the vindication of Jehovah’s name and sovereignty be of prime concern in our prayers will help us to make these also of prime concern in our everyday lives.—Matt. 6:9, 10.
11. What scriptures show that personal concerns are fit subjects for prayer?
11 That personal concerns, spiritual and material, while secondary, are also fit subjects for prayer the Scriptures indicate, for they tell us: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God.” And again: “Cast all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.” Whatever we are interested in, or whatever affects us or weighs heavily on our minds, is a fit subject for prayer, be it of a spiritual or a physical nature. ‘Tell Father about it!’ And having unburdened ourselves we should stop worrying but have faith that “God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God.”—Phil. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:7; Rom. 8:28.
12, 13. For what may we make request, as shown by the Scriptures?
12 In this regard it might well be said that what we pray for indicates the degree of our spiritual maturity. If we are giving Jehovah “exclusive devotion” and are “seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness,” the personal things we pray for will primarily be of a spiritual nature and therefore also most likely will be in line with God’s will. Among such things that we may and should pray for ourselves is an ever greater portion of God’s holy spirit or active force, which God is glad to give us, even as Jesus shows at Luke 11:13. Wisdom is another gift that God generously gives to all asking and for which we should pray. (Jas. 1:5) And, like David, we should always pray: “Teach me do do your will, for you are my God.” We may pray in vain to have a trial removed, but we will not pray in vain if we ask for wisdom to cope with it and strength to endure under it. That was Paul’s experience, for, after three times vainly petitioning God regarding a painful “thorn in the flesh,” God comforted him with, “My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you; for my power is being made perfect in weakness.”—Ps. 143:10; 2 Cor. 12:7-10.
13 And since ‘in sin our mothers conceived us’ we continually need to pray, “Forgive us our sins,” pleading on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, as already noted. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This being so, how foolish it is to bear the burden of sin’s guilt when we can be relieved from it through prayer, resolving to do better in the future!—Ps. 51:5; Luke 11:4; 1 John 1:9.
14. As shown in 1 Timothy 2:1, 2, concerning whom should we pray and for what reason?
14 It also is in line with God’s will for us to pray “concerning all kinds of men, concerning kings and all those who are in high station, in order that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness.” Not that we are to pray that these might convert to Jehovah’s pure worship in spite of their inclinations, but merely that they should not oppose our ministry. Such prayers therefore are not selfish. Included would be requests that God’s will might be done in legal cases being tried or pending.—1 Tim. 2:1, 2.*
15. For what material things may we make request?
15 That for material things we also may pray Jesus showed by including in his model prayer the request, “Give us today our bread for this day.” Not luxuries, not more than we need, but contenting ourselves with “sustenance and covering.” As we read elsewhere: “Two things I have asked of you. Do not withhold them from me before I die. Untruth and the lying word put far away from me. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Let me devour the food prescribed for me, that I may not be too full and I actually deny [you] and say: ‘Who is Jehovah?’ and that I may not come to poverty and I actually steal and assail the name of my God.” Incidentally, note that here again the material is made incidental to the spiritual!—Matt. 6:11; 1 Tim. 6:8; Prov. 30:7-9.
PRAYING GOD’S BLESSING AND ACTING CONSISTENTLY
16, 17. (a) What does Nehemiah’s experience show that we should pray for? (b) How does Paul show he appreciated the same?
16 Further, we ever need to ask Jehovah to bless our efforts, for unless Jehovah builds the house and guards the city we build and watch in vain. (Ps. 127:1) Among the servants of Jehovah who appreciated this truth was Nehemiah. When King Artaxerxes asked him what he wanted, Nehemiah first of all did what? “At once I prayed to the God of the heavens.” And Jehovah immediately answered his prayer. In a twinkling of an eye it had reached Jehovah’s throne and was acted upon, for the king granted his every request and Nehemiah realized his heart’s chief desire: the walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt in spite of violent opposition, and that in but fifty-two days.—Neh. 2:1-8; 6:15.
17 The apostle Paul also appreciated this truth. He repeatedly stresses prayer in his letters, mentioning it scores of times. He did not depend upon his natural abilities or upon his supernatural powers for results. He knew that it was God’s blessing, not Paul’s planting nor the watering of Apollos, that made things grow. He closes every one of his fourteen letters with what is in effect a prayer that undeserved kindness may be with the ones to whom he is writing. (1 Thess. 5:28) This is also seen from his time and again asking the various congregations to pray for him and his work, as when he wrote: “Finally, brothers, carry on prayer for us, that the word of Jehovah may keep moving speedily and being glorified just as it is in fact with you.” If the gifted apostle Paul recognized the need of God’s blessing upon his ministry, even more so should we!—2 Thess. 3:1; Eph. 6:18-20.
18, 19. What obligations do we assume by our very prayers?
18 Of course, praying for Jehovah’s blessing upon our efforts implies that we ourselves are doing all we can, putting forth our best efforts. For us to pray without acting in line with our prayers would amount to hypocrisy. God does not do for us what we can do for ourselves. We can hope to reap only ‘if we do not give out in doing what is right.’ While it is “God who makes it grow,” we must not forget that there would be nothing for God to make grow had Paul not first planted and Apollos watered. Nor may we expect God to answer our prayers when we act the opposite from the way we pray. How can God answer our prayer, “Do not bring us into temptation,” if we get careless about ‘making straight paths for our feet’ or, worse yet, walk deliberately into temptation? Whatever may be the exact import of those words of Jesus, one thing is certain: they commit us to a course of avoiding temptations. So, ask for what we will, wisdom, holy spirit, peace, spiritual prosperity, our bread for the day, by our very asking we obligate ourselves to do our part.—Gal. 6:9; 1 Cor. 3:7; Matt. 6:13; Heb. 12:13.
19 Another aspect of this principle of consistency is the obligation for us to act, to the extent that it lies within our power, as we ask God to act. We must deal with others the way we want God to deal with us. Do we want mercy shown? Then we must show mercy. (Matt. 5:7) Only if we show mercy to others can we sincerely plead for mercy. That is why Jesus worded his model prayer the way he did (New World Translation): “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Note the past tense—not merely as we intend to forgive others when pleading forgiveness for ourselves, only to forget all about forgiving them after we have received forgiveness, but as we practice forgiving!—Matt. 6:12.
PRAYER AND LOVE
20, 21. (a) In what ways is prayer an expression of love? (b) How may this be illustrated?
20 Nor would we overlook how closely related to each other prayer and love are. Does not the precious provision of prayer reveal God’s love for us? That the great Sovereign of the universe should provide for weak, imperfect and sinful creatures of dust to come into his presence whenever they wish and with whatever is on their hearts and minds surely is another proof that “God is love.” And, conversely, is not prayer an expression of love on our part, love for Jehovah, for our brothers, yes, and love for ourselves, because of being conscious of our spiritual need?
21 As has previously been well noted in this magazine, in making a dedication we do not dedicate ourselves to an impersonal cause, but to a person, our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah God. Our prayers might therefore be likened to long-distance telephone calls that a child, while away at school, makes to his father back home. Our heavenly Father has made all the provisions, he has taken care of all the expenses—and do not think that it did not cost him something. It did, the life of his only-begotten Son—and it makes his heart glad for us to call on him in prayer, for he truly loves us. We like to visit with those we love, do we not? If we love our heavenly Father we will visit with him often. Do we as much as we might, or are we lacking in appreciation?
22. How will love for God further affect our prayers?
22 Love causes us to appreciate what God is continually doing for us and will make us want to go to him frequently in the spirit of praise and thanksgiving and to linger in his presence. As the minds of lovers keep reverting to the object of their love, so, as lovers of Jehovah, our minds should keep reverting to him and his goodness whenever not occupied with things that require attention and application. And especially, when deeply stirred because of some blessing received, will love cause our hearts to overflow in spontaneous expressions of praise. So let us “in connection with everything give thanks. For this is the will of God . . . respecting you.” As Job expresses it: ‘If in the Almighty we find exquisite delight, we will call to God at all times.’ Then we will be continually praising Jehovah, ‘seven times a day.’—1 Thess. 5:18; Job 27:10; Ps. 119:164.
23, 24. (a) What is another way in which we can show love by our prayers, as seen by what Scriptural examples? (b) What particular privileges do we have in this respect today?
23 Do we love our brothers? One way in which we can show this is by praying for them. In addition to the fine example of this given by Jesus, as already noted, we have that of Paul. He not only ministered to his brothers publicly and in their homes and wrote loving letters of instruction and encouragement when unable to personally be with them, but also kept praying for them. To mention but two examples: “I . . . do not cease giving thanks for you. I continue mentioning you in my prayers.” “I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment.” In this respect also let us imitate Paul as he imitated Christ.—Eph. 1:15, 16; Phil. 1:9; 1 Cor. 11:1.
24 Especially should we remember to pray for our brothers who have the greater responsibilities, and for those who may be suffering persecution. Let us persevere in such prayers, even as Jesus urged upon us in his illustration of the importunate widow: “Certainly, then, shall not God cause justice to be done to his chosen ones who cry aloud to him day and night, even though he is long-suffering toward them? I tell you, He will cause justice to be done to them speedily.” If our hearts truly go out to these brothers, we will “keep on asking” in behalf of them.—Luke 18:7, 8; Matt. 7:7.
25. What effect will a proper love of self have on our prayers?
25 Likewise a proper love of ourselves means being conscious of our spiritual need; and that will make us want to go to God in prayer, as we have previously noted. It will make us want to visit with God regularly, each morning upon arising, and each evening before retiring, and at mealtimes. Then we shall also be mindful to pray before and while engaging in the ministry and especially if we have the privilege of preaching the Word from the public platform. Then we shall also listen carefully to and enter into the spirit of the prayers that others offer in our hearing, as at the congregational meetings, instead of letting our minds wander. And should it be our privilege to offer public prayer it will prompt us to speak clearly, coherently and earnestly, so that all who hear can from the heart say, “Amen!”
26. Why and how does prayer cause love to grow?
26 And, finally, let us note that not only is prayer an expression of love but prayer causes us to grow in love. Audible prayer sincerely uttered in the presence of our brothers binds us together in love; the heart sentiments we hear expressed are our sentiments; we think and feel alike. What a privilege the apostles had to hear Jesus utter the prayer recorded at John 17! The same might be said regarding those who heard the prayers recorded at 1 Kings 8:15-54; Ezra 9:6-15; Nehemiah 9:5-38; Isaiah 37:14-20. Prayer in the family binds the family closer together, and prayer at the various congregational meetings binds the members of the congregation closer together. In rubbing elbows with our fellow in our family or congregation we may at times have our feelings hurt and because thereof cherish a little resentment. But when we hear him humbly, earnestly and in childlike simplicity represent us in prayer to God, all resentment melts away.
27, 28. What indicates that prayer is a precious loving provision of Jehovah for us?
27 Prayer is indeed an amazing miracle, a precious loving provision. We cannot keep integrity toward God without its help. Wicked men may take away our Bibles, our opportunities of associating with our brothers and of engaging in the field ministry, but they can never take away from us the precious provision of prayer. And we know what to pray for, first of all for the triumph of righteousness in the universe and then whatever is in line with Jehovah’s will for us, his spirit, wisdom, forgiveness of sins, his blessing upon our efforts and our daily necessities. And that Jehovah answers prayer today we can see by the expansion of pure worship, by the happiness of his people, as well as by his servants keeping integrity in spite of bitterest opposition and persecution.
28 Because we are living in critical times hard to deal with we have more need than ever to be vigilant, to avoid the snare of overconfidence, to be conscious of our spiritual need, calling for increased study of his Word, meditation, association with our brothers, field ministry and especially prayer. And in view of the spiritual prosperity of the New World society and the increased light shining upon our pathway, do we not have more reason than ever before to offer praise and thanksgiving to our heavenly Father? Truly the precious privilege of prayer is proof that God is love, and by means of it we give proof that we love him and our neighbor.