What Is the Quality of Your Prayers?
HOW often do you pray? Do you feel that your prayers are being heard? Do you feel at a loss as to how to pray or for what to pray?
Prayer is a most valuable provision of the Creator, a real gift to be highly prized. One should therefore give careful attention that one makes use of this gift and that one’s prayers are such that God will answer them.
The primary requirement for prayers that please God and receive his attention is very simple—an honest heart. The apostle Paul writes: “Let us approach with true hearts in the full assurance of faith.” (Heb. 10:22) The language one uses may be highly refined or it may be unpolished, the expression clearly made or poorly worded. But Jehovah bypasses these external things and looks on the heart. “He is aware of the secrets of the heart.” It is not the appearance or the wording that counts with him, because “as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—Ps. 44:21; 1 Sam. 16:7.
In fact, the prayer may not be audible at all; it may be merely a strong appeal to Jehovah from the heart, as in the case of faithful Hannah. “She was speaking in her heart; only her lips were quivering, and her voice was not heard.” But Jehovah answered her prayer.—1 Sam. 1:13, 20.
FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE ESSENTIAL
Along with an honest heart there are other important requisites. The person praying must have faith in God. This faith is more than a belief that God exists, that he is the Creator and is Almighty. God says in his inspired Word: “He that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”—Heb. 11:6.
In order to have this faith the person must have knowledge of God—knowledge of his qualities, his dealings, his purposes. The apostle writes: “How will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? . . . How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach?” If a person has not studied God’s Word, then he should get help from those understanding it, for them to teach him knowledge of God.—Rom. 10:14.
Having some knowledge of God’s purpose, we will pray in harmony with that purpose. Reasonably, we could not expect God to answer a prayer for things contrary to his will. That would be asking God to contradict himself. Furthermore, anything contrary to God’s will would not be good for us. As Jesus said to the people: “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?”—Matt. 7:9-11.
When we pray we must realize that Jehovah is a person. Jehovah has feelings, even stronger than ours, of affection, concern, mercy and willingness to listen and to help us. He deeply appreciates a right attitude on our part. Therefore we should really talk to him—respectfully but pouring out our heart.
CHRIST’S EXAMPLE OF PRAYER
Jesus Christ was a man of prayer. He gave a model prayer, recorded at Matthew 6:9-13, outlining the primary things to pray for, and his prayer shortly after instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal helps us to know for what he personally prayed. (John chapter 17) Before he appointed his twelve apostles he prayed all night. (Luke 6:12, 13) How did he, a perfect man, with no sinful inclinations or defects, have so much to pray about?
Well, Jesus realized that the apostles would be foundation stones of the Christian congregation, which would be a “pillar and support of the truth” in the earth. (1 Tim. 3:15) They had to be men of the highest caliber. Logically, Jesus would discuss with his heavenly Father the men associated with him—each one’s qualities, his weaknesses, his needs, whether he would fit into one of the twelve places. Jesus undoubtedly sought wisdom from Jehovah, for he knew that it was actually God who was responsible for choosing them. (1 Cor. 12:18) Also, he may have discussed the further training of those selected.
Additionally, the work ahead must have been a subject of Jesus’ prayer. He could have spoken about the later expansion of the evangelistic campaign, the appointment of the seventy, the places that Jesus himself would visit and finally his coming trial and sacrificial death.—Luke 10:1; compare Luke 9:31.
PROPER MATTERS FOR PRAYER
What are matters we could talk about to Jehovah in our personal, private prayers? Aside from the primary things—the sanctification of Jehovah’s name, the coming of his Messianic kingdom and the destruction of wickedness—we very much need personal help ourselves. We could discuss the problems we have faced during the day. Our mistakes could be acknowledged—just how we erred.
Perhaps we have been disappointed at the way we carried out a certain task. It may have been with regard to conducting a Bible study, delivering a talk, giving counsel or making some congregational arrangement. It may have been a matter of exercising family headship, or respecting it. Whatever it was, we will be favorably heard if we frankly acknowledge our failure and seek help to do better next time.—Heb. 4:15, 16.
Then, with a view to prayer, we might ask ourselves questions such as: What fruits of the spirit are lacking in our lives? Do we manifest real love and concern for others? In fact, do we pray for the spiritual welfare and prosperity of others? Do we have joy in serving God? Do we exercise self-control, or are we prone to ‘let all our spirit out,’ to the injury of ourselves and others?—Prov. 25:28; 29:11; Gal. 5:22, 23; 2 Thess. 1:11; Luke 6:27, 28.
What about material physical needs? God is pleased when we acknowledge him as the Giver of all good things. Then, is it proper to pray for recovery from physical sickness if it be God’s will? Yes. The apostle Paul credited God for the recovery of his faithful friend Epaphroditus. He wrote: “Yes, indeed, [Epaphroditus] fell sick nearly to the point of death; but God had mercy on him.” (Phil. 2:27) We, too, may ask that, if God sees fit, we may live and continue to serve him. If he does not give us recovery, it is not that he rejected our prayer. Rather, we know that both his and our interests are best served in another way. In sickness we may pray, in full confidence, that we be given strength to maintain our spiritual balance, for during a time of physical weakness we may be more prone to give in to despair and loss of faith. Likewise one can pray in behalf of fellow Christians who are stricken with illness, physical or spiritual.—1 John 5:16.
In time of trial, or when our brothers are having difficulties, we need special wisdom as to the course to pursue, or how to counsel and assist others. Jesus’ half brother James wrote: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, . . . if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him.”—Jas. 1:2-5.
We might feel that our request will be viewed by God as unworthy of his notice, since he is so great, all-wise, and we are often weak. Doubtless you have asked someone to do something for you, and he responded in a reluctant way, or in a way that made you feel very small and unworthy, or foolish. But God will not reproach us for “stupidity” or weakness. No, he gives generously, wholeheartedly, in a way that makes us happy that we asked.
It may be that we ourselves have sinned seriously. Then we need prayer most urgently. If we are repentant and want to be restored to God’s favor, we should immediately resort to prayer, confessing our sin, acknowledging exactly what our sin was, at the same time doing anything that can be done to rectify matters. (Prov. 28:13) If we should feel that our approach is blocked, we should without delay call on the elders of the congregation for help, as outlined at James 5:13-15. Their prayer is effective.—Jas. 5:16.
FINE EXAMPLES OF PRAYER
To improve the quality of our prayers, it is profitable to read some of the prayers in the Psalms.* You will notice that often there is a superscription naming the occasion, and also that the prayer is fitting for that occasion.
As an example, note David’s heartfelt prayer, after he had been reproved by God because of his sin with Bath-sheba. (Psalm 51) He threw himself wholly on God’s mercy. He was primarily concerned over the reproach on Jehovah’s name. (Ps 51 Vss. 1-4) He appealed on the basis of his own inherited sinfulness. (Ps 51 Vs. 5) He asked for cleansing, and a new and steadfast spirit. (Ps 51 Vss. 7-10) He was fearful lest God should remove His holy spirit. (Ps 51 Vs. 11) He confessed his bloodguiltiness. (Ps 51 Vs. 14) He promised to continue serving Jehovah. (Ps 51 Vss. 14, 15) Finally, he expressed his concern for Zion and primarily for the pure worship conducted there.—Ps 51 Vss. 18, 19.
In other Biblical prayers we find expressions of praise or thanks, quoting of scriptures and reciting of God’s fine qualities and principles as a basis on which to expect Jehovah to answer favorably. These things are apparent in Psalm 86.
Therefore, if you are one who is discouraged, troubled, without a real hope, what can you do? Seek Jehovah God. Learn about him from those who serve him. Humble yourself to call on him through Jesus Christ. He will reward you by directing you to a real hope of life under Christ’s Kingdom rule, when “the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isa. 11:9.