Approaching God in Prayer
JEHOVAH GOD says: “The One planting the ear, can he not hear?” (Ps. 94:9) Anyone, small or great, who prays to him sincerely from the heart, can be fully confident that his petition will be given God’s interested attention. The Bible tells us: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for there is the same Lord over all, who is rich to all those calling upon him.”—Rom. 10:12.
However, we must approach God with the right attitude, one of great respect, and with an understanding of our relationship to him. He is King of the universe, our almighty Creator.
Accordingly, just as a person would not rush into the presence of an earthly king unannounced, ignoring all proper decorum, so the one earnestly seeking God’s attention in prayer will approach him in the proper spirit and manner. But this does not remove him far away, as a cold, distant God, for the apostle Paul told a group of men and women in Athens that God has arranged for men to seek him and that, “in fact, he is not far off from each one of us. For by him we have life and move and exist . . . ‘For we are also his progeny.’”—Acts 17:26-28.
God has kindly informed us of the way in which we can be sure to get a hearing ear. He has made it very clear that he must be approached “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:20) Jesus repeatedly pointed out to the apostles that after his resurrection they should make request in his name, and that anything they asked in harmony with God’s arrangement would be granted. (John 14:13, 14; 15:16) He showed that, for those who are dedicated servants of God, it would not be a matter of asking in Christ’s name because God was more reluctant to grant an answer than Jesus would be. No, Jesus said: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I shall make request of the Father concerning you. For the Father himself has affection for you, because you have had affection for me and have believed that I came out as the Father’s representative.” (John 16:26, 27) Jehovah is as ready to bestow blessings as we ever are to receive them.
Why, then, is approach through Jesus Christ required? Because on our own we rightly have no approach to God, since as sinners we are not members of his clean family. (Rom. 3:21-23) Jesus’ sacrifice provided an atonement covering for mankind’s sins and a basis for his becoming a High Priest of God in behalf of man. Of this important position of Jesus Christ, the inspired writer said: “We have as high priest, not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin. Let us, therefore, approach with freeness of speech to [God’s] throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”—Heb. 4:15, 16.
At the close of our prayers we should also acknowledge Jesus as the way of approach. The apostle Paul wrote: “No matter how many the promises of God are, they have become Yes [that is, sure, affirmed] by means of him. Therefore also through him is the ‘Amen’ said to God for glory through us.” (2 Cor. 1:20) “Amen,” after closing the prayer in the name of Christ, means “so be it,” a statement of affirmation, namely, that all of God’s promises are and will be fulfilled through Christ. In their saying “Amen” Christians thereby glorify God. If one is praying, others hearing and agreeing with the prayer may also say “Amen” silently, in their hearts, or audibly, if they feel moved to do so.
The apostle Paul encourages Christians to keep up their fight of faith ‘while with every form of prayer they carry on prayer on every occasion in spirit.’ (Eph. 6:18) Every prayer, given either audibly or silently, has a point or purpose. There are various forms of prayer, for example, “intercessions,” in which the Christian prays in behalf of others, “offerings of thanks,” of asking blessings, prayers of “supplication” with regard to certain needs or problems. (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6) There are also many occasions for prayer. Certain circumstances may arise in which we need to call on God, or there may be regular times or occasions, such as Christian meetings. (Jas. 5:13-16; Acts 6:5, 6) The prayers should fit the occasion.
Hence, it is good when praying to be as specific as possible. There should be a point or purpose served on that occasion; the prayer should not be scattered, rambling, incoherent. For example, in giving thanks at mealtime it would usually be inappropriate to make a long prayer, dealing with matters far afield or not connected with the occasion. A brief prayer would here serve the purpose. But to start off the day or to conclude the day with prayer we may wish to mention things that arise daily in our lives and those of the association of brothers throughout the world. Thus such a prayer may cover more ground. Of course, there are times when “what we should pray for as we need to we do not know, but the spirit itself pleads for us with groanings unuttered.” (Rom. 8:26) God accepts our earnest prayer in these circumstances, answering according to what we need, as though we had prayed for just that very answer.
When teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus gave them a brief outline setting matters forth in order of importance. (Matt. 6:9-13) He also counseled against vain repetition in prayer. In speaking to a person in ordinary conversation we would consider it foolish to say the same thing over and over again. How much more so in speaking to God, who “knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) And, just as in talking to a friend, we would not use his name in every sentence or so, likewise we would not repeat Jehovah’s name over and over in a prayer.
The Bible examples of prayer reveal to us that there is no prescribed posture or any required position of the hands. Jesus “fell upon his face, praying” in the garden of Gethsemane. (Matt. 26:39) He “raised his eyes heavenward” on some occasions. (John 11:41; Luke 18:13) He spoke of standing in prayer. (Mark 11:25) The apostle Paul “kneeled down” with the elders of Ephesus.—Acts 20:36.
At a meeting when one is leading a group in prayer it is therefore inappropriate to direct the audience to “bow their heads.” Everyone should, of course, assume a respectful posture, but no specific posture makes the prayer more holy. We should consider also the fact that, at a public meeting, unbelievers, though friendly, might not feel like bowing their heads along with the congregation. Simply to announce that ‘we will now approach Jehovah in prayer,’ or some similar expression, would be sufficient.
Prayer presented to Jehovah God in the name of Jesus Christ has much power. At mealtimes, prayers of thanks please God and move him to bless the eaters in their use of the sustenance gained. The apostle wrote: “Every creation of God is fine, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through God’s word [approving of all things God has created for food] and prayer over it.” (1 Tim. 4:4, 5) One not giving thanks to God for his food is unappreciative, and cannot expect the full blessing of God. We do not want to be like animals, unaware of the real Source and Provider of all good things.
Jesus’ half brother James says of the effectiveness of prayer: “A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force. Elijah was a man with feelings like ours, and yet in prayer he prayed for it not to rain; and it did not rain upon the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the land put forth its fruit.”—Jas. 5:16-18.
So there is a great reward in praying to God. Consider the unparalleled blessing that the Roman officer Cornelius received from prayer. (Acts chap. 10) We should, therefore, pray in full faith and confidence. For Jehovah, who gives a name to each of the trillions of stars, is able to hear the prayers of all his hundreds of thousands of worshipers and to give them individual consideration.—Ps. 147:4.