Praying to Jehovah so as to Be Heard
“He that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”—Heb. 11:6.
1-3. (a) What does the experience of a little girl tell us? (b) What lesson is there in this for all parents?
IT HAPPENED at a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Despite repeated stern looks and whispered reproofs from her mother, a little girl continued to misbehave. The mother then signaled for the father to take over, and he did. With his daughter, he strode toward a small room at the rear of the hall. Realizing what was in store for her, the little girl cried out: “O Jehovah, please help!”
2 Whenever this incident is related, it elicits chuckles, and well it might. But is it only amusing, or does it tell us something? Indeed it does tell us something. The little girl knew the name of God the Creator, that it is Jehovah, something very few little girls know. She had been taught the value of prayer and that Jehovah can be appealed to for help in times of trouble. True, it does seem amusing that she would ask God to protect her from needed discipline. But, really, is such a request limited to naïve little girls? Not at all. The nation of Israel time and again did the very same thing, especially in the days of the judges. Repeatedly, when receiving merited punishment, they prayed to God for relief.—Judg. 2:11-18; 4:1-3, 23, 24; 10:6-16; 11:32, 33.
3 There is a lesson in this for all Christian parents. Start early in life to inculcate in your children faith in Jehovah God. Help them to appreciate and to understand that Jehovah is a real person who hears and answers prayers. Teaching children about prayer from infancy will contribute much toward their becoming God-fearing when they reach the age of accountability.—Compare Psalm 22:9, 10; Proverbs 22:6; 2 Timothy 3:14, 15.
WHY GIVE THOUGHT TO YOUR PRAYERS
4, 5. (a) What questions regarding prayer do we do well to ask ourselves? (b) Why are such questions most timely?
4 But what role does prayer play in your life? How much do you pray? Do you often find yourself too busy even to pray? Or, do you perhaps hurry through your prayers mechanically, as a chore, a duty that must be fulfilled? What is the quality of your prayers?
5 These thought-provoking questions are timely. Even among those identifying themselves as Jehovah’s servants there are persons who do not pray regularly. others feel that their prayers lack meaningful content and substance. This is something that a Christian may not take lightly, for the quality of his prayers reflects his spiritual condition. A person’s spiritual health, in turn, depends largely on his being conscious of his spiritual need and doing something about it. (Matt. 5:3) At the same time, by giving thought to the quality of his prayers, the individual can improve his spiritual state.
WHY WE CAN COME TO JEHOVAH IN CONFIDENCE
6 Why can we confidently come to Jehovah, expecting him to listen to our prayers? First of all, because he identifies himself as the “Hearer of prayer” and repeatedly commands us to pray. (Ps. 65:2) His Word contains such commands as: “Pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.” (Matt. 26:41) “Pray for one another.” (Jas. 5:16) “Persevere in prayer.” (Rom. 12:12) “Pray incessantly.” (1 Thess. 5:17) “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.
7. Who were some exemplary men of prayer?
7 The Bible also provides examples, in effect, indirect commands for us to pray. From Genesis to Revelation, the inspired record abounds with examples of men of prayer. We read of Abraham’s praying to Jehovah. (Gen. 12:8) From the time of his baptism in the Jordan to his hanging on the execution stake, Jesus Christ time and again prayed to his Father. (Luke 3:21; 23:46) The apostle Paul mentions the subject of prayer literally dozens of times in his letters. Repeatedly he tells of praying for others, gives encouragement to pray, or asks others to pray for him. (Phil. 1:9-11; Eph. 6:18, 19) The book of Revelation, written by the apostle John, closes with two prayers.—Rev. 22:20, 21.
8. Because of what issue can we approach God with confidence?
8 A second reason for our being able to approach God confidently in prayer is that his name is involved. This includes his name or reputation as the “Hearer of prayer.” Also, since his name is attached to his people, seeming evidence of his forsaking them would be wrongly interpreted by observers as revealing Jehovah’s inability to aid his wayward servants. This would bring reproach on his name. Thus, at Psalm 79:9, we read: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the sake of the glory of your name; and deliver us and cover over our sins on account of your name.” Moses, Joshua, David and Hezekiah all prayed to the same effect. (Ex. 32:11, 12; Josh. 7:8, 9; 2 Ki. 19:15-19; Ps. 25:11) And the prophet Daniel made his appeal in these words: ‘O Jehovah, do pay attention and act. Do not delay, for your own name has been called upon your city and upon your people.’ (Dan. 9:19) Yes, if we really bear Jehovah’s name, we can plead with him on that basis.
9. Why can we confidently plead with God for mercy and forgiveness?
9 A third reason for expecting Jehovah to hear our prayers is that he knows our limitations and wants to help us. The psalmist David expressed this as follows: “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:12-14; see also Psalm 51:5.) Hence, when we are overtaken in a fault, when we bungle matters or make a serious mistake, we can plead with Jehovah God on the basis of our weaknesses and imperfections.
10. As illustrated in the case of Job and that of Paul and others, why can we approach God with confidence?
10 Another weighty reason for being able to come to Jehovah with confidence is that he will hear our prayers on the basis of our being integrity-keepers. Job made an eloquent plea to this effect, saying: “Let God weigh me in the scales of justice, and he will know that I am innocent!” (Job 31:6, The New English Bible) Similarly, Paul asked fellow believers: “Carry on prayer for us, for we trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Heb. 13:18) That we have to be upright from God’s standpoint is also evident from what 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.”—1 John 3:21, 22.
PRAY THROUGH, NOT TO, JESUS CHRIST
11. Through whom only can we approach God in prayer?
11 How can we gain access to the great “Hearer of prayer”? He has appointed that this be through Jesus Christ alone. There is only one Mediator between God and men, and one High Priest, Jesus Christ. (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25, 26) Jesus himself put it very explicitly, saying: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “Most truly I say to you, If you ask the Father for anything he will give it to you in my name. . . . Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.”—John 16:23, 24.
12, 13. (a) In view of what the apostle John and Stephen did, what questions might be asked? (b) But why cannot the examples of Stephen and the apostle John be taken as reasons for praying directly to Jesus?
12 However, some persons wonder: ‘May we not also ask things directly of Jesus himself? Did not the disciple Stephen in prayer directly address Jesus, and did not the apostle John do likewise?’ True, Stephen, just before he expired, said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59) And the apostle John did pray: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”—Rev. 22:20.
13 However, we do well to consider the circumstances. Stephen, for example, had a vision, for he said: “Look! I behold the heavens opened up and the Son of man standing at God’s right hand.” Therefore, because of seeing Jesus in a vision, Stephen could directly address the Son of God. (Acts 7:56) The apostle John likewise had a vision of heavenly things. (Rev. 1:1, 10; 4:1, 2) While having this vision, the apostle saw Jesus and heard him say: “He that bears witness of these things says, ‘Yes; I am coming quickly.’” (Rev. 22:20) Accordingly, John replied to what he had just heard Jesus say. Such instances are comparable to what took place when the persecutor Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus. Jesus Christ revealed himself to Saul, saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” As was true of the apostle John and of Stephen, Saul replied directly to Jesus: “Who are you, Lord?”—Acts 9:4, 5.
WITH DUE REVERENCE
14, 15. When we are praying, what should our attitude, words and tone of voice indicate, and why?
14 In approaching the great Sovereign of the universe in prayer, we must also come to him in the proper manner. We may approach him only with the greatest respect, deference and deep humility. The fact that God’s Word tells us that we may come to God with “freeness of speech” does not mean that we may become familiar or casual with the great Creator. (Heb. 4:16; 1 John 3:21, 22) How thoughtlessly inappropriate to begin a prayer with an expression such as, “Good afternoon, Jehovah!” We can come with freeness of speech because of our faith and confidence in His willingness to hear and because of our being integrity-keepers. But we should do so with deep respect, with reverence.—Compare Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2.
15 We should never forget that Jehovah God is exalted far above us. Because of our terrestrial existence and organism we are lower than the angels in power and glory. (Heb. 2:7) Moreover, we are imperfect, sinful humans. Appropriately, then, in our prayers we should use words and a tone of voice showing that we understand and appreciate our relationship with Jehovah God, for he grants an audience only to the humble ones ‘who tremble at his word.’ (Isa. 66:2) How well Jesus Christ underscored this principle in his parable about the two men who went up to the temple in Jerusalem to pray! Jehovah God paid no attention to the proud, self-righteous Pharisee, but he apparently heard and answered the prayer of the humble, contrite tax collector!—Luke 18:9-14.
IN FAITH AND WITH PERSEVERANCE
16. What scriptures show the importance of faith in prayer?
16 Another important requirement for being heard by Jehovah is to come to him in faith. Repeatedly, this condition of prayer is called to our attention in God’s Word. Jesus said: “If you have faith the size of a mustard grain . . . nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20) At Hebrews 11:6 we are told that to please God well we must not only have faith that he exists but also that he rewards those “earnestly seeking him.” The disciple James wrote: “Keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all, for he who doubts” will not “receive anything from Jehovah.”—Jas. 1:6, 7.
17. What counsel do the Scriptures give as to persevering in prayer?
17 For our petitions to be answered, we must also persevere in prayer. We should want to make prayer a habit. The Bible admonishes us: “Steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer.” (Rom. 12:12, The New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillips) Jesus time and again stressed this aspect of prayer. In his Sermon on the Mount, he said: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7) In his parable about the widow who got justice from a judge who neither feared God nor respected man, Jesus likewise stressed the importance of persevering in prayer. (Luke 18:1-8) If we are truly earnest about the things for which we ask Jehovah God, we will “persevere in prayer” and “pray incessantly.”—Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:17.
18. What things should we not permit to interfere with our having time to pray?
18 Closely related to persevering in prayer is the taking of time to pray. We should never be too busy to pray. True, there are the necessary things of life—our daily occupation, eating, grooming, sleeping—that take up most of our daily 24 hours. But are there not also many other things that may encroach on our time more than they should? These things may include reading the newspaper, watching television, engaging in sports activities and other forms of recreation or in relaxation. Unless we truly appreciate the precious privilege of prayer, we may well find ourselves neglecting it because of such things crowding out our time for it.
OCCASIONS FOR PRAYER
19. What are some of the many occasions that we have for praying?
19 Many indeed are the occasions or opportunities that we have for prayer. For us to be ‘praying incessantly’ involves praying on all occasions—on rising in the morning, when retiring in the evening, before meals and during the wakeful hours of the night. (See Psalm 5:3; 92:1, 2; 119:147-149, 164; 1 Timothy 4:4, 5.) We may face serious problems or times of stress, have to shoulder weighty responsibilities; we may be called upon to speak before a Christian audience or make a defense of our faith before governmental officials. Surely, these are times for committing our concerns to Jehovah. Yes, “in all your ways take notice of [God], and he himself will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3:6) Furthermore, whenever we receive some special blessing, particularly if it is unexpected or keenly desired, our hearts should well up in gratitude to Jehovah. But, of course, we do not need special reasons. Our hearts and our minds may move us to express gratitude at any other time.
20. What can be said about our bodily position in prayer?
20 Since any and all times may be fitting for prayer, does this mean that we do not need to give any thought to our bodily position when praying? True, the Bible does not prescribe assuming a certain position, such as kneeling and folding the hands, when praying. But we do read of persons praying while standing, kneeling or in a prostrate position, and with hands outstretched. (See Genesis 24:26, 48; 1 Kings 8:22, 42, 44, 54; Nehemiah 2:1-4; Mark 11:25.) This would indicate that it is appropriate, when possible, to assume a respectful physical attitude when praying. For example, at a congregation meeting we may rise and bow our heads. Such a change in bodily position may also help us to concentrate on the prayer being offered in our behalf. It does seem that kneeling is an especially appropriate posture for private prayers. (Compare Daniel 6:10; Philippians 2:9, 10.) Even if we should lie prone in bed when praying before going to sleep, we must be careful to heed the apostolic injunction to “keep awake,” alert, watchful when praying.—Eph. 6:18.
21. To come to God so as to be heard, how must we pray?
21 Truly, praying to Jehovah God is something that we want to take seriously. How thankful we should be that we can approach our heavenly Father, confident that he will hear us at any time! Of course, this depends on our coming to him in faith, through the proper channel, with the right frame of mind, and then persevering in prayer, never being too busy to pray. And, if you have children, patiently teach them the importance of prayer both by precept and by fine example.