How Meaningful Are Your Prayers?
“I have called with my whole heart. Answer me, O Jehovah.”—PSALM 119:145.
1, 2. (a) What parable of Jesus dealt with prayer? (b) What conclusion did Jesus draw from the two prayers, and what should this show us?
WHAT kind of prayers does the Creator, Jehovah God, hear? A parable Jesus Christ told indicates one of the basic conditions for God to answer prayers. Jesus said that two men were praying at the temple in Jerusalem. One was a highly respected Pharisee, the other a despised tax collector. The Pharisee prayed: “O God, I thank you I am not as the rest of men, . . . or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give the tenth of all things I acquire.” But the lowly tax collector “kept beating his breast, saying, ‘O God, be gracious to me a sinner.’”—Luke 18:9-13.
2 In commenting on these two prayers, Jesus said: “I tell you, This man [the tax collector] went down to his home proved more righteous than that man [the Pharisee]; because everyone that exalts himself will be humiliated, but he that humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) Clearly, Jesus showed that merely praying to our heavenly Father is not enough. How we pray—our mental attitude—is also important.
3. (a) Cite some basic rules governing prayer. (b) What forms may prayer take?
3 Prayer is indeed a precious, weighty, serious privilege, and all well-informed Christians are familiar with the basic rules that govern it. Prayers must be addressed to the one true God, Jehovah. They must be said in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ. To be acceptable, they must be offered in faith. Yes, “he that approaches God must believe that he is.” Moreover, one’s prayers must be in line with God’s will. (Hebrews 11:6; Psalm 65:2; Matthew 17:20; John 14:6, 14; 1 John 5:14) And from Scriptural examples, we learn that prayers can take the form of praise, thanksgiving, petition, and supplication.—Luke 10:21; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Hebrews 5:7.
Examples of Meaningful Prayers
4. (a) What examples of meaningful prayer did Moses and Joshua provide? (b) What examples did David and King Hezekiah give? (c) What common characteristic did several of these prayers have?
4 When weighty problems are to be faced, serious decisions are required, gross mistakes have been made, or our lives are threatened, our prayers especially take on earnestness and become meaningful. Because the Israelites rebelled after hearing the negative report of the ten unfaithful spies, Jehovah told Moses that the people deserved to be wiped out. In an earnest and meaningful prayer, Moses begged Jehovah not to take this action because His name was involved. (Numbers 14:11-19) When Israel was defeated at Ai because of Achan’s greed, Joshua uttered a most impassioned plea also on the basis of Jehovah’s name. (Joshua 7:6-9) Many of David’s psalms are in the form of earnest prayers, a particularly striking example being Psalm 51. King Hezekiah’s prayer at the time of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah is another fine example of a meaningful prayer, and again Jehovah’s name was involved.—Isaiah 37:14-20.
5. We have what other examples of meaningful prayers said by certain servants of Jehovah?
5 The book of Lamentations might be said to be a long, earnest prayer by Jeremiah on behalf of his people, for Jehovah is repeatedly addressed therein. (Lamentations 1:20; 2:20; 3:40-45, 55-66; 5:1-22) Ezra and Daniel also offered meaningful and earnest prayers on behalf of their people, confessing their nation’s wrongs and pleading for forgiveness. (Ezra 9:5-15; Daniel 9:4-19) And we can be certain that the prayer Jonah said while he was in the belly of the huge fish was earnest and meaningful.—Jonah 2:1-9.
6. (a) Jesus gave us what examples of meaningful prayers? (b) What basic factor is needed to make our prayers meaningful?
6 Before choosing the 12 apostles, Jesus spent all night in prayer so that his Father’s will might be done in making the choices. (Luke 6:12-16) There is also Jesus’ meaningful prayer on the night of his betrayal, as recorded at John chapter 17. All these prayers give eloquent testimony to the fine relationship with Jehovah God that was enjoyed by those who uttered them. Without a doubt, this must be a basic factor in our prayers if they are to be meaningful. And earnest and meaningful they need to be if they are to be ‘powerful’ with Jehovah God.—James 5:16, The Jerusalem Bible.
Flaws Due to Human Imperfection
7. What questions might we ask ourselves regarding our prayers?
7 As has been noted, under stressful conditions our prayers are likely to be especially earnest and meaningful. But what about our everyday prayers? Do they give evidence of the warm, close relationship we feel we have with our heavenly Father, Jehovah God? It has well been said: “Prayer must mean something to us if it is to mean anything to God.” Do we give our prayers the thought they deserve and make sure that they really come from our figurative heart?
8. Our prayers might have what flaws due to human imperfection?
8 It is easy to let our prayers deteriorate in these respects. Because of our inherited imperfect inclinations, our hearts can easily deceive us, robbing our prayers of the qualities they should have. (Jeremiah 17:9) Unless, in most cases, we pause and think before we pray, we may find that the tendency is for our prayers to become mechanical, stereotyped, routine. Or they may become repetitious, which calls to mind what Jesus said about the improper way ‘the people of the nations pray.’ (Matthew 6:7, 8) Or our prayers may deal only with generalities rather than with specific matters or persons.
9. What other pitfalls may arise as regards our prayers, and what doubtless is one reason for these pitfalls?
9 At times we may be inclined to hurry through our prayers. But noteworthy is the observation: “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.” We should not want to memorize certain words and just repeat them each time we pray; neither should it be necessary for a witness of Jehovah to read his prayer, as at a public assembly. No doubt all these pitfalls arise, at least in part, from the fact that we cannot physically see Jehovah God, the One to whom we pray. However, we cannot expect him to be pleased with such prayers, nor do we benefit from saying them.
Overcoming the Flaws
10. (a) What attitude would betray a lack of appreciation for the importance of prayer? (b) What Scriptural instance is noted?
10 We will be able to guard against the aforementioned pitfalls to the extent that we appreciate the importance of our daily prayers and have a good relationship with our heavenly Father. For one thing, such appreciation will help us to guard against hurrying through our prayers as if we needed to get to more important things. Nothing can be more important than talking to the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God. True, there may be occasions when time is limited. For example, when King Artaxerxes asked his cupbearer Nehemiah, “What is this that you are seeking to secure?” Nehemiah ‘at once prayed to the God of the heavens.’ (Nehemiah 2:4) Since the king was expecting an immediate reply, Nehemiah could not linger long in that prayer. But we may be sure that it was meaningful and came from his heart because Jehovah immediately answered it. (Nehemiah 2:5, 6) Except for such rare occasions, however, we should take time for our prayers and let other things wait. If our prayers tend to be hurried, we do not fully appreciate the importance of prayer.
11. What is another pitfall we need to guard against, and what fine example did Jesus set in this regard?
11 Another pitfall we may need to avoid is that of repeating generalities. Such prayers also fail to do justice to the precious privilege of prayer. In his model prayer, Jesus set a fine example for us in this regard. He mentioned seven distinct petitions: three dealing with the triumph of righteousness, one with our daily physical needs, and three with our spiritual welfare.—Matthew 6:9-13.
12. Paul provides what fine examples as to being specific in our prayers?
12 The apostle Paul also set us a fine example along these lines. He asked that others pray for him ‘that ability to speak with boldness might be given him.’ (Ephesians 6:18-20) He was just as specific in his own prayers in behalf of others. “This is what I continue praying,” said Paul, “that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment; that you may make sure of the more important things, so that you may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the day of Christ, and may be filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.”—Philippians 1:9-11.
13. How may we say meaningful prayers as regards our various kinds of service to Jehovah?
13 Yes, our prayers should deal with specific things, and this requires that we give thought to our prayers. (Compare Proverbs 15:28.) While in the field ministry, we might ask God not only for his blessing on our efforts but also for wisdom, tact, largeheartedness, freeness of speech, or help for whatever weakness may tend to interfere with our effectiveness in witnessing. Moreover, could we not ask God to lead us to the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Just before giving a public talk or having some part on a Service Meeting or in the Theocratic Ministry School, we can beg Jehovah to have his holy spirit dwell richly in us. Why? So that we may have confidence and poise, may speak with earnestness and conviction, so as to bring honor to God’s name and build up our brothers. All such prayers are also conducive to our having the right frame of mind when speaking.
14. What should be our attitude regarding fleshly weaknesses difficult to overcome?
14 Do we have a fleshly weakness that wars against our spirituality and seems difficult to overcome? We should want to deal with it specifically in our prayers. And far from getting discouraged, we should never tire of humbly and earnestly asking God to help us and grant forgiveness. Yes, under such circumstances, we should want to go to Jehovah as a child goes to his father when in trouble, no matter how often we pray to God about the same weakness. If we are sincere, Jehovah will give us help and the realization that he has forgiven us. Under such circumstances, we can also draw comfort from the apostle Paul’s confession that he had a problem.—Romans 7:21-25.
Aids in Offering Meaningful Prayers
15. With what mental attitude should we approach Jehovah God in prayer?
15 For our prayers to be truly meaningful, we must make an effort to dismiss all outside considerations and to concentrate on the fact that we are coming into the presence of the Great God, Jehovah. We need to approach him with deep respect, appreciating his awesomeness. As Jehovah told Moses, no man can see God and yet live. (Exodus 33:20) So we need to approach Jehovah with due humility and modesty, which is a point Jesus stressed in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. (Micah 6:8; Luke 18:9-14) Jehovah must be very real to us. We must have the same mental attitude as Moses had. “He continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:27) Such traits bear testimony that we have a good relationship with our heavenly Father.
16. What part do our hearts play in saying meaningful prayers?
16 Our prayers will also be meaningful if we come to Jehovah with hearts full of love and affection for him. For instance, what appreciation of Jehovah God and love for him the psalmist David expressed in Psalms 23 and 103! There is no question about David’s having had a fine relationship with his Great Shepherd, Jehovah God. In the Theocratic Ministry School, we are counseled to speak with warmth and feeling. This should especially be the case when we are reading scriptures and even more so when we are praying to our heavenly Father. Yes, we want to feel as did David when he prayed: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths. Make me walk in your truth and teach me, for you are my God of salvation.” Also indicative of how we should feel are these words of another psalmist: “I have called with my whole heart. Answer me, O Jehovah.”—Psalm 25:4, 5; 119:145.
17. How can we keep our prayers from becoming repetitious?
17 To keep our prayers meaningful and to avoid making them repetitious, we do well to vary their thought content. The Bible text for the day or some Christian publication we have been reading might furnish a thought. The theme of the Watchtower lesson, of the public talk, or of the assembly or the convention we are attending might serve such a purpose.
18. To make our prayers more meaningful, what might we do in keeping with Biblical words and examples?
18 To help us to get more into the mood of prayer and make our prayers more meaningful, it is good to change our physical position. For public prayers, we naturally bow our heads. But for more personal prayers, some have found it good to kneel before Jehovah when praying individually or as a family because they find that position conducive to their having a humble mental attitude. At Psalm 95:6 we are urged: “O come in, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker.” Solomon knelt when offering his prayer at the dedication of Jehovah’s temple, and Daniel made it a habit to kneel when praying.—2 Chronicles 6:13; Daniel 6:10.
19. Those having the responsibility for public prayers would do well to have what facts in mind?
19 In view of the importance of prayer, appointed elders should use good judgment about whom they call upon to offer a public prayer on behalf of the congregation. The baptized man representing the congregation should be a mature Christian minister. His prayer should reveal that he has a fine relationship with God. And those privileged to offer such prayers should give thought to being heard, for they are praying not only in behalf of themselves but also in behalf of the entire congregation. Otherwise, how can the rest of the congregation join in saying “Amen” at the close of the prayer? (1 Corinthians 14:16) Of course, for the rest to be able to say a meaningful “Amen,” they must listen attentively, not letting their minds wander but truly making the prayer their own. Another word of caution that might be added is that since such prayers are offered to Jehovah God, they should not be used as an excuse for preaching to the listeners or for presenting some purely personal ideas.
20. Because meaningful prayers spoken aloud impart a blessing to the hearers, what suggestion is made?
20 When our prayers that are spoken aloud are truly meaningful, they impart a blessing to the hearers. Because this is so, married couples and families would do well each day to have at least one common prayer. In it, one person, such as the family head, would speak for the other or for the rest.
21. For our prayers to be meaningful, what is another matter that merits consideration?
21 For our prayers to be truly meaningful, there is yet another matter that merits our attention. This is the fact that we must be consistent as regards our prayers, this meaning what? That we live in harmony with our prayers and work at what we pray for. This aspect of our prayers will be considered in the succeeding article.
How Do You Respond?
□ What are some meaningful prayers recorded in the Scriptures?
□ Because of human imperfection, how might our prayers be flawed?
□ How can we overcome certain flaws in our prayers?
□ What are some aids in our offering meaningful prayers?