The Elements of Prayer
by Timothy Cross
I have been told that the way to embarrass any Christian is ... ask them about their prayer life. Every Christian has the privilege of access to God in prayer, yet surely all Christians feel their prayer life is inadequate, and would dearly like to be better at prayer. Truth be told, if human beings are made in the image of God, and find their chief end in fellowship with Him, our times of prayer are the happiest, highest and holiest times on earth. Prayer, being what it is – spending time in God’s presence – is an end in itself and not just a means to an end. According to the Lord Jesus, one secret of prayer is prayer in secret. He said ‘But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you’ (Matthew 6:6).
To understand something, it is often helpful to break it down into its basic elements. One of my college textbooks was entitled The Elements of New Testament Greek. Prayer also has its basic elements. I shall enumerate these now, trusting that they will be of help to my fellow apprentices in Christ’s school of prayer:-
First of all, in prayer, look up. That is, look up to God and realise who He is, as He has revealed Himself both in creation and His Word. Then worship Him reverently. He alone is God. ‘God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth’ (Shorter Catechism). God is holy. God is majestic. God is on the throne. God is all powerful. God is all loving. We know the latter because He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and sent Him into the world to be our Redeemer. ‘God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Through Christ we are reconciled to God. Through Christ we can know God as our loving Father in heaven and address Him as such in prayer. Look up – and then bow down in worship.
Secondly, look inside. That is, look within yourself in the light of God’s light. He sees us as we are. ‘Before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). Understandably, we can feel uncomfortable in God’s presence – matters can lay heavily on our conscience, for in His presence our sins and failings are exposed. We are forced to agree with 1 John 1:9: ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ But the next verse contains a wonderful promise: ‘If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). We have then the privilege of confessing our sins privately to God and knowing His cleansing and forgiveness and the restoration of intimate fellowship with Himself. Look up in worship. And look inside at yourself and confess your sins and failures to God.
Thirdly, look around you at others. We all come across people in various kinds of need. Our priestly duty is to bring them to the Lord in prayer. The ‘priesthood of all believers’ is a very practical doctrine. We come then to the matter of intercession – interceding to God for those around us who are in special need of His help and care: family, friends, those we encounter day by day, those responsible for the rule over us – our Queen and government. You cannot actually do anything better or kinder for someone than pray for them – that is, bring them to God Himself and lay them at the feet of Jesus in prayer. A friend has lost his job, a friend has lost a loved one, a nephew is sitting exams which may decide his future, a lady in the church has been taken into hospital, a neighbour we get on well with shows no interest in the gospel and no awareness of a life beyond this one ... God’s grace is surely sufficient for all these needy people. In prayer we entrust them to His care and mercy. Look up, look inside, look around.
Fourthly, look back. When we look back with the benefit of hindsight, and view God’s dealings with us, our hearts are sure to overflow with thanksgiving to Him. He is our maker, provider, protector, leader and guider. ‘All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided, Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me’ goes a hymn. We worship God for who He is in Himself. We thank God for all the blessings – temporal and eternal – which He has bestowed and continues to bestow on us. Praise and thanksgiving are distinct, but they often blend in our prayers, as God’s good gifts lead us back to the God who is a good and gracious giver. Hence Psalm 103:1,2: ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits...’ Finally, in prayer, we may:-
Look ahead. Here we come to personal supplication – our own hopes and fears which weigh upon us. There are responsibilities to undertake in the days ahead. There are burdens to carry and tasks to perform. There are disappointments, perplexities and frustrated plans to encounter. The future is unknown to us – I might lose my job, I might lose my health, I might lose a loved one, I may struggle financially... But fear is incompatible with the conviction that we are under God’s good, wise, loving, and all-embracing providence. In prayer, we supplicate Him to supply what we need to live and cope and bear with whatever circumstances He sees fit to send our way. His grace will surely keep pace with whatever we face! So Paul exhorts us that when we look ahead to the sometimes foreboding future ‘Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God’ (Philippians 4:6). God knows our needs. Our difficulties are actually blessings if they make us draw near to Him with the request that He meet those needs. When we do, we find that He never fails or forsakes His children.
So there are the main elements of prayer, from a fellow struggler on the journey:
- Look up in worship.
- Look inside and offer confession.
- Look around and intercede for others.
- Look back and thank God for His goodness.
- Look ahead and seek God’s grace for whatever He sends your way.
‘Lord, teach us to pray...’(Luke 11:1).Last Update: 2016-09-01 12:11