Learning to Pray: 4 Key Elements of Christian Prayer
By Yang Yang, China
Brothers and sisters, we all know that praying to God is the most direct way for Christians to communicate with God. This is why, aside from morning and evening prayers, we pray at many other times such as when reading the Bible, when in gatherings, observing the Sabbath, or when we encounter difficulties. But are our prayers in accordance with the Lord’s will, and will He hear us? This is something that is important for every brother and sister to understand; otherwise, no matter how many times we pray or for how long, these prayers will not gain God’s approval. Actually, the Lord Jesus gave us these answers long ago, so together, let’s seek what the truth says in this regard!
- 1. Stand in the Place of a Created Being in Prayer
- 2. Pray to God With Sincerity and Honesty
- 3. Pray to Do God’s Will
- 4. Pray to the Lord With Stamina and Resolve—Do Not Lose Heart
1. Stand in the Place of a Created Being in Prayer
In Luke 18:9–14, it is recorded, “And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.” It’s easy to see from the Lord Jesus’ parable that the Lord approved of the publican’s prayer and detested the Pharisee’s prayer. That is because the latter was about showing off and making a display of himself and enumerating his deeds for God. He placed himself in a very high position, even at the same level as God. He bargained with God, took credit for God’s own work, and lacked even the slightest piety before Him. He completely lacked any fear in his heart for God, and this aroused God’s scorn and hatred. But the publican was entirely different. He knew that he was a lowly sinner, so in his prayer he had fear of God and laid himself bare, acknowledging his own corruption and sincerely pleading for God’s forgiveness, and in the end, he received God’s mercy. God had different attitudes toward each of them because of their different attitudes toward God. Compare this to our own prayers. We frequently take the wrong stance. For example: Sometimes when we encounter difficulties, we know what we do isn’t in line with the Lord’s words, but we are still determined to do it, and in our prayers we even want God to do things according to our own will. Or, when we accomplish something in our duties, such as not betraying the Lord when we’ve been arrested, we feel that we are someone who is very devoted to the Lord, who really loves Him, so when we pray, we ask for blessings or crowns, and if God doesn’t bless us, we bicker with Him. Or, when we fall ill or something terrible happens at home, in our prayers we blame God for not protecting us, and we even try to reason with God and settle accounts with Him. The list goes on and on. All of these prayers are placing demands on God and trying to force His hand. This is exploiting, blaming Him, and even standing against Him and opposing Him. These kinds of prayers are completely lacking in conscience and reason, and to pray like this is to resist God. If we as Christians want to have God hear our prayers, we should pray as the publican did, stand in the position of a created being, have an attitude of piety before Him, and pray to God with the precondition of being obedient. We shouldn’t try to force our own desires onto God or demand that He act according to our own will. We should only ask that God carries things out according to His own will. This is the only way God will hear our prayers, and enlighten and guide us.
2. Pray to God With Sincerity and Honesty
The Lord Jesus once told His disciples: “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly” (Matthew 6:5–6). We can see from what is written in the Bible that when the Pharisees prayed they often liked to choose a place crowded with people. They enjoyed standing in the synagogues or at intersections to pray, and then they would frequently recite the Scripture and make long, disingenuous prayers. It was all done for others to see, to make others see them as devout and pious, and through that gain people’s admiration and make people look up to them. That kind of prayer is nothing more than exalting themselves and showing off; it is trying to deceive God. That’s why the Lord Jesus said that the Pharisees were hypocrites, and that their prayers were hypocritical, detestable to the Lord. Upon reflection, at many times when we pray, we also harbor incorrect motives. For example, when praying in gatherings, we don’t speak to God about our true difficulties or corruption, speak to Him from the heart, and ask Him to lead and guide us. Instead, we say flowery words and give empty praises, otherwise we recite chapters from the Bible or go on and on about the Scripture, because we think whoever memorizes more scriptures and speaks more eloquently prays better. We also think that the more often we do our morning watch and evening prayers, or the more we pray before meals and thank God’s grace after eating, and the longer we spend on these things, the more spiritual and the more devout we’ll become. We think that praying this way is most in accordance with the Lord’s will. In fact, praying that way isn’t sharing our hearts with the Lord and it isn’t truly worshiping Him. Instead, it is clinging to our own motives and goals, and it is for the sake of showing others how well we seek when we use this to show off. Praying that way is merely doing it by rote, going through the motions, and it’s praying as a religious ritual. It’s being perfunctory with God and trying to fool Him, which disgusts Him. The Lord Jesus said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). God is the Lord of creation, so when created beings pray before the Creator, we should have a fearful heart and worship Him with sincerity, accept His observation, and speak to God openly and honestly. Only this kind of prayer delights God.
3. Pray to Do God’s Will
In Matthew 6:9–10, 13 the Lord Jesus said: “After this manner therefore pray you: Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. … And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Ever since mankind was corrupted by Satan, God has been working to save humanity, allow us to escape from evil, allow us to escape from the bondage and harm of Satan, and ultimately to allow us to be gained by God. So, God hopes that people are able to come before Him and accept His salvation. He also hopes that people live according to His words and revere Him above all. This is why, in our prayers, we can’t just make appeals for ourselves. We must also be considerate of God’s will, pray for God’s will to be done on earth, pray for the appearance of Christ’s kingdom on earth, and pray for God’s gospel to spread to every corner of the world. This is another path of practice by which Christian prayer can be in accordance with God’s will. For example, when we encounter various difficulties, mockery, and hardships while spreading the gospel and we feel weak and negative, we should earnestly pray to God and ask Him to give us faith and strength, allow us to forsake the flesh and overcome all difficulties, and not be subject to the constraints of enemy forces. When working and preaching, we should pray to God with a burden, asking Him to enlighten and guide us to understand His words so that we can share His will in fellowship during gatherings. Then we can lead our brothers and sisters in the practice and experience of God’s words and bring them before God. When we see unscrupulous, evil things done in the church, we should pray to God and ask Him for faith and courage, as well as for understanding of the truth to see through Satan’s tricks and uphold the interests of God’s house. And so on. If we frequently pray for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done, and we are able to offer up our own bit of strength for the spread of His gospel, then God will approve of our prayers and they will be in line with His will. There are, in fact, some prayers in the Bible that gained God’s approval, such as when King David built a temple for Jehovah so that people could worship God within it. He often prayed to God for this, and then he put it into practice. Those entreaties gained God’s approval, and in the end David became someone in accordance with God’s will. After Solomon became king and God appeared to him in a dream, asking what he would ask for, Solomon didn’t ask for riches or a long life, but instead asked that God bestow wisdom upon him so that he could better rule God’s people, and then His people could better worship God. God approved of his prayers, and not only bestowed wisdom upon him, but also the riches and long life he hadn’t even asked for. It’s clear that praying to do God’s will is a prayer that is entirely in accord with His will.
4. Pray to the Lord With Stamina and Resolve—Do Not Lose Heart
It says in Luke 18:1–8, “And he spoke a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, Avenge me of my adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night to him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” This parable shows that when we pray to the Lord to seek God’s will or ask for something, we cannot be in a hurry for its resolution. We must learn to wait, seek, and obey. God is almighty as well as practical. He does not do supernatural things, but His work of guiding and providing for mankind is entirely based on people’s actual stature, and is all done based on what people can actually attain. As long as our entreaties are in line with His will, He will certainly fulfill our prayers, so we must have faith in God. We’ve all been through these kinds of things: Sometimes when we encounter a difficulty and we don’t know what to do, we reach out to God in prayer, and through reading God’s words and having fellowship with brothers and sisters, God very quickly enlightens and leads us, giving us a path to practice. Or sometimes, we’ve been praying about something for a long time and haven’t received a response from God, and at those times we need to calm our hearts and wait for God’s will to be revealed to us. At other times, God is testing our faith to see if we are able to truly rely on Him. Sometimes God aims to expose the adulteration within us and cleanse our corruption. At times God needs to mobilize or arrange for people, things, or events to fulfill our prayers, and this requires time and a certain process. There are also times when God sees that our current stature is small and we can’t handle or achieve something on our own, so He waits until our stature has grown a bit, and then He carries it out for us…. Regardless of whether our prayers to God have been fulfilled, we must have faith in God and believe that everything He does in us is good, that it is all beneficial for our growth in life, and that God’s good intentions exist in all things. So, no matter whether the difficulties we face are in our daily lives or in our service to God, we cannot lose heart or become discouraged. We must be like the widow seeking justice, be constant, have genuine faith in God, frequently come before Him in prayer, seek, and wait for His will to be revealed to us. We must believe that when God’s time comes, we will gain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and illumination, and we will see God’s might, wisdom, and His wondrous deeds.
The four elements of prayer above are a path of practice for Christian prayer, and if we can practice these things every day, we will be able to establish a normal relationship with God and understand the truth within the Lord’s words. The outlook for our souls will ever improve, and we will have ever more confidence in our faith and our following of God. Our prayers will also gain God’s approval!
Editor’s Note: How to pray to gain God’s approval is a truth we urgently must enter into. This essay points out a path for how Christians can pray so that the Lord will hear: honestly pray to God with our hearts, tell God what is in our hearts, stand in the place of a created being, and often offer up prayers for God’s will to be done. I believe that if we put these four principles into practice, our prayers will be heard by God. Further, I’d like to recommend “Principles of Prayer to God,” and I hope that we can all enter into this aspect of the truth together.
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