How? When? Where? Why? These are some of the questions reporters like to ask. If we apply them to the prayers of the Bible, we should gain some insight into their nature. But there is one very important question to answer before we proceed, and that is, to whom are prayers directed?
That’s not a stupid thing to establish, because, unless the true and only God is the One (Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5) to whom our prayers are directed, what hope is there they will be answered with truth, power and effect? He may not answer in a way we like, but we know He will always answer in accordance with His will.
God’s people from the past until the present, have addressed their prayers to Him, while their understandings of Him have differed according to the extent of the *revelation He has given them. Thus they have approached Him in prayer in a variety of ways, but in this variety there can be found shared common factors, particularly the content of their prayers.
How Have People Prayed?
The mode of communal prayer when people have gathered together to worship God has changed according to the historical settings of their times, but generally those praying, have been in awe of His glory, majesty and might. They have trusted Him to meet and satisfy their requests.
Whether in communal or individual prayer, those praying have often acknowledged their unworthiness before Him, and they have been obeisant. Characteristically they have bowed their heads (1 Chronicles 29:20), kneeled, and in some instances, they have prostrated themselves (Deuteronomy 9:25, 26). Others have stood with their hands held out in adoration and when making supplications (Lamentations 2:19; Nehemiah 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:8).
For them He was not a distant, impersonal God who didn’t care about them, but an all-powerful, all knowing God, gracious and forgiving (Exodus 34:6). They understood Him to be a God of mercy, love and justice.
The OT Israelites prayed to Him as their LORD, their Jehovah God. They called Him the LORD God of their fathers (2 Chronicles 30:19). He was the “I AM WHO I AM” who spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:14).
When the OT scribe and priest, Ezra, asked for His help, he kneeled before Him. ‘At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God. And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens (Ezra 9:5, 6).’
Ezra was distressed and concerned for the iniquities of the people, particularly for their sin of intermarriage with pagans. Nehemiah 9 describes how Israel fasted in sackcloth, with dust on their heads.
The practice of fasting in times of repentance or sorrow was also followed by the early church. It is recorded that they fasted and prayed before making major decisions regarding the ministry of the church (Acts 13:1-3).
These early New Testament saints may have been inspired by prophets of the past – characters like Daniel, who set his ‘face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes (Daniel 9:3).’
And there was Ezra, who proclaimed a fast (Ezra 8:21-23) and called the people to humble themselves, for the hand of God to be upon them. They prayed because they wanted His protection while on the way to Jerusalem. They were taking with them gold and silver for the purchasing of animals to be sacrificed on the altar of the house of God (7:17). Therefore they would be a prime target for marauding robbers.
New Testament Christians prayed to God as their Father, in accordance with the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 6:9; 23:9).
He, Himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane, fell on His face and prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will (Matthew 26:39).”
Prior to that when praying to His Father at the last supper, He ‘lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him (John 17:1, 2).”
Paul made an appeal for ‘men’ to pray everywhere, and for them to lift up holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8). It would seem that Paul customarily knelt when praying (Acts 20:36), as he prayed ‘with the spirit’ and ‘with understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15).’
The observable attitudes and postures of those praying were indicative of their affections: their inward emotions and feelings – the desires of their hearts. The words they used revealed their relationship with God. They were His children by adoption, and He was their Abba Father (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
When Have People Prayed?
Daniel, one of the four great prophets, although not named as such, prayed three times a day. He would kneel in his upper chamber with his window open toward Jerusalem and pray with supplications and thanksgivings (Daniel 6:10).
Naturally, people turn to God in times of need, Nehemiah, for example, prayed an ‘arrow’ prayer when the King invited him to make his request known (Nehemiah 2:4).
The psalmist Asaph prayed: ‘“O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand? Take it out of Your bosom and destroy them (Psalm 74:10, 11).’
The enemy had damaged the sanctuary and set fire to it, and they were oppressing God’s people (v 8). Asaph wanted God to intervene and to take action against against the enemy on account of their reproaches of Him (vv. 22, 23).
Isaiah 37:15-17 gives us another example of a prayer request for God’s help on account of reproaches to Him: ‘Then Hezekiah prayed to the LORD, saying, “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and see and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God.”
People pray when they seek action by God; for example, in the book of Daniel we find his prayer: ‘“O LORD, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem is a reproach to all those around us (Daniel 9:16).”’
Habakkuk 1:1-4 gives us another example: ‘“O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even I cry out to you, “Violence!” and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.”’
Where Have People Prayed?
People have prayed everywhere in all sorts of situations, individually and collectively – even day and night (Nehemiah 1:6). Jesus frequently prayed on a mountain. Luke says of Him: ‘Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12).’
Paul wrote to Timothy saying: ‘I desire therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).’
Certain leaders of the early church set themselves aside for the ministry of prayer and for the teaching of the word. We find this in Acts 6:3, 4 ‘Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business, but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’
Peter prayed at Joppa when he sought God to perform the miracle of restoring life to Tabitha: ‘But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up (Acts 9:40).’
Most often Christians pray in designated places at appointed times when they come together as a local body of Christ’s church. In the early Christian church, their meetings usually took place in the homes of members, or in the open air. The practice of meeting in homes continues today. More traditionally, meetings take place in designated buildings set aside for the purpose of worshipping God. Mistakenly, these buildings are called **churches.
Why Have People Prayed?
This is not a stupid question; for God has made it clear that He **exists, and it is His desire for people to worship Him (John 4:23, 24). In fact He commands people to worship Him and Him only (Matthew 4:10). Therefore He loves their prayers of praise, thanksgiving and exaltation (Psalm 100:4). Their sacrifices of praise (Psalm 27:6; Hebrews 13:15) are very acceptable to Him.
Prayers are the direct means of communication with Him, and He answers prayers in various ways: perhaps by speaking though His Spirit or through His Word. In some instances He has responded with visions (Daniel 9:20-27) and with miracles (Acts 2:22).
As He is the Father of His people, and it is His pleasure and joy to give them His love (John 14:21) He honours their prayers (Matthew 7:8).
If believers in faith ask Him for His help (cf. James 1:6-8), guidance or protection, He will hear them (John 9:31). He will respond, ultimately for their good (Romans 8:28).
The Necessity of Prayer
Prayer is the only way in which a person can communicate with God. Without it, there would be no reconciliation or forgiveness; for we have to confess our sins in order to be forgiven (Romans 10:9; 1 John 1:9), received, redeemed, justified and raised up in Christ. Without it there would be no ***hope of eternal life.
*How does God reveal Himself to His Creatures?
**Who are the Church?