CHRISTIANS PRACTICE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD
He said to them, “When you pray, say: `Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
God made us and has redeemed us for fellowship with himself, and that is what prayer is. God speaks to us in and through the contents of the Bible, which the Holy Spirit opens up and applies to us and enables us to understand. We then speak to God about himself, and ourselves, and people in his world, shaping what we say as response to what he has said. This unique form of two-way conversation continues as long as life lasts.
The Bible teaches and exemplifies prayer as a fourfold activity, to be performed by God’s people individually both in private (Matt. 6:5-8) and in company with each other (Acts 1:14; 4:24). Adoration and praise are to be expressed; contrite confession of sin is to be made and forgiveness sought; thanks for benefits received are to be offered; and petitions and supplications for ourselves and others are to be voiced. The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) embodies adoration, petition, and confession; the Psalter consists of models of all four elements of prayer.
Petition, in which the persons praying humbly acknowledge their need and express themselves as trustfully depending on God to meet it out of his sovereign resources of wisdom and goodness, is the dimension of prayer that is most constantly highlighted in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 18:16-33; Exod. 32:31–33:17; Ezra 9:5-15; Neh. 1:5-11; 4:4-5, 9; 6:9, 14; Dan. 9:4-19; John 17; James 5:16-18; Matt. 7:7-11; John 16:23-24; Eph. 6:18-20; 1 John 5:14-16). Petition, along with the other modes of prayer, should ordinarily be directed to the Father, as the Lord’s Prayer shows, but Christ may be called on for salvation and healing, as in the days of his flesh (Rom. 10:8-13; 2 Cor. 12:7-9), and the Holy Spirit for grace and peace (Rev. 1:4). It cannot be wrong to present petitions to God as triune or to request any spiritual blessing from any one of the three Persons, but there is wisdom in following the New Testament pattern.
Jesus teaches that petition to the Father is to be made in his name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24). This means invoking his mediation, as the one who secures our access to the Father, and looking to him for support, as our intercessor in the Father’s presence. We can only, however, look to him for support when what we ask accords with God’s revealed will (1 John 5:14) and our own motives in asking are right (James 4:3).
Jesus teaches that we may properly press God hard with fervent persistence when we bring needs to him (Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8), and that he will answer such prayer in positive terms. But we must remember that God, who knows what is best in a way that we do not, may deny our specific requests as to how the needs should be met. If he does, however, it is because he has something better to give than what we asked for, as was the case when Christ denied Paul healing for the thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-9). To say “Your will be done,” surrendering one’s own expressed preference to the Father’s wisdom as Jesus did in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39-44), is the most explicit way of expressing faith in the goodness of what God has planned.
There is no tension or inconsistency between the teaching of Scripture on God’s sovereign foreordination of all things and on the efficacy of prayer. God foreordains the means as well as the end, and our prayer is foreordained as the means whereby he brings his sovereign will to pass.
Christians who pray to God sincerely, with reverence and humility, with a sense of privilege and a pure (i.e., purified, penitent) heart, will find in themselves a Spirit-given filial instinct prompting prayer to and trust in their heavenly Father (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15), and a desire to pray that outruns their uncertainty as to what thoughts they should express (Rom. 8:26-27). The mysterious reality of the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer becomes known only to those who actually pray.