22. HOW TO PRAY
When I was 20 years old, I was involved in a four-car accident. Litigation proceedings began almost immediately. I needed help desperately. I needed the resources of the greatest accident lawyer in the country. His name was Weinstein. His fee was understandably large. So large that I, as a ministerial student, could not meet it. However, a dear friend came to see me. He was the owner of a large company in Chicago. He said, "Haggai, Weinstein is our lawyer. We retain him. Here, let me give you one of my cards."
On the back of the card he scribbled a note of introduction to Weinstein. Weinstein saw me. He solved my legal problem. Why? Because of a fee I paid? Not at all. He saw me because of the fee paid by my friend.
The Lord Jesus Christ is my Friend "that sticketh closer than a brother." He paid the fee that I could not pay—the penalty of sin. He paid it with His own blood. In His name and on His merits I have access to God, who alone can solve my problems.
Three Greek words for prayer
The first thing to learn about how to pray, then, is to pray in the name of Jesus, and with His strength. But what are the detailed practicalities about prayer? Paul gives us this instruction:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. —Philippians 4:6
Paul uses three different Greek words for prayer in this verse:
• The first word, translated "prayer," refers to a general offering up of wishes and desires to God. This word points to the frame of mind required in the petitioner—a mind of devotion. The word refers to unrestricted concourse between human beings and God. That which brings greatest glory to God and profit to you is the habit of prayer. We might call it the Prayer Mood or the Prayer Disposition. It includes adoration, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession.
• The second word, translated "supplication," comes from a Greek word meaning "entreaty," a "seeking," "need," "indigence." It refers to an entreaty impelled by a great sense of need, an extreme want. In fact, the verb form of this word in the original Greek text means "to want." Therefore this word refers distinctly to the petitionary prayers that are expressive of personal need. This prayer is a special petition for the supply of wants, an act of solicitation. It refers strictly to an entreaty to God to supply our needs and our wants.
• The third word, translated "requests," refers to requests and, even more strongly, to demands.
On the basis of the teaching of Philippians 4:6, it would be well for us to ponder several factors involved in effectual praying.
Praying to Conquer Worry
If you would conquer worry, pray intelligently
“Let your requests be made known unto God.”
I heard of a certain man who spent six hours in prayer each day. Lest he should go to sleep when on board a boat, he stood upright and had a rope stretched across so that he might be against it. If he slept, he would fall. His object was to keep on for six hours with what he called prayer. What sort of prayer was it? He kept on repeating. “There is no God, but God. There is no God but God.” He repeated the same thing over and over again. He did not plead with God to give him anything. Just as a witch repeats a chant, so he repeated certain words. That is not praying.
If you get on your knees and simply repeat a certain formula, you are speaking only words. You are not praying. Some people are criticized for using beads and fetishes to "say prayers." But there are many Protestants who just as definitely "say prayers" without meaning. They do not pray. They repeat formulas. They say prayers as did the farmer who each night prayed, "O Lord, bless me, my wife, my son John, his wife, us four, no more. Amen." God does not hear you for your much speaking.
Even though on Mount Carmel the wild-eyed multitude cut themselves and chanted repetitiously, "O Baal, hear us!" they were not praying. Let your requests be made known unto God. Get alone with God and tell Him what you want. Pour out your heart before Him. He does not care for high-flown language. Study the prayers of the Bible and you will be impressed that they have no formal phraseology and there was no fixed and mechanical use of words. Go to God as you go to your mother, your father, or your friend.
Don't think that God will dissipate your worries just because you get on your knees for a spell every morning and night. Pray intelligently. Tell Him your problem. Tell Him that you have sinned, that you have worried. Tell Him that you want victory over it.
If you would conquer worry, pray definitely
Indefinite praying is usually halfhearted praying. Indefinite praying is often insincere praying. It is usually a mere formality. There is no burden, no urgency, no overwhelming constraint in indefinite praying. Indefinite praying shows that you are not sure of the will of God. Therefore you know not what to pray for. It often indicates that you are trusting in the act of praying rather than in the God who answers prayer.
Our minds are so constituted that we cannot fasten our desires intensely upon numerous things at the same time. Jesus said, "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24).
Now it is impossible to desire strongly that which is not definite.
Your problem is worry. Pray definitely about this problem. Pray definitely that God will give you victory over your distrust of Him. Pray that God will forgive you for intruding into His own province by trying to carry on His business. Ask Him for the grace to cast all your cares upon Him.
In addition to all this, pray specifically concerning the problems causing your anxiety. If it is a wayward daughter, pray definitely and specifically for God's will to be done in her life and for God to give you the grace in the meantime to live triumphantly.
If it is financial difficulty, pray definitely that God will show you if you have been unwise in the handling of your money. If you have been unwise, ask Him to forgive you. Pray definitely that He will give you wisdom and grace to do what you can. Pray that He will miraculously do what you can't do. Then rest in the truth of Psalm 37:25: "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread."
If you are suffering from a nervous stomach, pray definitely about it. Don't simply say, "Lord, take away my nervous stomach." Find out what are the causes of your condition. Be specific. Be definite. And then let your request be made known unto God. Or, as we could correctly translate it, "Make known your demands."
Every now and then I hear people say, "God heard my prayer, but He answered it a little differently than I was expecting." That is ridiculous. Imagine if I had five sons and I prayed, "Lord, save my five sons." A few days later my neighbor's five sons all go to church and profess faith in Jesus Christ. Suppose that I then said, "Praise God; He answered my prayer. I prayed for the salvation of my five sons and He answered my prayer. He saved the five sons of my next-door neighbor." That is nonsense.
Pray definitely and expect a definite answer. Pray for bread. God will give you bread, not a stone. Pray for fish. God will give you a fish, not a serpent (see Matthew 7:9-11).
If you would conquer worry, pray persistently
Don't be afraid to make demands of God. You can make demands because of your relationship with God through Christ. "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
God has promised to supply all your needs. You can demand the fulfillment of that promise—with this warning, however. You are not to say, "Lord, supply all of my needs." Rather, you are to specifically and definitely make known those needs one by one. And then pray persistently. Your cares are persistent. Therefore, make your prayers persistent. Pray to God and then pray again. If the Lord does not answer you the first time, be grateful that you have good reason for praying again. If He does not answer your requests the second time, thank Him that He loves you so much that He wants to hear your voice again. If He keeps you waiting until you have gone to Him seven times, say to yourself, "Now I know that I worship the God of Elijah, for Elijah's God let him go again seven times before the blessing was given."
Count it an honor to be permitted to wrestle in prayer even as Jacob wrestled with the angel during the long watches of the night. This is the way God develops His servants. Jacob never would have been "Israel" had he not wrestled for the blessing from the angel. He kept on wrestling until he prevailed. Then he became a prince of God. Worry cannot exist with this kind of prayer.
In the Gospels, Jesus taught us to pray. Two great illustrations are recorded in the eleventh and in the eighteenth chapters of Luke.
In Luke 11, the man who wanted to borrow bread at midnight is a striking example of the spirit Jesus desires to inculcate. The borrower was in dire need. He was terribly in earnest and would not take no for an answer. Jesus said that when you pray you should be just as earnest and persistent as this man was. You need the blessing of God much more than he needed his three loaves. You are seeking something that means more than bread, and just as the importunity of the borrower finally wins out, so the soul set upon finding God will command His attention and be heard.
God has no time for lukewarm pleas, for easygoing, halfhearted prayers. If the sense of need is not great, if you forget about the matter before the day is over, God will pay little heed to your prayer. If you have something vital at issue, if you are willing to give time and effort, and if you press your claim home to a finish, God will listen. The man who is willing to quit, or who can quit, is not in the condition of mind and heart to appreciate the favor of God. The soul who counts it the biggest privilege on earth to know God, who seeks for Him and His blessings as men seek for silver and gold, will not only be rewarded, but also will be conditioned to estimate rightly what has been received.
Jesus then says, "I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Luke 11:9,10). This is not the easy passage some people think it is. It does not mean that all you have to do is ask for something and receive it, or to knock and the door flies open. It refers to a life which is one continual search after God, a constant seeking, a daily asking, a habitual knocking.
This is the only antidote to worry, which itself is perpetual. Let your prayer be perpetual. It means that you must desire that which lies behind the closed door intensely enough to knock with unshaken persistence. Jesus is here saying that to such knocking the door will open. To seeking of that sort will come the answer that makes life full and rich.
The parable found in the eighteenth chapter of Luke is even more striking, as it represents a case where the delayed answer is misunderstood. The petitioner is presented in the figure of a poor widow seeking vindication and protection from an unjust judge. The judge is the perfect embodiment of heartless wickedness. No more complete portrait of depravity was ever drawn than this terse phrase: "which feared not God, neither regarded man" (Luke 18:2).
The feeble, insignificant petitioner was scorned. No heed was given, but Jesus said she continued to press her plea for justice until in absolute selfishness and for no other reason the judge granted the request: "Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me" (Luke 18:4b,5).
The argument is this: If a man like that can be moved to do what means nothing to him, will not God hear the continual cry of His people, whom He loves with a boundless compassion? There are long periods when prayers seem unanswered. There are long days of darkness, sometimes years of wearisome waiting, while countless petitions are sent to a heaven that seems deaf and empty. This is the time about which Jesus speaks. He says, "Cry on, God will hear. He is not heartless, neither has He forgotten."
This parable is for the time when faith has staggered and the heart has grown sick with waiting. Let us remember that the longest delay to us may be as the twinkling of an eye to the plans of God. Alexander Maclaren said years ago, "Heaven's clock does not beat in the same note with our little chronometers." Jesus teaches us to pray on. He says we must not quit. We must not doubt. God knows when to answer. He knows the best time and the most fitting place. We can, in all confidence, leave the question of when and where to Him. Of one thing we may be sure: He will answer. Worthy prayer does not become discouraged. It does not surrender. This is the power that defeats worry.
If you would conquer worry, pray in faith
Faith is acting in confidence upon the word of another. Faith in God is acting in confidence upon His Word. You were saved that way. It is also in this way you become mighty with God.
You develop faith as you meditate upon God's Word, the Bible. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Prayer and the Word of God are inseparably connected. "Feasting" on the Word of God is productive of that faith without which prayer is useless.
Through the Word of God the Lord speaks to our hearts and conditions our hearts for prayer. In prayer we speak to Him in faith. So many times in the Scriptures we have passages indicating that the Lord spoke first, after which the one who heard the Word of the Lord spoke to Him in prayer. Read Jeremiah 1:4-6 as an example:
Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.
You remember also Daniel's great prayer. In the first year of the reign of King Darius we see Daniel reading the Word of God. He had in his hand the prophecy of Jeremiah, in which the Lord had promised that the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years. After reading this prophetic promise, Daniel turned to the Lord. The reading of the Word of God led to prayer. The reading of God's Word was productive of the faith that made prayer effectual.
The German theologian Bengel had the reputation of being a great man of prayer, one who knew the secret of effectual prayer. One day a fellow believer watched him at the close of the day. He saw the old saint sitting before a large Bible, reading slowly, often stopping, meditating with the silent tears running down his cheeks. After reading and meditating a long time, Bengel closed the Book and began to speak to God in prayer. His heart had been prepared through the reading of the Word. Neglect of the daily reading of the Word of God and meditation on it soon results in neglected prayer as well.
The secret to earnest and effectual prayer—the prayer of faith—is faithful and diligent study of the Scriptures.
Faith is essential to effectual prayer. All real prayer has as its basis a firm faith in a God who responds to the quest of the human soul. But without faith it is impossible to please Him:
"For he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." —Hebrews 11:6
We come to God by our hearts and not by our intellects. The first condition of entering into His fellowship is a faith not only that God is, but also that He will be found by the soul who honestly and persistently seeks for Him. God is not found by those who look for Him in the spirit of cold curiosity. He is not found by those who simply desire to extend the range of their intellectual conquest. This is the reason why many self-styled philosophers and many pseudoscientists have been unable to come to any clear conception of God. It was to men of this type that Zophar said, "Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?" (Job 11:7).
When a man says in the pride of his intellect, "I will now see if there be any God," he may turn his telescope upon the farthest heavens and count the myriad worlds that wander in the blue abyss. He may peer among the atoms and divide and subdivide the electrons, but the greatest thing in the universe will still be hidden from his eyes.
The laws of logic, the theories of philosophy, and the investigations of chemistry and physics all have their place and are of great value, but they are not milestones on the road to fellowship with God. The man who can say with the Hebrew psalmist, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:2) is more nearly on the road to His presence. The humble man who with simple and sincere faith reaches out after God will find Him while the philosopher is groping in the shadows of theory and the scientist is bewildered with the results of experiments.
If you would enter into the prayer life that conquers care, spend some time each day with the Word of God. The time spent will be productive of faith that pleases God. This time spent will condition you for communion with God, and as you commune with God you will develop ever more confidence in God, and this glorious cycle will continue unabated as long as you live.
You worry. But if you will utilize this formula of praise, poise, and prayer, God will give you peace. He also makes it clear that by prayer you will be given strength to offer praise and to manifest poise. As you pray you will become effective in prayer. Now believe this: Believe that He will give you precisely what He has promised to give you if you will meet the conditions. He will give you peace. He cannot go back on His promise. He is the God "that cannot lie" (Titus 1:2).
Are you one who prays, but actually only says words? While you are asking God to give you victory over worry, are you at the very same time worrying that you are not praying correctly? Are you worrying that maybe you have not met all of the conditions?
Stop psychoanalyzing yourself! Don't be a spiritual hypochondriac. Get your mind off yourself and onto God. Spend enough time in your prayer thanking Him for what He has done and praising Him for who He is. Then you will be conditioned to pray intelligently, definitely, persistently, and in faith.
As you pray, picture yourself a perfectly adjusted, dynamic, radiant personality living in the strength of God and to the glory of God. This is certainly God's will for you. By faith, then, take God at His Word, lay hold upon Him in prayer, and become a personality to glorify Him and bring peace to your mind. You are what you think you are. Stop, therefore, insulting God. Recognize yourself as a redeemed soul. You are a child of the King. You are in league with the Creator of the universe. Recognize yourself as a potential recipient of qualities, attitudes, and resources that will glorify God and bless those around you as you live triumphantly over every worry and care.
If you would conquer worry, pray privately
When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. —Matthew 6:6
God deals with us face to face and heart to heart. You cannot have audience with a king and be engaged with the crowd at the same time. The matters between you and God are too sacred and personal to be laid bare to the eyes of the crowd. Furthermore, prayer calls for such concentration, such focalization, such rallying of powers, that it demands the quiet of the private space. When we pray we are going to share with God things that are intensely personal—secrets of the heart, sins that need to be confessed, yearnings in your deepest soul that need to be whispered into His ear. Also, we must give God the opportunity to speak to us. God's "still small voice" cannot be heard in the clamor of day-to-day living.
Jesus did not mean that no one could pray except within an empty room. He did mean that the doors of the heart and mind must be shut to the world. When you have shut these doors, then you have the space to pray. For in prayer nobody is present but us and God. Even our dearest friend is outside those doors. He or she may be in the same room physically, or sitting on the same .pew, but he or she is still outside. We must not allow any distraction. There should be a mental sign up outside ourselves that says, Engaged in important business with the Almighty. Keep out!
I tell you: Worry cannot abide when you are locked up with God in the secret sanctuary of prayer.
If you would conquer worry, pray thankfully
The kind of prayer that kills worry is the kind that asks cheerfully and joyfully.
Pray, "Lord, I am in financial straits. I bless Thee for this condition, and I ask Thee to supply all my needs."
Pray, "Lord I am sick. I thank Thee for this affliction, for Thou hast promised that all things work together for good to those that love the Lord. Now hear me, I beseech Thee—if it please Thee."
Or pray, "Lord I am in great trouble. I thank Thee for this trouble for I know that it contains a blessing even though the envelope is black-edged. Now, Lord, give me grace as I pass though this trouble."
This is the kind of prayer that kills worry.