Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Should We Pray?

Recently, in the wake of my spiritual revolution, I have been pondering and re-evaluating the purpose and efficacy of prayer. Prayer to me always seemed somewhat awkward, which made me wonder if I was doing it wrong. That got me thinking about what prayer really is and whether the Western concept of prayer that I am familiar with is wrong or unbiblical, as many things in modern Christianity so often are.

Upon introspection on how I personally pray, and reflecting on the group prayers that I have been part of, I found that the vast majority of prayers consisted of little more than ‘gift requests’, as though God is some kind of genie-in-a-bottle.
While there is nothing wrong with petitioning God for divine intervention per se, when this is the main focus of prayer, or even the only purpose of prayer, then it struck me that there may be something fundamentally wrong.
This type of prayer always left me thinking something along these lines; “God knows what He is doing, He doesn’t need me to tell Him what to do!” and “Half the things I pray about are probably contrary to His plan anyway, so why bother praying?

So it was then after this most recent contemplation that it really became obvious to me that my method of prayer had to be deficient in some way. Surely there was more to prayer than what honestly felt like little more than just an egocentric ‘gift request’?

I spent ages trawling the net looking for answers with no success. It was after this that it hit me; why not try the Bible! (It was one of those face-palm moments, lol. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?) When I started looking at the examples of prayer throughout the Bible I immediately noticed a significant trend; an actual ‘formula’ for proper prayer! It was a surprise to me because I can not remember ever hearing any preacher or scholar mention it or use it. Please note that I am NOT claiming that I am the first to notice this proffered formula.

The formula is present in every example of prayer in the Bible, and always follows the exact sequence which I describe below. What really cemented the reality of the formula in my mind was the fact that the Lords Prayer itself follows this formula. This leaves me with little doubt that God wants us to pray to Him in the manner which is set out below.
What I found was a sequential five tier structure in all the examples of prayer in both the Old and New Testaments. The sequence of the structure never changes, but each prayer does omit one part of the formula, depending on the purpose of the prayer. But the general structure is clear, and I think undeniable.

So have a look and see what you think!

Scriptural Principles of Proper Prayer:

1) Honour God
We are to acknowledge God as the supreme and sovereign Lord of lords

Nehemiah gives a perfect example to start his prayer: “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God” Nehemiah 1:5, or Solomon: “O Lord, God of Israel there is no God like you in heaven or on earth” 2 Chronicles 6:14.

2) Identification of God’s previous promise/covenant, or the petition for its continuance
The purpose of this is to acknowledge what God has already done for us, and give thanks for previous prayers that have been answered.

This is Solomon’s example; “LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.  You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.  [….] And now, LORD, the God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true. ” 2 Chronicles 14-17

3) Confession/identification of sins
We all sin, and we do it all the time. It seems important to me to acknowledge this to God before asking a favour of Him.

This is Daniel’s example on behalf of Israel; “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel [….]are covered with shame, LORD, because we have sinned against you. [….] All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you” Daniel 9:5-16

4) Supplication for Divine intercession
This is when to petition God to intercede in your life. Notice that it is only after the three steps above that it was considered appropriate in the examples in Scripture to then make requests of God.

5) Praise of God
Praise Him with joyous hallelujah, because He is truly worthy of all praise. Whether or not He answers specific aspects of our prayers, He has our best interests at heart.

 This is the praise that Habakkuk expressed at the end of His prayer; “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my saviour. The sovereign Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:18-19

Take note that these steps occur in order of the most important to the least important. The order should not be altered.
While the finer details could be quibbled over and the categories further refined, I think the general five parts of the structure are beyond dispute. But hey, if you disagree then let me know!

 Honour God
Petition/Identification of God’s Promises
3 Confession/
identification of Sins
Supplication for Intercession
Praise of God
Hezekiah’s Prayer
2 Kings

David’s Prayer
2 Samuel

Solomon’s Prayer
2 Chronicles

Nehemiah’s Prayer Nehemiah

Daniel’s Prayer

Habakkuk’s Prayer

Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer

Apocryphal addition ***
The Believers Prayer


*It should be noted that when a single verse is placed in two of the categories, then the first half of the verse belongs to one category and the second half of the verse belongs to the other category.

**Verses highlighted by italics are verses that seem to be out of the general order of the formula.

***The addition to the Lord’s Prayer that is commonly recited -but not found in the earliest manuscripts- fits this category:'s_Prayer#English_versions

I noticed that when I previously changed the way that I interacted with God by including more praise and honour of Him -which this formula uses- then my whole relationship with God changed to be far deeper and more spiritual experience. So when I introduced this formula into my normal prayer, praying turned from being a somewhat perfunctory practice into a dynamic and joyous experience.

Maybe this more scripturally ‘correct’ way of praying/interacting with God is why I am starting to see my ‘gift requests’ in prayer actually now working with powerful results?

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