How to Pray, part 3

As we continue examining some of the basic principles of prayer, we want to look now at the various…

Types of prayer

Most of the time when any of us think of prayer, we usually zero in on one aspect of it; namely, that of beseeching the Father for our needs and desires, whether it is in the area of health or money or job or safety and protection from dangers… these are the things that most of us primarily associate with prayer.

However, there are other aspects which are just as much a part of proper prayer as is the beseeching part. Webster gave them to us in his definition when he said:

3. In worship, to address the Supreme Being with solemnity and reverence, with adoration, confession of sins, supplication for mercy, and thanksgiving for blessings received.”

We will show the Scriptural backing for those elements of prayer in a few moments, but we want to mention two other special categories of prayer first. The first is imprecatory prayer which is basically praying curses on someone. I mentioned in part one that I had done a study on that a number of years ago.

I do not recommend that Christians attempt that sort of thing without a good Scriptural understanding of the time, the circumstances, and the means of doing such imprecations. I am not certain I was accurate on all those aspects, and to do so ignorantly can have very serious ramifications because it can actually backfire on the person praying the curses! That is one reason why I withdrew those tapes from circulation a long time ago. ( [grinning] Just my use of the word tapes” hints how long ago that must have been.)

Another special category of prayer is intercession. Remember, the basic meaning of intercede is to go between. We are just trying cover some of the basic principles of prayer at this point, so we won’t go into detail about intercession, except to point out a couple of examples which you can review more fully on your own. Can anyone think of any examples in the Bible of intercessory prayer?

Moses, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Isaiah—most of the prophets interceded (prayed on behalf of) the people of Israel.

One outstanding example is found in Daniel 9. We won’t read the whole thing. It comprises the entire chapter, but I do want to point out the basic elements of Daniel’s prayer, because it will demonstrate that Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary definition has biblical substantiation.

The elements of prayer are: 1) praise and/or worship 2) confession of sin 3) request for mercy or forgiveness 4) beseeching for our needs other than mercy and forgiveness, and 5) thanksgiving and perhaps a praise again. Now looking at Daniel’s prayer, we find in verse 1:

Daniel 9: 4 And I prayed unto the LORD [Yahweh] my God, and made my confession, and said, [So here is where the actual prayer begins:] O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;

There you go; he starts right off by praising God as great and dreadful (which means awesome, or inspiring reverence). And he continues the praise by telling God that he, Daniel, knows that He is a covenant-keeping God. Notice now verse 5:

5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:

Daniel continues in this vein, reciting the confession of sin on behalf of the whole nation of Israel all the way down through verse 15.

Finally, in verse 16:

16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, [a praise again] I beseech thee, [here comes the request…] let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. [NOTE: the words in italics within a Bible quote are not my emphasis. Rather, they were inserted by the KJV translators for clarity.]

17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.

18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.

Now he is again praising God for His mercy when he gets interrupted by the angel Gabriel who gives him the vision and prophecy of the 70 weeks. That is beyond our scope today. But do you see these various elements found in this prayer which is overall of an intercessory nature?

Another example of intercessory prayer is found in John 17 where just before He goes out to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus offers His intercessory prayer as our great High Priest.

We will take a brief peak at it a little later in connection with some other aspects of prayer, but you might want to read the whole thing and study it on your own sometime. Next, and just real rapidly I want to touch on ….

Who and what to pray for

I say rapidly touch on” because the list could be infinite. There are countless Scriptures which we could look at here, but the one that I want to bring to our special attention is found in 1 Timothy 2.

Again, when we think of for whom and for what to pray, it is only natural that our thoughts gravitate towards those whom we love the most. We pray for our family, our circle of friends, the folks in our church group, our pastors and teachers (at least I hope and pray that you all do pray for me as one of your teachers. I do pray for you.) But then, beyond that level, we are directed and exhorted by Paul in

1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

2 For kings [or presidents, as we would call them nowadays], and for all that are in authority; but why?? ] that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

When is the last time you prayed for Bill Clinton (or presently, for Joe Biden)? Does Paul qualify that to say that you only pray for those in authority if they are God-fearing Christians? He certainly does not.

And I don’t believe that the Roman authorities of Paul’s day were any more God-fearing than many/most of our leaders are today. Nonetheless, we are instructed to pray for them—for our benefit—that we can live in peace. I hope we will all take this to heart and make a frequent practice of praying for our leaders at all levels. (We will give some specifics and how-to’s later in this series.)

Here’s one more commandment which many of us probably have trouble complying with because it goes so very much against our carnal desire for vengeance to those who have wronged us. I deliberately chose this verse as one of the examples of a Greek verb so that we would hear this verse repeated today: Jesus tells us in…

Matthew 5: 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children (Greek: huios) of your Father…

Well, among the things and people we should pray for, I think that covers the most difficult cases, so if you are fulfilling those obligations regularly, you are no doubt a might prayer warrior.

Let’s move on now to discuss, again just briefly, some things about…

The mechanics of prayer

We shall get into more depth on the mechanics before we finish this series. But I am talking specifically here not about the words or thoughts you communicate to the Father, but about the position of the body while praying.

It should go without saying that one can pray in any position. In one sense, it doesn’t matter. You can pray while you are lying in bed; in fact, I believe it is a good practice to mentally, that is, silently be in prayer with Father just before going to sleep.

Then in the morning, do not bounce out of bed as soon as the alarm clock goes off, but to just lie still for a minute or two (or more) and pray. Praise Him and thank Him for another day that He has given you. Ask Him for His wisdom and guidance during this day for all the situations you will encounter.

We could suggest that another good time to pray is when you are driving alone (except when you are in heavy traffic—or maybe after you’ve said a very brief prayer for safety in the commotion!). It is not only a great privilege and delight to be in communion with the Father, but it also makes long drive times seem very short.

Do you delight in this kind of private time with the Father? If you don’t, then there is something wrong. I will share with you later how I found praying in the car to be somewhere between annoying and torture. (Yep, that’s a teaser.)

One can pray sitting, lying down, standing, walking, running. One can pray at any time and in any place. In the most public place, one can be in private communication with our Father. Now with that having been said, I also believe that the Scriptures do show us that there are also certain postures, as it were, for prayer.

Most of us who grew up in Christian homes learned early on that we were to bow our heads, close our eyes, and fold our hands while we prayed. I believe there is a place for that.

Certainly, the Scriptures show that bowing is a sign of submission. History also confirms that subjects always bow in the presence of their king, and captives bow to their conqueror (if they want to live).

Biblically, it is entirely appropriate to be in that submissive, reverential posture when we are confessing our sins to God. That is a good posture to assume when we are repenting before God. It is a sign of humbling ourselves before Him. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, that need not be the only posture for prayer. Remember I promised we would take a peek at the Lord’s High Priestly intercessory prayer in John 17. Notice just the first verse with me.

John 17:1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:

His eyes were not downcast, they were raised up. Flip back to John 11. This is when Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead.

John 11: 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

Same thing there: His eyes were lifted up. We see that there are times when it is appropriate to lift up our eyes. By the way, I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I look up, I find it easy to get distracted, especially if I am in a public setting, in a restaurant, or in a meeting room at a Bible conference.

I look up and I see the acoustic ceiling tile and I see other people out of the corner of my eye. I find it hard to focus on what I am trying to pray; not always, but sometimes.

I wonder if it is possible that the lifting up of the eyes can mean to do so with the eyes closed? Try this: close your eyes for a minute. (No, Sherlock, not when you’re driving—duh!)

If you have them closed now, and your eyeballs are pointed straight ahead as most people do when they are closed, then if you will notice that you can begin to open your eyelids just a tiny slit and you can peek. It’s easy for the eyelids to begin to loosen up and slip open just a slit.

But, if you close your eyes and then roll your eyeballs upward as close to 90 degrees from horizontal as you can, then it seems like you’re looking straight up through the top of your skull—except your eyes are closed, of course.

Now, while your eyes are rotated upward, you will find that it is virtually impossible to open your eyes. Furthermore, I believe it is a fact that during periods of a normal night’s sleep, that the eyes do just that. Of course, the eyelids flicker during certain stages of sleep. That is called REM sleep, for rapid eye movement, and it indicates that the person is dreaming.

So I am just wondering if when we close our eyes and turn our eyes up—toward heaven,” if you will; does this perhaps help us to momentarily enter another state of consciousness, which thereby helps us to attune to the Father?

Those are just my thoughts and speculations, but it certainly makes it much easier to concentrate on my prayers when I do that. By the way, that means that even with your head bowed, that you can still turn your eyes heavenward, doesn’t it? Well, again, just something to think about. Now let’s look at…

1 Timothy 2: 8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

Apparently, from this verse, we see that we need not always fold our hands either. I’m sure you have seen many times those whom some people consider to be holy men raising their hands in prayer or religious ritual. From my childhood upbringing, I think of Catholic priests doing that during a lot of their rituals. They frequently raised their arms and hands. Maybe they had that right.

Of course, they didn’t instruct their people to pray that way, but then neither have the Protestants—for the most part. Obviously, the Pentecostal and charismatic groups are an exception. I’m not making a litmus test out of this particular thing, but I don’t have any problem at all with people raising their arms and hands in prayer. There must be some reason for it.

We recall that Moses had to keep his hands raised at the battle with the Amalekites at Rephidim. Although it does not specifically state that he was praying, I think we can safely assume that he wasn’t thinking about who was going to win the Sinai Super Bowl. I’m sure Moses was doing some very serious intercessory praying all during that battle. Next, turn to Lamentations.

Lamentations. 3:41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.

A more clear rendering from the New King James version reads:

NKJ Lamentations 3:41 Let us lift our hearts and hands To God in heaven.

This would appear to give some added support to the idea of praying with uplifted hands. The word heart” there refers to the inner man, the soul, which includes the mind, will, and emotions.

(To be continued.)


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