Kinds Of Prayer
"Pray unceasingly" is the command of the apostle Paul. Certainly Paul was no beginner in the school of prayer, but this staccato injunction leaves us breathless. What could he have meant in such a statement? The Thessalonians no doubt had been instructed about prayer, or he would not have made such a request.
The first thing most of us have no trouble in recalling is that when we are in trouble, we pray. It is that we believe that prayer is designed to rescue us in trouble. When in need, pray. Wasn't it said in World War II, "There are no atheists in foxholes"? If, however, our praying is limited to only asking for things from God, then we have much to learn on the subject.
First, let's look at the prayer of adoration. This is the prayer of worship, acknowledging God as God, in paying to Him the devotion of heart He deserves. In the bending of knee and bowing of head and heart before the Creator, we confront Him with our praise.
The prayer of adoration goes far beyond the province of asking anything for self or for others. It is gloriously unconcerned about this, and seeks only to stand in the dazzling presence of Him who is eternal light, the God of heaven who is disclosed only to the eye of faith and through the person of Jesus Christ. No list of requests are made, no answers are recited. The prayer of adoration is a love letter to God, only expressing the inner thoughts of the soul. It is the most intimate form of communion in which the creature adores his Creator, the finite before the infinite, the powerless before the powerful, the nothing before the all. It is the "sumnum bonum" of spirituality reality.
Jesus taught this as the first step in prayer, "Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name" (Luke 11:2). Paul used this method of praying often in his prayers, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Tim 1:17). This is why he penned the apostolic benediction, "Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior , be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 24, 25). Paul's eye was fixed on the glory, majesty and power of God. From the moment he was blinded by the light from heaven on the Damascus road to the approaching hour of death, his conviction never wavered. It might be that we need a Damascus road experience to open our eyes to the glory of God. If not, then look at Moses as he came off the mountain with a shining face to see the effect of truly being with God.
Hezekiah, faced with the pressing problem of imminent invasion by the enemy, first engaged in the worship and adoration of his God. He prayed, saying "O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, Thou art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; Thou has made heaven and earth" (2 Kings 19:15). Here Hezekiah was acknowledging the sovereign greatness and glory of God.
Analytically, it may be said that adoration is composed of worship, reverence, homage, and fellowship. David filled the Psalms with such expressions of meaning. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19:1). "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! who has set Thy glory above the heavens" (Psalms 8:11), "Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: (Psalms 29:1,2). Over and over such expressions are found in the Psalms as "Bless the Lord", "Sing unto the Lord", "Praise the Lord", all of which reveal the glory or worship desired for God.
There are snares and difficulties connected with certain kinds of prayer, but not with the prayer of adoration. It is an act of self surrender and emptying in which we find ourselves in the arms of a loving heavenly Father who cares about us. It is the story of a restless heart that finds its rest in God.
Next is the prayer of thanksgiving. It also is a prayer in which it does not ask things for itself. Unless abused, it is not easily subject to misuse. The most evident mistake we often make in our prayers is the lack of expressing gratitude. There seems to be no heart as cold as the one without thankfulness. We can make excuses for almost anything else before we can excuse the heart of ingratitude. It affects the whole person in all that they say and do.
Thanksgiving is an act of expressing mental or oral gratitude to God for His blessings and mercies. It should be both negative and positive. Thanksgiving for those things we have been delivered from as well as the blessing we have received. David in the Psalms surely did place this kind of prayer among the ones at the top of the list. "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Psalms 50:14, RSV). In the New Testament, Paul requests that men give tanks always for all things (Eph 5:20). In Philippians 4:6, he advises men to "be careful for nothing; but by everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God" . In Colossians 4:2, he exhorts his readers to "continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving". John, in Revelation 7:12, describes the heavenly scene in which angels say "Blessings, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen".
The expressions of the master cannot be refused either. "Father, I thank Thee that Thou has heard me" (John 11:41). At the last supper He took bread andd"when He had given thanks" (Mark 13:23). The failure to be thankful is best seen in the attitude of the nine lepers. Only one of the ten lepers returned "and feel down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks: and he was a Samaritan" (Luke 17:16. Jesus asked "were there not ten cleansed, where are the nine?" They failed in courtesy as well as obligation and duty.
Of course, thanksgiving can be abused. A hypocritical spirit is a canker that festers, a boil that erupts. A classic biblical illustration of the misuse of thanksgiving appears in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. Jesus cuts through the layers of pretense when He said that the Pharisee "prayed thus with himself" (Luke 18:11). He deluded himself into thinking that he was praying but in reality Jesus said he was not.
What we think of ourselves may not be the way God sees us. If the prophet of old taught anything, it was "It does not lie in man that walketh to direct his own steps". God looks on the heart. The Pharisee had a lot to be thankful for in that he was not like those whom he named, but his heart wasn't right. The old publican didn't have anything to boast about, but his heart was burning with gratitude to God for forgiveness.
Thanksgiving, then, and adoration are two types of prayer all Christians do well to engage in and to practice constantly, for with both of them God is well pleased.
The next kind of prayer I wish to name is the prayer of confession. Such a prayer is indispensable to the spiritual life and health of every believer. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God; none can come to perfection in this life. We fail to do what we should and we do that which we shouldn't, but worse even yet is that the things we do we do imperfectly. There is then the need for daily cleansing from our sins.
Scripture does not intend to deceive us when it says "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John :9). The biblical declaration that the sins of Christians are forgiven upon repentance and confession does not mean that the temporal consequences of sin are canceled. When David confess his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, Nathan told him "The Lord hath also put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" (2 Sam 12:13. This is an exception, not the rule. Most of us pay in one way or another for sins we commit.
The prayer of confession always accompanies true repentance. In some cases there is neither one. Such results in a bitter attitude of resentfulness and often falling away from the Lord all together. There has always been the question of to whom am I to confess. Some groups set up priests or others to whom you can go and speak, who are behind the veil. The truth is that first we are to confess our sins to the one we have sinned against. If I have wronged you, I must admit that and seek forgiveness. Next, I must turn to God for before the throne of glory I have also sinned. It really isn't anyone else's business nor am I told to reveal my wrongs to those who would use my confession as ammunition to shoot at me.
The expression of the old publican who before the Lord confessed, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13) we are told "went down to his house justified" ( Luke 18:14). The story of the prodigal son has many lessons, but the confession he made to his father, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son" (Luke 15:21) is one of the most powerful of the whole parable. How he saw himself was of the greatest of importance if he was to obtain forgiveness and acceptance.
If God forgives our sins and remembers them no more, then we should forgive ourselves. Guilt can eat your lunch. God never intended that His children be burdened with guilt. The problem often found among Christians is that instead of taking the way our God has prescribed, they choose to ignore, deny, or suppress and hide their guilt, pretending that it is nonexistent. The person who tucks away his sin in a dark corner of a closet will and must face it someday. It is before the Lord you stand or fall, so why wait, deal with the problem before it deals with you.
Underlying the prayer of confession is the fact that it is made to God, not to man, and that God knows the heart. I have seen such confession restore fellowship among members and in the church as a whole. The dignity of the individual is at stake often in this matter of public confession, but if the sin is public then the confession should be public. If the sin is secret, then to God and to God alone should we confess. If it is a sin against another, then to that one sinned against we should go; but sometimes that wounded person is not ready to accept your confession nor to forgive. What are we to do then? Here I think the bidding of the Holy Spirit in one's life comes into focus.
I believe there are four great results that follow when we submit to the bidding of the Holy Spirit in our lives. One is victory over sin, the next is power in service, the next is the fruit of the Spirit, and the fourth is a burden for souls. To win victory over sin demands that we deal with the matter and not refuse to do the bidding of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes not only joy and peace but longsuffering, or shall we say patience and that toward all.
The next kind of prayer we will name is the prayer of petition. We mean by this the prayer in which the individual presents his own concerns and needs to God. He is making request for himself and is concerned for his own needs and interest. Jesus often asks those to who He ministered, "What wilt thou that I should do unto the?" (Mark 10:51). David in the 34th Psalm said, "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears". In Jer. 33:3 "Call unto me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not". Any serious student of the Bible must agree that this was intended to encourage men to see the aid of God for their own needs.
Problems arise in this type of praying because we many times do not know for what to pray. We should at this point submit to the will of God and pray that His will be cone. We must always know that nothing in the lives of God's children is beyond His concern. We cannot, however, blame God for that which He didn't do. If through the laws of nature, which He set into order, we suffer for an accident which we didn't cause, to get mad at God is not the answer. Job had the answer, "God giveth and He can take away, Blessed be the name of God".
We simply cannot, through our relationship to a loving God if we are faithful, stand beyond the concern of God. No matter is too small or none too great to stand outside the range of God's sympathetic and listening ear. The death of a loved one is much different than the loss of a pocket knife. They are unequal in importance, but on our scale of values neither can be ignored. So with God all things great and small are His business.
The last kind of prayer we will study is the prayer of intercession. Like the prayer of petition, it asks God for specific things. Unlike petition, which asks for self, it asks for others. The negatives we face today range from rigid, legalistic, dogmatic, a Pharisaic-spirited rigorism on the one hand to a tender, permissive, Sadducean-spirited reverence for opinion on the other. For anyone who is trying to live the Christian life today, we not only need to pray for others, but we need the prayers of others.
"Then the Spirit said unto Phillip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Phillip ran" (Acts 8:29,30). The Spirit spoke to a man. He could have done this bidding a thousand other ways, but He used a willing, obedient servant through whom to do His work. God chooses men; He equips men; not means, but men; not programs, but men; not organizations, but men; not movements, but men; not machinery, but me; not committees and boards, but Spirit-filled, Spirit-taught, Spirit-led men.
You can see then how the church of today, as much as ever before needs men who cannot be bought; whose word is their bond; who puts character above wealth; who possess opinions and a will; who are larger than their vocations; who do not hesitate to take chances; who will not lose their individuality in a crowd; who will be as honest in small things as in great things; who will make no compromise with wrong; who will not say they do it "because everyone else does it"; who are true to their friends in adversity as well as in prosperity; who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning, and hardheadedness are the best qualities for winning success; who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for the truth when it is unpopular; who can say "NO" with emphasis, although all the rest of the world is saying "YES".
The Holy Spirit is never taken by surprise. Hence, if He forbids there is a real reason for it. Beloved, faint not when doors are shut. For if you are in God's will, He will Himself unlock the bars and let you in, or else He will keep the way closed and later lead you in another direction. Pray and wait for God to work in the lives of those for whom you are so concerned. Fret not nor complain. The Spirit knows God's purpose. You have received Him, He is your Leader and your Guide, and He never errs.
The prayer of intercession is taught in the Bible. "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgiving, be made for all men .." (Tim 2:1). In another scripture Paul taught us to pray for secular leaders: "For Kings and all that are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity" (1 Tim 2:2). See Romans 13:1-7.
The power of others praying for us is indeed a blessing for which we cannot be thankful enough. We are taught to pray for the saints or shall we say fellow Christians, "... with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all saints" Eph 6:18). To the faithful brethren at Colosse Paul and Timothy declared, "We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you" (Co. 1:3). John recorded in 3 John vs. 2-4 "Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thou soul prospereth ... Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth".
We are taught to pray for the unsaved. Not that they should be saved in their sin, but that they should come to repentance and obey the gospel. "My heart's desire and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1) See 1 Cor 9:19-22.
Maybe the hardest request or command in the scripture, at least for some, is to pray for our enemies. Jesus put it this way, "Ye have heard that it was said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:43-45). He also reminded us that if we only them that love us, we are no better than the publicans.
Not only are we to pray for others, but Paul taught in Gal 6:2 "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ". "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head" (Romans 12:20). See also Luke 6:27,28.
I could add to the account of James by saying ' works without prayer are dead, and prayer without works is dead'. We are to do our best to bring about the will of God and then leave it in His hands.