SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Your Prayer Life
By David A. Reed
When we first embrace the Gospel message, we do it by putting faith in Jesus Christ and repenting of our sins -- telling God in prayer that we are sorry for our sins and that we are now committing ourselves to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior, recognizing in our prayer that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead to give us everlasting life. But that sinner's prayer is only the beginning of a Christian's prayer life. Prayer should soon become a regular activity, as we grow in faith, trust and obedience.
Long before there was such a thing as a Jewish synagogue or a Christian church, there were faithful men who walked with God in a close personal relationship. They trusted, they obeyed and they prayed. They lived long before God revealed himself more fully through Jesus, but we can still learn about prayer from their examples.
Enoch was a great-grandson of a great-grandson of Adam. "Enoch walked with God." -- Genesis 5:22, 24.
Noah was the one God called to build an Ark for his family and the land animals to ride out the flood that would be sent to destroy a wicked world. "Noah walked with God." -- Genesis 6:9.
God is called in the Old Testament the "Hearer of prayer.": "Hearer of prayer, to Thee all flesh cometh." -- Psalm 65:2, Young's Literal Translation.
Yes, "all flesh" -- everyone -- is invited to come to God in prayer. The Apostle Paul told a pagan Greek audience that God is not far off from each one of us:
"He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons, and the boundaries of their dwellings, that they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." -- Acts 17:26-27.
So, God hears the prayers of all sorts of people. He is not far off from each one of us. We don't need to go to a special place to pray. Nor do we need to assume any special posture. The Bible tells us that believers in the true God prayed in all sorts of positions and under all sorts of circumstances. King Solomon was leading a public assembly when, "Solomon prayed this prayer to the LORD, kneeling in front of the altar with his arms raised toward heaven." -- 1 Kings 8:54 NCV.
The elderly servant of the prophet Abraham was standing by a well when he had his camels kneel down to drink, but the Bible doesn't tell us what position the servant was in when he then prayed to God, and God answered his prayer. (Gen. 24:11-15).
Hannah, a woman in a troubled polygamous marriage, prayed silently to God while weeping bitterly in a public place, moving her lips but not making any sound:
"In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. ... Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, 'How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.' 'Not so, my lord,' Hannah replied, 'I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.'" -- 1 Samuel 1:10-15 NIV.
Nehemiah was one of the Jews living in foreign captivity, working as cup bearer for the king of the Medo-Persian empire, when he cried and fasted and prayed to God over several days before asking the king for permission to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Finally, while he was on the job as cup bearer, when the king noticed his distress and asked him how he could help, Nehemiah quickly prayed a silent prayer before answering. (Neh. 1:4-11; 2:4).
The Bible is full of many other examples demonstrating that you can pray to God in all sorts of circumstances, publicly or privately, silently or aloud. And the Bible also offers examples of what men and women of faith said in their prayers. Many of the psalms in the Bible book of Psalms are actually prayers to God. Consider for example this passage from Psalm 40:
"LORD, do not hold back your mercy from me; let your love and truth always protect me. Troubles have surrounded me; there are too many to count. My sins have caught me so that I cannot see a way to escape. I have more sins than hairs on my head, and I have lost my courage. Please, LORD, save me. Hurry, LORD, to help me." -- Psalm 40:11-13 NCV.
Jesus included in his teaching some instructions on how to pray -- and how not to pray. He said that we should not pray for show, to impress other people who may be looking on or listening:
"When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward." -- Matthew 6:5.
Showy prayers like that have their reward only in the admiration of other people, but have no reward from God. Rather, Jesus taught that most of our prayer life should be a private thing between ourselves and God:
"But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." -- Matthew 6:6.
Pagan idol worshipers commonly repeated repetitious prayers to their false gods. Jesus taught that we should not do that. The true God already knows our thoughts and our needs, even before we open our mouths:
"In praying, don't use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore don't be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him." -- Matthew 6:7-8.
When Jesus finished praying in a certain place, one of his followers asked him to teach them how to pray. In response, Jesus gave this model prayer as an example:
"He said to them, 'When you pray, say,'"Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."'" -- Luke 11:2-4.
Moreover, shortly before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples to pray to the Father in Jesus' name: "You didn't choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you."
"In that day you will ask me no questions. Most certainly I tell you, whatever you may ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full. I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. But the time is coming when I will no more speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name; and I don't say to you, that I will pray to the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from God." -- John 15:16; 16:23-27.
We can also learn from Jesus' own prayers that he prayed to his Father in heaven, as recorded in the Gospels. Sometimes Jesus went off to be alone in prayer: "he went up into the mountain by himself to pray." -- Matthew 14:23.
Other times he spoke a brief prayer out loud in the midst of a crowd of people: "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." -- Matthew 11:25-26 NIV.
The longest prayer of Christ recorded in the Scriptures is found in John chapter 17 where he prays for his disciples, and for those who would become his followers in the future. In the garden of Gethsemane, immediately before his arrest, the Gospels tell us Jesus prayed with great emotion:
"He went forward a little, fell on his face, and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire.' ... Again, a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if this cup can't pass away from me unless I drink it, your desire be done.'" -- Matthew 26:39. 42.
If we are struggling with unanswered prayer, the above passage can help us. Jesus wished the "cup" he was facing to pass away, but yielded his will to his heavenly Father's will. He prayed for the cup to pass away, but he ended up drinking it, because that was the Father's will.
The Apostle Paul also experienced unanswered prayer. He wrote, "that I should not be exalted excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively. Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me." -- 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
So, the answer to Paul's prayer was, "No". But the Lord helped him to understand why it had to be that way. Like children with limited understanding, we may pray for things that we think best, but our heavenly Father sees aspects of our situation that we don't see and he knows what is really best in the long run.
We can also learn something else from the above passage: Paul was praying to Jesus. He wrote, "I begged the Lord," who answered him concerning "my power", and then Paul expressed contentment that "the power of Christ" rested on him. So the Lord who said "my power" was Christ.
Just as Paul spoke to Christ in prayer, we can do the same. Besides addressing prayer to "our Father", we can also speak to Jesus. Paul wrote that believers, "call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place." -- 1 Corinthians 1:2.
When the disciple Stephen was being stoned to death for his Christian witness, he called out in prayer to Jesus: "They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, don't hold this sin against them!' When he had said this, he fell asleep." -- Acts 7:59-60.
Do you feel inadequate to come up with the right things to say in prayer? Don't worry about it. Even when you don't know how to pray as you should, the Holy Spirit will help you out: "... the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." -- Romans 8:26 NIV.
So, the burden is not on us to come up with the right words, or the right formula, in our prayers. God cares about us and knows what we need even before we ask. Jesus said, "... your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him." -- Matthew 6:8.
And he added, "Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. Or who is there among you, who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" -- Matthew 7:7-11.
Luke's account emphasizes that we need to persist in prayer, and to keep on asking: "I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you." -- Luke 11:9.
Luke also tells us that, "One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up." -- Luke 18:1 New Living Translation.
You may benefit from reading that story or parable for yourself in the eighteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel. Our relationship with God as followers of his Son involves our heartfelt trust, our faithful obedience, our active service, and our fervent prayer. We listen to God as we prayerfully read his written Word. And we pray as we face life's challenges and as we go about our daily activities. Many Christians start each day with a time of prayer, or end each day that way. But we can also fill our day with prayer, silently giving thanks and asking for guidance as the need may be, throughout the day. The Apostle Paul urges us to "pray continually". -- 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
By Tom McGovern
The book, True Discipleship, by John Koessler, suggests essentially two strategies for avoiding temptation: prayer and avoidance. Prayer, of course, is the source of strength that we need in order to resist temptation when it comes our way. A good prayer life also solidifies our relationship with God, which in turn keeps His desires in our consciousness. What I mean by that is that the closer we are to God, the more we become like Him and tend to think in the way that He thinks. Then, when we are tempted, we are more likely to bring the principles of the Word to the forefront of our minds as deterrence. If we are close to God, our desire to please Him -- and to avoid displeasing Him -- becomes stronger. Temptation, most often, is essentially a battle within the heart -- do we want the pleasure of sin more than we want to please God right at this moment? That being the case, obviously the stronger our desire to please God, the less likely we are to succumb to sin.
So prayer functions as an advance safeguard against temptation in the sense that it both strengthens and motivates us to resist. Prayer can also be helpful in avoiding occasions of temptation in the first place. Jesus instructed us in the Lord's Prayer to pray not to be "led into" temptation. He wasn't saying that God places temptation before us, but that we can petition God to keep us away from situations where we will be attracted to sinful activity.
That leads directly into the second strategy suggested by the Koessler's book -- avoidance. It only makes sense not to deliberately place ourselves into situations where we will face temptation to sin. I'm reminded of the classic case of the alcoholic who thinks he is "cured" and takes to hanging around at the bar again, assuring himself that he is strong enough not to take a drink. Maybe he is, maybe not. The question that arises, however, is what his motive is in going there in the first place. He may say that's where his friends hang out, so he has to go there to see them. But surely his friends could be available elsewhere, or else he has or could make other friends that he could associate with in less compromising venues? By placing himself so close to the line, he just makes it easier to take that one step over the line that ends up in disaster.
Every one of us is like that in some way. We each have weaknesses, particular types of sin that attract us. Particularly in areas of personal weakness, but to a great extent with all types of temptation, it is important to place ourselves as far away from the sin as possible. The goal is to stay away from it, not to get as close as we can to the edge of the cliff without falling over. And yet, sin is so fascinating to us that we want to just take a peek over the edge of the cliff to see what's down there. We have to want so much to please God that we step back from the cliff and walk -- maybe even run -- in the opposite direction. But being the frail, fallen people we are, we far too often dance on the edge, thinking that our balance is good enough to keep us on our feet. "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Cor. 10:12)
In connection with avoidance of temptation, the book mentions that we may sometimes need to replace old interests and friends with new ones. That statement made my teeth itch (so to speak), because the concept of avoidance of persons for the purpose of avoiding sin was so badly abused by the cult that I belonged to for many years. They would quote 1 Cor. 15:33, which in their Bible reads, "Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits." And they would apply that text to anyone who was not a member of their organization, or even members who were sinning in minor ways or just not 'doing enough'. Many people were hurt by that policy; some were separated from their families. But the fact is that cults can abuse correct teaching by taking it to extremes and applying it in legalistic ways. We are not required as Christians to slavishly withhold fellowship from fellow believers who may have sins in their lives with which they are struggling -- indeed, if that were the standard, which of us would be found as good association?
But when we find that our friendship with certain individuals tends to frequently lead us into situations where we are tempted to sin, something needs to be done. We may try to reason with our friends and tell them we are uncomfortable with certain activities -- possibly suggest other things that we can do that will not put us into compromising situations. Often, even unbelievers will sympathize with our position and be cooperative -- think of situations where parties or gatherings may be kept alcohol-free because one or two persons attending are known to have a drinking problem. If, however, our companions are not willing to change the circumstances of our association, it may at times indeed be necessary to curtail that association and begin to build new relationships with fellow believers who are actually living their faith.
This may lead to abuse or ridicule from those whom you have forsaken, but the Bible told us that would happen: "For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do-living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." (1Pe 4:3-5)
There is one other thing that comes to mind that we can do that may help us to avoid situations of temptation. We can keep ourselves busy with the things of the Lord. Again, this is an area in which one must use common sense -- and another area in which cults are guilty of abuse. We do not have to become fanatics, rigidly devoting every minute of our lives to Bible study, prayer, service, evangelism, etc. We do not have to abandon family activities, healthy recreation, hobbies and so on. But it is a good idea to devote a reasonable amount of time and energy to serving the Lord in whatever way He has called us to, and the mere fact of doing so will help to keep us from temptation. First, we will have less time to devote to "works of the flesh," and second, the increased focus on spiritual matters will keep our minds on the Lord and His will. "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:58)