Friday, February 13, 2015

What You Need To Know, Part 1: Prayer

Okay, today we're starting off a new series that will consist of answers to the frequently asked questions burning away in the mind of most new Christians. We all have to start somewhere, right? So, come join in. If you have any questions that you'd like answers to, feel free to ask and I'll see if I can be of any help.

Today's F.A.Q is on prayer. Many new Christians ask how they should pray. It's definitely important, but first, I think we ought to examine what prayer is.

The simplest way of putting it is that prayer is a conversation with God. Now, let's take a second to consider that. A conversation. Not simply talking at God as though He were just some idea of a guy in the clouds, but talking with Him as though He is a real, living person. Because He is.

The best conversations are the ones in which both parties get to talk and get to know each other better. That is the purpose of prayer. Getting to know God(The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit) on a personal level. 

Now, let's get to the how. In Matthew 6:5-13, we find the instructions and example of prayer given to us by Jesus Himself.

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
In verses 5 and 6 Jesus warns us to not to pray for the attention and praise of other people, but instead, to withdraw from others and go to a private place to pray to God. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't pray in public or out loud. It simply means that when we pray, it should ONLY be for speaking with God and drawing near to Him; not to be puffed up about how 'good' we are because we pray or to draw vain attention to ourselves.
In 7 and 8 He also warns us not to pray with empty phrases. Some translations say 'repetitions'. You ever feel intimidated by all those fancy prayers we're often taught we're supposed to pray like, wondering how you're ever going to learn to pray like that? You know the ones, long and rambling with all the thees and thous and chants? Well, don't feel intimidated anymore, because that's not how we're told to pray in the first place.
What kind of prayer does God want? Well, let's take a second look at 9-13. 9 tells us that we should address God and offering Him praise. 10 shows us we should pray for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done. 11 says we should pray for our needs. 12 shows us we should pray for forgiveness. 13 tells us that we should pray that He protects us from evil and helps us to keep from it. 
Also, take note of the brevity of them. Again, back at what 7 and 8 said, which basically instructs us to keep our prayers simple. God already knows what is in our hearts and on our minds, before we can even speak, so we never need hold back anything from Him. In fact, I'm certain that is what He'd prefer. An organic relationship with no barriers and no falseness. So, why do we need to pray, if He already knows, you ask? Well, because prayer draws us closer to Him and He wants a relationship with us.
Now, these aren't the only things that we can or should pray for, but this gives us an idea of how we should pray. Personal, God-focused, heartfelt, praising, apologizing, seeking His will and His help, etc.
Still feeling a bit intimidated at the idea of talking to God? I understand the feeling, I struggled with learning how to pray a lot during my early years. I used to pray like a hypocrite, but I've learned better since. But we don't need to be afraid when coming to Him with our prayers. In fact, in Hebrews 4:16 we are told to come boldly before Him. We are also not alone, but according to Romans 8:26-27 we have the help of the Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we don't know what to pray.
One of the requirements of prayer that I still struggle with sometimes is the faith. Believing that I will receive what I ask of Him. But in James 1:6, we are told to ask in faith with no doubt. Matthew 7:7 tells us that what we ask of Him, He will give to us. But we must be careful of our motives when we ask of Him. James 4:3 tells us that we won't receive, when we ask for the wrong reason. For example, if we ask Him for wisdom, so we can be thought of as wise by other people, then that is not the right attitude and we will not receive it. So, before we pray for something, we need to check ourselves and our motives. 
Praying gets easier with time, if we're praying how we've been told to. It needs to become an integral part of our daily lives. Not just praying over meals or before bed. God is with us all day long and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to pray without ceasing. We should be talking with Him frequently, all day every day. Sound intimidating? Well, it gets easier, I promise. Like any good habit, it takes practice and conscious effort. Wonder what to pray about all day long? Well, start with the little things many of us overlook. Is it a nice day out? Praise Him for it. Have food to eat? Thank Him. There are so many things we can talk to Him about, if we just stop long enough to look for them.
I challenge you to practice praying. Go to some private place. Doesn't really matter if it's your room, your car, or taking a walk. Anyplace that allows you to talk with Him without being interrupted or distracted is a good place. Then, once you've done that, settle in like you would for a chat with a good friend. Relax and let your mind focus on Him. If you're having trouble, start out your prayer asking Him to help you to focus on and grow closer to Him. Then just pour out your heart to Him. Big things, little things. Nothing is too small to bring to God and nothing is too big for Him to handle. Give it all to Him. If you're like me and still have trouble with your mind wandering, stop, ask His forgiveness, and ask again for Him to clear you mind and give you focus. He will help you, because He wants to draw near to you and you to Him.
Don't have time to pray? Not all prayers need to be lengthy or free from distractions. Often times it's just a little conversation while we'r. And that's okay, so long as we take time to talk to Him more when we have time. Pray while getting ready for work, while you're in the car, while you eat lunch. There are plenty of moments during the day that we can fit in a prayer, so long as we look for them and take advantage. Still struggling to find time to pray? Pray for Him to give you the time.
And the last tip I'll leave you with is that when you see someone in need of prayer or have been given a prayer request, do it right away so you don't forget. Remember, it doesn't need to be long. And often when you pray for it right away when you don't have much time, you'll remember those prayers later when you do have more time to pray over it better.
So what is your favorite place to pray? Got a time of day that works best for you? Think that I missed something crucial? Feel free to share.

Have a blessed week, all!

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