Basics of Prayer

Prayer is important. Every Christian knows that. But how should we pray? Prayer is our opportunity to talk with God. Our relationship with God grows as our prayer life improves. And although God can answer any prayer, a regular prayer format serves as, perhaps, the best way to pray on a daily basis.

Many discipleship programs suggest the following framework for prayer. This framework for regular prayer format consists of six basic parts or principles. Christian disciple makers also developed an illustration to help us remember these six basic parts of prayer. This illustration is known as “The Hand Illustration.”

The six basic principles of prayer are praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, petition, and listening.

  • Praise — Words of praise fill the Bible. Revelation 4: 8 says, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (ESV) Another example follows in Revelation 4: 11, which says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (ESV)

So, what is praise? Praise declares to God the truth about His mighty actions and attributes. Praise is focused totally on God. Why do we praise God? Not because God needs to hear it. Rather, we need to acknowledge and verbalize our belief that God is mighty and great and good.

The Hand Illustration
  • Thanksgiving — The Bible tells us again and again to be thankful to God. Why? According to Psalm 100: 5 “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (ESV)

Thanksgiving celebrates God’s goodness to us. We have so many reasons to give thanks to God. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel thanked God for His steadfast love and faithfulness. The authors of the New Testament give thanks to God for sending Jesus to die for our sins. I Thessalonians 5: 18 expands our basis for thanksgiving, saying, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV) Giving thanks is God’s will for us.

  • Confession — Confession of sins endures as a Christian concept. And what is sin? Sin is lawlessness — rebellion against God. I John 3: 4 tells us, “Everyone who make a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (ESV) But what actions are considered sinful? You can discover some examples of sin by reading the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20.

Why do we need to confess our sins to God? Because sin hampers our ability to draw close to God. According to Isaiah 59: 2, “your iniquities [AKA sins] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (ESV)

Does everyone sin? Yes. Every person who ever lived has committed sins. Romans 3: 10-12, 23 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (ESV) Everyone has sinned — except Jesus. Jesus is without sin (see Hebrews 4: 15). Jesus never rebelled against God.

We cannot draw close to God if we are beset by sin. We cannot stay close to God until our sins are forgiven. The Bible promises in I John 1: 9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (ESV)

  • Intercession — Intercession is praying for others. The Bible teaches that intercession has great power. According to James 5: 16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (ESV)

The apostle Paul believed in the power of intercessory prayers over events in our lives. For example, in I Timothy 2: 1-2, Paul reports the impact of our prayers for “kings and all who are in high positions.” “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (ESV) 

The prophet Samuel from the Old Testament reveals the importance of intercessory prayer. Failure to pray for others can even be considered a sin against God. Samuel says in I Samuel 12: 23, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (ESV) Intercession is far more important than we can imagine.

“Prayer is not simply getting things from God, that is a most initial form of prayer; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God.” — Oswald Chambers

  • Petition — Look at that quote from Oswald Chambers. What does it mean? To me it identifies the initial form of prayer for most of us. When a person says his first prayers, he usually is asking God for something. Many first prayers consist of pleadings to God for help. For example, notice Psalm 28: 1-2, 6: “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, . . . Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. . . . Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.” (ESV)

Petition differs from intercession. Intercession makes prayer requests for others. Petition shifts the focus of the prayers to the person making the prayer.

  • Listening — The goal of listening is to gain communion with God. Google’s online dictionary defines communion as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings.” Sharing involves both persons. In prayer we usually focus on talking to God. We must spend time learning to listen to God.

How do we listen intimately? Keep your focus squarely on God. Stop your mind from wandering. Don’t daydream. Stay awake! At first this may be difficult, especially early in the morning. Listening to God requires discipline.

Why is listening important? It gives the Holy Spirit time to “teach you all things.” As Jesus said in John 14: 26, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (ESV)

Listening also puts you in a quiet situation. God speaks with a still, small voice. Quiet is an important part of listening.

Does God speak to us? That possibility is too complex to discuss here. However, Jesus said in John 10: 27-28 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (ESV)

These are the six basic parts of prayer.

Prayer should help us grow and mature as Christians. Eventually, we come to understand that prayer should not focus on me or on the other person. The best, most mature prayers focus on God. The heart of prayer is communication and communion with God.

Abiding in Christ

Let’s start at the very beginning. First, you must accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. You cannot be a Christian disciple unless you, first, are a Christian. And you cannot follow Jesus as a disciple unless you have a personal relationship with Him.

Next, in order to become a disciple, you must learn to abide in Christ. When I was a new Christian, I had problems understanding the meaning of “abiding in Christ.” Jesus did not abide in me before I accepted Him as Savior. The Greek word μένω simply means “abide, remain, stay” so that was not much help. How can I stay close to Jesus?

[Jesus said] “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. . . . If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15: 4-5, 10 (ESV)

What does it mean to abide in Christ? Does it mean to stay close to Jesus every moment of your life? OK. But how do I do that? By keeping your mind set on spiritual thoughts and by filling your life with wholesome friends and spiritual activities. How can you do that? Here are a few suggestions.

Keep Your Mind Set on Christ

In the early years of computers, programmers referred to the acronym GIGO when discussing some of their computer problems. GIGO means “garbage in, garbage out.” In other words, if you put bad data into a computer, you will get bad data back from the computer. This concept also applies to our minds. If I fill my mind with bad or negative thoughts, my mind will not produce good thoughts.

But what happens when a Christian fills their mind with thoughts of Jesus Christ? According to Romans 12: 2, filling our minds with Jesus results in mental and spiritual transformation. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)

How can you keep your mind set on Jesus? First, lay aside all crude or nasty books, immoral or unhealthy websites, porn, negative social media sites, questionable television shows and movies, and anything that can turn your mind away from Christ.

Then, second, fill your mind with thoughts of Christ. The Bible is a good place to start. Also check out Christian books and movies. Listen to Bible studies, both recorded and in person. As you fill your mind with good things, then, over a period of time, you will become transformed. But what about choosing your friends?

Choose Your Friends Wisely

Who are your friends? With whom do you hang out? What do you do when you spend time with others? Where do you go?

Abiding in Christ may result in some old friendships fading away. The Bible says having good friends does matter. I Corinthians 15: 33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ ” (ESV) Proverbs 13: 20 agrees, saying, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (ESV) So choose your new friends wisely.

After you become a Christian, some of your old friends may abandon you. Why? Because if they do not know Jesus, you will hold fewer things in common. Your paths may slowly drift apart. But this is normal. You should be drawn to participate in new activities with new friends who share your new life in Christ.

Participate in Wholesome Activities

As a Christian you may discover that you no longer enjoy some of the activities in which you took part before accepting Jesus. When you learn about being a Christian, you will set new standards of behavior. This will cause you to abandon some of your old activities. The Bible says in Ephesians 5: 11-12, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” (ESV) Some of your old activities were “unfruitful works of darkness.”

In addition, some of your former activities may disgust or offend you. Why? Your life is becoming reoriented. You are turning away from darkness. Jesus Christ is filling your life with light. According to Ephesians 5: 8, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (ESV)

Abiding Is Staying Close

What is abiding? How would you abide with a physical friend? You would stay close to that person. When you are in their presence, you are abiding with them.

Abiding with Christ closely resembles abiding with a physical friend. There is one major difference. Jesus is spirit. How can you abide in Christ’s spiritual presence? By filling your minds with thoughts of Jesus and by spending time in activities that are centered on Jesus.

The Bible conveys this idea well in Colossians 3: 16, which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

This is abiding in Christ. And abiding in Christ is the most important first step in Christian discipleship.

The Basics of Discipleship

What are the basics of Christian discipleship? Well, let’s start at the very beginning. First, you must accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. You cannot be a Christian disciple unless, first, you are a Christian. You cannot follow Jesus as His disciple unless you have a personal relationship with Him.

How can you begin to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? You must accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your Savior.

If you never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, then pay attention to the outline in the column on the right.

  • Admit to God that you are a sinner.
  • Believe in Lord Jesus Christ
  • Confess the Lord Jesus

Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and you have taken the first step toward Christian discipleship.

The Basics of Discipleship

What’s next? Well, the Bible gives us five basic disciplines that help us form a strong foundation for discipleship. They are abiding in Christ, prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and witnessing. Let’s learn a bit more about each of these disciplines.

  • Abiding in Christ — you cannot have a living, personal relationship with Jesus unless you abide in Him. “Abiding” means staying close to Jesus at all times. Jesus uses the example of a grape vine and its branches to describe the importance of abiding. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (John 15: 4-5, 8 ESV)
  • Prayer — prayer is having a conversation with God. You cannot be a Christian disciple apart from prayer. Jesus knew the importance of prayer. He taught His disciples how to pray (see Matthew 6: 9-13 and Luke 11: 1-4). The apostle Paul also knew the importance of prayer. He wrote the following exhortation to the Ephesians, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me.” Ephesians 6: 18-19 (ESV)
  • Bible Study — the Bible is the foundation and the authority for Christian discipleship. Yes, the Holy Spirit and prayer provide the power for Christian living but the Bible tells us where to find that power and how to become powerful ourselves through Jesus Christ. The Bible says this in II Timothy 3: 16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)
  • Witnessing — witnessing (sharing the gospel with the lost) is essential for the growth of the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught His disciples how to witness. Witnessing is that important. In addition, Jesus’ final words on earth commanded His followers to make disciples. According to Matthew 28: 18-20, “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (ESV)
  • Fellowship — What is fellowship? Is it just parties or coffee between church services or potluck dinners? No, Christian fellowship consists of much more than that. Christians are required to care for each other. Galatians 6: 2 tells us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (ESV) God intended the church to be a body of believers that is defined by love and caring for each other.

And there you have it. But before we move on, let’s examine the most important strength and weakness of these basics of discipleship.

Strength and Weakness

I started discipleship using a program that centered on these five basic areas of discipleship. The program implied that these five areas were the beginning, the middle, and the end of Christian discipleship. What’s wrong with that approach to discipleship? Well, I think I can answer that question by naming the strength and weakness of these five basics of discipleship.

Strength — These five basic areas of discipleship provide an excellent program for the person who is beginning to walk as a disciple. They are concise and concrete. These five areas are easy to explain and follow. So, they serve as a good place to start a life of discipleship. By maintaining discipline in these five areas a novice disciple remains in an excellent position to establish a relationship with God, learn more about Jesus, and become established in a local church. Using these basic disciplines will provide the disciple with a solid foundation for Christian growth.

Weakness — But there is a huge problem when a person considers these basics as the totality of discipleship. Although these five disciplines are important — even essential — for Christian growth, they are not even the center, that is, the most important part of discipleship. When Jesus called the first disciples in Matthew 4: 19 and Mark 1: 17, He did not say “read the Bible.” Jesus said, “Follow Me.” The center of discipleship is Jesus Christ. And to be a Christian disciple we must follow Him.

Jesus explained this further in Luke 9: 23-24. And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (ESV) Following Jesus requires self-denial and giving control of your life to Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus requires you to place Jesus ahead of all other relationships — including self. Jesus said in Luke 14: 26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (ESV)

[Jesus said,] “If a man come to me and hate not . . . he cannot be my disciple,” not, he cannot be good and upright, but, he cannot be one over whom Jesus writes the word “Mine.”

Oswald Chambers

After Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, the first disciples began to understand that the command “follow Me” included following Jesus unto death. The apostle Peter wrote in I Peter 2: 21, For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (ESV)

The apostle Paul summed this up in Galatians 2: 20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (ESV)

And to Summarize

The basics of discipleship are essential tools for building your relationship with God. Prayer and abiding in Christ are central to building a relationship with God. The Bible teaches you about God and Jesus Christ and Christian living. Fellowship and evangelism demonstrate the interaction between the disciple, the church, and the world.