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.

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