My first weekly investigation – on the topic of prayer – I thought was successful and if nothing else, a great reminder on what prayer is supposed to be. This week, I was trying to answer the following questions:
#1) When should we pray?
#2) Why is prayer so important?
In alternating fashion (and I’ll try to address responses to the corresponding number above), here are my results, beginning with the two starting verses on posted earlier.
Beginning with the James 5:13-20 passage, I immediately found some answers to #1. The opening verses say that we should pray during times of trouble and sickness. I don't think these are striking examples to a practiced Christ-Follower, but I think they are important. As a early disclaimer, the passage continues on to say, "a prayer offered in faith will make a sick person well; the Lord will raise him up." Don't read this as, "this will cure the sick or troubled person from all their ailments." It those who are prayed for in faith will make a person well. There is no greater earthly possession than peace with God and I think that is what the power of prayer can do. I'm not denying miracles because surely they have happened before and I know of a few cases personally. But prayer for the sick isn't a failure if the sick person dies. The second verse states the Lord will raise him up. If the greatest earthly treasure we an obtain is the peace of God, then the ultimate prize is being raised up and in the presence of God. Reference Paul on this one.
We are also encouraged to prayer for other situations as well: before a Bible study, for a meal, safe-travels, and in the church I attend now, birthdays and anniversaries too. These "smaller" blessings shouldn't be neglected either. They remind us to be thankful for what we have and our dependence on God for these things.
Further into the James passage, "Confess your sins - pray for each other so that you may be healed." This means that praying for one another is not just spiritually healing, but also a way of encouraging and strengthening others. This power that we have been granted does not derive from us but from the power of God. Continuing, "The prayer of the righteous man is power and effective," and then James gives the example of Elijah as being such a man. Though our confessions of sin and then by God's gift of forgiveness are we ever made righteous. And this is important when we are praying because God turns deaf ears to the prayers of the ungodly and unrepentant. (So, I supposed this falls into both, #1 and #2.)
Because of what I wrote above, prayer seems to be considered a "benefit" for being clean with God. (I know benefit isn't the best word there; I'm unsure what the exact word is.) When we approach God unclean, He holds us to a higher standard of transparency and truth. When we are true and transparent with one another and God, our relationships with everything improve, grow meaningful and fulfilling. How great God is for his discipline to hold us to a higher standard we would hold ourselves to! This is clearly another reason why God would want His people praying and often.
In the second passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18, my attention is drawn toward verse 17 and an analogy one of my friends used to describe it: unceasing prayer should be like a cough that won't go away. (Other translations use unceasingly or always pray.) Those who have experienced this, please don't over-interpret the analogy by never leaving home to pray through all hours of the day, everyday. But clearly, the Word of God wants us praying and praying often.
From this point, I had the option to write about a number of things that God wants us praying for. Some the options included, the blessing of objects, the blessing of animals (also referred to as the Blessing of Beasts), but I chose to look in praying for people. Why people? Because God holds people with the utmost pride and have the potential to show God's glory and love more than any other thing in God's creation. People should be prayed for not only in sickness or trouble, but also in doubt, unbelief, rebellion or any other condition that prevents the peace of God existing in that person - Christ-Follower or not.
It is important to pray to God for the people in our lives because it keeps us in communication. Prayer is often considered between us and God. But, when I pray for the needs of a friend, I feel that I am also communicating with that friend as well. Galatians 6:1-2 speaks of sharing burdens with one another when we are able to and restoring each other gently. prayer is also a very effective way to be in communication other Christ-Followers as well. If we are living in the spirit of transparency and truth, then we are confessing our sins to each other and we need restoration. Furthermore, if I am sharing this with another person, I don't want them to aggressively and absent-mindedly "put me back together." I want them to be encouraging and helping me put my life back on track. That's called accountability and accountability works wonderfully with prayer. To pray our friends, friends of friends, and our "enemies," we are communicating to God that we care for other people like we care for ourselves and that we understand the pains, false realities and the effects of sin in our lives; simply, it's a measure of compassion. The day we stop praying for one another, is the day that we are truly on our own.
Lastly, it would be a crime to mention prayer and not address some of the verses that seemingly preach that Christianity will increase your health, wealth and good fortune. These type of verses trips up Christ-Followers and unbelievers alike and I want to have this posted on r2r for anyone who wants some reference. Specifically, I'm talking about verses like Matthew 21:22, 1 John 5:14-15 and John 15:7. I'll take out a phrase from each set of verses that is overlooked, but I also want to mention that people who use these verses when praying for a million dollars or some other ridiculous thing are disappointed because they are people who turn God into a magical shooting star who grants wishes. I assure you God is not happy with this attitude toward prayer - and the source for this thinking is taking the verses out of context.
Matthew 21:22 says if you believe, then you will receive. 1 John 5:14-15 states that prayer must be in the accordance with God's will. And John 15:7 mentions we must remain in Jesus. Putting this all together, this means that God grants our prayers when we have the faith to believe that it will actually happen, when it is in accordance to God's will and if we continue walking the path of a disciplined faith. Any devout and practicing Christian can tell you that these things are no easy task but God's peace and answer to prayer is worth the discipline of a contrite spirit.
As a conclusion, I need to express that I discovered so much more than what I wrote here. I would greatly encourage and challenge any one of you to take a week spending a time investigating on something that troubles you. Read your Bible, use your resources, but also ask other Christ-Followers: age, spiritual maturity or position shouldn't matter.
Peace and Grace - You are in my Prayers