They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Acts 2:42 NIV
This verse describes life in the church immediately after Pentecost. And I believe we can learn much about the early success of the church from this passage. This body of believers devoted themselves to four things: Bible study (the apostle’s teaching), spending time together (fellowship), worship (breaking of bread), and prayer. The first four articles in this discipleship series will look at these four habits of the early church, with this one focused on drawing near to God in prayer.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Table of contents
- What Is Prayer?
- Different Kinds of Prayer
- Individual Prayer
- Corporate Prayer
- Paul’s Prayer for the Churches
- Some Questions to Think About
What Is Prayer?
Prayer is a means of communicating with God. Anytime you enter into a conversation with God, you are praying. You might be praying as a part of a group (Acts 4:23-24). Or you might be alone in your prayer closet (Matt. 6:6). You might be praying about needs, either for yourself or another person or group. Your prayer might be long and intense (Matt. 26:36-46) or short (Neh. 2:4-5). The Scripture provides us with numerous examples of prayer, spanning a range of topics and formats.
Pray with Confidence
Prayer is talking to the God of all creation. The omnipotent, omniscient, infinite God. There is no reason why I should expect him to be interested in anything I might have to say to him. And yet he does. Hebrews 4:16 tells us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We can approach God’s throne with confidence because of what Christ has done for us. Like a child approaching their father, confident in the father’s love, and knowing that their father takes an interest in their lives and needs. We are not just praying into the empty air. We are talking to God. And he is listening and responding to us.
Pray According to God’s Will
But prayer is not like an unlimited gift card. We are invited to pray. But our prayer needs to be in line with God’s will for our lives. That father mentioned earlier will not get something for their child that is harmful or contrary to what they want for their child. Likewise, God will give us what we need and what will help us in the task he has given us to do. But we should not expect him to give just because it is something we want.
Different Kinds of Prayer
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.2 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV
While this is not an exhaustive list, it gives us a flavor of the different ways we might pray.
A petition is a request. You might petition a government official to act on your behalf. Or a superior about a concern on the job. Or even a friend or neighbor to lend you a hand at a task.
When we petition God, we are asking him for something. Generally something for ourselves. We might petition God for a physical need. For wisdom and direction in life or a decision that is facing us. Or for strength to meet the challenges of life. There are many things that we might petition God for.
The word translated as “prayers” is a generic word for prayer. You might think of it as encapsulating the other three mentioned here. But the order of these words would seem to argue against that. If the other three were simply categories of prayer under this one, I would have expected it to be first. Or maybe last. But not in the middle. So it would seem to be some more specific form of prayer like the other three.
I believe here that Paul refers to just talking or sharing with God. We do not need to limit our prayer life to petitions for ourselves, intercession for others, or thanksgiving. We can speak with him, share our day, look forward to what lies ahead, and get to know him better. This is in line with most of our daily conversations with other people. Why should it be any less with the one who cares most for us?
Intercession is similar to a petition. The significant difference is that intercessory prayer is for another person or group rather than for oneself. You might be praying for health or other physical issues. Or you might be asking that they be strengthened for the spiritual battles they are facing. Or that they would be growing deeper in their relationship with the Lord.
The fourth type of prayer that Paul mentions here is thanksgiving. We have much for which to be thankful. And it is appropriate to express that thanksgiving to God when we come before him in prayer. Thank him for what he has done. For answered prayer. For what he will be doing. And just because he is God and cares deeply for his creation, including yourself.
For All People
While not specific types of prayer, Paul also includes two groups to pray for in this passage. The first of these is a generic “all people.” There is no one for whom it is inappropriate to pray. Pray for their needs. Pray for their salvation. And pray that God would be active in their lives.
This category of people also includes those who might have caused harm to you or those you know and love. Our tendency when praying for them, if we do, is to do so in a negative fashion. That God would punish them for what they have done. But Jesus tells us in Luke 6:27-28 that we should “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” In the context of this passage, that prayer for those who mistreat us would not be seeking their harm. Instead, we should pray for their well-being and salvation, if appropriate.
The second group of people Paul mentions we should pray for are those in authority over us. You may not like them. They may well be godless and self-serving. But pray for them anyway. Pray that they would have the wisdom to lead us well. And that we might be able to lead peaceful and quiet lives.
While there are times when we may pray as a part of a group of believers, most prayer is individual and personal. It is a conversation between an individual and his God.
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus gave some instructions concerning prayer. It is important to recognize that as he did this, he was correcting a practice that seemed to be common among many of the religious leaders of Israel. They loved to pray in public places where people could see them. It was a public demonstration of just how holy they were. Although in reality, it was just for show, looking for public acclaim.
Jesus taught us to pray, not like the hypocrites praying in public, but first to get alone. There is certainly a place for public prayer, where a body meets together to pray. Or where one person might pray on behalf of a group. But most of the time, our prayer should be simply a one-on-one conversation between ourselves and God.
How to Pray
There are two different answers to this topic. The first deals with the place and posture of prayer, while the second with the content of our prayer. The content of our prayer is described elsewhere in this article. This section will look into the proper place and posture for our individual prayer time.
By place and posture, I am referring not just to how my body is positioned but to all of the physical mechanics of prayer. It is important to note here that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the best place to pray or your body position. It will vary significantly from person to person. What is important is that you are alone and spending time with God.
The Place for Prayer
In Jesus’ Instruction in Matthew 6, he tells us to go into our closets and pray. For some people, that may be a closet. While for others, it may be something entirely different. What is important is that you are alone and undisturbed.
What you choose for a closet will be impacted by how long you spend in prayer. When you are just starting and your time is not long, it will not matter too much where you pray. But as your time in prayer grows longer, you may need to find some comfortable and undisturbed place where you can spend an extended period.
The only significant consideration is that you can focus on your prayer. Light or dark, quiet or loud, kneeling, standing, or walking. It does not matter so long as you are alone with God.
The Posture for Prayer
Does your posture in prayer matter? Standing, sitting, kneeling, or on your face? Head bowed and eyes closed? Or arms raised and looking to the heavens? There are many postures that people use when they pray. And some will use many of these depending on the occasion and how they are feeling.
I do not believe it matters all that much what posture you use when you come to pray. What is important is that you are spending time with God. Feel free to assume whatever posture(s) best enables you to focus on God and communicate with him. When my knees allowed it, I found needing with my head bowed and eyes closed to be best for my daily prayer. But today, my prayer mostly happens as I walk down the road with my eyes open and looking ahead. Do whatever works best for you and what your spirit is encouraged to do by God’s Spirit.
My Prayer Closet
I am easily distracted, so I need to be in a place with a minimum of visual and audible distractions. That does not mean dark and quiet. The surroundings just need to be familiar enough that my attention is not drawn away. My preferred time and place to pray is very early in the morning, preferably before dawn, walking around my neighborhood. Apart from the occasional car and other early-bird walkers, it is quiet and still. There is little effort involved and few distractions apart from what might be going on in my head.
I have, in the past, prayed in my home office, where I could kneel and be alone. But kneeling has become more painful as I have aged. And I easily fall asleep when I am still. Walking solves both of these issues for me. But, what works for me will not work for everyone.
Some people are opposed to public prayer, taking Jesus’ instruction to go to your closet to pray as being definitive. But not even Jesus limited his prayer to a closet or mountain top. John 17 is a prayer that Jesus offered up to his Father in the presence of his disciples. In Acts 4:24-31, we see the church praying together and seeking the power and will to be faithful to God’s call. And you can find other examples of public prayer in the New Testament.
Public prayer is different than private prayer. And not just because other people are listening. When I pray with a group of believers, I voice my prayer on behalf of all those with me. There may well be more than one person praying. But each, in their turn, is praying on behalf of the group. And so, as you lead a group in prayer, be mindful of the others you are praying with. This is not a private conversation between you and God. You are voicing the prayer of the whole group. And they should be drawn near the throne of grace with you.
While you are in a prayer meeting and are not actively voicing the group’s prayer, you still have a part to play. Listen to the prayer being offered. And pray along with it, echoing the words in your own mind and giving an affirmative Amen as appropriate. Be an active participant. Not just when you are leading. But throughout the time the group is gathered together in prayer.
Jesus’ ModeI prayer
In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, giving them a model. I do not believe that this was intended to be the prayer they would always use. Instead, it gave them instructions on what to include as they prayed.
The first half of this model prayer focused on God. It is always good for us to remember who he is and acknowledge his sovereignty over his creation. To praise him for all that he is and does. And to seek his will in our lives, in his church, and throughout his creation.
The second half of this model is a prayer for our human needs. Provision for the needs of the day. For forgiveness and a forgiving heart. And for guidance in our daily walk with him. This is as appropriate for my individual life as it is for the life of his church.
Not all of these elements need to be in every prayer you offer. But each of them should be a part of your overall prayer life. If you limit your prayer to only personal issues for yourself or others close to you, you will miss out on much of the blessing of coming before the Father.
Paul’s Prayer for the Churches
In Paul’s letters to the churches he founded, he frequently included his prayer for them. These prayers are found in Ephesians 1:15-19; 3:14-21, Philippians 1:3-11, Colossians 1:9-14, and 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. I find them very instructive in knowing how to pray for other believers and the churches I have been a part of. Paul’s prayers generally do not deal with the physical issues that often occupy so much of our prayer life. Instead, he focused on the spiritual life of each of these bodies. In these letters, he prays . . .
- They would have the spirit of wisdom and revelation so they might better know God.
- Their spiritual eyes would be opened to know the power of God available to them.
- For them to have the ability to grasp the depth of God’s love.
- Their love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight.
- They might be pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness.
- That they would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will.
- And that God would bring to fruition the good they have planned.
There is more that Paul includes in these prayers. But these should give you an idea of how you might pray for other believers. Even those with no physical issues. All of us need prayer concerning our spiritual growth and maturity. None of us will arrive at completeness in this life. There is always room for us to be growing.
Some Questions to Think About
- If God knows your thoughts, why should you bother to pray? Would it not be redundant?
- Do you have a daily time and place where you come before the Father in prayer? If not, would you consider starting to do so?
- Is there anything you should not pray about?
- What element of prayer do you most need to focus on? Petition, intercession, thanksgiving, or conversing with God? Is there one of these you feel led to be spending more time with?
You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.
Posts in the Discipleship Series
- Bible Study – Discipleship 101
- Spending Time Together – Discipleship 102
- Worshipping Together – Discipleship 103
- Drawing Near in Prayer – Discipleship 104
- Understanding Who God Is – Doctrine 201
- What Is Humanity – Doctrine 202
- What Is Sin? – Doctrine 203
- Jesus: Our Savior – Doctrine 204
- Gifted to Serve: Discipleship 301
- Meditation, Solitude, and Fasting: Discipleship 302
- What Is the Bible? – Doctrine 401
- The Nature and Work of the Holy Spirit: Doctrine 402
- What Is Jesus’ Church?: Doctrine 403
- Creation and Providence – Doctrine 404
- The Doctrine of the Kingdom of God
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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