TEACH US HOW TO PRAY
by Christopher C. Warren & Herbert Vander Lugt
As you look around the various Christian churches today you will see many different formats for praying. Some pray quiety, others shout and scream. Some pray from the heart, whereas others read fixed or liturgical prayers. Some pray in their own language, some in foreign languages, and some just mumble or shout out garbled sounds which they call "speaking in tongues". So how should we pray?
Firstly, it is important to realise that the content of our prayers is more important than how we pray. When I (D.C.E) was a teenager, I observed that the family who lived next door shouted and cried when they prayed. But their prayers didn't seem to be any more effective than the quiet, conversational prayers of my father. Later I learned that many people known for the effectiveness of their prayers spoke softly and simply when they talked to God.
Nehemiah wept as he prayed because he was deeply grieved by the news that things were not going well for his people who had returned to Jerusalem after a period of exile. He prayed with intense feelings. But it wasn't because of his intensity that God gave him his request. It was the fact that he claimed God's promises (Neh.1:8-9).
God hasn't told us that we can expect earthly prosperity or perfect physical health. But He has promised us that He will never leave us (Matt.28:20), that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our endurance (1 Cor.10:13), and that He will work all things for our good (Rom.8:28-30). Claiming promises like these makes our prayers effective.
One writer summarised our attitude to prayer in this piece of verse:
We need not cry or agonise
For fear we won't be heard;
The prayers that move the hand of God
Are those that claim His Word.
I (C.C.W) remember when I first became a Christian believing that unless I was emotional my prayers would not reach God's heart. I believed this because I saw other Christians "forcing" emotions out in their prayers. But I have learned over the years that it is the prayer of faith that gains access to the throne of God (James 5:15). Our emotions are human -- of the flesh; but the spirit is divine, from heaven. True, the Spirit of God, when it works on us, also works on our hearts and produces beautiful feelings, but this is an effect of effective prayer, not the cause of it. The cause of true prayer is faith. The heart that is cold is a heart not operating out of faith, because faith softens the heart, making it pliable and receptive to the Holy Spirit.
In many cultures it is "customary" to weep at funerals even if the deceased is not known to you. In Bible times professional mourners could be hired. In Albania a bride is supposed to weep and struggle as her parents give her away to her new husband so as to give the impression that leaving home and parents is hard, and to supposedly thereby honour them. But all of this is false. And so it is with prayer where feelings are forced or where it is supposed that intense feelings automatically gain us access to God. Unless there is faith in God and His promises, then heaven remains closed to us. Unless there is first obedience to what we know is true, heaven is veiled by an iron curtain.
Read the prayers of Jesus in the New Testament if you want a model for prayer. We can't, of course, tell how emotional He was from a printed text though the words themselves, and the testimony of Jesus' conduct in general, should be enough to tell us that He was calm and collected. There were no endless repetitions of "Hallelujah!" and God's Name. He may have had to shout if He was teaching a large crowd outdoors but there is no evidence to suggest that His prayers were anything other than softly spoken when he was praying within earshot of His listeners. That He was intense when He asked God to remove the cup of bitterness from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane cannot be doubted, or that He shouted aloud His last words as He died on the Cross. But can you imagine Him ranting and raving as He spoke the Lord's Prayer? Or the High Priestly Prayer in Gethsemane? Or the Lord's Prayer? Impossible!
His was a dignified, sincere, intense, self-controlled kind of praying, not the emotional outbursts that so many Christians are wont to habitually indulge in.
New Covenant Christians believe that most praying is of this kind. We do not believe in hysterical, shouting prayer. We no not believe in repeating the word "hallelujah" between every word of a sentence nor screaming it. We do believe in praising the Lord and using the expression, "Praise Yahweh!" (Hallelujah!) at the beginning or end of a prayer (Rev.19:1,3-4,6), and in some other contexts. We are opposed, however, to constant repetition because Jesus Himself was; He even said that this practive was heathen (Matt.6:7). This kind of activity resembles more the mantric prayers of oriental religions which eventually render the worshipper senseless and open him up to the control of unseen powers. The Christian, Paul says, is always in control of everything he does, and that includes prayer (1 Cor.14:32). For this reason we are opposed to most of the so-called "speaking in tongues" claimed by many churches1.
We are also opposed to liturgical prayer unless there is a direct connection to the heart. What we pray for still remains far more important than how we say it.
For a detailed examination of prayer, see, The Five Keys to Effective Prayer in The New Covenant Christian Witness (NCCW), 1:3-22, August 1992.
This page was created on 22 May 1998
Last updated on 22 May 1998
Reproduced with Thanks