Touching heaven: Prayer 411

Prayer 411

Information, please. What can we learn about how to pray from God’s Word?

Stephen M. Luchterhand

Misinformation about prayer abounds. Skeptics consider prayer an unnecessary waste of time and breath. Believers may treat prayer rather mechanically as they go through repetitive motions long imprinted on spiritual memory muscles. For many, prayer is nothing more than the spiritual equivalent of a 911 emergency call. Others consider prayer a mere task to check off one’s “to do” list.

These perspectives on prayer minimize God to a mere divine ATM or a vending machine with ears. Ask for something, put enough prayer into the effort, push the right buttons, and wait for the results. If you don’t like what you receive, try again or feel free to express your disappointment.

There is so much more to the precious privilege of prayer. What information do we need to pray? If you need telephone information, you can dial 411. Prayer 411 is simply dialing into God’s Word for his information. Before your next heaven-bound missive, consider some basic information about . . .

Prayer GPS

GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) technology is all about location. In more remote regions of the United States, mobile phones can struggle to pick up a cell tower signal. Expansive forests and mountain ranges can hinder connections and leave a person “off the grid,” unable to establish a connection.

So when praying, does our location matter? The prayers of believers all end up at the same place: in heaven, at the throne of our heavenly Father. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). Our prayer connection isn’t dependent on a satellite or cell tower. Faith is the connection that establishes a link between God and his people. We can pray from any location, anytime, anywhere.

Jesus does offer some guidance about location. Prayer is a part of public worship and is God-pleasing. Jesus often prayed in public. He gave thanks for the food at the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:19). He prayed before a gathering of people in front of Lazarus’ tomb just before raising him from the dead (John 11:41,42).

Motivation is important in determining whether or not public prayers are God-pleasing. If done for show and to bring attention to self, Jesus says, “Don’t bother.” The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is an extreme example (Luke 18:9-14). Temptations for pride in public prayer are significant, so much so that Jesus often recommends praying in private. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. . . . But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:5,6).

Public prayer is certainly acceptable, even desirable at times, “but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

Prayer posture

Nowhere in the Bible does God prescribe a specific prayer posture. Believers throughout both the Old and New Testaments prayed in standing and kneeling positions. David wrote of lying down: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). It’s hard to imagine Jonah standing up while inside the belly of the great fish that swallowed him.

What do we do with our hands during prayer? David spoke of lifted hands during prayer. “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2). A more common practice is to pray with hands folded to limit distractions and to aid concentration.

While heads can be raised and eyes opened while praying, especially when lifting up one’s hands, it may be more common for heads to be lowered and eyes closed. Such posture helps concentration, keeping one’s mind focused on prayer. If you are praying while driving, however, keep your eyes open! Again the Bible does not dictate specific prayer posture, but practices like these aid attention and focus.

Readiness speaks to posture. Christians are ready, at any moment, to offer up prayers to God. Prayer can be part of a regular routine. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). In his brief treatise A Simple Way to Pray, Martin Luther asserted, “It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.”

The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonian Christians to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Elsewhere he urged, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). God’s people are already ready to pray. Whether offering praise reports, urgent 911 intercessions, or requests on behalf of others, God’s people cultivate a constant prayer posture.

Prayer patterns

So when we pray, what should we say? Jesus offers an ideal template for prayer in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). Entire volumes have been written to discuss and dissect each phrase and petition of this prayer. Because it covers so many aspects of doctrine, Luther’s Catechism treats the Lord’s Prayer as one of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine.

The Bible is filled with hundreds of prayers that cover the entire landscape of circumstances and emotions. Some great prayers of the Bible include:

● Genesis chapter 18 – Abraham’s plea for Sodom.

● 2 Samuel chapter 7 – David’s response to God’s promises.

● 2 Chronicles chapter 20 – Jehoshaphat’s prayer for help.

● Psalm chapters 32 & 51 – David’s confession and rejoicing in forgiveness.

● Psalm chapter 139 – David marvels at God’s power.

● Daniel chapter 9 – Daniel’s prayer of confession.

● John chapter 17 – Jesus’ prayer for his disciples.

● Colossians chapter 1 – Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving.

● Revelation chapters 5, 7, 19 – Prayers of praise to the Lamb of God.

In A Simple Way to Pray, Luther encouraged praying through parts of the Catechism. Using some of these great prayers of the Bible can help expand the patterns we use in our prayers. When we read these passages from the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is always present to strengthen our faith. He has promised to work through the gospel.

Is it permissible to make up our own prayers, known as ex corde (from the heart) prayers? God welcomes this. Such heartfelt, personal prayers break down the misconception that God is a mere divine ATM or a balky vending machine with ears. We have access to the throne of the King of the universe! This access to God is more than just being within range of a connection or somewhere close by. By faith, we are as close to him as a child sitting on his father’s lap, free to discuss anything and everything that comes to mind . . . in our own words.

Appreciate the many details and the rich texture of prayer. Rejoice in the thoughtful, powerful way God enables us to speak with him. Whether your next prayer is a 911-type emergency or a praise report, simply begin. Pray. Talk to God. Touch heaven.

Stephen Luchterhand is pastor at Deer Valley, Phoenix, Arizona.

This is the second article in a seven-part series on prayer.

 

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Author: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 2015

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