1 John 3:

v.22 "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. v.23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment."

James 5:

v.15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. v.16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

. . . .whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
Matt. 21: 22

Of all the instructions that JESUS gives us in HIS teaching, none is more explicit than that concerning prayer. What HE tells us on the subject is first found in Matthew chapter 6 and later repeated in part in Luke chapter 11. Beginning in verse 5 of Matthew 6, JESUS states HIS thoughts in terms that most anyone can understand.

Secret - Organized religion played a major role in Jerusalem at the time of CHRIST. A man would exalt himself before others if he did things that made him appear religious. Praying while ". . . standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets...." was one practice that was intended to accomplish this. It was included with public alms giving (helping the poor) ver. 2 and appearing in public to be fasting ver. 16. JESUS said that all three practices have their reward in the form of attention they receive from others.

The LORD advises that as opposed to public prayer, we are to ". . . enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy FATHER which is in secret. . .". Paraphrased in contemporary English, "prayer is strictly between you and GOD"! If the only true prayer is that which is done in secret, how do we categorize all the public "prayer" that we encounter? There are probably three primary reasons that such attempts at prayer exist:

  • to impress those that hear it,
  • in the case of a public function, to validate that we are a Christian people, or
  • without any scriptural foundation, our church has always had public prayer (simply a tradition of man).

There are a limited number of situations in which prayer in the presence of others is acceptable. These are addressed later in Prayers of JESUS and Prayer of others.

Length - In verse 7, JESUS says that non-believers expect to be heard ". . .for their much speaking". In ver. 8, HE says we are not to be like them. How man takes the 66 word example that CHRIST gives us (ver. 9-13) and turns it into a 10 or 15 minute oration is indeed a mystery. In Matthew 23: 14, JESUS speaks of long prayer to cover wrongdoing. Many of us have encountered the lengthy eloquence in "praying" of which false teachers and mis-leaders are capable. Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5: 1-3, teaches the error of lengthy prayers to GOD when he states in part:

ver.2 ". . . . for GOD is in heaven, and thou upon earth, therefore let thy words be few."

ver.3 ". . . . a fool's voice is known by multitude of words."

An often used example of length of prayer vs. brevity is Elijah's challenge to the prophets of Ba-al on Mt. Carmel (1Kings 18: 20-39). The Ba-al priests "prayed" from morning to evening and received no results. Elijah prayed 63 words that probably took less than a minute. The response was fire sent down from heaven that consumed the sacrifice and the altar as well as the dirt and water that surrounded it. While this example does effectively compare length of prayer, perhaps of greater importance is that it points out to whom we should pray. This will be covered in detail a bit later.

Aside from being contrary to CHRIST's teaching, what does a lengthy prayer say about you to those who may hear you? For example, if the "Reverend" Dr. So and So (the word reverend is used here quite inappropriately; according to the Bible only GOD [HIS name] is reverend, Psa. 111: 9), gives a lengthy invocation at a sports event. While some may declare how beautifully he prays, others will recognize that such prayers are not scriptural. If the good Dr. ignores what the Bible says about prayer, what else does he ignore? Every departure in our behavior from scripture is detrimental to our testimony (CHRISTlike behavior) and prayer is no exception!

VAIN REPETITIONS - CHRIST's other warning in verse 7 is about the use of vain repetitions. There are 17 words in the New Testament that have been translated as vain or a phrase containing the word vain. Definitions of the word include: empty, devoid of truth, lacking spiritual wealth, fruitless, of no purpose, none of which has any place in our prayer. This type of repetition most often occurs in prayers that are written or memorized, but it is not limited to those. In congregations where members are called upon to pray aloud, it is not uncommon to find individuals using the same words and/or phrases week after week. If you regularly attend such services, you can usually know in advance what certain individuals are going to say as they pray.

Repetition is sometimes difficult to avoid. Even in our sincere and private communication with GOD, certain thoughts and requests can repeatedly creep in. While this is not always a bad thing, as we will see below, there is a question that does arise. In Matthew 21: 22, JESUS said,

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

If I ask something of GOD this morning, then ask HIM again this evening or in the morning for the same thing, do these repeated requests reflect any degree of belief/faith. They are more likely to mean that either I don't believe GOD's response is forth coming, or I am not willing to accept HIS timetable.

A number of years ago, there was a young couple who had a chronically ill son. The dad was overheard saying how often he had prayed for this affliction to be removed. His statement though sincere, made you wonder if he was praying and believing?And why wasn't he following GOD's plan for healing through prayer as described in James 5: 14-16?

It is, however, important to realize that not all repetition is vain. In CHRIST's example, at least 3 points imply daily repetition is required. In verse 11, there is a request for bread, referred to as daily bread. This is a request for our daily sustenance. GOD wants HIS people to depend on HIM. Our best example of this is found in the Old Testament, Exodus 16:13-21 when HE fed the children of Israel manna in the wilderness for 40 years. Please remember that this provision was supplied (except on the Sabbath), one day at a time.

As surely as JESUS said that we should ask GOD to physically sustain us with food, HE also taught by HIS example to give thanks for that food. See Luke 22: 19, John 6: 11, & 1 Corinthians 11: 23-24.

In addition to our daily bread, we should seek from GOD His daily (perhaps more often) forgiveness. For those who think that just because we are believers, we no longer sin nor have need of forgiveness, they should think again. Better yet, they need to seek GOD's WORD on the subject.

In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul writes that our Spiritual being, that which is born by being resurrected with CHRIST, is dead to sin and sin no longer has dominion over this part of us. See Romans 6: 1 -13. Our past sins have been forgiven and removed "As far as the east is from the west . . ." according to David in Psalm 103: 12. Our original sinful nature was put to death and had we been raptured at the moment we were saved there would have been no need for further forgiveness. However, this did not happen and Paul points out in the very next chapter of his Roman letter that we still live in a body of flesh. Because of this, there is a conflict between the new SPIRITual man and the old man of flesh. See Romans 7: 14-21. The continuing sin of believers that Paul speaks about in Romans 7, is that for which we need daily forgiveness as it will always be with us in our present body.

It is the sin of the flesh that needs to be forgiven on an everyday basis. In 1 John 1: 8-10, the apostle is writing to born again believers. In verse 8, he says "we" (this in spite of our rebirth) and "have" present tense. Verse 9, relating to our confession and forgiveness is also present tense.

If as believers we are still capable of sin, then verse 13 in Matthew 6 is quite applicable. JESUS says that we need not to be tempted and should be kept from evil. Temptation has always been present with man, but perhaps never more so than it is today. With non-stop exposure to advertising that stimulates covetousness and the major emphasis on sex that promotes lust, we of all generations need frequent deliverance from temptation.

In addition to what JESUS tells us in Matthew 6 about temptation and evil, we find encouragement on the subject in I Corinthians 10: 13. There we are told (paraphrased) that we won't be tempted more than we can endure. Peter voices a similar promise in 2 Peter 2: 9, where he tells us that GOD will deliver us out of temptation. But, deliverance from temptation comes from prayer. Not only is it true in CHRIST's example in Matthew 6, but also in the garden of Gethsemane, HE charged the disciples to pray, "that ye enter not into temptation". See Mathew 26: 41, Mark 14: 38, & Luke 22: 40 & 46.

Prayers of JESUS

Some might question why JESUS gives us the example of a very brief prayer when HIS own prayer in John 17, fills an entire chapter. The answer is of course, we are not HIM. What is suitable or required of us is not necessarily what is required of GOD's SON. There are at least 4 things mentioned in HIS prayer that can never apply to us. Verse 1 speaks of HIS glorification that was to come from HIS death on the cross, verse 2, HIS ability to give eternal life, verse 5, HIS presence with GOD before creation.

Finally, in verse 6, HE begins what has been of the utmost importance to us, HIS intercession for mankind. This was the beginning of what HE has done for the 2000 + years since HIS ascension into heaven. See Rom. 8: 34, 1 Tim 2: 8, Heb. 7: 25. HE starts by initially praying for the believers/disciples who were present in HIS earthly ministry. In verse 20, however, HE expands the intercession to include you and me when HE said, ". . . them also which shall believe on me through their word . . . .". HE is of course speaking of the word that the disciples will later start disseminating. The remainder of the prayer is for our benefit. It includes what HE expects from us and what HE anticipates GOD will do for us.

We have four other instances of JESUS praying in which the words HE used are given.

  1. Matthew 26: 39-44, Mark 14: 36-41, and Luke 22: 41-44 all relate CHRIST's prayer in the garden when he asks that if it could be GOD's will that ". . .the cup" might pass from HIM. HE was of course speaking of HIS impending execution.
  2. In Matthew 27: 46 & Mark 15: 34, HE questions why GOD is forsaking or turning away from HIM in HIS crucifixion.
  3. In Luke 23: 34, HE prays for those who are persecuting HIM. This prayer is in keeping with HIS secondary instruction on prayer that we find in Matthew 5: 44, in which HE advises the disciples about dealing with adversaries. HE told them to ". . . pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
  4. HIS final prayer from the cross, "FATHER, into thy hands I commend my spirit" is found in Luke 23: 46
There are several verses that tell us HE gave thanks for food, but we are not given the actual words HE used.
  • Matthew 26: 26-27
  • Mark 14: 22-23
  • Luke 22: 19

Prayer of others

Through out the remainder of the New Testament, we have accounts of the apostles and other believers praying. In several instances we are told for what they prayed. See 2 Cor. 13: 7, Phil. 1: 9, Col. 1: 3, 2 Thes. 1: 11, James 5: 14. With the exception, however, of Stephen's short prayer when he was being stoned, we have no further record of the actual words used in anyone's prayer. See Acts 7: 60.

There is at least one time in which praying in the presence of others is called for. In James 5: 14-15, we are told that the elders of the church are to be called upon to pray over someone who is sick. It is not enough for them to pray from church or their own home; the scripture calls for " . . . anointing him (the sick person) with oil . . .". That means that the elders physically have to be with the sick person. Are they to pray audibly? James doesn't say, but I prefer to think not. Even though somewhat public, this is still very much communication with GOD and should not be what you think the others present might want to hear.

Scripture records a few times when the early believers seemed to be praying in the presence of each other: Acts 1: 14, Acts 12: 5, Acts 16: 16.

Most of the apostle Paul's prayers about which he writes are of an intercessory nature, not totally unlike that of JESUS in John 17. While they are a deviation from the example CHRIST gave us in Matt. 6, they may still have been acceptable in HIS sight. We should acknowledge that Paul's intercessions were the result of the HOLY SPIRIT's intervention in his prayer life. See Romans 8: 26-27. In either case, it is not the purpose of this work to judge Paul's communication with GOD nor do we seek to analyze or criticize the prayer life of contemporary man. The purpose of our effort is simply to present prayer as it is found the Bible and encourage you to act as scripture directs you.

To whom should we pray?

None of what we have studied thus far is of any value if we ignore to whom our prayers should be directed. In CHRIST's instruction in Matthew chapter 6, HE refers to FATHER 4 times in verses 6 - 9. In verse 6, we are told specifically to pray to our FATHER and that HE hears and responds when we pray correctly. Verse 8 speaks of HIS prior knowledge of our needs. In verse 9, we are instructed to address HIM directly. If we accept that our heavenly FATHER is GOD ALMIGHTY, then there can be no doubt that we are to pray to GOD.

There are some verses that refer both to JESUS and the HOLY SPIRIT as being our intercessor or mediator with GOD. See Heb. 7:25, Rom.8:26 & 27, 1 Tim. 2:5. This simply means there is someone between us and GOD, someone who gives us access to HIM. Never is this more true than when we pray. Paul says in Romans that we should look to the HOLY SPIRIT for guidance in our prayer life. In John 14:13, JESUS tells us that we should ask (paraphrased, pray) in HIS name. Although we are directed to pray through them, there is no place we are told to pray to them.

In spite of the wide spread practice that exists, there is no scripture calling for prayer to saints or angels. Communication with angels is found through out the Bible, more in the Old Testament than the New, but nevertheless, in both. Angels are given many duties from praising GOD to being servants, messengers, executioners, as well as others, but no where do we find where they receive or answer prayers directed to them.

Finally, in order for our prayers to be answered, the Bible gives us two conditions that must be met:

Below, most of the scriptural references to prayer have been categorized as to what they teach us. You are encouraged to read each of the passages to see if they have additional meaning for you. As is often true in the gospels, some of the verses are repeats of the same instruction or record, but don't skip any of them. Because of the different wording, you may realize something from one that you did not see in another.

Why pray/What to pray for:

Matthew 5:44, 9:38, 17:21, 19:13, 24:20, 26:41, 26:53
Mark 11:24, 13:18, 14:38
Luke 6:28, 10:2, 21:36, 22:40, 22:46
John 17:9, 17:15, 17:20
Acts 8:22, 8:24, 1 Cor. 14:13, 2 Cor. 13:7, Phil. 1:9, Col. 1:19,
1 Thes. 5:23, 1 Thes. 5:25, 2 Thes. 1:11, 2 Thes. 3:1, 2 Tim 4:16
Jas. 5:13-16

How to pray

Matthew 6:5-7, 6:9-13, 14:23, 21:22, 26:36
Mark 6:46, 11:24, 13:33, 14:32,
Luke 6:12, 11:2-4, Romans 8:26, 1 Cor. 11:13, 1 Cor. 14:14-15,
1 Thes. 5:17, 1 Tim. 2:8

Where to pray

Matthew 6:6, 14:23, 26:36, Mark 6:46, 14:32, Luke 6:12, 9:28,
Acts 10:9

When to pray

Matthew 24:20, Mark 13:18, 13:33, Luke 18:1, 18:10, Acts 10:9,
James 5:14, Col. 1:9, 1 Thes. 5:17

Vain Repetitions, Prayers of JESUS, Prayers of Others, Conditions for Answers, Prayers Categorized

Other sites to see: Home, Shepherds not Leaders, Soul Winning: Another Look, Scriptural Belief In JESUS, Water Baptism