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god in our lives

PRAYERS OF REQUEST

Advice on how to ask God for help in our lives
through the practise of prayer
.

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1.    INTRODUCTION


Importantly, please read the small article, Sound Faith” before going on, if you have not already. It offers a framework for: building that level of sound faith, proving Gods existence for yourself as a result of applying that faith to your life, and receiving the potential benefits of his power in your life as a result!

Prayer is undoubtedly one of the ‘foundation blocks’ of Christian faith. As in any relationship, communication is a must. Time should be set aside on a regular basis to talk with God. Admittedly, this may feel unusual at first. Obviously, we cannot initially be sure that we are not just talking to ourselves. We have to start somewhere though: initiating that conversation through faith. Remember millions have successfully gone before you. You can relax a bit in that knowledge.

To the experienced Christian, prayer has many forms: requests for help for ourselves and importantly for others in need; thanks for what has been received; praising and worshiping the Lord; just plain enjoying his loving company. This article is clearly about prayers of request, but the article, Mature prayer follows this one and gets into the deeper side of prayer and its potential for stronger faith.

But getting back to the point, we can use prayers of request in the full spectrum of our lives. For example, prayers requesting help can be applied to our spiritual direction, challenges to our faith, personal relationships, family conflicts, health issues, education and work issues, problems with addictions and bad habits, financial necessities, buying essential assets etc.

Simply put, Gods power can be applied to almost any difficulty or dilemma we may face in life! However, bear in mind it is much more likely that God will assist within our general day-to-day lives and related problems, rather than perform miracles or the like. And I am saying that we will not get everything we ask for. (I will elaborate on these matters later.)

Of course, if prayers are not successful then our faith may be weakened. So, it is at least useful to have some knowledge, based on sound scriptural understanding, before embarking on the practise.

Somewhere, in my early years of faith, I came across the still highly regarded book, Too busy not to pray written by Bill Hybels. It certainly assisted me at the time with my beginner prayer life. Thirty years on, my big picture on prayer methods has shifted in its priorities, but I still commend the book to anyone wanting a successful prayer life.  

2.    ASKING GOD FOR ASSISTANCE

I can say with complete confidence that prayers definitely do positively influence outcomes of life when we utilise them appropriately. I have seen some incredible stuff come off through prayer during my thirty plus years of Christian faith, trust me. The potential power of prayers of request, and their outcomes, do indeed provide strong proof of God’s presence in our lives. Open your mind to the likelihood that God awaits your requests for assistance both for yourself and for others and I do not believe you will be disappointed in the long term. From the New Testament:

        So I say to you: Ask and it shall be given to you;
        seek and you will find;
        knock and the door will be opened to you.
        For everyone who asks receives;
        he who seeks finds;
        and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
        [Luke 11:9-10]

        You do not have, because you do not ask God.
        [James 4:2]

        Do not be anxious about anything,
        but in everything, by prayer and petition,
        with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
        [Philippians 3:21]

So “ask and you shall receive” is the Bible’s promise (although, ‘conditions apply’ as I explain later). AND God will, if the conditions are right, grant answers to our prayers. Its power will, after sufficient evidence is gained, clearly elevate it above sheer luck. Although it sounds a bit selfish to use faith to gain assistance from God for ourselves in our day-to-day lives through prayers of request, it has two positive results. Firstly, it allows God to prove his unconditional love for us, and I can only assume that he greatly enjoys doing so. As I often say too, he is a God of action. He can make life a lot easier for us as a result. Secondly, by proving his presence is there, within our lives, enables our belief and faith to grow.

I have tried in the balance of this article to assist you, the reader, to gain a basic scriptural understanding of prayer itself, as mentioned in the intro. I do recommend that you read all that I have written here on the topic, before putting it to use. This will ensure that you do not take any of the Bible-based guidance out of context, which might negatively impact your results.

3.    ADVICE ABOUT PRAYER

Please note too that the Heading above does not contain the words only or correct. No one can pretend to provide exact guidelines on what God actually expects from us during prayer in any particular, let alone all, circumstances. He is always there ready to lovingly listen to each one of us; to care for us. I have merely presented advice here based on related Biblical verses, my personal experiences and the experiences of other Christians with whom I have discussed prayer. I would request that you read on in that context.

3.1    How do we start?

It is certainly useful, before commencing prayers of request to get into the best mood possible: relax and open yourself to the situation. A quiet place to pray is always an advantage. Of course this is not always possible, particularly if praying on the run.

We should next set our mind on Gods greatness. We do this for three reasons. Firstly, it is right to acknowledge the omnipotent power of the God we are praying to. Secondly, it lessens our mindset on our perceived needs. Finally, it increases the power of our prayer when we accept his greatness.

It is normal for many of us Christians to pray to God the FatherOur Father in heaven, Heavenly Father or even Father God. An explanation of Christianitys Holy Trinityis presented in the article of that name. God the Father is explained there, as is Jesus the Son of God and theHoly Spirit. Remember though, that Christians only believe in one God, just as Jews and Muslims do.

3.2    Choosing our words

Importantly, how do we ask things of God? Well, we keep it simple. We just ask for what is needed. Theres no need to start with, If you dont mind ... etc. Theres no need either to choose every single word carefully. God knows exactly what we want before we say it, of course, but he needs to hear us ask. That way he can make it clear, through answered prayers, that he is present in our lives and that he really does love us.

3.3    Ask in faith and trust

Certainly, when praying, stronger faith means a greater chance of success. Faith here simply equals confidence in God and his ability when praying. We trust in him. As Jesus himself said, I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, Go throw yourself into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. [Mark 11:23] That is a pretty clear statement about faith-filled prayer isnt it?

In our minds eye, as we pray, we should endeavour to see the positive outcome of our request. Again in relation to our faith in the power of prayer, in Jesus own words, ... believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. In effect we are opening the situation in question completely to Gods boundless power through our prayer; faithfully trusting in his willingness to assist! Of course this advice is to be understood in the context of other Bible based guidance that follows in this sub section of the article.

Now, beginner Christians may not be able to muster the level of faith that experienced Christians should possess, but I am sure that God takes that into account.

3.4    Pray often

If the issue being prayed for is important enough in your life, then it is also a good idea to pray for it regularly as well. Even Jesus himself was known to do so (Matthew 26:43).

3.5    The power of group prayers

An additional way of increasing the power of prayer is through group prayer. Two or more people constitutes a group, and the more involved the better. One person leads with prayer. Verbal support or affirmation from other participant/s is also desirable as it amplifies faith and confidence in the process, i.e. it adds greater power. (Prayers in church services fit into this category of course.) Also, to my mind, group prayer works well because God can, by answering these prayers, touch the hearts of a whole bunch of people and thereby demonstrate that he is indeed lovingly present within each of their lives.

3.6    No obsessions

However, beware of an unhealthy obsession or preoccupation with the object of prayer. That can lead to poor results. In effect the object of prayer then becomes a ‘false idol’. As such, it is of greater importance to us than the God on whom we are reliant for results.

3.7    Wrapping it up

Most Christians conclude their prayers of request with the words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen. Why add the words, "In Jesus name"? Well, he suggested we make our requests that way in John 15:16 (in the Bibles New Testament). And he included the words, ... No one comes to the Father except through me ..." in John 14:6. Finally, the word, “Amen means something like, May it happen” or I really mean this.

Let me please also say that my suggested prerequisites don’t always have to be in place to ensure the success of prayers. (We do have a loving God after all.) For example, a personal request for inner strength in the face of physical, emotional or spiritual pain always has a high chance of success no matter how we ask for it. Please see the article, God during hard times for more on this.

4.    PRAYERS THAT MAY FAIL

Just as there are suggested methods, attitudes etc to get better results with prayer, in the Bible, there are also conditions that work against success. It is a fact that God will not answer all our prayers. Despite the Bible’s broad promise on answers to prayers, logically, we will not get everything we literally ask for. There will be times when we want something badly and God just cannot or won’t grant us an answer!

4.1    Asking for something that may cause damage

For example, like a good parent, God won’t give us something that is not in our best interest or will negatively impact others. Not many parents for example would give their child a dangerous gift, despite all the tantrums in the world. Unfortunately, we cannot share God’s view of life. Although he is certainly present within reality and our lives, he can see beyond the restraints of time and space in which we exist. In other words, he always knows the potential outcome of all of our prayers as we make requests.

Again, in hindsight, you will normally come to understand why prayers have not been answered, or not answered in an expected manner (explained below). A good many of us believers are capable of analytical thought, so don’t think that a strong element of ‘blind faith’ or justifying any outcome is a prerequisite for being a believer. A lot of atheists have this view I am sure, but it is in error.

4.2    Asking for other people to be changed to suit our wants

It is not unusual for us to bring the behaviour of other people to the Lord in prayer, asking him to change them as such. There are many situations that encourage us in our thinking to do so: emotional pain in our close relationships; bullying, harassment or social torment at the hands of others etc. And it always wise to bring these problems to God, hoping he can orchestrate an answer for us. But at times our prayers, when dealing with interpersonal problems, revolve around expecting God to actually change someone else for the better.

Unfortunately, he cannot be expected to overrule anybodys free will and alter their judgement, behaviour or attitudes etc, as such (just as he wont do it to you or me). They must learn lessons for themselves in life and thereby want to change first. Of course, God will attempt to highlight the error of their ways to them. This is discussed in the article,His guiding hand”. What can we do in those circumstances then? Well, we may need to discuss the issue with a competent counsellor, friend or close family member. God will certainly support us too, make no bones about it! He is always there in our hard times to do so, and he can lift us from the mire we may find ourselves in.

4.3    Asking for miracles to happen

Please, please, do not think that God will always overrule the laws of nature that he designed either, every time you ask it of him. God does not normally dabble around with these laws. Although he underpins the laws of cause and effect, for example, he lets them run their course. Natural disasters will happen. People will suffer from ill health quite possibly our loved ones which can include the most vulnerable: the very young and the old. The rolling dice of chance can bring accidents and illness, possibly even resulting in death, to any of us on this day or any other.

I am not suggesting here that we should not pray in dire circumstances, e.g. when a dear one is diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease. We do have to try, and try hard, with serious prayer in these circumstances. I will say though that prayers like this are best applied in church with prayer groups or the whole congregation.

Look ... miracles still do happen! I am confident to write that because (and as weird as it may look to you) I have witnessed them: see my examples in the Gifts of the Spirit. But! But! It is unusual for them to occur regularly. Unfortunately, that is not what life is all about. Everyone must die sooner or later, and we cannot expect that to happen only after reaching a ‘healthy old age’, without ever having suffered a day of ill health or pain beforehand. If every prayer to prolong life was answered there would soon be no room on our planet for the newborn. I have discussed the issues of suffering and evil and Gods role within them, more fully in an article of that name.

Essentially, we must accept that some emotional and physical suffering, and eventually death, are inevitable in life. And again, of course, God can assist us during these hard times.

The point here is that the ‘downs of life are much easier to cope with if we are practising Christians. I do write that from experience.

4.4    Asking for what we want rather than need

Selfishness and greed may also prove to be barriers to receiving answers to prayers. We really need to examine the motives behind prayers that have not been answered. As an obvious example, prayers like, “Make me rich and famous” have little chance of success. Asking to receive something at the expense of someone else is similarly too selfish as a rule. It is also unlikely that God will just send us riches that can be squandered on our material wish lists (the latest television set, holidays abroad etc). From the New Testament:

        When you ask, you do not receive,
        because you ask with wrong motives,
        that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
        [James 4:3]

4.5    Asking when we are totally 'out of sync' with him

It also appears that (as with God cutting us adrift temporarily when we disobey his leadings and act wrongfully) he may not assist as strongly with answered prayers if we willfully follow a way of life that we know he forbids (i.e. sinful).

        For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
        and his ears are attentive to his prayer,
        but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
        [1 Peter 3:12]

Again our inappropriate behaviour should be clear to us, and he will make sure of that! This does not mean that he loves us any the less. It is just that if we choose to live a life that offends him, then he may use the tools that are available (e.g. reducing his level of care and support within our lives) to coerce us back to a life that is more rewarding anyway. And yes, I speak from experience here (see Heading 5 in the article, Gods Guiding Hand).

I do not believe, even then, that he cuts anyone completely adrift in life. If you know in your heart that sin is the reason for your unanswered prayers, then it may be time to rethink your life. Probably, like me, you will work out that confessing your failures to God, changing your ways, then again moving forward in life with him is the best decision. God knows our weaknesses and I would guess is well pleased if we at least try to change. If we fail again when tempted etc, he expects us to try yet again to beat it. With time and practice we get better at staying on track in life.

Another issue with sin, when it is done willfully by us (i.e. we know better), is that it distances us from God within our own thinking. In this regard it certainly weakens the strength of any prayers that we make, even if we do feel it is appropriate to pray to him at all in view of our wrongdoing.

Enough said on sin within this article though. You can read the articles, Christianity explained and Christian rules, laws and commandments to get a better understanding of sin and its effect on life, death and our relationship with God.

5.    RECOGNISING ANSWERED PRAYERS

Answers to prayers are not always instantaneous and can therefore be missed when they do occur. Indeed, answers for any prayers, particularly those for inner strength, can be easily overlooked. As an example, God has been particularly gracious with me when I have asked for help with handling stressful interpersonal conversations (e.g. work colleagues, friends and family). I have often thought after those types of events, Wow, I handled that better than I expected! Then, it would occur to me that I had prayed about them earlier.

Prayer journals are useful to track discussions with God, and are a great idea for beginner Christians. Prayer requests should firstly be stated and dated’. Then we subsequently use these ‘journals’ to log God’s eventual response. Looking back occasionally over past prayers is necessary if we are to fully understand what God has done in answer to our requests.

Very importantly too, we must also look closely for unexpected or alternative answers to our prayers. These may only become noticeable through the passing of time, if we do actually follow up on prayers. We come to more easily realise why prayers have been answered in unexpected ways as we mature in our thinking and knowledge over time. Again, this has nothing to do with wishful thinking, or desperately trying to explain away unanswered prayers.

It is also important, once again as in any relationship, to offer thanks to God when requests are answered.

6.    RESPONDING TO UNANSWERED PRAYERS

Lets now finally examine reasons for prayers going unanswered for lengthy periods, and how to respond.

Firstly, be aware that God most definitely knows the best time to answer prayers. So it may be the case that a prayer has not been answered because the time is not yet right.

A major piece of advice is: when things are not working out on an issue that is big time in our lives, despite our continued prayers and waiting in vain, then it is appropriate to accept that in regard to those prayers a simple answer is just not possible.

In circumstances where prayer is just not working, what we need to do is to sacrifice our concerns, as it were, and hand over the whole issue to the Lord in faith and trust. At the end of the day, there is no value in stressing ourselves unduly over any issue.

Sure, what I am talking about here is a place of deep faith and also accepting just what power we all have at our disposal as a result. Again, I am talking about trusting in God. If you can get your mind to this place, and just let go, then God will truly bring about the best possible option for all concerned. Essentially, what is called for here is faith and patience. Remember again though that this does not mean everyone is going to get everything they want.

I will go out on a limb and state that when you actually do look back on the situation after the dust has settled, you will know that you have not been let down by our loving God.

This prayer of faith and trust also relates to the article, His helping hand. Although it may feel risky to just leave these things up to God rather than ask for (or expect) specific outcomes, God is obviously in a position where he knows better than us what is best for all concerned in the long run.

Continue to the next article, Mature prayer.