One day, Jesus’s disciples—who followed Him about, observing His every word and action—asked Him to teach them how to pray.
You might think that it would have been obvious for them to pray the way He did, but apparently that wasn’t the case. Prayer is a skill; and although it’s best learned “on the job,” getting started takes some instruction. And that’s what Jesus did: He taught them to pray and it is that prayer, recorded in Luke chapter 11, that we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
So how can you get started?
Friendship with God
As a first step, keep in mind that prayer is like opening your heart to a friend, unloading your cares and worries, and sharing the good things happening in your life. Prayer is having a deep and meaningful conversation with God.
Of course, God already knows what’s bothering you and may have set in motion a solution to your concerns even before you ask Him. But it’s important that you “place the call” to Him, not for His benefit but for yours. There’s something about prayer that many fervently prayerful people may not realise: Prayer doesn’t bring God down to us. He did that when He sent us His Son, Jesus. Rather, prayer elevates us to God. That’s why, when Jesus was here, He taught His disciples how to pray.
If you aren’t familiar with His model prayer, you can read it in Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4. In it, He directs us to present our daily needs and even our wants. We can also share our joys, our sorrows and our worries, and we can expect an answer. Keep in mind, though, that just as parents know some things their children ask for wouldn’t be good for them, so it is with God. God will respond to your requests, but not necessarily in the same way you asked.
Our need to pray
In addition to some actual prayers that Jesus said, the Gospels (the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) include numerous accounts of when Jesus prayed. And there’s a good reason: He was separated from His Father by the distance from heaven to earth. He needed to pray often! For the same reason, so do we.
The Bible clearly states that He was tempted in the same ways that we are (Hebrews 4:15) and He identifies with our needs (Hebrews 2:17). When He stopped at Jacob’s Well and asked a Samaritan woman for a drink (John 4:4–37), He was genuinely thirsty. He had no supernatural advantages over any other human being. Therefore, He had to ask His Father for what He needed, just as we do, so that He could be prepared to fulfil His mission on earth. In this, He is our Example.
We are sinners. Jesus, on the other hand, was the sinless One. His nature recoiled from the evil that surrounded Him, but He endured struggles and painful experiences in the world just as we do. His humanity made prayer both a necessity and a privilege for Him. If Jesus felt that prayer was a necessity, we should even more so.
Just as a proud father is more than happy to give generously to his children, so our heavenly Father yearns to provide for us. Despite our status as sinners, as His children, it’s our privilege and His pleasure to lavish His boundless love on us.
If we have any sense of just how much God wants to give us, we would surely pray more often! He’s willing and able, and He will respond to anyone who sincerely comes to Him in prayer.
It’s amazing that we helpless human beings, the objects of the devil’s temptations, don’t ask God for help more frequently. He loves us so much and He’s so ready to give us more than we can imagine, and yet we pray so little and don’t avail ourselves of His power.
A key to overcoming
Satan has a field day among those who neglect to pray. Prayer is our only defence against his temptations and without our prayers, he wins. So, we should not be reluctant to pray, especially knowing that even a humble prayer will open the door to heaven’s storehouse, giving us access to all that it has to offer. And without heaven’s help, we can’t hope to resist the devil’s temptations or discern his deceptions. That’s why the Bible instructs us to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
God wants prayer to be completely natural for us. He’s happy when we pray wherever we are and whenever we can, both in the privacy of our homes and in our workplaces. And we shouldn’t just ask Him for the things we need. We should also praise Him, expressing our appreciation for what He does for us from moment to moment.
Also keep in mind that we don’t have to talk to God out loud. He loves our silent prayers, which render Satan’s attacks against us ineffective.
Conditions of prayer
There are certain conditions upon which we may expect that God will answer our prayers.
Our need. The first is that we have a need that requires God’s intervention. He has promised, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground” (Isaiah 44:3). Those who long to find God and His grace and righteousness are guaranteed to have their prayers answered. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). And, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Make things right. It should also be obvious that if we harbour sinful desires in our hearts and cling to our cherished sins, God cannot hear us. However, when we repent and confess our sins, those prayers are always accepted. When known wrongs are righted, we can believe that God will answer our requests. This isn’t a way to gain merit or favour with God. It will always be Jesus’s worthiness that saves us. Yet we have a personal work to do in complying with the conditions of acceptance.
Believe God will answer. Another aspect of prayer that God answers is faith. “He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB). Jesus said to His disciples, “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). When by faith we take Him at His word, He will respond. Our faith may be small, but just as a single grain is sufficient to grow a plant, so our limited faith can bring wonderful answers to our prayers.
Nothing too big
So, pray with confidence and a clean heart. Place your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares and your fears before God. You can’t overload Him. He will never tire of your requests. He who numbers the hairs of your head isn’t indifferent to your needs. Rather, He is “very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). His heart of love is touched by your sorrows and by your expressions of them in prayer. You can take everything that bothers you to Him, despite His responsibilities to the rest of the universe.
There is no chapter in our human experience too dark for God to read. There is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. Nothing happens to His children, no anxiety harasses them, without God being aware of it and He takes an immediate interest in their needs. The relationship between God and each of His children is as distinct and full as though there were not another soul on earth with whom to share His time.
So, take the time—make the time—to pray.
This article is based on the chapter titled “The Privilege of Prayer” in Ellen White’s book Steps to Christ.
Lee Dunstan is an editor at Signs of the Times Australia. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia website and is republished with permission.