Why pray in trials and difficult times?
In Sydney we’re all going through a tough time with an extended COVID-19 lockdown. Parents will be home schooling for two more months. Travel is restricted with stay at home rules, except for essential purposes. There are rules and restrictions on face masks, physical contact, COVID tests, COVID vaccinations, quarantine, self-isolation, and contact tracing. No visitors are allowed in hospitals and aged care nursing homes. Other services are reduced. Churches can’t meet as usual. And households are spending extended time together without relief. It’s a bit like George Orwell’s “1984” with government surveillance and propaganda. People are isolated, which can increase anxiety, fear and depression. People are working from home. Closed businesses are struggling to survive with reduced cash flow. There is reduced family income. Some are unemployed. There is a reduction in some health services. But our needs are increased because of the stress. How do we get through such tough times? Is social media the answer? Can prayer help us trust God in times like this?
When Saul tied to kill David over an extended period of time, David prayed, and God protected him. Some of his prayers are in the book of Psalms. Nehemiah prayed – it’s mentioned in 8 verses in the book of Nehemiah. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching in Philippi, they were “praying and singing hymns to God” at midnight (Acts 16:25).
It’s clear in the Bible that God’s people pray. The word “pray” and words with “pray” as their root word are mentioned in 367 verses in the NIV Bible (316 in ESV, 357 in CSB, 408 in NET, and 436 in NLT) and in 54 verses in Paul’s letters.
Why do we pray? Because it is commanded in the Bible. And Jesus and the apostles modelled prayer – they prayed regularly. There are seven passages where Paul commanded Christians to pray.
- When Paul wrote to a young church that was being persecuted, he commanded them to fix their attitudes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th. 5:17ESV). Or “Pray constantly” (CSB, NET). Or “Pray continually” (NIV). Or “Never stop praying” (NLT). It means, don’t give up praying. Always be willing and ready to pray. Pray regularly. Be persistent in prayer. Cultivate a sense of dependence on God.
- When he wrote about the behavior of Christians in the church, Paul commanded them, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12NIV). Or “be persistent in prayer” (CSB, NET). Or “Be constant in prayer” (ESV). Or “keep on praying” (NLT). Persevere in prayer. An effort is required to maintain the habit of prayer.
- When describing a Christian’s weapons for spiritual warfare, Paul commanded, “And 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. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph. 6:18-20). Part of the armor of God in the spiritual battle is to pray with the help of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray when we are in a spiritual war. And pray for spiritual problems more than for physical ones. While Paul is in gaol for preaching the gospel, he asks for prayer to keep on preaching the gospel!
- When Paul addresses the everyday life of a Christian (their family, work, and witness), he includes their prayer life: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col. 4:2-4). Be devoted to prayer like a tax collector is devoted to collecting taxes (Rom. 13:6). Be alert to the importance of prayer. Be grateful and thankful when we pray. Thank God for His providential care. Once again, while Paul is in gaol for preaching the gospel, he asks for prayer for God to open up opportunities to preach the gospel!
- When Paul addresses how to deal with broken relationships, he includes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7ESV). Place the situation in God’s hands. Trust in His sovereignty. We can pray about anything. Once again, it’s with thanksgiving. Prayer is the way to alleviate worry. If we have given our problem to the Lord, we can have peace.
- When Paul addresses prayer in church life he says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4NIV). Our prayers should be on behalf of all kinds of people, including governing authorities. Pray for the salvation of unbelievers and the maturity of believers.
- When Paul continues to address prayer in church life he says, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing” (1 Tim. 2:8). Men who pray should exhibit holiness, peace and harmony.
The Bible promises that God will answer our prayers. But this is conditional. Failure to comply with the conditions will hinder our prayers (Appendix A).
It’s good to base our prayers on the promises in the Bible. Read the Bible to find promises that relate to our situation. For example,
– God will answer our prayers (Mt. 7:7-11).
– God will forgive us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9).
– God will give us wisdom when we ask (James 1:5).
– God will give us His peace (Phil. 4:6-7). If we have given our problem to the Lord, we can have peace.
Tough times are a test of our Christian faith. They are part of our spiritual battle. Prayer is one of the ways to get through difficult times. There are five principles about prayer in the passages we read from Paul:
– Always be ready to pray (in any time, and any situation).
– Don’t give up on prayer (that’s giving up on God).
– Hand your problems and worries to God in prayer (that’s sharing your concerns).
– Be grateful and thankful when we pray (remember all that God does for us).
– Pray for the spread of the gospel message (that’s the only lasting hope).
These are commands or imperatives. Prayer is not optional. Christians are commanded to pray. They are some of the commands given to Christians in the New Testament. The Israelites were given commands in the Old Testament, which was the law of Moses. They flourished when they obeyed, like when under Joshua they captured and settled in Canaan. But they suffered when they disobeyed, like when they were invaded and taken into exile by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
Giving up on praying would be like not speaking to your spouse or others in your household. And if it was ongoing, it would be like being divorced or being estranged from your best friend. Or like having a permanent strict COVID lockdown.
So the Bible commands us to pray. God commands us to pray. Prayer taps into the power of God. It maintains our relationship with God. Prayer is an act of dependence on God for whatever we might be facing.
The simplest elements of prayer are: praise, pardon (confession of sin), and petition. But this omits thanksgiving.
One model for praying is ACTS: adoration (praise), confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (Appendix B).
Another model for praying is FACTS: faith, adoration (praise), confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. This adds faith: “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). And “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mt. 21:22).
Another model for praying is The Prayer Hand: confession, petition (for us), intercession (for others), thanksgiving, and praise (Appendix C).
Prayer is mandatory for believers. God commands us to pray. It’s one of the essentials of Christian living. In difficult times like lockdowns we should bring our needs to God in prayer. It is important to realize our dependence on God and express it through prayer. Only those who see the big picture, that God is at work even in our trying times, can suffer gladly (Rom. 5:3).
It’s good to base our prayers on the promises in the Bible. Let’s keep praying!
Appendix A: Conditions for answered prayer
Failure to comply with these conditions will hinder our prayers.
Christian faith. God has no obligation to listen to the prayer of unbelievers (Mt. 7:21).
Obeying God’s commands (1 Jn. 3:21-22). God answers the prayers of those who know, and obey His commands.
Confessing and repenting of sin keeps us in fellowship with God (Ps. 66:18; Lk. 15:18, 21; Acts 8:22). Sin separates us from God. Repentance for sin is a turning back to God, to restore communication. So all known sin needs to be confessed. When necessary, there must be confession to one another (Jas. 5:16).
Forgiving others also keeps us in fellowship with God (Mt. 6:14-15; Mk. 11:25).
Humility (Lk. 18:9-14). Being humble like the Tax Collector and not proud like the Pharisee. This means being not self-centered.
Harmony between husband and wife. In particular, a husband must honor his wife (1 Pt. 3:7).
Belief (faith) that God will do what He promised He would do or what He commanded (Mt. 17:20; 21:21-22; Jas. 1:6).
Sincerity and genuineness (Mt. 6:5, 7). Don’t pray just to be seen by others. Don’t try to manipulate God by excess repetition.
That it is accordance with God’s will (1 Jn. 5:14-15).
That it is in Christ’s name (Jn. 14:13-14; Eph. 5:20). We have access to God through Christ’s work of salvation. And Christ intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). He is our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15).
That it is in the Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Jude 20). We pray in the Spirit, through the merits of Christ, to God the Father.
Right motives and not selfishness (Jas. 4:2-3).
Persevering in prayer. Persistent prayer as illustrated by the parable of the friend requesting bread at midnight and the parable of the persistent widow. (Lk. 11:5-10; 18:1-8). Always keep on praying (Eph.6:18).
Appendix B: ACTS prayer method
When we speak to God, there are different messages we may convey. One method is to use the acronym: ACTS.
- Adoration – Praise God for His character and for what He has done. It is good to begin prayer in praise to God, and it is helpful for us to approach God in humility, and to be reminded of His faithfulness and goodness.
- Confess – It is important to confess sin to God. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins God is faithful, and He is just, and He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- Thanksgiving – It is God’s will for us to be thankful. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.
- Supplication – Make your requests known to God. A supplication is a list, and God desires we bring our needs to Him (Phil. 4:6). God is glorified when His children ask Him for help. When we communicate our needs, it reveals our trust in God as being the only way our need may be met.
Appendix C: The Prayer Hand prayer method
Another method to use when we speak to God is The Prayer Hand.
- Confession – I agree with God about my sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
- Petition – I ask God to provide for my needs. “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him” (1 Sam. 1:27).
- Intercession – I ask God to provide for the needs of others. “And 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. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:18-19).
- Thanksgiving – I thank God for what He has done in, through, and for me. I also thank Him for His answers to prayers in the lives of those around me and for His ongoing work across the nation and the world. “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
- Praise – I let my enjoyment and adoration of God overflow into words. As the thumb is able to touch all four other fingers, so praise should permeate every part of my prayer life. “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Ps. 146:1-2).
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Written, August 2021