Prayer: The Directive to Pray

Throughout the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament saints sought the Lord in prayer. Solomon prayed to the Lord for himself and Israel. Daniel was often on his knees in prayer. At various times during His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus instructed the disciples to pray. Following His ascension, the believers were frequently found praying in the opening chapters of Acts. The Apostle Paul, on numerous occasions in the epistles, asked the saints to pray. In this article we hope to answer the question, “Do I have to pray?”

Pray when rejoicing

While not a command, all believers enjoying their salvation and other blessings from our Heavenly Father, would agree with the exhortation in Hebrews 13:15, “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” Prayer is a suitable means of expressing our worship and thanksgiving (1Thes 5:16-18). For instance, Solomon praised the Lord audibly in His prayer of dedication following the completion of the Temple (2Chro 6:12-42).

Pray to repent

Prior to giving thanks, and any other communication with God, the confession of sin is necessary to ensure uninterrupted fellowship with Him and with other believers (1John 1:3-10). Confession restores joy to a saint grieved by sin. Daniel, prior to bringing his supplication before the Lord through prayer, confessed the sin of the people and asked for forgiveness (Dan 9:3-20). The Psalmist was concerned that his prayer would go unheard if he “regarded iniquity in his heart” (Psa 66:17-20). Most importantly, the Lord taught His disciples to seek forgiveness for sin while praying (Luke 11:1, 4; cf. Mark 11:24-26). Clearly, sin must be confessed if we desire to know the will of God concerning a particular matter. Furthermore, when sin results in sickness, both the individual and the elders of the local assembly are asked to pray for the person’s recovery (James 5:13-16).

Pray regularly

The Scriptures teach that continual prayer is an essential component of Christian testimony (1Thes 5:17; Rom 12:12). Prayer with thanksgiving will bring the peace of God into our anxious hearts, as we make our requests known unto Him (Phil 4:6-7). We see from Paul’s requests (Col 4:2-4; 1Thes 5:25; and 2Thes 3:1-2) that collective prayer by an assembly is a vital tool in the proclamation of the gospel, and for protection from wicked men. The Lord Himself instructed His disciples to pray that God would send out laborers into full-time gospel work (Matt 9:38; Luke 10:2). Additionally, the Lord’s words, “men ought always to pray and not to faint,” at the outset of the unjust judge and the persistent widow parable, demonstrate that God desires to answer the prayers of His people when they are persecuted (Luke 18:1-8).

Pray for rulers and revilers

Believers are exhorted in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 to pray for the salvation of all people, and for those in authority over us, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (i.e., reverence).” Since this epistle was written around the time that Nero began persecuting Christians, we are reminded to pray for our rulers regardless of their disposition toward us. Moreover, a stable, law-abiding government and society allows us to be a continual public testimony before the unsaved. The Lord also commands us to both love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44). This demonstration of compassion may give them a glimpse of the unconditional love of God that should characterize us, His children (Luke 6:35; i.e., Stephen in Acts 7:60).

Pray for reinforcement

In Ephesians 6, immediately following his description of each component in the whole armor of God, Paul emphasizes the need for supplication for the preservation and protection of all believers as we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Then he requests prayer for boldness in the proclamation of the gospel (vv18-19). The Lord Jesus also stressed the importance of prayer and fasting for the deliverance of the unsaved from the power of Satan (Matt 17:21; Mark 9:29).

Pray with recognition of our weakness

In the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus warned Peter, James, and John by saying, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). As our Savior experienced sorrow and anguish while contemplating the immeasurable depths of suffering He would experience shortly at Calvary, He prayed to His Father to see if it would be possible to remove the cup of judgment He would have to drink for the sins of a lost humanity. According to John 12:27, this prayer of our sinless, perfect, and holy Savior was one of confirmation that there would be no other way to rescue a fallen race from their sins apart from Him passing through the waters of divine judgment upon the cross of shame. His words to His disciples amidst His agony in the garden serve both as a lesson and warning to us that we need to be vigilant in prayer when faced with a trial or temptation lest the weakness of our sinful flesh cause us to deny Him or succumb to sin.

In conclusion, the Scriptures stress the need for believers to pray. Prayer is a means to express our thanksgivings; it allows us to confess sin to restore fellowship and joy. Through prayer we deepen our relationship with God and learn to make requests according to His will. We pray for those in government, for our persecutors, and for the salvation of all men. Those laboring in the gospel also covet our prayers. We must pray for protection from spiritual wickedness and from temptation to sin. The Lord Himself continually prayed. In these closing days of grace, may He help us to always “be sober, and watch unto prayer” (1Peter 4:7).