After studying the subject of prayer for about a year now, I have learned that prayer is an integral part of our lives. It allows us to live wholly for God, as the apostle Paul wrote: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Rom. 12:1, Message).1
Prayer interrupts our ambition. Most Christians pray only when in distress. When we get into tight places, logic goes out the window, and we reflexively cry out to God, almost without thinking.
Jesus never referred to unanswered prayers. He said God always answers prayers if they are offered in His name, and according to His will and nature. He said: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Oswald Chambers remarked that we can always tell whether our will is in what we ask by the way we live when we are not praying.2
Jesus said not to use vain repetitions as the heathen do, who think they will be heard because of the sheer volume or emotion of their words. It’s never our earnestness that brings us in touch with God, but our confidence to enter the presence of God by the blood of Jesus (cf. Heb. 10:19).
Prayer nourishes the life of God in us. Ellen White wrote: “Daily prayer is as essential to growth in grace, and even to spiritual life itself, as is temporal food to physical well-being.”3 Jesus’ life was nourished with prayer. Instead of praying as a means of getting things for ourselves, we should pray as Jesus did. When we don’t pray persistently, His indwelling presence becomes weak and we falter at temptation.
Another principle of prayer is that of God’s holiness, purpose, and intent revealed in His character, not just in His “permissive will.” Before the foundation of the world, God’s intent was that there should be no sin, suffering, sickness, limitation, or death. But because of humanity’s fall, God acts according to His permissive will, which means He permits, or allows, these things. Only through the sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, can we understand His wise order, and this we do through prayer.
It isn’t as true that prayer changes things as that prayer changes us; then we change things. Therefore, we mustn’t ask God to do that which He has created us to do. For instance, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. In the process He transformed many in His society. When our prayers for the lost are accompanied by our activity on their behalf, society is transformed.
We cannot stand against the wiles of the devil by our wits, only by obedience to God’s Word. That is why the apostle told the believers in Thessalonica to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Our prayers should embrace those outside our own narrow interests and circle of acquaintances. Wrote the apostle Paul: “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. 2:1-4).
Finally, we must remember to pray for each other. The hymn writer, James D. Vaughn, put it this way:
“I need the prayers of those I love,
While trav’ling o’er life’s rugged way,
That I may true and faithful be,
And live for Jesus every day.
I want my friends to pray for me,
To bear my tempted soul above,
And intercede with God for me;
I need the prayers of those I love.”4