Frequently Asked Questions About Prayer

Prayer is one of the most misunderstood tools available to the disciple of Jesus. Keep reading for answers to frequently asked questions about prayer and to learn how God speaks, how to pray, positions for prayer, and what to do if you can’t hear God’s voice.

1. Frequently Asked Questions About Prayer: What is Prayer?

Prayer is more than the recitation of a memorized set of words or phrases or a list of wants and needs. Prayer is a conversation with the One who is not only our best friend but also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We can talk to Him as easily as talking to a trusted confidant but this is not a casual or “homeboy” kind of relationship. He is due all the honor and respect we can give and we should speak with Him accordingly.

This two-way communication with God we call prayer is not something we do before a crowd to be noticed by them. (Matthew 6:6-8) We talk with Him and He talks with us. Our heart attitude communicates far more to God than our words.

Contrary to popular opinion, what we have to say is not the most important part of prayer. By far the most critical part of the conversation is what God says to us. This page of prayer resources is designed to help you learn more about how to pray and recognize God’s answers to your prayers.

Keep reading to learn what the Bible says about how to pray.

2. Questions About Prayer: How to pray?

Jesus taught His disciples how to pray using a “template” we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” These simple verses give us a kind of formula to use as we learn to pray.

“Our Father”…

reminds us God sees us as His much-loved children. When we pray, we talk with the One who loves us most.

“Hallowed be your name”…

means we want to treat God’s name as holy and sacred and we want others to treat it that way, too.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”…

tell us God’s way is best and we choose to want His will more than our own, regardless of circumstances or situation.

“Give us this day our daily bread”…

means we trust God to provide what we need when we need it. It also means we’re content with basic needs and do not expect or demand fancy fare.

“And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”…

shows we know we’ve done wrong and are more concerned about our own wrong-doing than that of others. If we expect God to forgive us freely, we must forgive others just as freely.

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”… 

God doesn’t “make” anyone do wrong but He will allow a season of testing. This testing allows us to see our weaknesses and grow to become more like Jesus. When we ask God to deliver us from evil and not to lead us into temptation, we admit our weakness and our dependence on Him to protect us from sin.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory…”

It’s all about God, not us, and it’s important for us to recognize and acknowledge this truth.

How to Pray: Five Simple Steps:

As you can see, the emphasis in the prayer Jesus taught is on God the Father, not us: His holy name, His will, His kingdom, His way. It acknowledges our dependence on His provision, His deliverance, and His power and glory.

How to pray? Use your usual words and talk to God as to someone who loves you, because He does, but remember these five simple steps:

  1. Focus on God.
  2. Surrender to His will and His way.
  3. Ask for His help and provision.
  4. Forgive others.
  5. Be sure to thank Him.

Need more help? Check out the blog posts listed below to learn more about how to pray.

3. Does my prayer position matter?

The Bible mentions a variety of positions in prayer. Our choice of position may reflect the situation in which we find ourselves or our attitude—about ourselves and about God. James 4:6 tells us God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us pride (or “haughty eyes”) is one of the six things God hates. With this in mind, we do well to approach God with an attitude of humility and a position of humility.

Five positions for prayer mentioned in Scripture:

Hands Raised:

Although the Bible doesn’t mention folded hands, it does contain numerous references to raised hands before the Lord, both in worship and in prayer.

Job 17:9 and Psalm 24:4 address the importance of approaching God with “clean hands and a pure heart.” It doesn’t mean we need to wash our hands before prayer. Instead, we should repent of our sins and ask for forgiveness in order to approach God with a cleansed or “pure” heart.

Psalm 134:2 and Lamentations 3:41 both direct us to raise our hand when we pray while Psalm 141:2 describes hands raised in prayer as a kind of sacrifice to God. In Psalm 63, written while living in the wilderness of Judah, David declared his intention to praise God and lift his hands in prayer as long as he lived. The apostle Paul directed his young protege, Timothy, in the raising of hands during prayer.

We raise our hands in prayer before God as a sign of supplication, as a child might raise their arms to their parents to ask them to lift, carry or snuggle them. Raised hands are also empty hands and signify our relative poverty and utter dependence upon the Lord.

Kneeling:

The kneeling position for prayer is used as a sign of humility and surrender. When Israel dedicated their first temple, King Solomon “stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands…Now Solomon had made a bronze platform… and he stood on it,  knelt on his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven. He prayed…(2 Chronicles 6:12-14a) King Solomon, the wisest and richest of all the kings,  knelt on a raised platform, hands spread toward heaven, in prayer as all the looked on. His position set an example of humility for all those who watched. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus surrendered to His Father’s will concerning the cross while praying on his knees. (Luke 22:41)

Prone: (face down, flat on the floor)

The position of prayer mentioned most often in Scripture is face down to the ground. On four of the five times the twenty-four elders around the throne of God are mentioned in the Revelation, they fall face down before God. The face-to-the-ground position is the prayer position most often mentioned in Scripture and is often seen in times of extreme desperation (Numbers 16:22) or in the presence of the glory of God (Numbers 20:6).

Sitting:

David, who loved God with all his heart, wanted to build a temple for Him but God sent Nathan the prophet to tell him no. Instead, God promised to build a “house” (or dynasty) for David. 1 Chronicles 17:16 says, “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and prayed.” The word translated as “sat” does not mean he sat in a chair or on a throne as an equal before God. Instead, it suggests David sat and stayed (possibly on the ground) before the Lord for a while. His prayer (1 Chronicles 17:16-27) is one of humility, surrender, and love.

Standing:

Kings traditionally sit on their thrones when supplicants approach them. Only someone equal in stature or a close friend or relation would dare to sit uninvited in the king’s presence. A standing position in prayer is both an indication of our lower status and our submission to the king’s authority. Abraham stood before the Lord (Genesis 19:27) as a sign of respect to His King.

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the publican to demonstrate the importance of our heart position when we pray. The Pharisee stood a little apart from others so he could be clearly seen. His prayer was full of self-righteous pride. The publican, instead, didn’t dare lift his eyes to heaven but instead admitted his own sinfulness aloud and begged God for mercy. Both men prayed while standing but only the publican, whose prayer was filled with repentance and humility, left the temple justified before God.

Standing to pray is a sign of humility and respect for our King.

It is not the physical position we assume when we pray but the condition of our heart that determines whether or not our prayers are acceptable to God. Humility, respect, and surrender are the“positions” from which we should pray.

4. Frequently asked questions: What does it mean to “pray without ceasing”?

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 This verse is a life-changing challenge in three tiny words. The word translated as “ceasing” literally means “without intermission, incessant, assiduously.” In case the word “assiduously” is not a familiar one, it means to pray carefully and with perseverance. If we put all this together, the command to pray without ceasing means we are to pray with diligent intention and not stop. No breaks for a season of fractured faith.

Start praying and don’t stop.

Praying without ceasing also means we cultivate an intimate relationship with God. It’s so close we remain in constant contact with Him.

It’s not as hard as it sounds.

This kind of ongoing connection requires the presence of both parties and a deep relationship. Consider the kind of conversation you and your best friend share during a long afternoon together. Routine catch-up talk. Comfortable silence. Intermittent laughter. Shared confidences and jokes. Spontaneous. Joyous. You’re connected by your mutual presence, not by the number of words you speak.

Praying without ceasing works the same way. Jeremiah 23:24 tells us God is everywhere at the same time, or omnipresent. He’s with us as we go about our daily routine. As with a friend, we might have some silent time as well as random comments about the events of our day. We also have times when we focus our attention on Him and pray intentionally and specifically.

What about God’s part of the conversation? Read the answer to “How Does God Speak?” to learn more.

5. Frequently Asked Questions About Prayer: How does God speak?

Theophany:

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:8  This passage describes what we call a “theophany,” a visible encounter with God. It’s clear Adam and Eve could see God in a recognizable form. We don’t know if God took on a human form or appeared as a spirit, but we know He walked and talked with Adam and Eve. Scripture tells us God also appeared in a recognizable form to Abraham on at least two occasions. In Genesis 17:1 and again in Genesis 18:1, God was both visible and recognizable. Daniel also had an angelic visitation, described in Daniel 10.

Through Angels:

Angels serve as God’s messengers. Numerous angelic encounters are described in Scripture but two particular encounters are recorded in the first chapter of Luke. The angel Gabriel encountered Zacharias, husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, when he went into the temple to do his priestly duty and burn incense before the Lord. The angel told him he and Elizabeth would have a son within the year. Zacharias was mute until the child was born as confirmation of the message. Shortly after the encounter at the altar of incense, Gabriel appeared to Mary with shocking words from God. She, though virgin, would conceive and bear a son.

Through Animate Objects:

After King Balak of Moab hired Balaam to curse the people of Israel, God came to him with a clear warning not to curse them but Balaam didn’t obey. Determined to proceed with his ungodly mission, Balaam headed out but his donkey turned aside. When he beat the donkey in frustration, the donkey challenged him by speaking aloud. then an angel appeared and spoke God’s words again. You can read about this encounter in Numbers 22.

Through Dreams and Visions:

The Bible records numerous times God spoke through dreams and visions. He spoke to Pharaoh through a dream about an upcoming famine. Pharaoh, who did not know God, could not interpret the dream. Joseph, who had heard from God in dreams of his own, interpreted the dream, devised a plan for saving the people, and ended up saving his own family. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, and Habakkuk all had visions in which God spoke clearly to them.

Through Nature:

Scripture tells us God displays His splendor in nature and the heavens declare his righteousness. Psalm 19:1 tells us nature declares the glory of God and reveals knowledge of Him. According to Romans 1:20, God has revealed Himself through nature so that, even if we’ve never heard a sermon or read the Bible, we can know about Him through creation.

Through People:

God can speak in any way He chooses, including people who may or may not be part of the body of Christ. Exodus 18 records Moses’ experience with his father-in-law, Jethro, who was a priest of Midan and not one of the people of Israel. Jethro came to visit the camp and watched as Moses judged the people from morning to evening. He knew his son-in-law would soon wear out, so Jethro gave wise counsel, confirmed to Moses by God, and it was a great blessing to Moses and the people. You can read about this in Exodus 18:13-24.

After the apostle Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus, he was taken to the house of Ananias. Ananias wasn’t a priest or a prophet. His only credential was obedience to God. Regardless, God spoke to him in a vision and told him what to say to Paul (then Saul). When Ananias related God’s words to Saul, scales fell from his eyes and his sight was restored. God still prompts other people to speak truth into our lives but, we must be wise and seek confirmation from Him. When their words are from God, they will always line up with Scripture.

Through Prophets:

Prophets hear a clear message from God in order to share it with others. All prophecy is either forth-telling or foretelling. A “forth-telling” prophecy can also be called a “redemptive” prophecy. The prophet speaks into the culture of the times, relates it to God’s Word, issues a call to repentance, and speaks of inevitable judgment for continued disobedience. A foretelling prophecy predicts future events.

Jonah was a forth-telling/reformative prophet. He addressed the sin of Ninevah and their impending judgment and called them to repentance. They responded with fasting and repentance and judgment was delayed.

Elijah’s prophecy of no rain except by his word was a foretelling prophecy. He spoke what God told him about the future.

Prophecy is one of the spiritual gifts. Paul warned the Thessalonians to consider prophetic utterances carefully to ensure they were from God. Any modern prophecy must be carefully interpreted in light of Scripture and discarded if it fails to line up with God’s Word or if its accuracy is not proved by the actual occurrence of foretold events.

Most (if not all) modern-day prophets are forth-telling prophets who understand the times, speak into the culture, and call God’s people back to Him through repentance, much as the sons of Issachar, who “understood the times with knowledge of what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32)

A prophet who says God said something He did not is a “false prophet,” and subject to harsh penalties. Jeremiah 23 specifically addresses this. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to them…I am against those who have prophesied false dreams…’” (Jeremiah 23:16, 32). Believers who continue to follow prophets whose prophecies have failed do so in disobedience to Scripture.

6. Why can’t I hear God speak?

I don’t have a relationship with Him.

Jesus said His sheep know His voice and follow Him. He expects His disciples to both hear and recognize His voice. Have you confessed your sin, asked for forgiveness, and made a commitment to follow Jesus as the Master of your life? Click here to learn How to Become a Christian.

I ignored what He said last.

When God speaks, He expects us to obey. If we refuse His instructions, He may not speak again until we repent and obey. If you can’t hear His voice, go back to the last time you heard His voice and obey what He said.

For example, if you have a question about having an affair outside marriage, you need look no further than “do not commit adultery.” He has already spoken and His no is firm. No amount of cajoling will convince God to give you permission for what He’s already called sin.

I have unconfessed sin in my life. 

If we do something we know we shouldn’t, it’s sin; if we don’t do what we should, it’s also a sin. Both are examples of disobedience. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said we must forgive if we want to be forgiven. When we refuse to forgive we can expect our unforgiveness to create a barrier between us and God. Until we respond to His call to repentance, we should not be surprised if He does not speak further.

I don’t listen.

God will not shout over us. Elijah did not hear God’s voice in the wind, earthquake, or fire but only in the sound of a gentle whisper. His voice is often called a “still, small voice.” If we want to hear His quiet whisper, we must stop talking, be still, and start listening.

7. How can I hear God speak?

Begin by reading Scripture.

Does a particular passage seem to apply to your situation or answer your question? Read it again, ponder it, and ask God if this is His answer to you. Can you feel a sense of confirmation in your heart? It’s His answer.

If you’re not sure where to look to find an answer,  search a Bible concordance to find passages related to your specific topic. (Here’s an online concordance I’ve used before: Bible study tools.)

Still your mind and heart.

Psalm 46:10 tells us: “Be still and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word translated as “be still” does not mean to merely sit quietly in a chair. The idea is to let our worries and the thoughts swirling in our minds drop away and relax in the presence of God. Be still in mind, spirit, and words and, with Bibles open, simply listen. Like young Samuel, (1 Samuel 3:10) we pray, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

Listen for a still, small voice.

We need not expect a booming voice from heaven. Listen for the Whisper in your heart. Do you have a sense of an answer? If it’s from God, it will line up with Scripture and be consistent with all the ways of God. For example, if you believe you’ve heard from God to rob a bank, you’re mistaken. He will never lead you to do something directly contradictory to His Word and ways. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

 

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

Interested in prayer outreach? Click here to check out our Prayer Outreach Page.

Want to read more about prayer? Check out these blog posts:

How to Wrestle With God When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed

Real Prayer Moves us Closer to God

When the Prayer of Desperation Becomes Through the Roof Prayer

Prayer and Politics: How to Pray the News and Why We Should

Becoming a House of Prayer: Five Simple Steps to Change Your Life

I also write for Pray With Confidence and you can read those articles about prayer by clicking here: Pray With Confidence

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