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Prayer in the New Testament

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Prayer in the New Testament is presented as a positive command (Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The people of God are challenged to include prayer in their everyday life, even in the busy struggles of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:5) as it is thought to brings people closer to God.

Jesus encouraged the disciples to pray in secret in their private rooms as a humble response to the prayer of the Pharisees, whose practices in prayer were regarded as impious by the New Testament writers (Matthew 6:6).

According to Luke, Jesus frequently sought to pray alone, for hours at a time Luke 6:12, as most pertinently seen before he was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Throughout the New Testament, Prayer is shown to be God's appointed method by which we obtain what He has to bestow (Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 9:24-29; Luke 11:13. Further, the Book of James says that the lack of blessings in life results from a failure to pray (James 4:2). Jesus healed through prayer and expected his followers to do so also (Mark 16:17-18; Matthew 10:8).

Prayer, according to the Book of Acts, can be seen at the first moments of the church (Acts 3:1). The apostles regarded prayer as the most important part of their life (Acts 6:4; Romans 1:9; Colossians 1:9). As such, the apostles frequently incorporated verses from Psalms into their writings. Romans 3:10-18 for example is borrowed from Psalms 14:1-3 and other psalms.

Thus, due to this emphasis on prayer in the early church, lengthy passages of the New Testament are prayers or canticles (see also the Book of Odes), such as the Prayer for forgiveness (Mark 11:25-26), the Lord's Prayer, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), Jesus' prayer to the one true God (John 17), Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14), the Believers' Prayer (Acts 4:23-31), may this cup be taken from me (Matthew 26:36-44), Pray that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:39-46), Saint Stephen's Prayer (Acts 7:59-60), Simon Magus' Prayer (Acts 8:24), pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2), Maranatha.

A common format for prayer in public meetings is to follow the english language formula of A.C.T.S. where A is Adoration, C is Confession, T is Thanksgiving, and S is Supplication. However, other aspects of prayer exist such as lamenting and weeping and rejoicing.

In practical experience, prayer is often motivated by need and affliction. As James 5:13 states, "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray."

Types of Prayer as Categorized by Gilbert W. Stafford

According to Gilbert W. Stafford in Theology for Disciples, there are eight different types of prayer in the New Testament: 1) an overflowing fountain, 2) disciplined communion, 3) the flow of divine energy, 4) the struggle of the soul, 5) the mind seeking God's mind, 6) intercession, 7) petition to God, and 8) watchful communion with the Lord.[1]

Prayer as an Overflowing Fountain[2]

  • Prayer is an overflowing fountain of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to God. This kind of prayer erupts without hesitation from the soul. One does not have to make oneself do it, for it comes as naturally as breathing.[2]
  • Example: (Luke 1:29-55) Mary, the mother of Jesus, offered this during her visit with Elizabeth. Mary offers a prayer of jubilation - the Magnificat, about the mighty deeds of God.

Prayer as Disciplined Communion[3]

  • Prayer is disciplined communion with God. It was commonplace in Jesus' day for rabbis and other religious leaders to teach their followers how to organize their prayers and to give instructions about their content. These so-called "Index Prayers," served as outlines for what were considered to be well-rounded prayers.[3]
  • Example: (Matt. 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) Jesus gives his disciples the Lord's Prayer.

Prayer as the Flow of Divine Energy[4]

  • Prayer is the flow of divine energy to the needs of others. We see this mainly in the life of Jesus who was able to speak words of healing to the sick and distressed, then bringing to them strength and wholeness. We can also be prayer channels through which the divine energy flows to the needs of others.[4]
  • Example: (Mark 7:31-35) Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue released, and he spoke plainly.
  • Example: (Acts 9) Peter goes to the town of Joppa where a disciple named Tabitha - her Aramaic name, Dorcas being her Greek name - had died. When he arrived on the scene, he put all of the mourners out of the room whereupon he "knelt down and prayed. He turned to her and said, 'Tabitha, get up.' Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive." Peter at prayer became a channel through which divine life flowed into the body of Tabitha, raising her from death.

Prayer as the Struggle of the Soul[5]

  • Prayer is the struggle of the soul in relation to God. In fact, sometimes the struggle is so great that we cannot sort it out well enough even to put the struggle into words. Prayer at those times is simply the wordless anguish of the soul in the presence of God, as in Romans 8:26-27: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[5]
  • Example: (Matt. 26:36-46) Jesus was deeply grieved because He knew that He was going to be crucified. He was struggling with it.

Prayer as the Mind seeking God's Mind[6]

  • Prayer is the human mind seeking the mind of God. Even though God will give heavenly wisdom to us "generously and ungrudgingly," in order to have it, we must "ask in faith."[6]
  • Example: (James 1:5-8) "If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord."

Prayer as Intercession[7]

  • Prayer is intercession to God on behalf of others. In a general sense, to intercede is to put ourselves in the place of others and to plead their case before one who can help them. In intercessory prayer, therefore, appeal is made to God who can make a difference for the good.[7]
  • Example: (James 5:13-16) The sick were instructed to call for the elders of the church to anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord and to pray the prayer of faith on their behalf.

Prayer as Petition to God[8]

  • Prayer is petition to God for our own needs. Petitionary prayer which is truly Christian asks God for that which we are convinced is in accordance with the divine will. It is generous in spirit in that personal needs are prayed about in conjunction with concern for the well being of others.[8]
  • Example: (Matt. 7:11) Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him."
  • Example: (John 14:13-14) Jesus says, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."

Prayer as Watchful Communion with the Lord[9]

  • Prayer is watchful communion with the Lord, which communion keeps us from yielding to temptation. To watch and pray is work; we need to do more than simply have noble spiritual intentions about not yielding to temptation. To be sure, Peter, on the night of Jesus' arrest, expressed noble intentions about not deserting him, but the problem was that neither he nor the others were watching and praying. They were too weary to be spiritually vigilant.[9]
  • Example: (1 Thess. 5:16-24) "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this."


References

  1. Gilbert W. Stafford, Theology for Disciples, (Anderson: Warner Press, 1996), 411-426.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Stafford, 411-413.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stafford, 413-414.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Stafford, 414-417.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Stafford, 417-419.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Stafford, 419-420.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Stafford, 421-423.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Stafford, 423-425.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Stafford, 426

Further Reading

  • Matthew Henry, A Method For Prayer, Mentor (1994), paperback, 320 pages, ISBN 1857920686
  • E M Bounds, Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer: Experience the Wonders of God through Prayer, Baker Books (2004), paperback, 576 pages, ISBN 0801064945
  • Dick Eastman, ' Hour That Changes the World, The: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer', Chosen; 25th Anniversary Edition (October 1, 2002), paperback, 160 pages, ISBN 0800793137

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