Prayer is the most fundamental practice in the Christian life. The place to begin a discussion of it is with the person of Jesus Christ and what he is doing.
My professor cited the Ascension (Heb. 4:14-16) as all-important. It is the fact that Christ ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of God that is key to our prayer life. Why? Because he is our mediator. He has all-power and authority and he is constantly interceding for us (Rom. 8:34). And, because he shared flesh and blood with us at one time, because he himself was tempted by every sin known to man (but did NOT sin: Heb. 4:15), he understands us. It is for this reason that we pray in Christ’s name (John 14:13 and 16:24). It is because of this that we can go with confidence (one Bible version says "boldly") into the throneroom of God with our prayers (Heb. 4:16). Christ has opened its door to us and to our Heavenly Father.
How can we be sure that God will answer our prayers? In John 15,in the vine and the branch passage, Jesus says, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s his promise. Jesus keeps his promises. I do, however, want to add one qualification. This passage does NOT promise that God will say yes to everything we want. He will say yes ONLY to those things that line up with his will. That means we need to learn what his will is through prayer, Bible study and teaching, through sermons, etc.
I have had some people tell me that they don’t know how to pray. I always tell them to talk to God the same way they would talk to a parent, a sister, a friend. In other words, hold a conversation with him. Some people worry about not being able to pray in a fancy fashion, but you don’t have to be a great speaker to pray. God hears the simplest prayers (Matt. 6:5-8). And, in reality, words aren’t even essential to prayer. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t articulate ourselves at all (Rom. 8:26).
I remember hearing Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, tell the story of the family cat that decided to have her kittens on the bed in the guestroom. Not wanting them there, Mrs. Graham made up a cozy bed of blankets in a box and placed it, with the kittens in it, in the kitchen. The mother cat then proceeded to take the kittens one by one back to the bedroom. However, she neglected to take the runt of the litter. He remained alone in the kitchen.
After awhile, the kitten, lonesome and probably afraid, cold and hungry, made a tiny, barely audible squeak. Within seconds the mother cat glided swiftly into the room, grasped the kitten by the scruff of its neck and delivered it safely to the bedroom. Despite the fact that she had been two rooms, three doors and two hallways away, she had heard that pitiful little cry and came to her baby’s rescue.
Jesus is like that. At three o’clock in the morning, if I am in tremendous pain and don’t have the energy or the words to pray, I can just whisper the name of Jesus and he is there. He is that faithful!
A good model for prayer is the one Jesus taught his disciples (Matt. 6:9-13). The Lord’s Prayer begins with three petitions that focus on the Father, followed by three petitions that focus on ourselves. We start with God to put our needs in perspective. We see our needs and problems and responsibilities in light of who he is and what his purposes are.
For an in-depth article on the Lord’s Prayer, go here:http://bible.org/page.php?page_id=1106
It’s also important to purposely make prayer part of your daily routine. No matter how busy the day, don’t let everything else crowd it out. I seem to recall there’s a book entitled Too Busy NOT to Prayer. Pick a time of the day and a location where you can be alone with no distractions and don't let anything keep you from praying.
Prayer, of course, isn’t just us talking to God. It’s listening for his voice. Therefore, it demands moments of silence and turning an attentive spirit toward him. How do we discern the voice of God? That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. John Calvin introduced the phrase “inner witness of the Holy Spirit” into the Christian language.
Four dimensions of the Spirit’s witness
1. Assurance of Divine Love – the Spirit witnesses to our spirits that we are the children of God, that we have peace with him because of his grace, that he chose to love us even though we were yet in our sin. See Rom. 5:5 and Rom. 8:13-17.
2. Conviction of Sin – the Holy Spirit gives us an understanding of our sin, convicts with the result that we feel guilty and repent. See John 16:8.
3. Illumination of the Mind – the Holy Spirit allows us to see and understand God’s truth. God’s truth dwells in us as God’s Word dwells in us. He helps us discern what is of God and what is not of God. See John 16:8.
4. Spirit Guides us Re: Choices – the Spirit helps us make choices both individually and corporately as a congregation. Paul provides an excellent example of this. His ministry was in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 13:1-3, we read that the elders in the church at Antioch prayed and the response came to them to set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work that God called them to do.
Next up -- a look at what Ignatius Loyola, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards had to say about prayer and the witness of the inner spirit.