PRAYER

 

WHAT/WHEN/HOW TO PRAY

Luke 11:9 says, "Ask and it shall be given to you," but what's acceptable for us to ask?

                What we are to ask for in prayer is not for God to accomplish our plans, but for us to accomplish God's plan. As Jesus prayed right before his arrest and crucifixion, "Not what I will, but what You will." Those things that we ask for should be directed toward the glory of the Father, the expansion of the kingdom, and the obedience of God's people.   The answers we should expect should neither be instant nor identical to the form in which we've asked, but certainly in the same direction of godly values.

                Our action should be coincident with our prayers. God's operation on the earth is not primarily through supernatural phenomena to interrupt the dealings of man, but rather the dealings of man to express the supernatural work God does. What you pray for, you must also act to answer.  We ask that God would accomplish His will, and then we work to be the vessels through which He accomplishes it.

 

When we pray, do we address the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, or all three?

                All three.  There is no reason to think that prayer is only heard by God the Father, and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are plugging their ears. In Acts 7:59, Stephen prays to Jesus. You're definitely expected to pray "in Jesus' name" (Ephesians 5:20), as well as pray "in the Spirit" (Jude 20).

                There's only One God, and He exists in Three Persons--each with distinct function from the others. The reason why we end up praying to God the Father is because it's His will that directs the course of history, but it's the Son who will inherit all things, and it's the Spirit that empowers us to do the Father's will. So praying to any one person of the Trinity is still praying to God, but don't thank the Holy Spirit for dying on the cross for you--that was Jesus, not the Spirit. Understand their unity and their distinction, but because all three are God, there's no need to feel like only one will hear you and the others will ignore.

 

How should I pray in front of people?

                Prayer is a talk, not a speech. You are talking to God, not giving a performance. Don't feel like you need to craft your words for eloquence and articulation. 
                Most occasions to pray in public will have pretty clear reasons, such as praying to give thanks for a meal, praying for a person with a need, praying to ask God for wisdom, praying to ask God to bless a time of worship or Bible study. I'd stick with the subject matter and not veer off topic. Talk about what you're supposed to talk about, asking for what you're supposed to ask for.
                If you're praying on behalf of a group (like before a meal with a bunch of friends), then I'd recommend only mentioning things that would apply to the group, including the things you give thanks/praise for, ask for, and confess. 
                There's a sermon series I gave on The Lord's Prayer, where he teaches believers how to pray. I titled the series "The Believer's Prayer" since we're the ones that are supposed to be praying like that. Look it up on my website (www.randcho.com) to gain some perspective on how to pray.
                I hope some of this stuff helps, but like swimming, the easiest way to learn is just to do it.

 

Is praying with more people at church better than praying alone?

                God has always identified with His people as a community. Every individual member of the Church is expected to function as a part of a larger whole. 1 Corinthians 12 goes into a lot of conversation about how every member is significant and meaningful and is purposed to contribute something to the rest of the body of believers.

                Prayer also has a special function for believers when they come together as a community. It's the primary function in which they speak back to God, just as He speaks to them in His Word. Doing so as a church is a way that the people of God demonstrate their unity and like-mindedness on an issue or concern. Acts 1:24-25 is a good example: it's a time when the church needed to find a leader to replace Judas Iscariot (the traitor) to take the 12th spot among the 12 disciples. They all needed the same thing, so they sought God about it together.  When many people are coming to ask God for the same thing or praise Him for the same thing, then it's most appropriate to do it as a group, together. That not only demonstrates unity, but strengthens the members with great accountability and encouragement.

                Individual prayer is done when you're alone (obviously) like at night before you sleep or in the morning when you wake, or when you're praying for/about something that might be a private conversation between God and you. Jesus demonstrates private prayer in John 17, as he anticipates the coming suffering that he's about to suffer. Some prayers, especially those involving trauma, betrayal, or serious struggle with sin, are very appropriate for private settings. However, while the prayers might be done privately, confession and accountability with other believers are necessary for any private prayer to be properly presented to God (see 1 John 1:9 and James 5:16).

                There are occasions to pray privately, and occasions to pray corporately. Neither is better, both are necessary because they express and develop different virtues and strengths of the believer's faith as an individual and as a part of a greater body.

  

What do you do when you want to pray or read the Bible all day instead of study for school?

                You pray, read the Bible, and study too.   The defining part of godliness is dying to ourselves--our selfish urges--and taking care of the abilities and opportunities that God gives us in all righteousness and blamelessness.  To detour from that manner of living is to fall into deception, no matter how godly it seems. Even to read the Bible and pray as a substitute for other priorities that God gives you would be reminiscent of how Satan uses Scripture to tempt even the Lord Jesus Christ.

                There's certainly nothing wrong with reading the Bible. There's nothing wrong with prayer. There's nothing wrong with studying. But these are all actions, which is why they don't inherently hold value. It's the motive of the heart that determines whether these actions are done for God or for ourselves--to aspire to greater good, or to avoid an unpleasant alternative.

 

Is it wrong to keep praying about the same things over and over again?

                Praying about the same thing is something Jesus actually encourages. He commends persistence and boldness (Luke 18:1-8) as long as the prayer is for godly concerns (like justice, in the parable of Luke 18). Praying about the same thing over and over can be done wrongly if it is done like the recitation of a memorized chant that is prayed insincerely and mechanically, as if saying the words enough times would somehow amount to blessing. Jesus warns against that kind of external, repetitive prayer (Matthew 6:7).

 

If I want to be more consistent in prayer, should I constantly work at being prayerful or ask God to help me be more prayerful, or both?

                Definitely both.  Prayer is not always easy to do. It's much like calling up your loved one to talk and stay in communication and intimate relationship. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not our preferred activity. 
                One of the things to also pray for is for discipline to stay rooted in hearing what God says (reading His Word), and speaking back our requests to be part of His plan (prayer).
                The best thing to help you will be to team up with other believers to pray for the same things and discuss them regularly. Set aside time--like before you start your homework or before you go to work--to read and pray. Setting aside a regular time will help you build strong habits.

 

What if I want to pray before meals, but I keep forgetting?

                If you want to remember, tell the people you're with to keep reminding you. Or wear a rubber band on your wrist to remind you, or wear your retainer (if you have one) so that whenever you take if off you'll remember. Or promise someone you'll give them a dollar for every meal your forget to pray before.
                We know it's biblical to give thanks before eating. But we also know it's not a law that defines your spiritual maturity. Make it habit out of gratitude and joy, not to earn some kind of standing or meet a requirement.

How are we supposed to pray for a meal?

                1) Give thanks for God's provision of food and resources. 

                2) Recognize the blessing of company and service. 

                3) Acknowledge the purpose for which fellowship and energy are to be used. 

                4) Dismiss any illusion that the self is the source of meeting needs.

 

ANSWERS TO PRAYER

Why does it feel like God doesn't respond to prayer?

                That could be because of a lot of different reasons I guess. Here are a few:

1) A lot of times the things we pray for aren't as good as we think. Praying for good grades sounds great, but not when it comes at the substitution of praying for the discipline to work hard at studying and managing time and developing focus. If God gave us good grades just because we REALLY wanted it, it would only entrench deeper into placing our hope in earthly success, and would reinforce our habit of trying to ask God to help us get away with things we willingly did not earn.

2) Sometimes we pray for one thing but get another, and we don't realize that God was giving us what we wanted in a totally different way. As an example, when my dad got terminal cancer, we prayed for his healing mainly because his relationships with each of our family members was so broken. We didn't want him to die without having mended those bonds. God didn't heal him at all though, and we didn't understand why. But it was his cancer that kind of got us to our senses, realizing how short our time was with our dad. While we were praying for God to take the cancer away so dad could heal his relationships, God was using the cancer to start the healing process for us. I think my brothers and I agree that his ordeal with surgery and radiation treatment and his close call with death had a significant impact in how we value our relationship with our dad. God answered our prayers, and ironically, the healthier state of our family is what's contributed to his recovery! On my website (www.randcho.com), there's a sermon on 2 Corinthians 8-9 where I teach on this.

3) I don't think we pray enough. It's hard to find believers these days who pray for something for more than a few seconds. And then it's even harder to find believers who pray for that same thing more than a few times. Luke 11:5-8 is where Jesus tells us to pray boldly and persistently. 

4) Sometimes we ask God to serve us, instead of asking God to let us serve Him. I've heard countless complaints about how God didn't grant someone's prayer to win a sporting event or get picked during a tryout or audition or get accepted to a dream college or job. This perspective on prayer has a completely backward direction of worship and it kind of makes me sad to know that pastors haven't taught their flocks better. 

                There are tons of reasons why God might say "No" to us. We don't know when it's for our protection, or our greater good, or for our discipline.   As long as we're praying in such a way that we're asking to be part of God's plan--not asking God to be part of OUR plans--then it will radically change the direction of who you pray for, what you pray about, and why you pray it. Then see how whether or not you feel that God is not answering.

                As a personal testimony: For four years I asked God for a worship leader that I could work closely with to unite the music and sermon portions of the worship service and synchronize their direction and vision. God gave me Reggae, whom I honestly think is one of the best worship leaders I have ever had the privilege of working with (don't tell him).   I prayed for three years for a platform to operate my ministry on the internet. I know nothing of programming, but God moved the heart of Benjamin Chu from First Chinese Baptist Church in Walnut to simply come up to me one day and offer me a website in thanks for speaking at his retreat. That website has been one of my most effective means of transmitting the gospel and Bible resources to my international contacts worldwide.  Formspring too is now an integral part of how I exercise my services for the edification of the body.

                The more I ask God to let me work for Him, the more I find He does, as long as I'm faithful with the work I am given. I simply try to be patient, bold, and persistent in praying to Him. This lets Him and me know whether or not it's something I truly desire, and whether or not I'm willing to trust His timing for my blessing.

 

Why don't I get what I ask for, no matter how much I pray?  My Hindu friend and I both tried out for the same team, we both prayed, but only she got in.  Why?

                You have an unfortunate misunderstanding of prayer. This is something to talk with your pastor about if he's been teaching you wrongly; or it's something to repent of if you've simply not been paying attention. Gauge the rest of your church and see if they have the same understanding of prayer as you do; then you'll know if the correction needs to be made to the group as a whole, or if it was only you that accidentally misunderstood.

                Prayer is a way we worship God, not a way to get God to worship us. It's not a way to get what we want for our lives, but a way to ask for the things we need. To know the difference between wants and needs is a necessary mark of maturity.  To put it more bluntly (for clarity, not harshness), praying to get a position in a sports team is not motivated by a need to get the gospel to the unsaved, heal the sick, overcome difficulty, give thanks for blessing, or denounce sin and temptation. It is more like a confusion between God and Santa Claus.  Prayer is not a wish list. It's communication with God about who we are as people. Your job, your school, and even what sport you play are not essential parts of who you are as a human being. If that were taken away from you, you would still be you.

                Consider God: He made the universe, crafted your very being, has endured your sin on the cross, called you into salvation by His grace alone, and told you that your purpose in life is now to die to yourself and live as an ambassador of Jesus to the world so they too can share in the eternal reward of fulfillment in heaven, living the way they've been designed.   Now consider your response: "So can I join the basketball team?"  The perspective couldn't be more lost. And this is a deception and temptation that many of us fall into, because we often think prayer is comprised only of requests, when in fact that should be only a minor fraction of the things we say to God.

                But putting the theology of prayer aside, could it be that perhaps your Hindu friend got on the team because she's better at the sport than you (at least during tryouts)? Maybe the position she would play was more needed than the one you would play? Maybe the coach had a bias for her or against you? There are lots of explanations as to why you didn't get on the team. I wouldn't get down on that though, because the people that love you do so because of you, not because of how well you throw a ball. And you're not any less effective in the plan of God by not being on a sports team.

 

How come it feels like when I pray for something, the opposite happens?

                Such as? I can't imagine that's what happens every time. When you give thanks for food, do you end up ungrateful for it? When you pray to do well on a test, do you fail or do poorly each time? When you pray for someone to grow in faith, do they leave the church?
                One thing I've learned to do is to write down and/or discuss the things I pray about. It'll help you keep track of what God's been doing. Remember that sometimes a "No" is what we need, even when it's not what we want. 
This topic is discussed a lot more exhaustively in the sermon series I preached called "The Believers' Prayer" which can be found on my website in the sermon archive.

 

If you did not get a job that you did not prepare for, but only prayed for, is that because God didn't think it was right for you?

                If you didn't get the job, it could be for lots of reasons:

1) You weren't qualified.

2) They didn't need you.

3) You messed up your interview somehow (ie. miscommunication, poor social skills, etc.).

4) The boss had someone else in mind, or was preferring to wait for someone better.

                There are lots of reasons why you might not get that job. God might prefer against it, but that doesn't mean He sabotages your efforts. He didn't want Adam and Eve to take the fruit in Genesis 3, but He didn't stop them.  Moreover, God doesn't need you to have any specific job for Him to use you. He took fishermen and changed the world forever. He won't care what you do--He'll care why and how you do it. Whatever job you go for, make it an opportunity to worship God by being a testimony of the gospel and a good steward of your gifts.

                But in my opinion, if you're praying for God to give you a job that you didn't prepare for, then it's not punishment for you to not get the job: that actually would be what you deserve.   You didn't prepare, you didn't succeed--that sounds right to me.

                God never prevents you from choosing the RIGHT path, as your question indicates. If the job is RIGHT, then He won't stop you. But the job is not RIGHT for someone who doesn't prepare for it.  But God can take away blessing from those who don't acquire it the way He told them. Take the Israelites who are supposed to enter the Promised Land and defeat their enemies in Numbers 13:1-14:45.  He told them to go and conquer and take the land, but they were afraid of their enemies so they complained and wanted to kill Moses and Aaron (who spoke for God). God said He wouldn't let that generation have the land then, and sent a plague to wipe out the rebels, and they realized they screwed up. Then they decided that they'd go ahead and try to conquer, since that's what God originally wanted, but God let them get defeated because they lost their chance of acquiring that blessing by not trusting His instruction.

 

How do we know when God is speaking to us?  How does He answer "yes" or "no?"  Why does He make us wait for His answer?

                The idea of God speaking to us can be understood much in the same we understand how Satan can speak to a person. That is, it is not an audible voice, but rather a general urging that prompts you toward either a godly affection or a sinful one.  You'll know when God is speaking to you when you're urged to act righteously, biblically, humbly, and sacrificially (which all kind of overlap together).  God prompts you, often, to do the hard thing. He never contradicts His own Word from the Bible. This should be confirmed also by your spiritual accountability, since we who are God's people are given the spiritual ability to discern true godliness from counterfeit (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

                Often a specific answer is what we look for, but it's not what God gives. We're frequently wonder "What should I do?" when God has always been more interested in WHY and HOW you do things.  I personally don't think He cares what college you go to. I think He cares about how you get there and why you're going. Did you get there by hard work, honest study, as a good steward of the mind and opportunities He gave you? Are you going to college to further your capacity to glorify Him by extending your skills to the edification of the Church?  Even if you wanted to be a fisherman or a tax collector (today, that would be the Internal Revenue Services), God could still use you to turn the world upside down. What you decide isn't important--your motive and method behind it (the WHY and HOW) is what glorifies Him. Acts 4:13 is proof of God's ability to use ordinary, unschooled men as long as their hearts belong to Him.

                God could answer Yes or No based on His own wisdom, since He knows the outcome of events for either course of your decision. His answer would be what He finds best in working you into His plan for the world. That, remember, is often different from your plan for your own life. The two are not the same at all. God has a plan to save the believers and punish the unrepentant, and He can use everyone (by their virtues or their vices) to accomplish those ends.

                I think waiting on God has much to do with His sovereign providence. Joseph, at the end of Genesis, has to wait YEARS as a slave in Egypt and a prisoner before he really gets to shine. Those years of struggle and lowness built humility in him, who was otherwise rather arrogant or boastful about his dreams to his brothers. Moses, too, had to wait decades before coming back as the deliverer of Israel. Abraham had to wait decades to see the fulfillment of the one promise God made to him. God makes people wait, either to grow a virtue, avoid an obstacle, prepare in training, or declaratively demonstrate His specifically miraculous intervention when all other possibilities are exhausted.   But we know that He works all things for the good of His people--those who will, in the end, be rewarded for faithfulness and invited to share in the Master's happiness.

 

If we see a miracle today, do we claim it was God or a work of Satan?

                It depends on if the event pointed people to God (regardless of if they respond positively to it or not), or if it pointed people to someone/something else.  Satan can and will provide his own counterfeit miracles, only to detour people from facing God. See 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Corinthians 11:14.  Satan can deceive us with false miracles, but any miracle that draws people to greater trust and obedience to God's Word is certainly something to praise God for.  Satan would never cause you to worship properly.

 

  

FASTING

Why should we fast?

                There's no prescription to fast in the New Testament for believers in the Church. Jesus only talks about fasting twice in his entire ministry recorded in the gospels.   The first time is in Matthew 6:16-18, where he says that fasting should be done with the proper motive of worship, not to inflate one's religious reputation.   The second time is in Matthew 9:14-17 (which is also Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-39). Here he refers of the Jewish custom of fasting which was a sign of mourning (either over one's sin or over the loss of a loved one), and says that fasting was not appropriate for his disciples because he--the Messiah--was with them, which is no time to mourn at all. He says that after he's "taken away" (crucified), they will mourn, but his presence among them was a time of joy and celebration. 
                Fasting, according to the Scriptures, is not just abstaining from eating. It was giving up physical food during a time that was dedicated to prayer in hopes to detour God's wrath or win God's compassion. In my own words, it's like telling God that you are more desperate for your prayer request than you are for food itself--that whatever you're praying for is something you need more than physical nourishment. That practice is one of deep and sincere spiritual pursuit.

                Curiously, today's churches take the issue of fasting somewhat incorrectly. We often think that giving up soda or not watching television for a period of time is a "fast." Soda and television are not basic needs of life, and staying away from them is not an act of prayer. To be clear: avoiding soda or television is an act of self-denial or self-discipline (both good things!), but it's not fasting.
Fasting is choosing prayer over food as a demonstration of your sincere and desperate plea before God for forgiveness, for blessing, or for help.  Some people, when they fast, choose to pray during their normal mealtimes. That's cool, but not the only way to do it.   In any case, Jesus never actually instructed the church to fast, and neither does anyone else in the New Testament. The only times we see fasting outside the gospels is in Acts (13:2-3; 14:23), and this is very possibly just some carry-over of Jewish tradition that still did not wash out in the new Church.

                So short answer: you don't HAVE TO fast. But it's a very good thing to do, especially in times of intimate and desperate communion with God.

 

How often should we fast?

                There's no prescribed frequency for fasting. In fact, there's not even a single command for Christians to fast. Jesus simply stated that when you do decide to, do it with a prayerful attitude, not in the interests of impressing other people with your piety.
Fasting, throughout Scripture, was done as a more intense form of prayer. The Ninevites in Jonah chapter 3 fasted in their repentance. Jesus fasted for 40 days before he begins his ministry. King David fasted in 1 Samuel chapter 12 to beg for his dying baby's life to be saved.
                Those are some very appropriate occasions for fasting: in repentance, in preparation for God's service, and in desperate dependence. There are other occasions as well, but at least you should get the idea that fasting is not a required ritual, but a sincere and intense manner of prayer.

 

Would lying to my parents telling them that I've eaten be a sin for when I'm covering for fasting? Is there a wrong way to fast? Is food the only thing we can fast?

                People fast from lots of different things. Some fast from TV, or internet, or eating meat, or drinking soda, etc. All of those are definitely acts of self-denial, but biblically speaking, fasting is the act of giving up eating and spending more dedicated time in earnest prayer. It's the expression that the prayer is more important than sustenance. It shows what you're willing to give up, to say how important your prayer is. 
                The only reason Jesus tells people to fast in secret is to contrast that with the way fasting was practiced in that time. People were fasting and disfiguring their faces so everyone would know how religious they were. They were doing it to show off and try to gain the respect and admiration of the people instead of fasting to spend time in prayer to honor God alone. The command really is not to fast in secret--that would be the wrong way to fast. It's to fast for God's glory, not your own.
 
                So in your context, I would definitely tell your parents. Especially if you're in high school and they're cooking for you and stuff, they should know. Telling them is not you trying make them think you're some super saint. Telling them is a way to let them know not to cook for you or expect you to eat anything for a bit. It can also be a really good opportunity to share with them what you're praying about.