The True Worship of God:
Coming to God in Prayer

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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After Jesus entered Jerusalem on the dramatic first "Palm Sunday," He went directly to the Temple. There, he forcibly drove away those who had corrupted the worship of the Temple by force; quoting Isaiah 56:7 and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a robber's den" (Mark 11:17, cf. Matthew 21:13, Luke 19:46, italics mine). Interestingly, Jesus did not call the Temple a "house of power," a "house of miracles," a "house of happiness," or even a "house of sacrifice" (even though it was a place where sacrifices were to be made by Divine command). This surely underscores the importance of prayer, both private and corporate, in Christian worship.

Before, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him." (Matthew 6:6-7). This teaching of Christ demonstrates that the importance of prayer is more than magical and more than a way to let God know what we need. This is because God is rational, not magical, in nature, and as the all-knowing (omniscient) One, knows more about us than we know about ourselves. If prayer is not a "lever" to manipulate things of this world or to get things from God, then surely its significance is what it means to our relationship with God.

Prayer is the recognition of, participation in, and building of our relationship with God. It is not an exaggeration to say to that prayer, as a discipline, a practice, and an experience, is at the very heart of worship. Fellowship with God is an important part of this, but a fellowship that involves communication. If prayer were a matter of "spiritual fellowship" rather than speech, we would have no spoken prayers by Jesus. For except for the curse Jesus experienced at Calvary (Galatians 3:13, Matthew 27:46), His fellowship with God was unbroken. Yet, Christ spoke often, and intelligibly, to God the Father. The God who created speech wants us to speak with Him too. Scripture everywhere assumes that God's people will be people of prayer.

A truly Christian attitude toward prayer must be both casual and formal. Casual because of our close relationship with God, but formal because He is the Creator and we are creatures. A large part of sin is the failure to recognize God's proper place as Sovereign of all He has created.

The closeness of our relationship means that we may speak with God at any time about any subject. No need is too great or too small. If something concerns us, it concerns Him. We do not need to use pre-written prayers, nor do we need to use any particular jargon. For instance, our prayers are not improved by using "Thee" and "Thy" after the manner of the language of the King James Version of the Bible. There is no "formula for success" that will guarantee that our prayers are heard and answered as we desire. As long as we are not using offensive or blasphemous language, we should speak as we feel comfortable and pray in such a way that we communicate what we have to say to our Lord.

Nevertheless, the dignity of God dictates that, whenever possible, we give careful consideration to how we pray. Recognizing His reality, presence, and character are important as we go before Him. Confessing our neediness and our sins before Him and asking for forgiveness establishes a recognition on our part that we are "the redeemed" coming before "the Redeemer." Then, we should make intercession for the needs of others, and after this ask, petition, for the meeting of our own needs. Finally, we should express thanksgiving for God, for His love for us, His willingness to answer us, and His answer to our prayers.

This leads us naturally to order our prayers as: praise, confession, intercession, petition, and thanksgiving. However, there is nothing magical about this order, it is simply a respectful and logical way for Christians to order their prayers. Often praise and thanksgiving will be mingled with other parts of prayer, not relegated to the end. Often, too, our confession will be a confession of our faith in God and His Word in addition to a confession of our neediness and sinfulness. Some say that "God does not want His Word preached back at Him," but in view of the fact that prayer has to do with our relationship with God, this hardly seems true. A recognition of God's Word and its teachings is as appropriate and natural in prayer as it is in ordering any other part of the Christian life.

One way to learn how to pray is to pay attention to the prayers of Jesus and of others in the Scriptures. Paul mentions prayer frequently in his epistles. Noting how he prayed and what he prayed for can guide us in our own prayer life. Naturally, the example of Jesus and His followers is most helpful. But we should not forget the psalms and the prayers of those in the Old Testament. Another help in our prayers is to imagine that we are before the Lord or to imagine those we pray for. We must be careful, of course, not to fantasize, but only to imagine what is real. We must also be careful to avoid thinking that because we can visualize an answer to prayer in our minds that this helps the prayer to be answered as we envision.

In prayer, faith is always in the trustworthiness of the One prayed to, not in the answer itself. For example, rather than say that "we believe God for healing" we should say, "we pray to the God who is able to heal." Prayer is speaking to God, not controlling Him. He will answer as is best, for, as Abraham said, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:25). It is appropriate to pray to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, as long as we remember that there are not three Gods working against each other, but three Persons of the Godhead each working in harmony toward one purpose. However, prayer should never be directed towards any being other than God. God will not share His glory with others (Isaiah 42:8). It is particularly dangerous to pray to angels or to the dead, which are forbidden occult activities. Seeking to speak to the dead is called "necromancy" and is specifically prohibited in the Old Testament, because such prayers may be answered by evil spirits which serve Satan rather than by God.

When we pray, it is often helpful to remember before God the reasons that we ask Him to answer our prayers. This is not only respectful towards God, becoming a form of praise, this is a discipline that helps us to keep our prayers within God's will. We may, like Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, appeal to God's own nature; His righteousness, justness, kindness, and mercy (Genesis 18). We may speak of Christ's work at the cross, although we should be careful of speaking of the blood of Christ as if it were some magic substance that makes God do things He otherwise would not do. Even the cross is rooted in the nature and character of God. Thus, while the work done there is objective and real, we should never lose sight of the fact that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (II Corinthians 5:19). The cross is not man's way of forcing God to grant forgiveness and blessing against His will, but His way of accomplishing His will. We can go on to appeal to the purposes of God, to the outworking of His plan that includes the cross, and for God's Name to be glorified. We may also ask God to answer our requests because of His graciousness to His servants, as did Nehemiah. We should also be willing to be a part of the answer to our prayers and to make this known to our Lord.

The formal side of our relationship with God recognizes that when it comes to asking God to meet needs, whether those of others (through intercession) or our own (through petition), we must pray according to God's Will if we expect God to answer us (I John 5:14). This recognition will also cause us to pray, as Jesus did, "not my will, but Thine be done." This is a confession of ultimate trust and dependency upon God.

Writing prayers out on paper and editing them before we pray them, if we have the time, can help us to discipline our prayer life to meet the formal needs of our relationship to God. But it should never hinder us from a direct, honest, respectful opening of our hearts before the Lord.

Prayer often leads to a deep sense of peace, an assurance of God's fellowship and saving grace, and sometimes a sense that God is leading us in a particular direction. Any such belief that God is communicating to us should be carefully measured by Scripture and by consulting with others who are mature in the faith. Any hesitancy to rigorously examine what we believe to be God's leading is cause to suspect that we are protecting this guidance for the wrong reasons. God does not need protection. His guidance can stand up to examination and will not seem strange to those who have walked with Him.

We must be careful, however, to keep prayer as a time when we speak to God, remembering that it is primarily through His Word that He communicates to us. Being careful about what we attribute to God and refusing to treat His Name lightly is a part of true reverence and respect for our Lord, the Almighty, the Most High God. There is a strong movement today to make listening a part of prayer on the same footing with speech. The real purpose of this is to raise up modern day "prophets" as part of the "prophetic" and "Manifest Sons of God" (also called "latter rain") movements. The sad effect of this movement is to woo people away from God's revealed Word and the teaching of the apostles. The truth is that speaking carelessly and attributing those words to God often leads to disastrous consequences for our spiritual lives, and may lead to the judgment of God (Jeremiah 23, especially 23:36, Exodus 20:7).

In Peter's first letter he exhorts us to maintain a serious attitude toward prayer, "The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer" (I Peter 4:7). While this should never rob us of confidence in God's grace and His desire for us to come before Him (I John 3:21), or the joy of fellowship with Him, we should be mindful that if we do not take God seriously He is not likely to take our prayers seriously.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume V, Part 7, July 1997.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated January 1, 2002.