the weblog of Alan Knox

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Posted by on Jan 12, 2012 in discipleship | 16 comments

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

In chapter 11 of his Gospel, Luke records an instance in which some of Jesus’ followers witness him praying. We don’t know if they actually see and/or hear him pray, or if they only know that he was praying. Either way, Jesus’ praying caused them to ask him a question: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)

Jesus answered their request with what is usually called “The Lord’s Prayer.” (Luke 11:2-4) This sample prayer followed by a couple of stories to show them that if they know how to give gifts to people who ask from them, how much more with God our Father give good gifts to his children. (Luke 11:5-13)

Lately, I’ve been thinking about prayer. There are several reasons for this contemplation, but I’m not going into those reasons now. But, suffice it to say that several things have happened recently that have caused to me to wonder about prayer, and specifically to wonder about prayer with a group.

There are only a few examples of prayer in a group in Scripture. One of those instances is found in Acts 4:23-31. In Acts 20:36, we see Paul praying with a group of elders from Ephesus. Later, just before Paul and his traveling companions left Tyre to continue their journey to Jerusalem, they prayed together.

Certainly, there are other instances of the church praying together in Scripture. The passages above are not to be complete. They are simply examples of believers praying together.

So, as I was thinking about this, I realized that many of the activities and concepts related to praying with the church today are absent in Scripture.

For example, I cannot find any indication that people closed their eyes and bowed their heads when they prayed (either alone or in a group). I can’t find any suggestion of the “prayer list.”

The practice that boggles me the most – not because I disagree with it, but because I think there is something to it – is the practice of asking as many people as possible to pray about a situation. I’ve done this (from both sides – both praying for someone along with a large group of people around the world as well as asking many, many people to pray for a situation).

But, as I think about this practice, it seems to go against what Scripture tells us about God and about how he responds to our prayer. Is God more likely to answer a prayer because more people are praying it? I just don’t know. I want to say that the number of people praying does not persuade or convince God to act. I know that my reformed friends will have a field day with that last statement, but please bear with me. Some things are difficult to state.

But, then, if God is not persuaded or convinced to respond based on the number of people praying, then why do Christians do this so often? Why do I do it so often? Why do I want to know that people all around the world are praying for a young boy who was recently diagnosed with cancer? I don’t know.

However, if I’m completely honest, it is somewhat comforting to know that all of those people are praying for that boy.

What do you think?


16 Comments

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  1. 1-12-2012

    Alan, you make some good points. I think that the part of scripture we get the whole praying together about a certain issue is Matthew 18:19-20:

    “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

    Now whether or not that’s what Jesus actually meant, we can’t tell just from taking those verses out of context. But I know that I’ve heard that verse quoted, and quoted it myself, when trying to get to people to pray for someone or something.

    I do think that many have traditionally made prayer this solemn and religious act, even a selfish one. In 1 John, we’re told that if our heart does not condemn us we can come before God and anything that we ask will be done. What I get from that is if I’m abiding and walking in Christ, His will is now my own and I won’t be asking for something outside of God’s will.

  2. 1-12-2012

    Quincy,

    Yeah, I’m not sure that Matthew 18:19-20 refers specifically to prayer either.

    I like your last paragraph alot. Of course, it really doesn’t parallel many of the aspects of prayer as I’ve seen it practiced.

    -Alan

  3. 1-12-2012

    Alan,

    I appreciate this blog post. You have did what I’ve been wanting to and haven’t yet. That is blog about certain practices we do during our prayer times.

    Somethings you didn’t mention also is when someone ask to be prayed for and people gather around them. Then for those who choose to stay seated are asked to reach out their hands towards the person praying. Humm. :)

    Having the Catholic background I know alot of the bowing the head and eyes closed comes from that along with folding the hands together while you pray. My family who are still Catholic follow this ritual at every meal.

    None of this makes us anymore holy nor does it seem to get Gods attention anymore than just a simple request without the outward signs.

    Steven

  4. 1-12-2012

    James 5:14 “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”

    This is a corporate prayer involving more that one person.
    Steven, as far as the ‘stretch your hand’ I believe this is a physical act meant to symbolize extending our faith toward God as we lift someone up in prayer.

    Alan, as far as closing eyes, bowing heads, not sure of the etymology of this, however, it seems that it is mostly a respect issue in a corporate setting, not being distracted by or distracting you neighbor. In my personal prayer time, I often do not close my eyes because i have a pen, paper and Bible handy in case I feel lead to read something or write something. Of course, that is anecdotal and I do not have basis in scripture for it, it just works for me.

  5. 1-12-2012

    Meaty stuff! How much does our pleading “move” God? Can we “change Gods mind”? When do we cross over to fatalism? Looking forward to the comments conversation!

  6. 1-12-2012

    Steven Owen,

    Oh, yeah, there are many things that I didn’t mention. I’m actually not opposed to all of the things that I mentioned (as you could probably tell). But, that doesn’t mean we should teach these things as what it means to pray. I think that’s what I’m struggling with the most.

    Dayna,

    There are several instances of group prayer in Scripture. I don’t think that was Steven’s point, but then he can help us out with that. Concerning the closing your eyes and bowing your head thing, I’m not that concerned about whether or not people do that. It does bother me when someone teaching this is the proper method of praying.

    Steven Snyder,

    Those are good questions. How would you answer them? (Because I’m not exactly sure how I would answer them…)

    -Alan

  7. 1-13-2012

    Alan, you bring up a great discussion point that has always made me feel a little frustrated because it seems like it is a lose-lose situation for the receiver if one is not interested in praying for someone they barely know. You feel guilty for not praying and caring if all these other people do even if you have no desire or leading to pray for this complete stranger. Then when one does pray, it is often done out of Christian peer pressure. At times, I do struggle with feeling bad about not praying for someone. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, but it is hard when there is no connection with this person and no prompting by the HS to pray. So thanks for bringing this up to see some different angles on this common practice.

    Asking, seeking and knocking with the widows persistence is the key I see and not the amount of people. Even in the OT when we see God’s mind being changed to not destroy people for their sin or the Israel army being victorious it was not because of the amount of people but because of the character of the person praying.

    These are some initial thoughts, at least until someone brings up some Biblical examples of prayers being answered when there are more people involved :)

  8. 1-13-2012

    There’s a quote from D. A. Carson in this blog post:
    http://bbhchurchconnection.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/in-store-now-be-still-my-soul/

    “Not long ago in my church, a woman I’ll call Mary experienced a recurrence of cancer. Within a few months it had spread throughout her body, and despite treatments, she was very ill. The people in our church gathered for prayer. And although this is not a church from a charismatic tradition, the prayers throughout the day became more and more enthusiastic.

    “Lord, you’ve said you will answer if two or three are in agreement. We have 287 in agreement, and we want you to heal her!” “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We want you to show that you are still the Great Physician!” “Lord, will you not have mercy on her husband and her children?”

    “Finally it was my wife’s turn to pray (she who had almost lost her life to cancer twice) and she prayed, “Heavenly Father, we would love it if you would heal Mary. But if is not your will to heal her, teach her to die well. She is going to die anyway, and so if the time is now, teach her to die well. Give her a joy of the Lord. Give her a heritage of godly faith, with one foot firmly planted in heaven, so that her husband and children will be stamped by it, and will look to Christ. We don’t ask that she have any easy time, but ask that she be so full of grace, people will see Christ in her.”

    “Well, you could have cut the air with a knife. No longer were there 287 people agreeing in prayer. My wife’s prayer seemed to create a break in the chain. She was letting down her side. We found out afterward that some of Mary’s relatives rather wished my wife would go to heaven first so she would know whereof she was praying! . . . Well-intentioned, but poorly informed brothers and sisters who try to deflect people from thinking about death, or who hold out the constant hope of healing, keep them so occupied with matters in this world that they have neither the time nor the energy to think about the next world. They succeed only in robbing their loved ones of the enormous comfort of the gospel as the step into eternity. Whatever the church does, it should prepare its members to face death and meet God. You cannot live faithfully in this life unless you are ready for the next. You can’t preserve morality or spirituality or doctrinal purity or faithfulness unless you are living in light of eternity.” (113-115, How Long, O Lord?)

  9. 1-13-2012

    That story from Carson illustrates a feeling I get any time I am asked to pray for someone I do not know. It is not as though God doesn’t know about that person. We are not having some kind of heavenly American Idol where we vote someone up for God’s attention.

    His pleasure in our prayer is communication. We tell him what we think, what we fear, and what we hope. And we listen. The phrase I have heard for prayer, especially corporate prayer, “storming the gates of heaven,” disturbs me. Is heaven hostile? Does it require assault? I know people who use this phrase don’t mean to imply hostility–but I can’t see love in it.

    “I want something from my wife, so I am going to get ALL my friends to beg, plead, and demand that she give it to me!”

    Isn’t that so different than a family together discussing a loved one in trouble?

    God gives us each our lives, and in our lives people we know and people we care about them. Meanwhile he knows and cares for all; but he gives us a portion. What do we say about God and his giving if we always reach for more to pray about, always try to nail every prayer-worthy concern we find? Are we making ourselves big enough to handle all of that? Are we making God too small to notice without our help?

    Some people have a gift for praying and naturally and joyfully take to it on the least provocation. God go with them if they are talking freely with their Lover. But I do not think I should join a chant toward a distant god.

  10. 1-14-2012

    Richard,

    You’ve brought up some of the same concerns that I have. I’m not always comfortable with those concerns, but they come from a desire to truly understand what it means to communicate with God.

    Arlan,

    Thanks for sharing that story. I did not bring up the idea of praying for someone’s healing… that’s a big deal also.

    -Alan

  11. 2-8-2012

    Hi, Alan. Well, I’ve been keeping this post in my favorites, referring to it now and then, re-reading the comments. I don’t have anything insightful to add, only to say that I’ve been thinking all the same thoughts here as you and everyone that’s written in. I’ve had a number of experiences just as the story Arlan posted. So I’m only commenting to say, I’d like to hear more on this topic…any new thoughts? Any conclusions?

    I’m glad you wrote about it. Thanks! It’s helping me find my way through a maze.

  12. 2-9-2012

    Esther,

    I keep thinking about this post and the comments also. I don’t have anything else to add to this topic yet. Perhaps soon… :)

    -Alan

  13. 2-9-2012

    Nee taught much on this subject, you can probably find it at livingstream. I will say only this. I think it is good to remember that prayer begins with the thought that it is in accordance with His will, “as it is in heaven.” It is incumbent on us to be aligned with that will in all we do and pray. How can we know? I only know that there are no formulas, but that we must pray in the Spirit at all times, though Paul says that he will pray with the spirit and with his mind.

  14. 2-10-2012

    Chris,

    “I only know that there are no formulas.” I agree. Of course, humans love formulas, and we will gladly create them where none exist.

    -Alan

  15. 2-28-2012

    New here … Esther turned me on to this site. Just a quick affirmation of your last thought here Alan…that is my most credible understanding of the act of responding to requests for prayer for situations and folks that often times I know only vaguely or not at all. It is a way to offer support to the one asking for prayer for their issue or interest. And I do think that is valid. I think people do feel supported when you agree to pray “with them” and “for their concerns”. Comforted and encouraged also perhaps, however feeble our actual prayers may be. Interesting to be exploring these thoughts…never gave them much of a second thought so far in my walk with the Lord, and that is many many years!!! Thanks.

  16. 2-29-2012

    Rita,

    Welcome! And thanks for adding to this discussion.

    -Alan