Three cautions before you teach others how to pray

They invite you to bring a talk, a lesson, or a sermon on prayer. Your first thought, if you are normal, is, “Who me? What little I know about prayer you could put in a thimble.”

There may be some Christian somewhere who considers himself an authority on prayer, but I have yet to meet him. The truly godly men and women known as prayer warriors will tell you they feel they have just enrolled in kindergarten.

I’m confident of this one thing: our Heavenly Father is not happy with any of His children claiming to have the inside track on how to approach Him, how to “get things from God,” “how to make prayer work for your benefit,” and how to get on His good side.

Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for us to enter the Throne Room of Heaven. See Hebrews 4:16.

Jesus Christ has opened the divider between man and God and we have an open invitation to “come on in.” See Hebrews 10:19-22.

If you and I are not entering God’s presence and lifting up our needs and petitions and interceding for those on our hearts, it’s not God’s fault. It’s not the fault of Jesus, who did everything necessary to make it possible for us to pray effectively.

So, come on in. Come in humbly, for this is the Throne Room of the Universe. Come in worshipfully for the One on the Throne is the Lord of Lords. Come in boldly because your Authority is the Blood of Jesus. Come in regularly because you live in a needy, fallen world. Come in with Jesus: in His Name, by His blood, for His sake.

That’s what we want to teach others.

But there are some things we do not want to teach, no matter how great the temptation.

Here are three cautions for anyone about to stand in front of others to teach prayer.

Let me say up front that I offer these cautions carefully and humbly, as one who knows precious little about prayer. Any authority I possess for saying anything at all about prayer is more from having prayed for so long–I came to know the Lord in 1951–and having served Him for so many years (I was called into the ministry in 1961).

1. Be careful about making your experience the norm.

We can be grateful for the example of the New Testament writers in this regard. After his Damascus Road experience, we might have expected the Apostle Paul to have announced that the way to be saved is to see a blinding light that knocks us down, hear a voice from Heaven that turns us around, and receive the laying on of hands that restores our sight.

Instead, Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). It doesn’t get any simpler or purer than this.

The Apostle Peter does not counsel us to go boating in a stormy sea to experience the power of Jesus, but that’s where He saw it on display. He does not order us to go fishing to learn Jesus’ wisdom, yet he knew it there. To overcome prejudice, it’s not necessary to have a vision of unclean animals being lowered from Heaven on a bedsheet, yet that’s how Peter was taught that lesson.

God loves variety–in creation, in people, in churches, in His methodologies, in everything. He will not be confined to something we found works best for us. He will not limit Himself to our “tried and proven” principles of prayer or stewardship or anything else.

2. Be careful about telling others what works in prayer and what does not work.

I’ve not counted the number of books on prayer I own, but they occupy two full shelves. Many go into detail with recommendations for procedures of prayer. Some call The Lord’s Prayer “God’s Roadmap of Prayer,” and discover outlines in this well-known and greatly loved passage such as: Praise, Priorities, Provisions, and such.

Others adopt the ACTS form: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Are those helpful? Sure. Are they required? Not at all.

A pastor I know has written that “praying while walking” should not be considered authentic prayer. Genuinely entering Heaven’s Throne Room to offer worship and petitions, he believes, requires the solitude of one’s room and quietness. My response is that this must be news to the Lord and His disciples, who often, we feel sure, communed with the Heavenly Father while walking the dusty lanes of Galilee and Judea.

3. Be careful about insisting prayer must be done a certain way. Rigidity on any subject is questionable, but particularly when it comes to prayer.

Most of our readers would probably agree that prayer should be offered in the name of Jesus Christ. We get this from Scriptures such as John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My Name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”(See also John 15:16 and 16:23-24, for starters.)

However–and I say this as a loving disciple of Jesus Christ–we need to be careful about blanket announcements that “Almighty God does not hear prayers that are not offered in Jesus’ name.”

Some will recall a leader in our Southern Baptist Convention who set off a theological firestorm some years back by uttering that very statement in a public religious/political setting. His words were received by a chorus of “amens,” which I expect was all he was seeking. But for the next year, our people were having to defend and explain and apologize for his statement.

Was he wrong? someone asks.

I don’t know about you, but I for one am not going to tell God which prayers He can hear and which ones He cannot. “Our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Psalm 115:3 should be the cornerstone of everything we say about God. He will not be penned up by our theology, He will not be hemmed in by our denominational pronouncements, He will not be limited by our understanding.

I cannot find anywhere in Scripture that tells us God does not hear prayers not offered a certain way. Isaiah 59:1-2 is one of several places identifying “sin” as the culprit when our prayers do not get through. James 1:7 calls “doubt” another problem for unanswered prayer.

But if there is a place in the Word identifying certain forms (the inclusion or absence of key words, phrases, etc) as essential in prayer, I haven’t found it.

A quick look at the prayers of the New Testament shows they do not have to be offered literally “in Jesus’ name” to be accepted and received and heard. Why, even the one we call “The Lord’s Prayer” does not contain those words! Case closed, I should think.

Does all this mean we have nothing to say to young believers who look to us to teach them to pray?

No, we have much to teach. Mostly, however, what we teach are lessons involving….

…faithfulness in doing it. “We ought always to pray and not to lose heart and quit” (Luke 18:1).

…perseverance in staying with it. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:16).

…praising and worshiping God through prayer. “Hallowed be Thy name” (Matthew 6:9).

…humbling ourselves before God in repentance and faith. “O God, be merciful to me the sinner” (Luke 18:13).

…interceding for others. “Praying…for all the saints and for me….”(Ephesians 6:18-19).

…getting specific in what we ask. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41

..and trusting the Father with the outcome. “Nevertheless, not My will but Thy will be done” (Luke 22:42).

These are basic aspects of prayer every beginning and veteran believer can agree on, can benefit from, and should devote ourselves to learning and practicing.

They are the principles we need to be teaching and repeating.

They are certainly prayer-truths many of us have to keep learning and relearning every year of our lives.

It helps to note that even the Apostle Paul, whom we acknowledge as the best of the lot, said, “We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26). If he didn’t, it’s no stretch to conclude none of the rest of us should put ourselves forth as experts on this business of entering Heaven’s Throne Room to communicate with the Lord of the Universe.

We are children, helping the other infants along the way.

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